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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?
 

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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.
 

Voadam

Legend
Prior editions sometimes had a 1st level spell in supplements to animate and control a single skeleton to allow for PC necromancer animation off the bat.
 

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.
 

Iry

Hero
I reskinned Unseen Servant. The 'skeleton/zombie' is too jerky and fragile to be effective in combat at those early levels, but it can carry out all the basic tasks that any other Unseen Servant can. The only real change I made is that the skeleton/zombie doesn't disappear after an hour (as long as there is no more than one active).
 

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.
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
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.
It's good, but I'd make in non-concentration. You cannot concentrate on a spell for 24 hours anyway really.
 

Stormonu

Legend
I'm thinking of going with these spells ... let me know what you think.

#### Summon Crawling Claw
Necromancy Cantrip
___
  • Casting Time: 1 bonus action
  • Range: 120 ft.
  • Components: V, S, M (a severed humanoid hand)
  • Duration: 1 minute

Upon casting this spell, you summon into being a crawling claw, which obeys your mental commands. The crawling claw gains a bonus to hit points equal to your character level. On your initiative, you can use a bonus action to give the crawling claw a command, as long as it is within 120 feet of you. The crawling claw can be used to deliver touch spells you cast as long as it is in range.

At Higher Levels. At 5th level, you summon two crawling claws. At 11th, you summon three crawling claws and at 16th level you summon four. When multiple crawling claws are summoned, only one can deliver your touch spell in a turn.

#### Summon Skeleton
1st Level Necromancy (ritual)
___
  • Casting Time: 1 minute
  • Range: 120 feet
  • Components: V, S, M (intact humanoid skeleton and an onyx worth 25 gp; the latter is consumed)
  • Duration: 1 hour

Upon casting this spell, you animate an intact humanoid skeleton to do your bidding. The skeleton acts on your initiative, requiring a bonus action to give it a mental command. The skeleton remains active until the spell ends or is destroyed. If the spell ends, you can choose to reanimate the skeleton with another casting, so long as the skeleton has not been destroyed.

At Higher Levels: For each spell level above 1st, you can animate one additional skeleton per spell level above 1st.

#### Summon Zombie
1st level Necromancy (ritual)
___
  • Casting Time: 1 minute
  • Range: 120 feet
  • Components: V, S, M (intact humanoid corpse and a jade worth 25 gp; the latter is consumed)
  • Duration: 1 hour

Upon casting this spell, you animate an intact humanoid body as a zombie to do your bidding. The zombie acts on your iniative, requiring a bonus action to give it a mental command. The zombie remains active until the spell ends or is destroyed. If the spell ends, you can choose to reanimate the zombie with another casting, as long as the body has not been destroyed.
 

jgsugden

Legend
I'd start to give the Necromancer his 'feels' by reskinning unseen servant, mage hand, and find familiar to add the obvious 'undeadness' option.

Then, rather than make up a new spell, I'd give him a magic item: perhaps a ring and collar combination. You'd place the collar on a medium or smaller beast corpse and then attune to the ring. While wearing the ring, the corpse animates as an undead with half the normal hps of a skeleton or zombie (based upon the condition of the corpse). Giving it a command requires a bonus action, and can only be done within 30 feet. Have it deal d4 based damage.

That would not break the game, but it would give them their 'starting' undead.
 

I'm thinking of going with these spells ... let me know what you think.

#### Summon Crawling Claw
Necromancy Cantrip


#### Summon Skeleton
1st Level Necromancy (ritual)


At Higher Levels: For each spell level above 1st, you can animate one additional skeleton per spell level above 1st.

#### Summon Zombie
1st level Necromancy (ritual)
I like the cantrip, but I'm concerned about the Ritual tag on the summon spells making them not take up spell slots for a wizard. That seems a little over the top. Am I missing something?
 

Hawk Diesel

Adventurer
Yes, I agree it's frustrating, but it's a similar situation for conjuration wizards as well.

Personally I agree with reskinning Find Familiar and Unseen Servant as kinds of undead creatures.

I also created the following spell to support early necromancers.

Animate Undead Beast​

2nd-level necromancy
Casting Time: 1 minute
Range: 10 feet
Components: V, S, M (a bit and saddle)
Duration: Instantaneous

This spell creates an undead beast of burden. Choose a pile of bones or a corpse of a Large or Medium creature within range. Your spell imbues the target with a foul mimicry of life, rearranging its anatomy if necessary and raising it as an Undead Mount (statistics provided below).

