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I want to create a necromancer in the Forgotten Realms setting. One that gets some kind of consent for their necromancy when it comes to using other creatures' corpses, be it from each creature that once inhabited their respective vessel, or be it from the deities and forces of the multiverse that are responsible for things like that. And before I talk to a DM about house ruling this, I want to know which options are there for achieving it with RAW.

From what I've researched, one option would be Cleric multiclass and using spells such as Speak with Dead. However, investing enough levels into Cleric for that is a big character progression investment. Are there simpler alternatives?

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Speak with your DM about adding speak with dead to your spell list.

Adding speak with dead to your spell list would not be a big deal. This is affirmed by guidance from the Dungeon Master's Guide:

Modifying a class’s spell list usually has little effect on a character’s power but can change the flavor of a class significantly. In your world, paladins might not swear their oaths to ideals, but instead swear fealty to powerful sorcerers. To capture this story concept, you could build a new paladin spell list with spells meant to protect their masters, drawn from the sorcerer or wizard lists. Suddenly, the paladin feels like a different class.

Obviously, it requires permission from the DM, but drawing on my experience as a DM and a player, I can foresee no problems arising from this particular change (your mileage may vary with other spells). Sure, it's technically a house rule, but it is a house rule that is explicitly encouraged in the published material with published guidance on making it work. Call it HRAW: house rules as written.

Speak with dead may still present an ethical dilemma for you.

Speak with dead states:

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.

At best, speak with dead can tell you if, at the moment the creature died, they would have been willing to be reanimated. The spell does not allow you to communicate with the proper soul of the creature, and so you have no way of knowing if the creature's soul has since changed its mind and withdrawn consent. If you're exploring the ethics of consent with this character, this is something to consider. Thanks to Carcer for making this observation in comments.

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Use Summon Undead instead of Animate Dead

It's definitely possible that this won't quite fit the concept you were hoping for, but it could definitely work as a flavor of "necromancy with consent".

The necromancy spell Summon Undead from Tasha's Cauldron of Everything allows you to call on "an undead spirit" to assist you. It's not required by the spell itself, but there's also nothing saying it can't be a SPECIFIC undead spirit that has agreed to assist you in this way. You would need some other way to get consent in the first place, perhaps it's a family tradition and you call on your willing ancestors, or someone on their death bed asked for your help getting revenge of some kind.

That said, there are quite a few other differences between Animate Dead and Summon Undead that might influence whether this is an acceptable compromise:

  • Summon Undead summons a single spirit with concentration, meaning you will only have one spirit at a time. Animate Dead can sustain quite a large number indefinitely as long as you find appropriate corpses and invest enough spell slots.
  • You learn Animate Dead for free at 6th level from the Undead Thrall feature, which means a necromancer that never uses it effectively "wasted" a spell known.
  • The spirit from Summon Undead probably doesn't benefit from the other part of the Undead Thrall feature either, unlike Animate Dead and other spells that operate on a corpse.
  • Summon Undead requires a 300gp material component. It isn't consumed so that's a one-time cost, but it is still a potentially significant cost.
  • The spells have very different action economy requirements. Animate Dead has a casting time of 1 minute, which realistically must be done before combat, and during combat usually requires your bonus action each turn to (mentally) command all your undead; if you issue a general command the undead could continue without needing further bonus actions, but if you want undead each doing different things then you need separate bonus actions. Summon Undead realistically will require an action to cast in combat unless you can anticipate the combat in advance, but takes no action to (verbally) command the spirit; it does require concentration for the duration though, limiting what other spells you could use if you plan to have the spirit for most combats.
  • Animate Dead can make skeletons or zombies, but only depending on what "materials" are available. Summon Undead can create a Skeletal (skeleton-like), Putrid (zombie-like), or Ghostly (ghost-like) form of your choice each time it is cast.
  • Summon Undead cast at higher levels increases the strength of the spirit, while Animate Dead cast at higher levels increases the number of undead.

Contact Other Plane to ask permission

As a 5th level spell it's a significant investment and quite high-level to be part of a character's core concept, but Contact Other Plane is available to Wizards with official rules. That said, it's not guaranteed that your DM will allow its use for this purpose. The first sentence of the spell reads:

You mentally contact a demigod, the spirit of a long- dead sage, or some other mysterious entity from another plane.

Since it can contact the spirit of a long-dead sage, it seems to me that it could probably contact the spirits of other dead people as well and it's just not commonly used for that purpose. Unlike Speak With Dead this contacts their actual spirit, so they are capable of learning new information rather than only being able to answer based on their knowledge when they died.

In addition to being a high level spell, Contact Other Plane also has a chance of failure, but for a 9+ level Wizard a DC 15 Intelligence save should be fairly easy.

Wish

Even more overkill than Contact Other Plane is Wish, which is naturally available to Wizards. Wish can duplicate any 8th level or lower spell from any class list with no cost or risk other than the 9th level spell slot for Wish itself, and no need for DM rulings since it's one of the specifically laid-out official options for the effect of Wish. Thus Wish could RAW be used to cast a non-Wizard spell for the effect, such as the ones listed below.

Divination or Commune

As noted in Thomas Markov's answer changing a class's spell list is officially a good way to change its flavor without risking much in terms of power level. It would require DM approval and not technically be RAW, unless cast using Wish, but I wouldn't expect them to turn it down. The 4th level Divination and 5th level Commune put you in contact with a deity which you listed as a valid option. Divination is more limited, only allowing for

a single question concerning a specific goal, event, or activity to occur within 7 days

But "I want to animate that corpse today" seems like a planned activity that would occur within 7 days and "Is the soul OK with that?" seems like a question concerning that activity.

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Tasha's Cauldron of Everything adds Speak with Dead to the wizard spell list

There now is an official option to support this. If you use the optional wizard rules from Tasha's Cauldon of Everything, page 75:

The spells in the following list expand the wizard spell list in the Player's Handbook.

The spells added from the Player's Handbook (next so some other, new ones and spells from Xanathar's Guide to Everything) include Speak with Dead.

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Obtain permission from the living to use their bodies - or spirits - once they've passed.

Other answers have detailed several ways you can confirm consent of already-dead creatures using powerful magics to reach between the planes, but the simplest method is to ask the living. I suggest working with your DM to set up a custom background where certain members of your family have given permission, enough to work with for a while. You could also bargain with captives, petition schools of magic for bodies that were given to them with permission for necromantic use, or (if this is close enough for your character) ask the living relatives of the recently dead, if you're willing to risk offending them with the question. I suggest for the last only asking if they seem magically inclined or the deceased was, since they're more likely to be understanding.

Related anecdote: In a Pathfinder game, I played a neutral Aasimar Undead Lord Cleric, a rebellious teenager who escaped a Heavenly plane and her super-strict Angelic parent by fleeing to the Prime Material. She only created undead using animal-intelligence or non-intelligent creatures - her Undead Companion was a fast zombie heavy horse she maintained a gentle repose spell on. She'd take command of humanoid undead when she fought them, use them to destroy the others, then "release them from service" unless she had a pressing need for them immediately. I think I've heard in 5e you can't create undead from animals, though, so I'm not sure how useful the story is for you.

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