So, imagine that you are a shogun that wants to get rid of his opponent. You send a ninja on a potentially suicidal mission to kill your opponent and while you're pretty sure he'll get the job done, you're not sure that he'll make it back. Obviously, you don't want to get caught and you pay his clan or family an extra so that if he gets caught instead of killed, he uses a fake tooth with a lethal poison to kill himself so that he can't be interrogated and point at you. A pretty solid plan that can be messed up with just one spell.

That is, "Speak with Dead".

How can you prevent some random cleric from interrogating your ninja's corpse regardless of whenever the ninja had the chance to off himself or not?

The one thing I've thought of was a Contingency of either Teleportation, or Disintegrate, but this requires the ninja to be a high level arcane spellcaster, and at that level, something akin to Limited Wish is pretty easy to come by (to restore/retrieve the body. We're not talking about "retrieve the person that has hired that ninja" in this case). And since Speak with Dead targets the body instead of the soul, soul stealing shenanigans don't really help in this case.

Is there a way to make someone's corpse nontalkative? Preferably in a manner that's not counterable without epic spellcasting, or at the very least, without full-on 5000 xp Wish spell.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In the hot questions sidebar I totally read this as "Speak with Dad" \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 19:14

7 Answers 7


Knowledge is key

Obviously, the target can only tell what the man knew before death: preventing him from knowing the one who paid (make him actively prevent others telling their names?) will prevent him from compromising the person. But of course, maybe that is no longer possible. In that case, let's look at the limitations of the spell.

Semantics for the win!

The spell has very specific triggers when it will not work, and you might exploit them:

If the corpse has been subject to speak with dead within the past week, the new spell fails.

This can be exploited: an item that casts "Speak with Dead" triggered by the death of the wearer will stop tests within the first week. The caster now would be a person that is not present, so he wouldn't answer any questions, just stand by for a few minutes. Even better, if dying triggers the spell to be cast once a week, it will prevent any questioning.

[...] the body must be mostly intact to be able to respond. A damaged corpse may be able to give partial answers or partially correct answers, but it must at least have a mouth in order to speak at all.

Destroying the body enough to not being able to speak is a sure way: have some sort of spell triggered at the point of death that immolates the head or blows away the jaw.

An other variant to prevent speech while keeping the body mostly intact would be to use a baleful polymorph spell triggered upon death, that just merges the jaws and lips. Mind, it targets "one creature" — not one living creature like polymorph!

This spell does not let you actually speak to the person (whose soul has departed)

This makes reincarnation not a protection against this spell, but...

This spell does not affect a corpse that has been turned into an undead creature.

Having a triggered spell upon death that raises the ninja as an undead, even for a moment, would prevent the spell from working: it has been turned into an undead creature and if it dies a moment later, it is the corpse of an undead creature without any memories.


Either prevent knowing the boss's name, or render the corpse unable to answer. To do so, you would need to find yourself a magician who is willing to make a custom magic item. This will cost up to (spell level × caster level × 2,000 gp) as it might be considered a "use activated/continuous" effect, or it might be as little as (spell level × caster level × 50 gp) for a "single use, use activated" item. So it might be a bargain.

  • having an item, that destroys the head (or the whole body via disintegrate) upon death would surely prevent the usage of the spell — or rather the effective use at least.
  • having an item that turns the body into an undead upon death will perfectly prevent the casting.
  • having an item that uses baleful polymorph to remove the ability to speak (e.g. removing the jaws & mouth) upon the body upon death prevents answering, save for another baleful polymorph.
  • Using a custom magic item that casts speak with dead once a week will prevent other questioning, but it is a more complex solution than a magical explosive leash (TV Tropes warning) that triggers upon death.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Removing the head/tongue/destroying the body just creates a speedbump for the investigation - restoring the corpse is not beyond impossible, after which it's interrogable again. The same goes to permanent effects like Polymorph Any Object. The "Animate Dead" and preemptive "Speak with Dead" magic items are the go-to choice here, since the first one outright blocks this spell, and the second one stalls the investigation through this lead for quite some time \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 11, 2016 at 23:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd like to see some discussion about whether the deceased will actually answer the questions at all. Since the spell doesn't specifically say "All questions are answered fully and truthfully" I think there is a case for arguing that anyone that committed suicide to prevent interrogation would just refuse to answer. It "draws on the imprinted knowledge of the corpse" so any question will be answered "I know I'm not supposed to tell you." Granted it is not the obvious interpretation, but there is no obvious interpretation. \$\endgroup\$
    – Odalrick
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 11:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you want to be morbid, why not pay him to cut out his own tongue, and use restoration if he makes it back alive? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 15:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Speak with dead trick only delays it for a week. A repeating magic item can simply be dispelled. Repairing the corpse would to no harder than damaging it. Whole body disintegration works. Undead trick works (and a poison pill tooth that brings you back as a zombie, ghoul, or etc sounds awesome, and very fitting. Best if the resulting undead is infectious!) \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 19:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Yakk I think a zombie pill that reanimates only for 5 seconds before the undead creature collapses again would be much more practical. Infectious undead could cause more problems than it solves. \$\endgroup\$
    – Doktor J
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 0:20

There are many ways in which you can stop speak with the dead or make it harder - which would lead to other means being employed to find the truth.

That's not much of a gain, for considerable effort. There is a much better solution:

Make the person give the wrong answer.

