Green Ronin Publishing

The Secret College of Necromancy

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The Secret College of Necromancy

Author: David "Zeb" Cook & Wolfgang Baur
Publisher: Green Ronin Publishing
Publish Date: 2001
ISBN: 0-9714380-2-1
Pages: 110
Rating: 9 out of 10
Retail Price: $19.95

By far, this has to be one of the better d20 books I’ve yet read. While it is not devoid of layout errors, the ones I noticed were small enough to be barely noticeable, but the sheer quality of the book’s fluff more than made up for any small printing errors. Necromancy is often treated like a very dark, twisted and bloody affair, but due to the nature of the D&D game, such details are overlooked in favor of keeping the game suitable for younger players. The Secret College of Necromancy makes no such considerations. The murdering, the evil torture, the twisted psyches of spellcasters willing to roll up their sleeves and get right into the autopsies and dissections... all of this is included, though presented in an extremely tasteful fashion.

The book’s chapters are separated into two basic groups. The first part of the book deals with game mechanics, while the second part of the book is almost all fluff, dealing with the secret college itself. The first chapter opens with two new core classes, the necromancer and the death knight. Both are well-written (a rare thing for new core classes), but I doubt either will make it into my game. I’d happily use the necromancer class as a replacement for the wizard with necromancy as a specialist school if I had a similar class write up for the other schools of magic. The death knight, however, I doubt I would use in most of my games, but just for flavor reasons. The class would fit extremely nicely in a campaign setting that was especially dark or where the world is covered in the undead. Afterwards, the first chapter moves into a section on feats and skills. The feats were fine, but the description of new skills is where the chapter really shined. Profession (graverobber), Knowledge (embalming), Knowledge (anatomy) and the like were discussed and actually made useful within the game.

The second chapter focused on spells and magic items. For the average reader like myself, this chapter will require a tiny amount of work, since most of the spells are designed to work almost exclusively with the necromancer or death knight classes presented in the first chapter. For those of us not using those classes, a small amount of work converting the spells over to their proper wiz/sor or cleric level will be required. Most of the spells were very well-written and there were several that one might expect from a necromancer... spells that are cast, but don’t take effect until after the caster’s death. This chapter was extremely flavorful, in that not only were material components listed, but the reader was given a graphic description of exactly how the item is to be used. This chapter also included a number of spellbooks containing many of the new spells from the book, which would be useful in introducing the new spells to a game where they didn’t exist previously. Each of these books comes with a detailed and interesting history, which was icing on the cake for me.

The next chapter was short, but sweet, and dealt with the necromancer’s need to acquire research material... living and otherwise. The mechanical aspects of graverobbing were discussed, as were other common means for a researcher to get his hands on forbidden materials. Additionally, there was a short discussion about the various types of basic undead, which helped to detail why every necromancer and his brother doesn’t have a massive army of the dead.

The fourth chapter was the last of the really mechanical chapters, and if there was a chapter I was least pleased with, it was this one. The chapter was a small monstrous manual from new creatures of necromancy. A handful of new types of undead were given, along with undead siege engines and a few constructs. On the whole, the chapter was good and full of flavor, though I do believe that a small number of the creatures are a bit overpowered for their CR the way they are presented.

At chapter five, the book takes a new turn and begins dealing with the secret college, an underground society of like-minded practitioners of necromancy that operate clandestinely in a city that is left unnamed for the reader’s benefit. A long and detailed history of the origins of the society is given, which includes plenty of alternate suggestions to help the reader better fit the secret college into his own game world. The book moves seamlessly into the next chapter, which details how the secret college operates and stays hidden. A number of hidden locations are gruesomely detailed and even mapped. The best part of the chapter, however, is the inclusion of several projects the secret college is currently working on, which operate much like pre-made plot hooks. The last chapter is just a listing of the stat blocks of some of the most notable members of the secret college, complete with detailed histories and motivations. The only issue I have with this chapter is that the book was published before the 3.5 update, so a little bit of updating may be required on the reader’s part.

On the whole, I think this book might be one of the best in my collection. It’s very well-written and flavorful. I was personally drawn to the graphicness of the material within, as I imagine most people reading a book about necromancy would be. However, I imagine there’s the potential for some people to be turned off by that. The fluff was not overly gross, but very graphic with a lot of thought put into the “behind the curtains” aspect of necromancy. In short, this book was written like the Book of Vile Darkness probably should have been written. I highly recommend this book to any Dungeon Master looking to make necromancy a focus in his game, or perhaps looking for a villainous society to add as a plot point. Players planning on playing a necromancer would certainly benefit from reading the first few chapters of this book as well.

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