The Academae Lecture Series -
Methods for Necromantic Success
Greetings my friends! ‘Tis I, Osiric the Osirion, Necromancer for Good! High Priest of Aroden! Tenured Professor of Necromancy of the Academae in Korvosa, and the ersatz demon lord saviour of the Diamond City! A most heartfelt welcome one and all! Please take a seat close to the center of the room, as the lecture hall here in the Hall of Whispers is expected to fill up soon, with the living and the dead.
Good, good. Let us begin.
<Osiric casts an illusion spell and a presentation appears on the wall.>
Society Play: Let us get the toughest question out of the way. Why even play a necromancer in the Pathfinder Society? After all, the greatest advantage a necromancer has - trusty service from his living-challenged friends - is wiped away at the end of every mission. Why spend your hard-earned onyx on raising a new companion when you must put them down again right after?
Why Choose a Necromancer? First and foremost, Necromancers are the only school of magic, wizard and otherwise, given Control Undead as a free feat. Control Undead, as a standard action (or a move action with Quick Channel!), is a save-or-be-dominated against all undead within 30’. This is therefore a tremendously powerful ability, and a very efficient use of resources from an action-economy perspective. Undead are very common opponents, and are immune to many of the tricks wizards can produce. Why waste multiple spell slots and many actions fireballing down a room of zombies when you can command them all with a single action? Even better: instead of a stinking pile of burned zombies on your hands, you have now got a wall of animated meat shields that will proceed you into the next battle.
Second, Grave Touch is a very powerful ability, as you can load up one on your familiar, and deliver a second on your own action, to frighten a foe without a save as long as they have less HD than you. As they remain shaken, you can then continue to hit them every round with another Grave Touch to crowd control them while your party deals with the rest of a combat. Try to use a spectral hand or your familiar as much as possible. Necromancers don’t belong in a melee.
Alternative Schools: The Undead School (my alma mater) is also quite nice, as you can boost the power of your undead friends quite substantially once you reach higher levels. Seeing an undead nalfeshnee tear apart a demon prince is quite amusing, let me tell you! The Life School is not recommended, due to losing Control Undead, and getting nothing worthwhile in exchange.
Next slide, please.
Key Point: A necromancer, played property, will get *stronger* with every fight, rather than weaker as with most wizards.
<Image shows monsters from three rooms in a dungeon rolling in a wave toward the final boss monster, followed by a bemused group of adventurers.>
As a necromancer, you get to cheer every time a dungeon throws undead at you. Just make sure you are a fellow Master of the Undead, as I am. Society wizards even qualify for it at 1st level, as we get Spell Focus in Necromancy to replace Scribe Scroll.
Race and Alignment: Contrary to rumour - any race, any gender, any alignment makes a suitable necromancer! I myself am human, and cannot resist the call to good in my soul, even though it hampers my success against monsters who have a *protection from good*. So if you're going to be possessing powerful demons with a magic jar, it helps to punch an orphan and become neutrally-aligned, at least for the day.
Stats: Related to the above point, all necromancers must have a high intelligence, and moderately high dexterity, constitution, and charisma. Only strength and wisdom may be sacrificed on the altar of power. As we are the only wizard school that actually needs charisma (for Command Undead), we can actually surprise people by serving as a spokesman for our groups. We have the skill points for it, and if you are extremely fashionable as (I know, I boast!) I am, you can certainly use your large pool of skill points to be very successful as party face:
A charming necromancer is a living necromancer, that's what my mother always told me. (Not that there's anything with death - or undeath - mind you.) But one of our main goals is to let others get punched in the face, while we do not get blood on our fantastic robes. Becoming a student of philosophy is also essential for success in the face department.
