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Can the animate dead spell be cast on any dead creature?

My players killed a few saber-tooth tigers and the necromancer wanted to use animate dead on them. Also on an ogre, on wolves and so on... How do I adjudicate this?

I'm really not so sure. Should I just say his undead is a "large tiger" and use the zombie in the 5e MM for statistics?

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The description of the animate dead spell says:

Choose a pile of bones or a corpse of a Medium or Small humanoid within range. [...] The target becomes a skeleton if you choose bones or a zombie if you choose corpse [...]

So you only need to describe how humanoids transform into skeletons or zombies. The animate dead spell does not work on the remains of other types of creatures.

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This is really up to you. In 3.5, you could animate anything, to a limit.

In 5e, you can specifically only target Humanoids by RAW, however this is D&D so never let that stop you. If you expect to run into times when you aren't going to be seeing humanoids (or just because you want to) don't let the RAW stop you.

A Skeleton is a CR 1/4 creature.

Animate Dead allows you to animate one humanoid worth 1/4CR

The Necromancer subclass allows one additional humanoid for a total of 1/2CR.

Casting the spell as a higher level allows you to creature 2 more undead (so another 1/2CR).

You could, within your purview as DM, simply allow your necromancer to animate the corpses of a set amount of CR worth of creatures.

A Sabre-tooth tiger is a CR of 2, which means you would need to cast the spell at level 5 OR as a necromancer at level 4 and you could then animate the sabre-tooth tiger.

Now you have an undead sabre-tooth tiger equal in CR to 8 skeletons, which sounds fair to me but you have another problem, Skeletons and Sabre-tooth tigers have unique abilities and you would want to make sure your undead sabre-tooth shows some undead traits. For this i would make sure you remove some of the sabre-tooth traits (Keen Smell, Pounce) and replace them with undead traits (Immune poiuson, Exhaustion, Poisoned) and if its a skeleton give it vulnerability to bludgeoning.

And just repeat for whatever else you want to do. Its not a easy solution but it is simple, it just requires a little math and some tweaking and i think its a VERY good idea for necromancers (maybe JUST necromancer subclass even) because.. what if you are somewhere where you don't see humanoids, what if you want to be creative? You should reward creativity.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you ever played with these rules in one of your games? How did that go? \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    May 16 at 7:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've used them as a player. I worked them out with my DM and they liked them, we were playing a very heavily based wilderness campaign and we didn't see a lot of traditional humanoids around so it helped a LOT with what i could manage to raise and have in the party. It let me raise some higher level monsters but it just lowered the amount of monsters i had to control which wasn't a bad thing either. All in all it was creative and fun and we didn't run into any obvious problems besides some bookkeeping \$\endgroup\$
    – Neopopulas
    May 16 at 7:27

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