Gods of death create death knights. They are martial champions of evil. These horrible undead 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.
A death knight's physical form is that of its decayed body. The face is a blackened skull covered 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 quite fond of wearing flowing capes to mark them as figures of importance.
Death knights speak the languages they knew in life.
Creating A Death Knight
"Death knight" is a template that can be added to any evil humanoid creature of 6th level or higher (referred to hereafter as the character). The character's type changes to undead. It uses all the character's statistics and special abilities except as noted here.
Hit Dice: All the character's Hit Dice (current and future) become d12s.
Speed: Same as the character.
AC: The death knight has +5 natural armor, or the character's natural armor, whichever is better.
Attacks: Death knights usually fight with martial weapons, but if disarmed they will use a touch attack.
Damage: The death knight's touch attack uses negative energy to deal damage equal to 1d8 + the death knight's Charisma bonus to living creatures. Each successful touch attack also deals 1 point of Constitution damage. A Will save (DC 10 + 1/2 death knight's HD + death knight's Charisma modifier) reduces the damage by half and negates the Constitution damage. Characters with natural attacks can use their natural weaponry or use the touch attack, as they prefer.
Special Attacks: A death knight retains all the character's special attacks and gains those described below.
Abyssal Blast (Su): Once per day a death knight can unleash a blast of eldritch fire. The blast fills a 20-foot-radius spread anywhere within a range of 400 feet + 40 feet per HD of the death knight. The blast deals 1d6 points of damage per HD of the death knight (maximum 20d6). Half of the damage is fire damage, but the rest results directly from divine power and is therefore not subject to being reduced by protection from elements (fire), fire shield (chill shield), or similar magic. A Reflex save (DC 10 + 1/2 death knight's HD + death knight's Charisma modifier) reduces the damage by half.
Fear Aura (Su): Death knights are shrouded in a dreadful aura of death and evil. Creatures of less than 5 HD within 15 feet of a death knight must succeed at a Will save (DC 10 + 1/2 death knight's HD + death knight's Charisma modifier) or be affected as though by a fear spell cast by a sorcerer of the death knight's level.
Undead Followers: A death knight attracts lesser undead creatures that happen to exist within a 200-mile radius. It may have up to twice its levels in Hit Dice of followers. The followers arrive monthly in the following increments: 1d6 ghouls, 1d4 ghasts, 1d12 medium skeletons, 1d4 wights, or 1d8 medium zombies once per week. These creatures remain in the service of the death knight until destroyed. These creatures are in addition to any undead creatures the death knight might be able to command or rebuke as a class ability.
Spells: A death knight can cast any spells it could while alive, unless alignment restrictions prohibit the casting of a particular spell.
Special Qualities: A death knight retains all the character's special qualities and gains those described below.
Damage Reduction (Su): A death knight's undead body is tough, giving the creature damage reduction 15/+1.
Immunities (Ex): Death knights are immune to cold, electricity, and polymorph in addition to those immunities possessed by undead (see undead traits, below).
Spell Resistance (Su): A death knight gains spell resistance 20 + 1 per character's level beyond 10th.
Summon Mount (Su): A death knight has the ability to summon a mount, typically a nightmare, though it may be of any other species normally used as a mount. The mount may have no more Hit Dice than half the death knight's levels. If the mount is lost or killed, the death knight may summon another one after a year and a day.
Turn Immunity (Ex): A death knight cannot be turned. It can be banished with holy word, however, just as if it were an evil outsider. (The banished death knight returns to the plane of the evil god it serves.)
Undead Traits: A death knight is immune to mind-affecting effects, poison, sleep, paralysis, stunning, disease, death effects, necromantic effects, and any effect that requires a Fortitude save unless it also works on objects. It is not subject to critical hits, subdual damage, ability damage, ability drain, energy drain, or death from massive damage. A death knight cannot be raised, and resurrection works only if it is willing. The creature has darkvision (60-foot range).
Saves: Same as character.
Abilities: A death knight gains +4 to Strength and +2 to both Wisdom and Charisma. Being undead, it has no Constitution score.
Skills: Same as character.
Feats: Same as character.
Climate/Terrain: Any land and underground.
Organization: Solitary or troupe (see undead followers, above).
Challenge Rating: Same as character +3.
Treasure: Double standard.
Alignment: Same as character (always evil).
Advancement: Death knights continue to advance in level as per their original class.
Death Knight Characters
A death knight PC's effective character level (ECL) is equal to the creature's character level +5; thus, a 7th-level fighter/3rd-level blackguard death knight has an ECL of 15 and is the equivalent of a 15th-level character.
A character with the ability to spontaneously cast cure spells who becomes a death knight loses that ability, but gains the ability to spontaneously cast inflict spells.
Sample Death Knight: Death Knight (Ftr 7/Blk 3).