From 1d4chan

A Necromancer is a kind of magic-user who practices necromancy(duh). "Necromancy" comes from the Greek words nekros ("dead body") and manteia ("prophecy"), and in its strictest sense, refers to the practice of communing with the spirits of the dead to learn about the future. Over the centuries since the coining of the word, its meaning has broadened to include any kind of magic relating to death and the undead, and thus the necromancer's portfolio has also broadened. Necromancers in more modern works are known to reanimate dead bodies, summon ghosts, and drain life-force from the living to fuel their ceremonies (or themselves). Surprisingly, they aren't generally known for fortune-telling nowadays. This also had the side of effect of making "-mancy" a suffix for any sort of magic even when divination is not involved (pyromancy, cryomancy), similar to how "-kinesis" gets lumped on to any sort of psychic discipline.

Because death is scary, and in many cultures and religions, tinkering with life and death is reserved for the gods, necromancers are generally perceived as evil, and necromancy sometimes inherently so. A common storyline is that a person with magical talent falls in love, said beloved dies, the magic-user dabbles with necromancy to try to bring him or her back, loses sight of the goal, and before they know it, they're turning people into zombies and hamming it up like Skeletor. Some settings are shifting to a more nuanced approach that acknowledge that necromancy, like any skill, can be used for good or evil, but the majority of necromancers are Neutral Evil.

In settings where the spectrum of this school stretches pretty far, it generally tends to be that benign necromancy-related magic is referred to as "White Necromancy", with nasty undead-raising and life draining fuckery tending to be "Black Necromancy".

Dungeons & Dragons[edit]

Necromancy has been part of Dungeons & Dragons since the beginning. In one of the foundations for CoDzilla, wizards and sorcerers have been traditionally restricted to gray and black necromancy, whilst clerics have had access to white, gray and black, plus innate class features allowing them to manipulate/control undead. This is really frustrating for necromancer arcanists, who grizzle about evil clerics being able to do their jobs way better than they can.

Needless to say, D&D has made a lot of efforts to try and beef up the Necromancer, to varying levels of success.


In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1e, there is a NPC class called the Death Master in Dragon Magazine #76 (Aug/1983) in the Leomond's Tiny Hut written by Lenard Lakofka. In Polyhedron Magazine #28 (Mar/1986), in the ad&d game feature called The Specialist Mage written by Jon Pickens, details on a NPC necromancer class with it's own list of spells (many of them unique to the class) can be found.

An alternative take on the Necromancer as a class can be found in the pages of White Dwarf #35, with the very next issue (#36, if you're really that bad at math!) adding some more new powers. This variant Magic-User requires a minimum Intelligence 12 and Constitution 14, but also a maximum Wisdom of 12. It gets a +10% EXP bonus for having Int 16+. Despite being a magic-user subclass, they have the level progression, hit dice, saving throws and attacking columns of a cleric. They can use any kind of unenchanted weapon, armor or shield, any magic weapons except magic swords, and any magic items usable by all classes.

This proto-necromancer maxes out at 15th level, but gets a lot of goodies - keep in mind, it's expected to be used only for villainous NPCs, though!

  • Can communicate with, befriend and even control undead like an evil cleric - can have up to (10 X hit dice) undead controlled at once, can't control any undead of Vampire-tier or higher power.
  • Is immune to all special powers possessed by undead whose hit dice is lower than the necromancer's level - for example, from 3rd level, a necromancer is immune to the paralyzing touch of ghouls.
  • +1 to saves vs. fear of death.
  • +2 to saves vs. death magic.
  • From 10th level, can construct a dark temple/fortress from human bones and blood. Whilst inside the temple, victims suffer a -2 penalty to save against the necromancer's spells (-1 if they're outside and he's inside), the necromancer regenerates 1 HP/round, and he can summon skeletons at will from the temple's surface.
  • If killed, a necromancer can only be revived if Raise Dead or Resurrection is cast within (necromancer's level) minutes - otherwise, they animate as an undead of similar Hit Die (vampire at levels 9-14, lich at level 15) within 1 week.
  • When slain, the necromancer may curse their killer, as per the Curse spell (treat curse level as necromancer's level X 4).
  • From 15th level, can transform a willing 12th level magic-user or cleric into a lich.

There's also the Necromancer Abilities, the signature goodies of the class. These divided into 5 grades, and the necromancer's number of abilities and grade access goes up as he gains levels.

  • Grade 1 Abilities: Animate Dead, Cause Darkness, Evil Eye, Feign Death, Grave Noises, Speak With Dead, Speak With Dead Animals, Summon Skeletons & Zombies
  • Grade 2 Abilities: Control Shadows, Improved Animate Dead, Manufacture Ghoul, Manufacture Ghast, Sense Life, Summon Ghouls & Ghasts, Summon Wights, Wisdom of the Dead
  • Grade 3 Abilities: Animate Dead Animals, Create Skull Guard, Improved Control Shadows, Manufacture Wight, Manufacture Mummy, Paralyze, Possession, See/Know the Past, Summon Wraiths, Superior Animate Dead, Unholy Strength of the Eternally Damned
  • Grade 4 Abilities: Become Non-Corporeal, Construct Servant, Create Necromantic Bell, Life Drain, Summon Dead Person From Outer Planes, Summon Mummies, Zombie, Zombie Army
  • Grade 5 Abilities: Death-Angel's Shadow, Drain Hit Points, Frankenstein Creation, The Ineffable Terror, Summon Spectres

