From what I understand the undead created via animated dead are under my PC's control indefinitely. So if I had commanded them to kill enemies of mine (insect things that were fighting our group so I commanded them to attack the bugs) would they follow that command after I die, or become uncontrolled and attack my party members too?

I had assumed that they became uncontrolled, and they attacked the party (which teleported away), but after looking while they were figuring out what to do next, I had re-read animated dead to figure out if that was correct.

The other thing that I was curious is do they stay under my control when brought back to life too?

If they do go uncontrolled after death, that would mean any necromancer PC would be a group wipe if they die.

I've been looking for an answer to this on the internet and the D&D books.


3 Answers 3


Yes (but it's not as useful as you'd think).

As a general rule, magical effects of any kind, even those of instantaneous duration but lasting effect, continue without change after the caster's death. Well, unless they require concentration, but animate dead doesn't.

Admittedly, there's no specific rule stating this, but there doesn't have to be: If the status quo did change whenever a caster died, the rules would have to explain how. Since the rules don't call out any such change, we can safely assume there isn't one. Besides, there's plenty of examples of magic lasting beyond the caster's death in adventures: Illusory wall and permanent image spells, magic items, and (of course) undead left guarding tombs and still following their long-dead creators' instructions while doing so.

That said, the animate dead spell specifies that the undead it creates "follow your spoken commands." Being dead precludes your doing most things, and among the things it precludes you from doing is speaking, and thus issuing new commands. As such, your undead will continue to do whatever they were last commanded to do: In your case, "attack the bugs." Presumably they'll kill the insect monsters you were fighting, then any other insects they can find in the vicinity, then wander off looking for more, and will continue to do so until destroyed.


The Answer is Undefined

What you are fundamentally asking is "how do mindless undead behave when they are no longer controlled?" D&D 3.5 does not answer this question anywhere in its vast corpus, and much digital ink has been spilt arguing about it.

If you want to play with undead, there are a few things you should get your DM to rule on ahead of time, because they will define your experience in that game:

  1. How does negative energy work, with respect to good/evil? Is using it inherently evil, or is it a corrupting force, or is it just a flavor of energy that's popular with people of evil alignments? The answer to that will give you the answer to questions like "is it an evil act to rebuke/command undead to keep them from eating kids?"

  2. What do uncommanded mindless undead do? Popular answers are "follow the last orders they were given," and "try to kill the nearest/most complex life around (people, then animals, then maybe plants)."

  3. How do mindless undead treat illusions? Do they ever get to disbelieve, or is silent image of a wall a zombie-proof barrier? Can you take out a skeleton entirely with an image of a bag over its head?

Get those answered before you start playing and you will have a much better idea of what to expect.


It depends, if your necromancer is undead they become free.

Libris Mortis, page 13, about controlling undead:

Once undead have created their spawn, they may command these “children” as they see fit. Their power over the spawn they have created remains in effect until their death, at which time all their spawn become free.

Reading this you might think this rule only applies to undead created by other undead through some special ability, but, what is "spawn"?

Libris Mortis, page 13, about undead spawn:

Many undead have the ability to create spawn (see Undead Propagation, above)

Following that rule's trail...

Libris Mortis, page 11, about undead propagation:

Creating Undead Spawn: [...] The unliving make use of several different methods to create new undead creatures. These methods, and the creatures that employ them, are summarized in Table 1–2.

Libris Mortis, page 11, from table 1-2:

║ Method           ║ Creatures That Use It         ║
║ ...              ║ ...                           ║
║ Magical creation ║ Lich, mummy, skeleton, zombie ║
║ ...              ║ ...                           ║

This means "magical creation" is a valid method of undead propagation, ergo, when you create zombies or skeletons by casting Animate Dead, you're creating undead spawn, therefore, the first quoted rule about them becoming free when you die applies, at least if you (the creator) are undead (being a necropolitan, for example, is not uncommon for a necromancer).

If you're not undead the rules are silent, but it wouldn't be unreasonable for a DM to rule the same.

By the way, even if they become uncontrolled after they die, skeletons and zombies are mindless, that means they only do as ordered, if orders are absent they will do nothing except maybe defend themselves, they won't attack the party unless the party attacks first.

Rules Compendium, page 105, about intelligence as a nonability:

A creature that has no Intelligence score is mindless, an automaton operating on simple instincts or programmed instructions.

Libris Mortis, page 12, about undead sentience:

The ability to think is a quality the vast bulk of undead do not possess. Mindless undead merely respond to preset commands or stimuli, driven by nothing other than the energy that animates them. These undead have no outlook; they are robbed of thought. They are nearly mechanical in their actions, and often those actions are as easy to anticipate as the revolution of a water wheel.

Monster manual, page 225, about skeletons:

A skeleton does only what it is ordered to do.

Monster Manual, page 265, about zombies:

These mindless automatons shamble about, doing their creator’s bidding without fear or hesitation.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Good analysis, but it misses the mark. "Spawn" as referenced here are primarily intelligent undead (and only those created by the specific abilities mentioned). OP is talking about skeletons or zombies. How they behave when uncontrolled is undefined. \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Commented Nov 10, 2020 at 12:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @fectin Misses the mark? It answers the main question (the title). As stated in the answer skeletons and zombies created through magic (Animate Dead) are considered spawn. And how they behave when uncontrolled is no mystery, they have no Intelligence score, so they behave according to their programmed instructions, if they have none, they do nothing. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yopi Lapi
    Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 6:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Third edition is usually pretty explicit about undead not "dying," but "being destroyed." I worry that if Libris Mortis is willing to break that convention of undead, their change to the definition of "spawn" might be similar. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 20:37

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