Harnessing the power of life and death, the Necromancy Wizard is no stranger to blurring lines.
Because of its association with evil creatures and defying the natural order of things, many have a less than favorable view of this school.
But defenders of Necromancy magic are quick to point out its restorative uses as well!
To specialize in this arcane tradition is to walk a very fine line.
Whether you wish to use your powers for good or evil is up to you. Either way, you’ll want to know exactly what kind of forces you’re working with here!
This is the full guide to the Necromancy Wizard in D&D 5e!
What is the Necromancy Wizard in D&D 5e?
The school of Necromancy takes a scientific approach to understanding the forces of life, death, and even the most taboo of all topics: undeath.
Learning to harness and control the energy that animates all life, Necromancy Wizards know perfectly how to both give life and take it away.
Naturally, these Wizards tend to be viewed with a level of suspicion. After all, it’s not like this tradition’s reputation for unleashing undead hordes isn’t entirely unearned…
This means that not every arcane university will have a dedicated necromancy department. Even if they do, it would likely require extra levels of security or authorization to access the tomes about this tradition.
Of course, that’s assuming that you’re learning Necromancy through conventional channels…
It’s not uncommon for Necromancy Wizards to learn their spells through their own experimentation or from other Wizards who operate outside of typical arcane institutions.
But for those who desire the power of Necromancy magic, most wouldn’t have it any other way.
For good or evil, they can play well into the “mad scientist” trope!
The Necromancy Wizard is one of eight Wizard subclasses that appear in the 5e Player’s Handbook.
Role in the Party
Necromancy Wizards are all about creating and using undead minions to achieve their goals.
Naturally, having minions to help you out in combat is useful. They can put out damage while also being perfect for taking hits instead of you or your allies.
But don’t underestimate the utility that comes with having disposable, mindless minions!
If you don’t have someone in the party who can disarm traps, why not have one of your zombie servants go down the trapped hallway and set them off?
While they will get burned, smashed, or shish kebabbed by the traps they’re setting off, you and your friends will be safe. Depending on the state of your minion’s remains, you might even be able to just bring them right back!
And isn’t that the appeal of undead servants? They don’t ask questions and will blindly follow your orders!
This all combines to reward a particularly strategic approach to playing the Necromancy Wizard.
By really learning how to efficiently use and control your undead minions, you can make some high-value contributions to the party with some out-of-the-box tactics.
Necromancy Wizard Features 5e
Necromancy Wizards have dedicated their lives to the study of arcane magic but specialize in the school of Necromancy.
Because they have such a deep understanding of this magic and its power, they’re capable of more powerful Necromancy magic than other Wizards.
This is reflected in the Necromancy Wizard’s class features.
Let’s dive in!
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Necromancy Savant (Level 2)
As a specialist in Necromancy magic, you’re more efficient when it comes to adding Necromancy spells to your spellbook.
The gold and time you must spend to copy a Necromancy spell into your spellbook is halved.
As a Wizard, your spellbook is your single most important possession. You will constantly be looking to learn new spells and add them to your precious spellbook.
Of course, this does take time, money, and a bit of luck when you’re looking for specific spells to copy into your book.
Thankfully, the time and gold cost for copying Necromancy spells is cut in half for you!
Note that you’re not only limited to learning Necromancy spells. In fact, it’s still a very good idea to pick up some standbys like Fireball or Misty Step for moments when Necromancy spells aren’t the best option!
I strongly recommend checking out my comprehensive guide to Using and Managing the Wizard’s Spellbook. It’s truly the most important thing for any Wizard player to know!
Grim Harvest (Level 2)
Wizards are notoriously squishy characters. Especially in the early levels, even a small amount of damage can seriously hurt them!
But the Necromancy Wizard’s control over the forces of life and death makes them more durable than their arcane peers.
Once per turn when you kill one or more creatures with a spell of level 1 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.
