Day 16 of Dicember 2021 is Unholy. I have a two-pronged approach here that I hope fans of evil and fans of wordplay can enjoy:
- An unholy game element (it is profane and evil).
- An unholy game element (it is loathsome to the majority of the audience, who would decry it as blasphemy).
What could possibly fulfill both?
Death Knight Prestige Class for Old-School Games
…And the sound you hear is a thousand browsers being closed, phones being thrown in disgust, and angry emails being sent.
Prestige classes are anathema to, I suspect, the extreme majority of OSR and vaguely-related gaming fields. They are a feature born from the 3.0/3.5/d20/PF mess of the early 2000s, when splatbooks were arguably at their most obnoxious and bloat was rampant. The “game” of optimizing a character’s route through their levels was played long before the character was
put into the sleeve of a binder and never actually used played at the table for real, with all meaningful mechanical progression pre-planned and sanitized through a fine sieve of character optimization forums and third-party expansion softcovers of dubious origin. The prestige classes were named because they required a character meet certain prerequisites to qualify and were supposed to carry with them an air of superior achievement; for example the Assassin prestige class from the DMG of 3E/3.5E required:
- Any evil alignment, AND
- 4 ranks of Disguise skill, AND 8 ranks in Move Silently skill, AND 8 ranks in Hide skill, AND
- The character must kill a random person for absolutely no motive other than to prove willingness to murder to a clan of assassins.
Once they’re of sufficient level in a base class (such as Rogue, formerly Thief) to meet the skill requirements, and presuming they meet the other requisites, then they can begin advancing as an Assassin, which has its own skills and whatnot. Other prestige classes had other rules altogether; third-party supplements and latter WotC supplements tended towards byzantine combinations of “needs at least 17 in Charisma and Strength, 4 levels in Rogue and 4 levels in Fighter and 3 levels in Wizard, to become a Sly Mageblade” and other things that encouraged absolutely artificial and manufactured gameplay behavior to achieve, to say nothing of the ones that required you to have levels in an altogether different prestige class to gain access to an even rarer prestige class.
They were certainly something. Something unholy.
But as I concocted this horrible gimmick of a post with gruesome glee, I really pondered it, and I decided there’s a little bit more to it. After all, what were the druid, and the illusionist, and the paladin (or the cavalier), if not ways to flex on our friends and show off our extremely legitimate and definitely-not-falsified 3d6-straight-down character generation rolls? They’re the original prestige classes, along with a few others, though the pathways to achieve them differ a bit. You can definitely find a clear line backward to them, though. And the druid is a great example of it being done “right” – rare stat minimums, special rules for progression, etc – in such a way that it really seems impressive and prestigious to have achieved such a character and to have survived to high levels where such differences made themselves known.
And so we have a precedent to try this on for size. To synthesize old with new and make something just terrible. Something unholy. Something unholy and unholy. The Death Knight.
The Death Knight
The death knight is a blasphemous murderer, a servant of evil and a sower of chaos. Their loyalty is to death and evil, to darkness and obscene glories which the virtuous and lawful despise. These are the damned who trade their humanity for a deathless career of unending war and slaughter. They are generals in the armies of conquering warlock-kings, they are seen stalking the haunted halls of ancient liches.
Those who have seen these monstrous beings – or, rarer still, met with and lived to tell the tale – describe massive suits of black armor with evil symbols in green or red scrawled upon them glowing with unnatural light. Their might is tremendous; they cleave through lesser mortals with ease and release horrific magical spells upon the unlucky few who survive the onslaught of cursed steel.
To become a death knight a character must meet the following criteria:
- Have a minimum STR score of 15, and a minimum INT score of 15. There shall be no bonus to XP progression for higher stats.
- Be of Neutral or Chaotic (or Any Neutral or Any Evil, if your game goes with 9-grid alignments) alignment.
- Be of third level (or higher) as a Fighting-Man.
- Find a profane temple to a deity of death or evil and swear fealty to the god of that place, obeying any ritual commands they deem necessary for induction into their unholy flock.
- Slay a spellcaster of Lawful or Neutral (or Any Good or Any Neutral) alignment and seize their spellbook.
- Acquire a set of full plate armor and be sealed inside and consecrated to your dark deity in their place of power or temple.
Assuming all of these are met, the character begins to advance as a death knight, with the following progressions:
All levels gained as a death knight will use a d12 hit die. The levels attained before becoming a death knight are not rerolled.
