Undying Tactics

The undying of Eberron are a fascinating invention: undead creatures aligned with good. While other undead are either raised by necromancy, kept from eternal rest by trauma or malevolent entities attempting to cheat death, the undying exist beyond the mortal veil simply because they’re so beloved, the world can’t bear to part with them. Awwww!

Undying soldiers are mostly elite guards. They have very high Strength along with high Constitution and, interestingly, Charisma—although the latter doesn’t seem to power any of their abilities, so we can slot them into the regular brute role. They have ordinary Intelligence and above-average Wisdom, so they’ll talk before fighting and make prudent targeting decisions. They’re vulnerable to necrotic damage, resistant to radiant damage and less susceptible to damage from off-the-rack weapons than from ones that are magical or merely silvered.

Illumination is an interesting feature in light (har) of the fact that undying soldiers have 60 feet of darkvision. What does shedding bright light for 10 feet and dim light for 10 feet beyond that gain them? It depends who or what they’re fighting; the first thing that comes to my mind is that a Way of Shadow monk can’t use Shadow Step to get within reach of them. That’s a pretty niche benefit, though. A somewhat broader benefit is that each undying soldier exists in a darkness-proof bubble. The spell snuffs out any light-creating spell of 2nd level or lower, but Illumination isn’t a spell, so it persists; plus, its radius is greater. If an undying soldier is attacked at night from a distance of greater than 60 feet, however, Illumination just makes it a more conspicuous target, so I would assume that this feature is on by default only indoors. Outdoors, undying soldiers are better off turning it on only when they need it.

While the Monster Manual recommends that a creature with a thrown weapon attack carry 2d4 throwable weapons, I’m often inclined to disregard that on grounds that they lack the wherewithal to produce enough weapons to be able to risk losing them, that they have no obvious way to carry them all or that they just don’t seem that smart. None of these objections apply to the undying soldier, which can easily keep a bucket of several spears by its side. Generally, it’s disinclined to throw a spear at an opponent who’s more than 20 feet away, because attacking at long range incurs disadvantage. But if that’s what’s necessary to deal with an especially troublesome foe, it will, especially if that foe is unarmored (and not obviously a barbarian or monk).

Undying soldiers are compelled by duty and won’t willingly abandon their posts for any reason (although they can be driven back momentarily by such spells as dissonant whispers and fear). If their orders are to stand in a particular spot, then by Jove, they stand there, and they’ll fight anyone who tries to dislodge them. Being good-aligned, however, they don’t necessarily attack to kill; a brief conversation is generally enough to inform them of whether an interloper has malicious intent or is simply being an idiot, and in the latter case, they’re content to subdue. A whole party knocked unconscious by undying soldiers wakes up in the clink—or back out on the front doorstep, minus their weapons.

Undying councilors have extraordinary Wisdom, exceptional Intelligence, very high Strength and Charisma, and high Constitution; only their Dexterity is run-of-the-mill. This ability contour indicates them to be support spellcasters, which fits with their basically being clerics. Consequently, they’re rarely encountered alone. At a minimum, they have a retinue of undying soldiers in front of them; they themselves may also serve as backup to one or both of the Sibling Kings or to some elf archmage, or they may even accompany a party of high-level player characters to fight some other menace.

Although they lack proficiency in any social skill, their combination of mental abilities is such that they always lead with social interaction rather than combat if they can, and if a group of opponents initiates combat, they look for an opportunity to put it on pause and parley. They throw themselves into a fight only when their foes are intractable. Their default attitude is friendly; it doesn’t take much provocation to move them to indifference, but one has to act like a real jerk to turn them hostile.

Their Aura of Radiance works the same as the undying soldier’s Illumination, but it has a greater radius, and it annuls a darkness spell altogether unless that spell was upcast to 4th level or higher. They follow the same criteria for using it or not using it as undying soldiers do.

In combat, the undying councilor takes a position 20 feet behind its side’s front line (10 feet if the terrain is difficult) and engages in melee only when blitzed by one or more enemies; given the choice, it would rather hang back and cast spells. If an enemy gets in an undying councilor’s face, it resorts to its Multiattack, which comprises two Radiant Touch attacks. This circumstance is also the only one in which it bothers to take legendary actions: Touch against a single opponent, Shimmering Aura if it’s double- or triple-teamed (or worse). Before taking the Shimmering Aura legendary action, the undying councilor courteously advises its allies to stand clear and gives them a chance to do so.

