Necroptosis is a form of programmed cell death that depends on the activation of receptor interacting protein kinase-1 (RIPK1) and RIPK3 by receptors such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) receptor-1. Structural studies indicate that activation of RIPK3 by RIPK1 involves the formation of oligomers via interactions of the RIP homotypic interaction motif (RHIM) domains shared by both proteins; however, the molecular mechanisms by which this occurs are not fully understood. To gain insight into this process, we constructed versions of RIPK3 that could be induced to dimerize or oligomerize in response to a synthetic drug. Using this system, we find that although the formation of RIPK3 dimers is itself insufficient to trigger cell death, this dimerization seeds a RHIM-dependent complex, the propagation and stability of which is controlled by caspase-8 and RIPK1. Consistent with this idea, we find that chemically enforced oligomerization of RIPK3 is sufficient to induce necroptosis, independent of the presence of the RHIM domain, TNF stimulation or RIPK1 activity. Further, although RIPK1 contributes to TNF-mediated RIPK3 activation, we find that RIPK1 intrinsically suppresses spontaneous RIPK3 activation in the cytosol by controlling RIPK3 oligomerization. Cells lacking RIPK1 undergo increased spontaneous RIPK3-dependent death on accumulation of the RIPK3 protein, while cells containing a chemically inhibited or catalytically inactive form of RIPK1 are protected from this form of death. Together, these data indicate that RIPK1 can activate RIPK3 in response to receptor signaling, but also acts as a negative regulator of spontaneous RIPK3 activation in the cytosol.