When an undead is created through the animate dead spell and you apply either a zombie or skeleton template, what exactly is retained?

Both of these templates specify that

Special Attacks: A zombie retains none of the base creature’s special attacks.

Special Qualities: A zombie loses most special qualities of the base creature. It retains any extraordinary special qualities that improve its melee or ranged attacks.

I cant seem to find clear distinctions of what is a special quality. However special attacks seem clear enough. Any ability that provides an alternate to the full attack or standard attack seems to fit this.

Special qualities retained is less clear. Abilities like pounce, grab, and rake seem like they should stick around, however the Skeletal Megaraptor also seems to retain racial skill bonuses, as well as scent. A skeletal owlbear however, does not.

What about poisons? Poisons seem like special qualities that improve a melee or ranged attack. However it doesnt make as much sense for a skeleton to have poison. Zombie maybe. However they are magic, so anything could go.

So is there any clear definition as to what stays after the creature has been undead-ified? I can see arguments for various features, and some examples of certain things like racial skill bonuses. However it still seems uncertain to me and many forums and things I have read seem mixed on what stays and doesnt.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Related - What exactly are Special Qualities? \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Mar 24, 2021 at 19:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Possible dupe - Is there a definition for what constitutes a special ability? *contains information about both DnD 3.5 and Pf-1e \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Mar 24, 2021 at 20:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Loosely related - Creating an elemental undead And also - What defensive abilities does a Dragon retain when the Skeleton template is applied? \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Mar 24, 2021 at 20:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I did come across these while looking for my answer, but still found myself confused and looking for a clear answer. the first of those 4 links seemed closest, but all seem to kind of say its guesswork. Would specifying specific abilities help narrow the scope of the question? \$\endgroup\$
    – Erudaki
    Mar 24, 2021 at 20:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure you need to, it seems fairly well worded as is. I just don't have the time at this moment to dig through the limited rules on Special Qualities/Attacks/Abilities and muck of rules regarding necromancy. Kind of hoping another well-versed user will be able to help you. Just wanted to drop in some resources (and see if any of those hadn't been considered by you) \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Mar 24, 2021 at 20:19

1 Answer 1


The only thing we have to go off of is the monster’s stat block, which list special attacks and special qualities separately. Attacks are usually offensive options and qualities are usually not, but there can be exceptions and there are definitely cases that could go either way. The only “rule” is whatever the stat block says.

Which is a problem, since not everything necessarily gets printed up in a monster stat block. At that point, it becomes a matter of comparison with precedent, pattern matching, and the GM’s gut. In the case of skeleton and zombie, at least, the answer is really “nearly nothing,” since those are extremely low-power.


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