Finger of Death is a spell originating in one of the earlier 1st editions of Dungeons and Dragons that has perpetuated all this time.
It has undergone a few variations before its final form here in Dungeons and Dragons 5e.
In the past, Finger of Death was an insta-kill for targets of lower levels than the caster, but here in 5e, Finger of Death is one of the most dependable ways to create a servitor undead.
This post is dedicated to Finger of Death, and together we will go over the best times and places to cast it as well as the FAQ concerning this classic spell.
Finger of Death
Finger of Death Statblock
- Casting Time: 1 action
- Range: 60 ft.
- Duration: – Instantaneous
- School: Necromancy
- Class: Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard
- Level: 7
- Damage/Effect: Necrotic
- Attack/Save: Constitution
- Components: V, S
- Ritual/Concentration: None
Spell Description. You send negative energy coursing through a creature that you can see within range, causing it searing pain. The target must make a Constitution saving throw. It takes 7d8 + 30 necrotic damage on a failed save or half as much damage on a successful one.
A humanoid killed by this spell rises at the start of your next turn as a zombie that is permanently under your command, following your verbal orders to the best of its ability.
Who Can Cast Finger of Death ?
Finger of Death is strictly available to arcane casters that can have a flavor for necromancy, although DMs may find it suitable to allow Clerics of the death domain or any homebrew necromancer-esque Bard to have a go with it.
Wizards can cast Finger of Death because of course they can. Wizards generally make the best (or at least most typical) necromancer types that would love to have an instant zombie maker.
Sorcerers can also cast Finger of Death, though this seems a bit at odds with the fact that Sorcerers can’t cast Animate Dead or other necromancy staples. Why can they cast this spell and not those others? Beats me.
Warlocks can also cast Finger of Death, and this tracks because Warlocks are all about sharing power. That is, they give you power, and you do what they want with it, kind of like the deal they have with their patron.
This begs the question: are Warlocks no better than zombies? Maybe just a wee bit more powerful but still serving the same purpose?
Is Finger of Death Better Than Other Spells?
At 7th-level spells, you get some truly legendary options available to you, each one just as awesome as the last.
By the time you reach 14th level, though, you should have your character’s general tendencies and flavors worked out. Ultimately, this will guide your decision.
What I mean is that Finger of Death does do a fair bit of damage, but it doesn’t do as much as Firestorm. However, if you have been messing around with undead and have mostly necromancy spells in your playbook, it would be a bit off for your character to suddenly start slinging fire spells everywhere.
Also, Firestorm won’t create a zombie minion for you to pal around with and play checkers.
That is what we do with zombies, right? Play video games? Like Shaun of the Dead?
Similarly, Crown of Stars may be a wonderful spell that deals loads of damage and persists over several rounds, but it deals radiant damage, the literal opposite of necrotic. That would be a bit out of character for you.
Also, Crown of Stars won’t create a zombie.
Let’s be honest. The reason anyone takes Finger of Death is that it creates a literal zombie minion that follows you permanently.
No other spell does that!
Finger of Death Versus Disintegrate
There is a big debate about Finger of Death being less effective than Disintegrate.
In short, this is not true, but instead of rehashing old arguments, I will point out what user Blue0440 has said in the D&D Beyond comments for Finger of Death:
If you believe Disintegrate is better, then “you’re missing some key features, which should be re-examined.
1. Saving Throws: On a successful saving throw against Disintegrate, they take no damage. A successful save against Finger of Death still results in half damage, so it is guaranteed damage, whereas Disintegrate is not.
2. Secondary Effect: Killing someone with Disintegrate will disintegrate them, which only serves to make them harder to resurrect (and destroys their nonmagical loot). Finger of Death turns them into a Zombie, which is permanently under your control. Not only does this extend your resources (free minion!), but it even has the same effect as Disintegrate (you need a Wish or True Resurrection to resurrect an Undead).
3. With the other Undead Creation spells, you have to recast them every day, putting a limit on how many Undead you can have. Also, they have to be cast on already-dead corpses, whereas Finger of Death can slay someone and Zombify them at once. I could see a high-level Necromancer using this to save up a massive army of Undead and use them to conquer a nation for himself.”
