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If you cast Animate Dead, that allows you to use a bonus action to command any creature you made from "this spell". Do multiple instances of the effects created by the spell named Animate Dead apply to "this spell", or only one instance of the effects created by "this spell"?

That is, does "this spell" refer to the instance of the spell you cast when you cast it, or does it generally refer to the spell in name and all instances of that spell name whenever it is cast?

On each of your turns, you can use a bonus action to mentally command any creature you made with this spell if the creature is within 60 feet of you (if you control multiple creatures, you can command any or all of them at the same time, issuing the same command to each one).

Same question applies for multiple spells of Create Undead or multiple castings of any similar and singular spell name.

Similar question answered here: Can I command both Ghouls and Zombies/Skeletons with one bonus action?

It seems entirely ambiguous to me and no clear direction to lean towards. I know of no good comparisons that do have clear RAW or RAI. The difference of interpretations is extremely substantial, potentially 14 vs 98 creatures. Further, I could not find this question asked anywhere else on the internet.

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It applies to any or all undead originally created by the caster's use of Animate Dead that remain under the control of the caster

There is a plain English differentiation in the rules between a "casting (of a spell)" and the spell itself. A particular casting of a spell is not the spell itself. When they use the phrasing "you can use a bonus action to mentally command any creature you made with this spell" they mean the spell Animate Dead, not a particular casting of that spell. It's followed with "if you control multiple creatures, you can command any or all of them at the same time" (emphasis added), again without making reference to a specific casting. If they meant it only applied to undead created from a particular casting, they would have said so, but they did not.

Beyond rules as written, it makes sense for it to operate this way; the balance of the spell is already maintained by limitations on how many undead you can practically control, and the action economy that limits the flexibility of the spell (only one command can be issued per turn); it's unlike most other minion-maker spells in this way (most of which require no action to command), but then, it's also capable of making a lot of minions with sufficient prep time, thus the restrictions. If it was also limited by the number of castings involved in creating/controlling the undead:

  1. It would be an organizational headache for casters controlling hordes of undead (I'm controlling 28 undead, created by castings at levels 3, 5, 7 and 9, but after 24 hours I renewed control over them with just a level 7 and 9 casting, oh, but one of them got buried in that rockslide, which casting was it tied to again? And that's for the small horde). It already doesn't combine well with castings of similar spells that use bonus actions to issue commands (e.g. Animate Objects, Create Undead), but at least the creatures controlled are easily distinguished; tracking which of the anonymous skeletons you made is tied to which casting of the spell in the middle of an active battle would be a bookkeeping nightmare.
  2. It would make hordes of undead even less useful; undead created by four castings would need four turns just to get them all doing something, and it would be a perpetual challenge to issue instructions that remain valid long enough to instruct all the rest of them. Blowing a ton of spell slots just to maintain your relatively weak minions, and have them mostly stand around doing nothing when the enemy is right there is violating the rule of fun.
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    \$\begingroup\$ "There is a plain English differentiation in the rules between a "casting (of a spell)" and the spell itself. A particular casting of a spell is not the spell itself." Where is this even broached the rules? \$\endgroup\$ May 5 at 2:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ "When they use the phrasing "you can use a bonus action to mentally command any creature you made with this spell" they mean the spell Animate Dead, not a particular casting of that spell." How do you know they mean that? \$\endgroup\$ May 5 at 2:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ "If they meant it only applied to undead created from a particular casting, they would have said so, but they did not." Could you not also by the same token say: "If they meant it applied to all castings of the spell Animate Dead, they would have said so, but they did not." ? \$\endgroup\$ May 5 at 2:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ How is it any more of a headache than if casters cast multiple spells of different spell names that make NPCs, like Create Undead, Animate Dead, Danse Macbre, ect? Each requires a separate bonus action to control. But if you make the same horde with the same spell name it's too hard to keep track off and this should determine rules arbitration? \$\endgroup\$ May 5 at 3:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you combine them with Oath Breaker Paladin auras, inspiring leader speeches, Crusader's Mantle spell, Necromancy Wizard's Undead Thralls and/or give them all Mauls or heavy crossbows you able to do over 1,000 damage with one bonus action or issue general commands that have them do that damage every round without using a bonus action. They'll have very decent HP and great saving throws and take no damage on successful saves. Seems useful and not weak. I don't see logic in making the rules arbitration based on this being too weak. \$\endgroup\$ May 5 at 3:13
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You command all creatures made using any casting by you of animate dead with the one bonus action

The spell description for animate dead only works to create one undead creature at a time. As such, the part of the spell text which talks about "any creature you made with this spell" must refer to multiple castings of this specific spell. The higher level slot rule does mention animating multiple creatures, but that is an addition to the main spell description while the rule on controlling multiple creatures is part of the main spell text.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The base spell only covers one at a time, but casting at higher levels lets you animate multiple undead at once: "At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, you animate or reassert control over two additional undead creatures for each slot level above 3rd.". I agree with your conclusion, but the argument you used to reach it doesn't apply. \$\endgroup\$ May 4 at 23:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ It can make up to 13 or 14 with Necromancy school with one instance of the spell. \$\endgroup\$ May 4 at 23:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with your answer, but why do you say (up to 4)? \$\endgroup\$
    – RallozarX
    May 4 at 23:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RallozarX: Oh, yeah, that's definitely not a restriction in the spell. \$\endgroup\$ May 4 at 23:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RallozarX Ah, I misread the last sentence of the spell description. I'll fix that now. \$\endgroup\$ May 5 at 2:21
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I would say that you can command any all of your controlled undead at the same time. I interpret that to mean multiple castings of "this spell".

You can only issue one command per bonus action, though, so you can't say "these ones do A, these ones do B, these ones do C" all at once. But you could pick whichever ones you wanted, and have those ones do "A", and next turn, pick different ones (or the same ones), and have them do "B", etc.

If your commands last multiple turns (e.g. "you and you and you, attack that monster until it is dead"), then you could arrange to have several groups of them doing different things at the same time, but it takes some time and thought and arrangement to get that happening well.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there any reason why you interpret it that way and not the other way? \$\endgroup\$ May 4 at 23:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Because that's what I think the words mean, when written in that order. \$\endgroup\$
    – PhilB
    May 5 at 2:13

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