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I never really gave this much thought until this question brought it up: Is a dead creature's body considered to be an object? And is it still a creature?

My initial reaction was that it would not be an object, just a dead creature, since objects and creatures are defined differently. However there doesn't appear to be any strict definition of what an object or a creature actually is. And yet both creature and object are two terms that are used numerous times throughout the rule books.

Are these two terms mutually exclusive or can something be described as both?
Constructs for instance are the construction and animation of an object, but are they considered to be both an object and a creature, or are they one or the other? Is the meat suit of a once living, flesh and bone creature still a creature after it dies, does it become an object, or is it both?

Furthermore, what is a corpse in relation to spell targets?

Spells tend to define targets in terms of choosing a creature or choosing objects. Revival spells, such as Raise Dead and Resurrection, specifically target dead Creatures, whereas spells such as Animate Object specifically target objects. To quote part of Animate Object's description:

Objects come to life at your command. Choose up to ten nonmagical objects within range that are not being worn or carried. [...] Each target animates and becomes a creature under your control until the spell ends or until reduced to 0 hit points.

So if creature and object are not mutually exclusive and a dead creature is considered an object, could Animate Object be used on a corpse?

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The answer is yes, Animate object would work on a corpse. The exact effect would depend on the size of the corpse.

While there are specific defined terms in D&D 5e there are also a equal number of that rely on what the word means in English.

Object - a material thing that can be seen and touched.

Creature - an animal or person.

However there is a caveat. In various effects, powers, and abilities. The D&D 5e rules are consistent in referring to creatures as things that are living or animate. Objects as inanimate things like tables, chairs, rocks, books, feathers, etc. It not spelled out but it is consistent.

The things to remember is that D&D 5e rules are not to function as a wargame. They do not define the boundaries of what is possible during a campaign. The setting is what defines that. Instead they are a tool to aid the referee in adjudicating the action. For example the description of humans don't spell out every detail that could come up. The mechanics about humans are those that the authors feel that are useful or come up often. The important of which is the effect being human on character creation. The author expect referee to use what they know about humans to adjudicate anything that the rules don't cover because it is implied that humans in a D&D setting are just like people in real life only living in that world.

One implication of this is that animate objects doesn't change any other physical property of the object other than to animate with the stats provided. If you were to say animate a block of salt, possible considering what salt miners carved out of their mines, and it was to walk into water, then it is reasonable to rule that it would be affected adversely as salt dissolves in water. Perhaps by treating water as a acid attack on the animated object.

So a corpse animated as a object would still be a corpse and subject to decay, smelling bad, etc. It would not gain the benefits of being undead although at first glance it would be hard pressed for a character to tell the difference. One area where I can see the difference being important is trying to animate a skeleton. It is reasonable to assume that the various create undead spells joins the bones together to form a complete animated skeleton. While a long dead skeleton is merely a pile of separate objects of bone.

For stuff that has no real world analogue, elves, magic, etc. The authors expect the referee to fall back on their knowledge of the fantasy genre. Because the implied assumption that D&D is being used to depict a fantasy setting. Which is why they included a list of inspirational works in Appendix E on page 312.

In fantasy it is tradition for some spells to work on anything, a lightning bolt doesn't care if its target is a person, animal, or a piece of furniture. Some spells to only work on people, for example charming or enchanting a princess. And other spells to work only on objects, like the animated furniture from Fantasia.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Crawford agrees with you, BTW. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman May 14 '15 at 23:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Crawford also offered this clarification about living bodies and corpses \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant Aug 17 '16 at 20:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Objects and creatures being distinct, mutually exclusive categories is spelled out in PHB chapter 10 under Targets. \$\endgroup\$ – Derek Stucki Feb 24 '17 at 17:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DerekStucki, my point rest on the fact that a corpse is no longer a creature thus can be considered as an object. Of course unless it transformed into an undead in which case is becomes a creature again. \$\endgroup\$ – RS Conley Mar 10 '17 at 15:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ This would be terrible ruling to rule a dead person as just a corpse and object and not also a creature. Being alive doesn't quantify creature. Merely existing does. It would basically make any raise dead spell obsolete as the wording for them all used the words dead creature and not dead object or dead corpse. \$\endgroup\$ – Spoo Feb 14 at 6:42
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Parallel Spell Options

Looking closely at the two spells in question, I was surprised to find that having Animate Objects instead of Animate Dead is actually pretty balanced as far as game mechanics go.

  • At 5th Level, both Animate Dead & Animate Objects animates the same amount of medium sized corpses, at with larger bodies or higher levels, Animate Dead works better.

  • Animate Dead lasts at least 24 hours, but the zombies are weaker than Objects

  • Animate Objects gives you tougher creatures, but it's Concentration up to 1 minute.