The caster or a creature they designate can ride the Undead Mount as if it was a trained mount, or the Undead Mount can be used as a pack animal. If used as a pack animal, the caster can mentally command the Undead Mount to determine where it moves. If given a command, it will continue to follow that command until a new command is given.

The Undead Mount is under your control for 24 hours, after which it stops obeying any command you’ve given it. To maintain control of the Undead Mount for another 24 hours, you must cast this spell on the Undead Mount again before the current 24-hour period ends. This use of the spell reasserts your control over up to four Undead Mounts 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 3rd level or higher, you animate or reassert control over two additional Undead Mounts for each slot level above 2nd. Each of the Undead Mount must come from a different corpse or pile of bones.

Undead Mount
Large or Medium Undead, Unaligned

Armor Class 10
Hit Points 19 (3d10 + 3)
Speed 50 ft.
STRDEXCONINTWISCHA
16 (+3)10 (+0)12 (+1)2
(-4)
11 (+0)7
(-2)

Vulnerabilities radiant
Damage Immunities necrotic, poison
Condition Immunities exhaustion, poisoned
Senses Darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 10
Languages Understands any language spoken by its creator

Beast of Burden. The Undead Mount is always considered to be a Large animal for the purpose of determining its carrying capacity.
 

Stormonu

Legend
I like the cantrip, but I'm concerned about the Ritual tag on the summon spells making them not take up spell slots for a wizard. That seems a little over the top. Am I missing something?
25 gp per use (for an hour's worth of spell), and you have to have a corpse to work with. Should keep it from being abused, though my son and I have been doing some additional work to it, making it concentration (and removing the price) so you can't have multiple versions up.
 

25 gp per use (for an hour's worth of spell), and you have to have a corpse to work with. Should keep it from being abused, though my son and I have been doing some additional work to it, making it concentration (and removing the price) so you can't have multiple versions up.
I think somehow I was overlooking the component. There we go.
 

grimslade

Doddering Old Git
I like the reskinning of existing spells to help a budding necromancer. Undead Servant, Skeletal Hand, Find Familiar with more necro-friendly options would be cool. I like a crawling claw, undead animal, or a floating skull.
I am not sure a necromancer would have a full-bodied fighting minion at first level. 5th level is the multi attack level so I guess waiting until you get animate dead is in line with the rest of the rules.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Treat it like Charm Person for Undead as a way to balance it for level 1 characters.

Animates a Skeleton that lasts 1 hour, the skeleton has it's full functions and treats you as a friend, but has limits on what it can do. And if your people attack it, it becomes a free, and hostile, animate Skeleton. While it's your friend it'll probably mostly follow orders, but may fulfill those orders in a different manner than intended.

After 1 hour, it collapses into bones, regardless of whether it is under your control or not.

That way it shows that while you're a Necromancer you're still -learning-. You're working on the duration, the amount of direct control you have over the things, and have to be careful of who and what you set it to battle, against.

Find Familiar is also a great option for it, yeah. The "Helper Skeleton". Maybe give it the Beastmaster attack action option for a more violent angle.

But there's a lot of other 1st level spells you can reflavor for necromantic characters. Like having Comprehend Languages animate a small skull in your hand that translates what is being said for you. Or Earth Tremor as a bunch of skeletal hands bursting up out of the ground to claw at people in the area. Unseen Servant? How about Undead Servant. How about making Tasha's Hideous Uncontrollable Laughter into Shrieking and Shaking in fear of ghostly spirits manifesting around your target?

Maintains similar levels of power to other 1st level characters and makes your character much more of a Necromancer than giving them -just- a 1st level "Animate Skeleton" spell.
 

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.
Would it though? If you had it say, doing 1d4 or 1d6 damage (no bonus), with like +2 to hit (proficiency and nothing else), AC10 or 12, and like 8 HP or something I suspect your average DPR over say, even 3-4 encounters in a day would be a lot lower than a Fighter with a Longsword and +3 STR or something. Let alone someone more optimized for DPR, like a Fighter with Archery style or Duelist style or Two-Weapon Fighting. In fact TWF would leave you in the dust, mechanically. Especially as most days your skele-friend would get total'd by one attack early in the day and that's a 1st-level spell-slot gone.
 

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