Dread Necromancer

Introduction

The Dread Necromancer is a strange class. Your spellcasting is very limited, restricting you to debuffs and anti-undead measures. As a result, you need to spend a lot of the lower levels in melee range. It doesn't help that many of your spells are touch range. To counteract this, you have DR. At low levels, this DR will do quite a bit of good, but you still aren't really a fighter, and it isn't likely you will do much damage compared to what you are taking. You can offset some of these problems with advanced learning, but the class is pretty miserable to play starting from level 1. If your DM throws you a bone, you can use Command Undead at level 4 to get yourself a pet, ideally an unintelligent one. Once you hit 8, the class becomes something entirely different, essentially becoming a customizable zookeeper with Animate Dead.  Unfortunately, skeletons and zombies can only take you so far, and at a certain point you are essentially just making a wall of meat. To get past this, you need to either start trying to use intelligent minions or switch your focus to spellcasting. Prestige classes can help with this. Overall, the effectiveness of this class depends very much on the type of campaign your DM is running, so make sure you discuss with him before you decide to use a Dread Necromancer.

Base Stats

Hit Die: d6 – Not especially great, but at least the DR from the class will make it last longer.
Base Attack Bonus: Half – Extremely frustrating, especially at lower levels. Your charnel touch class ability and your touch and ray spells all require an attack, and you are not going to hit that often.
Saves: Bad Fort, Bad Ref, Good Will – A bad Fortitude save is somewhat made up for by the mental bastion ability, but you are still vulnerable to kill spells among other things, which can be bad.
Skill Points: 2 + INT – It would be frustrating to have so few skill points if you had anything useful to invest in. You don't even have Diplomacy, which is a necessity for a Charisma character.

Ability Scores

Strength – Strength is not a priority for you, but at low levels you are stuck doing shit for damage and can't hit with anything. In a campaign starting from level 1, you probably need to make sure this isn't negative.
Dexterity – Having a better AC is nice, and if you can afford the points. If you build that way, Weapon Finesse can help you on your touch spells. That said, you are better served investing elsewhere if you can manage.
Constitution – Gives you extra HP, which is nice when you consider the the damage reduction essentially makes it count for more. It also helps with your otherwise crappy Fortitude saves.
Intelligence – The only thing this does is give you extra skill points, which you can't invest in anything efficiently. Of course, roleplaying a dumb necromancer isn't necessarily what most people have in mind, but that's down to personal preference.
Wisdom – Doesn't do much for you beyond boost your Will saves, which are already your highest. You never really want to dump Wisdom, but you can probably go for 10 here if you have to.
Charisma – The stat that determines everything about your spellcasting, as well as your rebuking. Obviously, make this your highest stat.

Races

There are many choices for races, but here are some examples of the kinds of things you want to look for as a Dread Necromancer and the things you want to avoid.

HumanSRD – There aren't a lot of races that boost Charisma, so getting an extra feat is far from the worst thing you can do. This is especially true if you are starting a campaign from level 1.
Silverbrow HumanDM – As with the human, but you trade the Skill Points for the Dragonblood subtype, which can allow you to choose feats intended for only Dragonblooded characters. Also, use Feather Fall as a SLA 1/day per 5 hit dice. You don't really need the skill point anyway, so you can consider this option.
Strongheart HalflingFRCS – Potentially better than Human, but the slow movement speed can get on your nerves. Better AC and attack, and losing STR in exchange for DEX is fine if you go for Weapon Finesse or start higher than level 3 or so.
HalflingSRD – Probably worse than Strongheart unless you specifically don't want to use the feats. The race has other defensive modifiers, but they are not worth it really.
GnomeSRD – A penalty to STR and a bonus to CON is worth it if you don't need to do anything with melee. Much worse starting from level 1.