What is blood magic? Well, simply put, blood must be spilled to cast it. At the referee’s discretion, blood saved from prior murders What spells? We’re basically gonna take the B/X Cleric spell list and invert them to make them evil. When in doubt, sprinkle in some Magic-User/Elf spells with nasty effects.
First Level: Cure Light Wounds (self only!) or Cause Light Wounds, Detect Law/Good, Detect Magic, Darkness, Protection from Law/Good, Curse Food and Water, Cause Fear, Spectral Blade*
Second Level: Blight, Continual Darkness, Detect Invisible, Hold Person, Knock, Know Alignment, Resist Fire, Silence 15′ Radius, Invisibility (self only!), Web
Third Level: Cause Disease, Dispel Magic, Haste, Infravision (self only!), Invisibility 10′ Radius, Protection from Law/Good 10′ Radius.
Fourth Level: Animate Dead, Cure Serious Wounds (self only!) or Cause Serious Wounds, Commune With Evil*, Insect Plague, Speak With Dead, Summon Nightmare*
Fifth Level: Finger of Death, Harm (AD&D 1E PHB), Possess*, Quest or Remove Quest (self only!), Regenerate (self only!) or Wither (AD&D 1E PHB), Summon Vile Gargoyle*
New Spell Explanations
*Commune With Evil: As Commune (AD&D Player’s Handbook, p. 49), except the beings contacted demand fresh blood sacrifice to speak and answer questions.
*Spectral Blade: As Spiritual Hammer (AD&D Player’s Handbook, p. 46), except it’s a cruel sword or axe resplendent with abyssal runes.
*Possess: The death knight usurps control of the target creature (of lower HD; save vs spell), channeling malevolent energies across vast distance to speak through the target, move as the target, and so forth. The target creature will be seen as behaving strangely but the possession is only revealed if appropriate means are used, such as clerical or arcane spells to reveal evil or exorcise such a presence. For the duration of the control, the death knight must remain in a trance and maintain complete concentration.
*Summon Nightmare: The death knight must be outdoors and not on consecrated ground in order to summon a nightmare. These terrifying horses have flames and smoke of unnatural shades pouring from their nostrils and serving as their manes and tails. They gallop on shoes of black iron and are draped in tattered burial shrouds which do little to disguise their exposed ribs and fiery heart. They are given to serve as a mount for the death knight alone, and will vanish if the death knight is killed, banished to other planes, or otherwise greatly separated from it – however, they do not have other limitations on duration of servitude. The nightmare may be dismissed at will. They are not startled by fire or noise and cannot be panicked, but they may be cause for panic in other horses, which fear and detest them as abominations. They have stats as follows: HD 5+5, AC 7, MV 180′ (60′), SV Fighter 8, Morale 11, ATK 2x Stomp 1d6, Alignment Chaotic; they cannot be struck by mundane weapons and are not affected by Sleep or Charm effects. Unlike the paladin’s warhorse, in the event of its death, the death knight may summon a new nightmare as of the next full moon.
*Summon Vile Gargoyle: The death knight must be in a stony environment, such as a ruin, a cavern, a castle, a mountain, etc., in order to conjure a gargoyle assistant. The gargoyle will serve for 10 minutes per caster level. If the death knight is killed, banished to other planes, or otherwise greatly separated from the gargoyle, the gargoyle will sate its bloodlust by attacking whoever remains – including allies of the death knight. The gargoyle has stats as follows: HD 4, AC 5, MV 90′ (30′) / Flying 150′ (50′), SV Fighter 8, Morale 11, ATK 2x Claw 1d4/1x Bite 1d6, Alignment Chaotic; it cannot be struck by mundane weapons and it is not affected by Sleep or Charm effects.
*Wall of Hellfire: As Wall of Fire (Expert Rulebook, p. X16), except the flames are unnaturally colored and do double damage against Lawful or Good creatures.
The death knight is inhuman, having traded their humanity to dark gods for the unholy means to spread discord and attain power. Therefore:
- They do not require food or water.
- They do not require sleep, and cannot be put to sleep.
- When I said “be sealed inside”, I meant it. That armor stays on. They become as one.
- After they attain the 6th level, they gain Darkvision (60′).
- After they attain the 8th level, they are immune to disease.
- After they attain the 10th level, they no longer age.
And now you have to live in a world where this exists. I will not be taking questions.