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I decided to make an unreasonable demand from nearby town and to gain an advantage in upcoming dispute I want an undead horde reinforcing my arguments. I am not looking for quality (after all, those buffoons can't tell skeleton from lich), but quantity.

My question is: how many undead creatures a Player Character can have under their control at the same time?

Constraints:

  • Only official WOTC content.
  • Small and larger undead only: it is hard to be intimidated by something you have to look for.
  • Target number should be able to be attained without explicit DM cooperation. No dozens of tomes thrown at character, no unlikely situations, no DM fiat (so no Boons, for example).
  • No Legendary magic items.
  • After attaining desired amount of undead, character should be able to sustain that amount for at least seven days without outside help while travelling with the horde.
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    \$\begingroup\$ What extent of magic items are available then? How many rings with spells stored in them? Is the PC acting entirely alone or can they use resources from other characters as well during the summoning portion? Can the caster summon creatures to help them maintain the undead? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 10, 2019 at 18:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 No more that 1 copy of any permanent magic item. I would say, in typical campaing character will get around 25 magic items: up to 4 very rare items and up to seven of each category below (based on treasure distribution in XGTE). PC can use outside help while gathering his horde, but after he departs on his 7-days journey, he will act completely alone. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 10, 2019 at 18:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ What level is the character in question? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 12:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast any: 1-20. No restriction on multiclassing either. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 15:09

5 Answers 5

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Unlimited (even if you don't want to be a Beholder)

While the concept is bizarre to me, some people might not want to spend their time as a Beholder... For them, the process is actually simpler.

  1. Attain access to Finger of Death
  2. Wander through the land, murdering hapless peasants.

    A humanoid killed by this spell rises at the start of your next turn as a zombie that is permanently under your command, following your verbal orders to the best of its ability.

  3. Do whatever you want.

Just be careful not to get silenced, or at least issue contingency orders for if you do. Otherwise you might find yourself with a large horde of directionless undead.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a better answer... any reasonable DM would make all the created undead from time spent as a Death Tyrant free when the True Polymorph wore off, so it is not "permanent" in that regard. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Commented Aug 11, 2019 at 1:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth I agree that this is the better answer. But OP just wants to maintain the army for 7 days. Holding True Polymorph for 24 hours makes it last until Dispelled, so you'd just have to stay in Death Tyrant form until you were done with your army. Then, assuming you don't want to cause a zombie apocalypse, order your army to go walk off a cliff before you have someone dispel the TP. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 11, 2019 at 13:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ 2.5) find a safe place to keep your zombies until you've amassed a sufficient horde. Don't want any pesky "heroes" coming along and killing them (and maybe you) for XP. \$\endgroup\$
    – Steve-O
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 14:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Too bad that this only allows you to create one zombie per day (two on level 20 when you acquire a 2nd 7th level spell slot - but on that power level you have far more impressive tools at hand). \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 15:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ An L20 sorcerer could twin-cast Finger of Death 4 times per day by using their 7th-, 7th-, 8th-, and 9th-level spell-slots while turning lower-level slots into sorcery points. That's 8 zombies per day, which is not a bad pace at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – nben
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 23:45
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Unlimited

There is no upper limit to the number of undead that you can control...the process is pretty simple, too.

  1. Attain access to True Polymorph
  2. Turn yourself into a Death Tyrant Beholder, hold the spell until it becomes permanent
  3. Massacre vast numbers of humanoids while within your Negative Energy Cone. Target goblins or orcs if you have something resembling scruples.

    Any humanoid that dies there becomes a zombie under the tyrant’s command.

  4. Do whatever you want.

There is no upper limit to how many zombies a Death Tyrant can command. So.... have fun!

You can have a friend Dispel Magic on you if you ever get tired of being a Death Tyrant... but make sure to lock up your Zombie Horde first.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 13:00
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I'll throw my own old calculations in case they will be useful for someone:

168 Undead

You will need:

  • A level 20 sorcerer able to cast Animate Dead.
  • A Ring of Spell Storing.
  • Someone other than you who can cast Animate Dead.

Animate Dead raises 2×(spell level)-5 or maintains control over 2×(spell level)-2 undead. We would have problem where we are forced to use a whole spell slot to maintain control over a single zombie because if we create another one instead, we lose control over the old one. By using Ring of Spell Storing with our helper we won't have a problem of growing our horde, so we can concentrate on controlling it.

