- Credits and Details
- General Info
- Pros and Cons
- Party Role
- Pros and Cons
- Some notes on Taint
- Class Features
- General Advice
- Specific Spell Advice
- Advanced Knowledge Suggestions
- Eclectic Learning
- Spell Stiched Spell Suggestions
- General Advice
- Expanding Spell lists
- Monstrous Feats
- Item Creation
- Early Career
- Prestige Classes
- Full Casting Classes
- Less than Full Casting Classes
- Half Casting Classes
- No Casting Classes
- Full Casting Classes
- Equipment by Level
- Tricks and Combos
- Role-Playing Suggestions
- Good Undead to Create
The Dread Necromancer is a very flavorful class from Heroes of Horror that hasn't been new for some time. However, I didn't see a handbook for the class, just K's Necromancy Handbook, which is very, very good, but I decided to write this after playing a couple of these through a lot of levels as a focused handbook for this class.
I’d like to try something a bit different to the standard Handbooks: this one has a new profile attached to it. Anyone who wants to edit it can; please feel free to add data, and if you want, add your own comments. This is so other people can maintain it in the event of a large absence of time; I thought this was a better idea than complete rewrites every year. If you are about to edit something, please post it first, though, and give it a day: this is just so the community can process it, and make sure its RAW legit.
Anyone can delete another’s work; please don’t w/o their permission. Please be constructive. I have the text saved, in case someone wants to be a jerk; I’d recommend you save any contributions as well, or post them w/ your profile before adding to the main posts.
Original typing and many updates by jameswilliamogle, w/ many props to K’s original and revised Necromancy Handbooks, and to Surreal and Tweedledope for the formatting ideas (so its their fault too, lol!). Lots of help from a ton of folks in the community, in formatting, ideas, and everything. I've tried to put credit where credit is due, next to the individual contributions, but feel free to post if I've missed something.
- Spontaneous casting similiar to Warmage or Beguiler means TONS of spells per day.
- Cha synergy between casting, class abilities, and Rebuke Undead: its essentially a one-stat class.
- Touch spells make lowerered BAB not as big of an issue.
- Self healing is very feasible w/ minimum investments.
- Awesome undead creation abilities.
- Light armor and a single martial weapon proficiency.
- TONS of flavor.
- Worst BAB available.
- Extremely focused spell list: very few generally useful utility spells.
- Only one good save, and normally in a dump stat for the class.
- Low skill points per level, and Int is an otherwise unimportant stat.
- Only d6 HP / level makes them relatively fragile.
- Your spell list makes party and NPCs extremely suspicious of your abilities: guard your secret well unless the majority are evil.
Inspired in large part by K’s handbook.
- Lower levels: great second-tier melee characters, using touch spells while wearing light armor and getting DR with self-healing.
- Mid levels: starts to get some ok crowd control spells, and summons start becoming more viable. Woe to any DM that pits a bunch of mindless undead against you.
- Upper levels: Straight up lethal spells combined with an army of undead usually ends encounters really quickly and efficiently. You might be able to solo a bit at the upper end, though I wouldn’t recommend it (mainly b/c its not fun).
Only play a Dread Necromancer when:
- Your melee basis for the party is covered*. A DN can make a decent second tier warrior, but low BAB and low HP make it a generally poor choice.
- Your healing basis for the party is covered. Unless your whole party takes Tomb-tainted Soul, you won't be healing anyone.
- Your trapfinding basis for the party is covered.**
- There's another dedicated arcanist in the party.*** This isn't as significant as the first 2.
* If you are starting at at least 4th(2nd/3rd with NaeHoon Illumian), and in a primarily evil party, you might be able to ignore this if you simply gain control of suitably meaty undead: talk to your DM about evil clerics, and paying them to animate a creature that you can subsequently command or rebuke. Ogre Zombies are a great low-level option (via Command Undead). Remember to equip them to the best of your ability.
**You could theoretically get past traps by summoning creatures / animating bodies to run in front of you, and having detect magic and dispell magic for many traps, but you'll still have to deal with resetting mechanical traps.
***You don't have the utility nor ability to cover all the important spellcasting aspects (any other arcane class, like beguiler or warmage, is enough to cover all the basics). If you had significantly high Int, you could get over this problem (you need Spellcraft, Kn:Arcana to be maxed, and cross-classing UMD will help out a lot too).
A note on Alignment
Dread Necromancers cannot be good, but there doesn't appear to be any consequence if you are good. Thus, a DN might be able to turn good after character creation. Playing a good DN would severely hamstring the class: you could still cast [Death] spells, but you can pretty much forget any [Evil] spells, such as Animate Dead and Create Undead. These are staple abilities of the class, and you don't want to lose them.
