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D&D 5E "classic" Necromancers - does it still "work"?

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
So the way to play a necromancer in 5e used to be to use animate dead to animate skeleton archers. A level 6 necromancer could, after a few days, have 4 skeletons per 3rd level slot sacrificed to this strategy, skeletons that had a bit more hp and hit harder than normal skeletons.

Now this is reasonably potent*, but you have to deal with the fact that there are social consequences, you need bodies, it takes 2 days (4 if you aren't a necromancer wizard) to rebuild your squad... so I don't think it's used frequently in play.
(* is it? I haven't seen it in play myself so I don't actually know.)

This was straight out of the box from the PHB, and it made the necromancer the main "minions" choice, with druids being the other one.

But Xanathar and Tasha's have introduced a lot of summoning spells, that are accessible by many full-caster classes. There is even a summon undead spell, so you don't have to bother with the whole getting bodies thing... so I was wondering... is the "old way" of doing it with animate dead still worth it, or has that method effectively been replaced by these new summoning spells? (a bit like the Tasha's version of the beastmaster ranger has effectively displaced the PHB version).
 

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vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
The traditional way of doing minions aka busting action economy by fielding a lot of weak-ish minions is still valid...but the main complaint that comes with it is also still valid: it does slow the game to a crawl.

The new summon spells are more easy to use at the table, but are not as cool, IMHO.
What can I say? I love the Diablo necromancers!
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
The traditional way of doing minions aka busting action economy by fielding a lot of weak-ish minions is still valid...but the main complaint that comes with it is also still valid: it does slow the game to a crawl.
Yeah, this. I played in a game with a necromancer wizard once. He was extremely powerful but his turns all took like 10 minutes. Meanwhile my Barbarian would swing her sword three times… when she wasn’t busy being a giant ape, or later a t-rex…
The new summon spells are more easy to use at the table, but are not as cool, IMHO.
What can I say? I love the Diablo necromancers!
This too. Summon Undead is way more user-friendly, but summoning a skeleton or zombie out of thin air instead of having to find (or make) a corpse first is just not as cool. The Ghostly form is pretty cool though!
 

The traditional way of doing minions aka busting action economy by fielding a lot of weak-ish minions is still valid...but the main complaint that comes with it is also still valid: it does slow the game to a crawl.

The new summon spells are more easy to use at the table, but are not as cool, IMHO.
What can I say? I love the Diablo necromancers!

One thing I would like WotC to get around to at some point is to actually write up a dedicated new base class for pet controllers, where all the core class features are about controlling your minion/ally (or possibly allies). Subclasses for necromancers puppeteering undead, beast trainers, fiend summoners, owners of a genie bottle, etc etc etc

There's been a pile of quasi-attempts to implement the trope in game terms, ranging from subclasses like the beastmaster ranger to chain pact warlocks and summoning and animate dead and find steed spells. But none of them really work because they treat the pet mechanic as a minor or peripheral add-on to the existing base class, and so the pet's capability is limited to near-uselessness, and its role to expendable transience, by the requirement to balance it with all the existing features of a full class.

I wish they'd get down off the fence and do a class built from the ground up around minion/ally control. Some people will inevitable shriek about 'getting your anime in my D&D', but let them. I think the trope is strong and universal enough to be worthwhile, and it would let you run a (for instance) necromancer where your big guns in combat were the undead minions bowing to your will, rather than the same high-level spells every other wizard can cast. Which would be a nice change.
 


A pretty big advantage of animate dead over the summon spells is duration. A PC or enemy can already have them available at the start of combat, rather than having to cast them right before combat (if they know it's happening) or on the first round. Most of the summon spells last 1 hour or less, IIRC, and many have concentration. Skeletons & Zombies are generally weak monsters, but they're far more reliable.
 

Dausuul

Legend
What I'm looking for as a necromancer really boils down to two things:
  1. I command a horde of undead. Not one singular undead, but a whole bunch of zombies shambling toward the enemy.
  2. When my enemies die, I get to do this:
night-king.gif

Preferably in the middle of combat for extra style.

However, I am pretty flexible on the mechanical implementation. I don't particularly like tracking a bazillion individual minions. I think the "new way" of doing summon spells would work fine for me with just a few tweaks. First, adjust the summoned monster to be Gargantuan and use the swarm mechanics (resistance to physical damage, attacks get weaker at half hit points, etc.). Then, provide a way to restore its hit points using corpses.

(As regards summoning a horde of zombies out of thin air: Yes, that is lame. But having a horde of zombies tear their way out of the earth... that's pretty cool.)
 
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vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
What I'm looking for as a necromancer really boils down to two things:
  1. I command a horde of undead. Not one singular undead, but a whole bunch of zombies shambling toward the enemy.
  2. When my enemies die, I get to do this:
View attachment 145403
Preferably in the middle of combat for extra style.

However, I am pretty flexible on the mechanical implementation. I don't particularly like tracking a bazillion individual minions. I think the "new way" of doing summon spells would work fine for me with just a few tweaks. First, adjust the summoned monster to be Gargantuan and use the swarm mechanics (resistance to physical damage, attacks get weaker at half hit points, etc.). Then, provide a way to restore its hit points using corpses.
Dance Macabre is pretty good for this.
 

