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For the Warcraft Universe Death Knight see World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

In Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasy roleplaying games, a death knight (also known as a doom knight or demon knight) is a mighty warrior animated as an undead creature by the gods of death, evil deities, demon lords, or other malevolent forces.

Ecology[edit | edit source]

Death knights are usually created by demon lords or evil deities. These evil undead warriors are most commonly raised from the ranks of blackguards, fighters, rangers, and barbarians, but a paladin who falls from grace near the moment of death may also become a death knight. Paladins who become death knights are subject to the same modifications as are presented for the blackguard in Chapter 2 of the Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide.

In Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition (and Version 3.5), a death knight has an aura of fear that will rout groups of low level enemies, can channel powerful negative energy with a touch, and the ability to project explosions of fire and unholy energy.

[1]

Environment[edit | edit source]

Death knights are rare but may be found in any environment. They often choose fortified lairs such as old castles and towers.

Typical physical characteristics[edit | edit source]

The original Dungeons and Dragons Fiend Folio indicates that death knights are "lich-like". A death knight's physical form is that of its decayed body. The face is a blackened skull with patches of rotting flesh with two pinpoints of orange light in the eye sockets. The voice of a death knight is chilling, seeming to echo from deep within. Death knights were powerful people in life, and so they often wear expensive or magic clothing and armor. They are fond of wearing flowing capes to mark them as figures of importance.

Alignment[edit | edit source]

Death knights are (nearly) always evil.

Society[edit | edit source]

Though death knights rarely work with their own kind, they often have a variety of undead servants such as skeleton warriors, liches, and banshees. Death knights often ride nightmares into battle. Given the nature of their creation they are also often in the service of some demon lord or god of evil.

Death knights in various campaign settings[edit | edit source]

Death Knights in Dragonlance[edit | edit source]

The most famous of all death knights is Lord Soth, a disgraced Knight of Solamnia, from the Dragonlance and Ravenloft campaign settings. Loren Soth was cursed after he murdered his wife and child and failed to prevent the Cataclysm. He is attended by the skeleton warriors of his fallen troops and a cadre of ghostly banshees.

Soth is the most published Death Knight and is featured in all three editions of the Dungeons & Dragons game, [2] the New York Times best selling Dragonlance Chronicles[3] and Dragonlance Legends Trilogies, other novels of the Dragonlance mythos and outside of it, and various computer games.[4]

The two Lord Soth novels for Ravenloft and the Dragonlance novel make Death Knights one of only five standard D&D creatures (Dragons, Vampires Elves/Drow, Liches, and Death Knights) to be the subject of a novel. [5][6] [7]

Death Knights in the Forgotten Realms[edit | edit source]

A similar type of undead warrior was seen in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. A paladin by the name of Miltiades was condemned by Tyr to exist as an undead knight for using dishonorable assassination tactics to kill his enemy Zarl. Miltiades retained his sense of good and fought by the sides of good heroes, helping to defeat the forces of Bane. He was eventually restored to life by Tyr after helping the heroes destroy a pool of darkness and a pool of twilight.

While Miltiades possessed an enchanted sword and armor, he did not have the ability to cast the magical spells mentioned above. He did still retain his "normal" paladin abilities like curing and turning the undead.

Death Knights in Greyhawk[edit | edit source]

The first death knight identified by name in a Dungeons & Dragons product was Saint Kargoth, "King of the Death Knights," who first appeared in Scott Bennie's Dragon article, "Setting Saintly Standards" in 1983.

Kargoth appears in the World of Greyhawk campaign setting. Thirteen of Kargoth's fellow and contemporary Knight Protectors of the Great Kingdom join him in becoming death knights: Lord Monduiz Dephaar, Lady Lorana Kath of Naelex, Prince Myrhal of Rax, Sir Maeril of Naelax, Sir Farian of Lirtham (destroyed 209 CY, but soul now powers the deathblade Astrosus), Lord Andromansis of Garasteth, Sir Oslan Knarren, Sir Rezinar of Haxx, Lord Thyrian of Naelax, Sir Minar Syrric of Darmen, Duke Urkar Grasz of Torquann, Sir Luren the Boar of Torquann, and Lord Khayven of Rax. All are transformed by the power of the demon prince Demogorgon.

