Blackguard, Spanambula Variant (5e Class)
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Across the clamor of the battlefield, the light seemed to fail. A shadow loomed and a fear gripped the hearts of the army of light. Striding towards them was seven feet of plate-armored death, cape flying behind him like a stormcloud and swinging a bloodstained jagged longsword. The front line tried to give way but it was too late. Those who survived the first onslaught screamed, dropped their weapons and ran, sewing panic and confusion as they fled...
Such is the role and reputation of the Blackguard: the anti-paladin, the favored commander of the forces of darkness in the mortal realms. The blackguard exists to destroy his enemies and crush the spirits of all who remain. Their terrifying powers pull the life from their victims and use it to fuel their fell abilities, or simply trap their essence within those cursed blades.
And yet Blackguards can be more than the stereotypical armored commander. Not all battles are fought on wide fields where massed ranks of soldiers clash and die. Some Blackguards lead from the shadows, shifting about in the darkness before striking a deadly blow. Others rally the undead to their side to fight for them while looking more dead than alive themselves. But no matter the specialty, being a blackguard means gaining power through slaughter, rising to greatness and infamy on the wings of pain and suffering of enemies and innocents.
The Service of Darkness and BeyondEdit
While many blackguards may give their allegiance to a mortal lord of sufficient power and ruthlessness, Blackguards gain their powers from pledging themselves to a powerful servant of evil. Sometimes these are minor evil deities or demigods, sometimes powerful fiends and devils, or other source of dark might. The blackguard forfeits their soul upon death to their master, but in return gain a twisted mirror version of a paladin’s abilities. If the blackguard was particularly effective, their master may convert the blackguard’s soul to form a powerful new demon or devil upon death in order to continue their service.
On occasion, a more neutral entity may create their own blackguards. While not overwhelmingly evil, such masters are willing to use dark means in order to achieve their desired ends, or to oppose a foe that they believe deserves no quarter. Their blackguards often believe in a “greater good” that justifies their actions, or claim to be realists that understand the world in a way that the more idealistic cannot comprehend. They do not see themselves as evil so much as necessary.
Rarely, a Blackguard may rebel against his former master, often using their powers for a more self-centered and self-serving cause, but some Blackguards have been known to recant and return to the service of something more noble. These blackguards become fearsome avengers and punishers of the wicked, only using their life-draining powers on the vilest of foes. While ultimately they may pay dearly for their betrayal after death, to the penitent blackguard, such sacrifice is worth the eternal price.
NOTE: The Blackguard's signature ability to harvest "life essence from fallen" foes is left deliberately vague. Life essence does not have to be the same as a soul, it is up to the player and the DM to decide if the two concepts are one and the same, and which concept better fits the game.
An Enigmatic AllyEdit
When not beholden to a mortal lord or master, many blackguards hone their abilities through a life of adventuring, often leaving behind a trail of broken bodies and ravaged lands. But a blackguard alone is vulnerable, and many choose to travel with small bands of allies who provide some use with skills in which the blackguard lacks expertise. While most companions are allies of convenience at best, blackguards may form bonds of respect with their allies, and on rare occasions form something that could almost be called friendship. Some blackguards disguise and take efforts to hide the true nature of their abilities from their companions for as long as possible, others proudly display it as another tool with which to dominate and impose their will on others.
Good clerics or paladins may briefly fight alongside a blackguard if they share a common foe that neither can destroy alone, but such alliances are almost always temporary and uncertain. Other classes may more readily ally with a blackguard, especially a penitent Blackguard. But few groups are ever wholly at ease in the company of such a companion.
Creating a BlackguardEdit
Many Blackguards are actively recruited by an evil power: sometimes through contact in a strong dream, or a mysterious stranger suddenly appearing with an offer of power and service. Usually the offer is made when the blackguard-to-be is in a vulnerable, conflicted position. Moments of great personal loss, being faced with an impossible choice, or a recent ruin of fortune are all things that dark eyes watch for when selecting prospective recruits. Other times a prospective blackguard simply wants power and is willing to serve whoever will give it to him, contacting a power directly after researching the method by which to do so.
