With Forgotten Realms being the default setting for 5e, I am curious if there is the possibility for a necromancer, specifically a wizard, to be considered not evil:

  1. In terms of alignment

  2. In terms of how they are viewed by the general populace.

I haven't seen any rules specifically pointing out necromancers as evil, but going over the list of necromancers in the Forgotten Realms Wiki the closest thing to non-evil is someone who was impersonating a neutral character before they revealed themselves as evil.

So, would it be thematically reasonable to have a neutral or even good necromancer, interested in manipulating life forces without explicit malicious intent? Would it be possible to do the same, while summoning undead?


8 Answers 8


From the description of the Necromancy school in the basic rules v1 (emphasis mine)

Necromancy spells manipulate the energies of life and death. Such spells can grant an extra reserve of life force, drain the life energy from another creature, create the undead, or even bring the dead back to life. Creating the undead through the use of necromancy spells such as animate dead is not a good act, and only evil casters use such spells frequently.

It seems like you can assume necromancy is evil unless a usually good spellcaster uses it infrequently. The key is in the "frequently". I think it's up to your GM to say if animating deads once a day is considered frequent enough to make you evil.

Generalizing about necromancy is a matter of survival for common folks. The crazy dude in town digging graves and experimenting with corpses is not necessarily evil, but you'd be a fool to assume he's not. In almost all the settings I know (I'm not the most literate about FR but I've never read anything about a good necromancer) necromancy is either straight evil or shady...really shady. Unless NPCs have affiliations or knowledge of the contrary, they will be suspicious of necromancers.

  • 24
    \$\begingroup\$ You're ignoring all the necromancy spells that don't create undead. Reincarnate, clone, resurrection... It's possible to be a necromancer who never creates undead at all, though I must admit I've never actually encountered one. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Apr 18, 2016 at 0:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe You're forgetting the OP: "So, would it be thematically reasonable to have a neutral or even good necromancer, interested in manipulating life forces without explicit malicious intent? Would it be possible to do the same, while summoning undead?" (emphasis mine) \$\endgroup\$
    – Azuaron
    Aug 23, 2016 at 12:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Azuaron No, I didn't forget; I'm well aware of that part of the question. I just didn't see any reason to mention it in my comment, my comment's purpose was to point out the part of the question this answer doesn't address. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Aug 24, 2016 at 3:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's not a problem. I can stop raising the dead any time I want. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 7, 2017 at 4:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note: The nation of Karrnath in the Eberron setting considers Necromancy to be Morally Neutral. They treat Undead as 'organic constructs' and frequently employ them as anything from shock troops to manual laborers. (Eberron is generally fuzzier on good/evil than other settings). A body donated to be 'recycled' with necromancy is often considered by the Karrnathi to be a way of continuing your service to the nation even after death. \$\endgroup\$ May 17, 2019 at 13:28

The Player's Handbook page 118, when describing the School of Necromancy subclass feature says:

Most people see necromancers as menacing , or even villainous, due to the close association of death. Not all necromancers are evil , but the forces they manipulate are considered taboo by many societies.

There is room in the novels for non evil necromancers but you will be working uphill to convince others you are good.

Remember, that most of your necromancy school special abilities are focused on creating or working with the undead. So unless you work out with your DM alternative school features, or totally ignore your class features (in which case why would you pick necromancy to begin with?), you will be creating undead which most view as evil incarnate, and goes against many deities including the FR God of death Kelemvor. But you can always be the drizzt of necromancers.

The following are possible replacement abilities you might want to request from your DM:

School of Affable Necromancy

Grim Harvest: This can probably remain as is.

Undead Thralls: Instead of Undead Thralls at level 6, perhaps you can replace this with Revive the fallen, raise monsters from unconsciousness that were recently made unconscious and have them under your control by trapping their soul but keeping their body a bit alive. This mostly requires make a new version of the "animate dead" spell.

Inured to Undeath: Instead Inured to Undeath at level 10, perhaps keep the power the same, but change the name to Resist Undeath and the flavor so it's an overwhelming amount of life flowing through you that helps you resist the undead.

Command Undead: Instead of Command Undead at level 16, you might ask to change this to Release Undead. Same effect but instead of controlling them you release them from their state, and their soul does some action for you as a sign of gratitude. The soul is then sent to the realm of the dead.

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ With respect to Revive the Fallen: I don't see how forced servitude of an unwilling creature is any less evil than animate dead. The rest all seem fine, by the level 6 ability is every bit as bad as animate dead. If you don't mind a suggestion, perhaps replace this with a spell that creates a construct from the target's gear/natural armor instead with the same stats as the animated dead creature would have had. At least this way you aren't imprisoning a soul or forcing a creature into slavery. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 8, 2016 at 5:26

From the basic rules (Player's Handbook, p.203)

Necromancy spells manipulate the energies of life and death. Such spells can grant an extra reserve of life force, drain the life energy from another creature, create the undead, or even bring the dead back to life.

