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I've been creating homebrew undead monsters for my campaign and in order to do so well I've been dissecting existing monsters that fall within similar veins, including the low-level skeletons and zombies. It's interesting to see the stat differences between them, considering that they can both be created from the same spell, and I can also find narrative reasons for those differences. However, one thing I can't really figure out is the difference in alignment between the two. Both are "mindless undead", what makes a skeleton "lawful" in that context while zombies are just "evil"?

Is there any description (ie. lore) which explains the lawfulness of skeletons?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I ammended your question to highlight what sort of answer you were looking for (based on the below answer), reopened and moved the preceding comments to chat. The concerns about alignment questions are still valid though, and if this does end up drawing opinions as answers we will have to close it. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil May 30 at 13:26
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While not outright stated as a justification, this can be inferred from the description given in the monster manual:

Skeletons have traits like Obedient Servant which indicates that they mindlessly follow orders and Habitual Behaviour which states that in the absence of orders they have a tendency to follow routines resembling their behaviour in life. Both of these point towards a lawful nature, i.e. they behave in a predictable, orderly fashion. The same description also provides a justification for evil as they're driven towards killing living things on sight. Of note is that Skeletons are explicitly pointed out as not mindless:

Although they lack the intellect they possessed in life, skeletons aren't mindless.

—Monster Manual pg. 272

Their reasoning ability is limited compared to the average living human, and while only capable of interpreting verbal commands literally they are nevertheless stated as being capable of complex reasoning.

Zombies are also servants created from necromantic magic (either environmental or cast by a necromancer) obviously, but there's a slight difference in ability: A zombie truly is mindless. It has no inherent instincts or reasoning capabilities beyond identifying and attacking threats to the point it is not even capable of avoiding harm. A zombie currently not attacking a target or carrying out an explicit order (it is stated they are not capable of understanding anything much more complicated than "go in that direction and kill") doesn't have an inherent motivation to do anything much at all. Presumably its this complete lack of reasoning that makes it neither lawful or chaotic; If the magic animating it wasn't itself considered evil it would probably be considered neutral.


Of course as you note alignment is to no small extent a matter of opinion, but I believe this is most likely the reason for the difference in this particular case.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Despite some others claiming this question was opinion-based, I was given a useful answer that was supported by evidence from the book itself. Thank you. \$\endgroup\$ – ZarHakkar May 30 at 3:41

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