The spell Speak with Dead says that we can talk with a dead corpse.

Does that mean it only works with bodies of people who were recently killed? A body that was not yet completely rotten?

I was hoping that a bard NPC would be able to talk with a long dead dwarf who would give some information about his life. Some precisions that the bard is looking for. Obviously, I can just make it work (I'm the DM, after all,) but I am wondering whether the spell is really that limited or not.

P.S. That skeleton has never been an undead. The dwarf just decomposed to a skeleton over the years. We're good on that end.


There are a few corpse references we can look at that might help you make an informed decision.

First is the Animate Dead spell, PHB pg.212;

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

In this case, a pile of bones does not qualify as a corpse for the purpose of reanimation and the two terms are not interchangeable.

Next is the Create Undead spell (PHB, pg.229) which uses the corpses of humanoids to create ghouls, ghasts, wights, or mummies. Each of which is generally depicted as being more than just a pile of bones. Since it doesn't say that a pile of bones (or skeleton) can be used to create these creatures, we can infer that once again just the bones don't qualfy as a corpse.

As such I would conclude that the Speak with Dead spell cannot be used on a skeleton. But hey, if you want it to work than as the DM you have the power to make it work.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I would anyway argue this is missing 1 part of the equation because I would dissaggree with: pile of bones == skeleton. While a Skeleton can be classified as a pile of bones, the pile of bones isn't neccesarily a skellton. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zaibis
    Aug 31 '15 at 15:16
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Pile of bones implies strongly "disarticulated"... corpse is almost assuredly articulated. \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Aug 31 '15 at 18:25

Corpse is the one aspect you need to consider, the other is.

The corpse must still have a mouth....

A skeleton skull is basically the head bone structure + a jawbone. Whether that is sufficient to constitute a mouth is up to you.

Dictionary defines corpse as the remains of a body. It does not define the state of the body. So the skeletal remains couple be interpreted as a corpse. The jawbone while creating the shape of a mouth is not a mouth, and would therefore limit the spell.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, at the same time a Litch can perfectly talk and after years may just be a jawbone too... \$\endgroup\$ Aug 31 '15 at 9:10
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ A lich is created with a very powerful spell and often maintained by the same level of spells as needed. A big difference. End of the day, DM's call. I've just tried to break it down into components to see limitations as requested but it's still vague in many aspects. D&D is not an anatomy definition book. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tashio
    Aug 31 '15 at 9:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ the only problem is that skeleton's can't speak "Languages understands all languages it knew in life but can’t speak" \$\endgroup\$ May 30 '20 at 14:25

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