The Dragonlance Nexus

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Death Knight (Template)

D&D 3e (3.0/3.5) Rules

by James O'Rance


A death knight is the horrifying corruption of a hero once virtuous, cursed by the gods to its terrible form as punishment for betraying the principles held in its former life. Death knights are cursed to remain in their former domains, and remember their crimes in song on any night of the full moon.

A typical death knight was a powerful warrior, taller than six feet and weighing more than 300 pounds. Its face is a blackened skull covered in scraps of shriveled, rotting flesh, and its armour and clothing is scorched and blackened as though burned in a fire. The death knight has two glowing pinpoints of flame in its eye sockets, and a deep, chilling voice that seems to echo from the depths of a bottomless cavern.

Lord Soth is the most famous death knight, dating from the Cataclysm; other death knights are probably older than the Cataclysm, and come from forgotten traitors of the Third Dragon War and the Age of Might. Death knights are likely to attack any creature that interrupts their singing or trespasses in their domains. A death knight speaks in the language it spoke in its former life, as well as up to six additional languages.

Creating a Death Knight

"Death Knight" is a template that can be added to any humanoid creature (hereafter referred to as the "character"), usually a human fighter or paladin. The character's type changes to "undead." The death knight uses all the character's statistics and special abilities except as noted here.

Hit Dice: Increase to d12.

Speed: Medium-size creatures: 30 feet; Small creatures: 20 feet.

AC: The death knight's armour is supernaturally enhanced, gaining a +10 armour bonus or that of the armour worn, whichever is better.

Special Attacks: A death knight retains all of the character's special attacks and also gains three to five of those listed below. Saves have a DC of 10 + ½ death knight's HD + death knight's Charisma modifier unless noted otherwise.

  • Control Undead (Su): A death knight can rebuke or command undead as an evil cleric.
  • Fear Aura (Su): Death knights constantly generate an aura of fear and terror in a 5-foot radius. Creatures that come within this area must succeed at a Will save or be affected as though by fear cast by a sorcerer of the death knight's level.
  • Frightful Song (Su): The death knight can sing as a full-round action. All living creatures within a 30-foot spread must succeed at a Will save or become panicked for the duration of the singing plus an additional 2d4 rounds. This is a sonic, necromantic, mind-affecting fear effect. A creature that successfully saves against the song cannot be affected by the same death knight's song until the next sunset.
  • Spell-Like Powers (Sp): At will — detect invisibility, detect magic, wall of ice. 2/day — dispel magic. 1/day — fireball (20d6), symbol (fear or pain).
  • Words of Power (Sp): Once per day, a death knight can use either power word, blind, power word, kill, or power word, stun.

Special Qualities: The death knight retains all the character's special qualities and also gains three to five of those listed below, and also gains the undead type (see page 6 of the Monster Manual).

  • Blindsight (Ex): The death knight can ascertain the location of creatures by non-visual means, even in magical darkness.
  • Immunities (Ex): Death knights are immune to cold, electricity, and polymorph effects.
  • Turn Resistance (Ex): The death knight has +4 turn resistance.
  • Spell Resistance (Ex): SR 26
  • Wraithform (Su): The death knight can become incorporeal at will. It can activate or suppress this ability as a standard action.

Saves: Same as the character

Abilities: A death knight gains +6 to Strength and Charisma, but being undead, has no Constitution score

Skills: Death knights gain a +8 racial bonus to Intimidate, Listen, Move Silently, Search, Sense Motive, and Spot checks. Otherwise same as the character

Feats: Same as the character

Climate/Terrain: Any land and underground

Organisation: Solitary, troupe (1 death knight, plus 2-5 vampires or ghosts), or patrol (1 death knight, plus 5-20 skeleton warriors)

Challenge Rating: Same as the base creature +2

Treasure: Standard coins; double goods; standard items

Alignment: Always chaotic evil

Advancement: By character class

Death Knight Characters

Only those of undeniably evil alignment and traitorous nature are ever cursed to become a death knight. The death knight retains all class abilities it had in life, unless denied due to alignment restrictions. Most death knights are fighters, paladins, or warriors (see the Dungeon Master's Guide); a few are rangers or monks. Death knights of the other character classes are unknown.

Death knights usually attack with a sword; usually, this is a magical sword. If the death knight's treasure contains magical items, one of these should be a magical sword designed to complement the death knight's combat ability.

Sample Death Knight

This example uses a 10th-level human fighter as the base creature.

Medium-size Undead
Hit Dice: 10d12 (65 hp)
Initiative: +5 (Dex, Improved Initiative)
Speed: 30 ft.
AC: 21 (+1 Dex, +10 armour)
Attacks: Bastard Sword +17/+12/+7/+2 melee
Damage: Bastard Sword 1d10+11
Face/Reach: 5 ft. by 5 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: Fear aura, frightful song, spell-like powers, words of power
Special Qualities: Immunities, wraithform, SR 26, turn resistance +4
Saves: Fort +7, Ref +4, Will +4
Abilities: Str 23, Dex 13, Con —, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 14
Skills: Intimidate +12, Jump +8, Listen +10, Move Silently +9, Ride +14, Search +9, Sense Motive +10, Spot +12
Feats: Cleave, Combat Reflexes, Exotic Weapon (Bastard Sword), Great Cleave, Improved Critical (Bastard Sword), Improved Initiative, Mounted Combat, Power Attack, Weapon Focus (Bastard Sword), Weapon Specialisation (Bastard Sword)
Climate/Terrain: Any land and underground
Organisation: Solitary
Challenge Rating: 12
Treasure: Standard coins; double goods; standard items
Alignment: Chaotic evil
Advancement: By character class

Combat

This death knight is a frightening opponent in melee combat, cutting a swathe of destruction with its bastard sword. Against an unusually powerful opponent, the death knight will use fireball and a power word to weaken its defences, then enter melee. The death knight can use wall of ice and its wraithform to retreat from overwhelming opposition.

The death knight's treasure probably includes a magical sword of some kind. An encounter of this level should include a major magical item as treasure; this might be a potent magic basatrd sword that the death knight will wield against its opponents.

Fear Aura (Su): Death knights constantly generate an aura of fear and terror in a 5-foot radius. Creatures that come within this area must succeed at a Will save or be affected as though by fear cast by a sorcerer of the death knight's level.

Frightful Song (Su): The death knight can sing as a full-round action. All living creatures within a 30-foot spread must succeed at a Will save or become panicked for the duration of the singing plus an additional 2d4 rounds. This is a sonic, necromantic, mind-affecting fear effect. A creature that successfully saves against the song cannot be affected by the same death knight's song until the next sunset.

Spell-Like Powers (Sp): At will—detect invisibility, detect magic, wall of ice. 2/day—dispel magic. 1/day—fireball (20d6), symbol (fear or pain).

Words of Power (Sp): Once per day, a death knight can use either power word, blind, power word, kill, or power word, stun.

Immunities (Ex): Death knights are immune to cold, electricity, and polymorph effects.

Wraithform (Su): The death knight can become incorporeal at will. It can activate or suppress this ability as a standard action.

Undead: Immune to mind-influencing effects, poison, sleep, paralysis, stunning, and disease. Not subject to critical hits, subdual damage, ability damage, energy drain, or death from massive damage.

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