D&D 5E Level 1 Animate Dead

Xeviat

Hero
Just got done playing (as a player, not a DM!) "Rime of the Frostmaiden" as a Life Cleric, and it was fun being on the other side of the DM screen for once in a long time. One of the other players was playing a Necromancer Wizard, and I saw them be incredibly frustrated with how long it took for them to get their Animate Dead spell. It was kind of weird for a necromancer to take so long to really be able to be a necromancer.

I started talking with the other player about trying to redesign the Animate Dead spell to be a 1st level spell. For reference, here's the existing spell's text:

This spell creates an undead servant. Choose a pile of bones or a corpse of a Medium or Small humanoid within range. Your spell imbues the target with a foul mimicry of life, raising it as an undead creature. The target becomes a skeleton if you choose bones or a zombie if you choose a corpse (the GM has the creature's game statistics).
On each of your turns, you can use a bonus action to mentally command any creature you made with this spell if the creature is within 60 feet of you (if you control multiple creatures, you can command any or all of them at the same time, issuing the same command to each one). You decide what action the creature will take and where it will move during its next turn, or you can issue a general command, such as to guard a particular chamber or corridor. If you issue no commands, the creature only defends itself against hostile creatures. Once given an order, the creature continues to follow it until its task is complete.
The creature is under your control for 24 hours, after which it stops obeying any command you've given it. To maintain control of the creature for another 24 hours, you must cast this spell on the creature again before the current 24-hour period ends. The use of the spell reasserts your control over up to four creatures you have animated with this spell, rather than animating a new one.
At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, you animate or reassert control over two additional undead creatures for each slot level above 3rd. Each of the creatures must come from a different corpse or pile of bones.

I have always been under the impression you could only have up to 4 skeletons/zombies under your control with the 3rd level animate dead, but it seems like if you wanted to use more 3rd level spell slots reasserting control you could.

But, going off that assumption, what if you could animate (and maintain control of) 1 skeleton/zombie with a 1st level slot (and trying again would make you lose control of any before), and you needed to use higher level slots to maintain more? If the +2 per level was maintained, then it would be a straight buff to the 3rd level version, but I'm more concerned about 1st level.

How bad would having a skeleton or zombie pet be at 1st level?

Skeleton
Medium undead, lawful evil
Armor Class 13 (armor scraps)
Hit Points 13 (2d8+4)
Speed 30 ft.
STR 10 (+0), DEX 14 (+2), CON 15 (+2), INT 6 (-2), WIS 8 (-1), CHA 5 (-3)
Damage Vulnerabilities bludgeoning
Damage Immunities poison
Condition Immunities exhaustion, poisoned
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 9
Languages understands all languages it knew in life but can’t speak
Challenge 1/4 (50 XP)
Actions
Shortsword. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d6+2) piercing damage.
Shortbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, range 80/320 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d6+2) piercing damage.

Zombie
Medium undead, neutral evil
Armor Class 8
Hit Points 22 (3d8+9)
Speed 20 ft.
STR 13 (+1), DEX 6 (-2), CON 16 (+3), INT 3 (-4), WIS 6 (-2), CHA 5 (-3)
Saving Throws Wis +0
Damage Immunities poison
Condition Immunities poisoned
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 8
Languages understands the languages it knew in life but can’t speak
Challenge 1/4 (50 XP)
Undead Fortitude. If damage reduces the zombie to 0 hit points, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of 5 + the damage taken, unless the damage is radiant or from a critical hit. On a success, the zombie drops to 1 hit point instead.
Actions
Slam. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6+1) bludgeoning damage.

Now, if Animate Dead had a slight nerf that you had to use your bonus action every round to command them (that they wouldn't just keep following their last command), then the spell could be comparable to Spiritual Weapon in its output, except that the attack isn't based on your stats (so the to hit and damage are lower), it lasts longer, but it has its own HP. Having its own HP is a double edged sword; it means it can take hits for you, but it also means it can be destroyed (spiritual weapon can't be destroyed except for dispel magic).

Comparing it to spiritual weapon might mean it needs to be 2nd level. But, lets look at the damage a 1st level spell would deal on its own? Chromatic Orb does 3d8 (13.5); Burning Hands does 3d6 (10.5). Chromatic Orb would be enough to down the skeleton on an average roll.

