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Say Bob the fighter dies heroically while fighting some cultists. His companions realise they are outmatched and decide to run. But first, they quickly cut off one of Bob's fingers and take it with them.

After reaching safety, they cast resurrection on the finger, and it grows into a new Bob, assuming this answer is correct.

Meanwhile, the cult decide not to waste a perfectly good corpse. So they wait until nightfall and cast create undead on it.

Is there anything wrong with this scenario? Could Bob the fighter and his companions return to the cultists to be confronted with Bob the undead?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Schrödingers Bob \$\endgroup\$ Nov 19 '21 at 11:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SebastiaanvandenBroek more like the Bob of Theseus. \$\endgroup\$
    – VLAZ
    Nov 19 '21 at 15:19
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You can't have two Bobs at once, but that's not what you have here

If we look at spells such as reincarnate, raise dead, true resurrection, and resurrection, we see that they all mention the soul. However, the create undead spell does not impact the soul at all. To quote page 24 of the Dungeon Master's Guide "Bringing Back the Dead"

When a creature dies, its soul departs its body, leaves the Material Plane [...] Bringing someone back from the dead means retrieving the soul from that plane and returning it to its body. [...]

[...]

A soul can't be returned to life if it doesn't wish to be. [...]

So when Bob died, his soul had already left; if create undead is then cast on his corpse, his soul does not go into that undead. Thus, when a spell such as resurrection is cast, his soul returns and he can be revived (if he wants to be, that is). Bob only has one soul, but Bob's original body and soul are disconnected.

The trick here is that there aren't two Bobs. There is Bob's soul, which is now inside a new body (potentially a completely different one, if revived by reincarnate) and there is Bob's old body which turned into a Ghoul.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ One could liken it to a puppet: if we strung up Bob's old body and made it dance (as macabre as that is), that's not the same as resurrecting it. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 18 '21 at 23:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good answer; and IMO, correct. Could be improved by citing within 5e what is the animating force for undead, since it is not the souls that were formerly housed in their bodies. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 18 '21 at 23:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt: PHB, page 300: "Like a dome above the other planes, the Positive Plane is the source of radiant energy and the raw life force that suffuses all living beings, from the puny to the sublime. Its dark reflection is the Negative Plane, the source of necrotic energy that destroys the living and animates the undead." So yeah, explicitly fueled by Negative Energy Plane. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 19 '21 at 2:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowRanger Most likely true for ghouls as well as things like skeletons and zombies. The sentient undead retain their own corrupted souls, and things like crawling claws, for example, are explicitly animated by the evil souls of the once-living body. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 19 '21 at 5:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt In DnD 4e, living creatures had minds, souls, and an animating "animus" that served as their life force. If a creature was turned into a sapient-but-soulless undead (as opposed to a mindless undead like a zombie or skeleton), the undead creature still possessed the animus of the creature that it had the body of, but the lack of a soul allowed the negative energy to twist the mind of the creature towards destruction and evil. As far as I know, that hasn't been contradicted by anything in 5e. \$\endgroup\$
    – nick012000
    Nov 19 '21 at 10:12

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