Additional Graveknight Information from Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Undead Revisited
The lust for battle and sheer will to win allow some truly evil and vile warriors to shrug off their final defeat. Through methods that remain poorly understood, the vengeful spirit of such a fearsome combatant sometimes forms a bond with its armor that permits it to simply refuse death, its spirit lingering long past when it should have gone on to its eternal punishment in the afterlife. Similar in many ways to a lich’s phylactery, this armor rebuilds the undead knight’s body whenever it is beaten in combat. Only by utterly destroying the armor, by annihilating it rather than just breaking it into pieces, can an opponent truly end the existence of the despicable creatures known as graveknights.
Unlike liches, graveknights almost never plan this return from their last battle. It happens, seemingly spontaneously and at random, to people totally unprepared for an undead existence. Wedded to the physical world but deprived of all sensual pleasure by their deathless state, graveknights deal with their transformation in a variety of ways. Some take up or resume the service of dark gods or more powerful evil creatures in the hope that their patrons will eventually deign to lift their curse, while others simply resume where they left off, seeking dominion over mortals and the exhilaration of crushing their enemies. Still others spend their days careening between futile attempts to recapture the heady exhilaration of battle and wrestling with the tedium of their actual existence. Acting in part out of habit, these latter warriors recreate the horrors and atrocities that once excited them, but taste nothing but ash for their trouble. Unable to accept that they will never again feel a surge of adrenaline or the heady thrill of triumph, they wade ever deeper into the carnage, blood, and misery that defined their mortal lives.
Graveknights do not feed on pain or death, nor do they need to kill in order to continue their existence. Though some slaughter mortals out of anger, for revenge, or simply to continue proving their battle prowess in much the same way they did in life, others do so merely out of reflex, with no more thought to the lives they cut short than someone swatting a fly. In some ways, this behavior makes them even worse than those undead who must prey upon the living in order to survive. The manner and attitude with which a graveknight approaches violence depends entirely on the mortal warrior it once was, yet ultimately, all are incarnate killers, and as the centuries of slaughter wind on, many lose what little shreds of humanity still cling to them, defining themselves solely through battle and conquest.
The circumstances of their lives, and especially their deaths, define many physical aspects of graveknights as well. All of them have the ability to channel one particular sort of energy. This energy is typically determined by the moments when they crossed the threshold between life and death and began their new existence. A general burned at the stake for his war crimes, for instance, might return as a graveknight with an affinity for fire energy, while one who finally succumbed to her wounds in a bloodstained snowfield might have an affinity for cold.
Warriors and leaders of troops in life, graveknights ape this practice in death. Though unable to create undead themselves, they have the power to compel those they encounter to march under their banner. Though some continue to lead living soldiers as well, especially if serving as the commander for some dark god’s or patron’s mortal forces, this ability to control undead makes them that much more cavalier about the people they kill or the rebukes they dispense to their own soldiers, as every death bolsters the army’s strength once one of their clerical lieutenants animates the fallen.
People near a graveknight feel a soul-rending sensation of isolation and loss which many describe as feeling as if the gods themselves had suddenly turned away from them. Indeed, this impression is more than simply a feeling, as prayers and uses of positive energy regularly fizzle and fail near a graveknight. Graveknights capitalize on the sense of abandonment caused by their sacrilegious aura. Though in truth it does more to bolster them and other undead, they also like to play on the fear and uncertainty it invokes. By claiming that anyone slain by their hand dies out of sight of the gods, they sometimes cause opponents to hesitate and falter. Of course, only those who worship the gods of the light sense this in their souls. Servants of darker powers instead experience a bleak confidence.
Though they often appear to despise their existence, graveknights seem incapable of suicide. While perfectly willing to fight right up to the destruction of their bodies, they never slacken their attacks in the hope of defeat. Whether this is a part of their curse or simply a natural result of the sorts of ragingly egomaniacal personalities that become graveknights is unclear, but when possible, graveknights look for ways to cause their armor to teleport to a safe location if they get beaten. No graveknight would ever willingly reveal its secret weakness—that a foe must destroy its armor to truly end it.
Graveknights are born of defeat, and it is their rage at such an end that allows them to return, attempting to erase their failure through greater triumphs and atrocities. Unfortunately for them, while they remember many aspects of mortal life, they can never truly experience them again. Graveknights cannot physically enjoy sleep, food, sex, or other such pleasures, though some may go through the motions in pursuit of those emotions they are still allowed: triumph, victory, and the grim satisfaction of absolute dominance. Even these may lose their luster over time, however—the longer a graveknight exists, the greater the conquest it must wallow in to achieve satisfaction.
Though unable to experience terror, pain, or grief themselves, graveknights still remember these feelings and know how to produce them in others. The best the living can hope for when they encounter a graveknight is a quick death, for graveknights burn both forests and towns with equal aplomb, killing innocents and champions for sport or simply to cow their opponents. Graveknights rarely restrain their violent impulses unless these urges interfere with some greater plan—and even then, they sometimes slip and kill without a second thought.
A graveknight’s body exists as a desiccated husk of bone and flesh within its armor, but these constantly rejuvenated remains are of no particular significance or function. Rather, it’s the armor of a graveknight that is its true flesh, the lifeline and cage that shackles it to the material world. Similarly, the glowing eyes that can be seen through the creature’s helmet are not its actual eyes, but rather twin points of light manifested by the raging spirit itself.
