• Aaron K

We Need Better Necromancy Spells!

Hey Reader!

Have you noticed how not all of the spells in D&D are created equal? Abjuration and evocation spells are almost always great, conjuration and divination spells are more niche but gain in usefulness when you are not in combat, and so forth.


But for some reason, the game designers must not like the necromancy school of magic, because those spells just underperform (especially at higher levels) compared to other schools of magic. Sure, you have great spells like Animate Dead at 3rd level, but compare that to Conjure Animals (at the same level): is it even close as to which is the more useful summoning spell?


Furthermore, while the spells can be scary at lower levels, almost none of them are all that dangerous at higher levels, because let's be real: removing negative effects and boosting your saving throws is not that hard to do in this game (because if it was it would be a lot less fun to play). Add onto this how many spells require the target to make a Constitution saving throw or a Wisdom saving throw - the easiest saves to pass in the game - and you have a lot of, "spend this spell slot and it may do nothing" spells in the necromancy list.


And part of what makes necromancy such an interesting school of magic is that it should feel more dangerous than other schools of magic, which is why necromancers are so feared. And it just doesn't do that - so many of the spells are outclassed.


Furthermore, if you run the tally, there's just less spells for the necromancy school than their are for other schools. While evocation, transmutation, and conjuration are drowning in options, necromancy falls behind. And that's sad: I don't want some people to feel like they get less love, especially when you have dedicated subclass features that give you bonuses to necromancy spells.


So in a play that may surprise those who know me (because this is not my typical cup of tea for magic in any game system), I'm going to give some love to necromancy and provide ideas for how to make necromancy spells better, along with ideas for new spells that will round it out.


I. What is the Necromancy School of Magic?


On Page 118 of the Player's Handbook, the Necromancy School of Magic is described this way when discussing necromancy wizards:


"The School of Necromancy explores the cosmic forces of life, death, and undeath. As you focus your studies in this tradition, you learn to manipulate the energy that animates all living things. As you progress, you learn to sap the life force from a creature as your magic destroys its body, transforming that vital energy into magical power you can manipulate.

"Most people see necromancers as menacing, or even villainous, due to the close association with death. Not all necromancers are evil, but the forces they manipulate are considered taboo by many societies."


On Page 203 when talking about magic generally, this is what the Player's Handbook says about necromancy spells:


"Necromancy spells manipulate the energies of life and death. Such spells can grant an extra reserve of life force, drain the life energy from another creature, create the undead, or even bring the dead back to life.

"Creating the undead through the use of necromancy spells such as Animate Dead is not a good act, and only evil casters use such spells frequently."


So we have a general idea of what we're dealing with: everything has to do with the "cosmic forces of life, death, and undeath," making it a transferal magic school, moving life from one to another, not speaking it into existence (evocation, the other school with a lot of healing magic in it).


It also specifies the ability to "sap the life force from a creature," which we see in the vampiric spells, but you don't actually see it all that often from necromancy spells. We will fix this in our revamp.


We also see the note of "transforming that vital energy into magical power you can manipulate," and that's something you rarely if ever see from necromancy spells. We will also adjust this, as I think there is a lot of untapped potential here.


And finally, and this is strange, we don't see a lot of "taboo" spells in this list. Maybe this is because D&D is being made more family friendly (which I appreciate), but it also means some schools of magic are going to be nerfed in this adjustment, and if that's the case it's worth considering ways that we can still maintain family friendly aspects in the game while still wholeheartedly pursuing a robust necromancy school.


So with this, a quick word on adjusting the necromancy spells we already have before jumping into new spells for your use.


II. Revamping Necromancy Spells


It is no surprise to anyone who saw my recommended edits for cantrips, 1st level spells, and 2nd level spells that I think some necromancy spells need adjustments. On the whole necromancy spells can be good (I think 1st level is the best level for necromancy spells, as what they do is useful and reasonably reliable), but some are horrendously bad. And while there are horrendous spells in every school of magic, because there are fewer necromancy spells, it makes it hard to argue for the school when a large percentage of necromancy spells are sub-par compared to spells from other schools of magic.


