D&D 5E Level 1 Animate Dead

I would propose just having Necromancers learn normal Animate Dead when they pick the subclass at level 2 (rather than uselessly at level 6 after they already chose it as a level 5 spell because their whole character was built around learning the spell and waiting was just too much) and giving them one special slot to cast it at 3rd level once a day. This lets them maintain 1 skeleton or zombie before level 5, letting them feel all necromancery but not really having much impact on game balance. It also makes it less frustrating to be a necromancer in tier 2 if they effectively can do their necromancer thing and still preserve another level 3 slot for other wizard priorities.

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Came across another version recently in Scarred Lands Player's Guide 5e (currently on sale for 50% off).

Animate Undead Minion
1st-level necromancy
Followers of Chardun created this spell as a means for junior clerics to enslave the dead. Priests of Chardun see this magic as a way to gain a temporary guardian and strike fear into their enemies. Over time, the rituals to perform this black magic leaked out of religious circles and became secularized, so necromancers who use arcane power can now learn this spell.
Casting Time: 1 minute
Range: 10 feet
Components: V, S, M (part of a dead humanoid)
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 hour
This spell creates a temporary undead minion. Choose a pile of bones or a corpse of a Medium or Small humanoid within range. The spell makes the bones into an undead skeleton or the corpse into a zombie (the DM has the creature’s statistics). You can use a bonus action to mentally command a creature you animated with this spell if the creature is within 30 feet of you. The creature follows your command until the task is complete. If it has no command, the target acts only to defend itself.
At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, you animate or one additional undead for each slot level above 1st. Each creature must come from a different corpse or pile of bones. Whenever you take a bonus action to command your minions, you can give the same command to multiple creatures you animated with this spell.


Make it concentration, duration 24 hours. If you lose concentration the creatures become wild. (note that sleep breaks concentration, as does casting this spell again; casting a spell that requires concentration breaks concentration).

Animates or controls 1 skeleton or zombie. Still has a 1 minute casting time and 10 foot range. At higher levels, animates 1 additional creature per level, or controls 2 additional.

The skeleton or zombie not giving any commands since their last turn approaches within 30' of you. As an action, you can verbally command the controlled undead to move their speed and attack a target of your choice; this consumes their reaction.

To deal with sleep, either be a race that doesn't sleep, or place your undead within a cage or box of some kind. Then sleep well, sleep very well indeed.

It is still a relatively strong 1st level spell, but costing concentration helps keep it from being crazy.


Steeliest of the dragons
There seems to be a lot of folks that take "Animate Dead" to be the same as "Create Undead." I understand that 5e's wording of the 3rd level spell is so and all...but they aren't the same thing.

One way to let a 1st level necromancer have an "animate pet skeleton/zombie" thing -especially if it's supposed to be a "something I can use in combat" kind of situation- is to say, it's really temporary... It is a first level spell after all.

You're imbuing a skeleton or zombie with negative energy to "animate" it. It become ambulatory, does it's skeleton/zombie thing -say a single combat or instructed to a single simple action in the immediate area, and the magic (which is only first level magic, remember) leaves/dissipates. The bones/corpse collapses where it stands. You can only have one of these things "functional/functioning" at a time.

Make it 3 + Int. mod. rounds or level + prof bonus rounds or minutes or a matter of concentration or whatever seems appropriate for a 1st level spell.

But there is zero reason this should be something a 1st level spell just creates, that exists in perpetuity. Or, even 24 hours. If a 3rd level spell is control for 24 hours, a 1st level spell should be much MUCH less.
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Hawk Diesel

But there is zero reason this should be something a 1st level spell just creates, that exists in perpetuity. Or, even 24 hours. If a 3rd level spell is control for 24 hours, a 1st level spell should be much MUCH less.
Doesn't Find Familiar, also a 1st level spell, create a thing that exists in perpetuity? I'm not saying have full strength skeletons or zombies with their typical 5e stats, but some minor undead companion doesn't seem like asking for too much for a 1st or even 2nd level spell.


Steeliest of the dragons
Doesn't Find Familiar, also a 1st level spell, create a thing that exists in perpetuity?
Well, yes. But I suppose I would argue that that isn't so much "creating" something as summoning something that exists on its own. The Find Familiar simply (depending on the flavor you prefer) either place said magical spirit into a small/tiny animal (which is also, already existing), or it gives the already existing spirit a physical (again small/tiny) form.

