Come, let us explore the art of necromancy together.
- Arch-Necromancer Kazerabet
Necromancers like Kazerabet and their priestly counterparts have mastered many dark, forbidden secrets. This tome reveals these mysteries to the Dungeon Master, who will find new NPC kits and volumes of necromancer's minions, familiars, secret societies, poisons, magical items, enchanted tomes, and dozens of new wizard and priest spells, plus the deadly Isle of the Necromancers, a portable setting which can be placed into any existing campaign.
DMGR7: The Complete Book of Necromancers (1995) is the seventh book in the Dungeon Master Guide Rules (DMGR) supplement series for AD&D 2e. It was published in March 1995.
Continuing the DMGRs. As with its predecessors in the DMGR series, the Book of Necromancers is a prestige-format squarebound book with a blue leatherette cover. Though it doesn't feature a "DMGR" code, it's widely accepted as being DMGR7. Unlike its predecessors, Necromancers covers a totally new topic: character classes.
Continuing the PHBRs. By the end of 1994, TSR had published thirteen PHBR books - covering all of the major classes for AD&D 2e, most of the subclasses, and most of the major races. The series would end later in 1995, following the publication on two final books on barbarians and ninjas. Each of the PHBR books tended to follow the same format, usually including background notes for the class (or race), character kits, and, where appropriate, equipment, special powers, and spells.
The Complete Book of Necromancers thus looks remarkably like a PHBR release, but rather than covering a class or a race, it details two closely related subclasses: the necromancer specialization for wizards, and those priests who worship death in some form. The discussion of these two subclasses includes background notes, character kits, new spells, and equipment.
Not for Players. Despite looking a lot like a PHBR release, Necromancers fits into the DMGR series because it's specifically not intended for players, instead offering up rules only for NPC necromancers. The introduction thus clearly states that the book is "for the Dungeon Master's eyes only."
This restriction is due to the fact that necromancers are generally evil, which would offer grave "moral" problems to players. It also suggests that the animate dead spell is a game breaker in the hands of PCs, with the result being that "half of the adventure will be reduced to the necromancer sending minions into the dungeon."
We can probably qualify these claims with the fact that TSR of the 90s was deathly afraid of the religious right and "angry mothers" criticizing D&D for being satanic. It's actually quite remarkable that Lorraine Williams' TSR was willing to produce a book about necromancers at all; it's certainly no surprise that the TSR of this era also claimed that necromancers shouldn't be played by PCs.
About NPC Classes. Over the years, there's been a genuine need for NPC classes in the D&D game, for people like sages and aristocrats are necessary to most game settings, but they generally aren't that interesting to players. However, D&D also started using "NPC character classes" for wider purposes, beginning in the late 70s.
Some of the earliest character classes published in Dragon for use with D&D were just labeled as "unofficial." That was the case with the healer and the samurai that appeared in The Dragon #3 (October 1976). However, shortly thereafter - and throughout the reign of AD&D 1e (1977-89) - new classes published in Dragon for AD&D tended to instead be labeled as "NPC classes," only usable by the GM. The first of these was the ninja, published in The Dragon #16 (July 1978).
It's most likely that this was done to maintain game balance: classes didn't have to be carefully playtested if they were just going to be used by an GM. Dragon editor Jake Jaquet explained the matter succinctly in issue #43 (November 1980), when writing about the witch NPC: "Dragon's responsibility, as we see it, is not to set forth major rule changes or additions to the already complex D&D and AD&D game." Using NPC classes also let Dragon publish bizarre classes like the timelord (1982) that simply wouldn't be appropriate in most AD&D games.
Although some of the Dragon NPC classes such as the anti-paladin (1980) and the bandit (1982) were evil, their alignment probably wasn't why they were offered for use by GMs only. Evil was much more accepted as a fun alternative for playing AD&D in the 70s and early 80s. While Gygax said in The Dragon #9 (September 1977) that "the Greyhawk Campaign is built around the precept that 'good' is the desired end sought by the majority of humanity and its allied races," he also stated, "Players can assume the role of a good or an evil character without undue difficulty" a few years later, in The Dragon #29 (August 1979). D&D started coming under media (and religious) scrutiny only in the mid- to late-80s, following the James Egbert affair, which changed TSR's stance on evil, on demons, devils, assassins, and other "undesirable" elements in AD&D 2e (1989).
Whatever the reason, Dragon's decision to publish new character classes for AD&D 1e as "NPC only" was largely a matter of convenience. All of the NPC classes came with complete level and XP tables, which are only necessary for PC classes, and the text of the articles often suggested that the authors thought that PCs might be using the classes.
That brings us to The Complete Book of Necromancers. Although NPC classes had become a rarity by 2e days, TSR was willing to roll out the old idea, probably for some or all of the reasons stated above. Meanwhile, the reaction of players to a new character class was probably no different than it would have been in the 80s - which is to say that these new necromancers surely ended up as PCs.
A History of Roleplaying Necromancers. A necromancer appears in "Shadow of a Demon," the Niall of the Far Travels short story from The Dragon #2 (August 1976). However, it took quite a bit longer for the character class to appear in D&D.
Unofficially, necromancers appeared in some early D&D knock-offs such as Beasts, Men & Gods (1980). Lewis Pulsipher wrote up a necromancer class for AD&D in White Dwarf #35 (November 1982), and shortly afterward Lenard Lakofka detailed the AD&D "death master" in Dragon #76 (August 1983) - though the latter was, again, officially an "NPC class."
Meanwhile, in official AD&D publications, some characters self-identified as necromancers, such as the famous magic-user Bigby, who is said to be a necromancer in WG5: "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure" (1984). However, those publications didn't include any rules to back up their characters' claims of necromancy.
Official AD&D rules for necromancers didn't appear until AD&D 2e (1989). Here, necromancers were described as a mage specialization. This also marked a sea change in how necromancers were described in TSR's publications. Prior to 2e, necromancers were always referred to as "evil" or "vile"; afterward, they were just one subclass among many.
About the Creators. Steve Kurtz wrote a handful of supplements for TSR in the mid-90s. Many of them, like Necromancers, were a bit dark, including Cities of Bone (1994) and Ruined Kingdoms (1994) for Al-Qadim, and The Evil Eye (1995) for Ravenloft.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.