Why a Wizard might become interested in undead is their own story. Perhaps, like most assume, the Wizard is desperate for power and wants unintelligent muscle – or, I suppose, bones. Maybe they have a simple curiosity about death, and wish to explore it to its fullest. Perhaps they simply wish to revive an old family member, or a spouse, and simply can’t generate enough piety to do so. In any case, these intelligent souls find themselves in the School of Necromancy, available in the Player’s Handbook. This subclass is interested in the Necromancy school of magic… For good or evil. Let’s see why you may want to step away from Clerics to practice Necromancy. Dive into our Necromancy Wizard 5E Guide!
Reap the Soul: Necromancy Wizard 5E
Who hasn’t wanted to be a necromancer? Mechanically, the Necromancy school is a defensive wizard subclass with some summoning buffs and utility. The abilities aren’t exactly extreme, but you can get some mileage from the small amount of healing and undead army that you’ll summon.
All PHB Schools have the Savant skill, with a very simple upside.
Beginning when you select this school at 2nd level, the gold and time you must spend to copy a Necromancy spell into your spellbook is halved.
Yeah, not exactly impactful, huh?
This ability is as powerful as your GM wants it to be. Necromancy is considered taboo by most societies, so you’ll probably not find a library with a Necronomicon full of Circle of Death and stuff. That means you’ll be looking for scrolls or enemies for your Necromancy magic. That’s… Rough.
If you take out an enemy lich, you’ll be super happy (as long as they were a Wizard!), but that’s hard to rely on. And especially early on, you might be lucky and find Cause Fear or False life… But make sure you use your head. Get the Necromancy spells that you can’t be without, and just consider any ones you find in spellbooks on your journey a slightly cheap blessing.
Your actual level 2 ability is actually quite nice.
At 2nd level, you gain the ability to reap life energy from creatures you kill with your spells. Once per turn when you kill one or more creatures with a spell of 1st level or higher, you regain hit points equal to twice the spell’s level, or three times its level if the spell belongs to the School of Necromancy. You don’t gain this benefit for killing constructs or undead.
This is pretty great! Wizards have extremely limited access to healing, so now you’ll be rewarded for dealing a lot of damage. The problem is that Necromancy has precious few wizard spells that deal huge bursts of damage; you’ll be lacking on the 3x healing until around spell level 4 or so. This sadly doesn’t work on Cantrips, since they’re spell level 0. No Toll the Dead for you!
Thankfully, you’ll have a few good tools. Blight is a 4th level spell that actually does a solid burst of damage. Negative Energy Flood has fantastic synergy with your future abilities, and deals solid numbers. Once you reach high levels, Finger of Death was designed to kill people. And all spells that can kill people are valid here; learn Fireball and Lightning Bolt, and you’ll steal heal for 6.
This ability is great, but it just has the problem of Necromancy being more of a debuff/summoning school. You’ll actually need to learn some good damaging options if you want to use this heal.
On the bright side, if you want to cheese this, you don’t need to have a challenging fight to heal. You can buy a bag of rats and summon a Flaming Sphere, killing one creature per round to regenerate for 1 minute. Talk to your GM to see if something like that would work… And maybe make sure the Druid is a safe distance away.
At last, the main reason you want to learn from this school! This’ll be split into two parts.
At 6th level, you add the Animate Dead spell to your spellbook if it is not there already. When you cast Animate Dead, you can target one additional corpse or pile of bones, creating another zombie or skeleton, as appropriate.
You’re probably not too happy that this ability doesn’t offer a replacement for if you already had Animate Dead. I fully understand. But, waiting one level for a free spell learned is pretty solid for you. And… Well, you were going to learn Animate Dead anyways, so it’s a good free spell.
Animate Dead normally summons based on your Spell Level. The total number of creatures is 1 + (2x[Spell Level-3]). So, thanks to this ability, you get the effect of 2 level 3 Animate Deads at once. That’s value!
As you level up, this “+1 Body” will be a little bit less valuable, since Animate Dead becomes a bit more about reasserting control. But, trust me.. Thanks to the second half of this ability, that’s well worth it.
Whenever you create an undead using a necromancy spell, it has additional benefits:
- The creature’s hit point maximum is increased by an amount equal to your wizard level.
- The creature adds your proficiency bonus to its weapon damage rolls.
The health scaling is a bit rough, but 20 health at level 20 is not ineffective. That means a caster needs to roll 20 damage higher to kill your summons. Valuable, if slightly unimpressive.
The bonus to damage is the real meat of the ability! At level 20, your undead abominations gain a +6 bonus to damage, which is insanely high. This lets the basic Animate Dead spell almost keep up, since your pile of zombies will have a good burst of damage when they hit. And, when you create undead with better spells, they’ll be even more effective on the battlefield.
I would suggest considering the Summon Undead Spirit spell (if your GM allows you to explore UA content!), since it scales quite well with level. Negative Energy Flood can kill a creature and summon an undead. And, of course, Create Undead is a solid option later on. You’ll be shocked to see how effective your zombie army is when they are both tankier, deal more damage, and get one extra body on each cast!
Inured to Undeath
Now… We have a bit of a problem. This ability is a little weak.