Cha is the most important stat you have. All your class abilities, including spellcasting, are set off of it. Keep this as high as possible: a 16 is the lowest I'd go, and then only if you are playing in a 28 or less point buy.
Dex is important, too: you have light armor, but many of your spells are ranged touch spells, putting you dangerously close to the action, so don't ignore this - a 14 is ok, a 16 is better; you might consider Weapon Finesse for your touch spells if this is high enough.
Con is kind of debatable, imo: if you can start out as a Necropolitan, ignore it, but otherwise put the minimum you need to get by until you can become a necropolitan (unless you want to melee early on).
Str shouldn't be lower than 10, simply so you can land your touch spells in the early career, and wear light armor w/o problems. Even as a melee DN, you still can get a lot of utility out of a low strength and focusing on touch spells like Chill Touch and Ghoul Touch.
Int is dependent on how many skills you want to take. You won't need more than 3 or 4 points per level, so a 12-14 (lower with human) should be ok. You only have Decipher Script and some Knowledge skills for Int: Decipher Script isn't critical for your class (unless you pick up Corrupt Arcana), and Knowledge is better handled by a Wizard.
Wis may be a dump stat. You don't have any wisdom-based skills or abilities and you have a good will save that only gets better with level and templates (or becomes unnecessary). However, if you want to take the Arcane Disciple feat you will want at least a 13 in it, so that with a +6 item you can cast all of the domain spells (see Feats below).
You need to max out only Concentration and Intimidate, and Intimidate is only so-so as far as importance: Concentration is obvious, but Intimidate lets you simply get w/in 5' of someone w/ your Fear Aura and demoralize them to make them frightened.
5 ranks in Knowledge: Religion gives a nice synergy bonus to turning.
If you have another arcanist in the party, try to convince them to take care of the spellcraft checks, but this is the best next skill to put ranks in. If you take the Corrupt Arcana feat, you need to hit a DC 24 by the time you get 9th level spells to prepare all the spells possible: you can take 10 on it, and aid another works on it, too. You also need to get a spellbook w/ the spells, and hit a DC 29 to initially decipher it (also can take 10 and aid another on it - hire some spellcasters to aid on the cheap). You'd have to hit a DC 20 and 25, respectively, if you took Arcane Disciple: Spell Domain and planned on using/abusing Anyspell (not RAW legal using the most recent printing).
Disguise is good to max out if you went Necro, and for when / if you become a lich, and can be used to disguise your huge undead. Add for flavor.
Bluff lets you get away with animating undead in town. Add for flavor.
Decipher Script you can ignore. Even under the best situations, its up to your DM how important the skill is. (I had thought this was how one deciphered others magical writings, but after looking into it I was mistaken.)
Bluff is a maybe; there's a few skill tricks that are keyed off this skill. I'd put the minimum ranks in to get these, if you are so inclined.
Use Magic Device is just awesome on a Cha based caster; you have a limited spell list, and this greatly diversifies you. You could easily have around a +20 skill check, around 15th, with only a couple of ranks, +Cha items, and +Cha check items (Circlet of Persuasion, for example), or a custom +UMD item. Its even that much better if you plan on going into a Rogue/Caster PrC like Arcane Trickster, Daggerspell Mage, or Unseen Seer (see the Prestige Class section below).
Ride is one of those skills that you may want to invest a minimum in to hit certain DC's. You'll never have to beat a DC >29 (wearing normal Breastplate w/ Battlecaster, riding a bipedal creature), but realistically the toughest DC you'll need to hit is a 16 (mithril Breastplate, undead creature good for riding, only needing to get cover). You should have a decent base Ride check w/ only a few ranks invested. An entire build could be made focusing on just riding undead creatures, which could be very interesting if you pick up the Lance as your Martial Weapon Proficiency.
Diplomacy, Gather Information: Both are better served by dedicated skill monkeys. You could, with the right undead, make an entire spy network. There's a few suggestions in the undead and combo sections below. Basically, you Awaken Rogueish undead, and use a combination of Magic Jar, a Hat of Disguise, a Disguise Kit, and your (maxed) Disguise skill while taking 10 to give the undead a base of 30+ Disguise, as another race. It works best if you can use Create Undead to make some Ghasts or Ghouls, or create undead spawn through your Summon Undead spells (followed by rebuking to control), as they all have moderately good Cha, Int, and Wis scores (and Mummys can be argued to keep class levels, as well, see "Undead to Create" below). Its a tricky, and generally a high level option, but its better to rely on this than invest a lot of skill points in these, imo.
