Animate Dead is a fun and creepy spell in Dungeons and Dragons. You can use the spell in many creative ways.
Does the Animate Dead spell work on zombies?
The Animate Dead spell does work on zombies in D&D. The official spell description states that a magical character can use the spell to reassert control over an undead servant. The character must have created the zombie and must re-cast Animate Dead within the initial 24-hour duration of the spell.
In this article, I’ll answer the most common questions about “Does the Animate Dead spell work on zombies?”
What Is the Animate Dead Spell? (Definition & Stats)
Animate Dead is a Dungeons and Dragons spell that allows the caster to engerize a pile of bones or the corpse of a small to medium-sized humanoid creature.
The spell doesn’t raise people from the dead (like a resurrection spell).
Rather it reanimates their corpse in an undead state under the control of the spellcaster.
The Animate Dead spell has an automatic 24-hour time limit subject to dispel magic or similar effects. After 24 hours, the undead creature is no longer under the spellcaster’s control.
But the zombie still exists.
Here are the stats for the Animate Dead spell in D&D:
|Animate Dead Attributes||Stats|
|Casting Time||1 minute|
|Target||Pile of bones, the corpse of a Medium or Small humanoid|
|Components||V, S, M (drop of blood, piece of flesh, and pinch of bone dust)|
Does the Animate Dead Spell Work on Zombies? (Official Rules)
The official rules of Dungeons and Dragons state that Animate Dead does work on zombies.
The Player’s Handbook says:
The creature is under your control for 24 hours, after which it stops obeying any command you’ve given it. To maintain the control of the creature for another 24 hours, you must cast this spell on the creature again before the current 24-hour period ends. This use of the spell reasserts your control over up to four creatures you have animated with this spell, rather than animating a new one.
I want to emphasize that casting the spell on a zombie works to lengthen the duration of your control over the zombie.
Does the Animate Dead Spell Work on Zombies? (Rules & Limitations)
While you can cast Animate Dead on a zombie, there are limitations.
The limitations boil down to:
- Origin of creation
- Humanoid vs. Non-humanoid
Does the Animate Dead Spell Work on Zombies You Didn’t Create?
No, you can only cast Animate Dead on a Zombie that you created using the spell.
Therefore, the origin of creation matters.
You must have created the zombie by casting Animate Dead on a humanoid corpse. Then, to maintain control of the zombie you created, you re-cast the spell on the now-zombie.
I can only think of one possible exception.
If the zombie is killed or turned into a pile of bones. In this case, as long as the zombie started off as a humanoid creature, the spell should work.
Does the Animate Dead Spell Work on a Non-Humanoid Zombie?
No, you can only use Animate Dead on the corpse of a humanoid. That means a zombie that isn’t a humanoid is out.
For example, you can’t animate the skeleton of an owlbear.
Animate Dead does not work on animals of any kind (i.e., domesticated pets, wild animals, etc.)
According to Jeremy Crawford, there is another way to animate dead animals or corpses.
Crawford is the Principal rules designer of Dungeons & Dragons. He says that a non-undead corpse (so a regular corpse) is basically treated like an object.
Therefore, you can cast Animate Object on the corpse.
Does the Animate Dead Spell Work on Zombies After 24 hours?
No, the duration of Animate Dead is 24 hours.
If your spellcaster does not re-cast Animate Dead on the zombie (or skeleton), then you lose control of your creation.
You could possibly:
- Kill the undead creature you created
- Reduce it to bones
- Re-cast Animate Dead
Since this is sliding into homebrew territory, it’s probably up to each individual Dungeon Master (DM).
Does the Animate Dead Spell Work on Giant Zombies?
No, the Animate Dead spell does not work on Giant Zombies.
While a giant is considered a humanoid, it does not fulfill the spell’s requirement of a small to medium-sized humanoid.
Animate Dead does not work on any giant, huge, or gargantuan creature.
This includes dragons, ogres, Hippogriff, Treant, or Kraken.
Does the Animate Dead Spell Work on Tiny Zombies?
Characters may not cast Animate Dead on tiny zombies.
According to the official spell description, Animate Dead must target the bones or corpse of either a small or a medium-sized humanoid.
For this reason, Animate Dead does not work on:
- fairy zombies
- Anuran race zombies
- Pixie zombies
- Other tiny humanoid creatures
Does the Animate Dead Spell Work on Halfling Zombies?
Yes, the Animate Dead spell does work on Halfling zombies.
A Halfling is considered a small, humanoid race. As long as a spellcaster created a zombie by casting Animate Dead on a Halfling corpse, they can re-cast the spell on the zombie of the Halfling during the 24 hours of the magic’s duration.
Does the Animate Dead Spell Work on Any Small or Medium Zombie?
Yes, magical D&D characters can cast Animate Dead on any small or medium-sized humanoid zombie.
Therefore, Animate Dead works on:
- Gnome zombies
- Avali zombies
- Elf zombies
- Half-elf zombies
- Dwarf zombies
- Human zombies
- Orc zombies
- Kolbold zombies
- Dragonborn zombies
- And many more creatures!
Does the Animate Dead Spell Work on Zombies Farther than 10 Feet Away?
Every spell in D&D includes a range.
The range for Animate Dead is 10 feet. Therefore, it does not work on zombies 10+ feet away from your spellcaster.
This also applies to animating a pile of bones or a dead body.
Both the bones and corpse must be within 10 feet of your magical character.
Does the Animate Dead Spell Work on Multiple Zombies?
Animate Dead does work on multiple zombies.
A spellcaster must first reach the 3rd level as a Necromancer to perform the spell on a single zombie.
Once the spellcaster reaches the 4th level, he or she can control up to three zombies.
Here is how many zombies you can control from levels 1-20:
|Character Level||Number of Zombies You Can Control|
It’s pretty crazy to look at numbers like this in a chart. At level 13, you can control a small army of undead creatures.
It’s important to point out that each zombie must come from a separate corpse.
Here is a good video that simply and entertainingly illustrates how to use Animate Dead in D&D:
Final Thoughts: Does the Animate Dead Spell Work on Zombies?
Animate Dead works on both zombies and skeletons.
Have fun with this ability and feel free to homebrew ways to use it in your D&D adventures.