There’s no downside to regaining hit points, and Grim Harvest lets you play a little more aggressively than most other Wizards. As long as you’re getting the finishing blows on enemies, that is.
Note that this works with any spell that you cast as long as it’s at least level 1. (Sorry, cantrips don’t count here!)
Of course, you’ll regain extra hit points if you’re making sure to finish enemies off with your necromancy spells.
The downside to this is that there aren’t a ton of damage-dealing necromancy options.
At low levels, you’ll get the most benefit from necromancy spells like Inflict Wounds and Ray of Sickness. As you level up, options like Blight, Vampiric Touch, and Enervation will work nicely.
Nevertheless, non-necromancy options can still be useful. Don’t ignore classic AoE spells like Fireball or Lightning Bolt!
Additionally, be aware that creatures with no life force to drain with Grim Harvest (constructs and undead) won’t give you hit points for killing them.
Undead Thralls (Level 6)
At level 6, you’ll gain the feature you chose this subclass for in the first place: Undead Thralls.
After all, isn’t it a universally acknowledged truth that a Necromancer in possession of undead minions will be in want of MORE undead minions?!
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.
To get the most use out of this free spell, you’ll want to hold off on picking up the Animate Dead spell for one level. Instead of learning it at level 5, pick something else and then get the spell for free from this feature.
It’s a small price to pay for a free spell.
As for the rest of this feature, being able to gain an extra undead thrall when you cast Animate Dead is excellent and efficient.
Remember: practice sustainable necromancy and use every part of the corpse!
But don’t forget that Undead Thralls also gives undead minions you create with a necromancy spell some handy buffs as well!
- 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.
Admittedly, the HP boost is a bit so-so. But, hey, every little bit helps, right?
However, the extra damage based on your proficiency bonus is very helpful and helps with the overall scalability of your undead minions.
Inured to Undeath (Level 10)
The Necromancy Wizard’s level 10 feature, Inured to Undeath, is admittedly very situational.
While it might be underwhelming on the surface, you’ll be glad you have it when those situations arise!
You have resistance to necrotic damage, and your hit point maximum can’t be reduced.
Considering the whole theme of the Necromancy Wizard, this makes sense. Necrotic damage isn’t spectacularly common, but damage resistance is always nice to have.
Besides, now that you’re entering the higher levels, the spells and effects that DO deal necrotic damage tend to be pretty brutal.
But it’s the second part of this feature that’s particularly nice when it applies.
Nobody likes having their maximum HP reduced, but it’s especially punishing for characters like Wizards who typically have fewer hit points to spare.
Now, you ideally have a wall of allies (both living and undead) between you and whatever is trying to lower your hit point maximum.
But if that’s not enough, you’ll be glad you have this.
Though these effects are typically paired with damage. While your maximum hit points won’t be reduced, you’ll still be taking damage from the enemy’s attack.
So be careful and start looking for ways to reposition yourself!
Command Undead (Level 14)
“I choose you Zombie-chu!”
Ok… ok… bad jokes aside, Command Undead is a wonderful capstone feature.
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.
Obviously, how useful this is depends on what kind of creatures you’re encountering. If you’re not encountering many undead, it will obviously be less useful for adding more minions to your collection.
Thankfully, it can also be used to take control of undead who are being controlled by other enemies, which can be fun to do.
However, there are some restrictions that make it harder for you to take control of particularly strong undead…
If the target has an Intelligence of 8 or higher, it has advantage on the saving throw.
If it fails the saving throw and has an Intelligence of 12 or higher, it can repeat the saving throw at the end of every hour until it succeeds and breaks free.
Unsurprisingly, it’s going to be tougher to take control of something like a Vampire or a Mummy Lord.
You’re going to have a tougher time overcoming these enemies’ advantage, so make sure that you’re using this strategically.
This is especially true if the undead you’re trying to take control of is smart enough to get angry at you for trying!
