Socially Acceptable Necromancers?


In my current home game, of the 8 Gods and Goddesses, there is of course a God of Death. Hilt.
Followers and clerics of Hilt are well versed in conversing with, and dealing with the dead. While it is not common practice, and in more rural areas very much taboo, some necromancy of the Animate Dead vein is tolerated.

This is only okay, if the spirit or former owner of the corpse is okay with it, and has entered a pact with the wizard, cleric, or Paladin.

There is even a chapter of Knights that roam the land after word of Necromancers, with the purpose of ensuring all proper documentation and bindings are in order. Abusers or violators that force the will of their undead minions are rooted out and either brought to justice or terminated.

Still. The player with the Necromancer character does have his minion put on a cloak and mask over the plate armor he provided it. Because it is so tall an imposing, most people don't tend to glance at it too long. However, he hasn't gotten his official paper work yet, sooo...


You could have a world where they may be tolerated or more like feared. In the modern world we tend to tolerate things we do not interact with. There are groups that are allowed to operate without being shut down or killed outright like in the middle ages or the old west. A drug cartel rolls into town, you hope 'the law' takes care of it and does not become corrupt. Something more tolerated is a crack-house or a biker gang. It seems that everyone knows what is going on, but they may not be blatantly breaking the law or bothering most people right now. Necromancers would have more fear about them where common folk grab their kids and hide inside over getting a pitchfork.


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DnD Beyond had an article, Wizard 101: School of Evocation which has a necromancer and evoker having an argument, both part of a college of wizardry. They each have amulets in the shape of their school of magic and, although the short exchange takes place on the college grounds, it comes across as something respectable as it is an aspect of magic that wizard's study.

I think this is the way to make necromancers acceptable, have them as part of an established school of wizardry which is somewhat respected by the populace of the surrounding nation. Necromancers still might not be welcomed with open arms but if they are part of this school which is noted for following the various laws of the nation then they might at least be tolerated.


A necromancer doesn't necessarily have to have much to do with the undead. There are plenty of other spells, though quite why Astral travel is a necromantic spell surpasses me. Sure the 6th level ability, Undead Thralls, becomes useless, but perhaps something else could be substituted?


Should have asked first; is this a fantasy campaign or other? Disguising skeletons as cheap branch golems, robots, or mutant followers with radioactive transparent skin may be an option. Wrap zombies in linens so you can say they're leperous or installing wires to look like cyborgs might be a way to go also.


Necromancers are cool. How do you play one without getting drummed out of town by peasants with torches and paladins with pitchforks?

Comic for illustrative purposes.
The superb, award-winning young-adult fantasy series named The Abhorsen Series (or The Old Kingdom series), by Garth Nix, has a great set of Necromancer-like heroes and an entire magic system based around necromancy. Also, I would not be surprised if the inspiration for the Toll the Bells cantrip came from that series.

Edit - and I see CleverNickname beat me to it! Well I second his recommendation.
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I can add a custom title.
I remember in the death gate cycle, in one of the worlds, necromancy was pretty much the only magic used, raising the dead to (I think) perform menial labour. Unfortunately, in this series, raising the dead interferred with the life cycle to the point that less people were being born (I think that's the gist of it anyway, it definitely had long term negative effects on a spiritual level). The necromancers in that world weren't evil in any way and necromancy was an accepted part of life.


It really depends on the campaign and the use of necromancy. For example, one of our last campaigns started in a jungle city, where pack animals were not just impractical, they were dangerous (attracting predators). The city instead used undead for all sorts of manual labor, and necromancers were highly revered.

In a different campaign, we had a gnome necromancer. She was facinated with the cycle of life, growth, death, decay, feeding into new life. She never reached high enough level to create undead, but my understanding was that she didn't plan to. Without obvious signs of evil magic, she just looked like a normal gnome, albeit a dirty one (she spent a lot of time among dead things, but felt little need to bathe).



Use Speak with Dead to ask the corpse if they would be willing to rise up and defend the ancestors of their village, etc. Once you have their permission, clean the corpse into a nice skeleton and Animate Dead. Always retrieve the remains when the skeleton breaks and use Mending to repair them to be animated again.

Remember their names. Treat them with respect. Mourn the loss of the ones who get completely destroyed and can’t be reanimated.
Necromancers are cool. How do you play one without getting drummed out of town by peasants with torches and paladins with pitchforks?

Comic for illustrative purposes.

A necromancer character based on ancient-world cultures and mythologies such as Egyptian or Greek would be fine. For them, necromancy is mostly about communicating with the dead (ghosts), or even helping the dead reaching their proper afterlife destination.

However, modern mythology around necromancy is pretty much all about zombies and their variants i.e. making the dead come back, in horrible forms, to be your slaves or go wreck havoc on their own, and generally bring doom to the living. This is actually what 90% of the players have in mind when they decide to create a necromancer character.

