Danse Macabre in DnD 5e: User Guide & Best Options

Casting Time

1 action

School

Necromancy

Damage/Effect

Control

Range

60 feet

Class

Warlock, Wizard

Attack/Save

None

Duration

Up to 1 hour ©

Level

5

Components

V, S

Spell Description

Threads of dark power leap from your fingers to pierce up to five Small or Medium corpses you can see within range. Each corpse immediately stands up and becomes undead.

You decide whether it is a zombie or a skeleton (the statistics for zombies and skeletons are in the Monster Manual), and it gains a bonus to its attack and damage rolls equal to your spellcasting ability modifier. 

You can use a bonus action to mentally command the creatures you make with this spell, issuing the same command to all of them. To receive the command, a creature must be within 60 feet of you.

You decide what action the creatures will take and where they will move during their next turn, or you can issue a general command, such as to guard a chamber or passageway against your foes. 

If you issue no commands, the creatures do nothing except defend themselves against hostile creatures. Once given an order, the creatures continue to follow it until their task is complete.

The creatures are under your control until the spell ends, after which they become inanimate once more.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, you animate up to two additional corpses for each slot level above 5th.

What is Danse Macabre?

Aside from an allegorical conceptualization of the power of death in medieval times, Danse Macabre is a powerful necromancy spell in 5e D&D. It allows you to turn up to five, or more if you cast it a higher level, creatures into your undead minions for as long as you can hold concentration.

First and foremost, you get the choice of turning a number of small or medium creatures within range into either skeletons or zombies. This is one of those rare situations where the stat block is your decision. Most summoning spells leave that up to the DM.

Skeletons v. Zombies

No, it’s not the next big campy horror film coming out this summer. Whenever we have a choice as casters it’s important to know the difference between the two. We’ll talk more about when to use which later on in this article, but here are their stat blocks from the Monster Manual.

Skeleton

Medium undead, lawful evil

AC 13 (armor scraps)

HP 13 (2d8 + 4)

Speed 30 ft.

STR 10 (+0) DEX 14 (+2) CON 15 (+2) 

INT 6 (-2) WIS 8 (-1) CHA 5 (-3)

Damage Vulnerabilities. bludgeoning

Condition Immunities. poisoned

Senses. darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 9

Languages. understands all languages it spoke in life but can’t speak

CR 1/4 (50 XP)

Actions

Shortsword. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d6 + 2) piercing damage.

Shortbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, range 80/320 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d6 + 2) piercing damage.

Zombie

Medium undead, lawful evil

AC 8

HP 22 (3d8 + 9)

Speed 20 ft.

STR 13 (+1) DEX 6 (+2) CON 16 (+3) 

INT 3 (-4) WIS 6 (-2) CHA 5 (-3)

Condition Immunities. poisoned

Senses. darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 8

Languages. understands all languages it spoke in life but can’t speak

CR 1/4 (50 XP)

Undead Fortitude. If damage reduces the zombie to 0 hit points, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of 5 + the damage taken, unless the damage is radiant or from a critical hit. On a success, the zombie drops to 1 hit point instead.

Actions

Slam. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6 + 1) bludgeoning damage.

The spell says “You decide whether it is a zombie or a skeleton,” which tells us that you make the decision for each individual corpse you reanimate. Otherwise, and this is why spell language is so important, it would say they

This allows for some variety, since zombies and skeletons can serve different purposes on the battlefield, bringing us to the last part of the spell to go over. You command these creatures, on a bonus action no less.

Concentration spells that allow us to continue using our actions, but change up how the spell is affecting the battlefield, are excellent. Imagine if you could move a Wall of Fire around as a bonus action on each of your turns? That would be insane.

Those commands can be very general or very specific as well, which lends itself to some creative actions. You have the ability to command your undead minions to attack a single creature, or you can command them to attack the closest non hostile creature to one of yourself. 

There may be some commands that your DM won’t let fly. It would be unreasonable (and rather boring) to create a command that acts like an action flowchart based on what’s happening on the battlefield. Also, I don’t think the undead would be able to understand something so complicated, they do have pretty dismal intelligence scores.

When and Where Should You Cast Danse Macabre?

Danse Macabre is essentially a very useful summoning spell that lasts for up to an hour. Since most combats don’t last much longer than a minute, it’s pretty clear that there’s an invitation to use these undead minions for far more than combat.

The undead you create with this spell should essentially be treated as temporary hirelings or retainers.

That being said, combat is the more straightforward option, and is one that you’ll probably engage in quite frequently. Looking at the stat blocks, we see that neither of the options are incredibly strong.

They amount to little more than meat shields, or bone shields, except for when you cast this at extremely high levels.

There is a heavy impact on the concept of action economy here. The concept states basically that the side with more turns, or more actions, is the side that will win a battle in 5e.

