Necromancy, the magical school associated with raising and controlling scores of undead servants surprisingly has a lot of use outside dealing with corpses.
In fact, it is probably the most diverse spell school in D&D, providing you with tons of amazing options for dishing out buffs and debuffs, dealing damage, controlling the battlefield, and providing a wide range of utility to your party.
In addition to the incredible diversity of its featured spells, it is also a school with almost no bad spells on the spell list, and its four 1st level options are no exception to this, being, on average, some of the most valuable 1st level spells in all of 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.
4. Ray of Sickness
Ray of Sickness allows you to make a ranged spell attack against a creature within 60 feet of you. On a successful attack, you deal 2d8 poison damage to the target, who then must make a Constitution saving throw or be poisoned until the end of your next turn.
Even though this spell is coming in at the bottom place on this list of 1st level necromancy spells, it is still a great value for a 1st level spell. 2d8 damage for a ranged spell attack isn’t amazing, but it also isn’t terrible, and the real use of this spell is as forcing the poisoned condition onto the target, which is a very potent debuff for a 1st level spell slot.
The poisoned condition gives the target disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks, dramatically increasing the likelihood of them wasting a turn, or even crit failing on their next attack or ability check.
So, in summary, for the cost of a 1st level spell slot, you have the opportunity to deal an average of 9 damage to a target up to 60 feet away from you and debilitate them until the end of your next turn. Amazing value, right? Right! So why is it at the bottom of this list? Because the math says so, of course.
Unfortunately for all you would-be Ray of Sickness users, a ton of creatures in Fifth Edition are resistant or even immune to poison damage, and the same goes for the poisoned condition. On top of that, Constitution is, on average, the type of saving throw with the highest likelihood of success amongst creatures in the Monster Manual.
These two factors put together give this spell a very high likelihood of failure, even if you manage to succeed on the initial attack roll. This becomes especially evident at later levels, and with stronger and more consistent debuffs available after your first few level-ups, most players will stop using this one pretty early in the game.
3. Cause Fear
With Cause Fear, you force a target within 60 feet of you to make a wisdom saving throw or become frightened of you until the spell ends, either by you dropping concentration or by the target succeeding on a subsequent wisdom saving throw, which they can make at the end of each of their turns.
Like Ray of Sickness, this is primarily a debuff spell. What it lacks in Ray of Sickness’s damage output though, it makes up for by providing a more powerful debuff effect, as well as a much higher chance of being successful. A creature with the frightened condition has disadvantage on ability checks and attack rolls while the source of its fear is within line of sight of it. They also cannot willingly move closer to the source of their fear for the duration of the effect.
In addition, this spell isn’t a one-turn and done effect like Ray of Sickness. It relies on concentration, and it doesn’t require a successful spell attack to force the saving throw, meaning that you have a higher chance of creating the effect, and you will also most likely get at least a few turns of use out of the ability if you target a creature with low wisdom score and can maintain concentration.
In addition to its incredible 1st level usefulness, when cast at higher levels, Cause Fear allows you to target one additional creature per slot level above 1st, meaning that this spell scales incredibly well, and can be cast at higher levels to great effect if you need to waste the turns of multiple enemies.
The only real downside with Cause Fear is that similar to Ray of Sickness, a lot of creatures won’t be affected by it. This includes all constructs and undead, who are specifically mentioned as being immune to this spell, as well as all creatures without minds, such as oozes, and plants, who are immune to the frightened condition. Still, the spell has a much higher likelihood of success than Ray of Sickness, and you will usually be able to tell which creatures will be immune to it, making it a great value, especially in later levels when most other 1st level spells lose their usefulness.
2. False Life
When cast at first level, False Life gives you 1d4+4 temporary hit points, plus 5 additional temporary hit points per additional spell level, and best of all, the hit points last for one hour.
On the surface, an average 6.5 additional hit points doesn’t sound like much of a buff, but as a spellcaster, you generally won’t have a lot of hit points to go around, and at low levels, that 6.5 hit points may be all that stands between you and getting downed within the first couple turns of combat, allowing you the precious time you need to cast your first spell and get your squishy spellcasting body behind the safety net of heavily armored friends that you arrived with.
On top of that, thanks to the hour-long duration, this spell is great for your action economy. Most of the time, you will know if you are going to enter combat sometime within the next hour, and having the option of casting this one early means that you can save your first round in combat for something a little more exciting.
Additionally, this spell doesn’t lose its value at later levels thanks to the additional 5 hit points per spell level. That means that you can use False Life to significantly increase your effective hit point total any time you enter a dangerous situation, even at later levels when 6.5 hit points is no longer worth the effort it takes to cast.
The only unfortunate downside of False Life is that it only has a range of self, meaning that it can’t be used as a buff for your teammates, so it won’t make you a healer if you aren’t one already. Still, it is worth casting this on yourself any time you think you might be about to enter combat.
1. Inflict Wounds
Inflict Wounds allows you to make a melee spell attack against a creature within 5 feet of you. If you hit the target, it takes 3d10 necrotic damage. You read that right. It’s a first level spell that deals 3d10 damage on a successful hit. No saving throws required.
That is an average of 16.5 damage, making it the single highest damage spell of all first level spells in 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. That, and it deals necrotic damage, which almost no creatures have resistance or immunity to.
The only downside of this spell is that it has a range of touch, which can be risky for a spellcaster. Still, if you have the means to protect yourself in close combat, this should be your go-to damage dealer at early levels and will still have a place on your spell list at later levels, punishing any creature that dares to get to close to you with a quick death.
As with most damage spells, casting Inflict Wounds at a higher level gives you one additional damage die per spell level above 1st. This means that the difference between casting Inflict Wounds at 1st level is deals only 5.5 less damage than casting it at 2nd level.
22 damage for a second level spell slot still isn’t bad, but it isn’t as big as a difference as you see with a lot of damage dealing spells, which will increase in effective damage by as much as 50% from one spell slot to the next. Because of this factor, Inflict Wounds is at its best value when cast as a 1st or 2nd level spell, but given that you will have those low-level spell slots for the entire game, it is worth keeping inflict wounds around for a reliable low-cost damage dealer.
Truthfully, despite its effectiveness, there is not much more to say about this spell. That is a bit strange for the number one ranked spell on this list, but really, in a game where you are going to have to memorize tons of obscure rules and mechanics, Inflict Wound’s simplicity is part of its charm.