Ah yes, the 5e Necromancer, otherwise known as the necromancy wizard in D&D. They are a class that functions similarly to a conjuration wizard late game, but whose lore and roleplay style differs greatly. While their second level is weak and situational, their 6th and 14th level are iconic to the class, and their 10th level ability has certain ways to exploit it.
How I Am Evaluating Them
For those who have read my previous reviews, feel free to skip this. If you haven’t, welcome! This is going over how I evaluate how strong a class is. There are three things that I am reviewing in the in-depth guide. I look over how strong the subclass is in combat, how much utility it has, and, if applicable, roleplay ability. The reason, everyone’s playstyle is shown to fit their needs.
Now, when deciding if something is good for a guide, I look at what the subclass is trying to accomplish. Then look at how successful it succeeds in that task. For instance, in a previous article on the War Wizard, I concluded, attempts to make you a competitive front line. I then figure out how well that ability succeeds in letting you front line, as well as how soon it comes online.
If it is accomplished at level 2, then it is early game. Level 6 it is Early-Mid, Level 10 Late-Mid, and Level 14 is late game. I rate earlier tiers better as most Dungeon and Dragons Campaigns do not go beyond level 8. Without further adieu, let’s start this review on the 5e necromancer.
GOLD- “That’s gold Jerry! Gold!” If an ability is highlighted gold, then this means that this ability not only is what defines your subclasses but accomplishes it better than almost any other subclass. I rarely do Gold ratings, so definitely pay attention to them if you see me do it.
Sky Blue –If the ability is sky blue, it means that this ability is a defining trait in your subclass but for one reason or another is not game-breaking like gold.
Blue– If it is just blue, then it’s a good ability but there are plenty of other abilities that perform better.Still better to have in a subclass than other colors.
Black. Black is ok. These are your more niche abilities that have bonuses in some situations but not useful in others.
Purple – Purple is for very niche abilities. They have times when they are good, but these are rare and almost never come up. Not the best color to see for an ability.
Red– Red is dead. It is the worst color to see on an ability. That said, no matter the color, an ability can work so don’t ignore a subclass if they have a red. Enough imagination and can-do attitude will make it okay but not optimal.
Necromancer 5e (Early-Mid Game)
The necromancer’s signature ability, undead thralls, comes online at 6th level and changes the playstyle of the necromancer. Moreover, while they begin to come online at 6th level, they continue to grow in power with each new ability that strengthens the notoriety of a necromancer. As such, the necromancer for 5e receives a solid blue rating for having strength, utility, and great roleplay potential.
Necromancy Savant & Grim Harvest
The 5e necromancer wizard receives two new abilities when reaching level 2; Necromancy Savant & Grim Harvest. While each of them play into the necromancy class, they are considered weak for their goals. Let’s take a look at them, shall we?
Necromancy savant is the same as all other savant abilities in the Player’s Handbook and allows necromancy wizards to copy necromancer spells in half the time and cost of the usual wizard spell.
While this might seem good, of the 196 wizard spells in the game, the necromancy category has the least. With only 24 spells, you would think the quality of them would be strong. In reality, many of the spells are considered weak among most D&D guides. With few exceptions such as animate dead, bestow curse, and finger of death. As such, in a random situation, very few times will the savant ability ever arise or be useful.
Meanwhile, Grim Harvest basically states that once per turn, when you kill a creature that’s not a construct or undead with a spell, you can heal for twice as many hit points as that spell level or 3 times the level of necromancy.
Now, healing is powerful, but this one’s situational. One, cantrips are considered level 0 so killing a creature with a cantrip heals for nothing, Two, you must have already lost health to receive the benefits. Three, you need to kill something. Four, of the 196 spells, 45% deal damage in some way with even less dealing a significant portion. As such, the utility behind this ability will come up very rarely, and even when it does still might not even affect you. Still, a backup heal might be useful so be sure to remember this in fights, but never play around it.