Creating 5 new allies instantaneously will at least double the size of most parties, giving your side plenty more attacks, and as a result, dealing more damage to your foes.

If you are summoning the undead to deal damage, perhaps against a large group of enemies, then you’ll likely want to go with the skeletons. Skeletons are harder to hit, and have stronger attacks. They also have the option of melee or ranged attacks, allowing you to make some important decisions about how the battlefield is going to look.

If you are summoning the undead as meat shields, then the zombies are the better choice. While they are easier to hit, they can take a lot more damage, almost double. They even have an ability that allows them to stay standing with 1 hit point when they get dropped to 0. 

Outside of combat it doesn’t matter so much which creature you choose, unless you specifically plan on having the creatures lift something. I guess you also might want to be more choosy if you’re anticipating combat. 

There are so many reasons to pull in some extra hands outside of combat. The spell description itself even offers some great strategic options, like keeping watch for unwanted visitors. It’s a bit inhumane, but fodder are great for springing traps. The only downside is that you command them all with the same command. 

These are the times where you have to think like a fey creature. Providing a command along the lines of “Walk down the corridor in a single file line with 20 feet between each of you,” gives you enough time to react to a trap being triggered without losing 5 zombies to a giant swinging log trap.

Trying to list every use of undead outside of combat would be impossible, and take up far too much space in this article. Instead, I’ll just say be creative, and use your minions for things that would put you in a risky situation. 

Who Should Take Danse Macabre?

Normally, this is a large section of our spell guides, but seeing as this is only available to wizards and warlocks, I’ll keep it brief. This spell is perfect for casters with other necromantic abilities. It also pairs excellently with a spell list that isn’t chock full of concentration spells.

From each class, the best subclasses for this would definitely have to be the School of Necromancy wizard and the Pact of the Undead Warlock. I know that comes as a huge shock, but it’s true, death themes support death themes. So long as you’re going to be at least marginally surrounded by corpses, this spell can function well. 

Similar Options to Danse Macabre

While Danse Macabre is a spell that lets you create undead, at its core it’s a spell that gives you control over creatures. There are plenty of spells that do that, only a few of which have anything to do with necromancy. Here are a few of our favorite spells similar to Danse Macabre.

Animate Dead, 3rd-level Necromancy

This spell is so incredibly similar to Danse Macabre it almost feels like a downcasting. The difference in these spells is that it gives you control over one undead for up to 24 hours, after which it just stops being under your control, rather than becoming inanimate once again.

Everything else is almost exactly the same, down to getting two more for each level upcasted and commanding them as a bonus action.

Animate Objects, 3rd-level Transmutation

Animate objects allow you to create constructs, rather than undead, to control. This spell is rather interesting because you create 10 construct creatures, with different stats, or sizes, being worth a different amount of creatures. Tiny constructs count as one creature, while huge constructs count as 8 creatures, etc. 

Summoning Spells

There are a lot of spells that allow you to summon up a creature. Nine of the thirteen creature types are represented in creature spells, which is a bummer because I would love a Summon Ooze spell. Jokes aside, if you’re looking to create allies for yourself, there are quite a few ways to go about it.

How Powerful is Danse Macabre?

Danse Macabre seems like a decently powerful spell, until you remember that Animate Undead exists. Since Animate Undead can be upcast, when you treat it as a 5th level spell it gives you almost the exact same spell as Danse Macabre with a few small, but important differences.

On the plus side for Danse Macabre, the creatures you summon with it have a bonus on attack and damage rolls equal to your spellcasting ability modifier. As a caster, that’s amazing.

You’ll probably be giving them +4 to attack and damage, which means skeletons would have a +8 to attack rolls. That’s great for a lot of successful hits.

The bad news for Danse Macabre is that undead created by Animate Undead are under your control for 24 hours, and it doesn’t require concentration to do so.

Not having to sacrifice another powerful concentration spell to control minions is incredibly important, and one of the reasons Animate Dead is considered to be so powerful.

This puts us in a bit of a pickle, both spells have different things that make them stand out. My ‘hot take’ is that both spells are incredibly powerful in their own way, and when possible, should be used in conjunction.

Looking at these spells as oppositional forces is so limiting, especially for an aspiring young necromancer such as yourself. You won’t attain lichdom if you’re not willing to get crazy with some of your casting.

Especially at higher levels, you can use both of these at the same time to have a legion of undead creatures under your control. 

With the right resources (spell slots and a good stash of bones or corpses) you can have 24 undead creatures under your control. That’s enough to slay an aspect of Tiamat herself in 5 or 6 turns.

Danse Macabre, the dance of death, is a wonderful necromancy spell that only gets more powerful the more you work with it. The deeper your understanding of this spell, the closer you are to being a true master of the undead.

I hope this guide has helped you in that endeavor, and as always, happy adventuring.