This is an outdated guide, kept for historical purposes and to allow people who started using it to continue to do so if they so choose. If you're new, do not use this guide!
Guide Last Updated December 2018 (Patch 3.5, Betrayal league)
This build focuses on raising minions to fight for you. For the most part, you won't engage in combat directly: instead, you'll summon limited-duration Skeletons into enemy packs. Later in the game, you'll also be able to raise enemy monsters as Spectres that retain the abilities they had in life, although this build does not focus on scaling Spectres in particular. Strong versus bosses, although not as efficient as some other builds at clearing weak packs.
This is a minion-based build that does no damage of its own. It's stronger than, but more complex than, most of the other builds listed here for a new player.
Necromancer is one of the Witch Ascendancy classes. When you create your character, you'll select a Witch; you'll choose to be a Necromancer later in the game.
If you want to explore this build's stats, links, and Passive Tree interactively, head over to the Links page and download Path of Building. Then, in Path of Building, select Import/Export Build -> Import from Pastebin, and enter this link: https://pastebin.com/Jr6QMVHX
Main Skill Basics
All of the following skills that summon Minions are subject to the usual mechanics of Minion skills. In particular, they do not benefit from your stats, unless those stats specifically say they affect minions (e.g. "Minion Life" or "Minion Damage"). In addition, the Support gems linked to the skill that summoned a minion are considered to also be linked to the skills that they use, meaning they can benefit from the effects of those support gems. For example, linking Melee Physical Damage Support to a Raise Zombie gem effectively supports all the Zombie's abilities with it as well.
Note that any effects listed on a Minion gem generally only apply to the minions summoned by that gem, and not to your minions as a whole. For example, if a minion gem says "X% Increased Minion Life", that's generally just on the minion it summons, not on all your minions.
All damage done by a Minion is affected by Minion Damage (in the language introduced in the "How Damage Works" article: any damage dealt by a Minion has the "Minion" Damage Tag in addition to any tags it would otherwise have).
Minions are allies, and therefore benefit from your auras. They are not Party Members, and will not benefit from any effect that affects those (in particular, they do not benefit from the Conduit Keystone Passive located at the top-center of the tree).
Raise Zombie targets a corpse and raises a Zombie minion from it. Zombies are persistent minions that will follow you around as you move and attack nearby enemies. Zombies are more durable, slower, and less damaging than most other minions, and tend to act as "meat shields".
Zombies have two attacks. Their default melee attack is, well, a Melee Attack, and benefits from bonuses to Attack, Physical, Minion, and Melee Damage. They also have a Slam that deals damage in a moderate area, which benefits from Area Damage in addition to the above. Bonuses to Increased Area of Effect will increase the size of the slam's hit. Slam is on a 5-second cooldown. As with minions in general, any stats must be on the minion, not on you, for it to benefit the minion and in general must either specify "minion" or come from a support gem linked to your Raise Zombie gem.
By default, you can summon a maximum of 3 Zombies. This build takes many effects that increase this limit, and will be able to summon 10 by the endgame.
Summon Skeleton does not require a corpse, and creates a Skeleton minion at will. Skeletons are temporary minions with a base duration of 20 seconds, after which they will die. Skeletons do not follow you, and will remain in the area where they were summoned, attacking anything nearby.
Skeletons hit with a standard melee attack. This attack benefits from bonuses to Attack, Physical, Minion, and Melee damage. As with minions in general, these stats must be on the minion, not on you, and in general must either specify "minion" or come from a support gem linked to your Raise Zombie gem.
By default, you can summon a maximum of 5 Skeletons. This build takes many effects that increase this limit, and will be able to summon 11 by the endgame.
Summon Skeletons has an upgraded variant, Vaal Summon Skeletons. (It also has a variant that summons Skeleton Mages, but this build does not focus on those.)
Vaal Summon Skeletons
A Vaal Summon Skeletons gem, like other Vaal gems, gives the original version of the skill (with mechanics exactly as described above) in addition to a new skill: Vaal Summon Skeletons.
Vaal Summon Skeletons summons an entire army of skeletons with various skills attached. Most of them are standard skeletons as summoned by regular Summon Skeletons. The details of their mechanics depend on the exact variants summoned, but you won't care much about these details: the resulting army tends to wipe out anything in the vicinity anyway.