That said, the necromancer does have some downsides. Firstly, the necromancer's inherent creepiness give them a penalty to their Charisma equal to their level. Secondly, the necromancer can't heal naturally or through the use of curative magic; their only option is to use the Drain Hit Points ability (if they have it) or ritually sacrifice a human or demihuman. Finally, the necromancer has to regularly perform sacrifices of living creatures, with the type of creature and how often they must sacrifice being based on their level - if they miss, then they lose access to, quote, "all spell-like abilities" until they atone for the failure and resume their regular sacrificial schedule:

1st Level: Creature of low animal intelligence (cat, dog, horse, cow, etc) once every 6 weeks.
3rd Level: Female Creature of low animal intelligence (cat, dog, horse, cow, etc) once every 5 weeks.
5th Level: Creature of high animal intelligence (chimp, dolphin, organgutan, etc) once every 5 weeks.
6th Level: Giant-class creature (orc, goblin, etc) once every 5 weeks.
7th Level: Female giant-class creature once every 4 weeks.
9th Level: Human once every 3 weeks.

Oh, and the necromancer also has to make a super special sacrifice at least once a year to be properly devout. It starts with just a regular human (or presumably demihuman) sacrifice once per year, then a female human from 3rd level, then a virgin human (presumably, but not explicitly, a virgin female) from 5th level, and finally a mother-to-be pregnant with their first child from 9th level.


The necromancer finally becae an official player's option in the 2nd edition Player's Handbook, which introduced the Specialist Wizard to the D&D world. Of course, given the high level of restrictions on it, you get the sense that TSR really didn't want players playing it, even before the Satanic Panic took full swing.

Base Class: Wizard
Ability Score Requirements: Intelligence 9, Wisdom 16
Racial Restriction: Human
Special Benefits:
+1 spell slot per spell level, which must be used to memorize a Necromancy spell.
+1 bonus to saving throws against Necromancy spells.
Enemies targeted by your Necromancy spells suffer a -1 penalty to their saving throws.
When you reach a new spell level, you automatically learn 1 Necromancy spell.
When trying to invent a new Necromancy spell, you treat its spell level as being -1 from its actual spell level for the difficulty.
+15% bonus to chance to learn a Necromancy spell.
Special Drawbacks:
Opposition Schools: You cannot learn spells from the Illusion or Enchantment schools, nor can you use magic items based on these schools.
You suffer a -15% penalty to your chance to learn non-Necromancy spells.

Necromancers in this edition weren't quite as shafted in terms of being able to command the undead compared to clerics as they would be in 3rd edition, but that lack of Turn Undead was still a bitter pill. There's a reason why the Undead Master kit or the Arcanist make a better "commander of the dead" style necromancer than the vanilla necromancer.

Ghul Lords[edit]

Al-Qadim would offer an alternative to the vanilla necromancer in the Complete Sha'ir's Handbook, similarly to how Ravenloft would offer up the Arcanist. Called the Ghul Lord, this "not!Arabian Necromancer" was an unusual blend of a necromancer and an elementalist, being described as a wizard who is able to work spells by drawing upon and manipulating the energies of the Negative Energy Plane. This allows them to cast spells and even manipulate negative energy to create unusual effects beyond the standard spells. It also meant they were encourage eto come up with spooky "special effects" that would play when they used their magic, such as the caster weeping tears of blood, the ambient light flickering, a chorus of whispers and/or agonized moans, a spooky aura of dark light, or whatever else you might come up to get your edge on.

Mechanically, ghul lords looked like this:

Base Class: Wizard
Racial Restriction: Human
Alignment Restriction: Any Chaotic
Weapon Proficiencies: Dagger, Staff, Dart, Sling, Short Sword, Long Sword, Cutlass, Scimitar
Nonweapon Proficiencies:
Bonus: Undead Knowledge
Recommended: Debate, Artistic Ability, Etiquette, Survival (Desert), Set Snares, Languages (Ancient), History (Ancient), Reading/Writing, Spellcraft
Special Benefits:
Necrotic Manipulations: You have the ability to manipulate negative energy to achieve supernatural effects. You start play with two Manipulations, and can purchase further Manipulations at a cost of 1 Nonweapon Proficiency slot per manipulation. See below for manipulation rules.
Turn Undead: From 10th level, you can use the Turn Undead ability as per a cleric, with the option to subjugate the undead as if you were an Evil cleric, regardless of your Moral Alignment. When attempt to turn or subjugate the undead, your Cleric level is your Wizard level -3.
Special Drawbacks:
Ultra-Specialized: You may only learn and cast Necromancy spells - basically, you treat all seven other schools as your Prohibited Schools. In fact, per the book, you can only learn and cast spells that belong exclusively to the Necromancy school, so if it's also available to another kind of school, you can't cast it! Admittedly, this book was written before the Complete Book of Necromancers expanded the school, so your only options were spells from the PHB and Tome of Magic, but still.
Bad with People: Your beginning Charisma is reduced by -3 (to a minimum of 3).
Corrosive Energies: The negative energy innundating your body slowly eats away at your flesh. Each time you gain a level, you lose 1 point of either Strength or Constitution; once either score has dropped to 5, you suffer a further -2 points of lost Charisma, but after that the attribute drain stops permanently.
Arcane Interference: You cannot use magical items that are not specifically created for use by ghul lords.