The life of a blackguard is a life of constant series of tests and challenges, where failure results in death or worse. If the master of a Blackguard feels their servant is not pushing themselves hard enough, they will often send “encouragement,” usually in a form that is not pleasant. Some Blackguards have mentors who provide instruction and guidance, be they clerics, warlocks, or even other blackguards who serve the same power. But these are always cautious, ever watchful that the student does not become greater than the master, for that would be foolish indeed.
You can make a Blackguard quickly by following these suggestions. First, Strength should be your highest score, followed by Charisma. Second, choose the Soldier Background.
As a Blackguard, you gain the following class features.
Hit Dice: 110 per Blackguard level
Hit Points at 1st Level: 10 + your Constitution modifier
Hit Points at Higher Levels: 110 + your Constitution modifier
Armor: all armor and shields
Weapons: simple weapons, martial weapons
Saving Throws: Strength, Charisma
Skills: Choose 2 from Athletics, Deception, Insight, Intimidation, Religion.
You start with the following equipment, in addition to the equipment granted by your background:
- (a) A martial weapon and a shield or (b) two martial weapons
- (a) five javelins or (b) any simple melee weapon
- (a) a dungeoneer’s pack or (b) an explorer’s pack
- Chain Mail and (a) a holy symbol or (b) a focus of your choice
|1st||+2||Dark Bond, Grim Harvest||-||-|
|2nd||+2||Diableries, Fighting Style, Unholy Bond||2||3|
|4th||+2||Ability Score Improvement||4||3|
|6th||+3||Aura of Despair||6||4|
|7th||+3||Black Path Feature||7||4|
|8th||+3||Ability Score Improvement||8||4|
|10th||+4||Aura of Dread||10||5|
|12th||+4||Ability Score Improvement||12||5|
|14th||+5||Black Path Feature||14||6|
|16th||+5||Ability Score Improvement||16||6|
|17th||+6||Aura Range Improvement||17||7|
|18th||+6||Black Path Feature||18||7|
|19th||+6||Ability Score Improvement||19||7|
All blackguards make a pact with a powerful master, usually either a demon, devil, or evil deity, but can also be any sufficiently powerful creature such as a lich or even an ancient evil dragon who knows the Dark Bond ritual.
Upon completing this ritual, you gain a token from your master, taking the form of a small amulet or other trinket you choose. If this token is lost or destroyed, a new one appears near you after your next long rest. The token marks you as a servant of your master, but it is also used to turn an ordinary or magic weapon into an Unholy Weapon.
By placing the token on a weapon and focusing on it for one hour (which can be done during a short rest), the token is absorbed into the weapon, which becomes a blackened and demonic-looking version of the original weapon. The blackguard can command their Unholy Weapon to change form into that of the original token and back again as though drawing or sheathing a weapon normally. Only the blackguard who created the unholy weapon is proficient in its use, even if another creature has proficiency with that type of weapon. If disarmed or dropped, the unholy weapon will return to the blackguard’s hand from up to 60 feet away at the start of the blackguard’s next turn.
The token can be removed from a weapon by focusing on the weapon for 1 minute. Non-magical weapons are destroyed in the process, but magical weapons are unharmed, and regain their original shape.
As an action, you touch a dying creature, or a creature that has died within the last minute. Make a Charisma check with a DC of 10+ the slain creature’s highest mental ability modifier. You add your proficiency bonus to this check. On a successful check, you absorb its essence into yourself or your weapon (your choice). On a failed check, the creature’s life essence dissipates and is lost to you.
Grim Harvest lets you choose one of the following benefits:
- Your unholy weapon fills with essence, up to the maximum number of essence points it can hold. (see chart above) Essence points remain in the weapon until used.
- You gain temporary hit points equal to your Blackguard class level +1. These temporary hit points last until used, or until you finish a short rest. Multiple uses of Grim Harvest overlap, they do not stack.