Next comes the 5e necromancer’s signature ability, undead thralls.
Undead Thralls allows you to add animate dead to your wizard spell book if you do not know it, and are able to target one additional target when casting animate dead. Additionally, when you create an undead using a necromancy spell, the creature’s hit point maximum goes up by your wizard level and they do additional damage equal to your proficiency modifier.
All in all, this allows you to now summon more undead, and make your undead more powerful. A huge boon to any necromancer. That said, this ability is also the biggest detriment to the necromancer for 5e. They rely on their undead too much. As of right now, there are two 5e necromancy spells that wizards can cast for minions; animate dead (3rd level) and create undead (6th level).
While the undead can be incredibly powerful, in combat they amount for little except cannon fodder, or slowing down the game. Minions can be loads of fun in combat as you transform from a battler to a tactician. In fact, that was what called me to try out the 5e necromancer the first time. However, when your turn consists of your actions, and movements plus something else, you slow the battle tremendously. As a result, be careful that your DM and fellow adventurers are okay with you using a minion swarm. If not, some people might get annoyed and cause issues for your sessions.
Ghouls, Ghasts, and Zombies Oh My!
Now, I did just warn about using minions in combat, but don’t let that stop you from using them. In fact, I encourage using them as they are what makes a necromancer in 5e so much fun. As such, here’s a short little guide to all undead minions you can summon.
These are your weakest undead, but the only minions with range until you reach level 15. Because of this, these will be more useful than other undead later in the game. A skeleton will be able to take 1 attack from level 5 and up, but deals roughly the same damage as a regular ghoul or ghast. Therefore, recommend skeletons for dealing damage from a range.
Zombies are able to be used starting at 5th level and are the tankiest minions due to undead fortitude. These are best for meatshields and nothing else due to their slow movement, and low hit rate. A suggested command from them would protect me.
Once you reach level 11, ghouls become your most powerful minion. While their damage and survivability are better than skeletons, the spell create undead is not more powerful than animate dead. As such, while it might be tempting to create ghouls for the paralysis effect, the chances of actually getting the paralysis off is less than 1% since they must both hit and have the target fail a DC10 con save. Something easy for them to do; even if they roll a 1.
These minions have more power and abilities than their ghoul counterparts. However, while they may have more power, at this level they do nothing to change the impact of the battle with their paralysis effect still being under 1% and having fewer of them, means less cannon fodder.
Never use these in a tough battle or if the enemy is anything but humanoids. There, DPR is less than a horde of ghouls or skeletons, and they can take fewer hits than a swarm of them as well. What these are good for, is creating an army. Wights have the ability that any humanoids they kill come under their command as a zombie with a total of 12 zombies each wight can control. This means that for your 8th level spell slot you can have 26 undead minions instead of the 12 animate undead would give you. Even more (39 minions) if you were to use your 9th level spell. Therefore use this if you are okay never having an 8th level spell slot but an army of undead at your disposal.
Mummies are scary creatures… early game. Late game, having 2 mummies for a 9th level spell has nothing but roleplay value. Their frightened is weaker than the ghoul’s paralysis and has a lower success rate than ghouls when factoring in their swarm ability. If you are to use create undead, just use ghouls or wights.
Inured to Undeath
This gets a purple rating because every boon is situational. This said this ability is nothing to gloss over.
Inured to Undeath gives you: resistance to necrotic damage, and your hit point maximum can’t be reduced.
At first glance this looks like a waste, necrotic damage will come up a few times in the game but will rarely be a consistent source of threat, meanwhile while debuffs that affect your hitpoint maximum are even less.
So then, why did I say this is nothing to gloss over? Because not being able to reduce your hitpoint maximum is incredibly powerful with enough creative thinking. As of the time of writing, there are two popular exploits to this ability; create homunculus and aid.
