Death knight is the name of a class shared by several organizations of powerful necromancers. These orders share a few things in common, including riding horses with horned skulls for heads and many of the same abilities.
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 the 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 humans (and occasionally other races) who had been turned undead and granted unholy runeblades, and most were former paladins who had forsaken the Holy Light.
Of the HordeEdit
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 the Warlock 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 a number of failures, Gul'dan 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 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-Lord. Some, such as Ragnok and Gaz Soulripper, were assigned special duties during the conflicts. 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 they were captured by the Burning Legion and transformed into liches. The Ghostriders of Karabor are the remnants of those death knights stranded in Outland.
After the Second War and DraenorEdit
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. Nonetheless, it is possible that a few death knights may remain. Not all travelled with Ner'zhul, as evidenced by the Ghostriders.
The undead Ghostriders of Karabor still haunt the roads of Shadowmoon Valley. So far, the only physical death knight that has been spotted is the infamous Teron Gorefiend, who has joined forces with Illidan.
Of the ScourgeEdit
Even the most honorable warriors can fall prey to the temptations of the Lich King. Some who devote themselves to his cause 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, but their souls belong to the Lich King. ( When Prince )Arthas Menethil of Lordaeron gave himself over to Frostmourne during the Third War, he became Lich King Ner'zhul's first death knight, sworn to the Scourge and invested with dark powers to carry out its will. Since then, paladin warriors who accede to the call of the Scourge and make a pact to serve the Lich King receive a vampiric runeblade specially crafted for them and are anointed by Ner’zhul as one of his death knights. Thus the Lich King fashions his corrupted paladins: his greatest champions — living or undead — in his campaign to conquer all of Azeroth.
Becoming a death knight does not, ironically enough, involve actually dying. Thus, most death knights resemble their living selves, though pale and with an unholy light that illumines their malefic eyes. However, as powerful and valuable agents of the Scourge, death knights are not freed from service to the Lich King when they die. They are simply raised into undeath to continue their grim work. As a result, the occasional death knight is undead and more closely resembles a zombie or skeleton, with rotting skin and protruding bones. Death knights, despite their evil natures, remain true to a code of honor — or, at least, to a semblance of order and discipline — but only in the strictest sense. In combat, for example, death knights might abide by the rules of warfare even though in all other respects they are ruthless and cruel combatants.
Death knights are elite servants of the Scourge. Few death knights exist, but they are all fearsome individuals — brutal people who willingly pledged their souls and service to the Lich King. All good creatures fear their bloody runeblades. Most death knights are fallen Knights of the Silver Hand, brought to their knees by their failure to do anything to stop the plague and save Lordaeron from the Lich King’s depredations. These once noble warriors have allowed bitterness and defeat to overcome them and propel their souls toward damnation. The occasional member of another class has a will strong enough to make a deal with the Lich King and also become a death knight, but these death knights are exceedingly rare. Regardless of their class, all death knights embrace the honor of their new status. ( )
To become a death knight, a Paladin must vow before Ner’zhul (or one of his designates) to serve the Scourge, be accepted, and then receive a vampiric runeblade forged specifically for him. Once the runeblade is used to corrupt his holy powers and turn a hero into a death knight, it becomes that knight’s personal weapon and is slowly charged with the life energies of those it injures and slays thereafter. Death knights are immune to attempts to alter their alignment magically. Holy weapons and spells that specifically target those of evil alignment (such as holy smite), however, do extra damage to death knights. A death knight gains the ability to inflict disease upon a touched target, as per the spell contagion. Death knights may project a beam of necromantic energy, called Death Coil that unerringly strikes its target. Similarly, undead creatures are healed of a like amount of damage when struck by the death coil.
The death knight may summon the dead to fight alongside him in combat. This ability is similar to the animate dead spell. As he continues to embrace the darkness, the life force of the death Knight ebbs as it is focused into strengthening and maintaining his physical form. An experienced death knight discovers how to leech the life force of those he slays in combat. For each living creature he kills, the death Knight recovers some of his health. A death knight can become undying; in doing so the death knight becomes immune to all death spells and magical death effects. This immunity does not protect the death knight from other sorts of attacks such as physical damage, poison, petrification or other effects even if they might be lethal. A fully trained death knight may project an unholy aura, in a ten-foot radius that will heal damage to any undead controlled by the death knight and/or to those of evil alignment allied to the death knight, divided among those in the area of the aura’s effect as chosen by the death knight. The death knight can also heal himself. Those of good alignment take damage instead. ( )
Other once-noble paladins would follow in Arthas' steps. During the fall of Lordaeron, the Order of the Silver Hand was disbanded, and its leader Uther Lightbringer slain. Some of the paladins traveled to the plague-ridden colonies, seeking to continue to help the people of the land. 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 undead steeds, death knights serve as the Scourge's mightiest generals.
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 must vow to serve the Scourge and must receive a vampiric runeblade from the Lich King.
Knights of the Ebon Blade (Horde & Alliance) Edit
In Wrath of the Lich King, death knights appear as the first available Hero Class. They share the heritage from both death knight organizations. Their powers are a combination of most of the abilities from Warcraft II and Warcraft III.
Death knights of World of Warcraft belong to the Knights of the Ebon Blade, an organization that begins in Scourge service but later turns against the Lich King.
- Death Knight, Warcraft II Strategy