The sadistic Necromancer

I am working on a full build (level 20) for a necromancer and need some suggestions. Using pathfinder 1e and anything on the pazio website.
I had an idea to build a necromancer who raises, or invokes their enemies dead loved ones. He enjoys watching their pain as they try to fight those closest to them. I am not sure if he should be a full necromancer or use some illusions to make them think that they really are fighting their loved ones. 
Race is elf (open to negotiations) and using a high point buy system. 


  • Illusions is a cool idea, but only works once. 

  • I thought that too. But the other problem that I have come across is if he is a necromancer more true to name, he has to have dead bodies near him to use, and unless he does some serious behind the scenes work, there isn't really a way for him to raise the dead loved ones of his enemies to use against them. I was thinking that maybe he might have a way of using phantom killer to make them see a zombified loved one attack them, or mind-reading/some sort of mind control that might force them to think that they are fighting the dead. 
    I figured all of his other spells might center around debuffing his enemies as a way to weaken them and make them more susceptible to his illusions of mind-altering spells.
    I'm just not as familiar with the different spells, classes, and archetypes that are out there, as others might be. And I was wondering what others thought might work as a solid fighting style for a PC.
  • edited December 2020
    Dear Kitty kat,

    Why do "serious behind the scenes work" to find dead loved ones ?  It's kinda easy to *create* newly-dead loved ones, isn't it ?  Just ambush the child returning from school, the wife coming back from the market, the husband coming back from work (or from a hunt). You can even poison the dog, choke the house cat... Be creative !

    If they have bodyguards, prepare ghouls or whatever, a bunch of disposable corpses. You might also hire a few mercenaries (or, cheaper, catspaws and other low-key villainous figures) to help you in your evil endeavours. Just make sure they do NOT backstab you first, obviously - killing them once they've outlived their usefulness works, but you might get a bad rep after this, and find it difficult to hire more the next time. So, you might want to make them fear you enough to keep them docile, while still rewarding them for their work, in order to keep that "villain boss" vibe. Street cred, bro.

    So, yeah, if you have to be evil, do it right. Scheme, plot, murder, bathe in the tears of your enemies, stomp in the puddles of their blood, dance with their corpses (which you'll have reanimated to become your servants, or merely to prevent them from decaying too much as you abuse them regularly), whatever floats your boat.

    Disclaimer: No, officer, I swear this doesn't come from real-life experience. Ahem...
  • I like that idea. This is my first time trying to create an evil character, I guess killing the locals didn't cross my mind as a way of obtaining undead followers. Though it would totally work for an evil necromancer. 
    Now I'm wondering what the easiest way for this character to kill would be? Use other spells to help slay his enemies, or maybe wield a weapon that he could use to take them by surprise? Poison could work too. I will have to familiarize myself with the rules for that though. 
    Are there any archetype s that really lead themselves to the necromancer idea?
  • edited January 1
    I'm currently playing a (not so evil) Oracle of Bones. It works quite well as a necromancer, as it gets spells to create and even control undead. Priests of evil gods work very well, as long as one of the domains of their god is Death, too. I'd suggest following Urgathoa, Zon-Kuthon, Norgorbert, or another such god.

    Or you might make a profane spellcaster, too, mages can become great necromancers.

    As to how to kill people, there are sooo many ways... where to begin ?  You can obviously overpower them, kill them with spells, and the like, but why stop at the obvious ?

    Poison is your friend, here. Traps, too. You could even offer your "help" to adventurers (as a caster in a party, or as a healer after you find them broken, battered, and nearly dead). Sneak in a house and slit a throat (or ten), assassin-style. Order flunkies to bring them to you, mob-boss-style. Or order undead flunkies to bring them to you, necromancer-style.

    Now, obviously, if you want to SURVIVE as a necromancer, I'd suggest maxing your Bluff skill, and possibly the Disguise skill too. Try and make yourself pass for something you're not (like, a NICE guy, or at least a non-threatening one). If you get undead guardians, try and make it not too obvious. Skeletons or zombies following you everywhere tends to mark you as evil...

    You could, alternatively, try and make it obvious that you wield dead tools - err, creatures, and then make it *seem* like you help people with them. But, even if you look nice, you might still get hunted - after all, servants of Pharasma, and/or good deities, probably won't care what you pretend to do with your servants. Merely having them might warrant death, to their eyes.

