A Guide to D&D 5e Necrotic Damage, Close Up of a Woman's Face

A Guide to D&D 5e’s Necrotic Damage Type

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition features a number of creatures and features which utilize necrotic damage. Often used as a substitute for negative energy, necrotic damage is sometimes considered an "evil" form of magic.
But, what is necrotic damage? What does it do? And, how do you describe it?
This article covers everything you need to know about necrotic damage in D&D 5e including how to describe it, how to gain resistance to it, and which creatures use it (either mitigate or deal it).

Let’s start things off with the basis on what necrotic damage is in D&D.

What Is Necrotic Damage in D&D?

D&D Necrotic Damage, Close-Up of a Half-Skeletal Face
Necrotic is one of D&D 5e’s many damage types; it correlates with negative energy & the death or decay of matter

Necrotic is one of D&D 5e’s damage types which does harm through decaying its target be it organic or inorganic. This damage type is equated with negative or dark energy and is often viewed as the opposite of radiant (positive / light energy) damage.

Necrotic damage is essentially harm caused through breaking down organic and inorganic matter. One way to think of it is as dark or negative energy which causes matter, including both living and non-living things, to wither away.

Page 196 of the Player’s Handbook describes necrotic damage in the following way:

Necrotic damage, dealt by certain undead and a spell such as chill touch, withers matter and even the soul.

Source: DnD Beyond | Basic Rules – Chapter 9: Combat

There’s nothing inherently unique about necrotic damage. I’ve seen some people raise concerns since the damage type has ties with necrosis in the real world that it causes lasting damage or debilitating injuries. But, that’s not the case. As with any other damage type, necrotic damage is basically used for flavoring how an effect harms a target.

How to Describe Necrotic Damage

Wilting Sunflowers
Describing necrotic damage often involves explaining how the subject of it begins to wither, rot, or erode away

The easiest way to describe necrotic damage in 5e is by explaining how the subject of the harm begins breaking down. Living things like plants and creatures begin rotting or withering at the point of impact. Inorganic matter may start to crumble or appear heavily weathered when subjected to necrotic damage.

Describing necrotic damage is actually fairly easy if a little unsettling. Since this damage type breaks down matter through negative energy, the target of its effect should suffer a withering effect. So, flesh may turn black and start cracking, plants may wilt or rot, a stone may suffer rapid erosion or splinter into smaller shards, etc.

Here are some examples for describing necrotic damage in D&D 5e based on the target of the effect:

  • A player character’s hand appears dehydrated, almost skeletal, and turns an unnatural shade of purple
  • A bandit’s skin greys and their veins turn black in a spiderweb-like design from the point of impact
  • The fur of a wolf loses its color, thins, and falls out revealing the purple sore at the point of impact
  • The wooden door appears to rot rapidly where it was struck
  • A metal construct experiences rapid rusting
  • The point of impact on a boulder cracks, chips, and becomes brittle

The important thing to remember when describing necrotic damage in D&D is its theming. Necrotic damage is the antithesis of positive energy, so it sucks the life from living things like plants and animals and breaks down bonds in inorganic matter, causing it to wither and erode.

What Color is Necrotic Energy?

There is no canonical color for necrotic damage, its up to every Game Master and player to decide how spells and abilities appear. But, typical colors associated with necrotic energies include black, grey, bright purple, or sickly green or yellow.

Game Masters and players get to decide what their spells and abilities look like, so there is not set color for necrotic damage. That said, since necrotic damage is essentially negative energy, it wouldn’t make much sense to use colors associated with happiness or calmness.

I’m not going to get into color theory here. The extent of my knowledge comes from lighting design for the stage and is basic at best. But, colors mean different things to different people in different contexts. So, keep that in mind when figuring out how you want your necrotic energy to appear.

Colors I personally like to use, depending on the creature causing it, include black, grey, bright or fluorescent purple, or sickly green or green-yellow. But, you could also probably get away with a deep red like a maroon.

At the end of the day, the color of necrotic energy in your D&D game is up to you both as a Game Master and player.

How to Gain Necrotic Resistance in 5e

Person's Arm Cracking and Withering Due to Necrotic Damage
Player characters have a few options for gaining resistance to necrotic damage in 5e including racial traits, class features, spells, & magic items

A creature may gain necrotic resistance in 5e through natural traits, class features, or spells.

