Hopeless (Nec)Romantic

By Jake Shultz

Ever since Diablo II, the Necromancer has always been a favorite archetype of mine. I recently played a Death Cleric in 5th edition D&D and although the class features are excellent I definitely felt like the spell selection was a little meager, and missing a few classic necromancer tropes. To that end, here are a handful of spells and items to fill some of the gaps. 

First of all, I wanted some options for non-necrotic damage that still felt like necromancy. Running into enemies resistant or immune to necrotic damage limited my usefulness significantly. Sure, I could take Flame Strike, but that’s not very necromantic, is it?

Bone Barrage

2nd level necromancy

Casting Time: 1 Action

Range: 20 ft

Components: V, S

Duration: Instantaneous

Catapult the bones of the fallen, hurling them to batter and impale your enemies. Choose a pile of bones from a small or larger creature within the spell’s area of effect and make a ranged spell attack against a target within 60 ft of the pile, dealing 2d6 bludgeoning and 2d6 piercing damage on a hit.

If the pile of bones was from a creature larger than medium, for each size category larger, you can either increase both damage types by 1d6 or make an additional attack against the same or different targets.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, for every slot level above 2nd, you can choose an additional pile of bones, repeating the spell effect.

Bone Barrage starts out comparable to Scorching Ray, doing slightly less damage for fewer attack rolls. It has potential to scale up significantly with larger or additional bone piles, which can make for some really dramatic and intimidating attacks. The bone requirement however should stop it from being too powerful without proper planning or fortunate circumstance. 

Speaking of bone requirements, that was another issue I ran into. Animate Dead is the classic necromancer ability, and yet a lot of the time I couldn’t use it as there simply wasn’t a corpse around I could access (without attracting too much unwanted attention anyway).

Necromancer’s Familiar

2nd level Conjuration

Casting Time: 1 Hour (R)

Range: 10 ft

Components: V, S, M*

Duration: Instantaneous

Works as the spell Find Familiar, except the summoned spirit is undead and appears as a skeletal version of the chosen creature.

The familiar also gains the ability to sense the location of any deceased creature up to 60ft away, so long as it died within the last 24 hours. 

Finally, when casting a spell that requires a corpse or bones, the familiar can be destroyed to provide the necessary components, counting as a medium creature for this purpose. If you do, and the spell creates one or more undead creatures, they gain the familiar’s ability to deliver your touch spells.

* – (10 gp worth of charcoal, incense, and a pinch of bone dust that must be consumed by fire in a brass brazier)

Necromancer’s Familiar gives you two ways to find corpses. The familiar itself can detect deceased creatures, which is a sense you can borrow as per Find Familiar. You can also consume the familiar itself for those times you just absolutely need a zombie. (We’ve all been there). Having to burn another spell slot just to power Animate Dead or Danse Macabre felt a little on the weak side, so adding the ability to deliver touch spells to your new zombie pals gives a little added incentive.

When it comes to high level spells, necromancers are even more limited. All the combat spells are variations of “deal a bunch of necrotic damage”, or very specific spells like Clone or Magic Jar. I wanted another spell, ideally with more broad usage. 

Orchestra of the Damned

7th level Necromancy

Casting Time: 1 Action

Range/Area: 60 ft (20ft sphere)

Components: V, S

Duration: 1 minute (C)

You manifest a spectral symphony of doomed souls that plays the music of the damned, coaxing the living towards the afterlife. The ethereal orchestra appears at a point of your choosing within range, and affects all creatures that can hear within 20 ft.

When you cast the spell, roll a d4 to determine which song is played. The effect is repeated at the end of each of your turns while the spell lasts and you maintain concentration.

1.Terminal Tocatto. Each creature must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or be cursed. If a creature is affected by this curse 3 times, it is reduced to 0 hit points. If the creature is already at 0 or less hit points, it instead must make a death saving throw. The curse lasts until removed by Remove Curse

2. Dirge of Doom. Each creature must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or take 3d10 psychic damage, or half that on a successful save. On a failure, the creature’s maximum hit points are also reduced by the same amount. This reduction lasts until cured by Greater Restoration

3. Waltz of the Wicked. Each creature must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or be paralyzed with fear until the end of their next turn. 

4. Parting Polka. Each creature must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or become poisoned. If they are already poisoned, they instead contract Flesh Rot, suffering disadvantage on Charisma checks and vulnerability to all damage. If they already have Flesh Rot, they instead gain a level of exhaustion. 

While within 60 ft and line of sight, you can attempt to conduct the orchestra as an action on your turn by making a Charisma (Performance) check, with a DC equal to your spell save DC. If you succeed, you can choose one of the following effects. Each effect can be chosen multiple times throughout the spell’s duration. 

  • Choose a number of creatures other than yourself up to your Charisma modifier. They are no longer  affected by the orchestra until the end of the spell.
  • Change the current song to one of your choosing. 
  • Cause all creatures within the area to immediately suffer the current song’s effects. 
  • Increase the spells area of effect by 20ft. 

Inspired by fellow HoB member Cristina, Orchestra of the Damned gives you some powerful and dramatic effects, but not without consequence. Drawing on the doomed spirits puts you and your allies at risk, and must be tamed to unleash their full power. Each of the conduction effects can be chosen repeatedly, triggering the effects numerous times throughout the spell’s duration or even potentially increasing the area of effect to a 200ft sphere. 

Another theme of necromancy is the bargain with death; flirting with death to gain incredible power. 

Death’s Bargain

Wondrous Item, legendary (requires attunement)

A small vial of smoky glass in the shape of a human heart, with a metal chain long enough to be worn around the neck.

When you attune to Death’s Bargain, you must pick 3 desires, chosen as if casting the spell Wish. Your desires are magically etched onto the inside of the vial. Anybody closely examining the vial either physically, or magically through a spell such as Detect Magic, Identify or similar becomes aware of the chosen desires.

Death’s Bargain whispers to its wearer, pushing them towards risk and danger, urging them towards more and more deadly situations. If you would die while attuned, your body disintegrates and cannot be restored by anything short of True Resurrection or Wish. Otherwise, you rise 24 hours later as a Wight or other undead creature at the DM’s discretion and under their control. 

While attuned, each time you fail a death saving throw the vial fills with your vital energy, gaining a charge. After reaching 5 charges the vial is full, and you can spend all charges after finishing a long rest to fulfil your chosen desires. This functions like Wish, but ignoring the stress effect. Once you do, the vial loses all effects and becomes a mundane item.

Curse. Death’s Bargain is cursed and cannot be unnatuned from normally. If you roll a natural 20 on a death saving throw, you can choose to unattune from Death’s Bargain and your desires are wiped from the vial.

DMs Note: When found, you may choose to have Death’s Bargain already etched with 3 desires and 1d3 charges from a previous owner that died while in its possession. If you do, the item is almost certainly haunted by the previous owner and their unfinished business. The player could still attune to the item, taking on the unfulfilled desires.

Additionally, you may choose to be more lenient with unintended consequences of Wish, as the player has likely already faced consequences in pursuit of their desires.

End of the day, Death’s Bargain is essentially the Ring of Three Wishes with extra steps. However, I think those extra steps are worth it for a flavourful, fun item. I think this could be introduced much earlier in a campaign than the ring, giving a player a personal quest with significant risk to gain great rewards. The item has a lot of potential for a DM to insert plot hooks or flavour to an NPC. Meeting an NPC with this item and examining the vial to learn their deepest desires, or even finding the item abandoned with unfulfilled desires, with the lingering spirit nearby…

Anyway, that’s it for this month, hopefully this gives you some additional options for the budding necromancer in your campaign.