Movies and videogames have done their best to overwhelm modern culture with monsters, and zombies seem to be among their favourites. So perhaps most people are now sort of "anesthesised" against the image of an undead and think they wouldn't blink if they actually encountered one in real life, they would just hit it with a stick or shoot it with a gun like they do all the time in movies, what's the problem? Maybe someone even daydreams about it, how cool it would be to fight zombies in real life... but I would like to see the look on their faces if it REALLY happened! :D

But seriously, the world is full of people who consider harmless and even beneficial stuff like contraception socially unacceptable because "it messes up with life" or is "against nature", but reanimating a corpse and force it go around killing people is ok?


You play this guy... Dr Byron Orpheus

Attorney: Dr. Orpheus, could you tell the court what it is that you do? You're a type of magician?

Dr. Orpheus: Well, if you must call me that, yes. But if you are after mere parlor tricks you will be sorely disappointed, for if I reach behind your ear, it will not be a nickel I pull out, BUT YOUR VERY SOUL!

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So uh... True story? I totally did in a Pathfinder game. Dude was an occultist with ranks in Perform (oratory). Super dramatic kind of guy.

I wound up getting around the "raising up undead is inherently evil" thing by making him a "journeyman executioner." It was a respectable profession. More to the point, he helped to redeem the condemned by putting them to postmortem good use in the service of the realm.


Necromancers are cool. How do you play one without getting drummed out of town by peasants with torches and paladins with pitchforks?

Comic for illustrative purposes.
Here's what I feel is a better question: how many peasants know the difference between a necromancer and any other kind of spellcaster? To a dirt farmer, magic-user is an inconceivably terrifying, godlike figure.

The only reason you don't kill em all on sight is because everyone knows the cure that befalls anyone who sheds a wizard's blood.


Dusty Dragon
Here's what I feel is a better question: how many peasants know the difference between a necromancer and any other kind of spellcaster? To a dirt farmer, magic-user is an inconceivably terrifying, godlike figure.

The only reason you don't kill em all on sight is because everyone knows the cure that befalls anyone who sheds a wizard's blood.
Are they a terrifying figure? I've been doing research on 1700s grimoire, spell books published in the real world. The Petit Albert was wildly popular, almost everyone had a copy.



It really depends on the setting, and to some extent the edition and system.

In a D&D 3.5 game I had the party journey to a valley that was ruled by a Necromancer. The people who lived there were afraid of him, but had to admit that he kept them safe. Wee Jas is the deity of death and magic in that edition, and is Lawful Neutral. Technically a follower or Cleric could be Lawful Good. Mine wasn't, he matched the alignment of his deity, Lawful Neutral.

Her domains are Death, Law and Magic, and use of the undead is just fine with her.

It kind of drove the party Paladin nuts that the Necromancer lord didn't register as Evil, and that he didn't actually have any grounds to overthrow the "lawful ruler" of the region. In fact he saw some acts of generosity and mercy on the part of the Necromancer, when the situation allowed for it. Still, it twerked the Paladin more than a little to have to deal with the man,

Part of the key was the setting and situation. The valley was isolated, with tribes of savage humanoids and giant types (Ogres to be specific) well established around them. The Necromancer defended the valley from them, usually by animating the corpses of those same humanoids and giant-types.

So, while the people were afraid that some of the "guardians" might kill and eat them if left unsuervised, they knew that the savage tribes around the valley would definitely kill and eat them if they weren't held at bay.

The Necromancer considered undead as useful, if distasteful tools, and nothing more. He knew his limits, how many he could directly control. When the party first encountered some of the valley's human guards, those guards were riding down a group of Wights. the Necromance had direct control over at least one Wight, who in turn exercised control over those it had created, whe then controlled their creations and so on, But if one of the command ranks gets killed, all who were in the command tree below that had to be eliminated. They were a free range catastrophe waiting to occur.

The party, seeing what appeared to be mounted knights riding down peasants, went to intervene. Then the Wights turned on them, and up close they realized what they'd done, what they'd been defending.

Story wise it was a wonderful moment, generating confusion and some conflict without actually harming the party significantly injuring anyone.

The valley had limited resources, and the ability to assign a work crew of undead monster types to do simple, near mindless tasks like building and maintaining roads and occasionally plowing fields etc. helped keep the place safe, keep things together and keep people fed.

In that situation he understood that maintaining order was necessary for his people to survive, while the moral considerations of good and evil were almost incidental. Get too obsessed with such distractions meant people died. You used what tools you had, and his tools were the walking dead.

Now, to generalize this across systems and revisions, let's look at the key elements that might work for a PC.

1) You don't use the corpses of any race that lives in the area as "people" It's not just a matter of them not seeing uncle Joe walking around as a rotting monstrosity, it's using dead "enemies" of the town.

2) You don't have to be Evil, at least not in any way that can be sensed through magical detection.

3) Reveal yourself as a Necromancer only when there's great need for the town or region. Now the enemy of my enemy can still be a son-of-a-birchtree, but he isn't my enemy, particularly when he's busy saving me and my family.

Oh, and if you want to cover expenses and maybe earn some coin, make sure you corner the local market on torches and pitchforks, :)