- For other death knight-related pages, see Death knight (disambiguation).
Several death knight organizations were created during the many great wars that ravaged Azeroth. These orders share a few things in common, including riding undead horses and manipulating necromantic energies.
The death knights of the Second War were powerful undead necromancers created by Gul'dan to replace the warlocks slaughtered by Orgrim Doomhammer. The first and most prominent of these death knights was Teron Gorefiend.
A new order of death knights emerged during the Third War, in service to the Lich King. They were created from living and undead humans (and occasionally other races) who had been granted unholy runeblades, and most were former paladins who had forsaken the Holy Light.
In World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, the death knight class was the first hero class to be introduced. They represented a new breed of undead warriors, fallen heroes of the Alliance and Horde raised against their will and bound in service to the Lich King.
Of the Horde
- Main article: Death knight (Old Horde)
|Death Knights of the Horde|
|Character classes||Death knight|
|Racial capital||None, formerly Fortress Shadowmoon, Black Temple|
|Racial leader(s)||Gul'dan, Teron Gorefiend, Ner'zhul, Illidan Stormrage, Ragnok Bloodreaver|
|Racial mount||Skeletal horse|
During the First War, warlocks and necrolytes composed the magic users of the Horde. However, when Orgrim Doomhammer seized power for himself, the warlocks of the Shadow Council were branded as traitors to the Horde and executed en masse, leaving the Horde without its leading practitioners of demonic magic. Only Gul'dan and a few others survived by pledging allegiance to the new Warchief.
Seeking to please Doomhammer, Gul'dan promised him an army of undead warriors loyal only to him. After experimenting at length with the souls of the recently slain council members, Gul'dan successfully instilled the spirit of the warlock Teron Gorefiend into the corpse of a fallen knight. Gul'dan then summoned his necrolyte followers to a conjunction spell and sacrificed them while they were channeling. This sacrifice allowed him to imbue the spirits of the other members of the Shadow Council into the corpses of the fallen Knights of Stormwind. Thus the death knights were born. Each death knight was given a jeweled truncheon into which the powers of the slain necrolytes was imbued. Doomhammer was pleased with Gul'dan's creations, however, he overlooked the fact that the spirits of the Shadow Council warlocks remained loyal to Gul'dan.
The dreaded undead spellcasters were distributed among the Horde clans, and some of them crossed the Dark Portal and established themselves in Draenor, joining the forces of the elder shaman Ner'zhul as well as Mogor the ogre. Some, such as Ragnok Bloodreaver and Gaz Soulripper, were assigned special duties during the conflicts. When not fighting, the death knights dwelled in the fetid halls of the Temples of the Damned to study their necromancy on fallen warriors reaped from the battlefields above. The death knights were known to have cursed the Alliance soldiers of the Expedition Armory.
With the Alliance victory, most of the death knights were destroyed, though some of them were rallied by Teron Gorefiend, who offered his allegiance to Ner'zhul in exchange of a world for the death knights alone to conquer. During the destruction of Draenor, many death knights ventured alongside Ner'zhul into the Twisting Nether, where along with Ner'zhul's other prominent spell casters they were captured by the Burning Legion, transformed by Kil'jaeden into liches and reappointed into the service of the Lich King in order to better assist him with his new task.
While a new, distinct order of death knights has arisen in Azeroth, no death knights of the original order are known to have survived. Any in Azeroth would likely have been destroyed by the Alliance of Lordaeron. It is rumored that a jewel that had been part of a truncheon carried by one of these death knights was used to create .
Not all Draenor death knights were taken with Ner'zhul, however, as evidenced by the Ghostriders of Karabor. The most famous of these survivors was Teron Gorefiend. In a quest chain beginning with , he deceived players with a fabricated account of history that tricked them into assisting him, and this deception ultimately resulted in his release from eternal imprisonment. He subsequently appeared as a raid boss in the Black Temple. Another stranded death knight was Ragnok Bloodreaver, who tried to overthrow Illidan Stormrage.
It was believed by some that the Dark Riders were surviving death knights of this generation. However, it was later shown that they were in fact merchants who had tried to sell fake artifacts to a cursed Medivh, and so he cursed them in turn to forever track down artifacts as specters and bring them back to Karazhan.
Ironically, Kel'Thuzad had witnessed the death knights of the Old Horde during their raid on Dalaran before the Invasion of Draenor and became even more interested in necromancy after seeing what its power was capable of.
- In Beyond the Dark Portal, an order of death knights loyal to the Laughing Skull clan were said to have secured the knowledge needed to rebuild the Dark Portal, with the Portal later being reopened by their necromantic magic. That story was eventually retconned to having the Portal reopened by the fel energies of the Skull of Gul'dan instead.
- In the canceled Warcraft Adventures, a death knight appeared at Grim Batol. Thrall had to learn how to cast his Death and Decay spell, which he would later use to open the doors of Blackrock Spire.
- Other death knight-like entities are using the same model as the Ghostriders of Karabor, Second War death knights: Attumen and the Dark Riders of Acherus.
A death knight in Warcraft Adventures.
A Ghostrider of Karabor, the remnant of one of Gorefiend's death knights.