If you drop a creature below 0 hit points with a melee attack from your unholy weapon, you may use Grim Harvest on that creature as a bonus action.
You may use Grim Harvest a number of times equal to your Charisma modifier. You regain all expended uses of Grim Harvest when you finish a long rest. You cannot use Grim Harvest on Celestials, Constructs, Elementals, Fiends, or Undead creatures.
Starting at 2nd level, a blackguard can use the essence stored in their unholy weapons to fuel terrifying powers. The Blackguard learns three diableries to start, and learns additional, more powerful diableries as they grow in power, as listed on the Blackguard table above.
All Blackguards know the Deathmark diablerie; it does not count against the maximum number of diableries a blackguard knows.
The saving throw DC against a blackguard’s diableries is 8 + the blackguard’s proficiency modifier + the blackguard’s Charisma modifier
A blackguard may only use one diablerie per attack action (unless the Diablerie specifically states otherwise). The Blackguard cannot expend more than half his blackguard level in essence (rounded up) in a turn. Once a Diablerie has been used, it is expended and cannot be used again until the blackguard refocuses their unholy weapon. Refocusing an unholy weapon requires a successful DC 10 Charisma check, which takes an action to perform. Refocusing refreshes all expended diableries for immediate use.
Upon gaining a new level, a blackguard can choose to unlearn one known diablerie and replace it with a different one for which they meet the requirements.
You adopt a fighting style as your specialty. Choose one of the following options.
While you are wearing armor you gain a +1 bonus to AC.
When you are wielding a melee weapon in one hand and no other weapons, you gain a +2 damage bonus to that weapon.
Great Weapon FightingEdit
When wielding a weapon with the versatile or two-handed property in two handed, you can reroll a 1 or a 2 on a damage roll, and you must take the second result.
Two Weapon FightingEdit
When you engage in two-weapon fighting, you can add your ability modifier to the damage of the second attack.
In some circumstances it may not be possible to drain creatures of their essence to fuel your abilities. Starting at 2nd level, you may expend a use of Grim Harvest to draw your own life essence into your unholy weapon. Doing so does not kill you, but deals 3 points of damage per essence point invested in this fashion. This damage may be healed magically, but cannot be healed by spending hit dice during a short rest. Any of your personal essence imbued in your unholy weapon dissipates after you complete a long rest.
When you reach 3rd level you choose a specific area of focus called the Black Path. There is the Path of the Dreadlord, the Path of the Shadowmaster, and the Path of the Deathknight. These Paths grant you abilities at 3rd level, and again at 7th, 14,th and 18th levels.
Ability Score ImprovementEdit
When you reach 4th level, and again at 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level, you can increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or you can increase two ability scores of your choice by 1. As normal, you can’t increase an ability score above 20 using this feature.
Beginning at 5th level, you can attack twice, instead of once, when you take the attack action on your turn.
Aura of DespairEdit
Starting at 6th level, whenever a hostile creature within 10 feet of you must make a saving throw, the creature takes a penalty equal to your Charisma modifier (with a minimum penalty of -1). You must be conscious to project this aura. At 17th level, the range of this aura increases to 30 feet.
If this aura overlaps with a Paladin’s Aura of Protection, the two auras negate each other.
Aura of DreadEdit
Starting at 10th level, whenever a hostile creature within 10 feet of you drops below 50% of its maximum hit point total, it must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or become frightened of you until the start of its next turn. At 17th level, the range of this aura increases to 30 feet.
If this aura overlaps with a Paladin’s Aura of Courage, the two auras negate each other.
At 11th level you may use Unholy Bond on yourself without expending any uses of your Grim Harvest. Unholy Bond now inflicts only 2 points of damage per point of essence gained, and the essence remains in the sword until used, just like normal essence.
Starting at 14th level, you may use your action to end one ongoing spell on yourself or a willing ally that you touch. You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Charisma modifier (with a minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.
