Can Zombies Use Weapons and Armor? (Official Answer)

As a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) player with an Animate Dead spell up your sleeve, you may have wondered if zombies can use weapons and armor.

Can zombies use weapons and armor in D&D?

Zombies can use weapons and armor in D&D but they are not proficient in weapons and armor. According to official D&D rules, zombies exist as mindless undead creatures without the capacity for proficiency or strategy. Dungeon Masters can use housemade rules to allow zombies to wear armor.

In this article, I’ll answer the most common questions related to the question, “Can zombies use weapons and armor?”

Can Zombies Use Weapons and Armor in D&D? (Detailed Explanation)

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According to the official rules as written, zombies cannot use weapons and armor effectively.

Here is what the official D&D Monster Manual says about zombies:

A zombie retains no vestiges of its former self, its mind devoid of thought and imagination.

As you can see, zombies are mindless undead creatures without the ability to maintain any former proficiency in weapons or armor.

The reason I modified my sentence above with the word “effectively,” is because zombies can use weapons and armor.

They just can’t use them effectively.

For example, if a Paladin dies in heavy armor and is raised as a zombie, he does not get the benefits of that armor. In fact, the zombie will probably be a slower and less threatening enemy.

The heavy armor might even give them disadvantages in combat.

This time let’s refer to the D&D Player’s Handbook:

Anyone can put on a suit of armor or strap a shield to an arm. Only those proficient in the armor’s use know how to wear it effectively, however. Your class gives you proficiency with certain types of armor. If you wear armor that you lack proficiency with, you have disadvantage on any ability check, saving throw, or attack roll that involves Strength or Dexterity, and you can’t cast spells.

The last sentence speaks volumes to me.

When unthinking zombies wear armor, they naturally lack proficiency. Therefore, they suffer penalties against player characters.

Jeremy Crawford, a leading rules designer for Dungeons and Dragons also weighed in on this discussion on Twitter. He says, “Undead dress-up dolls can wear anything, but they suffer the normal consequences if they’re not proficient.”

To me, Crawford’s answer clearly includes clothing and armor.

It’s a pretty short logical leap to throw weapons into the mix. “Dress-up dolls” is a far cry from a “highly-skilled great weapon master.”

Can Zombies Use Weapons and Armor in Combat? (Different Interpretations)

The D&D Monster Manual describes the movements of zombies in a way that would make the use of shields and weapons difficult if not impossible.

The Monster Manual says:

They move with a jerky, uneven gait, clad in the moldering apparel they wore when put to rest, and carrying the stench of decay.

A zombie’s sporadic movements don’t make expertly wielding a weapon very likely.

Notice that the manual also paints the armor of zombies as moldy. Even if the armor once possessed certain bonuses, it is now old and worn-down.

Mike Mearls, a co-creator of D&D 5th edition and creative director of the franchise, gives another view on Twitter.

He says, “I’d give them proficiency with all armor and weapons”

To be fair, he was replying to a question about zombie proficiency with weapons dolled out by a Necromancer.

While this isn’t a deathblow to the counterargument, it does open up possibilities.

Namely, if a zombie is given armor and weapons by the Necromancer that raised them from the dead, then the zombies can be proficient in them.

Instead of disadvantages, the zombies now enjoy advantages in combat.

However, any zombie created by a non-Necromancer would not maintain proficiency.

Can Zombies Use Magical Weapons and Armor in Combat?

This is a question that doesn’t have a definite answer in the official D&D rules.

However, as a DM, you can make a ruling that allows zombies to use magical weapons and armor. If you do decide to allow this, keep in mind that zombies are not intelligent creatures.

They likely cannot understand or strategically use the properties of magical weapons and armor.

In fact, zombies will walk straight into rivers or off cliffs.

They shamble directly at their enemies without regard to obstacles, traps, or tactics.

This means that a zombie dressed in plate mail with a +5 defense against magical attacks is not going to jump in front of his or her zombie horde to protect them.

The zombies are still mindless. They just have better weapons and armor.

A single exception might be if the magical items were provided by a Necromancer.

Can New Zombies Use Weapons and Armor in Combat?

Some Dungeon Masters allow zombies to keep their proficiencies in armor and weapons if the zombies were created mere minutes or hours after death.

This gives a zombie some sense of self and allows them to use their armor and weapons proficiently.

If you choose to do this in your game, keep in mind that the longer a zombie has been inactive, the more deteriorated it becomes.

Eventually, even newly created zombies will lose all proficiency in armor and weapons.

Can Zombies Use Any Weapons or Armor in Combat?

