All living things require energy. Pulses of energy course through our brains, powering everything that makes us who we are. But what if you could control the forces of life? What if you could control the forces behind death? What would be possible?
Necromancers manipulate the forces of life and death. They bend the undead to their will and draw hushed whispers and terrified stares wherever they go.
What is a Necromancer?
A Necromancer is a magic user who has mastered the energy of the spirit world. In 5e, Necromancy is a School of Magic for the Wizard class. Attendees learn to turn life force into magical power.
Necromancers appear as brooding wielders of dark knowledge.
Many people are wary of Necromancers. Meddling with the life forces of the undead is a taboo art form. If you enter the Necromancer’s world, be prepared to be met with suspicious looks to outright hostility.
Necromancer 5e Drawbacks
In 5e, Necromancers are perceived negatively by the average NPC. People will stare at you.
Using the body of others for your purposes without consent is generally frowned upon.
Joining the School of Necromancy doesn’t necessarily make someone evil. However, people consider the frequent use of spells and abilities to create undead and thralls to be unethical.
Necromancy is also logistically challenging. Your undead characters have their own hit points, abilities, proficiency scores, and motivations. It is up to the Necromancer to control and maintain the goals and motivations of their undead horde.
Minions are great for battles but don´t just disappear after a fight. The controlled undead may persist for days of adventuring.
All of the logistics can be intimidating. The player controls each of their thralls, and it is up to the player, not the DM, to keep track. However, the Necromancer can accomplish a lot with each thrall.
Why play a Necromancer 5e?
Necromancers have the opportunity to wield incredible power. Though they face many challenges, the rewards can be spectacular if you are willing to put in the effort.
In 5e, the main benefit of being a Necromancer is controlling undead minions. As a Necromancer grows in power, they can create and manage more and more minions. Eventually, they make a personal militia of obedient and ruthless fighters.
Necromancers can inflict more damage than the average magic user. Thralls are a great asset in battle. Thralls cause damage and take the pressure off the spellcaster or their party.
Necromancers can control each minion individually or issue individual commands. Though this is an excellent mechanic, it can be tricky. Necromancers have to work hard to maintain many moving parts. However, there are many benefits to Necromancy.
Necromancers also have easier access to spells in the School of Necromancy. They deal necrotic damage, allowing the Necromancer to attack the soul of their target.
Necrotic damage is a damage type that is most associated with necromancy. Necrotic damage focuses on decay and death. This type of damage affects a creature’s life force.
It is possible to heal from necrotic damage. However, some necrotic damage can affect a target´s maximum hit points. For example, a Vampire’s bite can reduce a target’s maximum hit points equal to the necrotic damage taken.
A vampire bite, on a hit, deals 1d6 + 4 piercing damage and 3d6 necrotic damage. If a vampire bites a character with an HP of 96, it takes 7 piercing damage and 10 necrotic damage. Their hit points will reduce to 79 with a new maximum HP of 86.
Skeletons vs. Zombies
Using the spell Animate Dead, you can create zombies or skeletons. What type of creature the Necromancer makes is contingent on the state of the remains.
Skeletons are bones held together by dark magic. They have no recollection of their past lives and are bound to the will of their creator. Skeletons are unable to speak and can only communicate by pointing and nodding.
However, Skeletons are not devoid of intelligence. They will try the most straightforward solution first. A Skeleton will turn a door handle rather than break bones trying to blast through. They are also capable of wearing armor and using weapons. Skeletons also don’t need air, food, water, or sleep. They are an incredible multi-purpose undead thrall. (Monster’s Manual, 272)
Zombies also make great thralls. Zombies, like Skeletons, do not retain information about their former selves. They also do not require air, food, water, or sleep.
Unlike Skeletons, Zombies return in more or less the same state as when they died. They may wear the armor and wield weapons they had when they died. Other factors in their death’s location will affect their appearance. Their bodies might be waterlogged and bloated if they died in the water. Zombies have a lower AC than skeletons and will only use a weapon when directed to do so.
