Minion-Mancer: Guide to Necromancy, Conjuration and More! (5e Optimized Character Build)
From D&D Wiki
Two wizards sat reclined on a hill, looking over their combined undead and fiendish horde do battle with the army sent to stop them. The necromancer said “look, my legion is fighting so many more soldiers than yours, I’m absolutely going to kill more than you”. The conjurer shook his head, “it’s not quantity, but quality. One of my demons could kill a few dozen of yours”. Their light hearted debate went back and forth, the Paladin standing behind them looking on in disgust. “You're too removed from the lives you take. This conversation is disturbing”. The two simply looked at him and chuckled. “Why in the heavens or hells would we fight ourselves?” Clinking their wine glasses together with a chuckle and made sure not to lose count of how their parts of the army were doing.
Does fighting for yourself sound overrate, tedious, or terrifying? Then why not have someone else do it for you! This guide will cover the three major forms of minion-mancing: Necromancy, Conjuration and Creature Taming. Each have distinct approaches but have a unifying theme and strategies. Use the index at the top to maneuver your way through this extensive guide to all things minions. Let us begin:
Before we can get into each style of minion-mancing, we need to get a few things out of the way.
With a horde of minions at your command, you have plenty of ways to keep physical threats at bay. So when we pick a race we want something that helps us against magic or long range attacks.
- Gnome: their inherent advantage against wisdom, intelligence and charisma targeted Magic’s is an amazing trait. In addition rock gnome extra Constitution can help against the most common saving throw in the game.
- Halfling, Lightfoot: If you're using a charisma caster, these are an amazing choice. Able to hide behind a medium sized creature can make it difficult to impossible for archers to target you.
- Yuan-Ti: If you're using expanded rules, their advantage against all magic is insanely powerful.
This can vary heavily based on your class and style, but a few general pointers can help.
- Constitution: This should be your highest stat. This kind of magic is usually focused on concentration rather then attack roles or forcing saving throws. It will help you keep your minions present and/or under your control for longer.
- Dexterity: With Mage Armor and possibly a shield, a high dexterity can give you a great armor class, possibly preventing you from having to make as many concentration checks.
- Spell Casting: when your not using your actions to get more minions, this will be useful. Since it’s not likely to be very high you may want to focus on buff spells that don’t require this stat.
Archetype and Class
Each archetype and class has various things they are best at. While they can cross over or overlap in what they can do, this is an optimization guide that will focus on what they are best at.
- Necromancer: their main benefit is numbers. No other minion mancer can approach the raw amount of units the necromancer can bring to the table. Warlocks can field more units at low levels but gets left behind as Wizards gain access to higher forms of Create Undead.
- Conjuration: This is for those that prefer quality over quantity. Conjurers are better at summoning a few extremely powerful creature, potentially more as they gain access to the Geas Spell.
- Creature Tamer: This is focused on the use of companion creatures rather than personal actions.
Something you will notice about each of these archetypes is they are more defined by their spells then they are their class. As such we will cover spells first, followed by Class/Subclass.
- Animate Dead: The most basic and fundamental Spell in your arsenal. If your going for quantity then this will likely take up all of your 3rd and 4th level spell slots.
- Danse Macabre: This Spell is a great tool for fighting high AC opponents. Without this spell your horde will struggle to actually hit anything. A great strategy is to send in the cannon fodder then reanimate them with this spell when they start falling against an opponent that is a little too strong.
- Summon Undead: A temporary undead pal that comes and help you out. Stats don't scale well, but the damage this outputs when upcast is a little strong.
- Create Undead: This Spell isn’t very useful at its lowest level. However, by upcasting it you can gain access to wights, each of which can control an extra horde of their own.
- Finger of Death: this creates an undead PERMENANTLY under your control. This is how you can get a nearly unlimited number of servants given time and resources.