So, mechanically, there's nothing broken or seriously unbalanced about allowing this.

Common Sense Reading

One of the 5E design goals was to try to get people back into doing common sense readings of the rules rather than legalistically define everything.

Although as I stated above, the two spells are useful in different ways, I'd personally lean against using Animate Object on the simple reasoning that the game has a spell designed to Animate Dead already, and that, once we start trying to push away from the common sense readings of the rules, it starts leading to really weird possibilities and the game stops being about fantasy adventure and becomes the weird world of "technically? What if?"

For example, if we rule corpses count as Objects, then Locate Object allows you to find dead bodies, or Fabricate allows you to take one kind of corpse and make another out of it (then probably animate it on top of all that) and things just start getting really weird.

There'll be enough reasonable edge cases in play that it makes sense to stick to the common sense reading of rules rather than open the door for finding several more places to confuse yourself.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think it is weird at all. Animating Corpses via Animate Object could work as an awesome theme for a puppet master Big Bad! \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar May 14 '18 at 16:45
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If corpses are objects, you can reattach severed body parts using Mending. Therefore, I doubt the intent is that corpses = objects.

While you usually need at least the 7th-level spell Resurrect to revive a creature and restore its body parts (or, alternatively, Regenerate, which is also level 7), you can achieve almost the same thing using Mending and Raise Dead (or Gentle Repose, Mending and Revivify, due to Mending's 1-minute casting time).

In addition, if corpses were intended to be considered objects, one would assume that the Mending spell would mention them. However, its language heavily suggests that it only intended for non-corpse objects.

Granted, Jeremy Crawford does say (source)that ...

A non-undead corpse isn't considered a creature. It's effectively an object.

However, the use of "effectively" suggests that this is not final, but instead just a "rule-of-thumb" (in my opinion). Regardless, Crawford can't possibly think of every abusive combination that might result from one of his rulings, and I hardly think the Mending+Revivify combo is intended.


In conclusion, I don't think that corpses being considered objects is the intent. For further details on the Mending-Revivify combo see this Q&A of mine, which caused me to post this answer.

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    \$\begingroup\$ How one hand do you have a direct quote from Crawford stating it's effectively an object and on the other state you don't think the intent is it should be an object? You literally have Crawford stating his intent. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Dec 10 '18 at 19:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch it's just too broken. No offense towards Crawford, but he's often inconsistent. Feel free to disagree, but in this case I believe he didn't think his answer through thoroughly enough. \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Dec 11 '18 at 8:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ If corpses aren't creatures you you can't bring back the dead via magic. All spells to bring back the dead quantify 'touch a creature', revivify, raise dead, true resurrection. Regardless of what people think, it is possible to be both a creature and an object. In fact if DND used english dictionary correctly all creatures are objects by merely existing. \$\endgroup\$ – Spoo Feb 14 at 6:46
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If I really wanted to get nitty-gritty with the DMG, one could also call it a structure, because it's composed of many cells/organs.

From DMG p. 246:

For the purpose of these rules, an object is a discrete, inanimate item like a window, door, sword, book, table, chair, or stone, not a building or a vehicle that is composed of many other objects.

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A dead body is a type of object. It is inanimate and can be assigned 'HP' (how much abuse can it take before it's an unrecognizable pile of hair, flesh and shattered bone aka loses it's structural integrity) and an AC (how difficult it is to mutilate based on armor it might be wearing or how tough the hide is or whatnot). A dead body is also immune to poison and psychic damage like all other objects having a nonfunctional circulatory system which won't spread poison and no mind to be affected by psychic damage. These defining characteristics of an object are found in the DMG p. 246-247. This object can be specially targeted by certain spells of the raise dead type to cease being an object and become a creature/PC/NPC as long as it's willing spirit joins it. A soul or other animating essence is primarily what separates a creature from an object. Gaining or losing this essence changes something's status. Pinocchio starts as a creature, a tree, then becomes an object, lumber, then formed into another object, a puppet, then becomes a creature, a free-willed wood golem, and then gets polymorphed into another creature, a boy, for example. There is no other line as clear as gaining or losing an animating essence or soul from which to determine whether or not something is an object or creature. If you kill a deer, is it still a creature when all four legs are used to hold it's hide in a bowl shape over a fire that a stew is being made in out of the rest of the deer? All the parts are there and connected but it's not a creature, it's dinner. So, if not at the killing, when it's spirit left, where in between that and dinner did it change from creature to object. Suppose a sparrow dies of old age in the woods, how much has to rot away before it stops being a creature if it didn't stop the moment it's heart and mind did?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Paragraph breaks would improve the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Thanuir Feb 14 at 10:53

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