So, you could be a necromancer who focuses on the "life" side of their powers. I'd say that sort of Necromancer is more likely to be good-aligned.

But, for the second part of your question, about creating undead:

Creating the undead through the use of necromancy spells such as animate dead is not a good act, and only evil casters use such spells frequently.

So, if you're that sort of Necromancer, you're probably evil.

Let's look at a breakdown of the Necromancy spells…

The following spells are helpful or at least not directly harmful (i.e., probably "good"):

  • Astral Projection
  • Clone
  • False Life (The description says you're giving yourself a "semblance of life", so this is arguably leaning to the evil side)
  • Feign Death
  • Gentle Repose
  • Raise Dead
  • Resurrection
  • Revivify
  • Spare the Dying
  • Speak with Dead
  • True Resurrection

These are harmful (i.e., maybe "evil"), but not undead-creating:

  • Bestow Curse
  • Blight
  • Blindness/Deafness
  • Chill Touch
  • Circle of Death
  • Contagion
  • Eyebite
  • Harm
  • Inflict Wounds
  • Magic Jar
  • Ray of Enfeeblement
  • Ray of Sickness
  • Vampiric Touch

These are the only undead-creating spells:

  • Animate Dead
  • Create Undead
  • Finger of Death
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ In regards to the "These spells may be Evil" (because they cause damage or some negative status), that really doesn't make sense. Is casting Fireball Evil? It causes damage after all. Is casting Hold Person or Hideous Laughter Evil because it inflicts a negative status? No. The only necromancy spells that are actually bad to cast are the ones that create undead, and only if you do it frequently. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 4, 2020 at 15:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RevanantBacon "Is casting Fireball Evil? It causes damage after all." It can be, if you're burning innocent civilians to death with it. \$\endgroup\$
    – nick012000
    May 24, 2021 at 5:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nick012000 You've entirely missed the point. Using a tool for an evil deed doesn't make that tool evil, it makes the person that's using it evil. The tool is still just a tool. \$\endgroup\$ May 24, 2021 at 12:12

While the rules as written state that necromancers are generally considered evil and their magic is dark. One could make arguements against this:

In the book "Dungeon and Dragons and Philosophy" (2014), A chapter entitled "Expediency and Expendability: An exhumation of the morality of necromancy" by Matthew Jones and Ashley Brown provides arguements on how moral necromancy is. In summary, they say while moral absolutist would say raising the dead is bad, other argue that you are not raising the dead being soul, you are merely animating their corpse which is just using resources that are no longer being used.

In the 5E monster manual, it clearly states that skeletons are souless (as their soul can be restored) and that zombies have no semblance of their former self. So one could argue that raising them is not evil, no more than using their bones for any other purpose. One could even try to engage in consenting animation of the undead (like organ donors) or only animate the truly evil (like orcs)

One could consider other magic schools are more evil, another chapter of the aforemention book mentions that summoning spells can take freewill being away and force them to fight (which could be more evil) and this could naturally extended to enchantment spells being the control of anothers mind (dominate person, etc).

  • \$\begingroup\$ I disapprove of you using the blanket statement that all orcs are evil \$\endgroup\$
    – KAmber
    Mar 4, 2020 at 19:08

The easiest way for a Wizard necromancer to not be evil is for him not to create undead.

This also isn't strange. While Wizard necromancers can create undead, that's usually more of an evil cleric thing. While I'm not entirely certain of 5th edition, in 3.5 this is represented both thematically and mechanically - clerics are simply better at undead than wizards. The wizard necromancer tend to be more focused on debuffs.

Necromancer school is the study of the soul. Creation of undead is not the only thing it is good for. And while making someone feeble or sick or level draining them might be rather nasty, it's not necessarily more evil than say, splitting their skull open with an axe.

Creation of undead on the other hand is evil. An unthinking undead should not just be a robot or other type of automaton, it should be a vessel of primordial evil.

At least as a default. Subverting the above is popular enough to be a cliche on its own. 5th ed even severely weakens alignment as a concept.

Look, alignment in dnd is an interesting and very unique aspect of the game. It fulfills a very central precept to old school fantasy, that of evil and good not just being just a moral value system, but universal forces, as real and tangible physical properties as mass or temperature. If you want to keep the distinct and colorful aspects that alignment grants my advice is to keep the creation of undead as evil, but allow for good necromancers as long as they avoid doing that, alternatively play as an evil party.

