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In Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition they introduced skeletons with all kinds of sizes such as Tiny, Small, Medium, Large, Huge, Gargantuan, and Colossal.

As a necromancer, it would be really entertaining to have undead of all kinds and sizes. However, Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition limits the abilities of a necromancer, as the spell animate dead only allows the caster to reanimate Small and Medium humanoid creatures. Though it's understandable that WOTC made it this way as a way of balancing to prevent the creation of overpowered undead armies, it would be interesting for some sort of way of animating a creature larger than medium.

Personally, I like the idea of having a Gargantuan humanoid skeleton; however, I would not be sure how to apply statistics to an undead or create a proper way of balancing.

There is a section in DMG p. 282 for skeleton and zombie templates, however, the largest creature that exists with a humanoid body is a hill giant categorized as huge. Even then the challenge rating is 5 making thinking of a way of balancing difficult.

Even beyond my desires, I'm sure there are many other necromancer-loving individuals who would desire to animate and control a minotaur skeleton, or any other undead such as beasts or monstrosities.

Is there a way (even house or homebrew rules) of animating undead beyond these restrictions?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Reminder: comments are for clarifying content, not posting small or incomplete answers. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 27 '17 at 19:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you a player, or the DM? \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Feb 9 '17 at 22:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you narrow the question? "Is there a way" has the obvious answer "yes there is", since DMG page 283 assumes the DM can create custom spells. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Feb 10 '17 at 20:12
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If your intention is to control Large and larger undead: that's pretty easy.

If your intention is to create Large and larger undead: you will either have to wait for WotC to produce the appropriate material, or... get creative with your DM's world.

A wizard of the school of necromancy is given little restriction on their use of their Command Undead feature other than the undead's Charisma and Intelligence (Player's Handbook, pg. 119):

Starting at 14th level, you can use magic to bring undead under your control, even those created by other wizards. As an action, you can choose one undead that you can see within 60 feet of you. That creature must make a Charisma saving throw against your wizard spell save DC.

...

If the target has an Intelligence of 8 or higher, it has advantage on the saving throw. If it fails the saving throw and has an Intelligence of 12 or higher, it can repeat the saving throw at the end of every hour until it succeeds and breaks free.

Therefore, any undead you can see can be yours, as long as it is dumb and ugly enough and you are powerful enough.

Unfortunately, there are no spells or abilities published yet that allow creation of giant undead. However, if they exist in the world you inhabit, they must come from somewhere, right?

Therefore, your first task would be to find out what makes giant undead creatures in the world. Find out what is creating them and where:

  • Is it an NPC necromancer who stumbled across an ancient artifact that can amplify the effects of necrotic spells (as in my campaign)?
  • Is there a haunted graveyard where the restless dead can't help but stretch their legs? (common trope)
  • Or is there a particularly unholy bog somewhere nearby that just imbues corpses in it with undeath?

Once you find that answer, simply harness that energy, adapt it to meet your needs, and you will be churning out giant undead slaves in no time.

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Research

I decided to look into the Monster Manual for inspiration for this. I started with vampires, knowing that their bite raises undead (MM, p. 297):

... A humanoid slain in this way and then buried in the ground rises the following night as a vampire spawn under the vampire's control.

This doesn't mention any size limit so it seems promising. However, there are two problems:

  1. How do you how do you become a vampire?
  2. There are no stats for non-Medium spawn.

I decided this was a good starting point but I needed something else which is when I came across wights. These I feel answer your question more directly, as a wight's life drain raises zombies (MM, p. 300):

... A humanoid slain by this attack rises 24 hours later as a zombie under the wight's control, unless the humanoid is restored to life or its body is destroyed. The wight can have no more than twelve zombies under its control at one time.

Good. Now how to become or control a wight? This was fairly easy. I looked at control undead and found casting it as an 8th-level spell allows you to animate wights (PHB, p. 229):

... When you cast this spell using an 8th-level spell slot, you can animate or reassert control over five ghouls or two ghasts or wights...

Conclusion

Cast Create Undead at 8th-level to animate two wights. Have them life drain desired creatures to animate them as undead. You could then use animate dead to take control or let them serve under your underlings.