Familiar: I have traveled for a long time with Seth, my small Osiriani greensnake, but I understand such a choice is not for most of you. The improbably-named rhamphorhynchus is the best choice of companion for an adventuring necromancer. The reasons for this are threefold: one, its high-twitch nature speeds up your reactions, which is crucial for success as a wizard, two it can fly, which means it can deliver touch spells for you without having to crawl through a mêlée, three, it can charge to deliver a touch spell without provoking attacks from the defending target, a problem that plagues almost all other tiny animals. Nobody will complain if you choose a compsognathus, either, unless you try to make them pronounce it. Even though it can't fly and will provoke AOOs when delivering touch spells, the initiative bonus it provides is unparalleled.
Let’s look at Seth now, though, at the end of my career. He's evolved a bit over the years. <Osiric produces an emerald-colored pseudodragon from within his robes. The small dragon preens a bit, and shows off its 10' long tail.> Notice the extended tail? I highly recommend it for anyone who has befriended a pseudodragon. It allows them to hover above a target forcing them to provoke AOOs if they move, and allows delivering touch spells against creatures with reach.
Why do we want familiars to deliver touch spells at all? As necromancers, much of our offense comes from touch spells, and, again, we do not want to be near monsters. It hurts to be struck in the face by a dragon, believe me on this my friends! Let others be hit in our place! “Pugna pro me!”
I've been trying to get our department motto changed to this.
Rather than try to rudely push your way through the mêlée to stagger that half-ogre half-demon half-dragon you are fighting, throw your familiar into the air and let him do the dirty work! With a minimal amount of preparation (Exhibit 1, Exhibit 2, Exhibit 3) your trusty companion will be as hard to kill as a fighter in full plate.
In the meantime, you can be backpedalling away from the fight as quickly as you can. It has saved my life on many occasions, my friends! It is intelligence, not cowardice!
Feats and Traits: There are many tricks to try, my friends, many tricks indeed! I will share them now, as my career has finally come to an end. You can take the feats and traits in whatever order you want, to suit your own fancy.
Command Undead+Quick Channel+Undead Master+Improved Channel+Sacred Conduit+Charisma Boosters: At 14th level, just by spending a standard action all undead within 30' must roll a DC24 will save or come under my command. You know how much fun it is to have a devourer (50% chance of failing its save) under your command? It can animate dead at will, cast inflict serious wounds on your undead army to heal them, and even give you a true seeing whenever you need it. Besides the indescribable torment it inflicts on the soul it has imprisoned, there's no downside! And if it does make its save, then you spend a move action and force it to save again. With 13 command undeads per day, you'll hit your hit dice cap (even boosted by Undead Master) well before you run out of channelling attempts.
Heighten Spell + Preferred Spell: Heighten spell is very useful in its own regard. Passing out heightened continual flame spells (that your friends get to keep between games, even in Pathfinder Society) will defeat all the many encounters that try to use darkness as a dirty trick against us paragons of bravery! I also heighten my primary attack spells, such as my persistent glitterdust and magic jar. Spell focus is only superior when you are only casting spells from one school, and necromancers must be flexible, my friends.
Furthermore, if you have Heighten Spell (which you can get for free at 5th or 10th level of wizard), then you qualify for one of the best feats in the game: Preferred Spell. It gives you the main benefit of being one of those lazy, ignorant sorcerers without actually needing to be lazy and/or ignorant! For me, my preferred spell of choice is none other than The Bubble, the single greatest way of preventing your face from being smashed by ungrateful cultists! (Glitterdust would be an exceptional preferred spell to have as well, or magic jar, or whatever spell you’ve selected with Spell Perfection.)
Magical Lineage + Persistent Spell + Glitterdust: As the most fashionable member of the Academae of Korvosa (no offense, Dean Kamon, no offense!), it is my sacred duty to bring a bit of fabulous joy into even the darkest corners of Golarion. Starting as a 5th level wizard, you can use this combo to blind foes in a 10' radius with an 85% chance of success. Best of all: no spell resistance! If monsters are clustered up, this one spell will usually end the combat if you can go first.
Speaking of which:
Improved Initiative+Reactionary+Cracked Dusty Rose Ioun Stone+Dex-boosting items. Ok, it's not much of a combo, but you really want to go first so that you can hit monsters before they hit you, and ideally when they are all still clustered up.