The undying councilor’s stat block does something I haven’t seen before: It singles out one spell from the creature’s repertoire and includes it under Actions, describing its effects in their entirety. I can only assume that this choice is intended to place particular emphasis on flame strike as a favored tactic. The undying councilor has only so many opportunities to use it, though, since it has only two 5th-level spell slots, one 6th-level slot and one 7th-level slot, and other spells compete for those slots. Let’s take a detour and evaluate those in detail:

  • Plane shift is usually an escape hatch, but like undying soldiers, undying councilors are compelled by duty and would never dream of fleeing. In an extreme pinch, they might cast this spell to spirit a seriously injured VIP to safety in the Feywild, but mostly they use it as an instantaneous form of banishment, and they know better than to cast it on anyone who seems to have significantly above-average Charisma—in other words, no bard, paladin, sorcerer or warlock who reads as such; no Swashbuckler rogue; and no tiefling. Used this way, plane shift is the nuclear option against an opponent who presents a major inconvenience, and that will take at least a round or two to determine, so undying councilors keep their 7th-level spell slot in reserve until it’s clear whether they’ll need it, and for what.
  • Forbiddance, planar ally and scrying all take 10 minutes to cast, which isn’t happening during combat. But an undying councilor may plan to cast one of these spells later in the day—or may have cast it already when a fight breaks out.
  • Dispel evil and good, on the other hand, is a spell that an undying councilor may very well wish to use, particularly against evil undead—and may even wish to use more than once. And there’s no benefit at all to upcasting it.

What it looks like, then, is that an undying councilor casting flame strike does so using a 6th-level spell slot, rather than 5th-level, and casts it only once, unless (a) its opponents don’t include any celestials, elementals, fey, fiends or undead, and/or (b) it becomes evident that it won’t have any reason to cast plane shift. Also, as I make my obligatory nod to the Targets in Area of Effect table in chapter 8 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, it refrains from casting this spell unless and until it can strike at least two foes with it, at least one of whom is being a real pain in the neck.

The Healing Touch action is reserved for allied VIPs who are moderately wounded (reduced to 70 percent or less of their maximum hit points). The amount of healing it does is unimpressive but fairly consistent: two-thirds of the time, it restores between 15 and 22 hp. Therefore, it’s generally reserved for just one recipient, who’s entitled to all three uses of it, unless the undying councilor is rolling with a crew of much weaker allies.

I’ll divide the rest of the undying councilor spell repertoire between concentration-required spells and everything else.

Concentration-Required Spells

  • Banishment accomplishes temporarily what plane shift accomplishes with finality. To keep the target banished requires maintaining the spell for a full minute. The undying councilor needs to want an opponent off the field badly for this spell to be worth the opportunity cost.
  • Spirit guardians, if the undying councilor wants to keep foes at bay, is a strong deterrent.
  • Calm emotions is one way the undying councilor can short-circuit combat and steer an encounter back into social interaction territory, but the more high-Charisma foes it faces, the less reliable this gambit is.
  • Hold person, in contrast, deals with a high-Charisma, low-Wisdom opponent directly by immobilizing them. It’s absolutely worth it to cast this spell at 3rd or 4th level in order to target additional foes.
  • Bless is the undying councilor’s default concentration-required spell, when none of the aforementioned applications is more pressing. It casts this spell altruistically; there’s no need for it to include itself among the targets.
  • Guidance has too high an opportunity cost to use in combat.

Everything Else

  • Divination can be cast in a single action, but why do so during combat? It’s more interesting and more useful during a social interaction phase.
  • Guardian of faith is a solid short-term delaying tactic when the undying councilor needs to control an area no more than 20 feet wide. It’s too easily avoided to serve any other purpose.
  • Daylight duplicates the effect of Aura of Radiance, but with four times the radius. If that’s what the undying councilor needs, this spell is what it casts.
  • Dispel magic is broadly useful against certain spells (haste, enlarge/reduce, protection from evil and good, spiritual weapon), but the undying councilor also uses it against a few spells that deal necrotic damage: hex, spirit shroud and vampiric touch, plus spirit guardians if the damage is necrotic rather than radiant. It’s also not a terrible idea to spend a 4th-level slot to dispel shadow of moil.
  • Command is a light-touch way to deal with an opponent who’s playing the fool.
  • Create or destroy water is an interesting inclusion, and I’ll leave it at that.
  • Sacred flame deals 3d8 radiant damage on a failed save. It deals no damage on a success, but the undying councilor’s spell save DC is a respectable 17. It’s not a bad freebie when the undying councilor isn’t prepared to go all-out with flame strike and doesn’t have anything more important to spend its action on.
  • Spare the dying’s instructions are printed right there on the label.
  • Thaumaturgy adds a nice underline to the phrase “Silence, fool!”

