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Fantasy novels are rife with evil necromancers controlling hordes of undead...and they also make great BBEGs! But what if a player wanted to do the same thing?

I'd like to see how big of an army a 5e D&D character could raise and control. Well, I'm actually more interested in the controlling aspect, as creating undead is pretty straight forward in terms of numbers per day.

Let's assume this character is 20th level, can be of any published class or class combo, only wants to make an army of permanent skeletons (they smell better than zombies!), has a 20 for any relevant ability score, and has access to any published non-artifact magic item.

As an example, let's assume the character is a wizard and is using the Animate Dead spell which says

This spell creates an undead servant.

The creature is under your control for 24 hours, after which it stops obeying any command you've given it. To maintain control of the creature for another 24 hours, you must cast this spell on the creature again before the current 24-hour period ends. This use of the spell reasserts your control over up to four creatures you have animated with this spell, rather than animating a new one.

My math says this wizard would only be able to control 128 skeletons with this spell. This is a LONG way from anything resembling an army...and the wizard would have to burn every single spell slot of 3rd level or higher, every single day, just to keep those 128 in line.

So, let's get creative! Remember, we're looking for LOTS of skeletons, and ideally we wouldn't have to burn all our spell slots every day just to do it!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: "What is the maximum number of PC-controlled undead?" \$\endgroup\$ Jan 16, 2020 at 8:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 That's close, and even has some great ideas - although the accepted answer creates zombies instead of skeletons. \$\endgroup\$
    – aaron9eee
    Jan 16, 2020 at 8:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ammut FoD creates zombies, not skeletons \$\endgroup\$
    – Caleth
    Jan 16, 2020 at 12:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you have a time limit in mind in which you want to raise the undead? (e.g. 1 day / month / year)? \$\endgroup\$
    – Tobias F.
    Jan 16, 2020 at 14:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you 9th level Geas them to keep them under your control indefinitely? \$\endgroup\$
    – user59614
    Jan 16, 2020 at 14:59

4 Answers 4

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Ok this might be ridiculous but you want LOTS of skeletons and I was thinking different scenarios. Let's assume you stand in a field of skeletons since you have raised tons of skeletons beforehand and they just can't run away. Now you want to control as many of them as possible


Scenario 1: 18,720 Skeletons

You are a level 20 wizard with unlimited amounts of Spell Scrolls (you need to be wizard or cleric to have access to the spell, otherwise you need to roll for success). A level 9 Animate Dead lets you control 13 Skeletons. The casting time of the spell is 1 minute and since your control lasts 24 hours until you need to cast it again, you can cast it a maximum of 1,440 times a day (if you don't need to eat or sleep etc). So 1,440 * 13 = 18,720 Skeletons under your command.

If you want to sleep, eat and command them you just subtract the minutes and you get your number of skeletons. That way you have your spell slots and LOTS of skeletons (but need to get your hands on a lot of spell scrolls).


Scenario 2: 390 Skeletons

Level 9 Divine Soul Sorcerer

Level 11 Warlock

Ring of Spell Storing (needs attunement)

Pearl of Power (needs attunement)

Rod of the Pact Keeper (needs attunement)

The divine soul sorcerer has access to Cleric spells, so you can learn Animate Dead (when you get your lvl 3 Spell Slot). At level 11 a Warlock has 3 level 5 Pact Spell slots which recover with a short rest. A level 5 Animate Dead let's you control 5 Skeletons; You can cast them 3 Times a short rest so you get 15 Skeletons with 3 minutes per short rest. With 22 short rests (66 casting minutes) you have 330 Skeletons and 54 minutes left of the day.

You add level 5 Animate Dead from your Ring of Spell Storing: 5 skeletons. Total of 335 Skeletons. (53 minutes left)

Pearl of Power to regain a level 3 spell slot which can be converted into 5 sorcery points.

And then you have your sorcerer spells also: 1 level 5 Spell (5 Skeletons) and you have 9 sorcery points + 8 points (created from your level 1 spells) + 9 points (from level 2 spells) + 15 points (from level 3) + 18 points (from level 4) = 59 sorcery points + the 5 from pearl of power convert = 64 points. So you can cast 9 more or your level 5 spells (45 Skeletons). So with your sorcerer class you can create additional 50 Skeletons.