Manipulations are divided into the following categories:

  • Attack manipulations. These are used to damage items or creatures. This type of manipulation can form an actual physical attack or can be the unleashing of a purely magical attack. Either option can be chosen at the discretion of the ghul lord, who must state which form the attack will take at the moment of its release.
  • Defense manipulations. These form magical barriers that stop physical or magical attacks, decided upon by the ghul lord when the manipulation occurs.
  • Informative manipulations. These allow the ghul lord to seek out knowledge that is otherwise unattainable. Through the use of this manipulation, the ghul lord can discover secret doors, reveal the secrets of the ages, foresee the future, or divine the location of lost or hidden objects. Other uses are also possible at the discretion of the DM.
  • Movement manipulations. These allow the ghul lord to move through the use of magical energies. Using this, characters may fly, teleport or even pass through to other dimensions.

The manipulations are not overly difficult to use, but they do require the expenditure of the ghul lord's life force. This is represented by the temporary loss of a number of hit points equal to the level of the manipulation currently being used. This may be offset by certain magical items, using a process known as leaching ... at least, that's what the book says, but in fact it fails to actually provide the mechanics, so it's anybody's guess how it works!

When a ghul lord prepares to use a manipulation, he must concentrate for a full combat round. At the end of that round, the player of the ghul lord must state what manipulation will be used, the level of that manipulation, and the effect desired from the use of that manipulation.

Deciding which manipulation to use is easy. The effect desired often decides the manipulation used. Is the ghul lord intent upon hurting someone? Then the obvious choice is to use the attack manipulation. Likewise, if he would like to fly over a chasm, the movement manipulation would be his choice.

Deciding on the level manipulation requires a bit of cooperation between the DM and the players. The level is best determined by taking a look at the effect that is desired and comparing it to a spell that has a similar effect. If the manipulation is essentially the same as a known spell, then the level of that spell is the level of manipulation that must be used.

Some manipulations will have significantly different effects than the spells listed in the PHB and TOM. Some spells may have a shorter range or do greater damage. At this point, it is necessary for the DM to make a judgment call.

In cases where range is concerned, the difference in the range of the manipulation and that of a known spell needs to be at least 50 percent to warrant an increase or decrease in level. That is, if the level of the spell is 6 and it has a range of 100 feet, the manipulation compared to that spell would need to have a range of 50 feet or a 150 feet before a change in level would be warranted. In the first case, the level would be lowered by one, and the latter the level would be raised by one.

Damage is a little more strict. Increases in damage should be rated as a number of dice, depending on the spell to which the manipulation is compared. If, for example, the spell that the manipulation is similar to uses six-sided dice to determine damage, then it would take an increase or decrease of 1d6 to raise or lower the manipulation's level.

Some manipulations may be compared to spells which do a different amount of damage depending on the level of the caster. In these cases, use the level of the ghul lord to determine damage.

Protective manipulations are among the easiest to determine levels for because they will most often correspond on a one-to-one level with existing spells. The PHB and TOM have a considerable number of protective spells within them, which address almost all cases in this regard.

It is important to remember that ghul lords utilize the magic of the Negative Material Plane to power their spells. This energy has great destructive potential but has little in the way of healing or restorative power. The negative energy can be used to good effect to attack or defend, but it cannot heal or create anything as its very nature prohibits this. This must be remembered when using manipulations lest the characters use the negative energy in a way that is not in keeping with its true power.

Negative energy can also have quite unexpected effects if it interacts with standard magic. Any time the area of effect of a ghul lord’s manipulations or necromantic spells (see below) overlaps that of a standard spell, the results can be explosive. The same is true if a single target is affected by a ghul lord's magic and that of a standard wizard in the same round. If this ever occurs, the two energies react in a violent manner, attempting to eradicate one another. The total levels of spells and manipulations should be added together. The total is the number of four-sided dice that are rolled to determine damage. Damage is caused to anyone in the area where the two spells overlap. If the area of effect is a single target, the damage done is determined by rolling six-sided dice, as the magic energies are more tightly compressed and have fewer outlets than they would have if spread over an area.

Complete Book of Necromancers[edit]

Despite the moral panic being levied against D&D in the 80s, or perhaps because of it, necromancers gained a fair bit of cult following amongst D&D fans. So, in 1995, amidst the growing popularity for Dark Fantasy and general grimdark, TSR expanded the Complete Book Series with the Complete Book of Necromancers. Officially intended for Dungeon Masters, of course players were very interested in getting their hands on it too... in fact, it was considered one of the top 20 most popular game supplements for its release month. Whilst pretty tame compared to contemporary splatbooks from the World of Darkness and Call of Cthulhu lines, it was decently well-written in terms of a general overarching viewpoint for necromancy from a social and philosophical level, albeit with TSR's usual biases.

But you don't care about that shit! If you did, you'd be reading the wikipedia article on the damn book. You're here because you want to know what the kits were like!

The Archetypal Necromancer is the bog-standard evil necromancy of Sword & Sorcery and Dark Fantasy. Outside of recommending the character gain 1d3 Dark Gifts and an equal number of curses, diseases or madnesses to "balance it out", this is just a vanilla Necromancer from the Player's Handbook with an Evil alignment.

Anatomists study the bodies of the dead to learn how they work, which also gives them an incidental familiarity with how necromantic magic interacts with corpses. They vary from serious scholars of the healing arts to mad scientists eager to create abominations of flesh and bone to sadistic torturers.