At 20th level, the Blackguard has become the bane of all things good and pure in the world. plumbed the depths of evil, and is blah blah evil badass. You assume the form of a demonic champion of evil, taking on an appearance you choose. Using your action, you undergo a transformation that lasts for 1 minute. During that period you gain access to the following benefits:
- As a bonus action, you can heal yourself for half the damage you took since your previous turn.
- Your auras and diableries that cause fear now ignore any creature’s immunity to fear. All creatures not immune to fear have disadvantage on their saves against becoming frightened of you.
- You gain resistance to all forms of damage except radiant damage, and immunity to necrotic and poison damage.
- Any creature you strike with your unholy weapon is automatically deathmarked without the need for concentration, and collecting their essence does not count towards your uses of Grim Harvest.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.
Different Blackguards serve different functions with a variety of skillsets. The black path archetype you choose indicates your focus. Combative masters will often direct their blackguards along the path of the Dreadlord, grooming them for command of legions of thralls and servants. Cunning and sly Blackguards often take up the role of Shadowmaster, frustrating and confounding their enemies before slaughtering them. Lastly, those attuned to undead or death-related masters often take the path of the Death Knight, slowly becoming more and more like their masters.->
Path of the DreadlordEdit
The Dreadlord is the blackguard that most picture: clad in fearsome black full plate, fighting with weapons too heavy for most men to even lift, and dominating whole battlefields with their very presence. To be a dreadlord is to constantly seek dominance in and over all things, to live only to bring about the dominion of your master, and to crush your enemies with ruthless efficiency.
At 3rd level the Dreadlord becomes immune to fear, and adds double his proficiency bonus on Intimidate checks.
At 7th level, you may make an Intimidate check against a creature you can see as a bonus action. If successful, that creature has disadvantage on all attacks against you until the start of your next turn.
Drive the HordeEdit
At 14th level, your very presence is enough to shift the tide of battle around you. So long as you have more than 50% of your maximum hit points, the range of your auras is doubled.
At 18th level you are terror made flesh. Any creature with fewer hit dice than you who is struck by one of your diableries is automatically frightened for 1 round. Additionally, so long as you have at least one essence point in your unholy weapon, your unholy weapon ignores resistance to its damage type (piercing, slashing or bludgeoning).
Path of the ShadowmasterEdit
The shadowmaster is the unseen fear given form, the silent shadow standing menacingly beside the throne, the cold breath in the dark just before the thin blade pierces flesh. Shadowmasters command from the darkness, but have no fear of wading into the fray if challenged.
At 3rd level, the Shadowmaster gains the use of 2 cantrips from the Warlock’s spell list, and the use of a single invocation. The invocation can be used at will so long as the shadowmaster’s unholy weapon contains at least one essence point. At 7th level the shadowmaster gains a second invocation, and a third invocation at 15th level. He must meet any prerequisites, using his blackguard levels in place of warlock levels. (Note: the Shadowmaster may take invocations requiring the Pact of the Blade, as the unholy weapon is similar enough in nature for the invocations to function properly).
At 7th level, the shadowmaster gains the ability to step from one shadow into another. This functions identically to the Monk’s Way of Shadow shadow step feature.
Cloak of ShadowsEdit
At 14th level, the shadowmaster can use their bonus action to become as insubstantial as shadow itself until the end of their next turn. All attacks made against the shadowmaster have disadvantage, the shadowmaster’s movement speed is doubled and ignores difficult terrain, and the shadowmaster gains resistance to all forms of damage except radiant damage. Once used, cloak of shadows cannot be used again until the shadowmaster completes a long rest. By expending 5 essence points, the shadowmaster can use cloak of shadows as a reaction instead of a bonus action.
At 18th level, the Shadowmaster can bring his own shadow to life. The shadow is an exact clone of the shadowmaster and his equipment, cannot use diableries, collect essence, or cast cantrips and invocations. The shadow acts on the shadowmaster’s initiative and has it’s own actions. The shadow has hit points equal to one half the shadowmaster’s, and vanishes once the hit points reach zero, or after one hour. Once the shadowmaster has summoned his shadow, he cannot do so again until he completes a long rest.