There are four basic ways to gain necrotic resistance in 5e:

  • Racial Traits
  • Class Features
  • Spell Effects
  • Magic Items

That said and all things considered, your options are fairly limited. There aren’t that many races which grant resistance to necrotic damage; there are more class features which do so, but that limits you in what you play; and there aren’t that many spells which grant resistance to this particular damage type.

With that out of the way, let’s start with character races with a resistance to necrotic damage.

Character Races Resistant to Necrotic Damage

Only two playable character races in D&D 5e have an resistance to necrotic damage; Aasimar from Volo’s Guide to Monsters and Gem Dragonborn (Topaz, specifically) from Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons.

Your options for having necrotic resistance in 5e innately are pretty slim.

The Aasimar have it thanks to their celestial ancestry. I think the idea behind this is celestial entities sometimes have to deal with negative energy in combat so it only makes sense they have some resistance to this damage type. But…only three celestial creatures in 5e either resist or have an immunity against necrotic damage, and two of those come from Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica. So, who knows what the logic was beside attempting to make Aasimar somewhat antithetical to Tieflings with their more commonly used fire resistance.

On the other hand, Topaz Gem Dragonborn trace their lineage or have ties to the full-blooded dragons of the same type which have an existential connection with negative energy. That said, they aren’t inherently evil as Topaz dragons view destruction as part of the natural process of the world. Following the death and decay of the world, fresh life begins and new structures built.

Now, I’ve seen some posts claim the Yuan-ti Pureblood character race from Volo’s Guide to Monsters grants resistance to magical effect. But, that’s not the case. the Yuan-ti’s Magic Resistance trait grants advantage on saving throws against spells and magical effects, but it doesn’t confer resistance to any damage done by said spells or magical effects. So, they don’t offer resistance against necrotic damage.

Now, you might not have a ton of race options if you want necrotic damage resistance as a player character, but you do have more options in class features.

Class Features for Necrotic Resistance

Quite a few classes in D&D grant a player character resistance to necrotic damage. Now, most of them are spellcasting classes, so you may have to play a caster or play with someone who is.

Here’s a list of D&D 5e abbreviations for your reference in which sourcebook these all come from.

  • Barbarian: Path of the Totem Warrior (PHB) – Totem Spirit (Bear option only)
  • Monk (PHB) – Empty Body
  • Paladin: Oath of the Ancients (PHB) – Aura of Warding (From spells)
  • Sorcerer: Wild Magic Sorcerous Origin (PHB) – Wild Magic Surge (On a roll of 71-72 only)
  • Warlock: Fiend Otherworldly Patron (PHB) – Fiendish Resilience (Choose following a rest)
  • Wizard: Abjuration Arcane Tradition (PHB) – Spell Resistance (From spells)
  • Wizard: Necromancy Arcane Tradition (PHB) – Inured to Undeath
  • Paladin: Oath of Conquest (XGtE) – Invincible Conqueror
  • Paladin: Oath of Redemption (XGtE) – Emissary of Redemption
  • Ranger: Horizon Walker Archetype (XGtE)Spectral Defense
  • Sorcerer: Shadow Sorcerous Origin (XGtE) – Umbral Form
  • Artificer (TCoE) – Infuse Item (Resistance Armor)
  • Ranger: Swarmkeeper Archetype (TCoE)Swarming Dispersal
  • Warlock: Undead Otherworldly Patron (VRGtR) – Necrotic Husk

Now, aside from playing a specific class and/or subclass, you also have a few options in spells for gaining necrotic resistance. But, it’s pretty much the definition of "few".

Spells to Gain Necrotic Resistance / Immunity

There actually aren’t that many spells which grant resistance or immunity against necrotic damage. Luckily, the few spells which do are spread out a bit with one becoming available to spellcasters fairly early on. Less luckily, two of these spells are only available to Clerics and Paladins.