Base Requirements: As Necromancer
Extra Requirements: None
Weapon Proficiencies: An anatomist is automatically Proficient with the Knife, and becomes Specialized in the Knife at 6th level. Once this is done, the anatomist can become proficient in the Dagger, Dart, Cutlass and Shortsword.
Nonweapon Proficiencies:
Required: Healing (only takes 2 slots) and Anatomy
Recommended: Animal Handling, Animal Training, Artistic Ability, Brewing, Animal Lore, Hunting, Set Snares, Disguise, Forogery, Local History, Herbalism, Reading/Writing, Spellcraft, Venom Handling
Special Benefits:
Improved Healing: An anatomist gains a +2 bonus to Healing checks and can care for up to 12 people at a time with their superior doctoring abilities. Those under an anatomist's care recover 3 hit points per day (4 HP/day if the anatomist has Herbalism) and can make a second save against a poison or disease with a +4 bonus to throw it off. Strenuous activity still lowers the recovery rate.
Autopsy: By spending (1d6 turns -1 round/level) performing an autoposy on a corpse, an anatomist is allowed to make a d100 check. They have a (60+2/level, maximum 90%) chance to identify the specific cause and approximate time of death for their subject.
Special Hindrances: An anatomist must keep their anatomical skills sharp by dissecting and analyzing one humanoid corpse per month, a process that takes a full day to perform. If they fail to do so, they lose their special benefits and become standard necromancers until they polish up their skills by performing 2 dissections for each monthly dissection missed - if it's been two months since they last dissected a body, they need to perform 4 dissections, for example.

Deathslayers are antiheroic wizards who study the dark arts of necromancy to enhance their ability to battle and destroy the undead.

Base Requirements: As Necromancer
Extra Requirements: Strenggth 13+
Weapon Proficiencies: As per Wizard
Nonweapon Proficiencies:
Required: Necrology
Recommended: Hunting, Set Snares, Tracking, Ancient History, Astrology, Herbalism, Ancient Languages, Netherworld Knowledge, Reading/Writing, Religioon, Spellcraft, Spirit Lore
Forbidden: All Rogue NWPs.
Special Benefits: A Deathslayer must choose a kind of "Greater Undead" (ghosts, vampires, liches, mummies, etc) as their preferred opponent of choice. When fighting against that kind of undead, and only against that kind of undead, the Deathslayer gains the following bonuses. Yes, this is basically the Ranger Favorite Enemy class feature, except Deathslayers only get one type of targeted undead and can never change it.
Mental Fortitude: +2 bonus to saves vs. mental attacks caused by the chosen undead, including against Charm and Fear effects.
Battle Prowess: +2 bonus to melee weapon attacks, touch-delivered spell attacks and undead-specific special attacks (staking a vampire, smashing a phylactery, etc) against the chosen undead.
Spell Prowess: The chosen undead suffers a -2 penalty to saves against the Deathslayer's spells - this stacks with the -1 penalty for saves vs. the Deathslayer's Necromancy spells.
Special Hindrances: Deathslayers must hunt down and slay the undead as if under the effects of a Geas, although they are free to target all undead and not just their chosen enemy type, and will always prioritize undead targets in combat.

Philosophers are scholars of the forbidden and sages of the profane, representing those who turn to the dark secrets of magic out of a hunger for knowledge. To these necromancers, "these are things man was not meant to know" deserves only contempt.

Base Requirements: As Necromancer
Extra Requirements: Alignment Restriction (Any Neutral, Neutral Evil), Intelligence 14+
Weapon Proficiencies: Dagger, Dart, Knife
Nonweapon Proficiencies:
Required: Netherworld Knowledge, Reading/Writing
Recommended: Artistic Ability, Etiquette, Heraldry, Modern languages, Local History, Ancient History, Astrology, Herbalism, ANcient Languages, Necrology, Religion, Spellcraft, Spirit Lore
Forbidden: All Warrior and Rogue NWPs
Special Benefits:
Font of Unholy Lore: A Philosopher has the knowledge basis of a Sage in the fields of Necromancy, Necromantic Magical Items, and the Netherworld (the Outer Planes, especially the Lower Planes). They have a 5% per level chance of knowing the answer to a question on these topics, as per a Legend Lore spell. If they don't know the answer, they are constrained by the typical rules for a sage.
Master of the Mind: If using Psionics, a Philosopher will automatically have at least 1 Wild Talent.
Devoted Student: A Philosopher has a +15% chance to succeed when attempting to learn a Necromancy spell; this stacks with the bonus for being a Necromancer, giving them a +30% bonus in total.
Special Hindrances:
Fragile Sanity: At the DM's discretion, a Philosopher may be required to begin play with a irreversible Madness, and may even suffer penalties to gaining further Madnesses through gameplay.
Hyper-Focus: A Philosopher has a -15% penalty to their chance to succed when attempting to learn a non-Necromancy spell; this stacks with the penalty for being a Necromancer, giving them a -30% penalty in total. Though, given their lore states that they favor divination and conjuration magic alongside necromancy, at the DM's discretion, this penalty may not apply to those schools.

Undead Masters are a pulpy combination of Necromancer, Enchanter and Conjurer. These wizards study magic for the power to control, commanding the living, the dead and the otherworldly to obey. If you want to be a minion-master wizard, you can't do better than this kit in 2e!

