Death Knights and Nentir Vale

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Big Mac
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Death Knights and Nentir Vale

Post by Big Mac » Mon May 20, 2019 12:57 pm

I see two mentions of Death Knights in the Nentir Vale forum.

Zeromaru X mentioned them in one of his Nentir Vale and beyond UPDATE posts:
Zeromaru X wrote:
Wed Jul 25, 2018 10:27 am
Domains of Dread

Scattered throughout the Plane of Shadow are places hidden behind thick walls of mist, places ruled by dark and deeply troubled beings bound to the plane by dreadful curses. These isolated pockets within the Shadowfell are called Domains of Dread. A creature that passes through the curtain of mist into a Domain of Dread becomes trapped there —a prisoner of the darklord who rules the domain.

Info taken from the Manual of the Planes. Themes for servants of Darklords are found in the Book of Vile Darkness while a PC Darklord Epic Destiny is found in Masters of the Planes (Dragon 372)

<snip>
  • Sithicus: A Domain of Dread ruled by the Death Knight Lord Soth and his Death Knight Servants. Mentioned in the Book of Vile Darkness and detailed more fully in Dragon 416.
<snip>
DMSamuel mentioned them in one of his Let's Read the Nentir Vale in Order of Release! posts:
DMSamuel wrote:
Thu Jan 31, 2019 5:09 am
MONSTER MANUAL 1:

Released in June 2008 – There is a ton of lore in this book, and the real task here is distilling it down to items relevant to the Nentir Vale itself. I am not going to describe powers, tactics, or encounter groups unless they directly affect the lore of the setting. I am also doing this piecemeal - a few letters of the alphabet at a time. At the end, I'll go back and edit and add a few things...

<snip>

Death Knight: Once powerful warriors who, with the help of a ritual created by Orcus himself, became skeletal warriors. They retain the intelligence and skills they had in life, but their souls are bound to the weapons they wield. These powerful foes often command undead armies.
Creature Type: Natural Humanoid (Undead). [MM 50, 51]

<snip>
Now, as far as I am concerned, Sithicus (and the Domain of Dread) is part of the Ravenloft campaign setting...and Sithicus is an echo of part of Ansalon on Krynn, because Lord Soth is specifically a Dragonlance character.

And Orcus was never part of Dragonlance. (From what I recall Death Knights used to be Lawful Good knights who somehow betrayed their code of honour and died while doing so.)

So these two bits of compiled Nentir Vale canon kind of don't make sense to me, as they don't fit in with the context of Death Knights that I have from earlier campaign settings.

I'm assuming there must be some sort of Nentir Vale reboot on the Death Knight (to tie it into Orcus and his ritual).

I'm also assuming there must be some sort of Nentir Vale reboot on Sithicus...and the Domain of Dread (to remove them from Dragonlance and Planescape)...unless this is an intended Nentir Vale/Ravenloft crossover, that I've not picked up on.

Is there any explanation for how Death Knights actually fit into the Nentir Vale campaign setting? The ritual mentioned sounds more like an altered version of lichdom to me (than the curse of earlier editions). Is there anything about this ritual being discovered? Are there entire armies of Orcus worshipping Death Knights in Nentir Vale and Nerath? (Or are they still rare.)

Alternatively, are Death Knights still formerly good knights, with Orcus worshippers stealing bodies to make Death Knights?

How about Sithicus and Lord Soth? Are they now supposed to be parts of Nerath that were sucked into the Shadowfell? If so, who was Lord Soth, when he was a living person in Nerath? Is there an area of Neath that is equivalent to the Knightlund region of Ansalon?

Is there anything to explain how other Death Knights (like Lord Fear from Dragonstrike) could be rebooted to get them to work in Nentir Vale?
David "Big Mac" Shepheard
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Zeromaru X
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Re: Death Knights and Nentir Vale

Post by Zeromaru X » Mon May 20, 2019 5:49 pm

If you can, search for Dragon magazine 360; it was the first of the pdf-only edition, and it was not part of the 4th edition collection yet, so I guess is really hard to find. In that magazine they published an "Ecology of..." article about the death knights, and how they fit in the World Axis universe. So, here you have a handy "let's read" that can help you with the basics.

The death knights of the World Axis are waging a war against the very concept of Life itself, so I guess that yes, their origins were changed in 4e. They are not formerly Lawful Good beings, just people who rebelled against Life and chose Orcus instead.