Complete Scoundrel introduced a lot of neat options w/ skills, but only a handful will really help you out. You can get a single Trick for 1000 gp via the Trickery Trinket, which takes no slots, but you can only benefit from one at a time (also CS).
Never Outnumbered is particularly useful, as you could effect all the creatures that made their save against the Fear spell and/or aura pretty easily. It would be my first choice for tricks.
Second Impression can help a blown disguise. Great low-level, but you won't be using it at high level against anyone other than other PCs if you kept Disguise maxed.
Assume Quirk isn't that useful, imo: you generally are just trying to appear as a "generic" creature, not a specific one; obviously its useful if thats not true and you are making a spying DN of some sort. I'd probably take this third, but its kind of campaign / ability specific.
False Theurgy is awesome (most NPCs don't care for Necromancy). It would be second choice for tricks.
Collector of Stories is decent; its better on Wizards, but most of the time gives a flat +5 to all your knowledge checks for a 2 skill investment. It would probably be tied for my third choice for tricks.
Swift Concentration seems great, right? Except that you only have Summon Swarm as a duration concentration spell, and you can't get this trick until 9th level, when you won't be using it. Maybe useful if you use UMD wands of Illusion, but it isn't that useful to everyone. I don't think its worth it.
Maneuver tricks are all great for Gish-types, but you won't get enough ranks to invest in these in most builds. Gish's will want the Nimble Charge trick, in particular.
Races with Bonus Feats:
Strongheart Halflings are great, even for a melee Dread Necromancer. Strongheart Halflings are a forgotten realms specific sub-race of halflings found in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. With Strongheart Halflings, you get +1 AC, +1 to hit, nice stealth bonuses, but most importantly, you get an extra feat.
Humans are nice, too, particularly if you need more skills per level b/c you don't have another arcanist in the party. The feat rocks.
Races with a Bonus to Charisma:
Spellscale are pretty good choices, too. They are not a campaign specific race, and can be found in Races of the Dragon. The have +2 Cha, which is great, and -2 Con, which makes them a good candidate for Necropolitan (see below). The free metamagics are nice, too, although I think they should scale a little better with HD. You also qualify for Dragon Feats (see below), some of which are kind of nice. Spellscales' penatly to con also makes them a debately a good candidate to become a dragonborn of bahamut.
Star Elves are pretty good choices, as well. They are a forgotten realms specific sub-race of elves found in the book, Unapproachable East. They have +2 Cha, which is great, and -2 Con, which makes them a good candidate for Necropolitan (see below). Star elves also have elven bonuses to spot, listen, and search, as well as the ability to detect secret doors. The power to make weapons ghost-touch as a special ability doesn't hurt either. Star Elves' penatly to con also makes them a debatedly good candidate to become a dragonborn of bahamut.
"Lesser" Aasimar are pretty sick dread necromancers. The "lesser" aasimar variant can be found in Races of Faerun, but can easily be ported to a non-faerun campaign setting because aasimars are found in the monster manual and are therefore not campaign specific. A "lesser" aasimar are the same as regular aasimar, except they are Humanoid (planetouched), instead of Outsider (good), and their LA +0. This leaves their ability score adjustments at a whopping +2 Cha +2 Wis. To put it gently, "lesser" aasimar are definitely on the high end in terms of power for LA +0 creatures. Since Dread Necromancer are required to be non-good, this also creates a cool backstory for how your "lesser" aasimar wandered from the path of good.
Kobolds are useful for qualifying for Dragonwrought (see the feat section) and for some claw attacks at low level (see the RoDragon Web Enhancement). You get +2 AC, and +1 to hit, which helps. With Slight Build, you might be able to hollow out a large zombies chest cavity and put a little seat in there, driving it around. Its also lots of fun. A dragonwrought kobold gains bonuses for aging, but not penalties. So a venerable dragonwrought kobold would have the following stats: -4 str +2 dex -2 con +3 int +3 wis +3 con. Good luck convincing your dm to allow you to play that ;). The downside is that since you are now a Dragon, you no longer can become a Necropolitan.
Hellbred from the Fiendish Codex II gives you the option to focus on either body or spirit when you create your character; focusing on spirit gives you +2 Cha and -2 Con, and also gives you darkvision that scales as you level. You also gain the ability to see in darkness, including deeper darkness and telepathy out to 100 feet at higher levels. Other minor bonuses of note include a +2 racial bonus to Intimidate checks, and Devil's Favor as a bonus feat, giving you a +2 bonus to a single attack, save or check roll once per day per devil-touched feat you have. But on the downside, if you're killed before you can transform yourself into an undead form, you can't be brought back to life unless it's by anything less than resurrection or stronger.