Base Requirements: As Necromancer
Extra Requirements: Alignment Restriction (Non-Good)
Weapon Proficiencies: As Necromancer.
Nonweapon Proficiencies:
Required: Necrology, Netherworld Knowledge
Recommended: Etiquette, Heraldry, Ancient History, Astrology, Ancient Languages, Reading/Writing, Religion, Spellcraft, Spirit Lore
Forbidden: All Priest, Rogue and Warrior NWPS
Special Benefits:
Command the Living: Enchantment/Charm is not an Opposition School for Undead Masters the way it is for standard necromancers.
Command the Dead: An Undead Master can Turn Undead as if they were a Cleric of the same level. They can also use Turn Undead to control fiends and extraplanar creatures as if they were undead of the same hit dice (ignoring any hit point modifiers).
Special Hindrances:
Restricted Fields of Study: An Undead Master's Opposition Schools are Illusion, Transmutation and Divination (Major).
Brains over Brawn: An undead master may only have ONE Weapon Proficiency point. All subsequent WP points must be spent on Nonweapon Proficiencies instead.
Megalomania: This is a roleplaying disadvantage; remember that Undead Masters tend strongly towards being megalomaniacs, control freaks and subject to OCD in general.

Athasian Necromancers[edit]

In Dark Sun, necromancers were introduced in "Defilers & Preservers: The Wizards of Athas", a splatbook that... well, you can guess from the title. On Athas, the normal route of the specialist wizard has vanished; there, the title of necromancer applies less to a wizard who focuses on necromancy spells (although they are still good at those) and more on a wizard who has learned to use The Grey as a power source, similarly to Cerulean Wizards and Shadow Wizards. Ironically, this means that necromancers are technically the least evil wizards running around on Athas, since their spellcasting does no damage to the planet. Most are either obsessed with seeking out ancient lore, or else want to become immortal.

Like Cerulean Mages and Shadow Wizards, Athasian Necromancers are handled using the kits mechanic, and can be either Defilers or Preservers as their base class - they tend to be Defilers, however, simply because the D&D rules give preservers a -15% penalty to checks to learn necromancy spells, whilst defilers get a +15% bonus instead. Mechanically, they look like this:

Class Restriction: Necromancers cannot dual-class or multiclass.
Race Restriction: Human, Half-Elf
Stat Requirements: Wisdom 16, Constitution 14
Alignment Requirement: Must be Neutral
Weapon Proficiencies: All Wizard, plus Whip
Nonweapon Proficiencies:
Bonus: Planes Lore
Required: Languages (Ancient)
Recommended: Ancient History, Astrology, Bargain, Engineering, Intimidation, Lens Crafting, Reading/Writing, Spellcraft
Special Benefits:
Walk With the Dead: An Athasian necromancer has a 65% chance to be able to successfully open negotiations with an intelligent undead, causing it to refrain from attacking until it has heard the necromancer out.
Seize the Bones: An Athasian necromancer can attempt to seize control over unintelligent undead, which causes them to obey the necromancer for 1d6 rounds. The chance of success is 5% per level. Once the time expires, the undead reverts to the control of their original master (if any), or simply becomes free-willed.
Inured to Fear: Athasian Necromancers are immune to all Fear effects related to the undead.
Special Hindrances:
Fickle Power Supply: An Athasian Necromancer must make a Power Gathering Check, like a Defiler. Due to the extraplanar nature of their power source, they roll a D10 to determine the "terrain type" portion of that table; 1 = barren, 2-4 = infertile, 5-7 = fertile, 8-9 = abundant, 10 = lush.
Spiritual Strain: An Athasian necromancer must make a Constitution check whenever they gather power to fuel their spells; if they fail the check, they take 1d2 damage (if the "in play" power gathering method is used) or 1d6+1 (if the "off-stage/when memorizing" method is used). In the latter case, the necromancer fails to memorize their spells unless they repeat the process, which requires a second Constitution check; if this fails, then the necromancer cannot attempt to memorize spells for a 24 hour period.
Aura of Death: An Athasian necromancer suffers a reaction penalty equal to 1/2 their character level (so a 2nd level necromancer has a -1 penalty, a 4th level one has a -2 penalty, etc).


The splatbook GAZ3: Principalities of Glantri introduced a new way of handling necromancers, as one of "the Seven Secret Crafts". These were not like the specialist wizard rules from AD&D, or the kits from there either. Instead, mechanically, they were closer to the Prestige Classes that would be invented in 3rd edition; once a Magic-User had attained a specific level, they could seek out entry in one of several specialist wizard orders. After spending time studying, which costs a certain amount of time and gold, and attaining a necessary level of experience points, an initiate gains access to a special spell-like ability they can use. Each of the seven secret crafts - Alchemy, Dracology, Elementalism, Illusionism, Necromancy, Cryptomancy, and Witchcraft - is divided into 5 Circles of power, each with its own unique spell-like ability which is harder to use and can be used less frequently. For example, the spell-like ability granted by reaching the 1st Circle can be 3 times per day, and chance of success is 60% + 1+ per magic user level, whilst the 5th Circle's ability can only be used 1 time per month and has a minuscule 20+1/level % chance of being used successfully. For necromancers, these powers consist of Protection from Undead, Control Undead, Create Undead, Raise Dead and Attain Lichdom.


3rd edition attempted to bolster the arcane necromancer through the use of Prestige Classes, like the "True Necromancer" (which required multiclassing as a wizard and a cleric) and the "Pale Master". White Wolf, you'll be un-shocked to hear, went all-in with Relics & Rituals's Crypt Lord and that whole Hollowfaust booklet. Results were... kind of mixed.