Zombies do have one main advantage over skeletons, Undead Fortitude. This feature allows a Zombie to roll a DC + 5 + damage dealt on a hit that lowers them to 0 hp. On a successful save, the Zombie returns to +1 hp. This feature allows Zombies to continue to charge forward.
A Necromancer would want to animate a Zombie over a Skeleton, if possible. Skeletons have higher AC and can deal decent damage, but they are flimsier and more likely to crumble in battle.
Necromancer 5e Abilities
Necromancy is an entire School of Magic. Many different spells are part of that School. Most Necromancy spells and abilities deal with necrotic damage or the manipulation of life force in some other way, however, only a few deal with the control of the dead.
Wizards get to choose their magic school at level 2. Wizards that make this choice begin training on how to transform lifeforce and destroy the body. Once a necromancer starts their journey, they only need half the gold and time required to add a necromancy spell to their spellbook.
At the second level, new Necromancers can harvest the life force from the living creatures they kill. Once per turn, a Necromancer gains back the HP equal to twice the spell’s level. When using a spell from the School of Necromancy, these dark casters gain HP equal to three times the spell level.
For example, If a Necromancer kills an enemy Paladin with the spell Harm, a 6th-level Necromancy spell, the caster gains 18 HP. Grim Harvest works with any lethal spell cast on a living target, so not constructed or undead.
Thralls are one of the main reasons anyone gets into the Necromancy business. At level 6, Necromancers add Animate Dead to their spell list if they don’t have it already. When they cast Animate Dead from then on, they can target one additional corpse or pile of bones.
Animate Dead is a 3rd-level Necromancy spell and it is the bread and butter of a Necromancer. The spell takes one minute to cast. It requires somatic, verbal, and material (a drop of bone, pinch of fletch, a pinch of bone dust) components.
If your character has chosen the path of Necromancy, they gain Animate Dead at level 6. Players can choose an additional target when using this spell for each spell level beyond 3.
The Necromancer chooses a target, a pile of bones, or a small or medium humanoid corpse. The target creature returns to a sick imitation of life. This undead creature would become a skeleton if the caster made it from bones or a zombie if from a corpse.
The Necromancer can choose to mentally control their abominations as a bonus action as long as they are within 60ft. The caster can choose to give specific or general instructions to their thralls. Without instruction, the undead will simply defend itself. Once given instruction, the undead will either complete their task or die trying.
The caster will have control over their undead for 24 hours. The caster can maintain their authority if they cast the spell again before the 24 hours is up. At higher levels, spell slot of 4 or higher, you can animate and control two extra thralls per spell level over 3rd.
Necormancer’s thralls get special abilities. For each thrall, skeleton, or zombie, maximum hit points increase equal to the player’s Wizard level. The undead thrall also gains its master’s proficiency to its weapons’ attack rolls.
It is important to note that this spell takes one minute to cast. The casting time is fine when the Necromancer is not engaged in battle. Animate Dead is a spell that the Necromancer should cast before combat begins.
Injured to Undeath
At level 10, Wizards that chose the Necromancy School have become accustomed to the magic that controls life, death, and decay. After eight levels of training, necromancers have gained resistance to necrotic damage. Necromancers can no longer have their maximum HP reduced.
At level 14, Necromancers can control undead that are not of their creation. The Wizard can use an action to choose one undead they would like to control within 60ft. The undead must make a CHA saving throw against the Wizard spell save DC. The Wizard can only attempt to control a specific undead creature once. If the Wizard is successful, the target becomes friendly. The target will also follow the caster’s commands.
It is harder to command intelligent undead. Any undead with an INT of 8 or higher gets an advantage on their saving throw. If a Necromancer wanted to control a Vampire with an average INT of 17, they would have a hard time. Vampires are technically undead, but their understanding of reality reduces the Necromancer’s influence.
Necromancer 5e spells
Many spells in the player’s handbook belong to the necromancy school of magic. These spells affect their target´s life force. There are a few spells that are must-haves for a necromancer.