Improved Familiar (Pseudodragon) + Evolved Familiar (+5' reach): You now have a familiar that has a save-or-die attack (sleep DC21, or 25 if you share a pernicious poison with it), a good fly speed, blindsense 60', and the ability to deliver touch attacks with a 10' reach, which is a huge benefit.
Spell Penetration+Greater Spell Penetration+Piercing Spell+Dweomer's Essence: Personally I use multiple rods of piercing spell, as they are cheap, rather than hardcasting them and having to buy the feat. By throwing 500gp per spell at the problem (for when you really need to make sure a spell beats their SR), you can combine the two to get +10 on all caster level checks. Nothing beats beating a Balor's spell resistance on a 2, except maybe using an Emergency Force Sphere to stop him from imploding you.
Dazing Spell+any spell with ongoing effects: A dazing fireball is nice and all. As a 6th level spell, though... it leaves a bit to be desired. Sure, it does 10d6 damage, and will probably stun some of your enemies for three rounds, but you have to be extra careful not to hit your friends, and its sort of out and over with. But a dazing spell combined with something like a flaming sphere gives you the opportunity to chain-stun a target. Even better? A heightened, dazing chill touch - this spell was my bread and butter. Toss it on your familiar, and then every round your familiar has a chance to daze an opponent for a few rounds, for a number of attacks equal to your caster level. Oh, an undead just popped out of the ground? Touch it and cause it to make a DC24 will save or be panicked for 1d4+14 rounds.
The most lethal dazing spell I have, though, is a dazing wall of fire. You drop it on a line of foes, and they have one chance to make a will save DC25 or, well, they will be toast. Even better? The heat aura from the wall will daze as well, and if you have party members with bull rush, you can pitch people back into the wall where they will become chain stunned and die. I killed a demon lord in the Siege of the Diamond City using this trick.
But it looks like we're getting into spell choices now. Next slide.
Before getting into the list proper, I'll show you my favorite tricks:
Emergency Force Sphere+Magic Jar: Bubbling is the single greatest spell in Pathfinder for not dying. It is an interrupt action that will negate almost anything against you unless you're flatfooted (which, again, is why you must have a high initiative and a high Perception). It will stop physical attacks, spells, and even the occasional avalanche. It cannot even be dispelled! The trouble with EFS, though, is that it takes a standard action to dismiss it, which will often leave you exposed next to an angry demon lord. This is where magic jar comes in. Magic jar is one of a very short list of spells that does not need line of sight or line of effect to work. So it goes down like this: A glabrezu prince tries to Power Word: Stun you so that he has five rounds to absolutely shred you to pieces. You bubble. On your turn, you cast magic jar and go unconscious. The glabrezu prince ineffectually tries to hammer through the wall of force (hardness 20, 150 hp). Next round he gets to roll two DC27 will saves or die. He has a 10% chance of success.
Emergency Force Sphere+Possess Object: Same trick, different name. The neat thing about Possess Object is that there's no will save involved. As long as there's a suitable object nearby you can possess it and then go about beating on people while your body safely lies inside the bubble. After combat is over, carefully package up your body, and then enjoy spending the rest of the day as the party tank.
EFS+Walk Through Space: You might notice a pattern here - a lot of my tricks rely on EFS, and there's a good reason for it. I don't like being hit, and I can cast EFS in every combat via Preferred Spell. Walk Through Space allows you to step out of your bubble as a move action, and cast a spell. Then the next round, cast a spell, and move back into the bubble. At lower levels, you can use tricks like expeditious excavation to carve out foxholes under the dome that he can use to cast spells from cover. Or dimension door/teleport to get out of there if the battle is unsalvageable. Or you can pick up earth glide via elemental body and play similar tricks.
EFS+Cloak of Dreams: Cloak of dreams is an area effect, ongoing, save or die spell. The downside to it is that it is a full-round cast. With EFS, you can protect yourself while casting, and then dismiss it as a standard action and move up to have it take effect, without wasting any actions, effectively. The best part is that creatures with scent (including several powerful demons) suffer a -4 to their save or die.
