What is Animate Dead?
Animate Dead is a 3rd-level necromancy spell which allows the spellcaster to animate one or more corpses to create undead monions. While individually these minions aren’t as powerful as the enemies that you’ll face, your various skeletons, zombies, and ghouls can present a significant improvement to your party’s overall effectiveness. While there are many necromancy spells in Baldur’s Gate 3, this is the first one that that players will look at and say “ah, now I feel like a necromancer.”
Table of Contents
- What is Animate Dead?
- Animate Dead Spell Description
- Animated Undead Stats
- Collecting Corpses: Fodder for the Army
- Buffing Your Army
- Healing Your Army
- Character Options
- Dealing with NPCs
- What about Danse Macabre, Create Undead, and Summoning Spells?
Animate Dead Spell Description
Animate a corpse to create an undead servant while not in combat.
The target must be a medium or small corpse.
Like many spells in Baldur’s Gate 3, the spell description is extremely brief and frustratingly vague.
Animate Dead is a 3rd-level spell available to the Cleric, the Wizard, the Circle of Spores Druid, and warlocks who choose Pact of the Tome, each of which can cast it starting at 5th level in their class. The Oathbreaker Paladin can also cast Animate Dead, but only gains access at level 9 due to the paladin’s slower spellcasting progression.
When cast at 3rd level, Animate Dead allows you to animate a single skeleton or zombie. Casting at 4th level adds two more skeletons or zombies (you must pick one type), each of which requires an additional corpse. Due to the spell’s limited 10-foot range, you’ll frequently need to move corpses into a small area in order to get enough to animate multiple undead.
When casting Animate Dead at 5th level and above, you can instead choose to summon ghouls or flying ghouls.
Casting Animate Dead destroys the corpse which you animated. You can still loot the pile of remains left by this process, but can’t animate it again. Casting Animate Dead again will instantly destroy any undead that your character currently has animated, so you need to upcast the spell to get more undead rather than casting it multiple times. Animated undead which are destroyed (reduced to 0 hp or when the spell ends) disappear, leaving nothing behind.
If you have multiple spellcasters in the party, each caster can have their own group of undead. This includes casting Animate Dead from a scroll, so your various barbarians, fighters, and rangers can all summon undead, too.
Animated dead all act on their own individual initiative in combat and function just like any other member of the party, and can take an Action, a Bonus Action (though none of undead options have one), and a Reaction.
Animated Undead Stats
Which variety of undead you should summon depends very much on what you want your undead to do for you. Considering their stats is a great starting point.
|Attack Range||60 ft.||Melee||Melee||Melee|
|Attack Damage||1d6 + 1d10 + Dex (3)||2d6 + Str (3)||3d6 + Str + paralysis||3d6 + Str + paralysis|
|Special||Immune to Poison|
Vulnerable to Bludgeoning Damage
|Immune to Poison|
|Immune to Poison|
|Immune to Poison|
Skeletons are ranged damage output plain and simple. They don’t have a melee attack, and despite lacking Undead Fortitude, their comparable hp and higher AC can actually make them more durable than zombies.
Zombies are basically bags of hit points for your enemies to beat on instead of attacking you and your party. Their AC is basically nothing, so enemies will wear through the hp quickly, making zombies almost entirely dependent on Undead Fortitude to stay alive. Undead Fortitude can work very well, but a stray critical hit or any amount of radiant damage (fortunately not a common occurrence) will bring them down immediately. That said, a wall of zombies in the front with a bunch of casters in the back is a perfectly fine strategy once your party is high enough level to bring an adequate wall of zombies.
Ghouls (both flying and standard) are there to paralyze enemies. Their attacks are slightly stronger than zombies’, but again: the paralysis is what you want because paralyzing an enemy takes them out of the fight and also makes attacks against them automatic critical hits.
Collecting Corpses: Fodder for the Army
Animate Dead requires you to have corpses available, and despite how much time you’ll spend killing people, it may become difficult to provide enough bodies to animate, especially if you’re taking frequent long rests.
Fortunately, you can pick up dead bodies and haul them around. Civilized folks don’t like you doing this, so either hide or lure them away by playing a song or casting Minor Illusion, then grab the corpse and be on your merry way.
Keep in mind that not all bodies can be targeted with Animate Dead. You can only target humanoids, and even then, killing enemies with certain damage types will make their body unusable. You can check which bodies can be animate by starting to cast Animate Dead and hovering over the body, but cancel before you actually cast the spell.
Bodies are heavy, and their weight includes whatever loot they have, so loot them first, then send the loot to camp. Small bodies also weigh less but animate the same way, so they’re great candidates.
Unfortunately, you can’t click “Send to Camp” on dead bodies. You can haul them back to camp and drop them, but I promise there is an easier way. The bodies also don’t stick around when you’re camping on a different map, so you might find that you’ve collected a bunch of bodies and promptly left them in the Underdark or something.
Instead, pick up a container, such as a box, chest, or pouch. Once it’s in your inventory, open the container and drop the bodies into it. Once you’ve loaded up as many bodies as your carry limit will tolerate, send the container to camp. You have now successfully stowed one or more bodies for later use, and you’re well on your way.
Next time you’re in camp, open up your Traveler’s Chest and consolidate the bodies into one container. There’s no need to be messy, and it’s nice to see a number on the container which tells you just how much inventory you have.