    So, yeah, I'd advise treading carefully, covering your tracks, NOT killing too many people in the same place, not being too obvious, etc. But everything will depend on how your DM and your party see things, too.

    Bloody Skeletons are a VERY good tool, especially if you don't fight life energy wielders, as they are near-indestructible. Look at the skeleton archetype in order to know how to create them (and then, use the creatures with the most HD and natural attacks as the material for your soon-to-be best slaves)

    Or Ghouls and their upgraded versions, if you want to field a large army soon (but beware, that will be an army of weak creatures, which would be destroyed easily by somewhat skilled adventurers or soldiers). Sure, it can wreak havoc on civilians with ease, and grow by itself, but I'd only advise this as a tool of terror, or as a distraction, NOT as an effective fighting tool.

    Remember that a "good" necromancer always uses a desecrated area to perform his undead recruitment (they get better stats). Also, it lets you create more at a time.
    Remember, too, that you'll need onyx. 50 gold per Hit Die, so better loot people first.

    I'm sure if you think of ways to be inconspicuous, you'll do pretty fine. Just keep in mind that magic can detect non-neutral alignments, so try and find ways to deal with that (either avoiding such magics, or getting artifacts and/or spells to mask your real alignment)
  • I like that. I have been looking at the oracle of the bones for a while. I think it has a lot of potential. I also saw a class called Necromancer. Do you know how that one works? or is the oracle of the bones still more powerful?
  • edited January 4
    Never tried the Necromancer class, so I cannot be sure. First thing I see is that it's 3rd party, though, so it would require your DM to accept this source.
    Then, I see it's a half-BAB class. Not a problem per se, but it won't be good at attacking (not that an oracle is that good, either, mind you, but oracles are 3/4 BAB).
    It has a D8 for HD, which is as good as oracles, and it is also a charisma-based divine spellcaster.

    Priests can channel energy around them (if it's negative energy, you could be able to one-shot a whole tavern trying to arrest you, or heal all your minions in one pulse). Oracles cannot, nor can profane spellcasters, as far as I know (there might be feats or lineages which allow it, but I cannot think of one, here). So the Necromancer, which can do it, has an advantage, here.

    I also like the "charnel touch" ability, which seems to become quite powerful as a debuff. It's a melee touch attack, so it shouldn't be too hard to hit, most of the time, but remember that it's an attack without a weapon, which means that it won't have bonuses to hit from a magical weapon. And with a half-BAB class, some agile opponents will likely be impossible to hit, other than with a natural 20, so you shouldn't count on it too much.
    However, you'll have a "spectral hand" from level 4th onward, letting you perform these attacks at a distance, and with a +2 bonus.

    Command Undead is good, but the Oracle of Bones can also get it as a revelation (I took it at level 3). So, no advantage here.

    Fortification can help you survive, but shouldn't be relied on. I mean, in the first place, you should do everything you can NOT to be hit. With Light Armor, you won't have good AC, unless you have a lot of Dex. So, you'll have to try not to be attacked, instead. If your hired minions and undead slaves do the job as intented, nobody should be able to get close to you, and ranged attacks should have cover penalties. So, yeah, that leaves AoE spells and attacks, but you remembered to be invisible and out of the way, obviously... did you ?  (Using a decoy can be quite good, too - maybe a rapid zombie with gloves and a mask, plus a huge robe with cowl covering his face, and a ventriloquism spell, in a dim-lit area, or anything which can make the enemy think this is you, while it isn't).

    I love the Necromantic Epiphany (lv20), it IS a great boon. Also, if you take a half-orc, you can use all your favored class bonuses to get 3/4 BAB instead of half-bab. Seeing how the charnel touch is a nice attack, it could be worth it - if you do not plan on raining other deadly spells on your enemies, that is.

    As far as skills go, the Necromancer class has Bluff and Sense Motive, which are probably the most useful ones to fool your enemies into thinking you are harmless, and to alarm you when they are suspicious of you. You also have Knowledge (religion), which is vital when you need to know about undead. You do not have Disguise, but can always take it as a bonus, if you have the points to spend.

    Now, as far as the spells go, a Necromancer is waaaaay more limited than an oracle. It has very few spells, without any bonus from his charisma, and even though it is said that it can learn spells from other sources, it's not very well described, so I guess you'd have to get your DM's green light on a per-case basis.
    Also, it doesn't say that it's a spontaneous spellcaster. If the necromancer is a prepared caster, I'd say this is a huge minus for it.