Vaal Summon Skeletons, unlike regular Summon Skeletons, is not usable at will: it must be charged with Souls obtained by killing enemies or hitting bosses (your minions' kills and damage do count). Once used, you will not be able to gain souls for a brief time, so Vaal Summon Skeletons generally cannot recharge itself when summoned skeletons kill enemies.
For more on the mechanics of Vaal Skills in general, see the dedicated section on them in the Act 2 section of the main guide.
Raise Spectre targets the corpse of a non-Unique monster and raises a ghostly version of that monster to fight for you. The Spectre will retain the skills it had in life, with a few exceptions (usually summoning skills of its own). Spectres are persistent even through logouts until they die, and retain the level of the corpse they were raised from (meaning that Spectres raised in a high-level zone will be much stronger).
Magic (blue) and Rare (yellow) rarity monsters can be raised, but they will not retain any special Magic or Rare modifiers and behave like other monsters of their type.
Because almost any monster in the game can be raised, the range of potential skills among Spectres is absolutely enormous. These skills are, like all skills used by minions, considered to be supported by any Support gems linked to the spell that summoned them, meaning that it's possible to modify these skills almost as if they were your own. A full list of Spectres is far beyond the scope of this guide, but a common choice for the endgame are Solar Guards, which you can find in Act 8, who cast various Fire Spells and are supported accordingly. See the "Full Build" segment of the guide for suggested Spectre setups.
This section is meant to accompany the main "Act 1" section of the guide.
Early Act 1
When you complete Enemy at the Gate, you'll want to pick up Raise Zombie, your first Minion-raising gem. You can still engage in some combat from behind your minions in the early game, helping them out with e.g. Fireballs from the back line.
You can spend your first few Passive Skill Points on the path pictured below.
Once you complete Mercy Mission, you'll be able to pick up Summon Phantasm on Kill Support, making supported skills summon ghosts on kill. Since you don't have many minions at this stage of the game, this is a very useful way to improve your ability to clear packs, and is worth linking both to whatever damage skill you're temporarily using and to your Zombies.
Remember that your Zombies' attacks can be supported by anything else that would benefit a Physical Attack. Consider buying other Support Gems from Nessa in Lioneye's Watch to link to them, if you have equipment with 3 or 4 links.
Once you complete Breaking Some Eggs, you can choose Summon Raging Spirit as a reward. You can use this as a filler while your minions attack, although for now Fireball or whatever other damage skill you're using probably does more damage.
Once you enter the Prison (The Caged Brute), you can talk to Nessa in town to get your Minion Damage Support. This is a priority for linking to your main Minion skills throughout the game.
Brutus may be annoying, since your minions are still a bit squishy and he hits fairly hard. Try to go into his room with a bunch of Raging Spirits pre-summoned.
Once you defeat Brutus (The Caged Brute), you'll be rewarded with access to a Summon Skeletons gem. This should be the main skill you actively use in combat from here on out, by summoning skeletons into the face of whatever you're trying to kill.
Late Act 1
As you go, you'll want to look for a few specific sorts of item:
- 3- and 4-linked items with mostly Blue sockets. Depending on your exact Attributes, you may be able to fill non-blue sockets, but most of the support gems you want to use at this stage (particularly Minion Damage and Summon Phantasm on Kill) are blue. In red sockets, consider a Melee Splash Support to allow your minions' attacks to 'splash' extra damage to nearby enemies.
- Your weapon matters little, because you're not dealing much damage for yourself. Aim for cast speed (to get your skeletons out more quickly) and resistances for now. Some Unique weapons have useful effects, although there are too many to list here, and you can use them for those effects since your weapon slot is relatively irrelevant otherwise.
- Gear with Life and Resistances.
As you continue to gain more Passive Skill Points, work your way towards the following tree. You'll have enough points for all the Passives shown here sometime around Act 3 or 4, at which point you can move on to the full Passive Tree (listed in the "Full Build" section of this guide below).
Once you enter the Cavern of Wrath (The Siren's Cadence), you can return to town to pick up Flesh Offering. Offering skills allow you to consume corpses to grant substantial buffs to your minions, and are very much worth using as you go.
