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A wizard has just killed a group of heavily armored fighters with great weapons. He uses Animate Dead on the bodies. The spell reads as:

This spell creates an undead servant. Choose a pile of bones or a corpse of a Medium or Small humanoid within range. Your spell imbues the target with a foul mimicry of life, animating it as an undead creature. The target becomes a skeleton if you chose bones or a zombie if you chose a corpse (the DM has the creature's game statistics).

So from the wording of the spell, these corpses would turn into zombies, as in you are making that body move again. You aren't mashing up the body into a stew and pouring out a new zombie, they're identical, still wearing the armor. Do zombies wearing plate have an AC of 18 instead of 8?

In the section on zombies in the MM, they have the Slam melee weapon attack, which does 1d6+1. The description section for zombies does read:

A zombie armed with a weapon uses it, but the zombie won't retrieve a dropped weapon or other tool until told to do so.

The wizard tells the zombies to pick up their greatswords. Does wielding a greatsword override the Slam attack and they now do 2d6+1?

Armor and weapons require proficiency. The people using the equipment were proficient in them, but are the zombies proficient? Does a zombie have disadvantage because it isn't proficient with this gear? I am certain that the zombie would have reduced speed because it only has a strength of 13, not the required 15 for plate.

Finally, do the implications of this extend to other types of undead? Can the wizard use Create Undead and make ghouls that wear armor?

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    \$\begingroup\$ A good question, an additional consideration would be the effect on the CR and XP. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Apr 10 '18 at 8:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Szega PHB, p. 144: "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." \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Apr 10 '18 at 8:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PixelMaster You are right. I read it hastily and thought it belonged to the part on weapons. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Apr 10 '18 at 8:48
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They can, but it's up to the DM whether they're proficient

Rules designer Jeremy Crawford unofficially addresses this here on Twitter (in a manner of speaking):

Twitter user: can I give the undead I create with Animate Dead weapons and/or armor?

Crawford: You can dress up your undead thralls however you like!

Twitter user: nice! As long as they're proficient I assume…?

Crawford: Undead dress-up dolls can wear anything, but they suffer the normal consequences if they're not proficient.

Of course, this doesn't say whether undead are inherently proficient or not with any armor or weapons you give them. That's probably a DM decision. If you're turning dead party members into undead minions or something, they might retain their proficiencies from when they were alive.

Fellow designer Mike Mearls also provides his own unofficial opinion as a DM here:

Twitter user: I can't find anything official on wether skeletons and zombies are proficient with armor and weapons given by a necromancer

Mearls: i'd give them proficiency with all armor and weapons

Of course, this isn't actually an official ruling in any way, just Mearls' own opinion.

If you're the DM, you should consider what changing their equipment and proficiencies does to their CR and how it might affect encounters.

If you're a player who wants to do this, you should probably run it by your DM, because it's largely up to them whether they'll allow this and whether the undead would retain their proficiencies.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Personally I would only give them proficiency if they were animated in the armor. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Apr 10 '18 at 12:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidCoffron why does it specifically have to be a "pile" (I know the text says that but don't read too much into it) why can't it just be a skeleton in armor? \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Apr 10 '18 at 13:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Apr 10 '18 at 14:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ That feels like a "I'll be pedantic for the fun of being pedantic" here.... any GM that forces me to move a skeleton into a pile to be able to cast animate dead on isn't a GM I want... \$\endgroup\$ – Patrice Apr 10 '18 at 15:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth 1st comment, that’s very valid. Skeleton stat block references a martial weapon, a simple weapon, and technically a light armor. So unless all skeletons are human militia archers, then your comment makes sense. \$\endgroup\$ – XAQT78 Nov 6 '18 at 14:13
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Yes, they can

I think you answer this yourself. Nothing in the rules says that you can't dress up your zombies in whatever extra armour you may possess and tell them to use weapons.

However, all the restrictions you mention will apply: If they don't have the strength to wear the armour then they will suffer the penalty. There is also nothing to say they are proficient in any weapons other than their slam attack, so they would also lose any proficiency bonus.

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Some adjudication will apply. Zombies are essentially mindless and lacking in skills, so I would rule them as not proficient, or at most as proficient in simple weapons and light armor. Skeletons, however, are not mindless, and are specifically noted as being able to operate siege weapons and such. I would let skeletons be proficient in the same arms and armor that they were proficient in, in life.

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Do zombies wearing plate have an AC of 18 instead of 8?

  • Yes, but zombie does not have any proficincy in armor or weapons. Donning heavy armor other than Chainmail, would penalize the zombies speed by 10 on top of disadvantage on any ability check, saving throw, or attack roll that involves Strength or Dexterity, and you can't cast spells.

Does wielding a greatsword override the Slam attack and they now do 2d6+1?

  • No, it would either attack with Slam or have disadvantage on attack roll using the Greatsword (Str based melee weapon) since the zombie doesn't have proficiency in wearing armor.

Does a zombie have disadvantage because it isn't proficient with this gear?

  • Yes, unlike the Skeleton, it doesn't retain anything from it's previous life.

Can the wizard use Create Undead and make ghouls that wear armor?

  • Wear, Yes.
  • Proficiency with, No.

They are different type of undead being created as a whole by a spell but doesn’t confer any or proficiency. The skeleton had proficiency from their previous life and it carried over into undead form. Although a ghoul with Int 7 they might be able to gain class levels, with DM approval. FYI, don't lose control if they do >:)

It comes down to proficiency or not.

The difference between classic animated undead Zombie and Skeleton is:

"Obedient Servants A skeleton can fight with weapons and wear armor, ..."

versus

Mindless Soldiers "... unable to comprehend obstacles, tactics, or dangerous terrain."

Skeleton

  • Armor Class - 13 (armor scraps)

(base 10, +2 Dex, +1 Light Armor proficiency)

  • Weapon - Shortsword (Martial proficiency, Finesse) +4 to hit

(base proficiency +2, Dex modifier +2)

  • Weapon - Shorbow (Simple proficiency, Ranged) +4 to hit

(base proficiency +2, Dex modifier +2)

Zombie

  • Armor Class - 8

(base 10, -2 Dex)

  • Weapon - Slam (natural) +3 to hit

(base proficiency +2, Str modifier +1)

Comparing these two classic undead, shows the numbers are accountable towards having proficiency or not.

The DM would have to come up with random proficiency of said skeleton.

Basically, if the stat block states "armor or weapon" then they have proficiency with at least that specific gear.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A few factual inaccuracies to correct: The Zombie can still don plate armour despite its insufficient strength, it just has its speed reduced by 10ft. Wielding a weapon you are not proficient in does not grant disadvantage, it only means you don't apply your proficiency bonus to your attack roll. Create Undead (a higher level spell than Animate Dead) can make ghouls, so I'm not sure what you are saying when you say "No, they are different type of undead." Your break-down of the AC is incorrect. Base AC is 10. Zombies have -2 from DEX. Armour scraps provide +1 AC, so are Light Armour. \$\endgroup\$ – BBeast Nov 6 '18 at 7:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, thank you. Edited for correction and clarification. \$\endgroup\$ – XAQT78 Nov 6 '18 at 12:59
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Skeletons essential wear light armor and apear to be proficient with martial weapons (they use weapons). So I would rule they are proficient with both. ..

Zombies, well all matters seem to be proficient with whatever weapon they use, power monster making rules so if they are using it... on the other hand zombies are stupid, really really stupid so I would rule that they don't know how?

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