As for the 3e side, they did shit like create the Master of Shrouds, a necromancer PrC specialized in controlling ghost-type undead... which only the Cleric can access. In regards truly fixing the necromancer, the closest they probably came was with a pair of alternate classes: a Necromancer class based on the Diablo II class, in their Blizzard-sponsored D20 game "Diablo II: Diablerie", and the Dread Necromancer, a Charisma-based spontaneous caster alternate class from Heroes of Horror.

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition Variant Classes
Adept Urban Adept
Artificer Psionic Artificer
Barbarian HorselordImplacableTotem BarbarianVariant Barbarian
Bard Bardic SageDivine BardHarbingerSavage BardVariant Bard
Cleric Ancestral SpeakerArcane DiscipleAspirantBenevolentCloistered ClericCrusaderEvangelistLost OneRage ClericSacred EnforcerVariant Cleric
Druid Druidic AvengerMetal MasterSidhe ScholarStorm DruidTotem DruidUrban DruidVariant DruidWild ReaperWind WalkerWinter Warden
Fighter BodyguardCommanderCorsairExoticistFencerHorsemanJanissaryKensaiKnightPugilistShield BearerSurvivalistTargetteerThaneThugVariant Fighter
Monk Buddhist MonkChaos MonkClockwork DiscipleFranciscan FriarHoly MonkHunter MonkIlluminated MonkKnight HospitallerMartial MonkRaging MonkShinto MonkSidewinder MonkSteadfast MonkVariant MonkVigilant MonkWild Monk
Ninja Variant Ninja
Paladin AnarchAnti-PaladinAvengerCorrupterDespotEnforcerIncarnatePaladin of FreedomPaladin of LightPaladin of SlaughterPaladin of TyrannySentinelSolstice KnightVariant PaladinWyrmslayer
Psion Erudite
Ranger Moon-Warded RangerMystic RangerPlanar RangerUrban RangerVariant RangerWild Defender
Rogue Lunar RogueWilderness RogueVariant Rogue
Sorcerer Battle SorcererVariant Sorcerer
Wizard AbjurerAnagakokCombat WizardConjurerDeathwalkerDivinerDomain WizardEnchanterEvokerFilidhFleshcrafterIllusionistNecromancerSpecialist WizardSoul ReaperTransmuterVariant Wizard


In 4th edition, necromancers faded into the background, for much the same reason as Conjurers; WoTC struggled to find a way to handle their traditional focus on minions without unbalancing the game. Whilst conjuration would return in the first Arcane Power splatbook, necromancers were left out, as that book was only large enough to restore conjurers and illusionists to the 4e fold. Theoretically, an Arcane Power 2 might have brought back the necromancer in similar fashion, but 4e's cancellation to led to only two sources for official 4e necromancy.

Firstly, Dragon Magazine #372 featured the article "Secrets of the city Entombed", which provided necromancy-flavored spells for various Arcane classes - none of the traditional minion-mastery effects, but flavorful attack spells like Hungry Earth.

Secondly, In 4th edition, Necromancy appeared alongside Nethermancy as one of the possible Schools that can be selected by the Mage, an Essentials variant of the Wizard whose spells can thus be taken by real wizards as well.. Being an Essentials Necromancer was handled as a set of three features gained by choosing that specific magical school, and which were acquired at levels 1, 5 and 10. A Mage could also dabble in Necromancy by taking the 1st and 5th level Necromancy school benefits at levels 4 and 8.

  • Necromancy Apprentice: When you hit at least one target with an arcane necromancy attack power, you gain 2 temporary hit points.
  • Necromancy Expert: You gain a +2 bonus to Athletics checks and Endurance checks.
  • Necromancy Master: Your arcane necromancy attack powers ignore necrotic resistance.


Necromancers made a full Player's Handbook return - and finally got a decent bone thrown their way - in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Indeed, they rejoiced with this edition, for they finally claimed their rightful place as the style's masters and kicked the cleric clean out of the ring for the right to claim that title. The edition even destroyed the concept of "Clerics of Death" being superior necromancer by redesigning their class features; the Death domain is focused on the "God of Death who kills people" archetype, with greater necrotic damage output, whilst the Graves domain is focused on the "God of Death who looks after the dead" archetype, and is thus specialized in fighting the undead rather than controlling them.

As for what necromancers got in 5th edition...

At level 2, their Grim Harvest ability lets them heal themselves by killing people (ie, it doesn't work on constructs or undead) with magic; they regain hitpoints equal to 2 (or 3, if it's necromantic) times the spell's level whenever they finish somebody off with a spell.

At level 6, Undead Thrall not only gives them Animate Dead for free, but also buffs their skill at using it; the amount of zombies & skeletons they can control with it is increased by +1, and the undead they create with this spell are tankier (+1 max HP per level of the necromancer) and fightier (add the necromancer's proficiency bonus to their weapon damage rolls).

At level 10, Inured to Undeath makes necromancers better suited to hanging around the undead, gaining Resistance to Necrotic Damage and immunity to effects that lower maximum hitpoints, both traits common to undead enemies.

Finally, at level 14, they gain the mother of all necromancer traits: Command Undead. This ability, the thing that traditionally shafted necromancers in favor of death priests, lets a necromancer attempt to enslave undead creatures that it can can see within 60 feet, though smarter ones have the ability to break free eventually, so be sure to cast Feeblemind if you want to keep them and don't care about them casting spells (for example, if you'd want a demilich minion).