Illumians make surprisingly decent Dread Necromancers because they can get an ability similar to Divine Metamagic that's usable 2/day. It uses one less turn attempt than Divine Metamagic and can be used with arcane spells (Which Divine Metamagic no longer allows due to its errata).
Player's Handbook Races: Halflings, Half-Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, and Half-Elves aren't really the best choices for a Dread Necromancer. You don't want any Cha penalty, you already get a martial weapon, you don't need / want diplomacy, can't really search to find traps, and you have only Phantasmal Killer as an illusion spell. If you have to play one of these, Star Elf for bonus to Charisma (Unapproachable East - see above), or Strongheart Halflings for their bonus feat (Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting - see above), or Desert Half-orc or dwarf (UA), or Forest Gnome (MM) for extra stealth. As mentioned earlier, humans are still great choice for dread necromancers; the others make good undead to awaken, as they'll get all their racial abilities (searching, for example w/ dwarves while underground).
Eberron Campaign Setting Races: Changelings, Kalashtar, Shifters, Warforged don't make the best Dread Necromancers from a power gaming stand-point. According to a recent Ask Wizards, Warforged are able to become undead. The downside to playing a Dread Necromancer Warforged is you have to deal w/ a Cha penalty, and if you become undead your Con bonus won't matter at all. On the upside, this could be a really fun RP choice ("What does life mean, anyway? That skeleton over there has been traveling with me for weeks, and he's a good companion!"). A shifter could make for an interesting gish, but they unfortunately have a penalty to Charisma. Kalshstar are more aimed toward psionic classes and don't synergize well with Dread Necromancer. A changeling is probably the best choice overall from the four eberron races. A changeling's deceptive nature and bonuses to social skills could be useful for a Dread Necromancer because they synergize with the dread necromancer's high charisma. Unfortunately there are many races out there that are over-all better choices than changelings (see above).
Bhuka (Sandstorm): A very specialized DN: you are going for the Walker in the Waste PrC if you are using this race. They're small, and have the extra +2 Dex and and +1 to hit due to this. They're also more interesting than the typical Strongheart Halfling.
The best templates turn you into an undead early on w/ little costs. You run the risk of your DM hating you when you do this though, as power creep is definitely a problem. You'll know when an either a Cleric of Pelor with maxed out Kn:Religion and Skill Focus: Kn: Religion recognizes you, and destroys you w/ a greater turning, or when you start encountering Evil Clerics that are just slightly higher than double your level.
Necropolitan (LM) is an add-on template that turns you undead, gives turn resistance, makes you reroll all you HD as d12's. It costs 3000 gp and a single level's worth of XP. The earliest you could do it (due to XP) is 3rd. I recomend taking out a loan, at as high as 30% interest if you have to, just to do it at 3rd. If you start higher than 3rd level, do this before creation. If you start at 1st level, then take Tomb-tainted Soul, but for your sake I hope the DM using retraining so you can turn that into something usefull after switching to Necropolitan. Its much better than TTSoul, as you get undead immunities as well, instead of just being healed by negative energy. At 19th level, you need to pay for a True Resurrection before leveling to 20th to get advantage out of Lich Transformation (and it is definitely worth it).
Lich (MM) According to custserv [Incident: 070501-000021](Big Bear), you do NOT become a Lich at 20th level. If you went and became a Necropolitan, then you need to pay for a True Resurection after you have enough XP to become 20th. Its worth it at that level though.
Dragonborn of Bahamut from Races of the Dragon make arguably good dread necromancers because they often act to balance out many of the race’s natural frailness. Dragonborn of Bahamut is more of a template than an actual race. If a creature chooses to become a Dragonborn of Bahamut, it does not gain any level adjustment, instead they lose all abilities associated with their old race including bonus feats; they keep ability modifiers as well as some other abilities. In return they get some abilities (like flight, dark/low-light vision and blindsense, or a breath weapon), including +2 Constitution -2 Dexterity ability modifier. These ability modifiers stack with the old ability modifiers. Dragonborns are better for those who don't plan on seeing 20th level of Dread Necromancer because by then con won't matter anymore. You also qualify for Dragon Feats (see below), some of which are kind of nice. (note: see sidebar on p. 15: you'd be sacrificing a lot of abilities to play this race w/o losing the abilities. In short: you have to RP your DN as good.)
Draconic (RoDr): Only if LA Buyoff rules are used (see the SRD or UA). +2 Cha, Str, Con, 2 claw attacks (usable as secondary attacks), stackable +1 natural armor, Intimidate bonus, Lowlight and darkvision, and Dragonblood Subtype. Its a great template to add on, and for +1 LA its a steal, but only if you'll be able to reduce that later (a fine strategy, I found, was to wait until you have enough XP at 2nd level to both buyoff the level before hitting 3rd and paying the Necropolitan costs; this will keep your and your allies XP up before you level, and minimizes the immediate costs).