The spirit is bonded to the mage for very specific magical purposes and benefits.

Would you like a small/tiny undead familiar? Fine. An Addam's Family "Thing" hand? A hovering skull -not a skeleton, just the skull- that you could chat with? Fine. "Alas, poor Yorrick" your socks off.

A full-sized humanoid form that you can just have fight for you, set off traps without consequence, send into flooded or gas-filled chambers? Forget about fetch your water and firewood or carry your stuff. Use a spell to do it once? Good. Seems a fair trade of resources (use a spell, get around/through a challenge). Use a 1st level spell to give you an auto-trap detector/tripper? Nuh no.

The potential for shenanigans is, imo, too high/much.

How long is Unseen Servant lasting these days? It certainly shouldn't last longer than that.
I'm not saying have full strength skeletons or zombies with their typical 5e stats, but some minor undead companion doesn't seem like asking for too much for a 1st or even 2nd level spell.
I would disagree. Again, the general/overall usefulness of a rat or raven is not the same as a humanoid body.

I am totally on board with first level Necromancy spells! I am. There have never been enough and I've homebrewed my share. In my homebrew, specialist mages get their own spell lists, roughly half that overlap with the general Arcane Magic spell list (all the greatest hits you would expect) and half that are specific to their school. Necromancy was always one of the toughest ones to fill.

You are looking/asking for a Burning Hands to a Fireball, a Featherfall to a Fly. Take/look at the 3rd level Animate Dead...

You want an undead companion? First sentence of the animate dead spell (in the 5e SRD) "This spell creates an undead servant." ...so a 1st level version has to do less than that. 24 hour duration for control and must renew...1st level version has to be less than that. Creatures are permanent -whether they go nuts or not...1st level version has to be less than that. You can recast for control on up to 4 creatures you've made...1st level has to allow less than that. Higher slot casting Animates 2 extra creatures per level higher...1st level version has to do less than that, if higher slot casting is to be an option.

Basically, there is a reason -agree with it or not- that Animate Dead is, and has been, a 3rd level spell for 5(+) editions. A 1st level version of the spell is not simply "make the permanent skeleton/zombie weaker and it'll be fine."

Hawk Diesel

@steeldragons I'm not trying to change your mind, and I really don't think you and I will come to consensus on this topic. However, I disagree with your distinction between "create" and "summon." Whether you are creating something from nothing, summoning it from the fey wilds or the nether realm, bringing it forward or backward through time, the thread that connects all these things is that one minute you don't have something and the next minute you do. I also disagree that just because something that specific may first be mentioned in a core spell at a higher level does not mean that a lower level couldn't replicate a lesser version of that effect.

I also disagree that there is a sufficient enough difference between a tiny creature and a medium sized creature as to have that alone require a more powerful spell. Yes, a larger sized creature might be able to carry things for your or walk ahead of your group and set off traps that might require creatures of a certain weight, but they also are less able to sneak around and spy on others (consider just the ability to see through a familiar's senses) and can't fit through the bars of the jail to grab that key that's just out of your reach.

Finally, I agree that there is a reason that the specific Animate Dead spell is 3rd level. I do not agree that a lower level version is impossible to balance against other 1st level spells as you seem to suggest. Just off the top of my head, take Find Familiar, remove the ability to see through their eyes, remove the ability to cast spells through them, change their creature type to undead, allow the target to be corpses of small or medium humanoids or small to large beasts (to provide a mount option), and limit the creature to 1 HP. Now you suddenly have a fairly balanced undead minion at level 1. It still has the 1 creature limit as find familiar and both are permanent until the creature is killed, and there have been several fair exchanges to keep each balanced against the other while providing the effect and flavor that a necromancer might enjoy.

And I think that's the part that's ultimately missing from your argument. If things are balanced to be close enough so as to not break game play, as a DM I would worry more about the enjoyment of my players rather than a super strict (and in my opinion somewhat draconian) reading of 5e's mechanics.


Another pass.

Corpse Puppet
L 1 necromancy
S, V
1 minute casting time
24 hour duration (concentration)

You animate a corpse or a skeleton into a monster of that name. As part of the casting of this spell, you must reduce restrained or incapacitated living creature to 0 HP to power the magics. You can make one melee attack with a dagger or similar weapon on that creature each round you cast the spell, and the undead is created with as many HP as you damaged the sacrifice. Casting the spell kills the sacrifice.

