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A School of Necromancy Wizard at 6th level gains the Undead Thralls ability, which reads:

At 6th level, you add the animate dead spell to your spellbook if it is not there already. When you cast animate dead, you can target one additional corpse or pile of bones, creating another zombie or skeleton, as appropriate.

Whenever you create an undead using a necromancy spell, it has additional benefits:

  • The creature’s hit point maximum is increased by an amount equal to your wizard level.
  • The creature adds your proficiency bonus to its weapon damage rolls.

This is naturally most obviously relevant to Animate Dead itself, which starts with:

This spell creates an undead servant.

So Animate Dead is extremely explicit in triggering the ability. However, Summon Undead doesn't have the word "create" anywhere in its description so it's less clear.

Looking further, I found several other necromancy spells which result in new undead, and none of them have "create" or similar in their descriptions either, and I would assume the class feature would simply say Animate Dead if that's the only spell that it works with, which would mean Summon Undead is probably fine too... But (at least on D&D Beyond) most of the other spells which make undead are tagged as "Creation" spells, which makes sense for them to be considered as "creating undead" for the class feature, whereas Summon Undead is tagged as Summoning instead, which also makes sense given the name. I'm pretty sure D&D Beyond tags aren't actually rules, but I can see the logic that "Summoning" spells are taking a creature that already exists on another plane and moving it to the material plane, whereas "Creation" spells do something different and thus qualify as "creating" something.

So, personally I would rule that Summon Undead triggers Undead Thrall, but I can see other interpretations and I wonder whether there's a more official way to determine the meaning of "create an undead".

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No, Summon Undead does not create undead.

Though their language varies, spells that create undead all say that you're converting bones or a corpse into an undead creature. I've listed relevant excerpts from several spells below.


Animate Dead

This spell creates an undead servant. Choose a pile of bones or a corpse of a Medium or Small humanoid within range. Your spell imbues the target with a foul mimicry of life, raising it as an undead creature.

Danse Macabre

Threads of dark power leap from your fingers to pierce up to five Small or Medium corpses you can see within range. Each corpse immediately stands up and becomes undead.

Negative Energy Flood

You send ribbons of negative energy at one creature you can see within range... A target killed by this damage rises up as a zombie at the start of your next turn.

Create Undead

Choose up to three corpses of Medium or Small humanoids within range. Each corpse becomes a ghoul under your control.

Finger of Death

You send negative energy coursing through a creature that you can see within range... A Humanoid killed by this spell rises at the start of your next turn as a Zombie...


In contrast, Summon Undead does not create an undead creature. Instead, it brings an undead spirit to you, which then manifests in a way that resembles other undead.

You call forth an undead spirit. It manifests in an unoccupied space that you can see within range... The spirit resembles [a Ghostly, Putrid, or Skeletal] undead creature...

You're not creating new undead with this spell, so the Undead Thrall feature does not apply.

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Yes, Undead Thralls interacts with Summon Undead

Is Summon Undead a necromancy spell?

Yes

Does it create an undead creature?

Yes, even if it is temporary

There is no language in Undead Thralls directly requiring the created creature to be permanent, corporeal, or otherwise.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the problem's whether "Summon Undead" actually "creates" anyone or, as the name suggests, merely "summons" existing ones from elsewhere, and whether "Undead Thralls" is supposed to be specifically only for newly created undead. \$\endgroup\$
    – A. B.
    Apr 17 '21 at 6:35

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