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Is it possible for creatures from different planes such as fey, celestials, fiends, genies, etc. be turned undead? There is no real ruling in the books on it.

I get that you can't turn an elemental undead, as they don't really have much of a corpse afterwards.

Specifically, a DM friend of mine wants to know if Ghoul Dryads and Vampire Pixies are possible.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Answer in answers not in comments. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Nov 24 '16 at 5:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ non-native = Outsider?! don't outsiders have "can't be resurrected or turned undead" unless they are of native subtype? \$\endgroup\$ – Trish Nov 24 '16 at 13:37
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There are a lot of ways to make a creature undead.

  • Animate Dead: Only works on humanoids.
  • Create Undead: Only works on humanoids.
  • Finger of Death: Works on everything, but will only turn humanoids into undead.
  • The Death Tyrant's Negative Energy Cone: Works on everything, but will only turn humanoids into undead.
  • The Shadow Dragon's Shadow Breath: Works on everything, but will only turn humanoids into undead.
  • The Shadow's Strength Drain: Works on everything, but will only turn humanoids into undead.
  • The Vampire's Bite: Works on everything, but will only turn humanoids into undead.
  • The Wight's Life Drain: Works on everything, but will only turn humanoids into undead.
  • The Wraith's Create Specter: Only works on humanoids.

None of these methods will create a non-humanoid undead. However, as @keithcurtis points out, the Monster Manual includes a large number of undead that aren't made from humanoid creatures.

  • Beholder Zombie
  • Bone Naga
  • Death Tyrant
  • Dracolich
  • Minotaur Skeleton
  • Ogre Zombie
  • Warhorse Skeleton

So clearly it is possible to have non-humanoid undead. So why are there no published methods to make one? Well, I have no proof, but I believe it's to ensure that players can only make undead using the standard statblocks. If, for example, Animate Dead worked on the corpse of any creature, there would either need to be zombie and skeleton statblocks for every creature, or some sort of standardized process for zombifying creatures. The first is pretty clearly unfeasible, and the second tends to be open to exploitation.

That's everything players have access to. However, for DMs, there is a large section on Creating Monsters in the DMG (page 273), including creating monsters by modifying existing monsters. For a Vampire Pixie, I'd recommend starting by applying the changes listed in the Player Characters as Vampires sidebar, Monster Manual page 295, and go from there. Other than their special abilities, which they probably wouldn't be able to use once they became Ghouls, Dryads are fairly similar to humanoids, so the Ghoul statblock shouldn't need much alteration to represent Dryad Ghouls.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "tends to be open to exploitation" - just like raising an extinct volcano as an undead in Erfworld :) \$\endgroup\$ – vsz Nov 24 '16 at 5:31
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Are they a feasible idea: absolutely. Anything that sounds fun should be implemented in your game and the rules should be bent or broken to make it fit. This sounds like fun.

The rules in the book come from the spell Animate Dead (PHB p.212) or Create Undead (PHB p.229) which says:

Choose a pile of bones or a corpse of a Medium or Small humanoid within range.

As written, this spell will not work on fey, elementals, giants, etc.

However, its your game - make whatever changes you want. If the DM wants undead pixies (and who in their right mind doesn't!) then he should just create them using the rules for creating monsters in the DMG. If these are only to be monsters then how this happened is largely irrelevant - if the DM wants to let player's do this then modifying the spells to work At Higher Levels seems the place to start.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You could add to your answer that the Monster Manual already contains Zombie Ogres (Giants) and Skeleton Minotaurs (Monstrosities) and undead versions of things like Beholders (Aberrations), thus indicating that the two spells you mention are not the only source of creating undead. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Nov 24 '16 at 1:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @keithcurtis I could but I can't be bothered - feel free to do so yourself or write your own answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Nov 24 '16 at 1:45
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in 5e what the PC can do and what the NPC can do are completely different things. You don't have to flesh out a "create undead fey" spell for an NPC: the DM can just make the NPC have it, and block the PC from ever learning the spell (reasons why will be left as an exercise to the reader).

It contrasts with 3/3.5 ruleset where almost all mechanics had to be fleshed out and might be accessible to the PC. In 5e the DM's agency in just making what would look like a fun adventure without struggling to flesh out a specific ruleset is improved.

So since you asked from a DM's perspective: yes, make your undead whatever you want.
(but try to keep it fair).

For the PC, I think you should keep to the published game rules. The PC don't need a way to make those exotic undead.

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