In my kingdom I hired a group of necromancers, they are powerful but their thralls are weak, mainly skeletons and half rotten corpses but I can equip them with anything and the magic of the necromancers protect my living troops against disease.

There is only one problem: the zombies/skeletons are way weaker than the living humans for obvious reasons,More precisely the lack of biomass, even kids can fight against them.

How can I make my undead soldiers effective?

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    $\begingroup$ "for obvious reasons" — what reasons would it be? They are magical, right? No problems with muscle limits, for example. Never tired. Bones held in place with magic. And so on. No reason for them to be weaker. No reason for them to be stronger. They are what you want them to be. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jun 19 '18 at 7:16
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    $\begingroup$ I read Molot's comment as "If you decide that in your world they are weaker, just state it. If they are stronger, same". "because reason" is a valid motivation used countless time here, as we know it is your world and then it has your rules, but "obvious reasons" is, pardon the pun, not so obvious. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jun 19 '18 at 7:58
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    $\begingroup$ The obvious reasons are only in your head. The fact animated skeletons can move at all is a function of magic, not biology or physics, the effectiveness of that magic and hence the strength of the skeletons is entirely up to you. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jun 19 '18 at 10:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Myrmidon, no, you need to explain the limits of the magic and why the skeletons are weak. You need to give us rules to work within to be able to give you a good answer. How can the skeletons hold together at all if you're then limiting their strength by remaining muscle material. Perhaps a necromancer can make one really good skeleton or lots of weak ones, but you need to tell us those rules. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jun 19 '18 at 10:46
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    $\begingroup$ Making this question not about magic would basically allow for only a single correct answer: "that's not possible". For what it's worth, I agree that this question needs more detail in order to be properly answerable. The top two comments provide a good starting point. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 19 '18 at 10:48

Follow the path along which homo sapiens moved during its evolutionary history: value endurance over force. If you want to catch a zebra in the savanna and the zebra outruns you on pure velocity, chase it for 30 km until it falls to the ground incapable of running away, and blow your strike.

Your troops cannot be killed, so they can take as many blows as you like. The offender striking them, on the other hand, is a living human, who sooner or later will be exhausted by continuously hitting an elaborated version of a punching ball.

At that point you don't need to be a monster to overcome the exhausted opponent(s).

Moreover you can easily summon large numbers of skeletons/zombies. And if you ever found yourself struggling with ants at a picnic you know that large numbers compensate very well the weakness of the single.

Of course this is not a tout court effectiveness, but it is applicable only in specific cases. But that applies to any weapon in a fight.

  • $\begingroup$ I might want to two things: 1. Undead soldiers could be expendable and easily replacable. 2. Just like in Movies, you could raise entire graveyards and use masses of them. $\endgroup$ – ArtificialSoul Jun 19 '18 at 6:58

it's basically the same argument as for Zombies, the proper slow moving unending zombies like in World War Z the book and not the atrocious World War Z the Film that tried to make Zombies weird and more scary instead they destroyed the fear.

a Walking Skeleton/undead/Zombie has many pros and a few cons, they are already effective, you don't need to do more with what your have, they are already fantastic

Cons, (for classic skeleton soldiers)

They are weaker (but magic could easily overcome this)

They are slower (Again magic can overcome this)

These cons can be overcome quite easily with the magic that your necromancers use, they already are using some to make a skeleton walk in the first place so why not?


Stopping to eat and drink

They don't need feeding, they just are. living people need to eat and drink, skeleton soldiers need neither, they can keep going and going, while the humans will need to stop eventually to eat/gather supplies/collect water, the skeletons keep coming never ending


The don't need training, at least not normally, they just come to life and start attacking, yes a trained swordsman will be able to fight off a few skeletons, but ever tried fighting off more than one attacker at the same time, it doesn't take the same amount of skill, it takes exponentially more skill to be able to protect yourself from multiple angles while at the same time attacking when the opportunity arises. try it with some friends and broomsticks, just bring some ice-packs, as you're going to get hit a lot... an untrained human will find it hard to fight off a a single untrained skeleton, they both just need to get unlucky and its goodnight, mix that with my next point and it gets worse for humans


They have near infinite endurance, and don't need sleep, the longer a soldier stays awake the less effective they are, that is why the training is so important to extend their endurance, and minimize this loss as long as possible, but if the enemy keeps coming slowly but surely, the soldiers grows weaker over time but the enemy doesn't. a man can swing a sword for some time and be reasonably effective, but to effectively block another sword continuously for more than a minute, it gets tiring very quickly, each block will be weaker, each strike softer, each counter slower... Skeletons don't have that issue, they just keep going


they don't get bored or demoralized, and stop fighting, most large scale battles ended in one side being routed and running away, and the other side rarely chances them down, why risk more loses when the enemy is running away and scared out of their minds, but skeletons don't have this issue, they keep attacking, they won't run away, they won't get tired or bored chasing down the runners, they keep going they keep chasing