13th Age[edit]

Being a D&D-alike, the fact that 13th Age no overt way to actually make a necromancer was a bit of an odd note, especially when one of the major world-shaping NPCs in the setting was a literal Lich. That would change when 13 True Ways released, as they made a dedicated Necromancer class, separate from both Wizards and Clerics, though they could always steal a spell or two via talents. Unique to them is not only a mandatory icon relationship with some Death-themed icon (see above about the super-powerful lich), but also the fact that Necromancers are more difficult to kill without relying on high Constitution - in fact, high Constitution actually penalizes their casting while one feat lets them instead benefit from a negative Constitution modifier.

Their talents manage to reinforce their icon ties or supplement their spellcasting powers. On the former, they have one talent that lets them turn icon relationship results into complications for the sake of extra spells as well as another that lets them spin their rolls as channeling the spirits of the dead. For the latter, they can take one talent to count as undead for whenever it benefits them as well as making them even harder to kill, getting a pet like the Ranger, and the most BBEG thing ever, wasting an entire turn to cackle like a madman so they can cast a stronger spell.

Warhammer 40,000[edit]

Warhammer 40,000 features necromancy but not to the extent of Warhammer fantasy with the like of Nagash. We see in the history of Mortarion, Primarch of the Death Guard on the world Barbarus, a world wreathed in poisonous fog and ruled by necromancers who practiced standard fantasy necromancy, and in the pen and paper role-play game Rogue Trader in the Koronus Bestiary, the BONE CONQUEROR a shard like creature that possess the dead, albeit standard necromancy is rarer but we do see a variant or something similar in the followers of Nurgle, the servants of Papa Nurgle can be like necromancers in many ways, especially when they start breaking out the Zombie Plague.

Additionally, the way in which spiritseers are able to coax the souls of dead Eldar from the Infinity Circuits into wraithbone constructs technically makes them necromancers too, albeit of a different sort than the Nurglite kind mentioned above.

Warhammer Fantasy[edit]

Being a Dark Fantasy setting, necromancy is naturally a big part of Warhammer Fantasy Battle in the lore, and has evolved into a rather complex history. Long story short, there are three types of necromantic magic in the Warhammer world.

The foundational form, and the true form, is Shyish, the Wind of Death. This is less necromancy and more "entropy magic"; it's magic that specializes in killing things, being basically death elementalism. It can interact with the undead a little, but death wizards actually tend to despise the undead and focus on destroying them. See, Shyish is all about death as a natural part of the cycle of reality, forming a yin-yang style balance and counterbalance with Ghyran, the Wind of Life. You're born, you live, you die. That's just how the world is supposed to work, and monkeying around with that is fucking unnatural and you need to cut it out right the hell now! As a result, the Amethyst College, whose wizards embrace Shyish, are zealously dedicated to destroying undead and necromantic lore. Sadly, because death-mages and necromancers often use a lot of the same trappings (dark purple/black robes, pale skin, scythes, sickles, bats, spiders, skulls, bones, etc), and because the Empire is full of benighted country bumpkins who spend any time when they're not working themselves to death in the fields either drunk in a stupor or fucking their sisters/mothers/daughters, most imperials can't actually the difference. Even the imperial armies, who tend to be way more appreciative of mages due to seeing them in action fucking things over for the enemies of humanity, tend to think the Shyish-weavers are creepy and prefer the pyromancers of Aqshy.

The oldest form of necromancy is Nehekharan Necromancy, which merges elements of Shyish and Hyish with a lot of religious symbolism. See, long ago, in the land of Egypt Khemri, when a particularly powerful not-Pharoah named Settra grew pissed about the fact he would inevitably die of old age, he founded the so-called "Mortuary Cult", whose mage-priests began experimenting with ways to both prolong life and eventually provide a true resurrection of the fallen. They succeeded at the former, to a degree anyway, but not so much at the latter. We don't actually know all that much about this original "Ur-Necromancy", since it's kind of gone extinct. After Nagash botched his big epic ritual to revive the entirety of Nehekhara in undeath courtesy of the Skaven sticking their noses into his pie, the now-undead "Liche Priests" of the Mortuary Cult seem to have borrowed some of the ideas from Nagash's spellbooks, focusing on just enough to gain the ability to animate their murdergolems and to endlessly reanimate their skeleton warriors and mummy leaders - tricks they definitely did not use beforehand.

True Necromancy was created by Nagash, the single biggest dick in all of Warhammer. Like, even Archaon arguably isn't as big of a dick as Nagash is. He took Nehekharan Mortuary Magic, mixed it with the lore of Dark Magic that he learned from captured Dark Elves, and over centuries refined it to create the now iconic form of necromancy that has since spread throughout the Old World. This is the classic "enslave restless spirits and animate corpses" style of black magic, mixed in with some undead-centric buffs and a couple of necrotic blasty spells retained from Shyish just because being able to melt the face off of anyone who gets past your zombie meat-shields and thinks you're helpless is Nagash's idea of a funny joke.

Necromancers proper have been part of the undead army since at least 4th edition. When the Undead army was broken into the Tomb Kings and the Vampire Counts, the necromancers went into the latter book, and so have a longer track record, appearing in editions 4-8 at the very least. In 4e's Warhammer Armies: Undead, necromancers could evolve into liches, just like in Dungeons & Dragons, who formed one of the army's Lord choices and were thus at least comparable in power to their vampire and mummy alternatives.