If we had a Wizard vs. Wizard at 1st or 2nd level, one who cast animate dead for a skeleton, one who cast mage armor, how comparable are they?

Thoughts?
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
How about re-flavoring Find familiar? You can summon a skeleton or a zombie to be your familiar at 1st level. But like most familiars, it can only use the Help action in combat.

If you want to balance it with the Beastmaster, then let the necromancer command the minion to attack with an Action.
 


FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Just got done playing (as a player, not a DM!) "Rime of the Frostmaiden" as a Life Cleric, and it was fun being on the other side of the DM screen for once in a long time. One of the other players was playing a Necromancer Wizard, and I saw them be incredibly frustrated with how long it took for them to get their Animate Dead spell. It was kind of weird for a necromancer to take so long to really be able to be a necromancer.

I started talking with the other player about trying to redesign the Animate Dead spell to be a 1st level spell. For reference, here's the existing spell's text:



I have always been under the impression you could only have up to 4 skeletons/zombies under your control with the 3rd level animate dead, but it seems like if you wanted to use more 3rd level spell slots reasserting control you could.

But, going off that assumption, what if you could animate (and maintain control of) 1 skeleton/zombie with a 1st level slot (and trying again would make you lose control of any before), and you needed to use higher level slots to maintain more? If the +2 per level was maintained, then it would be a straight buff to the 3rd level version, but I'm more concerned about 1st level.

How bad would having a skeleton or zombie pet be at 1st level?





Now, if Animate Dead had a slight nerf that you had to use your bonus action every round to command them (that they wouldn't just keep following their last command), then the spell could be comparable to Spiritual Weapon in its output, except that the attack isn't based on your stats (so the to hit and damage are lower), it lasts longer, but it has its own HP. Having its own HP is a double edged sword; it means it can take hits for you, but it also means it can be destroyed (spiritual weapon can't be destroyed except for dispel magic).

Comparing it to spiritual weapon might mean it needs to be 2nd level. But, lets look at the damage a 1st level spell would deal on its own? Chromatic Orb does 3d8 (13.5); Burning Hands does 3d6 (10.5). Chromatic Orb would be enough to down the skeleton on an average roll.

If we had a Wizard vs. Wizard at 1st or 2nd level, one who cast animate dead for a skeleton, one who cast mage armor, how comparable are they?

Thoughts?
Depends on how easy you make it to reanimate when it dies. Also depends on your normal adventuring day length.

I mean not much at level 1 and 2 beats sleep. But the skeleton might make your fighters feel a little pointless as you will firebolt + skeleton attack which would leave them in the dust in damage.
 

Stormonu

Legend
As far back as 2E (maybe further), there was also a lower level spell, Animate Dead Animals. A version of that for 5E wouldn't be bad.

Summon skeleton, Summon zombie, Call Crawling Claw would all make great low-level necromancy animation spells, and they could have short enough durations (say 1 minute to 1 hour, depending - longer if they take concentration).
 

Could you make the level 1 version of the spell a Concentration spell? Once concentration is broken either the skeleton(or zombie, or whatever) crumbles back to bones, or else you could give it a will save against the spell DC - if it passes it becomes uncontrolled.

Balances the spell with some risk, and some opportunity cost given it uses your Concentration slot. And it becomes more of a battlefield expedience - you cast it when there's an available corpse and you need a minion NOW rather than accumulating your undead flunkies ahead of time.
 


Voadam

Legend
From 101 1st Level Spells (5e):
Animate Skeleton
1st-level necromancy
As animate undead, except you may only animate one creature, cannot control multiple creatures, you must remain within 30 feet of the skeleton or it becomes a wild skeleton and attacks you and your allies, and you must [use] your action to dictate the creature’s action and your move to cause the creature to move.

Not being able to be more than 30 apart and having to use your move either for your own or for its move seems problematic on a practical level (moving 30' every other round would be possible but very annoying).
 

Stalker0

Legend
Now, if Animate Dead had a slight nerf that you had to use your bonus action every round to command them (that they wouldn't just keep following their last command), then the spell could be comparable to Spiritual Weapon in its output, except that the attack isn't based on your stats (so the to hit and damage are lower), it lasts longer, but it has its own HP. Having its own HP is a double edged sword; it means it can take hits for you, but it also means it can be destroyed (spiritual weapon can't be destroyed except for dispel magic).
I agree, Spiritual Weapon seems to be the closest equivalent to me. If you maintain the duration and just use the lower damage/attack of a zombie I think you have yourself a solid 1st level spell.