Against monster packs, your Zombies will charge in to attack and you'll summon Skeletons onto enemies from a distance. If one monster in a pack is more durable (a Rare-rarity monster, say), you can use Flesh Offering once the other monsters die to quickly bring it down.
Against bosses, it will be difficult for now to keep Zombies alive. Instead, stay at a distance and just keep summoning Skeletons into their faces. Later on, as you get more Life and Life Regeneration on your minions, they will become durable enough to survive during boss fights on their own.
This section is meant to accompany the main "Act 2" section of the guide.
Early Act 2
There is a vendor recipe not mentioned in the main guide, since it is only relevant for minion builds, that you will almost certainly want to take advantage of. Sell any Magic (blue) rarity Helm, an Orb of Alternation, and any Flask with the -of Animation suffix on it to get a helm with +1 to Level of Socketed Minion Gems.
Throughout your levelling, try to keep an eye out for helmets. They can roll +1 or +2 to Socketed Minion Gems, and as a result are almost always the best items available to you until 5- or 6-link armour and Minion-centric Unique items come in to play.
For the Deal with the Bandits quest, we kill all the bandits. This build does not benefit from any of the bonuses offered by any of them.
From Intruders in Black, pick up Desecrate. Desecrate creates a pile of corpses on demand, allowing you to summon your Zombies in peace, or to resummon Zombies or cast Offerings during boss fights. Later on, Desecrate will also allow you to raise higher-level Spectres (but we'll get to that later).
After you complete Sharp and Cruel, you'll gain access to two new minion supports: Minion Life Support and Minion Speed Support. Minion Life is a good addition to your Zombies, but is usually unnecessary for your Skeletons (which you can easily resummon. Minion Speed works okay for both for moving around between easily-killed monsters, but will underperform relative to more damage-centric support gems in sustained fights.
Late Act 2
There's nothing in particular of note for this build in the second half of Act 2, but this is a good place to note that minion builds are fairly open-ended. There are many, many possible ways to play them and utility skills available, so feel free to experiment - the main skeleton (pun intended) of a Passive Tree used by this build works with most Minion skills.
At around this point, you'll want to transition towards using items with a mix of blue and red sockets, since those are more your endgame mix.
This section is meant to accompany the main "Act 3" section of the guide.
Early Act 3
At around this point, you should check how many Minions are still supported with Summon Phantasm on Kill (which we picked up back in Act 1). Most likely, you only need to use this support on one of your minion types, since your minions are now killing enemies quickly enough to easily hit the cap on the number of Phantasms you can summon.
Once you've completed Lost in Love, you'll be rewarded with a choice of a few Curses. Instead of the ones offered, you'll want to buy Punishment from Clarissa, which is the largest damage boost you can apply for your minions. (Later on, we'll be able to apply a second Curse.)
Clarissa will now also sell Aura skills. You can't really use Hatred, the default damage aura for any Physical damage build (this build has no Dexterity to level it as you go), so defensive auras like Purity of Elements are a good way to go.
Make sure you're keeping an eye out for 4-linked items. This build needs a lot more sockets available to it than most do, so you'll want plenty of room in the coming Acts.
Late Act 3
Once you complete Sever the Right Hand, you'll gain access to Raise Spectre. You can experiment with various monsters around Act 3 as potential Spectres - decent choices include Whipped Miscreations inside the Lunaris Temple (which apply a curse on hit) or the larger fire Ribbons outside the Solaris Temple. There are far too many Spectres to cover in full detail here, and we won't be using ones available here in the endgame anyhow.
Since you're trying to Raise Spectres, it's probably a good idea to know how to target corpses. There's a hotkey for it: it defaults to holding [a], but you can set in the options.
You don't need any of the direct rewards from A Fixture of Fate, although you'll still want to do this optional quest: it unlocks a huge list of gems that are not normally available to Witches but may be of use to your minions (particularly your Spectres). In particular, if you're using Spectres that cast some sort of elemental spell, consider picking up Minion and Totem Elemental Resistance Support (which, despite its mouthful of a name, improves Elemental Damage dealt by the appropriate minion as well).
If you choose to do some shopping at this point, there are numerous Unique items that provide major Minion buffs. See the full build guide below for a list - many of these items are usable quite early on.