Rod of the Pact Keeper lets you regain 1 warlock spell slots so one additional level 5 Animate Dead for 5 Skeletons.

Total of 390 Skeletons (42 minutes left). Again no sleeping and this time you use all your spell slots but you don't need unlimited number of spell scrolls. So you could do this every day (except maybe the Ring of Spell storing filling, which would take some of your spells and except maybe the exhaustion without sleeping)


Scenario 3:

Check this linked answer. But I'm not sure if their math is incorrect or mine.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You get the spell level worth of sorcery points, not creation cost of the slot., so a 3rd lvl slot would only get you 3 sorcery points, not 5. \$\endgroup\$
    – CrimRei
    Dec 27, 2020 at 1:54
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You can create an unlimited number of permanently controlled skeletons, but at a slow rate.

First, create zombies using Finger of Death. These zombies are permanently under your control. As a level 20 wizard, you can cast this spell 5 times per day, leaving you with your level 9 spell slot.

True Polymorph the Zombie into a Skeleton and concentrate for 1 hour. Since the True Polymorph target retains it's personality, it'll remain under your control permanently.

This lets you create 1 skeleton and 4 zombies per day, indefinitely.

Then you can use your spell slots to add in Mummy lords, wraiths etc as desired on the final day of your assault using Create Undead.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Definitely a much slower process than the other answer, but over time it will generate FAR better results! \$\endgroup\$
    – aaron9eee
    Sep 8, 2020 at 17:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, if you could provide relevant quotes from the spells you mention, it would likely help other readers follow your logic. TX again for the answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – aaron9eee
    Sep 8, 2020 at 17:45
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This is definitely late, but maybe someone else will be able to come in and take this piece of advice/wisdom I leave.

As for this character looking to achieve an infinite army of Skeletons there is only one choice of class and subclass. And that is the School of Necromancy Wizard. Most for it's 6th and 14th level features.

Undead Thralls

At 6th level, you add the animate dead spell to your spellbook if it is not there already. When you cast animate dead, you can target one additional corpse or pile of bones, creating another zombie or skeleton, as appropriate.

This feature will help our aspiring Necromancer grow their Skeleton army much faster than any other Necromancer.

Command Undead

Starting at 14th level, you can use magic to bring undead under your control, even those created by other wizards. As an action, you can choose one undead that you can see within 60 feet of you. That creature must make a Charisma saving throw against your wizard spell save DC. If it succeeds, you can’t use this feature on it again. If it fails, it becomes friendly to you and obeys your commands until you use this feature again.

This feature will help us gain an ally who can assist in the creation of more Skeletons.

And for some final preparations were gonna want a few notable spells and even some magic items. Starting with Spells we're gonna need Animate Dead which will be freely given from our subclass. The 7th lv spell Simulacrum. The 9th lv spells Wish and True Polymorph.

With this particular combination of spells we can ensure ourselves a steady steam of Skeletal friends and other nasty undead if we decide our hoard of Skeletons aren't cutting it (or when the Commoners bring out their clubs).

To start we're gonna want to use Simulacrum targeting ourselves (of course) you can use Wish to duplicate the effect of the spell or just spend the time and resources to manually cast it. Now we have a duplicate of our self missing a 7th, 8th, or 9th lv slot (using wish is arguably the better choice). From here you can choose to do an infinite Wizard combo so that you have access an infinite number of yourself that has the Command Undead feature or you can stop at 1. However we move on to the next step which involves making your Simulacrum "Real". This is accomplished by True Polymorphing it into you. As you and the Simulacrum are the same lv. And by virtue of the True Polymorph it becomes permanent if you hold the 1 hour concentration. And now it can regain it's features, spell slots, and hit points in this new form only. (You can do this on yourself to create a cool buffer of hit points and double your spell slots during a day without resting.)