Once the creature is animated, you lose 1 HP each turn it does not have full HP, and it heals 1 HP; this damage does not disrupt your concentration on this spell.

If concentration is broken or the spell duration ends, the undead is not destroyed but becomes hostile to all living things.

While the spell is active, you can use your action to verbally command one of these creatures move its speed and make an attack; it must be able to hear you for this to work. Any uncommanded creature at the end of your turn moves towards you its speed until it is no more than 30' away.

You can also use this spell to take control of one or more restrained or incaoacitated undead zombies or skeletons, up to 1/2 total CR. The sacrifice must still be made, and the HP of the sacrifice heals the undead creatures controlled.

At higher levels: You can animate 3 additional undead per higher level slot, and your action can order 1 additional animated creature to act. If used to control, the total CR controlled is limited by half the slot level used (rounded down).


I dunno, a bit complex.

It requires both a corpse and a sacrifice. It doesn't make life, it transfers it into the undead.

You'll have to restrain your undead to extend control, as casting a concentration spell breaks existing concentration.

The horde shambles towards you if not directed each turn.

Spells like false life are useful here.


Steeliest of the dragons
Ok, I'll take a stab at a formalized "5e spell description" for what I would see as a 1st level spell version of Animate Dead.

Goals: Give a necromancer a 1st level spell that allows them to do what necromancers are supposed to be known (and generally feared) for, a "minor/beginner's" version of Animate Dead.
  1. without having a player have to wait until 5th level to do their, arguably, "signature" power.
  2. a spell that is useful, including for combat, without being the same or beyond the power levels of the 3rd level version. This includes the reduction in duration. The commands having to be made outloud instead of mental.
  3. a spell that is in keeping with a flavor and aesthetic of what being a Necromancer mage, even at 1st level, would feel/seem like.
  4. Additionally, #3 without necessarily a spell only an assumed-evil caster would use.

Command the Dead
Level 1, necromancy
Casting Time: 1 action (pretty standard)
Range: 30' (same as Charm Person, half of Unseen Servant)
Components: V, S, M (a group of bones or corpse)
Duration: 1 hour (same as Unseen Servant)

With this spell, the caster infuses an existing corpse or set of bones with negative energies/necrotic force to enable movement and a rudimentary comprehension, a mockery of "life" magically linked to the caster, to manifest a single skeleton (with bones) or zombie (with corpse). The undead may be of a small or medium humanoid or a tiny to large animal, depending on the material components present/available. The undead creature has all of the the normal/full stats of one of their type.

The undead follows the simple verbal commands of the caster, one task/simple sentence or two, at a time. If not given direction, the creature does nothing until/unless attacked and will fight, independently, in its own defense, once attacked. The caster may give the creature new/different instruction as a bonus action, verbally, once per round on their turn. The creature shares the caster's initiative and acts on their turn. If the creature reaches 0 hp, is disrupted or dispelled (as by Turn/Destroy Undead, Dispel Magic, etc...), or the duration ends naturally, the animating force of the creature is spent and the corpse/bones collapse back into inactivity.

After being created, the creature can be sent up to 100' away from the caster and the caster can retain control. If separated more than 100' from the caster, the spell's connection is broken. If this happens, the creature will continue to carry out the last command it was given until the spell duration ends. At which time the magic of the spell upholding the creature is spent and the undead ceases to exist, collapsing back to its component parts, as normal.

The caster may, if they so choose, use another spell slot -even if already prepared with another spell- to "feed" the manifesting dark magic and keep the undead active. This must be done before the end of the duration of the prior casting, extending the creature's existence by 1 hour per level of the spell slot used. Once a casting (or chain of castings) has ended, the same bones/corpse can not be animated again for 24 hours.

Alternately, the caster may use this spell to usurp control of other, existing, undead creatures of CR equal to half their caster level. This use functions in all ways as a Charm Person spell against the undead in question. Failure of their save means the undead will follow the caster's simple commands for the duration, as above. These undead, not created by this spell, are not destroyed when the spell ends. The caster's control of them simply ends and the undead return to acting/doing as they normally would.

Casting at higher slots: If upcast by a 2nd level or higher slot, the spell can manifest or assume command of 1 additional creature and the hours of the duration equal the slot level. If using a 3rd level or higher slot, a humanoid undead can be up to large size and an animal skeleton/corpse can be up to huge.

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