This section is meant to accompany the main "Act 4" section of the guide.
Early Act 4
Your access to Movement skills depends on your choice of weapon. If you have an eligible weapon and shield, Shield Charge is the best choice; otherwise you'll probably end up using Flame Dash.
Breaking the Seal rewards a variety of Golem skills. While this build does not focus on Golems as a primary damage source, there's no harm in using one. Pick up a Lightning Golem, which can give your other Minions a temporary burst of added Lightning damage. Note that the buffs Golems provide for being alive only affect you, not your other Minions.
The Eternal Nightmare rewards several interesting support gems once you've opened the way into the Belly of the Beast. None of them are ideal for your Zombies and Skeletons, but they may be for some Spectres.
By this point you've probably completed the Passive Tree shown above. Here's the full tree, which you should work towards from here on out, adjusting how much damage or life you pursue as you feel your damage or survivability is in need of more help.
The Labyrinth should be fairly straightforward, since minions are very strong in single-target settings. You're fairly fragile yourself, though, and ought to be careful when entering new rooms or moving through areas with traps. When you enter Izaro's room, use Desecrate to lay down some extra corpses, consume them with an Offering as he goes active, and watch your minions eat him alive.
Once you've completed the Labyrinth, pick up Invoker as your first Ascendancy Passive. It provides fairly generic bonuses to Minions, but is a prerequisite to the stronger minion-specific nodes for Zombies and Skeletons (and eventually Spectres) that we'll take later. (Convocation, which Invoker mentions, is a skill that summons minions to you and grants them Life regeneration. It's not particularly important for this build, which is why it hasn't been mentioned here yet, but you can use it if you want. It's not worthless, I just didn't think it was worth complicating this build further.)
Late Act 4
The rest of Act 4 contains nothing of any build-specific note. You should aim your passive tree to pick up at least one Jewel Socket (ideally two) within the next five or ten levels, you'll need them shortly.
This section is meant to accompany the main "Act 5" section of the guide.
The only major build-specific note for Act 5 is the choice of Unique Jewel from Death to Purity. You'll want to pick up Violent Dead, which makes your Zombies' slams usable much more often and improves their damage. Any of the Jewel sockets in this build have sufficient Intelligence near them to activate this Jewel.
You can buy another Violent Dead Jewel from another player for some relatively small amount of currency (an Alchemy Orb or so), which is probably a good idea. You should try to immediately socket that one as well.
Part II (Acts 6-10)
This section is meant to accompany the "Act 6", "7", "8", "9", and "10" portions of the main guide.
Once you complete your second Labyrinth, around the end of Act 7 or the beginning of Act 8, take Bone Sculptor as your next Ascendancy passive. Bone Sculptor allows you to summon three Skeletons instead of one into a pack, greatly increasing your clear speed. Melee Splash is now a particularly good choice for your Skeletons, since summoning Skeletons faster makes the actual "waiting for them to kill things" a much larger portion of your time.
You can pick up Solar Guards around the Solaris Temple in Act 8. These are good choices for Spectres, with a long range laser-blast attack that is excellent for clearing.
Once you find Spectres you want and are bringing them along with you, your Desecrate will sometimes create corpses of the same monster type as any Spectres that have existed within the current area. It's a good idea to use this to refresh your Spectres every five or ten zones as you level, and can be used to get your Spectres back without a trip all the way back to the Solaris Temple.
You may be wondering why we didn't take Minion Instability, a Keystone Passive directly in our path that looks minion-related. The answer is that while it adds quite a bit of damage when our minions die, they almost never actually do while there are enemies around, and in situations where minions do have some chance of dying we absolutely do not want to reduce their effective Life further by causing them to selfdestruct at a third of their maximum Life.
Epilogue & Maps
Once you complete your third Labyrinth, sometime early into Maps, pick up Flesh Binder. In addition to greatly increasing your Zombies' damage, it also lends you and your Zombies a substantial bonus to Physical Damage Reduction. This build kills fast as long as you can stay alive, so anything that helps your survivability is good.
Minion builds are good general-purpose mapping builds. Your damage is spread out enough that damage reflection mods usually will not kill your minions, which means your big threats are high damage mods (which can get you killed before your minions can react) and mods that improve monster area of effect or add Chains to monster skills (since these both kill your minions more efficiently and make it easier to hit you).
