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My player characters killed some fire giants near an evil altar and then left the area. When they returned, I told them the fire giants were zombies now.

My players were confused. They kept wanting to know who cast the spell.

I told them nobody cast the spell. If a creature dies in a horrible way, especially in close proximity to a source of evil, and if the corpse isn't properly buried or given last rites, then sometimes you just get undead.

Is there any rules precedent for this?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Earlier editions acceptable? Also, I fail to understand why a DM would be required to justify something like this, especially if there are world reasons to support it, that is entirely DM fiat. What spell were they expecting to have been cast to animate giants out of curiousity? \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Oct 25 '18 at 17:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Earlier editions are fine. No, I'm not required to justify it -- this is my world and my house rule -- but I'm curious if it is justified. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan B
    Oct 25 '18 at 17:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth Suppose a wish may have done the trick. Nothing says nope quite like a big bad who can non-chalantly cast wish on random dead fire giants. \$\endgroup\$
    – user24827
    Oct 25 '18 at 20:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rogem Do you really need Wish to create undead giants? \$\endgroup\$
    – Nic
    Oct 25 '18 at 22:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NicHartley In this case, yes; animate dead and create undead work only on medium or smaller. Finger of death could do it, but requires the target to be alive. So, the only option left would be wish or something more potent (or a homebrew spell) \$\endgroup\$
    – user24827
    Oct 25 '18 at 22:32
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Definitely. It's literally in the description of the Zombie in the Monster Manual (p. 315):

Some zombies rise spontaneously when dark magic saturates an area.

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    \$\begingroup\$ LOLz, here I was scouring a references to something I read about a necropolis from 3.X or something... \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Oct 25 '18 at 18:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you want zombies? Because that's how you get zombies. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 26 '18 at 13:16

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