Using all available spell slots per day we will be able to control:

  • 3rd level: 3×4 = 12 undead
  • 4th level: 3×6 = 18 undead
  • 5th level: 3×8 = 24 undead
  • 6th level: 2×10 = 20 undead
  • 7th level: 2×12 = 24 undead
  • 8th level: 1×14 = 14 undead
  • 9th level: 1×16 = 16 undead

For total of 128 zombies or skeletons.

After that we use class features to improve our army.

A Sorcerer can turn all his 1st and 2nd level spell into 10 more spell points and create 4 more 5th level spell slots per day with Flexible Casting for 4×8 = 32 more undead.
If we would have to stick to a single short rest, we would have to ditch creating a single 5th level spell slot and create two 4th level slots instead for total of 3×8 + 2×6 = 36 undead.
If we would be able to take at least 2 short rests per day, we would accumulate enough sorcery points with Sorcerous Restoration to create another 5th level spell slot for total of 40 undead.

A necromancer wizard can use Arcane Recovery to restore 2 5th level slots per day, make Animate Dead one of his Arcane Mastery spells and use it daily and use Command Undead feature to bind one more undead to his will for total of 2*8+4+1 = 21 more controlled undead.

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544

9th level divine soul sorcerer(or cleric) / 11th level warlock, with access to animate dead from cleric list take a short rest use all your spell slots on animate dead. take another short rest. use all spell slots on animate dead repeat whenever DM says you need to sleep, smile and take a short rest. use 2 spell slots on animate dead. If DM gives you exhaustion, as per Xanathar's, cast Greater Restoration, to reduce exhaustion level by 1.

In a day, you can take 23 short rests (or if DM is a rules-lawyer, 22 short rests,53 minutes and 54 seconds). each short rest gives you 3 5th level spell slots. Since we can create as many undead as we like given ehough time, the limiting factor is how many we can control. With 23 x 3-1 = 68 5th level spell slots. each 5th level spell slot allows you to control 8 skeletons. so that makes 68 x8= 544 skeletons/zombies

Other things you can do to increase the number of undead you control(these won't last a week).

  • Eldritch Invocation: undying Servitude: =1 skeleton/zombie(only 24 hours)
  • Mystic Arcanum: Don't pick Create Undead. That Only makes 2 undead. Pick Mass Suggestion. This lets you command 12 undead (which you've already made, but lost control of) to "do whatever I say" ( only 24 hours)
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Correct me if I misunderstood you, but wouldn't at certain point you need to spend all of your generated spell slots every day to maintain control over already existing undead. Question specifically asked for undead under control \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 11:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, I'm working on that \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 0:32
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204 Undead in 8 days

Class: Wizard
Subclass: Necromancy
Level: 20

This method uses Arcane Recovery, Signature Spell (Animate Dead), and assumes 1 long rest per day. The Necromancer Wizard can create, 2(Spell Slot level)-4, skeletons or zombies(I'm going to use skeletons) with the Animate Dead spell, 2 wights by casting Create Undead with the 8th level spell slot, 3 wights by casting Create Undead with the 9th level spell slot, and can capture an undead, that has less than 12 intelligence, permanently. Wights have an ability called Life Drain that will turn their target into a zombie if the attack kills the target. Many undead have the ability to raise more undead so using Command Undead to capture them will allow them to raise undead under your command. For this example I have chosen the Sword Wraith Commander but Shadows are nice too. Sword Wraith Commanders have an ability that allows them to summon 1d4+1 Sword Wraith Warriors per day that will last until their hp drops to 0.

Creating the army

Day 1

  • Step 1: cast Animate Dead using all available spell slots from 3rd-7th level and Signature Spell.

    • Signature Spell: 2(3)-4=2
    • 3rd lv slots: 3(2(3)-4)=6
    • 4th lv slots: 3(2(4)-4)=12
    • 5th lv slots: 3(2(5)-4)=18
    • 6th lv slots: 2(2(6)-4)=16
    • 7th lv slots: 2(2(7)-4)=20
    • Total undead 74 skeletons.
  • Step 2: cast Create Undead using 8th and 9th level spell slots creating 2 and 3 wights respectively.

    • Total undead 74 skeletons, 5 wights.
  • Step 3: use the wights to slaughter 60 humanoids, 12 per wight, wait 24 hours.

  • Step 4: use Command Undead to capture a Sword Wraith Commander and use his Call to Honor ability to summon 1d4+1 Sword Wraith Warriors.