Alternatively at this point a Wish Spell might be more effective depending on your DM


As Miniman pointed out in a comment, there are a limited number (1) of non-Small or Medium humanoids in the Monster Manual, which makes this solution rather limited.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Not really he asked for ways of animating undead beyond the spell description. Furthermore he used Hill Giant as an example of something that fell out of that spell's description as it is Huge and can't be animated by the spell. \$\endgroup\$ – VanderStormfist Feb 9 '17 at 7:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ I mention that vampire spawn doesn't have a size limitation as seeing as the spell specifies the limit this means the generic is without a limit. There is similarly no limit mentioned in the wight's description therefore they can raise animate a creature larger than medium \$\endgroup\$ – VanderStormfist Feb 9 '17 at 7:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah yes there are not many I found one the Sahuagin Baron(MM. P264) but I suppose that is still not a very useful answer then. \$\endgroup\$ – VanderStormfist Feb 9 '17 at 7:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Still, I really think you should add it to your answer - if nothing else, I can't reverse my downvote until you edit. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Feb 9 '17 at 8:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Relevant meta: Don't signal your edits in text. Rather than adding an edit note with new information at the end, you should edit your answer as a whole to stand as if it were always the best version of itself. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jun 28 at 23:09
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Finger of death will raise any humanoid, with the size unspecified. You won't have minotaurs or dracolitches, but an army of zombie hill giants isn't bad!

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    \$\begingroup\$ D&D categorizes Hill Giants as "Giants" rather than "Humanoids" (general shape notwithstanding) \$\endgroup\$ – Matt Vincent May 11 '18 at 22:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you edit this answer to support it by citing the relevant rule and possibly quoting the spell description? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jun 28 at 23:12
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I would recommend awarding large undead as rewards for completing intricate rituals. Make them quest a little bit, then give them a big beastie as their reward for gathering all the ritual components.

For stats, just reskin a large monster. Doesn't need to necessarily be undead, just take the skin away and make it creak. Boom, undead monster.

As far as game balance... well, its going to unbalance the game. Either toughen the encounters or kill off the undead after a bit. Maybe a priesthood has heard of an abomination lurking about the countryside. Boom, beastie gone. New questline? Maybe.

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  1. Use the spell as intended and then cast Enlarge on it to make it Large [for a minute].

  2. Creating your own spells: [I believe they are described in the DMG] and just make a Greater Animate Dead spell that can be used to create larger humanoids.

Additional Un-tested house rules:

  1. Casting Enlarge at a higher level could (for this particular case) enlarge the Animated Dead to larger size categories.
  2. Casting Animate Dead at a higher level to allow for a creature Larger than specified.

The house rules would require some time and play testing to get the spell levels and balance right, but hopefully this puts you on the right path.

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    \$\begingroup\$ have you used this or seen it used in play? \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Jan 31 '17 at 18:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have not used or seen in play, but as a GM/DM if a player wished to do this I would provide that player with these options. I would need to take additional time to work out some balance given their choice but this is how I would rule this. Most of the time my players play good and necromancers rarely come up. \$\endgroup\$ – John Grabanski Jan 31 '17 at 18:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Although the question specified that house rules or home-brew are acceptable, the mods nearly always add a comment to remind users that house rules should be things you have actually used and tested in your game, not a guess or an opinion, no matter how much experience you have in the system or the hobby. (NOTE: I did not vote you down) \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Jan 31 '17 at 23:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm just trying to offer some rationale to the downvotes the answer has received. The note I gave is a common reason I see given. A more analytical answer might help: comparing actual numbers by modeling them on specific other spells of comparable power levels, maybe? Reading through the monster manual entries on large zombies and skeletons for supportive rules or fluff text? I don't know for sure, other than it would take work and research time (which would de facto make a better answer). \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Feb 1 '17 at 14:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's not about directly testing the solutions you propose, it's about showing your expertise by revealing that you were in a similar situation once, and you tried the same kind of solution you propose and it had some result. You can find more info on what I mean in this meta question. Without describing that you were in/saw a similar situation and solved it in the manner you propose, your answer is just conjecture which fits more into a traditional forum rather than SE. \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Feb 1 '17 at 14:23

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