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Necromancy & Nethermancy
Design & Development
Robert J. Schwalb

Oh, hello there. It seems I’ve been drafted to talk a bit about Heroes of Shadow. And let me say, I’m thrilled to chat up this book. Heroes of Shadow, henceforth HoS if that’s okay with you, was one of the most exciting books I’ve had the pleasure to help design. While my contributions were modest, I take pride in the fact that I got to experiment with some nasty, nasty stuff in the little corners where I was allowed to play. Today, if you didn’t spot the title, I’m going to talk about the two new schools of magic: necromancy and nethermancy.

Schools? Where’s my necromancer class?

Ah. This is an interesting question. The decision came from above my head, but it’s a decision I both understand and embrace. The first reason is story. Unlike other power sources, shadow is additive. You sacrifice a fragment of your soul and replace it with its dark reflection from the Shadowfell. By doing so, you gain access to strange and sinister abilities.

Story reason aside, there’s also the fact that each new class that’s created brings a whole host of options exclusive to that class. Every power listed under the invoker belongs to the invoker, and the only way you can pick up those powers is to either be an invoker or use a multiclass option (feat or hybrid). What is a necromancer? Well, a necromancer has traditionally been a character who focuses on spells involving death, undead, and fear. A necromancer class would mean locking these powers to that class; if we later wanted to create death-themed powers for the wizard we’d wind up repeating ourselves with powers that, if not identical, would be awfully similar in tone and effect.

The mage from Heroes of the Fallen Lands is a big build and can accommodate a great deal of variation. A mage focused on enchantment looks and plays differently from a mage focused on evocation, yes? Necromancy and nethermancy options provide a horizontal expansion to the wizard class, extending its boundaries to accommodate even more character types than what was initially presented. As a mage, you can be a necromancer by focusing your choices on necromancy spells or you can dabble, dipping into a few dark spells to widen your arsenal. The result is a great deal more flexibility for character concepts and eliminates repetitive design.

So, what’s the difference between necromancy and nethermancy?

If you were around for earlier versions of Dungeons & Dragons, you’re probably familiar with the necromancy school of magic. Look over earlier spells and you’ll see necromancy was a bit scattered in its approach. There were spells that dealt with undead, of course, spells to attack the body, and then there were spells that preyed on a creature’s fears. Necromancy included everything from animate dead to fear.

We knew we were going to do two new schools in this book, so I divided my big pile of concepts into two smaller piles. Necromancy became the magic of death, and spells in this school created undead, destroyed flesh, and did a lot of dirty and nasty stuff. Nethermancy became the magic of darkness, and its powers involved magnifying fears, creating and manipulating darkness, and forming it into monstrous forms.

Sounds great, but what about necrotic damage. Isn’t everyone resistant to necrotic damage by now?

It sure seems that way. Just about every undead monster in the game has some way of dealing with necrotic damage. A necromancer who favors this damage type with his or her spells is practically useless against undead creatures. This seemed very strange to me, and so I was careful to address this problem through power design.

I wasn’t willing to just jettison necrotic damage. Doing so would violate a lot about what we expect from shadow magic, but I also couldn’t condemn dark wizards to twiddling their thumbs in combat against the restless dead. Right at the start, I created disrupt undead to mitigate this complication. An at-will, autohit power that drops an undead creature’s resistance to necrotic damage by 5 would nudge necromancers and nethermancers a bit closer to their expected damage output, without entirely taking away the creature’s resistance.

Disrupt Undead
Wizard Utility
A simple gesture causes the darkness powering and protecting an undead creature to unravel.
At-WillArcane, Necromancy, Shadow
Minor Action Ranged 5
Target: One undead creature
Effect: The target’s necrotic resistance, if any, is reduced by 5 until the end of your turn.

The cantrip does the job, but it still doesn’t go far enough. Embedded conditional effects that target only undead also help a great deal. Take a look at rotting doom. This attack deals necrotic damage, and you’d be right in thinking the damage it deals is probably not enough to get through a typical undead creatures’ resistance to necrotic damage. However, the power bestows vulnerable 5 to all damage when it hits an undead creature. It won’t spike your damage, but the slayer in your party, along with the rogue and, heck, anyone else will love the extra 5 damage stacked onto their damage output. And if you’re not fighting undead, this spell still shuts down a creature’s regeneration or ability to regain hit points.

Rotting Doom
Wizard Attack 1
You hold up your hand, palm out, and release pale wisps to infect your foes with horrid decay.
At-WillArcane, Implement, Necromancy, Necrotic, Shadow
Standard Action Ranged 10
Target: One creature
Attack: Intelligence vs. Fortitude
Hit: 1d8 + Intelligence modifier necrotic damage. If the target is undead, it also gains vulnerable 5 to all damage until the start of your next turn.
Level 21: 2d8 + Intelligence modifier necrotic damage.
Effect: The target cannot regain hit points until the start of your next turn.

We also designed several dual-damage attack powers. These spells demonstrate the arcane link to the Elemental Chaos and how that link warps when blended with shadow. As well, many nethermancy spells dispense with necrotic damage altogether and instead deal psychic damage, or impose nasty conditions such as that bestowed by the energy drain power.

