Robert addresses--for the most part--why they didn't go the route of a necromancer class, and the differences between necromancy and nethermancy. When 4th Edition came out there was a distinct lack of spells that could be said to fit the theme of a necromancer, and people waited for the day when WotC would finally get around to releasing a necromancer class--or, more likely, an article featuring a shit-ton of spells for the wizard. Well, they did, kind of, but some people are pissed off because it's being doled out Essentials style. My question is, why?
Don't get me wrong: I'm not a fan of most of the Essentials classes. Not because they are necessarily worse off than the rest, but because they are, well, boring. Slayers and knights basically do what fighters did, only in a more convoluted manner, but they lack the variety of encounter and daily exploits that help distinguish them. Others like the mage and hexblade are perfectly serviceable, as they provide solid, interesting concepts that I like. Even if you don't like any of the Essentials classes, you're forgetting one very important thing: wizards and mages can interchangeably pick up spells from one another. In fact, this holds true for all Essentials classes, and I myself have a cavalier with plenty of paladin prayers.
Aside from people pretending that they're somehow Essentials-exclusive, I also take issue with the irrational reasoning that a few people are using to conclude that WotC is just "afraid" of making new classes, and deliberately misinterpret Robert's writing when he said that they didn't want to restrict powers to a specific class. Before, necromancy was but a school of magic to help categorize spells for game elements that interacted with them. If you wanted to play a necromancer, you were a wizard (specialized or otherwise) that had a list of spells lumped in the necromancy category. You didn't have to, actually; it would be an easy feat to label yourself as such simply by picking up a couple spells that let you conjure and/or animate undead.
What WotC has done is provide a method to cater to everyone. If you like Essentials, you now have two new mage schools that let you play a necromancer (or nethermancer). If you don't you can just play a wizard and use the spells. They don't, as one poster suggested, need to "make a feat" or anything like that. They work perfectly fine, I assure you, even in Character Builder. If you like mages and wizards? Well, then you just have a compelling choice to make when rolling up a character. Now that we've got all the bullshit out of the way, let's take a look at the actual article.
- Necromancy and nethermancy are divided into magic that let's you create undead, destroy flesh, and drain life, or magnify a creature's fears and manipulate shadows, respectively. In a similar vein, necromancy spells will focus on dealing necrotic damage, while nethermancy will largely inflict psychic damage.
- Now, a lot of creatures (particularly undead) have necrotic resistance, so one of the new cantrips is disrupt undead, which is an auto-hit at-will that strips away five points of necrotic resistance. Also, it can be used as a minor action, meaning that you reliably use your attacks on undead without too much trouble. While it doesnt' scale, a mage feature will apparently let you simply ignore necrotic resistance later on.
- One of the new at-wills, rotting doom, deals necrotic damage, and if the target is undead also imposes vulnerable 5 to all damage. To make matters worse, it also prevents them from regaining hit points in any fashion. Holy shit, that is awesome, especially because the latter part is an effect that applies to all creatures.
- Energy drain is back as a level 29 spell that stuns a target, with an aftereffect that slows, weakens, and imposes a penalty to attacks, defenses, skill checks, and ability checks that stacks on each failed save. If you miss, it instead deals some necrotic damage. Oh, as a built-in effect you gain temp hp equal to your surge value.
- Summon shadow servant lets you summon a creature (presumably from a range of stat blocks that weren't shown). As with other summons, you have to use your own actions to control it. Unlike other summons, however, it persists even after combat is over (but goes away if you're dropped in combat, dismiss it, or use the spell again).
- For paragon paths, Robert mentioned that the necromancer option will let you turn dying creatures into bombs, protect allies from dark magic, and conjure up a squad of five skeletons at once. The nethermancer option, on the other hand, will make it hard for enemies to see, crush them with tentacles, and let you utilize your allies senses.
- Finally, finger of death was also previewed. This level 25 attack deals 10d6 damage, plus 20 extra if the target is bloodied by the attack, and kills them outright if their hp total drops to 20 or less. If you miss, it does half, but the instant-death is an effect so it's all good.