God dammit, even the monster manual is pressuring me to finish the new Fire Emblem!
Death Knights are one of my favorite monsters for story-telling purposes. Their lore is sparse, but it offers up so many creative possibilities that it more than makes up for that. Better yet, this thing is super intimidating, both in terms of its design and its stats! If you’re looking for a challenging, frightening endgame level boss, look no further! The Death Knight has you covered.
Just be careful when you throw one at your party. Even a higher-level party would struggle against one of these guys.
Lore: A Fallen Paladin
Oh my god the possibilities! There are so many stories you can tell with these guys, it’s amazing!
Should a paladin fall from grace and die before they can redeem themselves, dark powers transform the knight into an undead creature filled with hate and power. These skeletal knights retain their abilities from life, such as their divine magic (save for healing). They tend to attract weaker undead to serve beneath them, or they’ll gather fiendish followers if they themselves serve a greater force. Typically, they’ll mount atop a skeletal warhorse or a Nightmare.
Ironically enough, death tends to avoid a Death Knight. Should they be slain, they can arise once again. Only when the fallen paladin redeems itself for it’s past sins can it pass on. Until then, it is doomed to live a life without food, drink, sleep or even air.
The book even provides the story of one specific Death Knight: Lord Soth. It tells the tale of a hero who saves an elf, Isolde, from an Ogre. He fell in love with the elf, despite already being married. He killed his wife and fled with Isolde, leaving his castle behind to fall.
Soth prayed to his god, asking for guidance. His god told him to complete a quest and redeem himself for his past misdeeds, but he abandoned the quest out of fear of infidelity on the part of Isolde. Because his mission went uncompleted, a great cataclysm swept across the land.
Later, Isolde gave birth to a son. However, Soth had been driven to madness and believed that the child wasn’t his. In his insanity, he slew both his wife and his son. Then, he was incinerated in a brutal fire that spread across his castle. On this day, Soth became a Death Knight.
Why was this story in the book? I don’t know. I guess they want to give aspiring DMs something to work with. Regardless, it’s pretty neat!
There are a ton of possible story lines with the Death Knight! You can weave an entire campaign out of one of these! Maybe the party could be partied with a paladin throughout the campaign who falls and becomes a Death Knight, whom they need to either redeem or put down! Perhaps the party hears numerous legends of a mighty paladin throughout the entire campaign only to discover that he’s become a Death Knight near the end of the story! If you have an undead monster as the main villain, you could incorporate a Death Knight into the story super easily and effectively!
Put your imagination cap on, because these guys encourage a lot of creativity!
Design: A Dark Knight
The Death Knight’s design is interesting. On one hand, it’s not the most creative design out there; it’s a skeletal knight in dark armor. It’s exactly what you’d expect. But it is certainly effective!
I mean, just look at this guy! He’s intimidating as hell!
You can take one look at this guy and figure out what he’s about. His dark color scheme, glowing red eyes and skeletal hands tell you numerous things: it is an undead monster filled to the brim with evil. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this guy is a knight of some sort, and an experienced one at that, given the ragged cloak.
Sure, ‘undead paladin’ doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of creative possibilities in terms of a design. But it is an effective one! Without even reading the flavor text, you can figure out what this guy is about! Creative or not, this thing is undeniably cool and intimidating!
Stats: Earning the Death in Death Knight
You don’t want to fuck with these guys! Their AC is monstrous, requiring the highest rolls possible to beat (and it can parry, adding 6 to its AC against a melee attack that would hit so long as it can see the attacker and its holding a weapon). Worse yet, it has a ton of HP to go along with it! Even scarier still, it has advantage on all saving throws against spells and magical effects! That includes Turn Undead! Trying to kill one of these guys is about as easy as bashing your head into an iron wall to break it.
Which is made even harder considering how much fucking damage this guy can dish out!
This thing’s longsword is fucking scary! It can deal 9(1d8+5) damage is used one-handed, 10(1d10+5) if two-handed. On top of that, it adds an extra 18(4d8) necrotic damage onto each attack. On its own, it’s scary but not heart-pounding.
But then you consider that it can swing its sword three fucking times per turn!
Oh, and did I mention the spells? Because this thing has a lot of magic it can use! It can use three first-level spells four times a day, two second-level spells three times, two third-level spells three times a day, two fourth-level spells thrice a day, and one fifth-level spell twice a day. If you hope to make this battle an endurance match and exhaust his spell supply, I’d advise you rethink that strategy. Unless you’re a high-level wizard, I guarantee this thing will outlast you.
Or it will just fucking stab you with it’s sword.
It also has a super special, super powerful spell: Hellfire Orb. With this spell, the death knight can hurl an explosive ball of magical fire, causing a burst of flames within 120 feet of the point of impact. If the victims don’t make a DC 18 Dex saving throw, they can suffer 35(10d6) fire damage and 35(10d6) necrotic damage (suck it Fireball!). Thankfully, it can only use this spell once a day.
But with a spell this powerful? Once is all you need.
It doesn’t matter how strong your party is! If you aren’t cautious or creative in your approach, this guy will wipe the fucking floor with you! It is an incredibly challenging and fun boss battle, one that could push even the most experienced players to the limit! If executed right, this battle could be one of the most memorable in your entire campaign!
Just try to avoid a TPK. That’s memorable for all the wrong reasons.
I love the Death Knight. It is a super interesting monster with really cool lore, an intimidating design (albeit an uncreative one) and stats so high that no party would face one down without pissing themselves! It isn’t my favorite monster, but I have a huge soft spot for it.
With all that in mind, let’s put the Death Knight on the Best of the Bestiary!
- Death Tyrant
- Death Knight <———–
- Animated Armor
- Carrion Crawler
- Rug of Smothering
- Bugbear Chief
- Vine Blight
- Twig Blight
- Needle Blight
- Flying Sword
- Crawling Claw
If the design were a little more creative, it would definitely be higher on the list. Unfortunately, the Death Knight’s concept doesn’t really allow for that kind of creativity! It’s a damn shame, because this guy could easily have made the top five!
Still, it is worthy of a spot in the top ten, at least for now. Which is still impressive! Even if we’re only forty-seven pages into a three hundred and fifty-two page book. Which is still only the first book with monsters for us to discuss.
This series is going to last the rest of my life.