Once you complete your final Labyrinth, late in the endgame, you can pick from two possible Ascendancy paths:
- Soul Weaver gives your Spectres 100% increased Damage and Life (note that 100% Increased is not 100% More! We already have a lot of Increased Damage and Increased Life on our minions ). Spectres provide a powerful ranged-clearing addition to your lineup and can greatly improve your clear speed.
- Commander of Darkness provides bonuses to your Auras. Note that the "...while affected by your Auras" effects do not stack per aura, since a target is either affected by your auras or not, but the "Auras you cast grant" effect does stack per aura. This option is fine when solo and provides a decent survivability/quality of life boost from the extra resistance, but it particularly shines in party play, where your party members can benefit from the extra resist and damage as well as your Minions.
The Full Build
Main Skill Links
Raise Zombie - Minion Damage - Melee Physical Damage - Brutality. In a 6-link, add Ruthless and Multistrike. If you're not using Purity of Elements and didn't take Commander of Darkness (in other words, if you're not giving them extra resistances), consider Minion and Totem Elemental Resistance, and if your Zombies are dying regularly, consider Minion Life. For maximum boss damage (which you usually won't need), use Concentrated Effect. These last three choices are blue, so you can also use them as replacements for the red Ruthless and Multistrike in an item with a lot of blue sockets.
Summon Skeletons - Brutality - Melee Splash - Minion Damage. On bosses, you can (but probably don't need to) swap Melee Splash for Melee Physical Damage. In a 6-link, add Ruthless and Multistrike, with alternatives as above (except that Concentrated Effect does nothing for Skeletons).
Summon Spectre, with appropriate support gems depending on your choice of Spectre. If using the recommended Solar Guards, link Minion Damage, Increased Area of Effect, and Elemental Focus.
Purity of Elements, unlinked. Other Auras are options in party play, but keep in mind that you lack the Dexterity to use most green Aura gems. Replacements include Anger or Wrath, either unlinked (if you took Commander of Darkness) or linked with Generosity (if you didn't). These are fairly minor damage bonuses.
Summon Lightning Golem - Minion Damage - Elemental Focus - Increased Duration, if you can fit it in. It provides a minor damage boost. The Increased Duration is for the temporary buff it can cast on you and your other minions.
(Beyond the standard ones listed as part of the Act 4 Guide)
Cast When Damage Taken - Desecrate - Flesh Offering can allow you to automatically apply your powerful Bone Offering buff to your minions. Be warned: this setup automatically consumes corpses, which can make replacing Zombies difficult if they die or can remove a corpse you'd like to Raise as a Spectre.
(This build can apply 2 Curses.)
Punishment and Vulnerability (in that order) are the offensive options. The defensive options are the usual Enfeeble and Temporal Chains.
Minion builds gear somewhat weirdly as a result of minions not scaling with your stats. Most minion builds use several Uniques, though you can get by without them. Look for Life, Resistances, minion modifiers like a +2 to Socketed Minion Gems helm, and lots and lots of sockets. Remember that damage on your weapon is entirely unimportant.
Because you're using mostly Physical minions, you'll be in need of a lot of mixed red/blue sockets, meaning you will often aim for mixed Armour/Energy Shield equipment.
Shaper and Elder rare items (available as part of the endgame Map system), which can include a "Socketed Gems Are Supported By X" modifier, can enable a large number of psuedo-5 and 6-links, allowing you to stick more supports onto your various types of minion.
If you do choose to go shopping for uniques, popular choices include:
- Queen's Degree (and its upgraded version Queen's Escape), a two-handed sword that adds an extra Spectre and gives generic minion boosts.
- Bones of Ullr, boots that give an extra Zombie and Spectre.
- Femurs of the Saints, a staff that gives bonuses that scale with how many minions you have active.
...and many, many others.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the Necromantic Aegis Keystone Passive near the center of the tree. Although this Guided Build did not take it, it's a fairly easy addition, and a number of Unique shields can be very strong if you do take it. Of these, Victario's Charity is the most notable, and provides an enormous boost to Minion damage. In a normal build, I would take this Keystone - the only reason I didn't is that my self-imposed rules for the Guided Builds prohibit required Unique items.