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The Animate Dead spell raises either a zombie or a skeleton that the caster can control with mental actions:

You decide what actions the creature will take and where it will move during its next turn, or you can issue a general command, such as to guard a particular chamber or corridor. If you issue no commands, the creature only defends itself against hostile creatures.

After 24 hours the caster loses control of the undead creature:

The creature is under your control for 24 hours, after which it stops obeying any command you've given it.

What would the creature do at the end of 24 hours if it was still with the Necromancer?

  • Act as though it had no commands and only defend itself against hostile creatures
  • Become a monster and wander off
  • Become a monster and attack the party
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The spell permanently animates the creature (its duration is instantaneous), so it definitely stays undead.

After 24 hours you no longer have control over it. That means that the DM now has control of it. Which of the 3 the creature chooses is probably dependent on what you've awoken, and how undead work in your particular setting. That said, this is ultimately the domain of DM discretion and which of the 3 options your DM chooses is completely up to him. The RAW here is probably actually the first, but I would definitely reserve the right to choose any of the 3 as they are no longer a thrall and are acting under their own authority.

As a DM, I'd rule that most likely, they are going to cause destruction as Miniman alludes to. But whether or not that directly harms the PCs would very much depend on the situation. If they fail to recast in, say a dungeon where they are the only living creatures nearby, they're probably getting mobbed. If they fail to recast it and they are in a town...well then the town is probably going to have a zombie problem they get to deal with.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Skeletons are specifically described in the MM as acting out the activities they did in life. This seems like a good basis for the action of these undead in particular. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack Aidley Jan 5 '17 at 16:12

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