    All in all, I'd say the Necromancer class looks interesting, and could be worth a try, but I don't think it would be "better" than a priest or oracle. Merely different.

    Now, whichever class you choose, be clever, be the one on the offensive, do not let your enemies track you down.

    Remember that the undead, as rule, do not breathe. Which means that portable holes and even dimension bags can store them for future use. At higher levels, a personal demi-plane can do the same for bigger armies / or huge undead monstruosities. It's much more stealthy to just "pop them out" near your future victims, than leave a trail from 200 zombies ploughing the ground into a muddy excuse for a path. Priest spells also include air walk (though I'm sure that profane spellcasters have an equivalent), which means that you can disappear without a trace after your evil deeds are done (especially if you stored your troops back in a dimensional space afterwards).

    You can also use deep bodies of water to conceal them, or bury them into the ground (though this would be clearly less stealthy, unless you have a way to remove the marks on the surface, like sowing magic seeds for plants to grow quickly, or whatever).

    Also, beware of intelligent undead. They ARE more powerful, and, if you can trust* them, will make good minions. However, they have a will of their own, and will probably have their own agenda. If you mind-controled them using dominate undead or a similar feat, remember that they WILL try to break your control (once per day), so, unless you manage to entice them with enough benefits to make them want to stay and serve you, expect them to leave your service quietly (in the best case), or even to harm you as soon as they are able to (try to kill you in your sleep, steal/destroy your loot, torch your hideout, destroy your other slaves, possibly even betray you to the local militia, etc...)

    * about TRUST... remember that all undead are EVIL, and possibly chaotic too. So, yeah, trust them as far as you can be sure of their self-interest. And even then, maybe take some precautions on the side, just to be safe.

    I'd advise you to work with the Skeleton and Zombie archetypes to create powerful, mindless undead slaves. Mostly with the Bloody Skeleton (because very hard to kill, and more powerful than a basic skeleton) or the Fast Zombie (because much better than the useless basic version). Using the bloody skeletons, I didn't find any interest in "higher" undead. I currently have a Bloody Skeleton of a Cold Rider, whose racial 13HD and unarmed attacks made into a very useful servant - It is still moderately useful now, and I'm level 15), and a Bloody Skeleton of a Gorynych, whose 3 heads make for some mayhem. Sure, it is bulky, but you can always break it to small pieces to fit it through a small hole, and wait for an hour for it to heal back into shape.

    I'm sure you can find even better ways of using corpses for personal gain :)
  • This has been very helpful. I love the creativity that you have suggested too. I think I might try out the necromancer and see how it works.
    From what I read it is a spontaneous caster, just worded a little strange. The spell list limited, but I do think the GM will allow some case-by-case spells. (the GM is me, lol) I am working on a very unique campaign, and need to create some very unique characters that may interact with the party without giving away what they are doing.
  • For either build, what do you think would be useful feats to include? I was thinking of some meta magic feats like quicken spell, or in the case of the channel, selective channel.
  • edited January 5
    Well, if you want your debuffs (or damage spells, whatever) to pass spell resistance, spell penetration might be a good thing.
    As for other feats, honestly, I'm not a good optimizer in Pathfinder. I really didn't read the whole list enough to be of use here.

    From what I gather, this would be a NPC which you'd use as a secret Villain orchestrating Evil Things (tm) while the PCs wonder who, why, and how, right ?

    If so, I suppose that feats helping him blend in would be most welcome. So, maybe things like Alertness (because it pays to know what happens around you, especially to be able to flee if needed), Beguiling Countenance (+2 diplomacy - but against PCs, not sure they would really become his besties), or Deceitful, could prove useful.

    I've also found the feat Charnel Soldiers, when browsing, and I think it would be perfect for him. It requires knowing a Teamwork Feat, though, which means you should learn one or two, obviously, if you take it.