Energy Drain
Wizard Attack 29
An unwholesome beam of darkness impales your enemy and drains vital life from its spirit.
DailyArcane, Implement, Necrotic, Nethermancy, Shadow
Standard Action Ranged 20
Target: One creature
Attack: Intelligence vs. Fortitude. If the target is bloodied, it grants combat advantage to you for this attack.
Hit: The target is stunned (save ends).
Aftereffect: The target is slowed and weakened and takes a –1 penalty to attack rolls, all defenses, skill checks, and ability checks (save ends all).
Each Failed Saving Throw: The penalty worsens by 1 (maximum –4 penalty).
Miss: 3d10 + Intelligence modifier necrotic damage.
Effect: You gain temporary hit points equal to your healing surge value.

Finally, we just gave master mages who focus on necromancy such powers as to ignore necrotic resistance at 10th level.

Can I make undead?

Yes. Yes you can. There’s nothing sexier than a necromancer who can call forth skeletons to rip his or her enemies to pieces. Summoning spells have been available to wizards since Arcane Power. Yet summoning spells are absent from Heroes of the Fallen Lands since none of the three schools suggests that a wizard calls up a creature from some other plane. The necromancer and nethermancer, however, were perfect candidates for these sorts of spells.

At 5th level, you can grab the summon shadow servant power. With it, you can summon a servant depending on your Expert Mage school, either a shadow skeleton or a shadow beast. The difference between these critters and other summoned monsters is that they persist beyond the combat encounter. Restricting created undead to an encounter just seemed weird. A necromancer who spends the time to summon an undead servant ought to be able to keep that servant around. So you can. You pop off this spell and you get a buddy to carry your luggage, menace the locals, and rip the orcs to pieces. And before I forget, you can also improve your shadow servant at 19th level and summon either a wraith or shadow brute in place of the lesser servants available at lower levels.

Summon Shadow Servant
Wizard Attack 5
The shadows swirl and coalesce into a dark creature that awaits your command.
DailyArcane, Shadow, Summoning
Minor Action Ranged 5
Prerequisite: You must have the Expert Mage benefit associated with necromancy or nethermancy.
Effect: You summon a creature associated with your necromancy or nethermancy Expert Mage benefit. The creature appears in an unoccupied space within range, and it is an ally to you and your allies.
The creature lacks actions of its own. Instead, you spend actions to command it mentally, choosing from the actions in the creature’s description. You must have line of effect to the creature to command it. When you command the creature, the two of you share knowledge but not senses.
When the creature makes an attack roll or a check, you make the roll using your game statistics, not including any temporary bonuses or penalties.
The creature lasts until it drops to 0 hit points, at which point you lose a healing surge (or hit points equal to your surge value if you have no surges left). Otherwise, it lasts until you use a minor action to dismiss it or until you use this power again.

How about a bit more on nethermancy?

As I mentioned above, nethermancy is the magic of darkness. A skilled nethermancer can draw shadowstuff from the Shadowfell and mold it into whatever form he or she likes. A nethermancer might use shadow energy to drain a creature’s strength and vitality, shroud the battlefield in darkness or summon a flailing monstrosity made from solid shadow into his or her enemies’ midst. Nethermancy lets you command shadow magic in its purest and possibly even deadliest form, shaping it to whatever ends you can imagine.

Paragon paths?

HoS expands options for the Enigmatic Mage paragon path presented in Heroes of the Fallen Lands, and thus the powers and features you gain depend on the school of magic you choose for Master Mage. As with the other schools, we tied these options to specific characters from D&D’s past, taking a few licenses where necessary.

The necromancer option lets you turn dying creatures into bombs, protect allies from dark magic, and call up an army of skeletons (well you get five, but it’s still cool). Nethermancy options—with a nod to one of my favorites, Evard—make it hard for enemies to see, wrenches them about with vile tentacles, and conscripts allies to be your eyes and ears.

Last one. What’s your favorite new wizard power?

I’m quite fond of finger of death. In the old days, this spell could kill with a touch, and I felt D&D needed a few nasty spells like this one lurking around in the epic tier. The final version lets you throw a bucket of dice on the table. If the attack bloodies the target, you deal more damage. And if you drop the target to 20 hit points or less, it falls over dead. Menaced by a 100 hit point bad guy, give him the finger and wave goodbye. Now if that’s not old fashioned necromantic fun, I don’t know what is!

Finger of Death
Wizard Attack 25
You point your finger and command your foe to die.
DailyArcane, Implement, Necromancy, Necrotic, Shadow
Standard Action Ranged 10
Target: One creature
Attack: Intelligence vs. Fortitude
Hit: 10d6 + Intelligence modifier necrotic damage. If this damage bloodies the target, it takes 20 extra necrotic damage.
Miss: Half damage.
Effect: If the power reduces the target to 20 hit points or fewer, the target drops to 0 hit points.

About the Author

Robert J. Schwalb contributed design to such books as the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide, Draconomicon I: Chromatic Dragons, Manual of the Planes, P2: Demon Queen's Enclave, Martial Power, Player's Handbook 2, Eberron Campaign Guide, Eberron Player's Guide, Divine Power, Adventurer's Vault 2, Draconomicon 2: Metallic Dragons, and Primal Power, as well as numerous articles for D&D Insider. Robert lives in Tennessee.