If possible use misdirection when hiring the assassin. If not, use magic to alter the memories of the assassin.

By putting the blame on another target you can get two assassinations for the price of one.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is most definitely the correct answer, they should be hired through an intermediary or the ninja village should simply separate the negotiation and mission execution duties. The ninja performing the mission knows nothing of the contracting party. \$\endgroup\$
    – bp.
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 8:50

Make sure your "ninja" is undead to start with

A vampire, lich or other undead assassin cannot be brought back to life or interrogated with Speak with Dead.

Alternatively, use a construct or outsider assassin.

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    \$\begingroup\$ They can be dominated though and otherwise controlled. Still, if OP is only concerned with Speak with Dead then this works. It's much harder for an undead to commit suicide when captured though. \$\endgroup\$
    – bp.
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 8:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Undead" is a creature type, and a dead undead is an object, not a creature, so speak with dead works on a now-dead undead. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 16:52

Building on the idea in previous answers but simplified:

[...] the body must be mostly intact to be able to respond. A damaged corpse may be able to give partial answers or partially correct answers, but it must at least have a mouth in order to speak at all.

You know what's been a popular suicide technique in far eastern martial arts fiction? Biting off (and swallowing) your own tongue. That surely is enough to make the resulting corpse mute.

Apparently a person can't actually die from severed tongue but there are many far more unrealistic things in D&D fiction.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, the self-inflicted body harm in this situation is only good as long as the enemy has no options for restoring corpses. For the easiest example, 300 XP Limited Wish should be enough to restore a disintegrated/burnt/maimed body, after which it's just the matter of Speak with Dead to learn anything you need... But yeah, it's a GREAT option for a low-level campaign! 8) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 11, 2016 at 15:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ I kid you not: This question's answers provide many ways for restoring an absent tongue. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 11, 2016 at 16:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Baka-Mastermind if you can cast Limited Wish, you could probably commune with a Deity directly to find out whodunit, and probably smite them from your living room, too. You wouldn't even bother with retrieving the corpse. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Commented Dec 11, 2016 at 18:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Erik, not necessarily. The only spellcasters on hand may be of spontaneous kind (Sorcerer, Favored Soul), or they may not have the necessary spells readied. The first and the most important question here is whenever the corpse will speak 8) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 11, 2016 at 18:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Limited Wish can duplicate Commune and Contact Other Plane, though. Just the Limited Wish is enough to solve your problems without needing the body. It's probably more efficient even to ignore the body if you have access to it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Commented Dec 11, 2016 at 23:00

Expect your opponent to learn your identity.

If the replacement for your opponent shogun has access to level 5 clerical spells, they have access to Commune.

The DMG even gives this exact spell as an example of how it's easy to determine the murderer, and then gives tips on how an adventure might be more about apprehending the murderer than identifying him.

To protect yourself against Commune, you must order the murder in such a way that no god the opponent has access to would know that you ordered the murder.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Commune gives only Yes-No answers. "Who ordered the murder?" is not an allowable question, "Did X order the murder?" however is. Careful with semantics though: "ordering a murder" is true for any person in between the first one to ask for the kill and the eventual murderer: they are ordered to order/commit a murder. Commune might be a clever way to find murderers, but the players need to be really clever! \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 12:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ I just want to add that in D&D, the gods are not generally omniscient, so asking a god to identify a murderer isn't likely to elicit an answer unless the god was actively watching the victim at the moment of the murder. \$\endgroup\$
    – DMfiend
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 13:31

The @Trish answer is the good answer to me, however I would add a little addition, since to speak a dead body requires a mouth, if the teeth instead of being filled with poison, is made explosive, in case the ninja is captured he can make the teeth explode destroying its mouth and killing it. I don't know if the spell allows alternative ways for the dead speaking ("like close your eyes once for NO, twice for YES"), however if the explosive is strong enough to destroy the whole head there is no such problem. (unless there is some strong enough spell to restore body shape, I don't know, I assume you don't have Wishes at disposal of both parties).

Destroyed head means also you will not know who were the ninja, removing a further clue on possible commissioners.

The real problem is if the ninja get caught thanks to some spell that make him unconscious, paralized, sleeping, petrified, in that case he will not be able to trigger the teeth (unless you can make a trigger for every possible condition that would make the ninja unable to explode the teeth).

If you have a strategical problem it is unlikely a tactical solution will fix it unless the solution is made really complex and expensive. You should think more out of the box I think, or give use more info with a new question with your real problem.


Truthful is not Always True

One of the things that was very common in my play groups, is that no matter how honest someone is being, that does not innately make what they are saying to be true.

The corpse’s knowledge is limited to what the creature knew during life, including the languages it spoke (if any). Answers are usually brief, cryptic, or repetitive.

While I think this is more added for the meta reason of "the DM may not have all the facts yet", we are also considering a fairly low level spell.

A mercenary, especially a contract killer, may want as little information as possible about their employer for exactly this reason and rely on drop locations, letters, and other message runners. Even if they try to find out, the employer could easily be using disguises, illusions, transformation magic, or proxies to conceal their identity. It's entirely possible that "ninja assassin" has such limited knowledge that combined with the addled responses could make the information useless.

Also, the corpse gets a Will save against anyone not matching their alignment. If you're the DM, that gives you a lot of fudge room, especially with the "cooldown" until they can be asked again.


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