11
\$\begingroup\$

The description of the speak with dead spell says (emphasis mine):

You grant the semblance of life and intelligence to a corpse of your choice within range, allowing it to answer the questions you pose. The corpse must still have a mouth and can’t be undead. [...]

Until the spell ends, you can ask the corpse up to five questions. The corpse knows only what it knew in life, including the languages it knew. [...] This spell doesn’t return the creature’s soul to its body, only its animating spirit. Thus, the corpse can’t learn new information, doesn’t comprehend anything that has happened since it died, and can’t speculate about future events.

Let's say my party is tracking someone with knowledge they need, who unbeknownst to them was betrayed by the big bad, killed, and turned into a wight. Obviously, in wight form he can't be targeted by the spell, because he's undead.

Once they slay the wight (assuming there's enough of the corpse left to talk with), is the resulting corpse still undead, and therefore unable to be the target of the speak with dead spell? Or is he just an ordinary corpse at that point, and this a valid target for the spell? Are dead undead still considered undead, or are they just dead?

\$\endgroup\$
4
  • 2
  • \$\begingroup\$ Now that's interesting- an answer in your second link references the Create Undead spell, which specifically states "Choose up to three corpses of Medium or Small humanoids within range.". If Crawford's tweets are taken at face value and corpses are objects, but corpses can have a monster type (humanoid, in this case), then objects can have a monster type and my answer is on shaky ground. \$\endgroup\$ May 29, 2020 at 2:55
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I was thinking about that but I think that can be resolved too. It says a corpse of a humanoid (not a humanoid corpse); the corpse is not itself a humanoid, it merely came from one \$\endgroup\$ May 29, 2020 at 3:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I've changed it to a wight to eliminate the possible confusion \$\endgroup\$ May 31, 2020 at 1:49

2 Answers 2

11
\$\begingroup\$

Yes, a dead undead creature can be the target of a Speak With Dead spell.

This unofficial tweet by rules designer Jeremy Crawford on May 9, 2015 strongly suggests that a non-animate corpse, regardless of its previous nature, is considered an object for targeting purposes:

A non-undead corpse isn't considered a creature. It's effectively an object.

..this was followed up on June 12, 2016 with the following tweet:

A corpse is an object. An unconscious creature is a creature

...This establishes that once any creature is dead it becomes an object. Helpfully, the core rules also define an "object":

For the purpose of these rules, an object is a discrete, inanimate item like a window, door, sword, book, table, chair, or stone, not a building or a vehicle that is composed of many other objects.

Monsters are defined on page 4 of the Monster Manual, under "What Is a Monster?":

A monster is defined as any creature that can be interacted with and potentially fought and killed.

Monsters have a "monster type" (e.g. aberration, celestial, undead); objects do not. If an object cannot have the "undead" monster type, it cannot be considered undead.

Therefore, a dead creature of any sort is an object, and no longer a monster. As such, it can no longer have a monster type, and rules pertaining to monster type would no longer apply.

Here's the thread that lead me to this answer: Is a dead creature's body considered an "object"?

\$\endgroup\$
9
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just making sure; you'd say that the tweet "a corpse is an object [...]" is referring only to non-undead corpses? \$\endgroup\$ May 29, 2020 at 2:42
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, because it is inanimate (an object) and no longer something that can be "potentially fought and killed" (i.e. not a monster). While it is undead that hasn't been slain, it is in the latter category and not the former. \$\endgroup\$ May 29, 2020 at 2:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Since this is already a bit lawyery, how do you tackle the "The corpse knows only what it knew in life" part? Since this is a corpse of the undead, it's (last) life was being a zombie, therefore not knowing anything interesting and not being able to speak any language. And while we're at it, how many zombies still have their mouths unrotten? :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – J.E
    May 29, 2020 at 5:35
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @J.E., the definition of the Undead monster type states "Undead are once-living creatures brought to a horrifying state of undeath through the practice of necromantic magic or some unholy curse.". I'd argue that "once living" implies "not living now" and "horryfing state of undeath" is distinct from being alive. Instead, the target of the spell would have no memory of having been undead. \$\endgroup\$ May 29, 2020 at 5:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast interesting point, but in a way my argument (with myself) is that once the zombie has been killed, it isn't the dead body of a zombie, it's just a dead body. The way I'm thinking about it is that the zombie is made with 2 ingredients: a normal corpse and necromantic magic. Once it is slain, the necromantic energy is gone, and what remains is a normal corpse- much like a dead treant would result in a pile of wood, I suppose \$\endgroup\$ May 31, 2020 at 1:06
2
\$\begingroup\$

The spell's text says No: you can't speak to the undead

A plain English reading of the rules is more persuasive than unofficial tweets.

You grant the semblance of life and intelligence to a corpse of your choice within range, allowing it to answer the questions you pose. The corpse must still have a mouth and can’t be undead. The spell fails if the corpse was the target of this spell within the last 10 days.

Note that it does not say "can't be an undead creature."
You have a zombie's corpse.
A zombie is undead.
The corpse can't be undead for this spell to work.
It says so right on the tin.

There is another problem with your example. Zombies can't speak, even though they can understand the languages that they knew in life. But, if you use a vampire spawn and your BBEG was a vampire, they can speak the languages they knew in life but the spell still fails.

Why?

The corpse must still have a mouth and can’t be undead.

That's pretty unambiguous.

There is a related Q&A where the accepted answer is that Speak with Dead does not work on skeletons, but, as that looks also like an interpretation of some rules that overlap in a particular way, I'll not call it gospel. (Though I agree with the conclusion).

Rules as Fun

If you are the DM and you would prefer that any corpse, to include an undead's corpse, is affected by the spell then by all means do that. Make sure the players are aware that you find that to be a more satisfying application of this spell. (I don't see this as being a significant change vis a vis power of the spell-it already has sufficient limitations).

You can have some fun with this...
Cleric asks zombie corpse: "Where did the vampire go?" and the Zombie replies "Braaaains ... "

\$\endgroup\$
5
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I think the question this raises would be "If you kill a zombie, is its corpse still undead, or is it just dead?" \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    May 31, 2020 at 2:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells that gets to the heart of the question. The fact that the spell cannot be cast on an undead creature is not in dispute- the spell text is crystal clear. The question is whether or not an undead creature is still considered undead when it is dead. \$\endgroup\$ May 31, 2020 at 4:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells The spell only works on a dead creature to start with. Any dead creature, except, an undead creature. That's right there in the rules. I don't see any ambiguity. \$\endgroup\$ May 31, 2020 at 12:19
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast It works on a corpse, except an undead corpse. A zombie that's up and walking around is an undead corpse, so you can't cast speak with dead on it. But if you kill that zombie, I'm not sure if it's still an undead corpse after that. Does that make sense? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    May 31, 2020 at 15:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells It makes sense in that it really doesn't make sense 8^D - the thing with the spell is that it doesn't bring the soul back, and IIRC the distinction about 'where is the soul' may have an impact on this. And you can't speak to zombies, skeletons and specters because they cannot speak anyway. They can only understand language known in life. \$\endgroup\$ May 31, 2020 at 15:54

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .