Monday, December 13, 2010

Rewriting Necromancy

I remember that my first description of the role played by a necromancer was from the Forgotten Realms Revised Boxed Set of AD&D 2nd:

Necromancers: Necromancers are a two-sided coin. Some are
interested in necromancy from its healing and restorative aspect in
relation to the human body, while others (the better-known half)
concentrate their work on the dead and undead. As a result, the
school is separated into two camps, one white, the other black. White
necromancers are healers, work with local churches, and are in general
good-aligned. Black necromancers are secretive to the point of
obsession, vengeful, and often black-hearted. Their dress tends to
match their outlook. Only humans can be necromancers.

The idea that Necromancy has two defined sides and that it is a school devoted to studying the mysteries of death and life never left me. In fact, I always enjoyed the contrast that the most feared and despised arcane school was at the same time the closer thing to a healer or physician – or a priest.

With the coming of a new edition of D&D it is undeniable that the game’s next incarnation would be shaped by its authors points of view and prejudices. With the 3rd Edition we saw the ‘villainization’ of the Necromancy school. Not only was its “White side” totally purged, but spells that before have nothing to do with Necromancy (or negative energy if you like) were added to it simply because they look like something that “the Evil Necromancer” might use, like scare and fear. The worst change in my opinion was the creation of the ridiculous “subschool” of Conjuration (Healing). Ok, now all magic healing is done by channeling positive energy from other plane of existence… well, why can’t you do the same thing with negative energy? Why spells like inflict light wounds are not from the Conjuration (Wounding) subschool? Anyway, this removed the notion of a neutral, hermetic, pseudo-scientific approach of arcane magic. It removed that tradition by creating a “villain school” for arcane casters. I believe that creating an evil prestige class (like the blackguard) would have being better.

Back to the past. In AD&D 2nd all healing (and inflict wounds) spells belonged to the Necromancy school (with made a lot more sense to me). Spells that deal with fear or emotions belonged to the Enchantment/Charm school (ok, for reasons that I don’t comprehend fear belonged to Illusion/Phantasm). After a little research, it appears that AD&D 1st used the same philosophy. 

My purpose with these nostalgic musings is to restore Necromancy to its original roots, keeping the school away from any innate moral position (there’re already spells with alignment subtypes for that). Also, I want to remove spells that have nothing to do with concepts like death, spirits, undeads and life. Finally, I’ll create some new healing spells for the Wizard/Sorcerer spell list, trying not to step over the niche of both the divine healers and the Bard (and also the Witch from the Advanced Player’s Guide).

Reorganizing Spells and Schools

The first step is simple. All spells that doesn’t fit thematically with the concepts of life, death, spirits and undeads should be removed from the Necromancy school. Also, any spell of the (Healing) subschool is now part of the Necromancy school – with means that the subschool Conjuration (Healing) is removed from the game.

Here’s a list with all changes to spells from the Pathfinder Core Rulebook and Advanced Player’s Guide:

All Cure (including Heal and Heal Mount) and Restoration spells are now from the Necromancy School.
Bestow Curse, Curse Water, Cause Fear, Doom, Eyebite, Fear, Scare, Symbol of Fear are now from the Enchantment School.
Antilife Shell, Blood Biography*, Neutralize Poison, Pain Strike (all versions)*, Pillar of Life*, Purging Finale*, Purified Calling*, Raise Dead, Regenerate, Reincarnate**, Rejuvenate Eidolon (all versions)*, Remove Disease, Remove Paralysis, Resurrection (and True Resurrection), Reviving Finale*, Stabilize, Status are now from the Necromancy School.

*From the Advanced Player’s Guide.
**This is total off-topic but I must say that I do miss the arcane version of this spells. It was damn funny.

White Necromancy

I don’t think that the fact of wizards and sorcerers being incapable of magic healing is one of the game’s so called “sacred cows”, but I also believe in a certain degree of niche protection.

With these assumptions in mind, how to create useful healing spells without diminishing the same features of other classes? I think that one of the principal advantages of healing magic is to keep the characters alive during a combat encounters. After the battle is over, I don’t see much problem with wizards or sorcerer easing the cleric’s quota of healing. One way to do that is to borrow the healing mechanic of a very early d20 RPG – Wheel of Time.

This beautiful book launched many innovations (like the defense bonus progression to AC) to the d20 system, while the Open License was still fresh. One of its new mechanics dealt with healing powers. In Robert Jordan’s novels we’re constantly reminded that any cure operated through the One Power (a.k.a. Magic) is very taxing to the healed target, provoking fatigue, hunger and even unconsciousness. In d20 terms, this effects is intelligently simulated by the nonlethal damage rules. I believe we can borrow these same rules to represent the diminished effectiveness of White Necromancy. As a consequence, this kind of healing is practically worthless during combat.

Here’s an example of a White Necromancy spell (using cure light wounds as a template):

School Necromancy; Level wizard/sorcerer 1
Casting Time 1 minute
Components V, S, M
Range touch
Target creature touched
Duration instantaneous
Saving Throw Will half (harmless); see text; Spell Resistance yes (harmless); see text
When laying your hand upon a living creature to convert its wounds from lethal to  nonlethal damage. The amount of damage converted is 1d8 points of damage +1 point per caster level (maximum +5). This spell cannot be used to heal nonlethal damage. The positive energy used in this spell is too weak to affect undeads.

As you can see I increased the casting time and added a material component to balance this spell against the traditional cure light wounds. I also removed the ability to use the dweomer to damage undead creatures. All the cure spells (maybe even heal) can be converted to their equivalent restore wounds spells.

Here’re another more examples:

School Necromancy; Level wizard/sorcerer 4
Components V, S, M
Casting Time: 10 minutes (rare herbs and diamond dust, all worth 500 gp)
Range touch
Target creature touched
Duration instantaneous
Saving Throw Will half (harmless); see text; Spell Resistance yes (harmless); see text
This spell converts any amount of points permanently drained from a single ability score (your choice if more than one is drained) to temporary ability damage. The spell is very taxing for the target, leaving him fatigued.
Finally, it also dispels temporary negative levels.

The Balance Issue
The rules above were created without any greater concern for game balance (at least not in the exaggerated and current way of thinking, common to both the 3rd and 4th Editions). For those DMs who think that the above spells are too powerful for a traditional D&D or Pathfinder game, but still want to implement White Necromancy, I suggest creating the subschool Necromancy (Healing), accessible only with the following feat:

White Necromancer
You have mastered the rare and arduous crafts of White Necromancy.
Prerequisite: Wizard/sorcerer 1st level, arcane school (necromancy), good alignment*
Benefit: you can learn and prepare spells of the Necromancy (Healing) subschool.
*This last requisite is for those who want to keep a strong dichotomy between Dark and White Necromancy. It is here just for flavor.


  1. Most of the "innovations" in the Wheel of Time were from the Star Wars RPG, and unfortunately had nothing to do with the Open Game Licens - the whole game is closed content not released under the OGL.


    That said, I SERIOUSLY like converting damage from real to subdual. Although paired up with real healing magic there is a synergy that makes these spells as good as real healing - healing magic heals an equal amount of subdual damage as the real damage it heals.

  2. Thanks for the corrections, Dyson. Unfortunately I'm not familiar with the pre-Saga Edition versions of Star Wars d20.

    And I'm glad the post was of some help.