Animate Dead is a utility spell able to be used in a defensive, offensive, or supportive way. It falls under the Cleric and Wizard spell lists.
This is where the true power of a necromancer starts to shine!
The Player’s Handbook description states the following:
Animate Dead 5e
Casting Time: 1 minute
Range: 10 feet
Components: V, S, M (a single drop of blood, a pinch of bone dust, or a piece of flesh)
Animate Dead creates an undead servant. Choose the corpse or a pile of bones from a Medium or Small humanoid within your range.
The spell imbues the target with a foul mimicry of life, which raises it into an undead creature.
Note: If you chose bones, the target would become a skeleton; however, if you chose a corpse, it would become a zombie (the DM will have the creature’s statistics).
Commanding the Dead
On each turn, you may use a bonus action to mentally control any creature you made with Animate Dead if the creature is within 60 feet of you.
Note: If you are controlling multiple creatures, you can order any or all of them at the same time. This will issue the same command for each controlled undead.
You get to decide what action the creature takes and where it’ll move during its next turn. If that isn’t optimal for you, simply issue it a general command to guard a particular corridor or chamber.
The creature will defend itself against hostile creatures if no commands are issued. Once the creature is given an order, it’ll follow the task until it is complete.
Creatures under your control last for 24 hours, after which they’ll stop obeying any command you give them.
To maintain your control of the creatures for another 24 hours, cast Animate Dead again before the current 24-hour period ends.
Using the spell like this reasserts your control over up to four creatures you have reanimated with Animate Dead, which is more convenient than animating a new one.
At Higher Levels: When you cast Animate Dead using a 4th-level spell slot or higher, you reanimate or reassert control over two additional undead creatures for each slot level above the 3rd.
Note: Each creature must come from a different corpse or pile of bones.
Which Classes Can Pick Animate Dead?
Traditional classes like the Cleric and Wizard can unlock and use Animate Dead.
The Wizard can use Animate Dead at level 5, while the Cleric can only use it at level 9.
The Eldritch Knight (Fighter) subclass pairs well with Animate Dead but can only unlock and use it at level 14.
Is Animate Dead Good in 5e?
In the right hands, Animate Dead can be a formidable spell. Able to completely change how players play the rest of their D&D campaign.
Advantages – Animate Dead
Short Casting Time
You wouldn’t expect a spell that can raise an undead minion to have a casting time of 1 minute. Not only that, but it requires no concentration and lasts up to 24 hours.
Compared to what you use (Material component, 3rd-level spell slot, and 1 minute) to what you gain (loyal undead minion for 24 hours), it’s no surprise people rate this spell so highly.
Extra Party Members
Having minions on your side can even the odds of battle or cause you to outnumber enemies. It also means that your side controls most of the action economy.
Keep that in mind, as it allows you to accomplish more in a round than your enemies. This can completely overwhelm your enemies if played perfectly.
Being able to control an additional two undead creatures for every slot level above the 3rd is crazy.
Even though you’ll have to recast Animate Dead if you wish to keep these undead, merely having them for 24 hours is already enough to make a massive difference for your party.
Materials usually take more work to obtain. However, seeing how accessible the materials are for Animate Dead can be an advantage.
After a battle, there should be ample amounts of blood, flesh, and bones (which can easily be crushed into bone dust) that can be used in the spell.
Disadvantages – Animate Dead
Only two classes have access to this spell. If you want to become a necromancer who controls the undead, you should consider a class that can take this spell.
How Should I Use Animate Dead?
After a Battle
After winning a battle, the corpses of your enemies will litter the environment around you.
You’ll be ample fresh corpses to reanimate, giving you the perfect opportunity to control the ones who stood against you.
By using Animate Dead, they’ll be able to walk the battlefield again. However, they won’t be fighting against you but for you this time.
Are There Similar Spells Available?
Similar spells to Animate Dead include Summon Undead, Resurrection, Create Undead and Raise Dead.
Note: Raise Dead and Resurrection cannot be unlocked by a Wizard. However, they are also instrumental if your party wishes to build its undead army.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Animate Objects?
The spell’s description says that the only creatures players can reanimate come from a pile of bones or a corpse. It has no mention of objects.
Can You Reanimate Characters?
If a character were to die and you can’t currently resurrect them using Raise Dead, then you can use Animate Dead.
Note: Just remember that the character will become an undead creature and won’t retain its previous personality.
Being the master of the undead can be highly satisfying. All you have to do is lift your finger and command your undead minions to act.
It makes you feel powerful, which in turn helps your entire party as you’ll be able to face enemies you wouldn’t be able to before. Numbers do matter, especially because of D&D’s action economy!