I am thinking about the situation where there is a trap that animates some skeletons that are seen before this moment.

For example, this happens in the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure, where there are 3 skeletons that "are animated" when someone approaches something (unless the creature is wearing specific clothes or speak the "password"). — Tresendar Crypts, page 22.

If a Paladin uses Divine Sense near the skeletons, are they considered undead? Or are they regular skeletons before the "reanimation"?


1 Answer 1


Maybe the language here is causing confusion.

Imagine a skeleton (as in an undead monster) that is lying on the floor. In this state the skeleton is (mostly) indistinguishable from just a regular, non-undead skeleton. Just a bunch of bones.

Then, when something provides a stimulus for the undead skeleton (e.g. when someone approaches; this stimulus can vary), it rises, it stands up. That's when the everyday adventurer notices that it's an undead monster that should be destroyed.

So when the adventure says, "are animated", it could be just a descriptive way of saying, "stand up to act". It may not have anything to do with the concepts of reanimation.

If a Paladin uses Divine Sense near the skeletons, are they considered undead? Or are they regular skeletons before the "reanimation"?

A normal, non-undead skeletal remains isn't undead, but an undead monster called a skeleton is.

As far as I understand it, reanimation is what turns a corpse into an undead creature. Before reanimation, it's a corpse; afterwards it's an undead.

So the key to this question is, what does "are animated" mean?

If it's just a descriptive way of saying that the undead skeletons become livelier than usual and start acting, then they've been undead all along. (And they ping in Divine Sense, and so forth.)

If it means that there's some necromantic magic around that animates skeletal remains into undead skeletons, then they become undead the moment that magic is finished turning them into skeletons.

I'm sure you'll agree that the first option makes more sense, at least in this context. After all, it's easier to explain that three skeletons have been made selective in when they rise and act, than it is to explain how some necromantic magic can selectively reanimate a bunch of corpses at once.

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    \$\begingroup\$ At your last paragraph, it is possible. Storing 3 Animate Dead spells, into 3 Spell Glyphs of Warding with the trigger of "if anyone approaches who doesn't say the password or is not wearing the cute uniforms I had made for them.". \$\endgroup\$
    – daze413
    Mar 23, 2017 at 1:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ You should note that in option 2 the 'permanent until discharged'-type undead-animating magic trap may well count as an area of desecration and so ping the senses anyways. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 23, 2017 at 1:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer makes good points and then I think leaps off the assumption cliff at the last paragraph. I would argue that it would be up to the discretion of the DM as to which scenario is occurring. I don't agree at all that in the given context that the adventure definitely meant they 'woke up' as opposed to 'were made into undead'. Many times I've heard the phrase 'animated a skeleton' to mean 'to turn simple bones into a monster'. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 23, 2017 at 12:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @daze413 Occam's Razor suggests the simpler answer is true and that an order to lie still until someone approaches requires 1 3rd level spell, while the glyphs approach requires 6 3rd level spells to achieves the same effect. Further, the combination would not be a legal one anyway, since Glyph specifies "the spell must target a single creature or an area", and a pile of bones is neither. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 23, 2017 at 13:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @EthanTheBrave Everything in this game is up to DM judgment and discretion. Obviously there is room for interpretation in this matter, and the DM should interpret as needed. I made a "leap" when I went outside the boundaries of my answering capabilities. I am not the author of the adventure in question, so I can only guess which option the author intended. My answer is giving my interpretation, and the basis for it. At no point did I say or imply anything about "definitely", so you've misunderstood the last paragraph entirely, if that's what you disagree with. \$\endgroup\$
    – MGlacier
    Mar 23, 2017 at 21:26

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