- 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.
Party RolesInspired 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. Although melee is an odd path for a spontaneous arcane caster, the Dread Necro does it quite well for the earliest levels. Afterwards, you should start thinking about enhancing your spellcasting, and boosting your undead. The feat section has some advice about this, as does the builds section.
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. If you are starting at at least 4th (2nd/3rd with NaeHoon Illumian), and in a primarily evil party, you might be able to fill this role 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.
- Your healing basis for the party is covered. Barring House rules to the contrary, or lack of access to Libris Mortis, Dread Necromancers can typically supply his own healing between fights via Charnel Touch, and emergency in-battle healing via Negative Energy Burst and the Inflict Wounds> series of spells. However, you won't be able to supply healing for anyone else. Unless you can talk the rest of your party into taking Tomb-tainted Soul, that is. Even then, you won't be removing ability damage, or disease, or energy drain from anybody, so yeah.
- Your trapfinding basis for the party is covered. You could theoretically get past traps by summoning creatures / animating bodies to run in front of you, and having detect magic and dispel magic for many traps, but you'll still have to deal with resetting mechanical traps, so it's generally a good idea to have a dedicated trap-fixer in the group.
- There's another dedicated arcanist in the party. You don't have the utility nor ability to cover all the important spellcasting aspects. Out of the box, you don't Scry, or fly, or teleport, or Plane Shift, or do any of those other high-level, plot-enabling spells that the party arcanist is typically expected to handle . You have aggressively few skill points, so you don't particularly want to burn them on Decipher Script, or Knowledge skills, or Spellcraft, either. Any other arcane class, like Beguiler or Warmage, is usually enough to cover all the basics. A Beguiler can also serve as the party's trap-fixer, making them especially useful allies for Dread Necromancers. 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 you cover for some of those missing utility spells, provided your DM is sufficiently generous).
Level by Level Breakdown by K
First Level: This is where you have to make the big decisions in build priorities. You have to choose your skills. One of these skills is going to be Intimidate (more on that later), and if you ever want a prestige class you'll have to start working on it now (You could do worse than working towards Divine Oracle by taking Knowledge: Religion, Wild Mage by taking Spellcraft, or Mind Bender by taking social skills). Otherwise you can get pretty much anything you want. Unless you're human or a human with glowing blue eyes, you're only going to have one feat. That feat is going to be Tomb Tainted Soul, because not having that feat is unacceptable. Finally, you get to choose a martial weapon - and in all deference to the really hot Asian necromancer picture, that weapon is under no circumstances going to be an axe. You are going to have proficiency with the composite longbow.Although the need to PrC out at ninth has been debated (more on that in the PrC section), its all great advice.
Combat at first level for a Dread Necromancer is nasty and brutish, much like it is for a Rogue. You'll try to keep things at range as much as possible because you're soft and squishy. When it does come to melee, you're going to dish out big damage. Your Charnel Touch is a touch attack, so it is substantially more likely to land than a sword attack from a ranger of your level (they have +1 BAB on you, but how many creatures have less than a point of armor and natural armor?), and depending on your DM's reading of the ability - may do more damage. The key is whether Charnel Touch is an attack action or a standard action, it is heavily implied to be an attack action but this is unclear in the text. You can combine a Charnel Touch with a touch spell such as Chill Touch (making you do as much damage in melee as a Rogue's Sneak Attack with a longsword), but your DM may rule that you have to spend a round "powering up," so ask before you get into combat.
You're still running in there with the crappy light armor you can afford (studded leather), and 6 + Con HP, so even your high damage output shouldn't trick you into getting into melee much. Of course, any combat you survive causes you no damage, as you'll just Charnel Touch yourself back to full life during even a minute of down time. Touching yourself is a standard action, after all.
Level 2: There are no choices to make at all once you hit level 2. All of your skills advance, and you don't have any feats or proficiencies to select.
But combat is a whole new world for you, as you now have DR 2/ Bludgeoning and Magic. By this point you've probably gotten your hands on a masterwork chain shirt, and you're what passes for a decently resilient melee combatant. Your rebuking is now powerful enough to command basic skeletons, and your BAB is still only a point behind the fighters. So you still dish out the pain like a Rogue, but now you're survivable - so run in there and start slapping people.
Level 3: There is a very large choice at this level: your new feat. The obvious choice is to just take Arcane Disciple every feat from now until you've exhausted all the domains of your favorite god. I won't fault you for doing that, but you can also get some good effect out of Weapon Finesse (as it modifies touch attacks), and if you're thinking long term you might want to go for Mounted Combat as you will eventually be able to pull some tricks with undead warbeasts that are alarming.
Combat is pretty similar at 3rd level to 2nd, but the monsters are tougher. You won't have gotten noticeably better at melee (unless you took Weapon Finesse), but you now have the ability to pull a combat muligan - you are within 5 feet of yourself by definition, so if melee is turning against you a burst of negative energy will heal you and hurt them - that's all good.