    - Combat Casting could be nice, but you're not entirely reliant on spells, as you have your Charnel Touch.
    - Conceal Spell could be an interesting "joker", but as a last resort (if confronted by not-yet-sure PCs), OR in the middle of a crowd (casting a debuff on them right before "unexpected" undead crash the party, for instance, while all the town's important people are there, along with the PCs - now, THAT's a nice occasion for mayhem. And who's to say the necromancer wanted only Mrs Foo dead, if she's among a score of victims ?). But, at the very least, PCs would *know* that the culprit isn't among the people here, right ? They would have noticed if one of them had cast a spell, right ? Right...
    - Convincing Persona, if your necromancer wants to play reverse Zorro. That is, move with a blood-curdling disguise, a mask, and the like, performing dastardly acts, then fleeing, and blending in the crowd again later, as his real identity this time.

    I honestly don't want to browse the whole list, so I'll stop here, but I'm sure you'll manage, especially if you know it better than I do - which I don't doubt, as you'll be the DM ^^

    Consider giving your villainous Necromancer a high bluff score, and possibly magic items to complement it, in order for him NOT to betray himself due to an unfortunate fumbled roll. Also, maybe give him some items able to counter alignment detection (maybe only a certain number of times, or maybe on a X uses per day basis, whether active or "passively reacting"). This way, it shouldn't be overpowered if the PCs use it later on, but it would be a shame if a paladin were to undo all your hard work by pinpointing THE only chaotic evil guy in the room.

    Or consider making it so that a lot of people have corpses in their closets (as a figure of speech, obviously - wait...), having a nice mix of all alignments (after all, you can have loyal evil rich exploiters, in a city's elite, just like you could find a lot of people despising law and order, not always for evil purposes). In fact, you could have your necromancer not be chaotic at all, he might even be following a complex honor code. Maybe "Do Unto Your Enemy As He Did To You, Tenfold", or such thing. Maybe he only murders between 11pm and 1am, because only scum does so at other times, or whatever...

    As for the "Evil" part, it's heavily linked with the use of undead (and, more generally, of "Evil" spells, which undead-raising spells are). However, if you manage to cast a lot of "Good" spells, you could balance it out and become cosmically "neutral" (yup, the game system says your alignments shifts towards good or evil when using aligned spells). I honestly wouldn't dream of your bastard being "good", though. Gods like a good laugh, but should draw a line somewhere. However, considering the initial premise, I'd stick with Evil, even if it makes it easier for him to be found out.

    Oh, and one last thing: Be careful with Onyx. You need it to raise undead, but, as far as I know, it's the only thing it is used for... So, if your PCs are a bit savvy about it, and they find his stockpile (or one of them), it might make them realize. Same thing if they interrogate the merchants about the buyers of that specific commodity.

    Of course, there could be a jeweler creating nice adornments out of it, with a conveniently-easy-to-break-in storage room, nearby. Or there could items made of the stuff (the black stones for Go games, manufactured nearby), stone mosaics, whatever... But remember that if he has no good reason to have it, it might be suspicious.

    Let us know how it went afterwards, ok ?
  • For either build, what do you think would be useful feats to include? I was thinking of some meta magic feats like quicken spell, or in the case of the channel, selective channel.

    Oh, and for Selective Channel, I'm not sure why you would bother. I mean, for Positive Energy, it's important, sure. But why select only some people to harm, if you can harm everybody ?  Of course, if you're living, you might want to "opt out" of the self-damage, but that's about it.

    And if it's to heal undead, unless the PCs use undead too, there is no harm in channeling indiscriminately.

    Quicken spell is always useful, if you have a higher slot which you don't plan on using. However, I'd use it only as a last resort, as the villain should work from the shadows, and not confront the PCs (unless forced to, obviously). If the Necromancer is indeed a spontaneous spellcaster, then you can decide on the spot if you need to burn a higher-level slot for a quick effect...
  • These are some really good ideas. As my first pass at creating a necromancer, it has been a challenge. I really appreciate what you have said. I was thinking that if the PC's run more neutral (and that mostly depends on the players), then maybe they won't mind a few undead popping up to help out once in a while. I know of at least one player who has used a summon spell and summoned a bloody skeleton. So maybe using the conceal spell would work for making it look like I and just summoning an undead versus creating them. or it might be useful to make a few undead animals fro the summon monster list and instead of using summon monster, just pull them from the dimension where they are stored. 
    I really like where this is going so far. A secret villain masquerading as a hero, using spells and sleight of hand to cover his tracks, setting up a zombie to be the "real bad guy" and then ambushing the PC when they go to confront the final boss. Or if I make him be a bit more chaotic, maybe he is just doing it to mess with the PCs and really wants to see the world burn. Whatever the case ends up being, I love how the character is going to have to be super sneaking to pull it all off. 
    for the selective channel, I was thinking of using it to 'help' the party fight off bad guys, but if every time I attacked the enemies, the players are also hurt? Might give away that he isn't there to help. 
    I may have bitten off more than I was ready for, for this campaign, but it may turn out to be a very interesting one if I can get it all to work out right. :smiley:
  • edited January 7
    Nah, by all means, take that selective channeling, then. Especially if the "villain" plans to work along the PCs. However, please remember that channeling negative energy is, in itself, somewhat of a giveaway. I mean, no GOOD guy can do it, you need to at most be neutral, if not downright evil (at the character creation) to be able to pull it off.