In the campaign I play with a necromancer PC and a druid animate dead is primarily used to give us a support staff of zombie followers to carry gear and set off traps, and occasionally provide an extra layer of meat shield between the backline and the enemy or otherwise just occupy space on the board to control the flow of enemies. For actual combat effectiveness we get way more mileage out of the Druid summoning a bunch of wolves, and I think most of the summons spells would give you more bang per spell slot than animate dead, even as a necromancer. The selling points of necromancy are that you have the minions around the clock, without concentration, and because of the lack of concentration with the possibility to get masses of them not otherwise available. Almost any summoning spell will give you more effective combat minions, but you can summon those on top of having your army of the damned, who also carry your torch, haul your loot, and walk through the obviously trapped hallway. Or you can use your concentration for all sorts of other awesome spells.
 

The two best none Necromancy spells for Necromancer is Seeming and True Polymorph. True Polymorph is turning into a Lich, Death Knight, Mummy Lord, etc... on easy mode and can be used to create undead servants you don't normally have access too and Seeming allows you to disguise your undead horde when visiting villages and cities in none evil (or at least very weird) places.
 


doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
The traditional way of doing minions aka busting action economy by fielding a lot of weak-ish minions is still valid...but the main complaint that comes with it is also still valid: it does slow the game to a crawl.

The new summon spells are more easy to use at the table, but are not as cool, IMHO.
What can I say? I love the Diablo necromancers!
I think the solution to that, and there needs to be one because controlling a swarm is both mechanically and thematically as a character concept, is to make all the creatures you control force a save from creatures within 5ft of them, resolved all at once, at the end of the controller's turn. For ranged minions you target specific creatures or an area, but it's still a save.

Got 6 skeleton archers? Rad! They go at the end of your turn, moving before or after their action as you wish, and force either 6 creatures or all creatures in an area save vs a damage value calculated via simple addition scaling by the number and CR of creatures in your horde, against your save dc.

Epic druid with 28 fey spirits in the form of wolves? They fill a huge space and everything in it has to save vs XYZ damage and falling prone.

Basically controlling your minions is the same as having a magic item that lets you cast a moderately complex spell at the end of each of your turns. Powerful, but not annoying to adjudicate.
 

ECMO3

Hero
So the way to play a necromancer in 5e used to be to use animate dead to animate skeleton archers. A level 6 necromancer could, after a few days, have 4 skeletons per 3rd level slot sacrificed to this strategy, skeletons that had a bit more hp and hit harder than normal skeletons.

Now this is reasonably potent*, but you have to deal with the fact that there are social consequences, you need bodies, it takes 2 days (4 if you aren't a necromancer wizard) to rebuild your squad... so I don't think it's used frequently in play.
(* is it? I haven't seen it in play myself so I don't actually know.)

This was straight out of the box from the PHB, and it made the necromancer the main "minions" choice, with druids being the other one.

But Xanathar and Tasha's have introduced a lot of summoning spells, that are accessible by many full-caster classes. There is even a summon undead spell, so you don't have to bother with the whole getting bodies thing... so I was wondering... is the "old way" of doing it with animate dead still worth it, or has that method effectively been replaced by these new summoning spells? (a bit like the Tasha's version of the beastmaster ranger has effectively displaced the PHB version).
I don't really think the other spells compete with this and it is completely viable.

Summon undead lasts for 24 hours and is not concentration, it also has a minute cast so you can't use it in the middle of combat. Finally it is not concentration while the others are, so you can have your skeletons and get other undead through the other spells.

Also you don't need corpses for skeletons, just a pile of bones, which you can find a lot of places.
 

I would love a minions-controller calls, but too many creatures in a tabletop causes the fight to become slower. And DM can use monsters designed specifically to be swarn-destroyers.
 

A PC class who summons loads of expendable minions has always been a logistical pain in the tabletop game. I'm in favour of necromancers being NPCs, for purely practical reasons.

The one strong pet approach seems the most viable way to make a PC summoning class.
 

One way to speed up combat with multiple undead minions is to combine them into larger Swarm-type monster stat blocks. This requires a bit of homebrew ingenuity, but can significantly reduce the number of rolls needed to represent the minions' interactions.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I’m not sure. I do know that have seen my fair share of players in D&D 3e, Pathfinder, and 5e who have come in expecting a necromancer that makes them feel like necros in their favorite fantasy games (e.g., Diablo, Guild Wars, Elder Scrolls, etc.) and were utterly disappointed by D&D’s necromancers. I’m not sure if the infinite horde of minions that require managing via Animate Dead and the like is the best way forward.

If there is a problem with finding bodies, then why not just tie necromancers more concretely to the Shadowfell and have their summons or magical spells come from there?
 


One way to speed up combat with multiple undead minions is to combine them into larger Swarm-type monster stat blocks. This requires a bit of homebrew ingenuity, but can significantly reduce the number of rolls needed to represent the minions' interactions.
In Pathfinder it is a monster subtype, the troop. If 5th Ed will have a "module" of wargames then the troop will be added because it is easy to be understood and simple.

 

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