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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\$ – Medix2 Aug 10 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\$ – Revolver_Ocelot Aug 10 at 18:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ What level is the character in question? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 12 at 12:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast any: 1-20. No restriction on multiclassing either. \$\endgroup\$ – Revolver_Ocelot Aug 12 at 15:09
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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 Aug 11 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\$ – guildsbounty Aug 11 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 Aug 12 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 Aug 12 at 15:01
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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\$ – Rubiksmoose Aug 12 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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