Augury and mending both take 1 minute to cast and therefore have no combat application.

While undying councilors do everything in their power to keep a situation from coming to blows, if it eventually does, they don’t hold back—they can’t, really, because you can only pull punches when you’re making melee attacks. To merely knock an opponent unconscious, the undying councilor would have to reduce them to 0 hp using Radiant Touch, and their sense of an opponent’s remaining hit points isn’t that precise.

They do, however, have a very accurate sense of their foes’ strengths and weaknesses, the relative strengths of their own side and the opposing side, and which targets they need to neutralize first. Magic Resistance means they themselves don’t have to worry about enemy spellcasters much, but the same can’t necessarily be said for their allies, and they keep the needs of the entire side in mind. Opposing spellcasters lobbing spells that deal damage over a wide area, resisted by Dexterity saves, are undoubtedly going to pose a problem, and the more the undying councilor’s side is made up a large number of lower-challenge allies, the bigger a problem those casters pose. But just as serious a threat may be a front-line fighter capable of mowing down an enemy or two every round. If you, the Dungeon Master, can see that an opponent is doing a number on the undying councilor’s side, so can it.

Like undying soldiers, undying councilors fight until they’re destroyed, except in the rare instance in which they evacuate in order to save the life of someone more important.

Next: quori.

7 thoughts on “Undying Tactics

  1. Another great article! I have a question; what do the councilor and soldier do when they’re faced with necrotic damage. In their stat block, it says that they have vulnerability to it. So, do the soldiers just absorb it while they focus on offense?

    Also, a bit of a minor nitpick, but Ebberon’s cosmology doesn’t technically have a Feywild. They do have Thelanis: The Faerie Court, which is a close equivalent. But I think a better option for plane shift would be Irian: The Eternal Dawn. Irian is the source of positive energy, which sustains the undying, and is known for it’s courteous and righteous nature. Thanks for your hard work!

  2. Well, he mentioned one tactic with the undying councilor: each of those spells he named as good targets for Dispel Magic is a sustained spell that does necrotic damage.

    Another tactic that the councilor might use involves Forbiddance, which can be cast over the area they’re protecting and set to burn everything but celestials and/or fey, who the councilor may want to bring as backup out of combat via Planar Ally, and the undying themselves, who are able to circumvent it via a password spoken upon entering the area. Any undead, fiend, or elemental that enters the area without speaking the password will take 5d10 radiant damage when they enter and at the start of each turn. Since most undead and some fiends both deal necrotic damage and are at least affected by radiant damage, this is a good way for the councilor to prevent that damage in advance. This Forbiddance will probably have been cast at 6th level, requiring a DC 16 Dispel Magic ability check or a 6th level Dispel Magic to shut down without speaking the password.

    In a similar vein, one aspect of the undying soldier not mentioned in the main post is that their Spear attack does an extra 2d8 radiant damage to fiends and undead. Not only are they more inclined to kill undead and fiends that deal necrotic damage, but they’re better equipped to kill undead and fiends than any other foe, so that’s exactly what they do. And, of course, necromancers or anyone else doing necrotic damage to them is likely #1 on both the soldier and councilor’s hit list.

    So, to summarize: 1. Dispel any sustained spell that does serious necrotic damage; 2. Cast Forbiddance over the entire area to better take out most fiends and undead, thus limiting potential sources of necrotic damage; 3. Use extra radiant damage from spears to stab undead and fiends, thus speedily eliminating potential sources of necrotic damage.

    Does this help at all?

      1. Would you assume that since Divination is in their statblock we should treat them as allows having seen the fight coming? So for example they would almost always have planar ally up if the party shows up with the intention of fighting the councilors. Also I really like the idea of the strategy of banishing an ally that is about to get killed to protect them.

        So I’ve noticed that starting with this book the writers started putting a prominent spell in the actions section. I assume it is to highlight a go to spell to make it easier for the dm to cast it without having to look it up. Since there haven’t really been any books with monsters since this one, this is mainly seen in adventure modules that came out after Rising. I hope they keep doing it, it’s helpful and it gives some insight into the tactics.

  3. This question is completely irrelevant but it has been bugging me for quite some time, what happens if a creature gets transformed, by polymorph for instance, and when it wears of are in a container smaller than the original creature

    1. I feel like the best answer to this question, perhaps not the most realistic, but the easiest to run in-game and the funniest conceptually, is that the container immediately bursts open as soon as the creature reverts back to normal. Doesn’t matter what it’s made of, whether it’s a little glass bottle or a box made of pure adamantine; Erenak the Terrible just stopped being a bunny rabbit after a whole hour and he wants *out*, dangit.

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