Path of the Death KnightEdit
Servants of undeath, the Death Knights send a chill down the spines of even the most hardened warrior of light.
A Death Knight can Command any undead creature with a CR equal or lower than ½ his Blackguard levels (rounded up) as the spell command within 30 feet. In addition, a Death Knight’s diableries affect undead creatures, though the Death Knight cannot draw essence from an undead creature.
At 7th level a Death knight becomes more like the undead, gaining resistance to necrotic and poison damage, and treats exhaustion levels as two effective levels lower. (For example, a Death Knight suffers no ill effects from exhaustion until he has 3 levels, at which point he gains disadvantage on ability checks. The death knight still has those levels and gains or loses exhaustion levels normally)
Raise The FallenEdit
At 14th level a Death Knight can summon the fallen to fight as allies for a time. By successfully completing a Grim Harvest, a Death Knight can reanimate the corpse instead of collecting its essence. The corpse fights under the Death Knight’s control for a number of rounds equal to the Death Knight’s Charisma modifier, at which point the corpse collapses into final death, it’s essence no longer usable.
At 18th level, a Death Knight can ignore the call of the grave for a time in a terrifying display of determination. Upon being reduced to 0 hit points, a Death knight can continue to act as normal for up to one minute, ignoring any additional hit point damage (though still accruing damage). However, when the minute is up, all accumulated damage takes effect, and if the Death Knight’s current negative HP exceeds his positive maximum HP, he dies instantly. If the Death Knight’s negative HP is between zero and his positive maximum HP, he falls unconscious with one automatic failed death saving throw.
The following is a list of the Diableries available for Blackguards to learn. Unless specifically stated otherwise in the description, a diablerie associated with an attack is activated with the same action as the attack itself. The use of one or more diableries must be announced before the attack roll is made. (Remember, a blackguard may not expend more than half his blackguard level (rounded up) in essence points on a single turn.)
Phantom Blade: The unholy weapon becomes as insubstantial as smoke, passing through armor but hitting just as hard as ever. The blackguard gains advantage on a single attack made with the unholy weapon.
Cost: 1 essence point
Transpose Wounds: On a successful melee attack with their unholy weapon, the Blackguard rolls damage normally. However, the unholy weapon transfers the Blackguard’s current wounds to the creature struck, healing the blackguard for a number of lost hit points up to either the result of the damage roll or their maximum hit points, whichever is lower. The creature struck takes damage equal to the number of hit points restored.
Cost: 2 essence points
Elemental Blade: By expending at least one essence point, the Blackguard wreaths their unholy weapon in elemental energy, dealing an additional 1d4 damage of either acid, cold, electric or fire damage, chosen at the time of activation. This extra damage lasts as long as the blackguard maintains concentration on the effect, to a maximum of 1 minute. For every additional essence point expended, the bonus damage goes up by an additional 1d4, to a maximum of 3d4.
Cost: 1-3 essence points
Dread Strike: On a successful melee attack with the unholy weapon, the creature struck becomes frightened of you. The affected creature can make a Wisdom saving throw on its turn each round to end this effect.
Cost: 1 essence point
Deathmark: On a successful melee attack with the unholy weapon, the creature struck is marked for death. So long as the Blackguard maintains concentration on the deathmark, if the afflicted creature dies within 60 feet of the blackguard, his unholy weapon absorbs the creature’s essence as though he performed the Grim Harvest. The blackguard must still make a successful Charisma check as normal, and this counts against his available uses of Grim Harvest.
Cost: 1 essence point
Special: This Diablerie can be used in conjunction with other diableries.
Blackhammer: On a successful melee attack with the unholy weapon, the creature struck must make a Strength save with a DC equal to the damage taken. On a failed save, the creature is knocked 10 feet away from the blackguard and lands prone. The fell energy of the blow is such that it takes all the creature’s movement to regain their feet instead of the usual ½ movement.
