How do I make viable necromancer villains?


I'm sorry if the question has come up too much before, but my searches have so far haven't solved my problem. Most of the hits were about PC builds, or making especially dangerous villains. My problem is the undead minions feeling embaressingly weak next to a lvl5 cleric.

It seems like the difference between the level needed for an antagonist to raise low level undead, and the strength of those undead, makes a necromancer useless as a low level villain.

Animate Dead is 4th level for wizards (so fireball is an alternative), and 3rd for cleric (the negative energy damage is at 3d6). A skeleton is cr1/3. I am not seeing how a party that can handle that kind of villain is even slowed down by the +0 attacks of those skeletons, or how a party that is challenged by skeletons could survive making eye contact with that villain.

I want to put together a low level adventure based around a necromancer villain. I really don't want to use stronger undead (I'm after 'skeletons and zombies' for this, not cyclops lich), and I am vaguely dissatisfied with giving the guy a wand*.

What am I missing?

* foreshadowing that there is a bigger bbeg is nice, but not to the point that this villain is obviously a chump.

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here's a troll: oids/giants/troll
It has 6 HD -so you gonna have to give villain a feat of a trait that raises Cl by one.
Apply Skeleton or fast zombie template - make 3 of them.

Have them stand in front of the necromancer.

have the necromancer use his action buffing the troll skeletons, or debuffing the players...

Troll Skeleton
To hit (+4 bab +5 Str - 1 size) +8.
2 claws and a bite attack. Nothing wrong with that.

That's a good point, and definitely something to keep in mind. Great set of bruisers for a decent level necromancer.

Are there any other ways to handle things at a lower level though? I'm talking 'our first adventure', apl 3 sorta villain?

It seems the problem is escalation. You don't fight a necromancer by himself, and a CR5-ish cleric plus a pair of them... bit horrifying for our 3rd level party.



Spread the undead out a bit.

First encounter could be a single skeletal champion (CR2, iirc) with a handful of fodder skeletons to soak up attacks.

Later they encounter a zombie ogre or two.

After that another critter (I like to switch up types, so maybe some humanoids or animals, a swarm perhaps), before the bbeg showdown.

Now, the pcs have likely used up bunches of their AoE spells, and then they have to deal with Mr. Necromancer and his undead chums.

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The undead a necromancer creates don't disappear when he creates more. There is simply a limit on the number he can control at one time. A mass of undead out of the necromancer's control—but unable to attack the villain because of physical barriers—will up the danger level of the final encounter to whatever degree is required and still have some controlled undead to act as bodyguards.

And don't forget have a shine + desecration...

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If you're going for a very low-level villain (so they can be surrounded by minions without TPKing the party), I'd suggest either a necromancy specialist (who get command undead for free) or a cleric who took the command undead feat. Both are totally feasible at level one.

With either of those, they can keep a small cadre of undead. Where the undead comes from is an interesting question. Either they've been seconded to the low-level character by a greater villain, they were left by some previous necromancer, or they're naturally occurring.

That question is actually a bonus. It's a great plot hook.

Mythic Thoughts:
For a Mythic spin, though, perhaps the necromancer has a shrine or artifact or what have you that causes bodies in the area to return as undead. They're uncontrolled at first, but the necromancer carefully separates out a few and commands them.

To drive home the creepiness, you can have encounters with bodies trying to dig themselves out of their graves. It's a classic in swamps, with arms reaching out of the muck, but can work fine in graveyards or forests or old battlefields too. With a little grappling and limited damage, they could provide great "terrain" for the fight with the necromancer, keeping the PCs at a distance for a few rounds.

Also, there's something beautiful about striking down a necromancer and having him return immediately as a ghoul or fast zombie or whatever. It doesn't need a ton of HP, just enough to soak the first hit or two and freak the party out when they think the fight's over. Maybe let it still channel negative energy.

Destroying the shrine or artifact could be a good Moment of Ascension or trial.


Grand Lodge

A fun idea would make it cult style. Have them fight so low level necromancy wizards with a few skeletons/zombies to give them some meat shields. Maybe toss a few ghouls (and maybe 1 ghast) in. Finish it with An Undead Lord cleric with a few more undead/cultist back up. For a bigger plot, have this be a small section of the cult, ruled by some dracolich or whatnot.

Scarab Sages

Why not also give your BBG a mortal assistant? Say maybe a 3rd level to compliment your 5th, combined with the above thoughts of undead/swarms/traps/ect....Also a skeletal champion with the stats of a 3rd level caster could be a nasty opponent (with like channel negative....yikes!).

You are by no means limited to what the classes can normally do when creating a villain.

Maybe this guy is just a scholar that happened upon a very rare artifact that gave him the ability to raise the dead, and when the PCs defeat him and discuss what to do with the artifact, it vanishes, but the player's find clues indicating someone snuck into camp using magic and then stole the item.

Lesser Animate Dead is a second-level spell for clerics, so a third-level cleric can cast it. It only creates one undead at a time, but since they last until destroyed he could've just been working on it for a while. It seems to be pretty much exactly what you're looking for.

That is perfectly what I'm looking for, thank you!

Guess I really need to read ultimate magic.

One thing I use is some dinosaur Skeletons I bought in a 99store. The skeleton stegasausurs is a nice change of pace.
also you can cast some buffs like Bulls strength and other on Skeletons

So, of your two problems:
1) Single-hit die, mindless undead minions ARE weak for a 5th level cleric. They're mostly useful as fodder/distractions to equalize the action economy against a single, powerful villain for a few turns. Consider: Every action spent destroying the undead fodder is an action NOT spent killing the necromancer.

Alternately, there ARE some beefier low-level monsters that might conceivably be common enough to rationalize in undead hordes. Think Bugbears, Ogres, etc. Even animals like bears make somewhat more effective minions. Are goblins common in your game world? Goblin skeleton archers have a +4 bonus to hit, just like goblins. Are orcs common in your game world? Orc zombies are capable of making +5 AB weapon attacks for 2d4+6 (falchion) or 1d12+6 (greataxe) damage respectively.

2) So you want to use an Necromancer villain against PCs who are of too low a level to normally face the presence of Animate Dead? Well guess what - as DM, you get to bend or break the rules on occasion. Think of alternate means - an NPC might be able to plunder a scroll of Animate Dead from a tomb, or purchase it on the black market. Or perhaps a secret, evil cult has found some means of raising the dead through unspecified ritual magic. An evil wizard might discover and cultivate a species of mold that causes the dead to rise as zombies. Just remember, if the villain cannot afford to raise dead through normal expenditure of resources (NPC wealth or spell slots), you need to be including the CR of the undead minions in the final tabulation.

Also keep in mind that you're allowed to pit the PCs against clusters of enemies that are of higher total CR than your average party level. Just be careful to make sure the enemies cannot instakill the PCs or pose challenges that the PCs are not equipped to deal with (e.g. powerful incorporeal creatures against PCs without magic weapons).

A juju zombie body guard or 2 doesnt hurt


Stinking Cloud + Hasted Zombies. Requires necro to be lv5.

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