Create Undead is a level 6 Necromancy spell. It can only be performed at night and requires somatic, verbal, and material components. The material components are one pot of grave dirt, one pot of brackish water, and a black onyx valued at 150gp for each corpse. The spell takes one minute to cast.
Once cast, the necromancer can choose up to three corpses of medium or small size within 10ft. These corpses become Ghouls that are under the caster’s control. As a bonus action, the caster can mentally control any or all Ghouls. If given no orders, the Ghoul will defend itself.
To maintain control over your ghouls, you need to recast the spell before the initial 24 hours is over.
This spell is great to cast the night before a fight. The necromancer will have their horde ready to go when dawn breaks.
Raise Dead is a level 5 Necromancy spell. This spell requires somatic, verbal, and material (1 diamond worth 500gp) to cast. This spell has a casting time of one hour. Raise Dead can return a target to life if they´ve been dead for less than 10 days with 1 HP. This spell also cures all non-magical diseases and neutralizes poison.
The soul of the target creature needs to be free and willing to return to life. For example, if a deity were torturing the creature’s soul in the 9 circles for a transgression, that soul wouldn’t be free to return to life. This spell cannot return an undead creature to life.
Once returned, the target still has to deal with the trauma of death and resurrection. They take -4 on all attack rolls, ability checks, and saving throws. After every long rest, this penalty reduces by one until it disappears. Additionally, Raise Dead cures wounds but cannot replace limbs or organs, like a brain, that are necessary to live.
Resurrection is a level 7 Necromancy spell that returns a free and willing soul to its body if it did not die of natural causes and isn’t undead. The target creature must be dead for less than a century. This spell requires one hour, somatic, verbal, and material (1 diamond worth 1000gp).
Like Raise Dead, Resurrection cures all non-magical diseases and neutralizes poisons. However, Resurrection can restore limbs and revives targets with all missing body parts. The resurrected dead still needs to recover. They will take -4 on all checks, attack rolls, and saving throws for four long rests.
Resurrection spell also costs the caster significantly. They cannot cast any other spells and have a disadvantage on all ability checks, attacks, and saving throws until they take a long rest.
The casting time is one hour, and the Necromancer will need at least 6 hours of rest after. Casters must set aside a significant amount of time before they return to full functionality.
True Resurrection spell is the big gun when it comes to restoring life. This spell requires 1 hour to cast. The spell requires somatic, verbal, and material (sprinkle of holy water, 25,000gp worth of diamonds) to cast.
True Resurrection brings a free and willing soul back into the material plane. It restores all mortal wounds and cures all diseases and curses. True Resurrection can create a body for a soul if its original body no longer exists. That is some real power.
However, True Resurrection is a 9th-level spell. A character must be a magic user of level 17 before this spell becomes available. If a character does make it to this level, they get to change the fabric of reality.
Starting at 2nd level, when a Wizard chooses their School of Magic, there are many choices for Necromancy spells. Not all spells in the School of Necromancy deal with creating undead. Many are helpful, but the above list represents must-haves for an optimized Necromancer.
Necrotic damage and the manipulation of life and death are all part of the Necromancy game. The Player’s Handbook, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything have a plethora of Necromancy spells to choose from.
- Animate Dead
- Astral Projection
- Create Undead
- False Life
- Feign Death
- Inflict Wounds
- Magic Jar
- Raise Dead
- Ray of Enfeeblement
- Ray of Sickness
- Spare the Dying
- Speak with Dead
- True Resurrection
- Vampiric Touch
Xanathar´s Guide to Everything
- Toll the Dead (Cleric, Wizard)
- Life Transference (Cleric, Sorcerer)
- Dance Macabre (Wizard)
- Cause Fear (Wizard)
- Enervation (Wizard, Sorcerer)
- Negative Energy Flood (Wizard)
- Abi-Dalzim´s Horrid Wilting (Sorcerer, Wizard)
- Soul Cage (Warlock, Wizard)
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
- Spirit Shroud (Cleric, Paladin, Warlock, Wizard)
- Summon Undead (Warlock, Wizard)
- Libram of Souls and Flesh (Item, Wizard)
A Necromancy Wizard is the most common way to create a hoard or undead thralls. However, there are a few other classes that have access to Necromancy spells.