    So, yeah, I really more envisioned him as a "hidden" guy, not as the "friendly neighborhood masked hero", especially if you use undead "to help". I honestly fear that it would expose the secret too easily. But, of course, you may help them with other spells or abilities without much risk (as long as they don't all reek of necromancy. If you re-read the necromancer's spell list, however, I fear that there aren't many spells from other schools, there.)
    So, yeah, you can just "summon" the undead as needed, but try not to channel energy - especially if you claim not to be a priest. Also, remember that you'll use "divine" magic, so it will be hard to explain how you got it without being a priest or oracle. And you'll probably have to think of a god which you "worship". And I don't think there are many good gods there fitting the bill.

    Be cautious about the "summoning" part. I mean, if you come with the undead already out of the bag, and leave with them still functional, sure, you may pass it off as summoning. But else, remember that it probably doesn't look like a summoning. I mean, even if you chant, and make grand gestures, in the end, you're merely opening a bag. And if you do so, it's hard to hide that fact, especially if the undead has some trouble getting in or out (I don't know the size of the bag's opening, but I highly doubt a dimension bag has a door-like opening... so, the zombie will probably have to slither through a hole having, what, maybe a 1-foot diameter ? Doable for a medium-zombie, but probably not very fast, I'd say around 1 round, at a minimum. For a skeleton, with all the sticky bones which could get stuck in the fabric, it would probably be even worse).

    And there wouldn't be any magical effects, either. I mean, a Spellcraft check would tell them that there is no magic, and, honestly, even the observation would let people see quite easily that you're not opening a magical rift to pull the creature through, but opening a magical bag. Also, I'm not sure what a "dispel magic" would do. On a summon, it would remove the summoned unit, because the spell keeping it here would be destroyed. On a "permanent" undead, would it work at all ?  If so, I think that it would remove the magic keeping the body moving, but the body would fall on the floor. So, the difference will be obvious.

    So, all in all, while probably still doable to "help" as a fake hero, I feel like many things wouldn't feel right. Even if you learn a few other spells (which will have to be *divine* spells - which, normally, are bestowed, not researched), and extensively use metamagic to explain why you only cast three or four different spells, but with variations (in order not to show your more questionable spells), it will probably "feel" wrong, here. I'm pretty sure an Oracle would be better suited to the role (or a Mystic Theurge, in order to have a nice mix&match of profane and divine spells).

    Oh, don't forget the Isitoq, too (they act like little cam drones), you can create them with animate dead for 1 HD worth of obsidian, so it's very useful to keep your necromancer "aware" of his surroundings. He probably won't check them all at the same time (because who watches 30 CCTV screens together, along with his own senses ?), but still, he'll probably peek at what they see from time to time, especially if he needs to check before doing something suspicious.

    So, yeah, try and write a coherent character (which is not to say that the character himself needs to think coherently - he can be a madman, he can have split personalities, maybe he has one "good" side and one "evil" side, even...). After you know his motivations (revenge, world destruction, greed, power trip, just for fun, whatever), it will probably be easier to choose his modus operandi.

    All in all, I feel this villain has the potential to be a "main" villain, controlling a lot of things from afar, hidden in his HQ (or mingling innocently with the good folks, while his slaves do the dirty work), and generally being a pain for the PCs for a looooong time before they manage to corner him (especially if he uses goons, proxies, or catspaws, and/or frames innocents as the culprits when needed). Of course, some motivations would go better with that kind of mastermind that some others (greed, or ambition, for instance. "Just wanting to have some fun", or revenge, would probably use smaller operations)

  • You have a good point. It will be difficult to hide directly in the heroes party if all he uses is necromancy spells. The class is limited to a very evil selection of actions and abilities. Unless the party was extremely open-minded to a neutral person just raising the dead to have extra hands during battle. And if there is even one lawful good player with them they probably won't be.