Spellstiched (CArc): Its an expensive template add-on to undead (1000 gp, and usually 9500 xp), but its a great way to gain a lot of spell-like abilities for things that you'd normally not have access too, and avoid material components (including XP costs). Its so expensive, in fact, that I'd bet money that the designers intended it to cost 500 xp per Wis bonus, or Wis over 10 (talk to your DM). The creator needs to have Craft Wonderous Items, which means that at lower level you are better off hiring someone to do this to you (a standard cost of 5 gp / xp would price it at 48500, but lookhere). According to the RAW, there's no LA, just +1 CR... but expect at least a +1 LA to be applied by your DM. There's some suggestions about good spells to apply in the Spells section below.
Phrenic (XPH): The Psi-like abilites granted by this template really help a few of the shortcomings of the DN. You'll get Teleport, Dominate Person, Power Resistance (which = SR in most games), and a bunch of offensive and defensive abilities, and +4 Cha, among other stat bonuses, all for +2 LA. Awesome template in a LA buyoff game.
Curst (MC: Monsters of Faerun, PGtF Web): This is a tough template to justify. +3 LA, and you only get undead abilities, +3 Natural Armor, SR, Turn/Rebuke immunity, and cold/fire immunity. You also become almost impossible to kill, even when taken to 0 HP. Also, you lose any previous spellcasting you had, meaning you better start as a Curst. If you are going for a +3 LA character already, you might as well start out as a Lich.
Other Races and Templates: There are many other races to choose from. As a general rule of thumb, ones with LA 0 are best. Here is a master list of races that have LA +0: Master Race List. (note: LA buyoff makes LA +1 to +2 races very viable; see UA for rules on LA Buyoff: La +1 catches up to the parties level between 3rd and 4th, a +2 catches up to the party's ECL between 12th and 13th.)
If you become a Necropolitan, you become undead, which means you automatically have a taint score of 1/2 Cha score (not bonus) + 1 (HoH 62). If this increases your taint to moderate corruption, you get a bonus feat (HoH p67). If it increases again to severe corruption, you get another. For free. If you dumped Wisdom, its quite easy to automatically gain both bonus feats when you go Necropolitan (gaining both bonus feats only require a Cha of 10, due to your - Con score, or 22 if you have an 8 Wis and DM rules you can't have Taint due to your Con score).
You also never suffer any negative effects for taint, either, as an undead, so never have to worry about your Taint being too high. Some DMs might be jerks and want to gain control of your character, ala "insane", but if thats the case you need to switch groups. There's only a few symptoms w/ positive side effects, though. You roll these randomly, so just hope you get lucky:
Skin Seeps (+2 Escape Artist), Bones Thicken (+2 Str), Paralyzed Face (+1 Bluff), Skin Thickens (+1 Natural Armor), Lich Eyes (darkvision), Wrigglers (+2 Intimidate), Bestial (+2 Ride, Handle Animal, Wild Empathy), Prophetic (10% of weekly predictions are right), and Hubristic (Divine Healing has no effect on you - only negative when its cure wounds, etc, so remove disease, cause wounds have full effects).
There's some argument over whether an Undead can gain taint from any other method than increasing his Cha, however, but this isn't an issue unless you take the Tainted Scholar PrC, which prefers high Taint.
Also, its poorly worded, but it appears that falling below the thresholds only "renders that [corrupt] feat inoperative", but doesn't remove it. Thus, a trick one might do in a power game would be to swing back and forth between moderate and severe taint, gaining new bonus feats each time. Sure, you can't use the [corrupt] feats when you are low, but when you go back to severe you gain use of all of them. This is broken. A DM might argue that the wording "reaches [mod or sev] taint" only implies when the original threshold is achieved, but this is a very poor argument on the basis of logic (but makes perfect sense on the basis of balance).
It doesn't say you remove the taint if you become living afterwards: If you plan on becoming a Lich later, you better reduce your taint score before being returned to life, pre-lich, or else you'll end up under DM control if you aren't careful. The easiest way I can see to do this is to remove all your +Cha items, then take a lot of Cha damage (Bestow Curse, and/or Ego Whip are the easiest methods I can see to do this). A static Taint score for undead, based only on Cha and not taint, actually helps you out here.
Playing with taint as an undead may be a little powerful for many campaigns: if it isn't a horror based campaign, its quite easy just to ignore the taint rules.