I am interested in what precisely "moves" the undead body, in the Forgotten Realms and Eberron.

  1. Is it the magic of the spell?
  2. Is the creature's soul rebound to the body?
  3. Is a "false soul" created and bound to the body?
  4. Something else?

I ask because I am researching the mechanics of Necromancy as published with the goal of knowing:

  1. how the magic functions in-universe
  2. which bits a DM would need to rule on.

I am also studying whether casting a Necromancy spell is necessarily evil, or if it is merely accidentally evil - for example, it is clearly Evil to kill and reanimate a men against his will, but is it Good (in-universe) to reanimate a person who, on their deathbed, grants you permission to use their corpse?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is there a particular feature you are asking about? There many different ways to raise undead in d&d 5e, and it probably depends on the particular feature you are talking about. Alternatively, perhaps you are just asking a lore question about necromancy in general, in which case you should specify a particular setting, such as the Forgotten Realms. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 16, 2021 at 22:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you'd asked this for 3.5rd edition, I'd have quoted the magic jar spell, which (along with the animate objects spell and the rules for turning undead) answered it quite neatly - but I have no idea what 5th edition's answer is. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Jan 17, 2021 at 20:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe I don't think 5e actually has a specific fluff on this, I think it was taken out so that necromancers weren't automatically evil. I think that PhilB's answer is probably mostly right. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 17, 2021 at 20:44

2 Answers 2


It's magic

I kept asking around, and a better DM than I actually thought to read the book. :^)

Source: Monster Manual: Zombie

Dark Servants. Sinister necromantic magic infuses the remains of the dead, causing them to rise as zombies that do their creator's bidding without fear or hesitation. ...


Like many things left unspecified, this is up to the DM and the design of his world.

I rule that Zombies and Skeletons are just animated by the spell's magic, and the souls have nothing to do with it. Most of the undead, that are higher than that, are animated by the returned soul of the formerly living creature. Indeed some, such as Ghosts, are exactly and only that, no body required.

There's some wiggle room for skeletons, since they, if left undirected, often mimic what they did in life, so one could theorize that some remnant of their souls remains. But I count that as remnant magical energy, and still say that the soul of the skeleton is gone.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi, could you perhaps beef up this answer with quotes from relevant spells showing that they don't specify? Also, it's good practice to keep anything that seems to be RAW and "How I run it" separated. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 17, 2021 at 20:46

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