D&D 5E Why is animate dead considered inherently evil?

I'm having a troublesome time understanding why the animate dead spell is considered evil. When I read the manual it states that the spall imbues the targeted corpse with a foul mimicry of life, implying that the soul is not a sentient being who is trapped in a decaying corpse. Rather, the spell does exactly what its title suggests, it only animates the corps. Now of course one could use the spell to create zombies that would hunt and kill humans, but by that same coin, they could create a labor force that needs no form of sustenance (other than for the spell to be recast of course). There have also been those who have said "the spell is associated with the negative realm which is evil", however when you ask someone why the negative realm is bad that will say "because it is used for necromancy", I'm sure you can see the fallacy in this argument.

However, I must take into account that I have only looked into the DnD magic system since yesterday so there are likely large gaps in my knowledge. PS(Apon further reflection I've decided that the animate dead spell doesn't fall into the school of necromancy, as life is not truly given to the corps, instead I believe this would most likely fall into the school of transmutation.) PPS(I apologize for my sloppy writing, I've decided I'm feeling too lazy to correct it.)
 

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Vaalingrade

Legend
This is a very interesting point - that golems don't at all have the air/flavor of being unholy because they require the violation/enslavement of some other entity.
D&D has never considered enslavement, or violation of agency to be evil. That's why mind control spells and love potions aren't evil despite being WAY worse than making a meat robot.
 

Oofta

Legend
Imagine someone you love dies. It's heart rending and you don't know how you'll go on. You go through the death rituals we've devised over millennia of mourning and laying the body to rest. It helps you move on.

Then you see the corpse of your dearly beloved shambling down the road. For a moment there's a spark of hope that maybe they're still alive only to realize that someone took the last remnants, the last reminder of someone you would do practically anything to get back, is being used without thought or concern. They've turned all of your rituals, your love, into a mockery.

It's that pain that you can cause that is evil. Desecration of the dead in most cultures is considered evil because even though the spirit is gone the person was a spirit and the form, the body.
 


D&D has never considered enslavement, or violation of agency to be evil. That's why mind control spells and love potions aren't evil despite being WAY worse than making a meat robot.
When i first started playing 3.5 way back in the day, one of my first "I'm the DM moments" was to explain to my group that enchantment magic was seen as equally evil as necromancy by the in-world populace for this exact reason, (and, really, arguably more so in a lot of ways).
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I'm having a troublesome time understanding why the animate dead spell is considered evil.

As others have noted, in 5th Edition, the notion of particular spells being evil doesn't really exist.

However, broadly speaking, it has negative connotations because death matters to people, so mucking with death is hinkey, and because the creatures created by the spell have a habit of trying to chew people's faces off if they are not kept under control.

Having your beloved Grandmama come back as a half-rotten implacably shambling corpse trying to chew your face off... most people aren't fans.

PS(Apon further reflection I've decided that the animate dead spell doesn't fall into the school of necromancy, as life is not truly given to the corps, instead I believe this would most likely fall into the school of transmutation.)

Well, the game doesn't define Necromancy the same way you do. You're free to define it how you want in your own games, but don't expect that to be relevant in broad discussion.
 



Oofta

Legend
A bit melodramatic don't you think?

I and several others have touched on this in previous posts. There are several actions you could take to prevent such sad circumstances. 1: make them skeletons (almost unrecognizable), 2: buy corpses or ask for donations, you could also look for a body no one will come looking for.
Have you ever had anyone close to you die? It may not be logical but if I saw the corpse of a lost loved one - even a skeleton of one if I knew whose it was - I would have a visceral negative reaction to it. Desecrating corpses has long been taboo unless it's done as punishment or warning to others in most cultures. Paying for the corpse doesn't make it less evil from that perspective.

But you do you. I'm simply explaining why people think it's evil even if you don't "get" it.
 


Voadam

Legend
Skeletons and zombies have had a dichotomy throughout D&D.

Skeletons and zombies in 1e-3.0 were neutral. In 3.5 to 5e they are evil.

The animated dead spells generally make them mindless undead robots which would generally indicate neutral if they did nothing but what they are commanded to do. If all they are commanded to do is manual labor to create hospitals then most would not say evil.

However they are also often depicted as wandering monsters who attack people on sight with no indication of a command to do so. This would tend to indicate that uncontrolled mindless undead naturally move to cause harm to people. Also animate dead is not the only way a skeleton or zombie can be created. You can argue that mindless assault and murder machines are not evil because they are mindless, but the default act to actively cause harm for no reason can generally fall under D&D evil.
 

Have you ever had anyone close to you die? It may not be logical but if I saw the corpse of a lost loved one - even a skeleton of one if I knew whose it was - I would have a visceral negative reaction to it. Desecrating corpses has long been taboo unless it's done as punishment or warning to others in most cultures. Paying for the corpse doesn't make it less evil from that perspective.