Of the Scourge
- Main article: Death Knight (Warcraft III)
|Death Knights of the Scourge|
|Character classes||Death knight|
|Racial capital||Stratholme, Icecrown Citadel|
|Racial leader(s)||Lich King|
When Prince Arthas Menethil of Lordaeron gave himself over to Frostmourne during the Third War, he became the Lich King's first death knight, sworn to the Scourge and invested with dark powers to carry out its will.
Other once-noble paladins would follow in Arthas' steps. During the fall of Lordaeron, the Knights of the Silver Hand were disbanded. Some of these holy warriors traveled to the quarantined lands to ease the suffering of those left within the plague-ridden colonies. Though the paladins were immune to disease of any kind, they were persecuted by the general populace who believed that they had been infected by the foul plague. Embittered by this rejection, a few traveled north to find the plague's source.
Much as Arthas had before them, these renegade paladins succumbed to bitter hatred over the course of their grueling quest. When they finally reached Ner'zhul's icy fortress in Northrend they had become dark and brooding. The Lich King offered them untold power in exchange for their services and loyalty. The weary, vengeful warriors accepted his dark pact, and although they retained their humanity, their twisted souls were bound to his evil will for all time. Bestowed with black runeblades and shadowy steeds, they became the Scourge's mightiest generals.
Despite the heavy costs of free will, some other mortals were intrigued by the promise of immortality. Rich landowners like Baron Rivendare and Lord Alexei Barov pledged their souls to achieve it. There are also examples of death knights created during the Third War who did not give themselves willingly. Falric and Marwyn were killed and raised as death knights against their will by Arthas. Thassarian was killed by Captain Falric shortly after this. As all three precede the destruction of Lordaeron, they would have been created before the aforementioned paladins. Koltira Deathweaver was also killed and raised by Thassarian in the midst of the destruction of Quel'Thalas during the Third War.
After the end of the war, several death knights still served as superior officers of the undead army. Baron Rivendare lorded over the forces of Stratholme while Marduk Blackpool was now a tutor at the Scholomance. The fallen paladin Sir Zeliek was unique in the fact that, while his body was forced to obey the Scourge's commands, he had managed to retain his sanity and morals despite his corruption.
When Naxxramas appeared over the Eastern Plaguelands, it was revealed that within its walls dwelt a mighty army of death knights, with many new human recruits and converts training to become dark weapons of the Scourge.
The forces of Naxxramas were eventually defeated by a joint effort from the mortals of Azeroth.
After waking up from his slumber, the Lich King created a new order of death knights, which were raised from the corpses of fallen heroes and powerful warriors of the Horde and Alliance instead of being willing humans tempted by a dark power. These new death knights had their souls enslaved upon reanimation and bound in service to the Lich King.
The forces of the Ebon Blade eventually rebelled after the failed battle for Light's Hope Chapel. When the Alliance and Horde launched a retaliary campaign against the Scourge in Northrend, they discovered that the Lich King had started creating even more orders of death knights, notably in the reestablished Military Quarter of Naxxramas and at Malykriss. In both cases these orders were more similar to the Knights of the Ebon Blade than the mounted generals of the Third War. The Host of Suffering, notably, had the same training organization as the knights of Acherus.
As powerful and valuable agents of the Scourge, death knights are not freed from service to the Lich King should they die again. They are often simply raised once more to continue their work, sometimes even by a val'kyr. As an example, the members of the original Four Horsemen were raised back into service once to be led by Baron Rivendare, a man who himself had his head removed some times earlier, and the Black Knight had to be killed no less than four times by Argent Crusaders.
In the RPG
Even the most honorable warriors can fall prey to the plots of the Lich King. Some, usually the ones the Scourge had the most trouble defeating, become the horrors known as death knights — elite members of the Scourge who lead the Lich King's armies. Neither their personalities nor their skills are lost entirely, but their souls belong to the Lich King. All good creatures fear their mighty rune weapons.
Most death knights are fallen paladins, having fought in battle against the Scourge and proven themselves worthy. Any member of the Scourge powerful enough to defeat a particularly strong paladin knows whether or not that paladin would make a fine death knight.
In the Warcraft RPG, the death knight is a prestige class, an advanced class with certain requirements for entry. It is comparable to the "Blackguard", a prestige class in Dungeons & Dragons. The would-be death knight adventurer must vow to serve the Scourge and must receive a vampiric runeblade from the Lich King.
Knights of the Ebon Blade
In Wrath of the Lich King, death knights appeared as the first available hero class. Their powers are a combination from those of both previous death knight organizations. Most of them belong to the Knights of the Ebon Blade, an organization that began in Scourge service but later turned against the Lich King, but some joined the Alliance and Horde as adventurers.
Unlike their predecessors, these Knights of the Ebon Blade are racially diverse and are not bound to a single runeblade.
- ^ Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness manual, The History of Orcish Ascension, The First War of Orcish Ascension
- ^ Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness manual, Orc Buildings, Temple of the Damned
- ^ Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal manual, Legends of the Land, Teron Gorefiend
- ^ World of Warcraft: Chronicle Volume 3, pg. 29-30
- ^ Slayer of the Shadowmoon (WC2 Orc)
- ^ The Rift Awakened (WC2 Orc)
- ^ Warcraft III - Undead -> Units -> Death Knight.
- ^ Johnson, Luke. Dark Factions, 57. ISBN 9781588464460.