The Feign Death spell (PHB, p. 240) says:

For the spell’s duration, or until you use an action to touch the target and dismiss the spell, the target appears dead to all outward inspection and to spells used to determine the target’s status.

The Animate Dead spell, on the other hand, says:

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, raising 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).

Feign Death has this strange clause that all spells used to detect the target status register it as being dead. Animate Dead takes a corpse of a dead creature and create a zombie out of it.

On one hand, a Feigned creature isn't a corpse, so it isn't a valid target for Animate Dead. On the other hand, if Animate Dead fails, then the creature isn't a corpse, but that would violate the clause from Feign Death that says the target appears dead to spells used to determine the target status and now my head is hurting and I don't understand anything anymore.

What happens if you cast Animate Dead on a creature currently under effect of Feign Death to determine if it is dead?

Would you end up with some weird living zombie that is undead but not really?


2 Answers 2


Animate dead wouldn't work; the creature's actual type is unchanged.

The animate dead spell must be cast on "a pile of bones or a corpse of a Medium or Small humanoid within range", as you quoted - but the feign death spell doesn't turn a creature into a corpse (or a pile of bones).

Feign death says "the target appears dead to all outward inspection and to spells used to determine the target’s status." However, the animate dead spell is not a spell used to determine the target's status; it is simply a spell that only works on dead creatures. In other words, it is a prerequisite/requirement of the spell - not a function of the spell.

Because feign death doesn't change the actual status of the target, the target of feign death is not a valid target for the animate dead spell. One way to handle this situation is using the optional rule on invalid spell targets from Xanathar's Guide to Everything (p. 85):

If you cast a spell on someone or something that can’t be affected by the spell, nothing happens to that target, but if you used a spell slot to cast the spell, the slot is still expended. If the spell normally has no effect on a target that succeeds on a saving throw, the invalid target appears to have succeeded on its saving throw, even though it didn’t attempt one (giving no hint that the creature is in fact an invalid target). Otherwise, you perceive that the spell did nothing to the target.

Following this rule, nothing would happen to the target after animate dead was cast; the spell slot would be expended, but animate dead would fail. However, no indication is given as to why the spell failed; as Miniman pointed out in a comment on this answer, another reason it could fail is that it's under the effect of a gentle repose spell, for example.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Given that it seems to be a concern for the OP, it's worth noting that the failure of animate dead doesn't actually prove the the target isn't a corpse - it could be under the effect of a gentle repose spell, for example. \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 11:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman: I considered mentioning that it'd give no indication of the reason for failure but wasn't sure it'd matter - thanks for the example of when it would! \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 11:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Another way for the spell to inexplicably fail would be if you cast it on the corpse of a zombie or skeleton, or just a non-undead non-humanoid corpse with vaguely humanoid anatomy. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 11:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells: Animate dead's purpose is not to determine the target's status, no matter what reason you announce to the universe first. :P \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 15:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sounds like a good opportunity for the target to make a Bluff roll to "rise from their grave" if they know what spell is being cast... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 26, 2019 at 17:30

My interpretation of Feign Death's effect would be that "spells used to determine the target's status" give you said status information as an explicit part of their effect, such as Detect Thoughts or Plane of Life's Detect Lifeforce. The only information you explicitly gain from casting Animate Dead on a feigning target is "my spell failed", not "the target is invalid because it's alive". "The target is actually alive" is an inference you make, which I'd argue is a perfectly valid way to work around Feign Death.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Detect Lifeforce is a 3.5 spell. I think it would be better to use a 5e spell like Detect Evil and Good as an example :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Rykara
    Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 21:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fair point, but I skipped DEaG in favor of Detect Lifeforce for two reasons: a reasonably significant number of enemies wouldn't fall under the detectable creature types of "aberration, celestial, elemental, fey, fiend, or undead", and I didn't do my homework on the differences between 3.5e and 5e Feign Death. :P \$\endgroup\$
    – A_M
    Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 21:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 5:58

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