As for Lord Soth and Sithicus, that is part of the multiverse. They do not originated in Nerath proper, but came from somewhere else. Starting in 4e, the Domains of Dread are part of the Shadowfell. As with the Feywild, the Shadowfell is just one for all the worlds of the Material Plane. So, if one knows the "right paths", one can use the Shadowfell, or the Feywild, to traverse the multiverse. Same applies with the Domains of Dread. Anyone traversing the Shadowfell can get trapped in a Domain, regardless of the world this Domain originated from. Such is the nature of a plane that reflects all worlds at once.

So, the legend of Lord Soth may have started in Krynn, but he is now known across the whole multiverse. Eventually (and somehow), the sages of Nentir Vale's World also learned about him, and that's why they know about his story and its Domain of Dread.

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Re: Death Knights and Nentir Vale

Post by Tim Baker » Mon May 20, 2019 11:36 pm

Zeromaru X wrote:
Mon May 20, 2019 5:49 pm
If you can, search for Dragon magazine 360; it was the first of the pdf-only edition, and it was not part of the 4th edition collection yet, so I guess is really hard to find. In that magazine they published an "Ecology of..." article about the death knights, and how they fit in the World Axis universe. So, here you have a handy "let's read" that can help you with the basics.
Thanks for sharing that handy link.
Zeromaru X wrote:
Mon May 20, 2019 5:49 pm
The death knights of the World Axis are waging a war against the very concept of Life itself, so I guess that yes, their origins were changed in 4e. They are not formerly Lawful Good beings, just people who rebelled against Life and chose Orcus instead.
I didn't come to the conclusion that each death knight had chosen to rebel against Life itself prior to their corruption. There were varied reasons for death knights, even if 4e states that they are created in using a ritual from Orcus. They're tied to death (and undeath) as death knights, but I'm less certain that they had to share an "anti-Life" philosophy prior to the ritual. Although I can definitely see anti-Life elements in the nature of the ritual itself, assuming it requires the murder of an innocent.

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Re: Death Knights and Nentir Vale

Post by DMSamuel » Sat Jun 15, 2019 5:26 am

Big Mac wrote:
Mon May 20, 2019 12:57 pm
Is there any explanation for how Death Knights actually fit into the Nentir Vale campaign setting? The ritual mentioned sounds more like an altered version of lichdom to me (than the curse of earlier editions). Is there anything about this ritual being discovered? Are there entire armies of Orcus worshipping Death Knights in Nentir Vale and Nerath? (Or are they still rare.)
Interesting that you mention liches because the 4e lore compares and contrasts death knights and liches - in the Monster Vault description of the Death Knight it refers to them as "...like the martial equivalent of a lich." That product was released as part of the Essentials line in 2010.

Here is the Death Knight entry from that book:
"A death knight wields fear like a weapon. It charges forward at the head of vast undead armies, shattering the courage of defenders. Gifted with undeath as a result of a ritual, a death knight is like the martial equivalent of a lich. In death, it retains its sentience and skill and gains the ability to shrug off wounds that would slay most mortals. A humanoid becomes a death knight through a profane ritual that strips away the emotional bonds of one’s life, replacing them with cruelty and a perverse sense of honor. This ritual is often bestowed as a gift from high-ranking followers of Orcus, the Demon Prince of the Undead. When a warrior reaches a certain state of notoriety, Orcus’s adherents approach the individual and try to tempt him or her with the promise of immortality. A warrior who accepts the offer turns into a dark reflection in the shattered mirror of undeath. Its armor becomes blackened and scarred, and its flesh becomes as withered and twisted as the person’s corrupted soul.

Martial Champions: In life, most death knights were soldiers or warriors of great martial prowess, typically commanders or leaders who guided their people to many victories. In death, these warriors gain the strength and speed to match any living champion. A death knight can fight long after a mortal would have died. This characteristic allows a death knight to take on suicidal tasks, such as kidnapping a nobleman from a fortress. A death knight succeeds because it can ignore the arrows jutting from its body and can swat aside the swords of defenders. A death knight retains some of its personality from its former life, but its sense of honor becomes twisted in death. The creature might challenge an enemy commander to a duel rather than engaging in a pitched battle. The result of such a duel is almost always the death of the challenged foe. Alternatively, a death knight might give civilians time to clear out of a battle zone before marching its undead legions across the land, slaughtering any who stand against it.

Leaders of the Undead: A death knight often leads at the head of a column of undead, acting as an officer or a general for undisciplined undead, such as zombies and skeletons. Under a death knight’s leadership, undead fight more efficiently and with greater skill. A death knight has magical talents of command as well as natural leadership. Strong-willed undead, such as vampires and liches, can resist a death knight’s authority. These undead sometimes choose to work with a death knight, though. Slaying a death knight reduces the effectiveness of nearby undead, so an army facing a legion of skeletons or zombies might hire a group of mercenaries or assassins to take out a death knight before a large-scale assault begins.

