Karrnathi Undead Soldier Tactics


Karrnathi undead soldiers constitute the bulk of the army of the kingdom of Karrnath. Seeking to stave off defeat in the face of failing fortunes, Karrnath allowed necromancer-priests to bolster its army by raising the dead. After the war, many of these undead soldiers were sealed away from the world—but not all of them.

As combatants, they’re not complicated. With very high Strength and Constitution, they’re brute melee fighters that seek to close the distance between themselves and their foes as quickly as possible. However, they also have respectable Dexterity, Intelligence, and Wisdom, indicating a fair measure of flexibility. Unlike your off-the-rack skeleton or zombie, Karrnathi undead soldiers are clever and perceptive. Their compulsion is to triumph, by whatever means are at hand, and they’re capable of exercising sound and nimble independent judgment to determine what the best means are. They aren’t flummoxed by a deep trench, for example—rather than stop in their tracks, like a skeleton, or march right into it, like a zombie, they’ll build a bridge.

Thanks to their darkvision, Karrnathi undead soldiers can and do march on their foes at night, Multiattacking with Longbow until they close with their opponents, then switching to Longsword. The fact that they can’t see farther than 60 feet in darkness doesn’t deter them if they know where their enemies are: Since they already have disadvantage on Longbow attacks from between 150 and 600 feet away, the fact that their targets are shrouded in darkness doesn’t make their chances any worse, and their Multiattack gives each of them three shots per turn. The only range in which the limit of their darkvision matters is between 60 and 150 feet, and they can cover this ground with one round of Dashing plus one round of normal movement. To avoid any letup in their barrage, they divide into two equal groups, one of which Dashes forward while the other keeps shooting, then shoots while the other Dashes to catch up.

As soon as Karrnathi undead soldiers observe an opponent dealing radiant damage, that opponent becomes a prime target, because radiant damage is the only type that keeps them from getting back up when they’re knocked down. Despite having little or no memory of their former lives, Karrnathi undead soldiers do retain knowledge of certain facts—for instance, that radiant damage usually comes from clerics and paladins—so anyone who’s identifiable as such is a target by default.

In general, spellcasters using area-effect spells that call for saving throws are high priorities for elimination. However, Karrnathi undead soldiers can’t be charmed or frightened, which renders many spells that call for Wisdom saving throws ineffective against them, and they can’t be poisoned, so spells with these effects don’t concern them—not the way, say, fireball or chain lightning does.

At melee range, Karrnathi undead soldiers wield their longswords with two hands, since their Armor Class doesn’t include a shield. When an attacker rolls 17 through 19 to hit, an undead soldier uses its reaction to Parry, unless it’s being double-teamed and the other attacker is a cleric or paladin, in which case it holds its reaction in case they score a hit.

The greater their numbers, the more likely it is that a portion of a Karrnathi undead force may try to break through the enemy line, or outflank it, in order to get at important targets behind it. If the line is solid, 15 to 20 percent of the force hangs back behind the front line, switching back to their bows in an attempt to pincushion a threatening backline caster. When they have the advantage of greater numbers, they also use it to swarm any cleric or paladin on the front line. The ideal Karrnathi undead force outnumbers its foes by at least 2 to 1, meaning they’re best used against high-level player characters, but it’s all right to throw a handful of them at PCs as low as level 7 provided that the party has only a couple of front-line warriors for them to engage. Karrnathi undead soldiers never attack alone; I’d consider four to be the bare minimum number. Six to eight would be better, especially against a large party.

Because of their undead nature, Karrnathi undead soldiers have no remaining self-preservation instinct and don’t retreat unless a living commander who’s present on the battlefield orders them to. In that case, they Disengage or Dodge while retreating (the former if they’re backing away from multiple melee opponents, the latter if they’re engaged with only one).

Next: Undying soldiers and councilors.

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3 responses to “Karrnathi Undead Soldier Tactics”

  1. Idan BHK Avatar
    Idan BHK

    You say between 60 and 150 feet from the enemy, they’ll dash. But the whole point is they can’t see the enemy from that distance!

    So, if they’re marching on an army or a fortress, sure, but not against a small group of opponents (such as an adventuring party).
    That being said, your suggested tactic (of switching between dashing and shooting) works just fine for that scenario, as well.

    Btw, these soldiers do speak common, but have only 5 cha, so they don’t really have a personality, and probably have a very weak sense of individuality. They definitely want to fight under a commander; What do you suggest they’ll do without one? If an enemy tries to parley, for example?

    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      Encounter distance doesn’t depend on sight alone. A party not trying to be stealthy might be audible from as far as 120 feet away; making a ruckus, from as far as 600 feet away. And, as you mentioned, the soldiers might be approaching a position known to be occupied.

      Or it might be daytime. Or simply twilight.

      As for parley, I don’t think they’d be responsive at all.

      1. Matthew Avatar

        Some serious necroposting here, but I just thought I’d chip in with regards to parley: the flavor text describes them as relentless butchers who take delight in slaughtering indiscriminately precisely unless they are being reined in by living commanders. So I’d firmly agree that they would be completely unresponsive to parley.

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