But, here are the spells you can use to gain necrotic damage resistance or immunity in D&D 5e:

  • Warding Bond: 2nd-Level (PHB) – Cleric, Paladin
  • Aura of Life: 4th-Level (PHB) – Cleric, Paladin
  • Invulnerability: 9th-Level (XGtE) – Wizard (Immunity, not Resistance)

You could argue Resilient Sphere grants necrotic damage immunity from sources outside the sphere as nothing, including energy, passes through it. But, a creature inside the sphere doesn’t technically gain that immunity, so a source within the sphere could still cause necrotic damage against a trapped creature.

Magic Items with Necrotic Resistance

Some magic items also grant necrotic resistance. Now, the problem with these is players don’t have direct control in obtaining these magic items, it’s entirely in the Game Master’s purview. That said, players may discuss potentially finding one or some of these items in their game with their GM outside of the game.

That said, here are some magic items which grant necrotic damage resistance in 5e:

  • Armor of Resistance (GM’s choice) (DMG)
  • Potion of Resistance (GM’s choice (DMG)
  • Ring of Resistance (GM’s choice) (DMG)
  • Absorbing Tattoo (GM’s choice) (TCoE)

Spells Which Deal Necrotic Damage in 5e

Evil Mage Casting a Spell with Magical Effects Swirling Around His Arm
D&D 5e has a good number of spells which deal necrotic damage for player characters & NPCs to use

D&D has a number of spells which deal necrotic damage. Luckily, they span the Tiers of Play, so player characters have access to some of these spells as low as 1st-level.

Magic abilities and spells are also the easiest way to deal necrotic damage as it’s not a "natural" form of energy. With its source in negative and dark energy, necrotic damage usually comes from the casting of spells.

List of D&D Necrotic Damage Spells

  • Cantrip
    • Chill Touch
    • Sapping Sting
    • Toll the Dead
  • 1st-Level
    • Arms of Hadar
    • Hex
    • Inflict Wounds
  • 2nd-Level
    • Wither and Bloom
  • 3rd-Level
    • Life Transference
    • Spirit Guardians
    • Spirit Shroud
    • Vampiric Touch
  • 4th-Level
    • Blight
    • Shadow of Moil
  • 5th-Level
    • Destructive Wave
    • Enervation
    • Negative Energy Flood
  • 6th-Level
    • Circle of Death
    • Forbiddance
    • Harm
  • 7th-Level
    • Finger of Death
    • Symbol
  • 8th-Level
    • Abi-Dalzim’s Horrid Wilting
    • Illusory Dragon
  • 9th-Level
    • Time Ravage

Creatures & Necrotic Damage

Close-Up of a Spectral Woman's Face Screaming
Many creatures in D&D 5e either deal necrotic damage through their abilities or mitigate this damage type through resistances or immunities

Most player characters’ interactions with necrotic damage, assuming they don’t take spells that deal it, will come from monsters. Some fairly common monsters either deal or have some sort of mitigation regarding necrotic damage.

As an "evil" form of energy, player characters will mostly likely interact with necrotic damage as the result of fighting some sort of villain or evil entity. Luckily for Game Masters, D&D 5e has plenty of creatures which deal, resist, or ignore necrotic damage.

Creatures That Deal Necrotic Damage

I feel it’s important to note I left out creatures with the ability to cast spells which deal necrotic damage. It’s easy enough to simply swap prepared spells for these creatures, so I only looked for monsters and creatures with features or abilities which deal this damage type. I also excluded specific adventure modules and setting-specific creatures. I know technically Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft is setting-specific, but I personally view it more as a guide to running horror games in D&D 5e, so I’m including it.

Also, I couldn’t find a good list for creatures which deal necrotic damage, so I figured I’d put one together for your reference.

Without further ado, here’s a list of creatures in D&D 5e which deal necrotic damage organized by Challenge Rating.