For those with an Intelligence of 12 or higher, you’re going to want to make sure that you have a plan for when they break free of your control. When they do, they’re likely to be in a very bad mood!
Let’s address a certain elephant in the room. Or would it be more appropriate to call it a skeleton in the closet?
You can certainly play the archetypal necromancer if it fits your group, but it can be tricky.
I mean, if your party is supposed to be heroes but everyone just casually turns a blind eye to the Wizard who loves to rob graves, corrupt souls, and is actively raising an undead army with the goal of becoming a lich…
Sure, that’s the “classic” necromancer, and I’m not here to yuck your yum.
But when we’re looking to create a more immersive character that connects with the party and the adventure, I think we can do better.
Perhaps there is a larger problem that is forcing your character to conduct research into this taboo school of magic.
For example, they might be attempting to research some kind of cure for a vile plague that no magic has been able to reverse.
This can lead to a conflicted type of character. They are having to do bad (or at least frowned upon) things for the sake of furthering their research.
Perhaps they are a pragmatist who views necromancy as more of a practical solution to specific problems.
Or maybe they’re even taking a type of philosophical approach to their work. Such a character might prize knowledge for the sake of knowledge.
By wishing to understand more about the school of Necromancy with the goals of arcane innovation, they want to prove that there is nothing to fear and only things that have yet to be understood!
You’ll no doubt need to protect your research, disguise your minions, and keep quiet about what you actually do.
But acting in service to a goal that is greater than yourself is a great way to sidestep the “evil necromancer” trope.
Best Races for Necromancy Wizards in D&D 5e
Let’s look over a few of the standout race options for Necromancy Wizards.
This list certainly isn’t the “be all, end all” but I hope it will give you a few ideas of some options that naturally fill this role well.
Intelligence is incredibly important which makes Gnomes a standout option for any Wizard subclass. It’s hard to pass up that +2 Intelligence bonus!
In the case of the Necromancy Wizard, Forest Gnomes’ natural knack for illusions can be handy for keeping your more controversial work under wraps.
You might also consider the Svirfneblin (Deep Gnomes) from Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Universe. These gnomes are great at being stealthy, have strong magic resistance that gives them advantage on mental saves from spells, and can naturally cast the Disguise Self and Nondetection spells!
Though you might also consider the Vedalken from the Ravnica setting.
Being partially amphibious might be useful depending on the adventure you’re playing. But what really stands out with these characters is their +2 INT and +1 WIS bonuses.
Like the Deep Gnomes, Vedalken Dispassion also gives you advantage on your mental saving throws except these aren’t limited strictly to spell effects.
Meanwhile, Vedalken also gain an extra skill proficiency, an extra tool proficiency, and the ability to add an extra 1d4 to ability check rolls made with those chosen proficiencies!
And, as always, Variant Human and the Custom Lineage option are, of course, always great as well.
Best Feats for Necromancy Wizards in D&D 5e
Inspiring Leader is a clear top-pick for any Necromancy Wizard.
The big draw of playing a necromancer is in raising a bunch of undead minions to do your bidding. Why would you not want them to be even more durable?
While the idea of giving a passionate speech to a bunch of zombies is pretty funny, the benefit is seriously impressive.
You’re giving up to six friendly creatures (which can include yourself) temporary hit points equal to your level + your Charisma modifier.
It’s not a bad idea to invest in your Charisma and take this. Though you’ll also want to read my article on how temporary hit points work!
Related: Feats in D&D 5e Explained
I’d also recommend checking out the Spell Sniper feat.
You’ll generally want to have your minions getting up close with whatever you’re fighting. Meanwhile, you’re in the backline throwing out spells.
Spell Sniper lets you double the range of your spells which puts even more space between you and the enemy.
Meanwhile, you’re able to ignore half and three-quarters cover when attacking an enemy with a ranged spell. You’re also getting an extra free cantrip!
Finally, I’d heavily consider the Healer feat.