    I think you may be right where this character will be better if he stayed behind the scenes and only interacted with the players occasionally as he pesters them. An oracle, priest, or even a cleric of the dead would have an easier time explaining why they had undead at their command. Plus they would have a larger selection of spells to choose from in order to hide their true colors when they are with the party. 

    This is an interesting set up that I think I will use, but maybe as my BBEG when the party gets farther into the storyline. In the meantime, I might use one of the other options to have a minion or follower of the BBEG infiltrate the party and correspond with the BBEG about the party's movements. They would blend in better. The question then becomes, will the party be able to sway the minion into betraying the BBEG. if that happens, that might give the party a little too much information early on, and if the BBEG loses contact with the minion, it would tip him off that the party is on to him. 

    All in all, I like where this is going, but if separate my idea into two characters, I need to make sure they either have a very strong bond or their motivations line up perfectly where one won't betray the other. Hmm, there is a lot to consider with this. 
  • Well, there are many ways your BBEG could ensure the "loyalty" of his infiltrator.

    The first is to have a very devout believer work for him. Someone worshipping, let's say, Norgorbert, or Zon-Kuthon, would probably rather follow him than some goody-two-shoes who barf rainbows with a 2-feet smile on their faces. I believe that even if the BBEG doesn't follow such a god, his followers wouldn't care that much, as long as his actions are in "accordance" to their own faith.

    The second would be to appeal to greed. I mean, if the accomplice is *handsomely* rewarded for helping you, and has no reason to believe he'll be better off betraying you, even an immoral, deloyal minion would think twice before turning his cloak.

    The third would be to have some means of pressure against him. If you know where his family lives, and you *protect* them, then unless that person doesn't care about them, he'd probably think twice before risking your wrath. Oh, obviously, they can betray you and hope the heroes save their loved ones before you can harm them, or they can not care at all about them, in the end (which is a risk, when working with truely evil and selfish people - good help is SO hard to come by, nowadays).
    Of course, if you can have a more direct means of controlling him (like a curse which would kill him if he ever betrayed you), that's even better. Your BBEG might have made a big show of having an initiation ceremony in the form of a ritual, and "explained" it to him as he went. He might even have requested a formal promise of obedience, or whatever, during that ritual, explaining that it would bind them in a magic contract where both parties are bound to respect their promises, lest they suffer divine wrath, or any other kind of retribution... As long as the lackey BELIEVES it, it's all good.

    And even better than any of the methods given above, would be a combination of several of them. If the servant thinks he's bound by a magic contract, AND does great work for his divinity, AND gets rich in the process... would he really betray you, unless utterly certain doing so would be the only way for him ?

    Also, you might limit the danger posed to the BBEG through information control. I mean, if the servant was contacted through magical means, or merely some cloak-and-dagger methods (like a message telling him to go to a given place at a given time, like an old, derelict barn near an abandoned, burnt-down farm, for instance), and there he either found another message, to which he could leave a written answer, or was able to speak to the BBEG through magic (which could possibly have disguised said BBEG's voice, in the process), it is possible that he never met his employer.

    If there was a ritual-like contract, maybe it was done in the presence of the BBEG, or maybe it was done in the presence of a corpse animated by the BBEG, dressed, masked, and enchanted so as to be a believable "master", but merely a magically-controled undead-drone. Or maybe the BBEG was there in person, but masked, and tried to disguise his voice as much as possible. Easier, cheaper, but less secure...

    So, yeah, in that case, the underling could betray the way he was contacted, could tell about the place where he had the ritual (unless he had been blindfolded before, that is). He could tell about the deaddrop used to leave reports and to retrieve instructions (deaddrop which the BBEG would operate through undead servants, or temporary summons, for instance. Unless it is a very small portal to another place, like a secure deposit box ?)

    Even if the PCs manage to get such information, will they be able to exploit it ? If they need to "tail" a lone skeleton, or a zombie owl, by night, without being spotted by your Undead Surveillance Drones Array (tm) (yeah, ok, the murder of Isitoq you'd have placed around the location), they'll probably have a hard time doing so undetected.
    Plus, never forget that such undead servants are loyal (because mindless), and utterly disposable if needs arises.