Nondetection or Mind Blank+Invisibility: While many wizards swear by a ring of evasion, I would rather take no damage at all! A ring of invisibility is a great purchase for any necromancer, only superseded by the awesomeness of the decoy ring. Simply double move everywhere you go, and you will start all combats with three rounds of greater invisibility up, as well as four decoy mirror images to draw attacks away from you. The big drawback to invisibility is the fact that most powerful foes have either see invisibility or true seeing. This is where nondetection comes in! In order for a nalfeshnee to successfully see a 14th level wizard with his innate true seeing, he must successfully roll a DC29 caster level check! Which he will fail, 85% of the time. There's nothing more glorious than watching an advanced Nalfeshnee fail to spot an invisible foe for the first time. And then watching the other arcane spellcaster fall victim to a feeblemind. Don't be that guy. Be smart. Protect yourself!
Animate Dead+Remove Paralysis: Finally, a note on our keystone ability as a necromancer. You really don't want to create the bog-standard boring skeletons and zombies. There's two main types of undead you'll want to choose from: bloody skeletons (who can't die) and fast zombies who can full attack. A fast zombie needs you (or a friend) to read a remove paralysis scroll, which is a cleric scroll. So. Remember our high charisma? Taking max ranks in UMD is a very, very good idea for all necromancers for this reason. It's a lot cheaper to read scrolls of remove paralysis than haste.
After I killed a Nalfeshnee boss in the Siege of the Diamond City (via an empowered caustic eruption and a mass suggestion for his demon underlings to "Start the revolution!") I swooped in, invisible, and animated his corpse. After statting out a fast zombie Nalfeshnee, I realized it was actually slightly better in combat than the base version. Sure, it doesn't have spells, but just as a straight up brawler, it was doing about 60 damage a round, with a 15' reach, with 200 or so hit points. Was it worth 350 gold pieces of oynx, when the rest of my party was confused, dead, banished, or feebleminded, and I, Osiric the Osirion, stood alone on the field against a demon army?
Yes, well, I'd say it was.
Heightened, persistent magic jar (DC 27). A demon lord managed to coup de grace me while I was under the effects of this spell. But death is no hindrance to a necromancer! I possessed his rival, and slew him from beyond the grave.
Caustic Eruption+Empowering Topaz: I do not believe wizards should be wasting their time dealing damage. Archers, barbarians, monks and your various zombies and commanded undead serve that rôle. But occasionally you need to damage large groups of creatures, and dealing the equivalent of 42d6 at 14th level is one of the ways to do this. The empowering topaz is one of the best ways to throw money at a problem to make it go away.
Temporary Resurrection+Breath of Life: Most of you in the audience will know of breath of life, and its extreme limitation - the corpse must be reached within a round, and before it can be animated by a random necromancer passing by. Temporary resurrection allows us not only to bring a friend back from the dead, and without the severe liability of being a cleric, but it also allows us to bypass the 1 round restriction on breath of life, as we can ensure we die a second time in front of a friendly cleric.
For additional amusement, cast this spell while possessing a demon prince, to restore life to your own corpse. Not a lot of people can say that they’ve brought themselves back from the dead.
False Life or Greater False Life: It is imperative to keep these spells up on you and your familiar. No matter how cautiously you run away from every fight, yelling for your zombies to be hit in your stead, you will still take damage. And you do not want to take damage. Empower Spell works wonders with false life, due to the large flat bonus, but I actually recommend carrying a wand of it at all times. Put it back up after every fight. It will make a tremendous difference to your survivability.
Communal Resist Energy should be on every wizard's spell list. It will shut down elemental based opponents, cold.
Walls: Wall of force, wall of ice, wall of fire, even the questionable wall of lava all have their place. And their place is in battles where monsters outnumber our valiant heroes, and you do not want to die. Draw a line through the middle of their forces, and fight just half of them at one time. 2 + 2 does not equal 4, my friends! It is far easier to fight two dragons, twice, than it is to fight four dragons at once. Trust me on this. When fighting creatures that can teleport, dimensional anchor or -lock is also required.
Snares and traps: Even for a high powered caster, there are many low level spells that can serve to control the battlefield. Web is a very powerful way to slow down an approaching army, as is create pit and similar spells. At higher levels, phantasmal web can end entire combats, and forcecage is a save or die for any creature that cannot teleport. If you wish to be exceptionally cruel to your foes (and who doesn't?) use spells like telekinesis, hydraulic push, and repulsion to further control them around and into your walls, traps, and snares.
Buy tons and tons of cheap consumables. Potions of lesser restoration. Wands of protection from evil, grease, longstrider, cure light wounds or infernal healing, if you are more of the evil persuasion. Scrolls of haste, of fly, of remove paralysis, expeditious excavation, air bubble, ant haul, etc.... all those things that you might really need in a pinch. Once you get a bit of money together, get a wand of false life.
I bought one each of the +1 to skill check cracked ioun stones for each of the skills I use. Pathfinder Chronicles are also a nice purchase for a wizard. Buy the full set, just not from those door-to-door salesmen. They always overcharge you.
Metamagic rods are also extremely useful. I use two Piercing rods, as well as one Toppling (lesser) for magic missiles, and an Intensified rod for shocking grasp.
For big ticket items, I use a greater plague rat belt (+2 to dex and con, plus three rerolls per day on saving throws vs. poison and disease), +6 headband of intelligence, a spectral shroud (permanent see invisibility and the ability to escape a grapple 1/day), an Azlant pendant (+5 on knowledge religion checks, and +10 on one skill check per day, isn’t it nice to worship Aroden? Plus he has nothing bad to say about our undead.), a gossip glass, gloves of elvenkind, and a ring of invisibility or decoy ring.
Thanks for sitting with me through this lecture. Any questions?
Yes, thank you for the question, psychicmachinery. Here is a sample feat progression, though I encourage you to decide for yourself which aspect of necromancy you wish to focus on:
1st level: Spell Focus: Necromancy (free), Undead Master, Improved Channel (human)
3rd level: Improved Initiative
5th level: Persistent Spell, Heighten Spell
7th level: Improved Familiar (pseudodragon)
9th level: Evolved familiar (+5’ reach with sting attacks)
10th level: Dazing Spell
11th level: Preferred Spell (Emergency Force Sphere)
13th level: Quick Channel
15th level: Spell Perfection (Glitterdust or Magic Jar), Greater Spell Focus: Necromancy
Osiric has additional traits instead of prefered spell, and additional traits from a PFS game.
Sample Spell List:
Another good question, thanks Faskill. Again, I encourage you to make your own choices, but this is currently his spell list at 15th level:
Wizard Spells Prepared (CL 15th; concentration +25):
8th—dazing height chill touch [S] (DC 27), maze, mind blank
7th—caustic eruption (DC 27), dazing wall of fire, forcecage (DC 27), temporary resurrection [S]
6th—height prstnt glitterdust (2, DC 24), height prstnt magic jar [S] (DC 30), mass suggestion (DC 26), repulsion (DC 26), sirocco (DC 26)
5th—communal stoneskin, dazing flaming sphere (DC 22), dominate person (DC 25), height prstnt glitterdust (DC 23), possess object [S], prstnt magic jar (DC 29), wall of force
4th—animate dead [S], dimension door, emergency force sphere (3), greater invisibility, wall of ice (DC 24)
3rd—ablative barrier (2), communal resist energy (2), dispel magic, prstnt chill touch [S] (DC 23), prstnt glitterdust (DC 21)
2nd—command undead (DC 24), communal protection from evil, create pit (DC 22), false life [S], false life, frigid touch, resist energy, web (DC 22)
1st—magic missile (3), ray of enfeeblement [S] (DC 23), shield companion, shocking grasp (2), vanish
0 (at will)—acid splash, dancing lights, prestidigitation (DC 20), touch of fatigue (DC 22)
Precast: Tomb Legion, Polymorph Any Object