Class and Subclass
There is actually a lot of debate in the community about what the most effective Necromancy combination is. Rather then making a definitive declaration on the subject, this guide will list out each and their various benefits
The simplest and arguable strongest necromancer in the game. With access to all the core Necromancy spells and the ability to restore spell slots up to half their wizard level on a short rest, the raw amount of creatures you can summon is staggering!
- The level 6 feature “Undead Thrall” warps the field dramatically into the wizards favor. Making the undead tougher and stronger, it’s hard to compete with this ability. When combined with Danse Macabre you have some truely ridiculously powerful creatures.
- Level 14 is slightly abusable. Try and find a Nightwalker. This CR 20 monster can become your permenant pet if you use this feature successfully on it. If you get one, no other minion-mancer can even compete after that point. Most DM won’t let you, but sometimes you get lucky.
Without Animate Dead or the ability to upcast spells, they really struggle as necromancers. However, they do have Danse Macabre and their ability to recharge their spell slots on a short rest means your not likely to run out of fuel at any point.
Wizard 9/ Warlock 11
This build is focused on making the best use of Danse Macabre
- 11 levels of warlock means you have access to three 5th level spell slots that recharge on a short rest.
- 9 levels of wizard gives you the all important Undead Thrall feature and lots of 3rd and 4th level Spell slots, plus an extra 5th level spell slot.
The strategy is pretty simple. Animate a normal horde of creatures using Animate Dead, burning your 3rd and 4th Wizard Spell slots and all three warlock spell slots. Then take a short rest. You’ve now got portable undead that when enough die you can use Danse Macabre on them for higher quality minions. Because you’ll likely be able to recharge your spell slots one additional time, you’ll be able to get the maximum use out of Danse Macabre as a result.
While probably unexpected, Clerics are decent necromancers. Having both Animate Dead and Create Undead in their Spell list means they have the most important parts. If your looking for a narrative reason look at Selane Moonbow’s lore and her view on “white necromancers”. This may work better as a multiclass option rather than monoclassing it.
Rather then focusing on quantity, Conjuration focuses on higher health and harder hitting creatures.
- Conjure Animals: The best spell for conjuration on the spot. This spell scales well when cast at higher levels. Its main restriction is that only druids and rangers learn it, a major issue for many builds
- Summon Lesser Demons: an inferior version of Conjure animals, but far more available to those trying to become Conjuration masters.
- Summon ______ (TCE): a single ally the hangs out depending on concentration. There's no risk involved, and it includes beasts, fey, undead, abberations, demons, celestials, etc. They are preset statblocks that are spell made creatures, with no CR and mediocre stats that don't scale. However, this spell is insane when upcast, due to the number of attacks and damage bonus. Note: They don't have hit dice, so effects concerning hit dice won't work.
- Conjure Woodland Beings: If your DM lets you, conjure 8 pixies, have them polymorph your party into t-rex, then have the rest cast fly on you for a combo that is nearly unanimously banned. Spell does state the DM chooses what creatures appear and trying this is a great way to get him to enforce that.
- Conjure Minor Elemental: A great option for non-druid conjurers that don't want their own summons to attack them or their allies.
- Summon Greater Demon: Want to put your luck to the test? This spell lets you summon a CR 5-10 demon to fight on your side depending on what level you cast it at. Be warned, you can lose control of your creature and it sticks around for a while after you try to get rid of it.
- Summon Elemental: A far safter method of conjuration for powerful creatures. A neat trick is to summon this creature and throw it straigt into combat then intentionally break concentration, summoning an addition elemental if you have another 5th level spell slot.
- Infernal Calling: While Demons are uncontrollable, Devils can be bargained with. This is a far safer method for conjuring a powerful allie to the field, but be warned - a clever DM will likely walk away with your soul should you be outwitted. IF you can get a Devils tallisman, you don't need to worry about this issue.