Warlocks don’t have access to hoards of undead as some other classes do. At level 5, a Warlock gains the Undying Servitude feat. This feat allows Warlocks to cast Animate Dead without using a spell slot. Animate Dead will automatically use the lowest spell slot available. It’s functional, but this feature will not optimize the spell for a Warlock.
It is counterintuitive, but Warlock is not the best class choice for a Necromancer.
Druid (Circle of Spores)
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything describes the Circle of Spores subclass of Druids. As with everything, double-check with your DM to ensure this subclass is acceptable for your campaign.
The Circle of Spores subclass finds beauty in dead and decaying things. They have a more folksy approach to necromancy. Because they see death as part of life, these Druids do not see inherent wrong with turning undead.
Circle of Spores Druids are attached to the cycle of life and death and have access to certain necromancy spells like Chill Touch, Animate the Dead, and Contagion.
Circle of Spores Druids as gain access to Fungal Infection at level 6. They can use fungus to infest and animate a corpse — a zombie-ant fungus for small to medium humanoids.
Paladin (Oath Breaker)
Oath Breaker Paladins are slow-burn necromancy characters. Because Paladin magic levels up slower than the typical magic user, it takes more time for them to reach their necromantic goals.
At level 3, Oath Breaker Paladins can control existing undead. At level nine, Oath Breaker Paladins gain access to the Animate Dead spell.
The best necromancy feature the Oath Breaker Paladin gains is Aura of Hate at level 7. The Paladin radiates hateful energy that affects not just the Paladin but all of the undead within 10ft. Each creature affected by this aura gains a bonus to weapon attack damage. This bonus is equal to the Paladin’s CHA modifier.
Cleric (Death Domain)
The Dungeon Master’s Guide describes the Domain of Death Cleric. These Clerics are generally not player characters. If the DM deems them playable, they offer a different perspective on manipulating the forces of life and death.
The Domain of Death Cleric is most interested in the forces that cause death. These Clerics tend to worship patrons of death, pain, and poison, among other dark deities. These Clerics gain abilities that grant them access to necromancy spells. They are also able to infuse their weapons with necrotic damage.
Additionally, Domain of Death Clerics can use their Channel Divinity feature to destroy another creature’s life force through touch. The Domain of Death Clerics are essentially the grim reapers of 5e. They absorb the life energy and worship death.
The Wizard class is the most common path to necromancy. It is spelled out clearly in the Player’s Handbook. At level 2, the wizard can join the School of Necromancy. The Wizard gains access to necromancy spells and abilities like, Undead Thralls and Animate Dead. Wizard is the most straightforward path to necromancy.
Necromancer 5e FAQs
What is the best class for Necromancers?
Wizard is the best class for Necromancers. Wizards can choose the School of Necromancy at level 2. The Player’s Handbook explains all the features and spells available to Wizards who choose the Necromancy School of Magic.
What book is Necromancer in 5e?
Players can find the School of Necromancy explanation in the Player’s Handbook under “Wizard” class on pages 118 and 203. Players can find many necromancy spells throughout all canonical books.
Are Necromancers evil?
Not all Necromancers are evil. In most campaigns, Necromancers exercise their power over life and death. Necromancers that often animate the dead are likely to have an evil alignment. Some classes can animate dead, like Circle of Spore Druids that align more neutral.
How good is Necromancer 5e?
Necromancers are OK in 5e. If your character wants explicitly to control an undead horde, there is no better way. However, much logistical work and preplanning goes into Necromancers in 5e.
Jillian started learning Dungeons & Dragons in 2014. After being encouraged by a friend to make a character, she became fully involved in character creation and later became an awesome Dungeon Master. Jillian strives to use her creativity to spread her knowledge of DnD and interpret the ruleset.