Cost: 1 essence point
Twinblade: A ghostly, smoking copy of the unholy weapon appears in the air next to the original. As a bonus action after a melee attack, the blackguard can command the smoking duplicate to make one attack against the same target using the same attack bonus as the original attack, and rolls the same damage dice. Extra damage dice from other sources (such as from the Elemental Blade diablerie) are not added. The smoking copy dissipates after the attack.
Cost: 1 essence point
Shifting Strike: On a successful melee attack with the unholy weapon, the creature struck takes damage normally and is teleported into an unoccupied space up to 30 feet away, in the direction of the Blackguard’s choosing. If the teleportation would result in damage (such as from falling, or being teleported over a fire or pool of acid) the creature makes a Constitution saving throw to resist the effect. The Blackguard must be able to see the space in order to teleport the creature into it.
Cost: 3 essence points
The Ties of Sin: As an attack action, the blackguard can select an enemy within melee range that it can see. Barbed cords spring from your unholy weapon and wrap themselves around the enemy, growing tighter the longer they remain affixed to their target. The enemy must succeed on a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check with a DC equal to your Diablerie save DC, or become grappled by these cords, taking piercing damage each round at the start of its turn equal to your Charisma modifier. Each round the affected creature may use their action to try and escape the grapple.
The barbed cords persist so long as the Blackguard maintains concentration on them, up to 1 minute.
Cost: 2 essence points
Overwhelming Blows: On a successful melee attack with your unholy weapon against a target creature, you bestow a cumulative -1 penalty to the target’s AC. This penalty increases by an additional -1 with each successful strike you make against the target, to a minimum of 10. The penalty ends if you attack a different target, or go 2 turns without attacking your target. This penalty only applies to attacks made by you.
Cost: 3 essence points
Special: by spending 6 essence points instead of 3, you can have all your allies benefit from the target’s AC penalty instead of just you. Only your attacks lower the target creature’s AC.
Fleshgrinder: On a successful melee attack with the unholy weapon, the blackguard leaves an identical copy of his unholy weapon lodged in the creature’s body. At the start of the affected creature’s turn, it takes damage equal to the unholy weapon’s normal damage die as the copy of the weapon grinds deeper into the struck creature.
The creature must take an action to remove the weapon, succeeding on a Strength check with a DC equal to your Diablerie Save DC. As soon as the weapon is pulled free, it dissipates into foul-smelling smoke. The grinding weapon persists for as long as the Blackguard maintains concentration on the effect, up to 1 minute. If the creature dies while under the effect of the fleshgrinder, the blackguard may use a reaction to perform a Grim Harvest on the creature as though they had been Deathmarked.
Cost: 4 essence points
Adaptive Armor: As a bonus action, you wrap yourself in wispy black smoke that seems to become solid whenever you are struck. You gain resistance to the type of damage that you last took. Upon taking a new kind of damage, the resistance changes to match after the first strike. After preventing 20 points of damage in this fashion, the smoke dissipates. For every additional point of essence spent, the armor protects against an additional 10 points of damage, up to 60 points of damage.
Cost: 4-8 essence points
Unholy Frenzy: As a bonus action, you select one ally within 30 feet. That ally can immediately use their reaction to make a single attack against a hostile creature.
Cost: 4 essence points
Freezing Wail of the Damned: As an attack action, you let loose a soul-chilling shriek, the screams of all the tortured souls trapped in your blade. All hostile creatures within 30 feet must succeed on a Wisdom save or become frightened of you and unable to use either bonus actions or reactions until the start of your next turn. A successful save negates the inability to use bonus actions & reactions, but not the fear effect.
Cost: 7 essence points
Black Blade of Disaster: As an action, you make a single attack with your unholy weapon. The weapon bursts forth in a 60-foot line with a 5-foot diameter. All creatures caught in the beam’s path take damage as if struck by the weapon if the attack roll would have hit them. Once used, this Diablerie cannot be used again until the Blackguard completes a short rest.
Cost: 8 essence points