In D&D there are currently 41 necromancy spells with the following level breakdown: 4 cantrips, 4 1st level spells, 3 2nd level spells, 9 3rd level spells, 2 4th level spells, 5 5th level spells, 6 6th level spells, 3 7th level spells, 2 8th level spells, and 3 9th level spells. This puts it near the bottom for number of spells, and definitely has some big gaps (1st, 2nd, and 4th in particular, as a lot of games play at those levels).


We won't go through all of the spells that need fixing, but we do have an in-progress document for spell edits in D&D where you can see all of our recommended changes.


III. 14 New Necromancy Spells


The following are new Necromancy spells, arranged by spell level. They are designed to further flesh out (get it? Flesh out? Hehe, okay) your options for necromancy spells, though most have a healing, supporting, or hexing nature to them due to the theme of the school of magic.


Vampiric Fangs and Claws (Cantrip, available to Druids, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range Touch, Components S, Duration Instantaneous): Necrotic energy manifests a curse applied to a target through your teeth or fingernails. Make a melee spell attack against the creature to apply a debilitating curse. On a hit, the target takes 1d8 necrotic damage, and it has disadvantage on attacks until the start of your next turn.

At Higher Levels. This spell's damage increases by 1d8 when you reach 5th level (2d8), 11th level (3d8), and 17th level (4d8).



Cursed Blood (1st Level, available to Bards, Clerics, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Bonus Action, Range 60 ft, Components VS, Duration 1 hour): You curse the blood of a foe, hindering their ability to recover from injuries. One creature within range that you can see must perform a Charisma saving throw: if they fail, any healing the target receives for the duration of the spell is reduced by 1d4 + your spellcasting modifier. This applies to magical healing, potions, special abilities, hit die, etc.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 1st.



Burst of Bile (1st Level, available to Druids, Rangers, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range 30 ft, Components VSM (dried or wet snot or another form of mucous or bile), Duration Instantaneous): You hurl magical bile at a foe, afflicting them with a disease. Perform a ranged spell attack against one creature that you can see within range. On a successful hit, the target suffers 9 (2d8) necrotic damage and suffers the effects of one of the following diseases for 1 minute (your choice):


Unsettled Gut: The target's guts become unsettled (I mean, whose wouldn't be if you got hit by a sudden burst of bile?). As long as the target is affected by the disease, the target suffers from the Poisoned condition.

Fungal Rot: The target's flesh on their feet begins to rot, causing the target to find difficulty moving. As long as the target is affected by the disease, the target suffers from the Grappled condition. This grapple is only broken if the spell ends on the target.

Influenza: The target's breathing becomes more irregular and labored. As long as the target is affected by the disease, the target's movement speed is halved, and the target has disadvantage on dexterity saving throws.

Laryngitis: The target's throat begins to swell, making it hard to speak. As long as the target is affected by the disease, the target is silenced and may not use verbal components to cast spells.


At the end of each of its turns, the target can make a Constitution saving throw. On a success, the spell ends.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 1st.



Fabricate Life (Ritual) (2nd Level, available to Bards, Clerics, Warlocks, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range Touch, Components VSM (a dry bone), Duration 1 hour): The target is filled with necrotic energy that disperses deadly strikes. If damage reduces the target to 0 hit points, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of 5 + the damage taken, unless the damage is radiant or from a critical hit. On a success, the target drops to 1 hit point instead.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the DC for the check is reduced by 2 for each spell slot above 2nd level.



Replenish (2nd Level, available to Bards, Clerics, Druids, Warlocks, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Bonus Action, Range 30 ft, Components VS, Duration Instantaneous): The target's blood is infused with added vigor, boosting the natural healing abilities of the target. The target regains 1d4 expended hit die.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, you regain an additional 2 hit die for each spell slot above 2nd level.