    So, yeah, that's not to say the PCs shouldn't have any way to get to the BBEG, but it shouldn't be easy. Maybe they'd need to place a "trap" spell on the location, which could attach some kind of tracer on the undead when it comes. Maybe they could scry for that undead's location periodically, after observing it for some time. Maybe they have better stealth than the BBEG's Isitoq can perceive. Or maybe they'll just learn that there is a very CLEVER necromancer operating in these parts (which would be a good information in itself), and have to locate him using other means.

    Never underestimate the PCs, and, if your villain isn't meant to be found out too soon, then just don't give the PCs too many reasons to suspect him. I mean, the villain could discuss with them, but do not make it too obvious. He should only be one of many, many NPCs to have interacted with them. Do not give him an overly large "screen time", lest they understand immediately that he's an important character.

    I mean, if they talk to "a nondescript baker", "a passerby", "the guy holding the 2nd inn (not named yet, but, err, let me find a name for that inn, guys)", they clearly won't have the same impression as if they meet "A distinguised gentleman clad in a purple velvet doublet, on a pale green silk shirt with exquisitely crafted lace cuffs. His cleanly trimmed mustache cannot hide his amiable smile, visible in his kind eyes as well as on his well-drawn lips. Extending a firm, honest hand to the PCs, he presents himself as Edmund Stephenson, a mere philanthropist keen on helping his fellow burghers".

    What this means is that you should probably not describe him (or not too much, unless specifically asked for by the PCs), and you should have other descriptions for other NPCs ready. Have names ready, at least for those they should be able to find again easily (like the baker, or the guy holding the 2nd inn - which should ALSO be named beforehand). Have some other minor, and innocent, characters repeatedly bump into the PCs. Maybe some of them will look at them with squinted eyes, because of mistrust, or because they fear their not-so-good deeds could be exposed. Maybe some will try to ingratiate themselves to the PCs (because they genuinely want to help, or because of some infatuation, or because they think they can profit from them, whatever...)

    In the end, it will be important that the BBEG doesn't stand out too much, compared to the other inhabitants. Sure, if the PCs want to meet him, make him available (at least, reasonably so), make him cordial, possibly eager to help, or possibly gruff if waken in the middle of the night - even if he wasn't sleeping, and was instead interrupted in the middle of plotting his next nefarious plot). Make him appear vulnerable if needed (like, get out of his house to welcome the PCs in his nightgown, with a nightcap), and still accept, though grudgingly, to help them if REALLY needed, and if that cannot wait until the morrow. Make him look like any other member of the community (because the butcher said that he'd help cleave those walking bones if needed, too. Just like the woodcutter said he'd fell them, or whatever).

    So, yeah, these good people probably won't be eager to take risks, but if you rouse them in a time of dire need, you probably will be able to organize them as a militia (or maybe they already are, if there have been enough dark deeds). Refusing to join the militia would be suspicious, so, of course, the BBEG will have joined, at least from time to time. Those refusing to join, those seeming the most selfish, those with unfriendly manners, will probably be the first to fall under scrutiny. And that's good !  It's good to be cleverly evil...

    Also, remember that the BBEG will probably try NOT to keep any incriminating material in his house. Not even in a secret room (because that's usually the downfall of those who think it's WELL hidden - PCs will routinely find all "findable" hidden things, as there will be one or two of them who will have maxed out perception. So, as long as it CAN be found at their level, you should expect it will (and a clever villain should expect it too, hence the not having it at home, even if it is less convenient that way).
  • I like that. I think having multiple ways that the BBEG is controlling or manipulating his minion is awesome. I also want to leave it possible, if the PCs find the right answer, that the minion would switch sides. In that case, I will make sure that the BBEG won't be found until I am ready for him to be found. I also like the idea of the BBEG occasionally interacting with the party maybe in passing, maybe offering to help them, and then move his forces accordingly.  

    I really like what you have suggested. There are many things that I had not considered. And if the BBEG is a Necromancer, he will likely have high intelligence and easily be able to pull off cleverly evil deeds. 

    What I am thinking now, is that the BBEG and minion has a shared past, maybe mentor and pupil, or simply that the BBEG has provided protection in exchange for the minion's service. Better yet, the minion sought out the BBEG for whatever reason and thus has a greater interest in following the BBEG's commands.
  • Looks good to me. As I said before, please let us know how it goes :)
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