Given the low CR of skeletons and zombies, I have attempted to create a reasonably low level Necromancer villain for my adventurers to thwart. While I am aware that monster creation involves playtesting for accuracy, I would still like to attempt to tune this as finely as possible in the generation stage.

Having already cast Animate Dead before the adventures arrive, the Necromancer has a bonus action available to command the undead under his/her command. Since there is no indication that the animated dead would act independently of being commanded, would I include the relevant statistics for the animated dead as part of the CR calculations for the Necromancer?

Would the HP of the animated dead count toward his/her Defensive CR and would the damage of the animated dead count toward his/her Offensive CR?

Related question in D&D 3.5

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    \$\begingroup\$ related/possibly duplicate: How does the summoning ability affect the encounter difficulty? \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Mar 11 '17 at 23:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you plan on letting the skellies at the party separately from the Necromancer? \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Mar 11 '17 at 23:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! Also no - I had planned on them guarding the Necromancer - the encounter would be the Necromancer and 4 skeletons/zombies. \$\endgroup\$ – Reibello Mar 11 '17 at 23:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @daze413 I want to add that the CR for a necromancer is a bit more complex to calculate than just normal summoning spells, thus not a duplicate, (and probably not even related). The Necromancer needs more spells slots to create the undead than to control them. The same necromancer in one day would have more spells available to him than in other days. In that same regard, depending on how well equipped the zombies or skeletons are, the CR of those might increase a bit. Sadly I have no experience in calculating CR, so I can't answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Chepelink Mar 12 '17 at 11:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ One question to the OP, this necromancer is a necromancer wizard? Because a friend of mine just told me that the difference in CR between a necromancer wizard of level 5 and 6 is quite big because of Undead Thralls. \$\endgroup\$ – Chepelink Mar 12 '17 at 12:22

Calculate CR for the Necromancer and undead separately then use encounter adjusted experience for the group

In 5e CR is used to determine if a creature is appropriate with characters of a given level based on its damage/round and defenses. Creatures with a CR above the PCs level risk overwhelming them either by killing them instantly or soaking up damage beyond what the PCs resources can dish out.

While a Necromancer with a bunch of undead is going to do more damage than a Necromancer alone it isn't going to do this damage as a couple huge attacks like one high CR monster would. Similarly as the Necromancer's group loses HP it will lose creatures unlike a high CR monster suffering critical existence failure. Due to these differences the right way to stat this is by determining the CR of the necromancer and then determining the difficulty of an encounter with them and the group of undead.

Remember the undead will be available when calculating the Necromancer's CR

My experience has been that determining offensive CR for a spellcaster is tricky as a spell's effect often varies with how many allies they have. For example your Necromancer could cast Bless which would increase their groups expected damage by a hard to calculate amount. In your case since you know there will be 4 skeleton/zombies you can get a more accurate offensive CR by including their presence in your calculations when determining how effective the Necromancer's spells will be.

  • \$\begingroup\$ As a follow-up, I just ran my Necromancer through playtest #1, and it turned out the skeletons were largely insignificant to the CR in general. I think I'll follow your and Icyfire's advice, but potentially with some stronger undead. \$\endgroup\$ – Reibello Mar 23 '17 at 1:36

For better accuracy, treat them as separate monsters in the encounter

You should just treat the skeletons as separate monsters for the fight. Sure, the necromancer will be missing his bonus actions, and might have a slightly lower damage output as a result. Still, if your real interest is gauging the difficulty of the fight at the table, you would be better served by treating the undead separately.

As an example, I used the Kobold Fight Club to estimate the difficulty of an encounter with a mage from the MM, and a mage with 4 skeletons. For a group at level 5, the mage alone is a medium encounter, but the mage with 4 skeletons is a deadly encounter.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Nothing to do with summoning, everything to do with permanent creations. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Mar 12 '17 at 1:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ What's the functional difference between those cases? \$\endgroup\$ – Icyfire Mar 12 '17 at 2:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Summoning only lasts for 1 minute in your example, but creating skeletons/zombies is instantaneous. The difference is that once created it only takes a slot to control them, something akin to hiring henchman. You still increase the CR for the villain to have bodyguards whether or not the cost is gold or a favor etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Mar 12 '17 at 3:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ My poorly made point is that I think the answer would be improved by removing the mention of summoning as it is irrelevant to the OP's question. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Mar 12 '17 at 5:46

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