Buffing Your Army
With a newly-formed army of various sorts of undead, you’re likely eyeballing their 20-ish hp and dismal AC and thinking “well, at least they’ll take one or two hits before they’re re-dead.” But we’re not done here: it’s time to do some camp casting.
Our summoned undead are valid targets for many of the same buffs that you want on the rest of your party, and by the time you can cast Animate Dead your party has a lot of 1st-level and 2nd-level spell slots to throw around for just that purpose. In this case, a wizard is the real MVP, so either dedicate Gale to camp casting, get the wizard hireling, or both (I like both). Then get a cleric (either shadowheart or the hireling cleric).
Longstrider is your first buff. It’s cast as a ritual and can be cast repeatedly for free, so hit everyone in the party, living or otherwise. The additional speed is always welcome, and it makes traversing the map much faster.
Mage Armor is next. This one eats a spell slot, which is inconvenient, but between readily-available 1st-level spell slots and Arcane Recovery you have a decently large pool of slots to draw from even with a single wizard doing the buffing. Since none of our animated dead are wearing armor, Mage Armor works on any of them, but might not beat their natural armor. Mage Armor raises zombies’ and skeletons’ AC by 3, which is huge. Ghouls won’t benefit, and flying ghouls will only raise their AC by 1, which is still nice but not as impressive.
Finally, you want Aid, which will dramatically boost your minions’ HP. Select each animated undead and walk them into a tightly-packed crowd. If one of your adventuring party members has animated undead but you need to temporarily rotate them out to make room for your camp casting cleric, their undead will walk back to their tent, so it’s often best to congregate around that character’s tent.
Once you’ve moved your various undead, familiars, yourself, etc. into a crowd, use a musical instrument to draw in other characters in the camp. While the music is playing, walk your camp casting cleric into the crowd and cast Aid at your highest spell level. 3rd-level Aid adds 10 maximum hp, which is a huge improvement for your animated dead.
You might also eyeball Resist Poison and Darkvision but remember that your animated dead are already resistant to poison damage. If you’re worried about darkness, have one of your camp casters cast Light or Daylight. Spending a bunch of 2nd-level slots to give each of your undead Darkvision may not be doable.
In combat, consider spells and other tactics that will make your undead more likely to hit with their attacks since you’re betting on numerous relatively small attacks compared to the actual party members. Faerie Fire is a great example here, giving your whole party Advantage to hit affected targets at the cost of a 1st-level spell slot, so you can repeat the tactic for a long time before running short on resources.
Healing Your Army
To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t a way to heal your undead minions. Since they’re not living, they can’t be targeted by healing effects. Spells, items, channel divinity, etc. all seem to ignore undead. This effectively makes your undead minions disposable, making it even more crucial that you protect them effectively.
Zombies will die quickly. Even with Undead Fortitude, they’re going to die, and probably very quickly. If you plan for long adventuring days, zombies won’t go the distance. Plan accordingly.
Beyond the ability to cast Animate Dead and appropriate spells to buff your undead minions, a few character options can also contribute to your success with Animate Dead.
- Circle of Spores Druid: Spore zombies last all day and don’t conflict with Animate Dead, so you can get a bigger group of undead than anyone including the School of Necromancy Wizard.
- Oathbreaker Paladin – Aura of Hate: Allied fiends and undead within 10 feet of the paladin deal additional damage with melee weapon attacks (so not spells) equal to the paladin’s Charisma modifier. This is a modest buff, but it can add up quickly if you can squeeze multiple undead into the aura and still get them into melee with a target. Consider having your paladin use a reach weapon in order to attack over your wall of zombies/ghouls.
- School of Necromancy Wizard – Undead Thralls: Learn Animate Dead for free, and two important buffs to the spell. First, you can animate an additional corpse (2 skeletons at 3rd spell level, 4 at 4th spell level, 2 ghouls at 5th, 4 ghouls at 6th). Second, each undead you animate increases their hp by your wizard level which stacks with Aid, and then adds your Proficiency Bonus to their damage. This makes your undead more numerous, more durable, and more lethal.
Dealing with NPCs
NPCs outside of your party don’t like undead. They’ll frequently chase them around and say things like “Go on, get” and “What is this creature doing here?” Dragging a bunch of ghouls and such into a crowd isn’t socially acceptable, so when you’re not expecting a fight, it’s sometimes best to have your undead unchained from the party and standing somewhere out of the way.
If a fight breaks out unexpectedly, you can walk your undead from wherever they are into the fight while someone waits to take their turn. Combat is perfectly happy to wait around since it’s turn-based.
What about Danse Macabre, Create Undead, and Summoning Spells?
Other spells do not conflict with Animate Dead, and they all benefit from the same tactics. Load up on summons immediately after you take a long rest, then get to buffing. You may need several of your camp casters to take a level of wizard to get enough Mage Armor to go around, but rolling through dozens of encounters with a firing squad of skeletons and mephits is both hillarious and extremely effective.
You now have a wall of super fast, super durable undead (and maybe other summons). With a cleric, an oathbreaker paladin, and a necromancer wizard in the party, you can easily have 8 heavily-buffed undead minions in the party and roll them over whatever is unfortunate enough to fight you.