Beginning at 10th level, you have resistance to necrotic damage, and your hit point maximum can’t be reduced. You have spent so much time dealing with undead and the forces that animate them that you have become inured to some of their worst effects.
In the basic Monster Manual, 22 creatures deal Necrotic damage. That’s not nothing, to be sure! But… It’s weak in comparison to Fire and Poison (46 and 43, respectively). And considering you’re going to be the one herding Undead, you’ll likely not be face-to-face with Necrotic damage.
More interesting is the “hitpoint Maximum cannot be reduced.” This is one of the rarer effects in the game, but it can occasionally be terrifying. For example, if you have an on-level Wight encounter, having your max HP be reduced can end you instantly, with the right combination of crits and poor saves. When effects can lower your HP, they tend to be constitution saves… Which is rough for a little Wizard like yourself.
However, the problems are twofold. One, why are you getting hit at all? You have an undead army, likely a melee frontliner, probably a Cleric. You should not be taking damage, let alone eating the effects of Life Drain or anything similar.
Two, even if you do get hit, you should be happy to not have your HP reduced… But you’re still a Wizard. Getting hit at all still puts you in rough shape, and the necrotic damage that normally comes with max HP damage is gonna still take a chunk outta you.
Neither of these abilities are bad, but they’re situational. And the situations really shouldn’t apply to you.
This ability is pretty awesome! It’s similar to a Turn effect, except instead of making monsters cower, they’re yours now!
Starting at 14th level, you can use magic to bring undead under your control, even those created by other wizards. As an action, you can choose one undead that you can see within 60 feet of you. That creature must make a Charisma saving throw against your wizard spell save DC. If it succeeds, you can’t use this feature on it again. If it fails, it becomes friendly to you and obeys your commands until you use this feature again.
There’s a few caveats; if an Undead has 8 or more intelligence, it gets Advantage. If it has 12 or more, they get to save once per hour.
So, Charm Monster actually doesn’t work on Undeads in most situations. They tend to be immune to charms. So you get a pretty rare talent! Making undead friendly is actually really good, since they have really high CR monsters. And almost anything can be undead if a Wizard’s insane enough! That means you could theoretically “charm” a giant skeletal dragon, a lich, a vampire, mummy lord… That’s a lot of strong creatures under your theoretical belt.
This will also let you theoretically have one weak-willed (but strong-muscled) Undead be your permanent bodyguard. Until you toss this out again, at least. Maybe you’ll get lucky and your GM will forget you have this, and then throw a Nightwalker at you.
Now… Problems. The Intelligence limitation lowers your chances of capturing monsters. Advantage would be bad enough, but at high enough int, you get monsters that get advantage and roll that advantage hourly. You can’t reasonably command high-ish level Undead. Too many of them have good Intelligence and good Charisma.
This is also one of the few abilities that literally just says “you can’t use this feature on it again.” That’s actually hilarious. You could not see that undead for a year, and you still couldn’t try and command it. You could hop through planes and the universe, and that one Wraith you tried to command is still immune. It’s so rare that these don’t have a “long rest” limitation that just having a flat “no” is weird.
However, it has good range, targets a save few creatures have (even Liches aren’t proficient in Charisma saves), and has a devastating effect. Most GMs won’t let you have the creature sit still and beat it to death, but… You might get away with it. Who knows? This is a pretty strong ability, but if you can force the creatures to roll it at disadvantage… Do it.
Best Race for Necromancy School Wizards
Unsurprisingly, ensure your Intelligence is as high as you can reasonably make it. The +5 will be essential for your magic to kill creatures for your healing, and increasing your control of Undead. Next would be Dexterity or Constitution, and your third will be the other of the two. Those stats are necessary to prevent your frail self from hitting the ground, in the rare cases where others target you.
The Vedalken from the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica are a curious race of partially amphibious beings. Kinda like seals… But they look like blue humans. Strange… They gain a +2 to Intelligence, +1 Wisdom. The Wisdom’s nice for resisting mental spells, but isn’t too useful otherwise. What is definitely useful is Vedalken Dispassion, allowing you advantage on any mental saving throw. Insane! You also get even better proficiency in some Intelligence and Wisdom skills, adding 1d4 to rolls with your chosen ability. Really cool race for any wizard, and offers some good options for an anti-mage – and you, little necromancer, will be targeted by spells!
These versatile creatures from Eberron: Rising from the Last War are made of metal and wood. Because of that, your +2 Con, +1 to one other ability score (also known as Intelligence) is defensive but great. Constructed Resilience and Integrated Protection boosts your survivability by a lot. Sentry’s Rest is good flavor, and informs you if your Undead are hassled. And hey, you even get proficiencies! That’s amazing.
And flavorwise… A Warforged who’s curious about death, for all the wrong reasons? It’s literally perfect.
Conclusion – Our Take on the Necromancy Wizard 5E
The DND 5E Necromancer is decent. It has a lot of “fine” abilities that make it a worthwhile replacement for any necromancy-based Clerics. The only real shining star is their level 6 ability. If you’re wanting to summon an undead horde, then this is the way to do so with a damage-oriented class.