As for the general populance it would be up to the gm.


Raising the dead doesn't have to be evil

Jergal was the Forgotten Realms god of Death, who decided he was bored of being the God of Death and had three mortals ascend to his job instead. He remained as their scribe, and continued to do that job even after other gods took over from the Dead Three.

He now serves Kelemvor, the current god of Death, and his domain as a god is now the recording of deaths. He is Lawful Neutral, and doesn't give a damn about you raising undead as long as it serves the ultimate purpose of everything, to eventually die.

In fact, Jergal's temples had specific groups of priests who did this kind of thing:

The Companions of the Pallid Mask were a group of Jergal's priests who specialized in combating and commanding the undead. They eliminated the undead creatures whose existance was not sanctioned by the church or who had proven to be troublesome.They also were the supervisors of the skeleton and zombie work crews that the church sometimes ran to profit itself.

In the grand scheme of thing, only one thing is certain if you ask Jergal and that is that you will die. Raising an undead is fine, as long as you do it to preserve the natural order and those undead are used to further the natural way of life and death.

In ethos, Jergal is colder and more inhumane than his master (Kelemvor), sanctioning the use and creation of undead by his followers, provided they serve the cause of advancing death in the world. He is not evil or malicious, but impassively records the death of all things.


Necromancy isn't inherently evil in Eberron.

While in most settings Necromancy is considered to be evil, in the Eberron campaign setting you could be an adherent of The Blood of Vol and good aligned. While the majority of the radical members of the cult are probably evil (depends on your campaign) most of the "regular" folks who are followers of it are not actually evil.

The main premise of the religion is that True Divinity is within yourself, the Sovereign aren't real/present, when you die there is only nothingness (no afterlife) and so what happens to your corpse isn't important. What's important is what you do in this life. So having your corpse raised to do civil or military duties after you die is about equivalent to donating your body/organs to science in modern day.

Of course this will depend on your DM to some extent, there are some options if the DM wants them to be the Baddies of the campaign, but they're optional and I won't say anything more indepth to avoid spoilers.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Is that from the new eberron book? If so, can you cite where it says those things? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Mar 4, 2020 at 18:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, the question as it stands is specifically scoped to the Forgotten Realms setting, so I'm not sure material from Eberron is relevant in this case. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    Mar 4, 2020 at 19:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ I mean, when I answered this the title of the question said 5e or Forgotten Realms ... so I feel like it is. \$\endgroup\$
    – aslum
    Mar 4, 2020 at 19:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Oops. The Blood of Vol is the name of the religion, The Emerald Claw are almost all adherents of it. It's been a few months since my players ran up against it. It is indeed in the Religion section of the new Eberron book (and also in the 4e book, it's largely been unchanged), I'm not going to bother w/ page #s since it's easy to look up if you have the book. \$\endgroup\$
    – aslum
    Mar 4, 2020 at 19:48

The answer is very simple: ELVES.

Elves treat undeath very differently to other races. For them, becoming a lich doesn't necessitate evil; elven liches are called baelnorn, and seen as guardians. This may, however, stem from the simple fact that these elven liches don't need to feed souls to their phylacteries. Furthermore, elves, or more specifically their spirits, tend to stick around after their physical body has been rendered useless to them. Several kinds of undead are even elf-specific: banshees and ghouls are two examples.

In terms of Forgotten Realms lore, then, you could be a "good necromancer" if you are (a) an elf, and (b) only use elves for your undead after (c) asking their permission using speak with dead or some similar magic. Your presumable end-game ascent to lichdom would require no souls or sacrifice, because you would become a baelnorn. This also extends to the elves of Eberron lore, who have an even more pronounced relationship with undeath.

I don't know why the FR wiki would not list all the baelnorns as necromancers, since all baelnorns need to know some necromancy in order to become baelnorn. And since you must be good-aligned in order to become a baelnorn, then that means all baelnorns are good-aligned necromancers.

  • \$\begingroup\$ IIRC baelnorns are often volunteers who sacrifice their deserved afterlives for the greater good of their families/clans, and are often made by family mages rather than make themselves. That would mean not all baelnorns are necromancers. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 7, 2017 at 5:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ All baelnorn have the ability to summon or command undead. They are also typically powerful wizards, istal in the elven tongue (Forgotten Realms). Secondly, it is not family mages: they do have phylacteries, much like liches, which they create, but the Seldarine provide the energy required to sustain your undeath and your transition to lichdom. Finally. "deserved afterlife" is something that is a little strange for elves, since dead elves go to Arvandor, which Evermeet is a part of, but living elves live there too (in Evermeet), and there are baelnorn there. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 14, 2017 at 15:47

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