Class Features

1 Armor Proficiency: Light Armor – Better than nothing, but you wish you had more, especially at low levels. If nothing else, it gives you something to stack enchantments on.
1 Weapon Proficiency: All Simple, One Martial –  Much better than most arcane casters. Most of the time it makes sense to go for a longbow or similar, but you can certainly try a greatsword if you go for a STR build.
1 Spellcasting – Lots of spells per day, which will surely get you through however many encounters you need. Being on the even-level spell progression is frustrating though.
1 Spells Known – The spell list for Dread Necromancer is pretty iffy, but you can do much worse.
1 Charnel Touch (Su) – The big upside of this ability is that it has unlimited uses. The big downside is that the damage is negligible. The real use for this spell is to heal any undead minions you have. If you can spare the feat, you can also heal yourself with Tomb-Tainted Soul from Complete Arcane.
1 Armored Mage [Light] (Ex) – Allows you to wear a light armor and a shield without worrying about spell failure. Not really useful at high ECL, because armor enhancements alone can remove the penalty on light armor, but when starting out at level 1 it is definitely more useful than not, and in a campaign with no Magic-Mart or low-magic items, this becomes an even better feature.
1 Rebuke Undead (Su) – Rebuke Undead itself doesn't do that much, but it does allow you to use a variety of pretty decent feats. At adequately high levels you can also command undead with it, which is a nice bonus, especially if you can find some of the specialty undead with spell-like abilities.
2 Lich Body – The DR becomes pretty negligible before too long, but you actually get the bonus early enough for it to make a difference in combat. especially against enemies with long attack routines like bite/claw/claw, you can be protecting yourself from a lot of damage per turn.
3 Negative Energy Burst (Su) – Situationally useful, but not necessarily when you get it. The damage isn't amazing, but the restoration to undead can be substantial.
4 Advanced Learning (Ex) – Gaining extra spells is always great, but it's an even bigger deal when your spell list is so short. Unfortunately, at level 4 the options aren't amazing.
4 Mental Bastion – A bonus to saves isn't outstanding or anything, but it's better than nothing.
5 Fear Aura (Su) – This ability is literally non-functional as written, so its usefulness is going to depend on your DM. As it stands, the shaken effect of the aura has no duration. If the DM makes it last for 1 round, this ability is basically pointless. If it lasts much longer than that, it becomes that basis for one of the most effective strategies you have until you get undead minions. Fear effects stack, so once you have an enemy shaken with your aura, you can easily bring them up to frightened or panicked. The only big problem is that the aura only has a radius of 5 ft, which makes it difficult to both use the aura and cast a spell on the same turn. Even still, it's a free action and therefore very good.
6 Scabrous Touch (Su) – A free 3rd level spell would amazing if it was a good one, but sadly Contagion is not especially good. The initial damage from the diseases is not really enough to be worth the effort. Still, you'll probably use it whenever you have the chance.

Spell List

Description

0th-Level

It really doesn't matter, as you have a selection of virtually free cantrips.

1st-Level

Spells

2nd-Level

Spells

3rd-Level

Spells

 4th-Level

Spells

5th-Level

Spells

 

Feats

Description

Feats

Skills & Skill Tricks

Description. Star beside class skills. If not obvious, can just put “x points.” 

Skills

Appraise – 
Autohypnosis –
Balance – With 5 ranks in balance, you are not considered flat-footed while balancing. 0-5 points.
Bluff –
*Climb – 
Concentration – 
Craft – 
Decipher Script – 0 points.
Diplomacy –
Disable Device – 
Disguise – 
Escape Artist – 
Forgery – 0 points.
Gather Information – 
*Handle Animal – 
Heal – 
Hide – 
*Intimidate – 
*Jump – 
*Knowledge (nobility and royalty) – 
Knowledge (religion) – 
Knowledge (everything else) – 
Listen – 
Martial Lore – 
Move Silently – 
Open Lock – 
Perform –
Profession – 
*Ride – 
Search –
Sense Motive – 
Sleight of Hand – 
Spellcraft – 
Spot – 
Survival – 
*Swim – 
Tumble – 
Use Magic Device – 
Use Rope – 

Skill Tricks

Only if there are any worth mentioning do you need to fill this space.

Multiclass Options

Description.

Base Class

Prestige Classes

Description.

Prestige Class

Equipment

Magic Items

Description. Only really need to list special equipment that has synergy or class-specific use. Stat boosts and other generic items are not listed.

Weapons

Description. If a weapons section is necessary, then it should go here.

Relevant Rulings

This is a section for rulings that are commonly used to improve or make the class function; common misinterpretations of class abilities and related; fixes of broken rules; errata; or clarifications. May not need filled out. 

Finally a section for references/special thanks at the end.

2 comments

    • Thanks for the feedback. We’re still working on this guide, and I’ve personally been way too busy to deliver content at the level of quality I’d like. I do plan on finishing what’s here, I just have no estimate as to when.

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