  • CR 1/4 – The Wretched (MToF)
  • CR 1/4 – Violet Fungus (MM)
  • CR 1/2 – Death’s Head (VRGtR)
  • CR 1/2 – Orce Nurtured One of Yurtrus (VGtM)
  • CR 1/2 – Shadow (MM)
  • CR 1/2 – Skulk (MToF)
  • CR 1 – Carrionette (VRGtR)
  • CR 1 – Meazel (MToF)
  • CR 1 – Specter (MM)
  • CR 1 – Swarm of Zombie Limbs (VRGtR)
  • CR 2 – Draconian Mage (FToD)
  • CR 2 – Nothic (MM)
  • CR 2 – Orc Hand of Yurtrus (VGtM)
  • CR 2 – Topaz Dragon Wyrmling (FToD)
  • CR 3 – Brain in a Jar (VRGtR)
  • CR 3 – Deathlock Wight (MToF)
  • CR 3 – Mummy (MM)
  • CR 3 – Slithering Tracker (VGtM)
  • CR 3 – Spectator (MM)
  • CR 3 – Vampiric Mist (MToF)
  • CR 3 – Wight (MM)
  • CR 4 – Banshee (MM)
  • CR 4 – Deathlock (MToF)
  • CR 4 – Dybbuk (MToF)
  • CR 4 – Ghost (MM)
  • CR 4 – Strigoi (VRGtR)
  • CR 4 – Zombie Plague Spreader (VRGtR)
  • CR 5 – Banderhobb (VGtM)
  • CR 5 – Beholder Zombie (MM)
  • CR 5 – Catoblepas (VGtM)
  • CR 5 – Egg Hunter Adult (FToD)
  • CR 5 – Spawn of Kyuss (VGtM)
  • CR 5 – Vampire Spawn (MM)
  • CR 5 – Vampiric Mind Flayer (VRGtR)
  • CR 5 – Wraith (MM)
  • CR 6 – Bodak (VGtM)
  • CR 6 – Chasme (MM)
  • CR 6 – Gauth (VGtM)
  • CR 6 – Priest of Osybus (VRGtR)
  • CR 6 – Zombie Clot (VRGtR)
  • CR 7 – Dragonborn of Tiamat (FToD)
  • CR 7 – Nechrichor (VRGtR)
  • CR 7 – Shadow Dancer (MToF)
  • CR 7 – Young Topaz Dragon (FToD)
  • CR 8 – Deathlock Mastermind (MToF)
  • CR 8 – Eyedrake (FToD)
  • CR 8 – Nosferatu (VRGtR)
  • CR 8 – Relentless Slasher (VRGtR)
  • CR 8 – Unspeakable Horror (VRGtR)
  • CR 9 – Gloom Weaver (MToF)
  • CR 9 – Jiangshi (VRGtR)
  • CR 9 – Necromancer (VGtM)
  • CR 9 – Rot Troll (MToF)
  • CR 10 – Death Slaad (MM)
  • CR 10 – Dullahan (VRGtR)
  • CR 11 – Drow Shadowblade (MToF)
  • CR 11 – Soul Monger (MToF)
  • CR 11 – The Hungry (MToF)
  • CR 11 – Yagnoloth (MToF)
  • CR 12 – Oinoloth (MToF)
  • CR 12 – Relentless Juggernaut (VRGtR)
  • CR 13 – Adult Topaz Dragon (FToD)
  • CR 13 – Beholder (MM)
  • CR 13 – Devourer (VGtM)
  • CR 13 – Vampire (MM)
  • CR 14 – Death Tyrant (MM)
  • CR 14 – Drow Inquisitor (MToF)
  • CR 15 – Mummy Lord (MM)
  • CR 15 – Skull Lord (MToF)
  • CR 16 – Star Spawn Larva Mage (MToF)
  • CR 16 – Titivilus (MToF)
  • CR 17 – Death Knight (MM)
  • CR 17 – Ghost Dragon (FToD)
  • CR 18 – Amnizu (MToF)
  • CR 18 – Demilich (MM)
  • CR 19 – Bael (MToF)
  • CR 20 – Ancient Topaz Dragon (FToD)
  • CR 20 – Nightwalker (MToF)
  • CR 21 – Lich (MM)
  • CR 26 – Orcus (MToF)
  • CR 26 – Zariel (MToF)
  • CR Varies – Shadow Dragon Template (MM)

5e Creatures with Necrotic Resistance

108 creatures in D&D 5e have a resistance against necrotic damage.

Listing all of them out would take up a ton of space and this article’s already long enough with the creatures that deal necrotic damage. So, here’s a full list of creatures resistant to necrotic damage on DnD Beyond.

That said, here are some of the more common monsters from the Basic Rules resistant to necrotic damage you may use in your game.