Soul Weapons: The ritual that transforms a warrior into a death knight binds part of the subject’s soul to one of his or her weapons. This weapon is not only a symbol of an individual’s transformation, it is also the source of a death knight’s power. A death knight jealously guards its soul weapon; humanoids sometimes try to steal this weapon, holding it for ransom or using it as leverage to bend a knight to their will. A death knight always keeps its soul weapon close, and such weapons are rarely left unattended. When a death knight is destroyed, its soul weapon crumbles to dust. A particularly powerful death knight could leave behind a mighty weapon that remains infused with part of the knight’s soul. In such a case, the weapon might take on sentience of its own, even speaking to its wielder. A hero who slays a death knight and claims its weapon must be cautious, because many have been driven mad by the whispers of these weapons. Tales even recount how some people have become possessed by the souls of destroyed death knights."


The entry even includes this quote, attributed to Lord Soth: “How does it feel, my dear, to know that you have brought pleasure to the damned? You have made my dreary realm of death interesting. Would that I had known you as a living man! But, my time is eternal. Perhaps I will wait for one who can share my throne.” —Lord Soth

I checked the other monster books in the 4e line (MM2, MM3, Open Grave, & Demonomicon), briefly, for mentions of Death Knights, but didn't find anything obvious on a quick perusal. There might be something in the H1-E3 adventures (because they feature Orcus) but I don't remember anything at the moment and I didn't take time to look at them specifically.

Also note that if an Imperial Knight fell while tending to their duty, they might become undead, but not a Death Knight. This is what happened to the righteous Imperial Guard of Nerath, who became the Phantom Brigade. To become a Death Knight the hand of Orcus must be involved, whether through his direct intervention, or through a ritual via one of his priests.
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Re: Death Knights and Nentir Vale

Post by ripvanwormer » Sat Jun 15, 2019 5:41 am

Big Mac wrote:
Mon May 20, 2019 12:57 pm
And Orcus was never part of Dragonlance.
They (arguably) call him Chemosh there, just as Tiamat is known as Takhisis and Bahamut as Paladine and Anthraxus as Morgion. At least, Orcus and Chemosh are both described as having goat heads.
DMSamuel wrote:
Sat Jun 15, 2019 5:26 am
Interesting that you mention liches because the 4e lore compares and contrasts death knights and liches - in the Monster Vault description of the Death Knight it refers to them as "...like the martial equivalent of a lich."
In the 1st edition Dragonlance adventure World of Krynn, it claims that death knights are a type of lich. "As a type of lich, [Lord Soth] is immune to (and will thus reflect) the following spells: charm, sleep, enfeeblement, polymorph, cold, electricity, insanity (and any other mind spells), and death spells and symbols."

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Re: Death Knights and Nentir Vale

Post by Tim Baker » Sat Jun 15, 2019 6:13 am

DMSamuel wrote:
Sat Jun 15, 2019 5:26 am
I checked the other monster books in the 4e line (MM2, MM3, Open Grave, & Demonomicon), briefly, for mentions of Death Knights, but didn't find anything obvious on a quick perusal. There might be something in the H1-E3 adventures (because they feature Orcus) but I don't remember anything at the moment and I didn't take time to look at them specifically.
I didn't find anything that adds new information, but there are references to death knights in:
  • DMG (p. 177)
  • Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium (p. 14)
  • Open Grave (pp. 7, 12, 13, 220)
  • Manual of the Planes (p. 54)
  • Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide (p. 247)
  • DMG 2 (p. 183)
  • Dungeon Delve (p. 164)
  • E2 Kingdom of the Ghouls (throughout)
  • Dragon 364 (pp. 38, 43, 44)
  • Dragon 372 (p. 17)
  • Dragon 375 (p. 9)
  • Dragon 406 (p. 29)
  • Dragon 407 (p. 6)
  • Dragon 416 (pp. 16-21)
  • Dragon 421 (p. 12)
  • Dragon 427 (p. 11)
  • Dungeon 162 (Winter of the Witch)
There are various uses of death knights in encounters, but I didn't see anything additional there, except perhaps the variety of races/creatures that had the death knight template applied to it in 4e!

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Re: Death Knights and Nentir Vale

Post by Big Mac » Mon Jun 24, 2019 3:40 pm

Thanks for all the help everyone.

I think that, if I was going to run a 4e Dragonlance or 4e Ravenloft campaign, I would probably want to revert Lord Soth to how he was with Dragonlance and Ravenloft. But this works OK (in any edition) as a variant for Death Knights in Nentir Vale.
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