To begin with, let’s discuss create homunculus. The spell can be read on D&D Beyond but the important part is you create a minion with 5hp. How is this powerful? The homunculus has the ability to bolster their hit points at the cost of your hit dice and hitpoint maximum. However, since your hitpoint maximum can’t be reduced you instead bolster your homunculus by half your hitpoints and you can heal for any damage you took. Do note though, after a long rest your homunculus will lose the hitpoints so be prepared to keep on doing this.
The next exploit is through the spell aid. This is rather simple but bolsters your hitpoint maximum by 5. While usually pretty weak for a 2nd level spell, for a 5e necromancer, it is not. Since your hitpoint maximum cannot be reduced, the effect of the spell will not go away. Meaning you can boost your hitpoint maximum by an additional 40 if a cleric is willing to cast it at 9th level.
The thing I love the most about Wizard of the Coast’s 5e necromancer is every ability fits the theme, and this one is no exception. Command Undead allow you to reign supreme over all undead, even other wizard’s.
At level 14, you can force an undead creature to make a charisma saving throw against your spell save DC. The undead will have advantage on the save if their intelligence is 8 or higher and can repeat the save every hour if their intelligence is over 12. If their intelligence is below 12, then they remain under your control until you use this ability again.
This potentially allows you to shut down any undead monster your DM throws at you, with even a lich running the risk of being under your control. However, the strongest use of the ability is to have a champion for your undead army or even just a powerful minion to speed up the fighting. As such, you want to use this ability for anything with an intelligence lower than 12, the most powerful ones being a Mummy Lord and a Nightwalker.
With the average intelligence score being a 10 for the undead and a charisma save average of +2. Players can expect this ability to be successful around 56-64% of the time against the average undead. Because of its ability to give you a powerful ally or dismantle a battle the ability gets a solid black rating.
Necromancer 5e: Suggested Build
Now for a suggested build, I don’t usually give a detailed guide because I want everyone to come up with unique ways to play them. That said, this is more to show you some ways to make your necromancer wizard powerful and useful in every situation. So use these as a guide to understanding abilities and good ways to utilize them.
First, we have your race, I would suggest Yuan-ti, variant human, or tiefling for your race. Tiefling and Yuan-ti are powerful races that fit the standard mold for 5e necromancers. Meanwhile human is a good choice for feats such as lucky, or for roleplay aspects like a ritual caster (cleric).
As for spells, there is only one must-have spell for a necromancer, animate dead. Besides that, create undead, and bestow curse are great necromancy spells also available to them.
Finally, a personality quirk for a 5e necromancer that I love to play, is seeing themselves as a healer. It adds a nice bit of irony to have someone believe they are a healer of the impossible. Even more so when said necromancer finds out the fighter’s wife is dead and promises to bring her back to life, and several sessions later dig up the corpse and zombifies her. Then, pretties her up as a birthday present to the fighter, (what happened on my first playthrough). But, that is a story for a separate time.
Necromancer 5e Conclusion
The 5e necromancer wizard is a perfect fit for anyone looking to have minions at his disposal and even more looking to play up the necromancer aspect. With each ability being thematicallly correct, there will be many chances to play up the wizards obsession with the undead and be a powerful ally to your party.
While this is the case though, the necromancer suffers from two big drawbacks, one they slow down the pace of combat which can upset your more fast-paced adventurers and two, are able to use their abilities in situational occurrences. Because of this, I recommend anyone wanting to play a 5e necromancer to consult your DM on their thoughts and are okay with it. After all, “A happy DM means more loot to grab.” at least that’s the philosophy I live by.
If you have read this and realized the necromancer is not for you, then I suggest the conjuration wizard. They don’t slow down the battle as much and have abilities that will come into play more often than the necromancer.
P.S. Now that you know the general information for the 5e necromancer wizard. Why don’t you kick it up a notch with Wizard’s Mastery: A Complete Wizard’s Guide! Giving you even more information then than this for all ten wizard subclasses with ways to make your gameplay more memorable and more unique. Check it out today!