Project Arcana: Necromancy 2

Ah yes, the “dark art” of Necromancy. Why the quotes? Because once upon a time, the Necromancy was also a school that dealt with life, not just rotting undead things. However, let’s not put the cart before the horse. Here’s 5e’s description of the school:

Necromancy spells manipulate the energies of life and death. Such spells can grant an extra reserve of life force, drain 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.

First of all, that last sentence is some judgmental bullshit, there. I know that the 5e books assume an FR campaign setting, but that is quite the statement. Sure, we have a taboo against defiling the dead in this culture, and in most throughout human history, but it is very easy to conceive of cultures which have no such taboo. Hell, I can name a fictional example off the top of my head: Klingons believe that once the soul has left the body for the great Klingon boat in the sky (it’s very Valhalla), the body is just an empty pile of meat not worthy of even burial rights or any recognition. I doubt they would care if you animated it any more than if you animated a broom to do your chores.

More importantly though (and far less tangentially), Necromancy spells are described as those which manipulate the energies of life and death. Yeah, this is dead-on accurate.

I want to show you a picture. This photo was snapped by me of a 1980 printing of the 1978 Official Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (IE 1st Edition AD&D) that I inherited from my parents many moons ago. (Not exactly ‘inherited’, since they’re alive, more like ‘gained’ because they left it unattended in a closet for a long time.)

What’s this? Cure Light Wounds? Surely this is the embodiment of good and wonderful white magics. And yet, here it is, labelled as a “Necromantic” spell. Surely that’s some sort of terrible misprint! Nope, healing used to be firmly in the school of Necromancy. I’m not saying that everything was better back in the Olden Days, but this is one instance where the early versions of D&D got it right.

So, why was healing thrown into Evocation? Simple: healing is too “good” to be associated with such an “evil” school. In English, the word “Necromancy” is laden with subtext and implications. It’s very definition described it as a “black art” ( Language and cultural bias is messy stuff.


The irony here is that Project Arcana completely agrees; Necromancy is usually considered “evil” where healing is usually considered “good.” This is an impasse which cannot be rectified. Healing should not be part of “Necromancy.” Problematically, healing does involve the same mechanisms as the other spells in the school, though.

And that doesn’t begin to address what is probably the most critical facet of Necromancy, which is manipulation of the ‘soul’. You can heal and damage and kill and animate someone all you want, but without a soul, it’s just so much meat. (There are those Klingons again!) Yet the title ‘necromancy’ doesn’t really encompass souls at all.

You haven’t really played D&D until you’ve played it in the original Klingon!

So, what are we going to do? We’re going to rename the school to Vitae. Vitae, a Latin word for life, nicely encompasses all that the school of Necromancy is supposed to do, yet has the flexibility and positive vibes to allow healing and soul manipulation to fall under it. Yeah, we know, it’s a pretty elegant solution. We’re just awesome that way.

Vitae has, like other Project Arcana schools of magic, three forms.

Vivacity spells are those that directly affect the very essences of life itself. These include healing spells, but also anything that directly deals necrotic damage (being a corruption of lifeforce). Further, spells that create diseases are included here, our reasoning being that a disease is, in essence, microscopic life. Creating life, no matter how small, is firmly within the scope of Vitae.

Spirituality spells are those that affect the soul and its connection to the body. Primarily, this is spells such as Astral Projection and Magic Jar and whatever it is that creates a Lich’s phylactery. We have also decided to place anything dealing with curses here, such as Bestow Curse. The idea is that a curse is a sort of soul-disease. Hex obviously fits this category as well (it is mind boggling that WotC didn’t put Hex here in the first place).

Necromancy spells are those that deal directly with death, as the name implies. This includes creating undead, as with Create Undead, but also ropes in Speak with Dead and Death Ward. We’ve also lumped in all of the resurrection mechanics here, including Reincarnate (again, mind boggling).

So, here’s Project Arcana’s school description:

Vitae – the “magic of life.” These spells manipulate the energies of life, death, and the soul. Such spells can heal wounds, inflict disease, stave off death, or even bring the dead back to life.

Perhaps we should add: Raising undead is only evil if your society thinks it is. CAUTION: most societies seem to. Your mileage may vary.

Matthew Stanford

About Matthew Stanford

Matthew is the current web admin and content manager for Legendary Pants. That gives him both of the total hats currently available within the group...

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