This often-ignored feat finds some new use in the hands of the Necromancy Wizard.
It can be difficult keeping your personal undead army in fighting shape. Especially considering that you’ll be relying on someone else in your party to actually do the healing!
(Clerics might have a few problems with the whole arrangement…)
Thankfully, the Healer feat (and a Healer’s Kit) can do a wonderful job at helping you patch your minions up between fights.
Best Multiclass Options for Necromancy Wizards in D&D 5e
I’m usually slow to recommend multiclassing for Wizards unless you have a very specific thing that you’re going for.
This is because Wizards rely so much on having a wide assortment of level-appropriate spells to properly contribute to the party.
However, there are certainly a few options that stand out for Necromancy Wizards. These options give you some great features early on and have a good synergy with what this subclass is all about!
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Multiclassing between the Necromancy Wizard and Bard might seem strange. But there is some interesting potential here.
Specifically, this mix plays more to the ability of many necromancy spells to inflict debuffs on enemies.
By dipping into the Bard class, we can gain even more buffs (for our undead minions or other PCs) and debuffs.
Going the route of the Lore Bard is a good option for gaining more proficiencies and adding spells to your repertoire from other classes. (Something like the Paladin’s Aura of Vitality is particularly appealing for keeping your minions up and moving.)
Of course, there’s also an obvious overlap in the themes of the Necromancy Wizard and the Death Domain Cleric.
Access to the Cleric spell list means you’ll naturally get access to useful spells like Bless and Aid.
Though the Spirit Guardians spell is really the star of the show here. Particularly when combined with the Necromancy Wizard’s Grim Harvest feature!
Spirit Guardians deals damage to creatures in its effect on their turn. Meanwhile, Grim Harvest works once per turn (not round.) If used well, you can recover a ton of HP in a single round with this combo!
However, there is just one problem with this multiclass option…
The Death Cleric’s capstone feature lets them twin necromancy spells. While this is obviously incredibly powerful and efficient, you’re going to need 17 levels in Cleric to reach that capstone.
That means you would need to greatly prioritize the Death Cleric levels over the Necromancy Wizard levels.
Is the Necromancy Wizard Good?
The Necromancy Wizard is certainly a standout subclass option.
With extra durability from Grim Harvest and Inured to Undeath, they’re tougher than most other Wizards. It’s nice to have in a class that is famously squishy!
Of course, that’s assuming that your enemies are getting through the group of undead minions protecting you!
And that’s where the Necromancy Wizard really shines.
There are countless practical uses for your undead thralls. They’re great for dealing and soaking up damage, grappling or trapping enemies in AoE spells like Cloudkill, or offering extra utility in other challenges.
With enough undead thralls and some clever strategy, a Necromancy Wizard is truly something to be feared!
But there is one glaring issue to be aware of…
Ultimately, the biggest downside to the Necromancy Wizard goes beyond its class features. If you’re aware of it, you should hopefully be able to stop this from becoming a problem at your table.
Specifically, your turns are going to take a LONG time if you don’t know what you’re doing before it gets to your turn. This is because you’re controlling your character plus all your undead minions.
It can easily bring things to a screeching halt every single round.
While this is good advice for any character, it’s especially important that you keep the action moving on your turn.
Remember: paying attention and planning your turn keeps the game moving for everyone!
Conclusion – Necromancy Wizard in D&D 5e
I hope you’ve found this guide to the Necromancy Wizard in D&D 5e helpful!
Love them or hate them, necromancers are one of the most iconic types of wizards in D&D. Heck, I’d probably say in the fantasy genre as a whole!
Just because they deal so heavily with death doesn’t mean that you can’t breathe some extra life into your necromancer character. It’s the perfect subclass to create a Wizard with a lot of depth and potentially some internal moral conflicts that they’re trying to resolve.
While I always love reading ideas for character concepts, I’m especially excited to read what you have to say for this one.
So let’s chat in the comments!