Its easy to make a huge army of them, skeleton soldiers rarely fight one on one, they always fight as a horde, and it is that horde aspect that makes them both scary and effective. what does it matter that a human can stand against a few skeletons and that an dozen soldiers could kill a 100 skeletons when there's 1000 more over the hill, its never ending, a constant struggle constant fear constant attack, no sleep no food never time to at least... just constant miserable fighting

At last but not least... they are really really Scary

Most people can deal with the sight of a skeleton, we've all seen one on TV, in a science classroom, whats it matter, well... those don't move, they don't attack, they aren't trying to kill you, this has a massive mental effect on someone, something is trying to kill me, it causes fear... fear that is only added to by the above factors, hence my repetition in the above factors of the constant unending assault. eventually it starts to build and compound on top of each other, and eventually the fear gets too much, going up against an army of the undead/skeletons would lead to a lot of suicides, which in turn could lead to more bodies for the necromancers

Think about finding a soldier that has hanged himself, he couldn't take it anymore, this was your fellow soldier, your friends. you give him his last rights etc, pray for him, then a necromancer turns up and resurrects him, but now he's not your friend, not that person that you ate with, trained with, fought side by side with, now suddenly, he's your enemy, he's trying to kill you. how badly would this traumatize people?

Add this onto Tim B II's suggestion of the increased disease factors... and well... need i say more?


Napalm Grenade Meets Typhoid Mary

All your skeletons need to survive is the trip into the enemy camp. Your magicians are right to protect your living troops from disease and to be frank, I'd up the voltage on that disease. Lace your skeletons and corpses with some really bad diseases, then send them into the enemy camp, preferably at night as a sneak attack. Their living troops will soon fall ill because they're coming into contact with your 'sick' army while engaged in hand to hand combat.

The great part of that is that they don't have to last that long. Infect one soldier with a highly infectious and dangerous disease, and he'll infect the others as they try to treat him, especially if they don't know that he's infected at first. This is a long range weapon that can take out an entire army until people know that the disease is being carried by the corpses. After that, whole platoons (possibly regiments) will be quarantined after a surprise attack, effectively taking them out of the fight.

Even if they're destroyed near the camp, having to clean up the... well, bodies I guess... means that the enemy is subject to infection.

If both sides have access to necromancers, then this is not as effective because they can protect their own soldiers from disease. So, this is not a total solution but I would envisage this becoming an arms race of viral and epidemiological research, trying to find new diseases that the opposing necromancers can't counteract as effectively.


Undead are good at playing dead (it's almost a second nature), use that ability.

Have a first line of undead, a second line of normal troops. When the enemy attacks, have your undead fight at 50%, before going and staying down, then send your fresh live troops. A first strategy would be to have your second line fight defensively, while giving terrain, then to raise the undead back behind the enemy lines. On the opposite, if your live troops gain some ground, raise the undead behind them, and use them as a third line to relieve your live troops. Lastly, if the enemy still fights above your dead, have them stab and grip the enemy's feet, and put your live troops on the offensive, then try to use second strategy.

  • $\begingroup$ This sounds more like a battle tactic, than about specifically making the skeletons "formidable hand to hand fighters". Consider an Edit to elaborate on where the hand to hand part comes into play in this answer. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 19 '18 at 10:50

The regular deathless tropes are here - deathless, untiring, durable, mass numbers. That is fine and has all been done.

Another way to make them formidable is to make them preternaturally fast and nimble. These undead are not mindless corpses and not some zombielike semblance of the person who was. They are animated by inserting a spirit. The spirit is sentient and malign. It thinks fast and moves fast, and is limited only by the laws of physics. It might be physically weak on purpose - such beings are dangerous opponents and dangerous also to their creators. Demons can be bound to serve but their have their own agendas.

You would not want too many of these in your world. It is a different approach to seeing a skeleton coming - it is physically weak but it moves like a cat, and if you let it close with you, you are toast.

It would also make for good narrative. The skeleton is inhabited by a spirit that is very intelligent, but it cannot speak with bare bones. It was raised as a warrior and there is a good reason it is in a vessel incapable of speech: listening to spirits can be very dangerous. It might find other ways to communicate.


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