Four other death knights of Oerth are known by name. The first is Saint Ferrante, a fallen paladin of Heironeous. The second is Sir Loran of Trollpyre Keep, a former knight of Sunndi. The third death knight's real name is unknown, but he calls himself, Kas the Bloody-Handed. Oerth's newest death knight is Vanthus Vanderboren, a former nobleman of Sasserine and servant of Demogorgon. Sainte Ferrante appears in Bastion of Faith,[8] while Loran and "Kas" appear in Die Vecna Die! as servants of Vecna. Other death knights also appear in the later adventure but are not identified by name. Vanthus Vanderboren appears in the Dungeon magazine's Savage Tide adventure path, but he does not become a death knight until late in the campaign.

Publication history[edit | edit source]

Charles Stross created the Death Knight for the 1981 Fiend Folio. In a review in White Dwarf magazine, Jamie Thompson referred to the Death Knight as one of the more interesting additions in the book.[9]

As with other monsters from the early days of the Dungeons & Dragons game, the Death Knight was updated first for Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Editon, and then 3.5 Edition by Necromancer Games in their Tome of Horrors.[10]. This publication preceded Wizards of the Coast's own publication of the Death Knight in Monster Manual II. The Death Knight is one of the creatures announced by Wizards of the Coast for the new Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition game..[11] It will gain a significantly increased backstory and has been featured in the new 4th Edition preview book Worlds and Monsters..[12]


Upon the release of the d20 SRD other publishers began to write books on various topics. Death Knights, along with most undead, have been a favorite enemy of heroic characters. Details on how to fight these creatures were detailed as part of the Lich entry in the Slayer’s Guide to Undead.[13] Green Ronin later expanded this treatment in their Secret College of Necromancy which features role-playing notes for the Death Knight giving him more and unique spells, discussing other classes and races that the Death Knight may come from, and detailing the creature’s background.[14]

Influences on other games[edit | edit source]

The Death Knight, as it originally was stated in the Fiend Folio has made appearances in other RPGs. For example, the Death Knight appeared in the generic Role-Aids supplements from Mayfair Games. One named Death Knight, Theodros, appeared in the 1985 Lich Lords.[15] Theodros plays a stereotypical role for a Death Knight, acting as a second in command to a more powerful Lich. Here his statistics and description are nearly identical to the entry in the 1st Ed. Fiend Folio.

The anime inspired Big Eyes, Small Mouth RPG had a horror gaming supplement called Cold Hands, Dark Hearts in 2003. It also featured a skeleton warrior archetype that has the same background and powers of the Fiend Folio Death Knight.[16] This creature was described as a fallen holy warrior in service to one of the many Demon Lords. The relative strenghts and weaknesses of the two creatures in their respective game systems were equal.

The World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King game will also feature Death Knights as a playable character type.[17]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Dragonlance: Legend of the Twins, , p.. . (Temporary fix for {{cite journal}}, please update to use {{cite dragon}} and similar templates.)
  2. The Annotated Dragonlance Chronicles, , p.. . (Temporary fix for {{cite journal}}, please update to use {{cite dragon}} and similar templates.)
  3. Dragonlance: War of the Lance (computer game), , p.. . (Temporary fix for {{cite journal}}, please update to use {{cite dragon}} and similar templates.)
  4. Ravenloft: Knight of the Black Rose, , p.. . (Temporary fix for {{cite journal}}, please update to use {{cite dragon}} and similar templates.)
  5. Ravenloft: Spectre of the Black Rose, , p.. . (Temporary fix for {{cite journal}}, please update to use {{cite dragon}} and similar templates.)
  6. Lord Soth, , p.. . (Temporary fix for {{cite journal}}, please update to use {{cite dragon}} and similar templates.)
  7. Open Box, White Dwarf, p.14. . (Temporary fix for {{cite journal}}, please update to use {{cite dragon}} and similar templates.)
  8. The Ecology of the Death Knight
  9. Wrath of the Lich King - Official Site

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