Now we're going to go recruit 2 (or more if you have infinite simulacrum Wizards) new friends who will be helping us build up our army of Skeletons. These friends will be Mummy Lords who are eligible to taken permanently under our control due to their 11 Intelligence. Sad part is they have 11 Intelligence, a +8 Charisma Saving Throw bonus, and Magic Resistance (which is redundant, but worth mentioning). However if you are able to find and enthrall 2 or more Mummy Lords you are sitting pretty with a crew of (at least) 4 Animate Dead users all of whom can recover their spell slots (if you true polymorphed your simulacrum. In a single day if we spend all our slots using Animate Dead which is totaled at 12 3rd lv spell slots, 12 4th lv spell slots, 8 5th lv spell slots, 6 6th lv spell slots, 4 7th lv spell slots, 2 8th lv spell slots, and 2 9th lv spell slots. We create:

18 Skeletons using Animate Dead at 3rd lv. 42 Skeletons using Animate Dead at 4th lv. 56 Skeletons using Animate Dead at 5th lv. 46 Skeletons using Animate Dead at 6th lv. 40 Skeletons using Animate Dead at 7th lv. 24 Skeletons using Animate Dead at 8th lv. 28 Skeletons using Animate Dead at 9th lv.

For a grand total of 212 Skeletons raised in a single day at the cost of 15 minutes. So economical, But that's simply how many we can raise in a single sitting without using a Short Rest or Long Rest. So how many can we maintain if we just simply do the same, but recruit more Skeletons to our cause?

54 Skeletons using Animate Dead at 3rd lv. 78 Skeletons using Animate Dead at 4th lv. 86 Skeletons using Animate Dead at 5th lv. 64 Skeletons using Animate Dead at 6th lv. 52 Skeletons using Animate Dead at 7th lv. 30 Skeletons using Animate Dead at 8th lv. 34 Skeletons using Animate Dead at 9th lv.

Now we're at a daily maintenance of 398 Skeletons a day. The majority of Which have 20 extra hp and each deal 6 more damage when they hit. Now if we do the infinite Wizard combo using true polymorph to make each one "effectively real" you can exponentially increase these results until you're fielding the US Armed Forces in Skeletons (which would be possible if you teach them how to operate such vehicles and equipment.) To be make the math a little simpler. Each copy of yourself creates 98 in a single day using all applicable slots and maintains 143 per day using all applicable slots. Each Mummy Lord creates 29 in a single day using all applicable slots and maintains 56 per day using all applicable slots.

The Mummy lord is our best aid in this regard because they are able to cast Animate Dead and come under our control permanently. However seeing as they aren't a Wizard nor under the School of Necromancy they produce less Skeletons per casting and cap out on castings quicker as they only have 9 spell slots that can be used to cast Animate Dead. While our True Polymorph Simulacrums are Skeleton making Machines.

Now theoretically you could create a Simulacrum get them a Mummy Lord then True Polymorph them into yourself enabling them to have a second copy of the Command Undead feature that can get each Simulacrum 2 Mummy Lords. The only RAW thing I see stopping this from happening is the Command Undead feature itself.

If it fails, it becomes friendly to you and obeys your commands until you use this feature again.

This line might refer to the creature itself using the feature a second time at all. Or it could be referring to that specific instance of the feature.

Anyways from there you could do it yourself and get two Mummy Lords doubling the Skeleton production for your Mummy Lords. And at this point you could save your own spell slots for being the Utility Wizard you are and instead allow your Army of Simulacrums and Mummy Lords to take up the task of creating and maintaining your army of Skeletons. You are now the Commander in Chief of the greatest Skeleton Army and nothing short of a Deity or the DM can stop you.

So with the scenario I have presented you can exert influence over an infinite number Skeletons while also having the added the benefit of being a Wizard and having a likewise infinite number of Simulacrums and Mummy Lords.

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These answers are all wrong; the true answer is unlimited, and I'll tell you why. The Geas spell cast at 9th level exerts permanent control over something that can understand you and be charmed, for which the best compatible undead you can summon is Wights. From here, you summon several wights and bind them to your will with the command "Do not disobey me", and feed them 12 zombies each. The wights are charmed, so they'll be compelled to help you and can't attack you either, so bam, you have an infinite zombie army for as long as you can keep them hidden. No upkeep, no hassle, and best of all, it's infinite.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Dandalus, and welcome to the site. Check out our tour to see how we work here. Note that the question is about skeletons, not wights or zombies. Does this translate into skeletons at any stage? \$\endgroup\$ May 18, 2021 at 19:57

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