But you do you. I'm simply explaining why people think it's evil even if you don't "get" it.
Would you recognize the skeleton of your wife? I don't mean this in a skeptical way, I mean this in a plainly curious way. I don't believe I've ever met someone who could recognize someone (even a loved one) by their skeleton alone. Or did you mean (in your scenario) that the necromancer pointed out which one was your wife/kid ext?
 

TheSword

Legend
It’s evil, for the same reason eating the dead, and having sex with the dead is considered evil.

It stems from the fact that the bodies of the dead are considered precious even after death, both as a memorial to the person who was once living to remember them. And because the body was thought to once housed the spirit and therefore should be treated with respect. Reverence for the dead is something that pretty consistent across cultures, even ones that haven’t come into contact with each other.

From a biological/evolutionary stand point there are also good reasons why as humans we would have a biological imperative to avoid other humans that are dead. To avoid disease and/or other causes of the death that might affect us to. It’s one of the theories behind the Uncanny Valley that causes revulsion to things that look almost human but aren’t quite right. Hence messing with the dead being taboo.
 




payn

Legend
I am fully aware that it is considered "not a good act" but I have a troublesome time understanding why. Also, requiring the use of human flesh doesn't sound like something particularly bad by itself, perhaps dishonestly gaining it is bad, but simply finding the dead body of a random man and animating it doesn't sound evil at all. Now I can understand someone not wanting to see their grandpa's corpse walking around, but such contingencies can be avoided with the following methods: Ask to buy or have the corps donated (you can alternatively find a corps that will clearly not be sought after by relatives), Turn said corps into a skeleton, set out with your new labor force and show the world its implications.
I think its because if you lose control of your labor force, the undead go around slaughtering everyone.
 


Because corpses are icky and icky things are evil. The 'killing spree if uncontrolled' was tacked on later in 3.5.

Now why don't you just brutally enslave an elemental spirit into a golem instead like a Good person would?
This is a very interesting point - that golems don't at all have the air/flavor of being unholy because they require the violation/enslavement of some other entity.

If I had to guess, it's because OG golems in cultural mythology, I don't think, worked that way? And that the whole 'elemental spirit' thing was added later to give some plausibility of how golems worked beyond just magic.

Regardless of why, it's definitely glossed over in it's representation/ramifications in the D&D lore.
 

This is a very interesting point - that golems don't at all have the air/flavor of being unholy because they require the violation/enslavement of some other entity.

If I had to guess, it's because OG golems in cultural mythology, I don't think, worked that way? And that the whole 'elemental spirit' thing was added later to give some plausibility of how golems worked beyond just magic.
golems worked on some kind of letter magic by particularly holy rabbis last I heard.
 

Voadam

Legend
I'm having a troublesome time understanding why the animate dead spell is considered evil. When I read the manual it states that the spall imbues the targeted corpse with a foul mimicry of life, implying that the soul is not a sentient being who is trapped in a decaying corpse. Rather, the spell does exactly what its title suggests, it only animates the corps. Now of course one could use the spell to create zombies that would hunt and kill humans, but by that same coin, they could create a labor force that needs no form of sustenance (other than for the spell to be recast of course). There have also been those who have said "the spell is associated with the negative realm which is evil", however when you ask someone why the negative realm is bad that will say "because it is used for necromancy", I'm sure you can see the fallacy in this argument.
In 3e all spells that created undead were given an alignment descriptor of [Evil] which meant they interacted with alignment functions as evil, such as the aura of the magic showing up as evil for a detect evil spell or paladin detect evil power.

Undead also had a distinction of always showing up as evil for the detect evil spell even though undead like ghosts could be non-evil alignments.

The way I viewed it was that there is cosmic [EVIL] which is supernatural evil and shows up in powering undead and is present in some magic. You can use such supernatural evil for morally evil purposes, morally neutral purposes, or moral ends, but the supernatural evil does not change based on use.

This is different conception from the use of the spell being inherently morally evil.

In 1e and 2e AD&D undead were generally powered by negative energy which necromancy taps into. AD&D did not have descriptors like 3e, but 3e continued with the negative energy association of undead.

In 4e this was termed necrotic.

This continues a little into 5e.
However, I must take into account that I have only looked into the DnD magic system since yesterday so there are likely large gaps in my knowledge. PS(Apon further reflection I've decided that the animate dead spell doesn't fall into the school of necromancy, as life is not truly given to the corps, instead I believe this would most likely fall into the school of transmutation.) PPS(I apologize for my sloppy writing, I've decided I'm feeling too lazy to correct it.)
Skeletons and Zombies are not simply corpses that are animated by magic. They are undead which have all sorts of different aspects to them.

You can use an animate object spell on bones or a corpse and get a non-undead creature. Such an animate object would not use necrotic energy or involve necromancy or have the supernatural characteristics of undead although it would look similar to an undead skeleton or zombie. A cleric could not channel divinity to turn an animated body or bones as undead.
 

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