If you follow the official rules as written (RAW) of D&D, zombies can only use the weapons in their possession.

The D&D Monster Manual says this clearly.

Zombies will not, however, pick up nearby weapons—even if those weapons are superior to their own.

The weapons they do possess only do 1d6 +1 of bludgeoning damage.

A zombie attack serves as a melee attack.

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Can Zombies Use Weapons and Armor Under Magical Control?

Under the magical control of a Necromancer or other powerful being, a zombie could proficiently use weapons and armor.

This is because the Necromancer or other being would be providing the zombie with the magical ability to use them.

A regular zombie would not have this ability on its own.

The D&D Monster Manual does not specifically mention zombies being able to use weapons and armor under magical control.

However, it could be allowed under “homebrew” rules.

What Kind of Armor Can Zombies Wear?

Zombies can wear any kind of armor I’m D&D.

They can wear light, medium, or heavy armor. However, they may not be proficient in a particular armor.

Especially the heavier armor that gives them an AC boost.

Whatever armor they do wear is tattered, rusted, and covered in mold.

As always, it’s up to the DM to decide what armor a given zombie wears and how it impacts combat advantages and disadvantages.

5 Ways Zombies Can Use Weapons and Armor

Other than DM Home Brewing, there are five other good ways that zombies can use weapons and armor in D&D.

Divine Intervention

A powerful deity in D&D can, if they so choose, give zombies the ability to use weapons and armor.

This would be a one-time event that may not be permanent.

But it would give the zombies more of a fighting chance against their enemies.

Wish Spell

A Wish spell is one of the most dominant spells in the game.

It can do almost anything the caster desires.

One of the things it can do is give a zombie the ability to use weapons and armor proficiently in combat.

This could be a permanent change for the zombie that lasted until it died again.

Zombie PCs

If a player wanted to roleplay a zombie as a character in D&D, the zombie would be able to use weapons and armor.

The player needs to survive, advance levels, and increase ability scores.

In this rare case, a zombie would be able to use almost any weapon or armor they desired.

However, a Dungeon Master might put some limits on use and proficiency.

Fresh Zombies

As mentioned earlier, zombies created seconds or minutes could possess some of the abilities from their former life.

At least temporarily.

For example, a DM could homebrew that a fresh zombie could maintain declining proficiency that ran out in an hour.

Zombie Lords

A zombie lord (or zombie master) is a wickedly compelling undead creature that can create and control other zombies.

Unlike regular zombies, zombie lords keep their former memories and skills.

Therefore, a zombie lord would be able to use weapons and armor in combat.

What Is An Armored Zombie?

An armored zombie is a zombie that wears armor.

Here is a list of armored zombie stats:

  • AC of 16 (+3 chain shirt)
  • Speed of 5 feet
  • Weighs 260 lbs
  • Strength is 14
  • 10 hit points
  • Attack 1d6 + 1

An armored zombie does not have any of the usual armor disadvantages of being a zombie.

However, armored zombies still otherwise operate as unintelligent undead beings.

Zombie Types and Armor

In a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, you will come across many monsters—orcs, goblins, slimes, dire weasels, steel dragons, and different zombie variants.

Let’s see if any of the different types of zombies in D&D can use armor.

Can Giant Zombies Use Armor and Weapons?

Giant zombies include zombie dragons, zombie dinosaurs, and zombie hulks.

Any giant can technically become a zombie in D&D.

Most giant zombies can use but are not proficient in any armor and weapons.

Can Zombies Animals Use Armor and Weapons?

D&D players may also come across zombie animals.

For example:

  • Zombie dogs
  • Zombie cats
  • Zombie frogs
  • Zombie owlbears
  • Zombie warhorses

No zombie animal is naturally proficient in armor or weapons.

Can Zombie Children Use Armor and Weapons?

Zombie children can not skillfully use armor and weapons.

A zombie child is less likely to possess proficiency since they probably were too young to gain proficiency in their former life.

Can Animated Undead Wear Armor and Use Weapons in D&D 5E?

Any undead creature can technically wear armor and use weapons in D&D.

However, there is a difference between zombies and skeletons. As we’ve discussed, zombies have no special skills or abilities with armor or weapons.

On the other hand, skeletons are called obedient servants who do wear armor and wield weapons with some level of intelligence.

Therefore, skeletons do possess proficiency from their former existence.

Final Thoughts: Can Zombies Use Weapons and Armor?

The bottom line is that the official rules leave little room for zombie proficiency with weapons or armor.

However, there is some flexibility for DMs to homebrew if they want zombies in their games to be able to use these items.

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Sources

Wizards of the Coast (Monster’s Manual)