Ah, the demands of game balance. Clearly off-screen there must be rites, rituals, and incantations that, while they take longer to cast or are more expensive than create undead, allow NPC spellcasters of lower level to create undead servitors. Because there’s no way a 12th-level wizard is wasting a 6th-level spell slot to create a CR 2 undead creature.
That said, phantom armors are both classic and cool, perfect for adding a little Gothic horror—or at least Scooby-Doo horror—to your low-level sessions.
Speaking of which, the kind of animate armor PCs find themselves facing might be a good indicator of their final nemesis. If they’re fighting armor animated with animate objects, maybe they’re up against a perfectly reasonable dude who’s just really into home security. (You don’t ever waltz into a transmuter’s office and not expect some nasty surprises, even if he’s of good alignment.) But phantom armor? Someone had to be evil to cast that create undead—feel free to smite.
The dread wight Avax does not have to content himself with a lowly barrow. Instead he roams an entire keep and constantly plots ways to move the milestones that demarcate his land—and thus, how far his dead body may travel. He is aided by giant phantom armors whose origin he can only guess at, as they do not match the proportions of any known giant species.
A suit of phantom armor from another land might wield a katana, bardiche, boar spear, urumi, or any other exotic weapon. The phantom armors that guard the Imperial Museum do not feature the steel breastplates of their northern counterparts, but they do sport iron claws meant to invoke the spirit of the leopard (which haste the undead for three rounds a day).
Trapped by a coven of teachers on campus over the holiday break, a group of young alchemists and mages must try to escape school grounds and its many watchmen, including the guardian phantom armors that police the halls. Meanwhile, in the dreamscape where they battle each night, their dream selves face the coven’s nightmare constructs, including eidolons, giants, and giant phantom armors…not to mention the native fey, will-o’wisps, and dragons.
—Pathfinder Adventure Path #47 84-85 & Pathfinder Bestiary 4 213
You can also find hollow helms and phantom lancers in Pathfinder Adventure Path #47: Ashes at Dawn.
I had a bunch of reader notes and responses to go through…and I left them all on the draft on my work computer. Tomorrow!