Invigorating Blast (3rd Level, available to Warlocks and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range 60 ft, Components VS, Duration Instantaneous): You strike a target within range and transfer their life force to yourself. Perform a ranged spell attack against a target you can see within range. On a hit, the target takes 13 (3d8) necrotic damage, and you regain a number of expended hit die equal to your proficiency modifier.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, the damage increases by 1d8 for each slot level above 3rd level.


Inflict Disease (4th Level, available to Clerics, Druids, Rangers, Sorcerers, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range 30 ft, Components VS, Duration 1 Minute): The target is struck by a magically induced disease, causing discomfort and agony as long as it remains. Choose one creature that you can see within range to make a Constitution saving throw. If it fails, select one of the following diseases to afflict the target for the duration:


Leprosy: The target suffers disadvantage on all Strength attacks, ability checks, and saving throws it performs due to lack of sensitivity in the hand.

Harsh Cough: The target suffers disadvantage on all Dexterity attacks, ability checks, and saving throws it performs due to shortened breathing and loud coughs.

Lymph Inflammation: The target suffers disadvantage on all Constitution attacks, ability checks, and saving throws it performs due to a weakened immune system.

Rapid Nausea: The target suffers disadvantage on all Intelligence attacks, ability checks, and saving throws it performs due to lack of focus.

Flash Fever: The target suffers disadvantage on all Wisdom attacks, ability checks, and saving throws it performs due to disorientation and clouded thinking.

Boils: The target suffers disadvantage on all Charisma attacks, ability checks, and saving throws it performs due to distraction and blemishing from itching skin.


If the saving throw is passed, the target suffers 18 (4d8) necrotic damage instead.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 4th. The damage also increases by 1d8 for each slot level above 3rd level.



Mass Blindness/Deafness (4th Level, available to Bards, Clerics, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Bonus Action, Range 60 ft, Components V, Duration 1 minute): You can blind or deafen a horde of foes. Choose any number of creatures you can see within 60 ft of you: they make a Wisdom saving throw. Any creatures that fail the save are either blinded or deafened (your choice) for the duration. At the end of each of its turns, the target can make a Wisdom saving throw. On a success, the spell ends.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, the target suffers a -1 to the saving throw for each slot level above 4th level.



Sap Magic (4th Level, available to Artificers, Bards, Clerics, Druids, Paladins, Rangers, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range Touch, Components S, Duration Instantaneous): The target is struck by a necrotic curse that drains the magical power of the target and transfers it to the caster. Perform a melee spell attack against one creature that you can see. On a hit, the target suffers 1d6 necrotic damage, and expends spell slots equal to the necrotic damage on the 1d6 you rolled. You may select any number of unexpended spell slots on the target so long as the total number of spell levels is less than or equal to the number on the die. You regain expended spell slots equal to the spell slots the target lost (with excess spell slots of a given level disappearing if you cannot regain them).

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, you add 1d6 necrotic damage to the spell for every two slot levels above 4th level, the target loses spell slot levels equal to the combined total on the d6s you roll, and you regain spell slots equal in combined levels to the total on the d6s you roll.



Wither (5th Level, available to Bards, Clerics, Druids, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Bonus Action, Range Touch, Components S, Duration Instantaneous): You afflict a target you touch with a debilitating curse, causing the target to wither away. Perform a melee spell attack against the target. On a hit, the target suffers 21 (6d6) necrotic damage, and the target suffers a 1d8 reduction to the following stats: Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution. The curse may be removed by casting a Remove Curse, Greater Restoration, Heal, or Wish spell at 5th level or higher.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the damage of the spell increases by 1d6 and the target suffers an additional -1 to their physical statistics for each slot level above 5th. Creatures must also expend a spell slot of equal level to remove the effects of the curse.



Mass Bestow Curse (6th Level, available to Bards, Clerics, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range 30 ft, Components VS, Duration 8 hours): You afflict a host of creatures with a potent curse. Select any number of creatures within range that you can see: they must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or become cursed for the duration of the spell. When you cast this spell, choose the nature of the curse from the following options:

  • Choose two ability scores. While cursed, the target has disadvantage on ability checks and saving throws made with those ability scores.