Come 5th edition, though, the liches would vanish (although the necromancer's counterpart in the Tomb Kings army that debuted in 6e would be called the Liche-Priest) and they would instead be replaced by necromancers coming in 4 ranks of ascending power; Necromancer, Necromancer Champion, Master Necromancer, and Necromancer Lord. Mechanically, they were obviously inferior to the vampires in terms of raw stats, but they gained what was effectively a free wizard level on their undead counterparts - Vampire Lords maxed out as 3rd level wizards, whilst Necromancer Lords were 4th level, although the Necrarch bloodline had powers that could help them milk the most use out of their mojo.

6e would simplify this into the Necromancer (a Hero-tier caster) and the Master Necromancer (a Lord-tier caster), but basically followed the formula from 5e; vampires were for beating shit up, and necromancers were for doing the spellcasting, with necromancers effectively gaining +1 level in spellcasting compared to vampires and vampires being unable to reach higher than 4th level.

7e saw a shakeup in the formula. Master Necromancers vanished, leaving just the lonely Hero-tier Necromancer to shoulder the burder. They were now mechanically treated as level 1 wizards who could only know one of three spells from the newly revised necromancy spell list (which was rebranded "Lore of the Vampires"): Invocation of Nehek, Raise Dead, or Vanhel's Danse Macabre. They could at least buy the other two spells from their personal mini-list at a cost of +15 points per extra spell. In contrast, vampires were... still pretty terrible wizards (vampires were level 1, vampire lords were level 2, with no option to boost their level), but they could at least roll for their spell(s) on the Lore of the Vampires and automatically knew Invocation of Nehek in addition, so they effectively got +1 spell for free.

8e tried to walk back from this, perhaps deciding it was stupid. Master Necromancers returned as a Lord tier caster and a 3rd level wizard, with the option to rise to level 4. Necromancers also had access to spells in the normal way, choosing from either the Lore of the Vampires or the Lore of Death. However, vampires continued to wrestle them for position as the army's top spellcaster; vampires and vampire lords both had access to a third school of magic (Lore of Shadows), and in the Hero tier, vampires were just as magically potent as necromancers (level 1, reach level 2 for +35 points, same as the necromancer) whilst having far better stats and upgrades. The only slight advantage was that a Master Necromancer was a 3rd level wizard who could reach 4th level for +35 points, whilst the Vampire Lord was a 1st level wizard who would take +105 points (+35 pts/level) to upgrade to 4th level.

Vampire Counts Units

Leaders & Characters : Vampire Count - Vampire Lord - Necromancer - Master Necromancer - Necromancer Lord - Wight King - Banshee - Strigoi Ghoul King
Troops : Zombie - Black Knight - Blood Knight - Cairn Wraith - Crypt Horror - Ghoul - Grave Guard - Hexwraith - Simulacra - Skeleton - Spirit Host - Strigany - Swain - Sylvanian Levy - Vargheists - Vampire Thrall - Skeleton Warrior
Beasts : Bat Swarm - Dire Wolves - Fell Bats
Chariots : Black Coach - Corpse Cart - Coven Throne - Mortis Engine
Monsters : Abyssal Terror - Varghulf - Terrorgheist - Zombie Dragon
Others : Zombie Pirate


As far as magic in Exalted goes, spells are more rare, and usually more niche, then the omnipresent charms that spirits and Exalted use. Nevertheless, sorcery is an intrinsic part of Creation (and Yu-Shan, and Malfeas), seared into its firmament by the Primordials. In Exalted, however, necromancy is not merely a school of sorcery. Necromancy is not sorcery at all. When the Primordials died and became the Neverborn, they made the Underworld, and that new world was governed by a new type of magic. That was Necromancy, the dark mirror to sorcery.

The Neverborn are the strongest contender for Exalted's BBEG, and despite Exalted's amoral themes and scarcity of powers that are necessarily evil or good, you have to go through the Black Treatise with a fine tooth comb to pick out the spells that don't poison the world, cause indiscriminate harm or show excessive cruelty - and most of what's left are attack spells. This is more true the deeper you go into the circles of Necromancy. Part of why that is might be the art's historical innovators. Mortals and most Exalted can only access the first circle of Necromancy - most Dragonblooded and spirits can't learn it at all. In the First Age, the increasingly decadent and insane Solars led Necromantic research. In the Second Age, the present day of the setting, the chief innovators are the Neverborns' own slaves, who are the only ones that can access the Void circle.

It might come as no surprise, after reading all that, the Necromancy is not a popular choice for Exalted players, or at least those not playing loyalist Abyssals out to murder Creation. In addition to its unsavory nature, a lot of Necromantic spells just don't do anything useful. Many of its spells amount to useless manipulation of, or pointless cruelty against, ghosts (which in Exalted are meager foes, who can't learn spells, excellencies, or combat charms). One spell lets you change what a ghost looks like, another lets them (not you, them) see their fetters, a third teaches them to play the drums, and a fourth bakes them a delicious meal. These are real spells. A lot of the spells that are useful only work in the Underworld, where the living cannot regain Essence. Nevertheless, the Black Treatise had barely hit shelves when Exalted fans started compiling abridged lists of the useful spells, and those who are fighting against the Neverborn and their slaves could do a lot worse than learn Necromancy.

See Also[edit]

  • Lich, what happens when a necromancer becomes one of the undead.
  • Necroing, the term used for bringing back a long dead forum thread or discussion