- Conjure Fey: safe, effective, but weaker as a result. Not a bad option for the cautious minded
- Planar Ally: Easy way to summon something so far out of your control you are doomed if your irresponsible. It has no obligation to leave, no obligation to obey, and no restraints on what it can demand. BE CAREFUL! Even summoning something "good aligned" can end horribly. A little mage that summons a greater angel might be killed for their insult as those creatures are closer to gods then mortals.
- Conjure Celestial: Again, safer and weaker. Some more interesting options open up however.
- Gate: remember that warning on Planar Ally? ya well this is a 9th level version of that. While Planar ally does have the limitation that a god or some extraordinarily powerful being must send you a creature, this is all on you. If you conjure something that could end the world, it might just end the world. You have no control over this creature so be careful. Especially if it has legendary resistances.
- Geas: Summon something way beyond your control? This is how you try and undo the damage.
- Dominate Monster: for when 5d10 damage wouldn't actually be enough to deter a creature, like an elder elemental, tarrasque or something.
- Planar Binding: for if your trying to control something nice to you. Great to combine with some of the above spells if they hate you. Also extends the duration of conjuration spells to up to a year so you can build quite the apocalyptic army if you so desire.
Classes and Subclasses
This is easily the best option for a conjurer not because of its features, but because it has the most spells listed above. Its ability to enchant the things they conjure means that they have the highest late game potential. However, both its features and spell options early on are somewhat weak and can be disapointing for many.
This class easily wins the early to midgame award for best conjurer. While not able to create permenant and loyal servants like the Wizard, their able to have much safer summoning options when looking to summon hordes of creatures, such as with a 9th level Conjure animals! If your not interested in the extreme percautions that a wizard needs to take, this is a great option for you.
While not a top tier choice, still worth considering consider it's spell list can be pretty useful.
This focuses on having 1-2 high quality creatures rather than a number of weaker ones. This is done through comapanion creatures rather than magic.
Class and Subclass
Beast Master Ranger
Beast Master Rangers are very weak. However, there are a few tricks you can use to get a few good options. Also, check out this UA Article for a superior beast companion. It is predicted that in about a year these options will become official, so an update may be needed then.
Requirements: 1/4 challenge rating, not larger than medium size, and no multiattack. A quick note is that if your a small sized player race you can ride your companion as a mount. Combine that with an exotic saddle and the Mounted Combatant Feat and your companion is looking a lot better.
- Pteranodon: this creature is able to fly and be ridden like a mount if your a small race such as a ghostwise halfling. Great for archery or lance/whip builds.
- Giant Crab: Great for gappling and pinning down enemies with its unique attacks.
- Panther: good damage option.
- Use Zephyr strike, since it can be combined with some of your features for pretty respectable damage.
- If you have a pteranodon companion, position with sentinel and a reach weapon can give you some gnarly attacks of opportunity with your mount.
- Beg your DM to let you use the UA beast companions, they are so much better.
Battle Smith Artificer
Being able to bonus action command your Steel defender is a huge boost over the beast master. Also gianing the ability to attack with intelligence makes you Single Ability Score Dependent(SAD), meaning it is extremely optimal to use this class.
Ranger 11/Artificer 9
This is a rather stange build that has mixed success. You can use your action to command your beast companion then your bonus action to command your Steel Defender. In terms of action economy this is very effective, especially since your unlocking very powerful higher level abilities for both of your companions. However, keeping the two alive can be extremely difficult. The steel defender is easy enough to revive but your beast companion may need you to use a small race and the Mounted Combatant feat.
Bard 6/Warlock 3/Druid 11
Simply put, this build is completely ineffective. However, it does something many people will find enjoyable.
- Ranger 4 - Beast Companion
- Artificer 6 - Steel Defender, Alchemical Homunculus
- Warlock 3 - Pact of the Chain Familiar
- Paladin 5 - Find Steed spell
- Cleric 2 - Trickery domain duplicate
Tada, 6 "pokemon" that are all increadibly weak/useless, but you have them. Please don't try this, it is aweful.