  • While cursed, the target has disadvantage on attack rolls against you.

  • While cursed, the target must make a Wisdom saving throw at the start of each of its turns. If it fails, it wastes its action that turn doing nothing.

  • While the target is cursed, your attacks and spells deal an extra 2d8 necrotic damage to the target.

A Remove Curse spell cast with a 6th or higher level spell slot ends this effect.

At Higher Levels. If you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, the duration is 24 hours. If you use a 9th level spell slot, the spell lasts until it is dispelled.



Debilitate (7th Level, available to Sorcerers and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range 60 ft, Components VS, Duration Until Dispelled): The mage uses necrotic energy to slowly sap the target of its strength until it dies. Perform a ranged spell attack: the target suffers 18 (4d8) necrotic damage, and is afflicted by a curse. Until the spell is removed by a Dispel Magic, Remove Curse, Greater Restoration, Heal, or Wish spell of 7th level or higher, the target suffers 36 (8d8) necrotic damage and its maximum hit points are reduced by the same amount every dawn. In addition, roll 1d6 and 1d4: the target suffers the 1d4 penalty to the corresponding stat on the 1d6 roll (Strength = 1, Dexterity = 2, Constitution = 3, Intelligence = 4, Wisdom = 5, Charisma = 6). If the target is reduced to 0 maximum hit points or a stat is reduced to 0, the target is slain, shriveling up into a withered husk by the consuming magic.



Rampant Death (8th Level, available to Druids, Sorcerers, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 hour, Range 300 ft, Components VSM (a skull matching the predominate species in the selected area), Duration Until Dispelled): You cause disease to flourish around a point you choose. Select a point you can see within range: the area within 150 ft is cursed with a mortal disease. All creatures within the radius must perform a Constitution saving throw. Creatures who have not reached adulthood or have reached old age have disadvantage on the Constitution saving throw. If a target fails the saving throw they lose 15 (6d4) hit points each dawn and their maximum hit points are reduced by the same amount. If the target drops to 0 hit points they are slain.


Undead and constructs are not affected by this spell, nor are creatures that are immune to disease.


The disease may only be removed on the target by casting a Lesser Restoration, Remove Curse, Greater Restoration, Mass Heal, or Wish spell at 8th level or higher. The spell itself can only be removed by casting Dispel Magic, Mass Heal, or Wish at 8th level or higher.



Reaper of Souls (9th Level, available to Clerics, Druids, Sorcerers, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Bonus Action, Range Self, Components VS, Duration Concentration, Up to 1 hour): You transform yourself for an hour into an avatar of death, deciding who will live and who will die. For the duration of the spell, your melee and ranged weapon attacks deal an additional 26 (4d12) necrotic damage, and your spell attacks deal an additional 26 (4d12) necrotic damage. You gain immunity to non-magical weapon damage, and gain resistance to magical weapon and spell damage. Whenever you drop a target to 0 hit points, you regain hit points equal to the necrotic damage from the attack.



These spells can be found in our New D&D Spells supplement, which is a free PDF you can download for use in your games. Reach out to us if you have any questions or ideas!


Conclusion


Since wizards spend decades studying magic in a specific school, it only makes sense that each school of magic would have cool, unique, and powerful options available to it at each level of play. When a school doesn't hold up comparative to other schools of magic, that begs the question, "Why would anyone slog through their knowledge of this lore if it takes forever - and possibly never - to get to the good stuff?" This is why we're building new necromancy spells: we need more options for our players at all levels of play to insure that they have a good selection of spells at their disposal.


In our next post in this series we're going to look at the other very small school of magic in the game: illusion magic. While some of its spells are knock-outs at their level of play, a lot of them become less useful as you progress because of the presence of truesight and blindsight, so keep watching this space for more on those!


Until next time,


Aaron

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