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So Undead Thralls adds Animate Dead to your spellbook if it isn't already there, at level 6. You can get a free spell by holding off on Animate Dead until level 6, but why would the Necromancy school of all schools encourage a Wizard to use this spell later than all other classes? Or you take it at level 5 like any other Wizard could, and miss out on the free addition to your spellbook.

Both of those seem more like a punishment than a benefit. I was considering homebrewing this to grant an additional Necromancy spell (of level 3 or lower), but I want to make sure I'm not missing some strong benefit of this first.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is exactly what I thought when I made my first necromancer in 5e. \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Feb 10, 2020 at 16:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was about to write an answer and then realized Wizards can't actually trade out their known spells like other classes can... \$\endgroup\$ Feb 10, 2020 at 16:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 Yeah, wizards can't trade out spells because they effectively already get the "trade" for free - a 2nd spell learned at each level, without having to forget a spell first. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 10, 2020 at 16:48

2 Answers 2

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The meat of Undead Thralls is the enhancement to Animate Dead, and it's a highly effective boost, especially when you have the spell slot headroom to upcast and can have large numbers of undead at hand. Awarding the spell for free is more of a ribbon, rewarding patience, than anything else. It's not terribly potent, because Wizards can eventually add every class spell in the game to their spellbook, anyway.

The delay is an unfortunate side effect of the way the Wizard (and many other) classes are structured - they gain access to L3 spells at character level 5, and then an Arcane Tradition feature at L6. Giving the Necromancer at bonus spell at character level 5 simply wouldn't fit the established pattern.

You could certainly let at Necromancer pick a different spell without it affecting balance in any significant way. They get one extra free spell as compared to other wizards either way.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not entirely sure you can say the delay is due to how the class/subclass works. Take, for example, the Shadow Magic Sorcerer which gains the darkness spell at level 3 despite Sorcerers not having any subclass features gained at level 3. At the very least, things can and have broken the established patterns of their (sub)class \$\endgroup\$ Feb 10, 2020 at 16:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 That's the exception that proves the existence of the rule. That feature is rather awkwardly shoehorned in. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.J.L.
    Feb 10, 2020 at 16:53
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Due to flavor and the power of gaining spell levels

Gaining a new spell level is so powerful for the wizard, that none of their other class features are granted on the levels where they do that, like on 5th. Furthermore, all wizards schools share the levels at which they get their Arcane Tradition features: first on 2nd level, then on 6th. Animate Dead is a third level spell so the earliest opportunity to grant it is on 6th, as the wizard could not use it on 2nd.

Why then grant this signature spell, and nudge players who like to optimize postponing it, instead of granting a more obscure Necromancy spell as a free pickup, like Feign Death?

The answer is flavor. Animating Dead is what necromancers do, so the Necromancy Tradition grants it. Undead Thralls is not alone in this. Every wizard school makes it cheaper to copy school spells to the spellbook, so in effect, every wizard school discincetivizes the wizard to pick their own school's spells when they level, unless they want to lose the cost savings. Why? Again, flavor. It's what they do. The game design puts flavor above optimization here.1

Now, as T.J.L. observes, the main attaction of Undead Thralls is that it makes your undead a lot tougher. That is what matters. Picking up Animate Dead is just gravy.


1 You can see the exact same dynamic play out with the School of Transmutation wizard: they gain their signature spell, Polymporph ony at 10th level. This is a 4th level spell that they otherwise could pick at 7th level, but there is no Arcane Tradition slot at 7th (or 8th, or 9th), and at 6th they are not yet able to cast Polymorph.

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