HABITAT & SOCIETY
Graveknights usually begin their new existence by picking up where they left off at the moment of death. Most spent their first few months hunting down enemies or reclaiming lost territory. All too soon, however, such amusements begin to pale. Their inability to recapture the sensations that once defined their lives soon causes them to lose interest in earlier pursuits, instead embracing the single motivation left to them: arrogance. For though lesser goals like revenge may consume them for a while, most graveknights eventually come to understand their immortal state as an acknowledgment of their inherent superiority over lesser beings—even over death itself. Even those who regard their existence as a curse see it this way; in their decaying minds, this unholy gift was granted to them because they were the most capable, the most driven, the most fearsome, and the most deserving of rule. With each century of slaughter that goes by, each army that fails to stand against their undead battle prowess, this sense of elitism and entitlement grows, until it eventually becomes the graveknight’s defining characteristic. The graveknight kills and conquers because it can, and because every victory strengthens its own idea of itself and its purpose.
For this reason, graveknights generally regard each other as rivals and inferiors, and almost never associate unless compelled to by necessity (or by someone stronger). When they are encountered in groups, the group is invariably led by the most powerful of them, who holds the lesser graveknights in check through sheer power and force of will. Such pecking orders are maintained only until the leader is destroyed, at which the point the subservient graveknights jockey for position until a clear victor is again recognized, and the cycle repeats.
When graveknights serve other powerful creatures or beings, this service should not be confused with love or fealty. A graveknight serving a master does not in any way feel less arrogant or sure of its own mastery. It might see their arrangement in terms of defined roles, with itself as the master of physical combat and its associate the master of magic, which the graveknight regards as inferior. Other graveknights see their alliances as a matter of convenience, the most effective way to advance their own ends. Regardless, in the long run, every graveknight expects to come out on top, and in due time the graveknight challenges its ally or master, or even its patron god—though that time may be measured in centuries.
While perfectly capable of acting as villains in their own right, graveknights often work well as enforcers or field commanders for antagonists less suited to melee. Such a master not only gives them direction and purpose, but also serves as a restraint for their more destructive impulses.
As a foe that’s likely to return again and again—for anyone who defeats a graveknight without completely destroying it immediately becomes the focus of all the graveknight’s attentions—it’s important to play up a graveknight’s significance. A graveknight should never be a random encounter, and when possible, it’s often good to build up the graveknight by first showing the destruction and carnage it leaves in its wake. When a graveknight actually does enter battle, it should be with flair. The screaming soldiers and dying horses in a battle might fall silent as the graveknight takes the field, its aura of sacrilege seeming to darken the day. Its weapons crackle with energy, and its eyes glow from beneath its helmet. To make a fight with a graveknight anything less momentous is to rob the monster of much of its utility.
As with liches, for which graveknights are essentially the combat-oriented equivalent, graveknights should only be used sparingly and with deliberate purpose, as the first encounter is likely to send the PCs haring off on a new quest to destroy the undead’s armor once and for all, or else introduce a villain that’s likely to be a focus of the campaign for some time.
Graveknights form an unbreakable connection with the armor they wore in life. In many senses, they actually are their armor, as it’s only through this bond that their soul remains trapped and the dried-out husk of their body constantly rejuvenates. Though risky to wear until cleansed, this armor usually has magical properties. Professional warriors in life, graveknights also tend to have the best and most magical weapons they can acquire in death. However, aside from a few trophies, graveknights have little interest in baubles or trinkets, generally passing them on to their minions. In fact, some graveknights make a practice of actively destroying valuables they cannot use simply to see how much grief they can cause by ripping up a captive’s spellbook or snapping a staff over a knee.
While most graveknights arise spontaneously from the armor of sadistic warlords and fallen champions, there are methods by which evil men and women can deliberately transform themselves into these powerful undead lords, in much the same way some spellcasters seek to become liches. The process by which a hopeful graveknight makes the deliberate transformation is neither simple nor cheap. The character must first live and lead a life of wanton cruelty, winning great glory and power over the course of several violent conflicts (and achieving a minimum of 9th level in any character class, with an evil alignment for all 9 levels). When he achieves this goal, he may craft the suit of armor that will serve him in his afterlife as his graveknight armor—this must be heavy armor, although its exact type is irrelevant. The creator must also be proficient in the armor’s use. The armor itself must be of exceptional quality and crafting, requiring the finest of materials and artisans. Even the forge upon which the armor is to be crafted must be of exceptional quality. The overall cost of these components is 25,000 gp—this amount is over and above any additional costs incurred in making the armor magical. An existing suit of armor (including magic armor) can serve as the base suit upon which these 25,000 gp of enhancements are built.
Once the armor is complete, the hopeful graveknight must don the armor and then seek out a powerful evil patron to sponsor his cruelties—this patron can be a mortal tyrant, a hateful monster, a demonic god, or similar power. Once the graveknight-to-be secures a patron, he must engage upon a crusade in that patron’s name. This crusade must last long enough for the graveknight to achieve two additional levels of experience, during which he must wear his armor whenever possible.
Upon completing this final stage of his quest for undeath (and a minimum character level of 11th), the sadist has finally neared the end of his long path to eternal undeath. The last stage in becoming a graveknight is to construct a pool, pit, or other large concavity, into which the graveknight must place 13 helpless, good-aligned creatures of his own race, who must be sacrificed by the graveknight or his patron using acid, cold, electricity, or fire. The graveknight must wear his armor during these sacrifices, and within a minute of the last sacrifice, the graveknight must take his own life using the same form of energy, after which his body and armor must be destroyed by that form of energy. The pit within which the entire ritual took place must then be filled with soil taken from graves that have spawned undead creatures.
Once this final step is taken, the graveknight-to-be has a 75% chance of rising as a graveknight. This chance rises by 1% per point of Charisma possessed by the graveknight-to-be at the time of his death. Additional factors can increase this chance as well, at the GM’s discretion.