The rod of undead master states

While holding a rod of undead mastery, you can control twice as many Hit Dice of undead as you normally could. For instance, if you can normally control 12 HD of undead, you can control 24 HD of undead while holding the rod.

What happens when you are no longer holding the rod? Do all undead above the number you can normally control become released? If so can you just hold the rod again to regain control over them?

Or is the word "hold" in this instance simply meant to mean in your inventory and not actually "held" (I can't imagine many spellcasters sleeping with this thing held in their hand)

  • \$\begingroup\$ RE: "I can't imagine many spellcasters sleeping with this thing held in their hand." Why not? I mean, it's kind of important, after all! ;-) (Besides, it's what sovereign glue is for!) \$\endgroup\$ Feb 15, 2018 at 18:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Haha good point! I guess with all the times it would be super difficult to hold onto (climbing, sleeping, entering most places that don't like creepy skull rods in your hand) I was thinking to myself... can it really mean that? That would cause quite an uproar when you fall asleep and half your undead start murderizing the party! \$\endgroup\$ Feb 15, 2018 at 18:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's why Pale Masters graft a skeletal undead hand onto themselves - so they can always hold on to their Rod! \$\endgroup\$
    – SPavel
    Feb 15, 2018 at 19:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oof. I just realized I might be approaching this question wrong, having been distracted by the rod of undead mastery. You might want to pose another question like Do previously-controlled undead seek revenge on their former controllers? or Can evil mindless undead be manipulated without being controlled? or something. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 15, 2018 at 20:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan That was actually what I thought the question was asking the first time, and I concluded it was actually the question you answered only upon rereading. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Feb 15, 2018 at 20:14

2 Answers 2


Nothing happens when you let go of the rod, unless you're controling them via Rebuke Undead.

Animate Dead says (in part):

No matter how many times you use this spell, however, you can control only 4 HD worth of undead creatures per caster level. If you exceed this number, all the newly created creatures fall under your control, and any excess undead from previous castings become uncontrolled. (You choose which creatures are released.)

(emphasis mine)

Animate Dead only checks the HD of undead you can control when being cast; if your effective caster level or you set down the rod, your currently-controlled undead creatures are still controlled until such time as you cast Animate Dead again (thus triggering a HD check).

Note that Control Undead explicitly only checks HD on casting (the only mention is in the "target" section, and Command Undead has no HD level (the target is a single undead creature).

Turn/Rebuke Undead is different: turning, destroying, and rebuking undead would only check the undeads' HD at the time of channeling, but commanding undead via Rebuke states:

At any one time, the cleric may command any number of undead whose total Hit Dice do not exceed his level.

I don't have Libris Mortis in front of me, so I'm not 100% sure that the rod's power would affect the HD one can command; if it does, and the bearer drops the rod, the "extra" undead would stop being controlled.

  • \$\begingroup\$ That line in animate dead is specifically adjudicating solely the situation where you exceed your controlled undead via casting the spell again. It does not comment one way or the other on what happens if you exceed your limits by lowering those limits. Your conclusion does not follow from the evidence you have presented. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Feb 15, 2018 at 20:13
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ There are any number of spells whose effects are semi-permanent and caster-level-dependent, without question as to when the CL is checked (ie., when the spell is cast). There's no reason to think that a Permanent Image would get smaller (or fizzle) if the caster lost a few levels (or a CL-boosting item); why think that Animate Dead works any differently? \$\endgroup\$
    – minnmass
    Feb 15, 2018 at 20:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Animate dead is an instantaneous spell that establishes a relationship between you and the newly-undead creature that is independent of the spell itself. By contrast, permanent image is permanent, and so its effect is a part of the spell effect. That difference is massive, and is more than enough reason to see the two as reacting differently to otherwise-similar stimuli. Since the rod of undead mastery affects the relationship between the wielder and some undead creatures, rather than any particular casting of any particular spells, it is a different situation from a caster level bonus. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Feb 15, 2018 at 20:40

Several methods exist to control undead

Just to be clear, a creature that holds the rod of undead mastery (Magic Item Compendium 175–6) (10,000 gp; 3 lbs.) doubles its available Hit Dice for all methods it uses to control undead. For example…

  • The 2nd-level Sor/Wiz spell command undead [necro] (PH 211) doesn't measure the number of undead that can be controlled by the undeads' Hit Dice. The spell is unaffected by the rod.
  • The 4th-level Sor/Wiz spell animate dead [necro] (PH 198–9) allows controlling up to 4 HD of undead per caster level that the caster animates with the spell. The rod increases this to 8 HD.
  • The 7th-level Sor/Wiz spell control undead [necro] (PH 214) allows the caster to control up to 2 HD of undead per caster level. The rod increases this to 4 HD.
  • A neutral or evil cleric (and some other creatures) may rebuke undead (PH 159–60) to such a degree that he commands them. Normally, a creature can control up to HD of undead equal to its level in the class that grants the supernatural ability rebuke undead. The rod doubles this HD.

In addition to these, magic items, other spells, other class features, and even some monster special abilities control undead and measure that control in HD. The rod doubles the HD that can be controlled using all these methods… while the rod's held.

This DM would rule that letting go of the rod leaves some undead uncontrolled

The number of Hit Dice of undead a creature can control doubles only when the creature holds the rod of undead mastery. The rod's description says this twice.

However, as this answer implies, this could mean literally nothing: if the rod increases the number of HD of undead a creature can control using an effect while the rod's held, dropping the rod shouldn't change how those effects were already used! This reading, though, leads to the possibility of handing around the party's one lone rod of undead mastery to each party member individually who can—through whatever means—control HD of undead… essentially doubling the entire party's HD of controlled undead yet dividing the price for being able to do so by the number of party members! ("You get a scroll of animate dead! And you get a scroll of animate dead! And you…!")

Minionmancy is already one of the game's most time-consuming strategies, and this DM would be extremely hesitant to run the rod's effect that way, even if it is technically accurate.

Instead, this DM would have a creature's number of HD of controlled undead return to normal when the creatures abandons the rodand have that mean that the creature's control over some its HD of undead just ends. This reader imagines three ways a DM can adjudicate this:

  • The creature picks which undead remain under its control.
  • The undead that have been controlled the longest are freed.
  • The undead that were controlled most recently are freed.

(Other options may certainly exist!) Were a player in this DM's campaign considering for his necromancer PC a rod of undead mastery I might poll the table. (My players are a magnanimous, thoughtful bunch.) Were this DM considering for an NPC necromancer antagonist a rod of undead mastery, he'd go with the third option. (That is, this DM tries to make things easy on himself, so he'd want to go with the first option, but the second option is sort of like what happens when the caster of an animate dead spell animates too many dead, and the third option actually makes to this DM the most sense and makes for better plots: the last undead is usually the skeleton army or the unholy colossus or whatever, so breaking the rod frees it from the antagonist's control. Yay, Team Protagonist. Maybe.)


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