    • Total undead 74 skeletons, 5 wights, 1 Sword Wraith Commander, 4 Sword Wraith Warriors.
  • Step 5: use Arcane Recovery to restore two 5th level spell slots.

    • Use these spell slots to cast Animate Dead and raise 2(2(5)-4)=12 skeletons.
    • Total undead 86 skeletons, 5 wights, 1 Sword Wraith Commander, 4 Sword Wraith Warriors.
  • Step 6: take a long rest, you've earned it.

Day 2

  • Step 7: use all 3rd-6th level spell slots and Signature Spell to cast Animate Dead and reassert control over 78 skeletons.

    • Signature Spell: 1x4=4
    • 3rd Lv Slot: 3x4=12
    • 4th Lv Slot: 3x6=18
    • 5th LV Slot: 3x8=24
    • 6th Lv Slot: 2x10=20
    • Total undead 78 skeletons, 5 wights, 1 Sword Wraith Commander. We still have 8 skeletons that we need to reassert control over.
  • Step 8: Arcane Recovery to restore 2 5th level spell slots.

    • Cast Animate Dead with one 5th level spell slot to reassert control on 8 skeletons.
    • Use the remaining 5th level spell slot to cast Animate Dead creating 6 more skeletons.
    • Total undead 92 skeletons, 5 wights, 1 Sword Wraith Commander, 4 Sword Wraith Warriors.
  • Step 9: use your 8th and 9th level spell slots to cast Create Undead and reassert control over the 5 wights. Wait for the zombies created by the wights to raise from the dead.

    • Life Drain: creates up to 12 zombies under the wight's control
    • 8th Lv Slot: 2wights+(2x12zombies)=26
    • 9th Lv Slot: 3wights+(3x12zombies)=39
    • Total undead 92 skeletons, 60 zombies, 5 wights, 1 Sword Wraith Commander, 4 Sword Wraith Warriors.
  • Step 10: start marching.

  • Step 11: cast Finger of Death with your 2 7th level spell slots creating 2 zombies.

    • Total undead 92 skeletons, 62 zombies, 5 wights, 1 Sword Wraith Commander, 4 Sword Wraith Warriors.
  • Step 12: use the Sword Wraith Commander's ability "Call to Honor" to raise 1d4+1 Sword Wraith Warriors.

    • Total undead 92 skeletons, 62 zombies, 5 wights, 1 Sword Wraith Commander, 8 Sword Wraith Warriors.
  • Step 13: repeat steps 6 through 12 until you reach you destination.

    • During step 8 you will be reasserting control over 6 skeletons instead of creating 6 skeletons.

Undead Army

(Animate Dead) + (Create Undead x [wight + Life Drain]) + (Finger of Death) + (Command Undead x [SWC + Call to Honor])

For this example we are given 7 days of marching to the city and let's assume we gather all our undead and the Sword Wraith Commander with 4 Sword Wraith Warriors within 1 day. Once gathered we will pick up stragglers during the march. I'm also using 3 as the average roll of the 1d4 from Call to Honor.

92 + (5 + (5 x 12)) + (2 x 7) + (1 + 8(1d4 + 1))

92 + 65 + 14 + 1 + 32

158 + 14 + 32

204 undead

Keep in mind you would need to be willing to kill several villages to make this happen but depending on time constraints your number of undead is limitless.

Breakdown of army composition:

I like using skeletons for their versatile fighting tactics so I would choose them for the Animate Dead spell

92 skeletons, 74 zombies, 5 wights, 1 Sword Wraith Commander, 32 Sword Wraith Warriors

Final note, your army can grow by 2 zombies and 2 to 5 Sword Wraith Warriors per day. If needed you can use one of your 5th level spell slots to replenish skeletons at a rate of 6 per day. Your wights can help replenish any zombies lost, remember they can only command up to 12 at a time.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This should make clear some of its conclusions. What's the final calculated number of undead? Further, you present an undead army formula — could you please explain it? What do the components in this formula represent, and where do the numbers in it come from? What are the variables X and Y? What's the number 182 that it sums to, is that the number of undead? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 12:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Reading further I'm able to piece together that the sections at the end correlate to the part of the formula, but it doesn't really make this clear by telling me so. The answer could better explain those connections directly. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 13:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Edited the post with your comments in mind hoping to clear up confusion. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nobody143
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 3:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please don’t use code formatting for things that aren’t code. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 10:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov not sure what you talking about. Where did I use code formatting? \$\endgroup\$
    – Nobody143
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 13:27

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