  • CR 2 – Ghast
  • CR 2 – Will-o’-Wisp
  • CR 3 – Wight
  • CR 4 – Flameskull
  • CR 5 – Vampire Spawn
  • CR 13 – Vampire
  • CR 21 – Lich

List of 5e Creatures with Necrotic Immunity

77 D&D 5e creatures are immune to necrotic damage.

Again, listing all of them would take up too much space. Here’s DnD Beyond’s list of creatures with immunity against necrotic damage organized by CR.

But, here’s also the monsters found in the Basic Rules which have immunity to necrotic damage.

  • CR 1/2 – Shadow
  • CR 1 – Specter
  • CR 3 – Mummy
  • CR 4 – Banshee
  • CR 4 – Ghost
  • CR 5 – Wraith
  • CR 15 – Mummy Lord
  • CR 21 – Solar

D&D Necrotic Damage FAQ

Mannequins Being Subjected to Necrotic Energies

Does Necrotic Damage Heal Undead in 5e?

No. Necrotic damage does not heal undead in 5e.

While necrotic damage is often associated with the undead creature type in D&D 5e, it doesn’t inherently benefit undead monsters through healing them. Nothing in the description of necrotic damage does it state it heals undead creatures, so it simply doesn’t.

Does Necrotic Damage Hurt Undead?

Yes. Necrotic usually damage hurts undead. As a Game Master, always check a creature’s damage resistances or immunities. But, there is no blanket rule stating all undead don’t take necrotic damage.

For the most part, necrotic damage still hurts undead creatures in D&D 5e. Bear in mind, some undead creatures do have an immunity to necrotic damage like the Mummy or Ghost. Even aside from that, some resist this damage type like the Vampire but these creatures still suffer harm from necrotic damage.

It all comes down to individual creature statistics as necrotic damage doesn’t have any special caveats against not hurting undead creatures.

Does Necrotic Damage Instant Kill in 5e?

No. Necrotic damage in itself does not instant kill anything in 5e. A spell or ability which deals necrotic damage may have an instant kill ability attached to it, but the necrotic damage doesn’t directly cause a creature to die instantly.

Despite being a damage type with ties to death and decay, necrotic damage is not an instant kill effect in D&D 5e. Some features or abilities may have instant kill caveats, like dropping to zero Maximum Hit Points through an attack which deals necrotic damage, but necrotic damage on its own doesn’t cause an instant kill.

Does Necrotic Damage Always Reduce Max HP?

No. Necrotic damage does not always reduce a creature’s Maximum HP in D&D 5e. A creature’s ability, like the Shadows Strength Drain feature, may both deal necrotic damage and reduce the target creature’s Max HP. But, this does not apply to all sources of necrotic damage.

Necrotic damage is simply a method of describing a spell or ability’s effects and for informing damage involving resistance, immunity, or vulnerability. On its own, necrotic damage does nothing more than harm a creature or object. Any other effects like reducing a creature’s Maximum Hit Points stem from the source of the necrotic damage but not the damage directly.

How Long Does Necrotic Damage Last?

Necrotic damage is an instant effect, lasting no longer than it takes to deal the reduce hit points unless a creature’s ability states otherwise.

This works with any other source of damage in D&D. There is nothing in how necrotic damage inherently works which implies it lasts longer than the immediate harm it causes. That said, if a spell, feature, or ability states a creature takes continual damage, you as a Game Master or player needs to keep that in mind.


Summary of Necrotic Damage in D&D 5e

That about covers what necrotic damage is in D&D.

Necrotic damage is essentially just another damage type in D&D 5e. It’s sometimes used as a form of negative or dark energy and stands as the opposite to radiant damage. Players have limited options when it comes to resisting it but have quite a few spells at their disposal for dealing it. On the other hand, many creatures, especially those of the undead monster type, have abilities which deal necrotic damage and just as many mitigate it in some way through either resistance or immunity.

GMs, what’s your favorite necrotic damage-using monster? And players, have you played a necrotic-based character before and how’d it go if you have? Leave a comment below with your stories!

Make sure to follow Role Player’s Respite for more breakdowns of mechanics in D&D 5e, guides on rules, and inspiration for your game!

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