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My GM insists that animate dead can only create the skeleton or zombie listed in the bestiary, namely the 1HD human skeleton/zombie. I had always read it can zombify any creature, as long as you have the caster level requirement met.

Specifically we encountered an adolescent green dragon, and killed it. It has 9HD as far as I know, and so even variant undead would be possible in areas of desecrate. He says I can make 9 1HD human zombies from it. I want a 9HD dragon zombie.

Could anyone give specific, cited, official sources for which of us is correct?

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The spell animate dead usually applies to the targeted corpse the template skeleton or the template zombie

There's probably not going to be any direct developer support for or against your GM's ruling, likely because the developers considered the actual rules so obvious there was no reason to make such a ruling.

The spell animate dead targets one or more corpses, not specifically humanoid corpses and not mandating the resultant creatures be, for example, humanoid skeletons. Further,

  • A zombie can be created only from a mostly intact corpse.
  • A skeleton can be created only from a mostly intact corpse or skeleton.

The spell says nothing about transforming a corpse from the corpse of the original creature into the corpse of a humanoid. The template skeleton provides several examples of nonhuman skeletons, and the template zombie does the same. Seriously, all evidence points to, for example, a mostly intact 9 Hit Die green dragon corpse becoming either a 9 Hit Die green dragon skeleton or a 9 Hit Die green dragon zombie when such a corpse is the target of the spell animate dead (and requiring the expenditure of 225 gp of onyx as material components).

So, while it's hilarious to imagine, for example, a wizard casting the spell animate dead on the mostly intact skeleton of a vicious advanced megaraptor and ending up not with an advanced megaraptor skeleton but a 1 Hit Die humanoid skeleton, or a wizard casting the spell animate dead on the mostly intact corpse of a crocodile and ending up not with a zombie crocodile but a generic humanoid zombie, that's also deeply weird.

By the way, prior to this question, I'd never considered any other way of interpreting the spell animate dead except to animate monster corpses as monster corpses, but, as evidenced by this 2010 EN World thread, at least one other GM uses a similar house rule to your GM's house rule. (Or maybe that question's also about your GM's animate dead house rule? [Cue dramatic music.])

Working around these limits anyway

However, even if the GM insists that the spell animate dead when used to make skeletons or zombies only creates 1 Hit Die humanoid skeletons or zombies, options remain. The spell animate dead can turn a big ol' pile of those 1 Hit Die humanoid skeletons or zombies into a necrocraft, or the spell can make an isitoq or a beheaded. It will be difficult for the GM to argue against these alternatives given such creatures' descriptions' increased specificity.

These alternatives are just samples. The more bestiaries available, the more options multiply.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for it being strange to interpret the spell that way. "Make dead things move" is literally in the name. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Aug 24 '15 at 0:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ That is, however, sort of how 3.0 worked. Remember, there you got crappy size-based skeletons, and template-based skeletons didn't arrive until 3.5 (or BOVD, maybe). \$\endgroup\$ – fectin - free Monica Dec 10 '17 at 6:10
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Animate Dead refers repeatedly to “a corpse,” not “a humanoid corpse” as its required target.* This alone should be enough to indicate that it can create non-humanoid skeletons or zombies (casting it on a small rat's corpse and getting a humanoid skeleton would be odd, wouldn't it?). But furthermore, it goes on to provide special handling for when the corpse has an exoskeleton — clearly it is taking for granted that non-humanoids are valid sources of corpses, and that the result is the same creature but with the skeleton or zombie templates applied (unless exoskeletons are involved).

Unfortunately, it doesn't come right out and say “your GM is wrong and it applies to any kind of corpse,” so reading the spell sensibly is all the citation there is to be had. It's easy to see that it must work that way though: if we assuming that it only applies to humanoid corpses, it contradicts itself on several lines in the spell description, which by the principle of proof by contradiction is actually fairly ironclad evidence that assuming that is wrong. Ergo, it works on any kind of corpse — just like it says.

* Although the PFSRD copy of Animate Dead links directly to the templates for skeletons and zombies and not to the monster entries for them, that's not evidence in this case (as convenient as that would be), since the official reference document does not contain those links. It's evidence that at least the compilers of the unofficial PFSRD agree with you though, for what that's worth.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "casting it on a small rat's corpse and getting a humanoid skeleton would be odd" - in my group this would be a great way to illustrate why you are right and the GM is wrong. Explanation Through Extrapolation. \$\endgroup\$ – Cylindric Aug 30 '15 at 8:41
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You might have some luck citing the spell Lesser Animate Dead from Ultimate Magic, which says (emphasis added):

This spell functions as animate dead, except you can only create a single Small or Medium skeleton or zombie. You cannot create variant skeletons or zombies with this spell.

Your GM interprets Animate Dead as allowing only the specific pre-built skeleton or zombie presented - a human skeleton. That's always Medium.

But, here is a weaker spell, explicitly based on Animate Dead, which allows Medium or Small skeletons - thus implying that it can create non-human skeletons (or perhaps child human skeletons, if you want to get really morbid). Moreover, the wording suggests that Animate Dead itself is capable of creating other sizes, such as Large or Tiny.

It never explicitly says "this applies the skeleton template to the creature in question", but it does provide some evidence in favor of creating non-human skeletons.

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As a DM myself I disagree with his ruling animate dead does not change the corpse it only animates it as a zombie or skeleton...the spell applies a template to the base creature it does not change the base creature into a different creature if you have the ability to cast animate dead on a 9HD dragon and successfully animate it then it would be a 9HD skeleton or zombie.Just good luck taking your minion with you if you have to buy supplies most towns and cities dislike the undead and will often attack them

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I found the link I saw yesterday, it was regarding Create Undead rather than Animate Dead (which is what I was googling at the time =), that only creates base creatures from the bestiary. I could have sworn the last time I checked PFSRD it linked to the base skeleton and zombie creatures as well (and didn't have the exoskeleton caveat which clarifies a bit more).

I referred to the skeleton(s) you could create by CR not as humanoid. Though it seems I had misread and was mistaken. It does apply templates to the creature rather than creating generic undead.

That does make animate dead pretty much invalidate any other dead animating spell or ability, I figured paizo would have prevented people from getting minions stronger than themselves but I guess not.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A caster can animate only up to (2× his caster level) Hit Dice of undead per casting of animate dead (outside of a desecrate effect) and can control only (4× his caster level) in Hit Dice of animated undead. Hence a Wiz7 could be controlling two 14 Hit Dice skeletons, which are CR 6 each, but that wizard had to get those corpses from somewhere, pay for their animation, issue them constant verbal commands, and might want enter civilization sometime. Unsurprisingly, there's a lot of baggage that comes with being a necromancer, some of which isn't reflected in the raw numbers. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Aug 24 '15 at 0:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan: It's always the "not reflected in the raw numbers" bits that are so hard to theorycraft. \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Aug 24 '15 at 1:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ O, hey, by the way, welcome to the site! Take the tour. Thanks for your response, but Korvin's correct in that answers are supposed to answer the question. If you'd like to address this controversy head on ("Yes, you can make animated undead of powerful creatures, but that shouldn't be allowed because...") that's a frame challenge and within site guidelines (read them first!). Thanks for participating even if this answer is removed. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Aug 24 '15 at 1:27

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