A Review of Natalia’s Guide to Necromancy

Natalia’s Guide to Necromancy is the first of Chamomile’s series of kickstarter 5e zines. Each of which is focused on a specific topic of D&D that’s always been a little wonky. This one, obviously, is focused around Necromancy. I’ve got a hard copy, and plan to review that, although the art is screenshots and cropped from the pdf (with permission). You can pick one up at Drivethrough in physical or digital versions.

The zine is a tight 39 pages and is broken into two sections. One for Players to give to their DMs and demand to use in game, and one for DMs to hide from, and then terrorize their players. It’s a good break down, with about 20 pages each making the book a good get for anyone. As a short zine, there isn’t a lot of waxing poetic about what the book is and isn’t, and how to play an RPG as though you haven’t. Instead, if jumps right in with the subject at hand.

Playing the Necrotic, is the first, and player focused, chapter. The first thing that should jump out at anyone trying to do minion management in 5e is that you basically can’t. You aren’t allowed an undead horde, and you aren’t really allowed more than one or two half minions at best. If you want to play a necromancer, the iconic image is one with a horde of zombies, and so Chamomile introduces a revision to animate dead. Necrotic control gives the various undead a control cost, and allows players with the Animate and Create undead spells the ability to control undead. It’s very straight forward and works. We also get template rules, allowing for way more types of skeletons or zombies than the very limited set in the core book and a couple of feats tossed in for good measure. All combined, you can play a satisfying zombie master.

The second big necromancer player type is way less popular, but my personal favorite. The curse necromancer, focused on debuffs and well curses. Chamomile introduces a new wizard school, School of the Reaper. Its competitive from a power level, and I’m glad Chamomile doesn’t fall into the trap of making useless abilities cost something. For example, they can use a scythe as a spell focus or melee weapon. But if you are using it as a melee class, you are missing something big. You’ll suck at it, but it’s cool to carry a scythe. The real features are your boosts to debuffs, and damage resistance.

To go along with your necromancer wizard, we get a bunch of martial stuff for your goth PCs. A new fighter/paladin fighting style for Reapers focused on scythes, a new oath that IMO replaced a paladin’s oath of vengeance for spooky paladins, new death fighter feats, and rules for animated mounts. It’s easy for creators to just roll out new spells, and call it good, so this was appreciated.

More player goodies include a revised Dhampir, which I kind of shrug about, but I’m sure your Vampire the Masquerade players will love. It’s got a bunch of subtypes with themes I assume are totally not knockoffs of those. I would almost have skipped this though, because on the next page are the real rules. Playing a vampire.

Playing a vampire has always sucked in every edition of D&D. You get tons of cool powers, are stronger than everyone else, and the DM is encouraged to screw with you in vaguely defined ways to discourage it. These rules are solid and balanced around the idea that you aren’t just getting power for nothing. Essentially, you can awaken one of 4 tiers of vampirism (0-3). Each tier has a minimum level, and as you grow in class power, you can choose to grow in vampire power too. Each tier is optionally unlocked, and grants some cool vampire powers, and some cool vampire weaknesses. No more vague “can’t cross running water, but we won’t say what happens if they do”. Now it’s “You are sensitive to sunlight, taking disadvantage on all attacks, ability checks, and saving throws when
in direct sunlight. An umbrella can prevent you from taking disadvantage from sunlight, but requires a hand to hold and cannot be kept in place during combat without taking disadvantage on attack rolls, ability checks using STRand DEX, and saving throws for STR and DEX.” Vampire powers can be spruced up a bit too, with a few new feats. There is a similar entry for ghouls using the same system.

Running the Necrotic is the chapter focused on DMs. It opens with an entry on running a necromancer’s horde, including some default stat blocks for the standard horde and how they might change the various composition around if needed. Standard patrols have 4 skeleton archers, 2 skeletons, 2 skeleton infantry and a skeleton knight. But maybe you want to add a Vampire Spawn leader to oversee it. Or maybe it’s an artillery patrol of 6 skeleton archers, 2 skeleton infantry, and a skeleton ranger. And maybe you give the ranger a fireball attack to really step that up.

Boss stats are a neat addition that will probably get your players talking. It introduces a new mechanic called Elite Actions, which are a list of actions that are added to existing monsters. These actions can only be taken once per encounter and using all 4 unlocks an “ultimate” action, which opens the others back up for use again in the same encounter.

For example. The Ghoul Swarm, which is made of 3-30 ghouls, fought together. They have a power gaining a burrow speed and eruption power, a biting rend power Hunger, an infectious plague power, a shrieking chorus power to cause fear, and when all used they can perform a Slaughter. The ghouls charge, and if they hit, the character is tackled with an auto grapple. Any ghoul who makes an attack against a creature who is pinned by a ghoul gains multiattack for a lot extra damage. We also get rules for a poltergeist and a vampiric count.

Speaking of poltergeists, we also get Haunting rules. It steps up the rules for a ghost, and talks through how to run a haunted house encounter, along with some additional rules to make ghosts work a little better. When combined with the poltergeists above, this could make for a pretty memorable session.

Lastly, we get a broad setting, Tvalti. You could set a game here, but there is going to be work to be done. The five houses, Alu, Camazotz, Mara, Strigoi, and Vrykolakas, are perfectly serviceable and do the job of getting a coterie of backdrops for a spooky vampire slaying adventure. Any one could also easily be slipped into an existing or homebrewed setting if you need a villainous faction and I’ll probably do that.

Overall, its 35 real pages of content for $5. That’s not a bad deal, and the content density is much greater than most products. There aren’t pages you skim and wait for it to get to the point, or sections where it’s clearly just author vanity. It’s a tightly packaged zine, and throwing it into any 5e game is going to give the game a spooky vampire feel. Certainly worth a buy in my opinion.

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