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Can the spell Spirit Shroud heal a zombie? The paladin in our party cast it and was upset that the DM would not let the necrotic damage each round heal our cleric's zombie.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: How can I heal undead creatures? \$\endgroup\$ Jun 21 at 9:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Same question, but in reverse: Does the Cure Wounds spell damage undead? \$\endgroup\$ Jun 21 at 13:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Please be less vague. "We're in a game" could be you implying you are playing with Vrastyr, or you could be taking about D&D as a game and "in a game" meaning "playing in a game system". Your comment has confused people. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Jun 22 at 2:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Yakk Poor phrasing on my part, sorry. Here's what I mean: We're dealing with the context of a game where past editions, e.g. D&D 3.5e, did exactly this thing. Given how much D&D 5e has carried over from previous editions and the history here, it's reasonable for someone to expect there might be a damage type that heals undead and be confused about the lack of it. This context is also why I'm concerned "spells only do what they say they do" is not the appropriate sentiment to offer in an answer here given the context is expressly a damage type having an effect that won't be in the spell text. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 22 at 7:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't realize it didn't carry over from D&D 3.5. Thanks for the info folks! :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Vrastyr
    Jun 22 at 10:04

2 Answers 2

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In 5e, necrotic energy does not heal undead

Your DM is right in their ruling. While in earlier editions of D&D, necrotic (or "negative" as it was called then) energy did heal undead, this is not generally the case in 5e.

In fact, most undead will get damaged by necrotic energy, just like any other creature. There are only a handful of powerful undead like the Lich that even have damage resistance to it. Zombies do not.

For a spell to heal undead with necrotic energy in 5e, the spell would need to explicitly say so, like the spell Negative Energy Flood from XgtE, which states:

If you target an undead with this spell, the target doesn't make a saving throw. Instead, roll 5d12. The target gains half the total as temporary hit points.

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Spells only do what they say they do.

The spell description of Spirit Shroud states:

Until the spell ends, any attack you make deals 1d8 extra damage when you hit a creature within 10 feet of you. This damage is radiant, necrotic, or cold (your choice when you cast the spell). Any creature that takes this damage can’t regain hit points until the start of your next turn.

Nothing in the description of the spell references healing undead. So unless your DM decides otherwise, it won't heal them.

As far as I know, the positive/negative energy mechanics were scrapped in 5e, compared to previous editions. Any healing side effect on undead is always written in the spell's description if relevant (for example, see the spell Negative Energy Flood, from Xanathar's Guide To Everything).

In the end, your DM makes the rules

As Doppelgreener mentioned, it would seem like your DM has set up some homebrew rules to emulate positive/negative energy interactions with undead, probably inspired by previous editions. Since nothing of the sort seems to exist in the 5e official rules, it's up to them to rule whether some spells can or cannot heal undead.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure the "spells only do what they say they do" header is appropriate here given we're operating on a background where energy types can in fact do things the spell didn't say. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 21 at 9:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener in such a situation, we're entering homebrew territory, which cannot really be solved outside of "the DM decides what happens". That is why I'm answering the question assuming we're talking about RAW. I will nevertheless edit my question to reflect your comment. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Jun 21 at 9:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's not what I mean—the DM has not set up homebrew rules at all. The question claims no such thing. But in prior editions, undeath-type spells would deal a particular damage type, and that damage type would heal undead, which is a straightforward case of spells not doing merely what they say they do. This makes that header somewhat tonedeaf to the situation. They don't need to be told that the spell only does what it says, which is somewhat condescending here—they need to be told there's no side-effects of the damage type. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 21 at 9:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener this case of spells not doing what they say they do would be right for other editions. However, the only edition mentionned here is 5e, in which undeads do not have any particular interaction with necrotic damage (which lead me to homebrew). My intention with this header was not to be condescending, but to affirm what is likely known as the "golden rule" of 5e spell interpretation. Then again, english is not my native language, so if there is any way to rephrase my answer so it sounds less condescending, while keeping the emphasis on that rule, I'll gladly use it instead. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Jun 21 at 10:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Another thing I forgot to point out, although minor, is that the spell does not directly inflict necrotic damage, and the question was about the spell healing an undead with no mention of attacking them for the "extra damage" feature. This is the main reason I did not focus on necrotic damage as a main thing in my answer, but rather in the spell description itself. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Jun 21 at 10:18

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