Level 4: Level 4 is where you start being a halfway decent caster, and your big character choice reflects that. You can dumpster dive throughout the whole of D&D and find any Necromancy spell off the Cleric or Wizard list from any book. Good choices include Lesser Shivering Touch (which can again be combined with Charnel Touch) from Frost Burn, and Faerun has a number of nice offerings such as Stone Bones, Spirit Worm, Death Armor, and Shroud of Undeath can all be pretty useful. The Spell Compendium is a good place to go shopping, but this is a very personal choice.
We're not even going to pretend that your "Mental Bastion" makes a difference, so combat is going to be livened up by your increased BAB and your second level spells. False Life is key, remember that your DR is applied before you lose temporary hit points, so you're pretty much the tank at this point.
Special Note: Once you attain 4th level, you will continue to accrue new spells known every 4 levels even if you take a +1 caster level PrC. Gaining new levels for the purpose of learning new spells is awesome for a Dread Necromancer.
Level 5: There are no choices at 5th level, but this is where your intimidate finally pays off. A character with max ranks of Intimidate usually succeeds at intimidating things, and anything that gets into melee with you has to make a Will save or become Shaken (as written, you can jolly well just use the fear aura again and again, stacking up fear effects until your opponent becomes panicked or makes a Will Save, but we'll assume for the moment that your DM will limit you to one booga-booga a round), and if it works you can spend your action intimidating them, which stacks their Fear up to Frightened, so they lose their action running out of melee while you slap them in the back of the head. It's quite an effective "juggle" to use fighting game lingo.
Level 6: This is a level where you get a feat, and that means that you have a lot of choices again. You could get Leadership, or Skill Focus: Knowledge Religion, or Death Blow (see below), or anything else you need to get into a PrC at level 9.
Combat doesn't change for you much from your new "ability". Scabrous Touch is pretty much crap, so it's not important that you have it (though you can combine it with your basic attack so it doesn't cost you anything). You can't use it to generate any of the good diseases like Ghoul Fever or Festering Hate unless you have a very generous DM. You're gonna throw in Blinding Sickness unless you want to try to kill an animal with Mindfire, but don't get your hopes up. Once again, your life revolves around the spells you just got. With Vampiric Touch and Death Ward, your tanking expertise is way up there.
Special Note: You can cast spells while using a Mithril Breastplate, so by now you should own one and wear it all the time.
Level 7: You have only one choice at this level: your familiar. There are two good choices: Quasit and Ghostly Visage. The Ghostly Visage is the combat choice, because it makes you immune to mind affecting effects and uses your level as its Hit Dice to generate a save DC for a gaze attack that paralyzes your enemies. Quasit is the less-combat choice because it gives you Commune, unlimited Detect Magic, and can still hand out quite sizeable amounts of Dex damage and its 1/day fear stacks with your fear aura.
Combat has changed for you utterly. Your DR has become bigger and you have a familiar that accentuates your combat strategy greatly (either making enemies helpless as the Ghostly Visage is wont to do, or by adding Dex damage to the pile as the Quasit can).
Level 8: Once again, you are stuck with choices. You select a new spell to go with your shiny 4th level spells. Shivering Touch is a dragon killer - 3d6 Dex damage will drop many enemies. But you're also going to probably want to de-emphasize your melee role now that you can make high quality flying mounts. Undead Mastery is high quality, because it makes your Control Undead ginormous. You also get a second Negative Energy Burst each day, but this is more for emergency healing than it is for harming enemies.
Level 9: You now prestige class out, because there are no more good Dread Necromancer abilities for a long time.
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.
Dread Necromancers work best in an evil party, where they themselves can be evil, and can make the fullest and most flagrant use of their spells and class features.
Most Dread Necromancers will end up being neutral characters in a good-leaning party. This can be awkward, to say the least. Good heroes are going to take an especially dim view of you casting |Evil| spells, and while you might be able to dupe them some of the time, they're going to recognize Animate Dead when they see it. In such a party, you're probably going to want to hide your nature from them for as long as possible, using bluff (and disguise, if you're undead) to pass yourself off as something else - a battle sorcerer or something of the like. Work on them slowly, over time, first getting them to accept fear spells and negative energy attacks, then summoning undead or controlling undead, and only later on animating only a very few mindless ones.
Paladins in the Party
Party Paladin's deserve a special note. If one of your fellow players wants to play a Aaladin, see if you can point them towards a Crusader, or a melee-focused Cleric, or even a Soulborn from Magic of Incarnum. Really anything that has that holy warrior fluff without the specific code of conduct which punishes them for letting you do your thing. If they insist on having a Paladin in the party, you may just want to consider playing another Class.
You see, regular good characters can eventually learn to accept a neutral ally who commits Evil acts in the furtherance of a Good cause. But Paladins cannot. They are specifically prevented from associating with those who knowingly commit Evil deeds. A forgiving DM can help you avoid this problem by loosening the Paladin's code regarding their allies, but a by-the-book DM is going to end up punishing your friend for your actions, and that's just not cool.
You can say it's their fault for playing the Paladin. After all, the Dread Necromancer doesn't have any restrictions on what other party members can do, and the Paladin is a notoriously weak class anyway. But the fact remains that Paladins are core, and Dread Necromancers are not, and your friend had every right to expect to be able to roll up a Paladin and play some D&D. Try to find a compromise with your fellow player and your DM, but if one can't be reached, you should be ready to look at other class options.