In the Tales from the Yawning Portal, they introduced a variety of new undead creatures and future adventure Tomb of Annihilation may also introduce more types of undead. However, reading the Tales from the Yawning Portal on page 236 contains the Giant Skeleton which relates to a past question I had regarding Animating undead creatures beyond the spells restrictions? Now that a Giant Skeleton is considered official content I was wondering if it was possible to control this creature somehow using the spell Animate Dead (or possibly Create Undead).

Some ideas to I was working with was comparing challange rating to regular skeletons and establising to control a Giant Skeleton you must sacrifice a certain number of Skeletons equal to the Giant Skeleton's CR which is a CR of 7 or 2900 XP. For standard scaled CR that would be 15 skeletons needed to control a Giant Skeleton or considering soley XP, that would be 50 Skeleton's needed to control a Giant Skeleton. This way it would be possible to control other undead such as the MM Crawling Claw just by scaling these values.

So would a system like this sound balanced and fair? If not what other systems could allow a necromancer to control different types of undead such as the new Giant Skeleton in the Tales from the Yawning Portal?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you narrow down the question? A Giant Skeleton can be considered "official", but the Animate Dead still says "small and medium humanoid". Do you ask for a homebrew suggestions for new necromancy spells, or do you ask for ways to control the Giant Skeleton? \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Jul 22, 2017 at 8:44
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Hello. The homebrew tag cannot be used to solicit ideas. The community decided this sort of brainstorming would not be productive in the way the stackexchange network works. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 22, 2017 at 11:10

2 Answers 2


Spells do exactly what they say they do. The animate dead spell is a third level spell that animates a single medium or small humanoid corpse/pile of bones into a single undead creature. At higher spell levels, it creates two additional undead per level, but each undead must come from a separate corpse or pile of bones.

What you're proposing is some way to animate a large or larger, possibly non-humanoid creature (for example a giant), from a single corpse/pile of bones by effectively casting animate dead as if you were casting it on multiple corpses/piles of bones. That's not what the spell does and therefore you can't do it this way.

As answered in your previous question, there is still no way to do this officially. You're entirely in the realm of homebrew. One possible solution would be to create a separate spell of higher level that can animate larger corpses/piles of bones, in a way similar to how the dominate group of spells allow control of increasingly more powerful groups of creatures.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I should note that at 9th level, animate dead can only animate 13 skeletons. You can't use a single casting of animate dead to animate the minimum 15 skeletons you calculated, let alone 50. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 22, 2017 at 18:05

There's a creative way to do this using existing mechanics, however the Animate Dead spell requires you get the statistics from the DM anyways.

The restriction on animate dead limits the spell to a medium or small humanoid corpse/pile of bones. This prevents you from animating say, an Ogre Zombie (which is large size).

However, there is a handy spell you can use that will change a creature or objects size category.

PHB pg. 237; Enlarge/Reduce

Reduce. The target’s size is halved in all dimensions, and its weight is reduced to one-eighth of normal. This reduction decreases its size by one category—from Medium to Small, for example.

Once you've shrunk a target from Large to Medium, Animate Dead will work on them.

The problem:

Animate Dead takes 1 minute to cast (Which requires Concentration for the casting duration).

Enlarge/Reduce only lasts for 1 minute (Concentration).

You are going to need two other casters with Enlarge/Reduce to help you with this as they are going to need to take over maintaining concentration on Enlarge/Reduce before you finish Animate Dead. We already know from the rules that spells with the same effect don't stack, however their durations overlap.

So here's an example scenario:

  1. Caster One targets dead Ogre with Enlarge/Reduce spell and reduces it's size to medium.
  2. You begin to cast Animate Dead.
  3. Caster Two, halfway through the cast, uses Enlarge/Reduce on the dead Ogre. The spell effect is duplicated (so it doesn't stack), but the durations begin to overlap.
  4. Caster One releases concentration on Enlarge/Reduce.
  5. You complete your animation spell, the Ogre is animated.
  6. Caster Two releases concentration on Enlarge/Reduce.
  7. The Ogre returns to Large size.

And finally:

PHB pg. 212-213; Animate Dead (emphasis mine)

The creature is under your control for 24 hours, after which it stops obeying any command you’ve given it. To maintain 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.

That allows you to keep reasserting control of the creature in question as there is no size restriction when using the spell to re-assert control.

It's complicated, but by RAW, you could technically do it.

There is one caveat to this:

The DM has the creature’s game statistics.

A DM may or may not permit you to benefit from the MM stat block for the animated dead. For example, the DM may make the game statistics for a large zombie/skeleton simply be the exact same as a medium one. Ultimately, I would reward a player for doing something creative like this by allowing it since they're exploring magic combinations and castings to achieve interesting results. But that's me personally. The catch here is that the DM will provide you with the creature's statistics.

As a personal home rule: I would permit one of these to exist in exchange for your normal limit of 4. It costs 3 total spell slots and at least three casters to create. In addition, with respect to balance it seems fine. The Zombie Ogre has 4 times the hit points, +3 to it's chance to hit, and on average 4 times the damage. So I would be fine with a player replacing their 4 Zombies with 1 Zombie Ogre.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I would say that when the undead goes back to Large size, Animate Dead stops arguing. From Sage Advice, In #DnD, the exceptional trumps the general. (No longer being a valid target trumps condition carryover.) \$\endgroup\$
    – BlueMoon93
    Jul 22, 2017 at 19:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maintaining control doesnt have a size restriction, only animating does. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 22, 2017 at 19:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is it? Ok, great answer then, +1 \$\endgroup\$
    – BlueMoon93
    Jul 22, 2017 at 19:13

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