And so, while other spells may do more damage or may facilitate plane hopping or even campaign setting hopping (a la dream of the blue veil), not a single one of them creates a zombie minion, and therefore, they are not as appealing to necromancer type casters.
When Should You Cast Finger of Death?
In short, cast Finger of Death whenever you want to kill something and raise it as a zombie minion.
However, it can be hard to know what your chances of success are. Therefore, talk to your DM about how they feel about using Insight to guess how weakened an individual is.
A simple rule to follow is this:
To guess which possible target has the lowest HP, make an Insight check. A DC 10 will point out the most injured possible target, and a DC 15 will give you an estimated percentage of their remaining HP.
This won’t give you an exact number, but it will help you to guess.
The DM should also consider any Deception skill among the possible targets and could even roll versus their deception instead of a simple DC 10 or 15.
Another great time to cast Finger of Death is during downtime! See if you can haunt the local hospice, hospitals, or prisons where prisoners will soon be executed. Find people likely to die soon, and cast Finger of Death.
Your only problem will be remaining on the right side of the local constabulary while engaging in this morally dubious behavior. If you are indeed breaking the law to do this, then your downtime will quickly turn into game time.
The absolute best time to cast Finger of Death is on the turn after you or your party member casts Spare the Dying. If a creature is knocked but making death saves, you can spare them with Spare the Dying and then hit them with Finger of Death in the next round. If they fail the constitution saving throw, they will still take half damage, and half damage of 7d8+30 is definitely more than 1.
If you manage to take Magic Initiate (Cleric) or have the Divine Origin Sorcerer subclass, there is even a chance you can cast this spell without needing friends at all! Make sure to use a sorcery point to Quicken Spell the Spare the Dying cantrip so that you can use Finger of Death on the same turn.
Who needs friends when you can have zombies, right?
Common Questions About Finger of Death
To find answers to these questions, I had to go down into the musty crypts under the Black Citadel and ask some of the… people(?) I found there.
How Many Zombies Can You Create With Finger of Death?
You are only limited by your spell slots on this one. If you can cast Finger of Death three times in one day and you can kill three targets with it, you can create three zombies a day. If you use Twin Spell, you can double that number!
Make sure to put those zombies in cold storage until the day you need them.
Can Finger of Death Be Used To Create a Zombie From a Beast or a Monstrosity?
According to the RAW, no. Only humanoids can become zombies this way.
However, rule of cool DMs could allow zombies to be raised from another creature type if:
- The player in question has a homebrew version of the spell specific to that creature type.
- The player in question uses a higher-level spell slot to cast Finger of Death.
- The player in question has a feat that allows them to make the change.
- The player in question makes a DC 17 arcana check during the casting to change that element of the spell, wasting the spell slot on a failure.
Any of those options are valid.
Can a Zombie Created by Finger of Death Ever Be Brought Into Someone Else’s Control?
While there are some abilities that let you control undead, the spell description for Finger of Death says the zombie is permanently under your control. This is fairly straightforward.
However, in the interest of adding tension and coolness, I would rule that a spellcaster could make a relevant Religion or Arcana check versus the zombie’s original owner to wrest for control of that particular zombie while using whatever ability it is they are using to control it.
Can You Improve the Zombies Created by Finger of Death?
Again, according to the RAW, no. However, in the interest of the rule of cool, I would allow a zombie created by Finger of Death to be made into a stronger undead if:
- The player uses an eighth-level spell slot, they can create an undead with a CR of 1.
- The player uses a ninth-level spell slot, they can create an undead with a CR of 2.
- The player casts Create Undead using one or more zombies they control instead of a nearby corpse, they can transform the zombie into a ghoul, a wight, or a mummy if they use the appropriate spell slot. After 24 hours, the undead will devolve back into a zombie under their control unless they cast the spell again.
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Rich is an avid D&D player and DM. He has been playing since the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st and 2nd editions. He has run campaigns of various editions with family and friends for over 20 years. Playing DnD 5th Edition in person at local game stores and online with VTT’s over the past 10 years has provided a consistent connection to how the game has grown. He strongly believes in understanding the source material, but catering the games to your individual players. Feel free to ask anything in the comments or drop him an email: [email protected].