If you want to go for the longer term servant, you could add a clause that once the 1 minute duration is over you could switch to concentration to maintain it.

Lets try out a version and see how it looks:

Animate Minor Dead
1st level Necromancy
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 10 feet
Components: V, S, M
Duration: 1 minute or 24 hours (concentration)

You create an undead servant. Choose a pile of bones or a corpse of a Medium or Small humanoid within range. Your spell imbues the target with a foul mimicry of life, raising it as an undead creature. The target becomes a skeleton if you chose bones or a zombie if you chose a corpse (the GM has the creature’s game statistics).

On your turn, you must give the creature a command as a bonus action, or the creature stands idle. You can command the creature to move and to make melee attacks only.

Once the duration is over, you may concentrate to maintain the effect for up to 24 hours. Once the spell ends, the undead breaks down into dust.
 

Voadam

Legend
From 2e's Wizard's Spell Compendium Volume I:

Animate Dead Animals
(Necromancy)
Level: 1
Range: 10 ft.
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 2 rds.
Duration: Instantaneous
Area of Effect: Special
Saving Throw: None
This spell creates undead skeletons and zombies from the bones and bodies of dead animals, specifically vertebrates (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals). The animated remains obey simple verbal commands given by the caster, regardless of the language employed. Only naturally occurring animals of no higher than semi-intelligence can be animated with this particular spell (lizards, cats, frogs, weasels, tigers, and so on), including minimals and nonmagical, giant-sized animals. These undead animals remain animated until they are destroyed in combat or turned; the animating magic cannot be dispelled. The number of undead that a wizard can animate depends on the animal's original Hit Dice, the caster's level, and the type of undead being created. The caster can create the number of animal skeletons or zombies shown on the table. The minimum caster level limits the Hit Dice of animals that can be animated. For example, a lst-level necromancer cannot animate a dead war dog (2+2 Hit Dice).
Caster
Level
1
1
2
2
3
Animal
Hit Dice
1/4 HD or less:
1/2 HD to 1 HD:
1+ to 3+3HD:
3+3 to 6+3 HD:
Over 6+3 HD:
No. of
Skeletons
4/level
2/level
1/level
1/2levels
1/4levels
Caster
Level
1
1
2
3
4
Animal
Hit Dice
1/4 HD or less:
1/2 to 1-1 HD:
1 to 3+3 HD:
3+3 to 6+3 HD:
Over 6+3
No. of
Zombies
2/caster level
1/caster level
1/2 caster levels
1/4 caster levels
1/4 caster levels
Animated skeletons of animals that had 1/2 to 1 HD conform to the statistics of animal skeletons (see "Skeleton" in the MONSTROUS MANUAL Tome). Skeletons of animals that had less than 1/2 HD when living conform to those same statistics, with the following changes: AC 9, HD 1/4, hp 1, #At 1, Dmg 1.
Skeletons of animals of over 1 HD conform to the regular animal statistics, with the following changes: Armor Class is worsened by 2 (AC 10 maximum), damage per attack is reduced by 2 (each hit inflicts a minimum of 1 point of damage), and movement is reduced by half (skeletal bats and birds can fly).
Animal zombies conform to the statistics for the particular animal that has been animated, with the following changes: the animal's number of Hit Dice is increased by one, AC is worsened by 3 (AC 8 maximum), and movement is reduced by half.
Skeletal and zombie animals gain the standard undead immunities (resistance to cold-based, sleep, charm, and hold spells), but lose any normal defenses that the living animal might have had. They also lose any special attacks (rear claw rake, swallowing whole, and so on) and cannot inject poison or emit fluids, such as musk or saliva. A swallowing special attack does no further damage to the creature swallowed, except to trap it within the undead animal's rib cage. Priests gain a +1 bonus when turning these undead.
This spell is often a necromancer's first experience animating corpses. For this to work, the animal bodies or skeletons must be intact. The material components are a blood drop and bone chip from the same species as the target remains (only animals belonging to the same species can be animated per spell).
Notes: Restricted to necromancers; uncommon.
 

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top