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Blackguard
Design & Development
Robert J. Schwalb

My most romantic moment as a game designer came when Mike Mearls said, “Hey Rob, I’d like you to design the blackguard.” I knew we were made for each other. True love at last. But before this gets any weirder, let’s just set this aside and take a look at this Heroes of Shadow class, shall we?

Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms previews the idea of blackguards and establishes them as folks who fought against the snooty cavaliers and their lofty virtues. Where their shining counterparts cleaved to noble ideas about valor, sacrifice, and other such things, the blackguards embraced their dark emotions, vices such as domination and fury. War ensued and much nastiness resulted until we arrived at the post-order world of the present. That was the driving story, and the elements from this brief overview informed pretty much everything else I did for the class.

Aren’t Paladins Defenders?

For me, the ability to express classes in different roles is the greatest innovation in class design to come from the Essentials. Just like the slayer (fighter), so too does the blackguard (paladin) operate as a striker. Since the blackguard was to be functionally a dark extension of the cavalier, there was some talk up front about making the class a defender. It seemed weird to do so, since blackguards lack that certain selfless quality needed to take punishment on the party’s behalf. While the blackguard resembles the cavalier in many important ways, we found the blackguard should focus more on delivering damage than soaking it up, and so it became its own striker subclass.

The Vices

Even though I had liberty to construct this subclass from the ground up, I felt the blackguards should be the dark reflection of the cavalier and, as such, should look like a cavalier reflected in a dark mirror. Rather than choose a virtue, the blackguard chooses a vice. That choice then decides specific class features and powers gained as the character gains levels.

Cavaliers and blackguards both break from other paladins in that they don’t channel divine power directly from the gods they serve, but rather they draw it from the moral or immoral quality they champion. There can be a god involved, but there doesn’t have to be; breaking these paladins from the traditional god-mortal relationship gives players a great deal more flexibility when constructing their character identity. You can be a blackguard who follows Bahamut and champions tyranny or, I imagine, a cavalier who follows Erathis and champions valor.

As is sometimes the case, design on Heroes of Shadow occurred in parallel to design on Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms. The cavalier wasn’t quite done and I recall working from a .doc file with all sorts of development notes lurking in the pages. At the time, the cavalier had four virtues—and so the blackguard had four vices as well. Development trimmed the options down to two, but maybe one day we’ll see the other vices. In any event, the ones that survived were domination and fury.

Domination, I feel, embodies the “lawful evil” expression of the blackguard; those dark paladins who choose it grow their power by striking and defeating enemies. The basic mechanism is to grant the blackguard temporary hit points. The character can then sacrifice them to spike the damage for his or her next attack.

If domination is “lawful evil,” then fury would be “chaotic evil.” These blackguards are a bit more straightforward and deliver extra damage to targets granting them combat advantage. Rather than have to wait for enemies to gain the right condition or to move into flank, the blackguard gains combat advantage each time he or she hits with the green attack power, ferocious strike.

Ferocious Strike
Paladin Attack 1
The pain you inflict promises more agony to come.
At-WillDivine, Shadow, Weapon
Standard Action Melee weapon
Target: One creature
Attack: Strength vs. AC
Hit: 1[W] + Strength modifier damage. You gain combat advantage against the first enemy you attack before the end of your next turn.
Level 21: 2[W] + Strength modifier damage.

Class Powers and Features

The blackguard’s class powers focus on personal defense (granting temporary hit points) and boosting damage. As you might expect, blackguards like necrotic damage. Understanding the limitations of necrotic damage to affect undead, we paired necrotic with cold for the encounter attack power.

When I was designing the blackguard, the cavalier could still call a warhorse to ride into battle (an ability that went away and now appears as an option for paladins in Rich Baker’s Class Acts: The Cavalier’s Steed in Dragon #393). I can see a blackguard summoning a steed—but I can also see the blackguard sacrificing their steed on the altar of self-interest. Instead, I wanted the blackguard to consort with fiends eager to nudge the character further into darkness’s embrace. Servant of vice lets you call up just such a fiend and ask it questions, getting better results the more power you sacrifice to it.

Servant of Vice
Paladin Utility 4
Acrid smoke disperses to reveal a creature called from the vice that dwells in your heart.
DailyConjuration, Shadow
Minor Action Close burst 2
Effect: You conjure a Small servant in an unoccupied square in the burst. The servant lasts until the end of the encounter. The servant occupies its square and can be attacked. Its defenses equal yours, and it is destroyed if it is hit by an attack. Creatures other than you grant combat advantage while adjacent to the servant.
You can give the servant the following commands.
Move Action (Teleportation): The servant teleports up to 6 squares.
Minor Action: The servant tries to answer a question you pose to it. The DM determines a DC for the question, and you roll a d20 and add 7 + one-half your level. For every daily magic item power sacrificed by you or an ally within 5 squares of the servant, the servant gains a +5 bonus to the check. You can take this minor action a number of times per day equal to your Charisma modifier.

And hey, if you still want a steed for your blackguard, I can definitely see doing a follow-up article to Herr Baker’s that would grant a blackguard a call fiendish steed power (that could, I imagine, evolve into a nightmare).

Paragon Path

Since the blackguard is its own subclass, we needed a paragon path for it. The grim blackguard follows the pattern established by the valiant cavalier by granting benefits determined by the blackguard’s chosen vice. The common benefits include an improved ability to shed conditions (especially those involving fear), and a way to reap rewards from the dark powers who follow the blackguard’s career. The vice options reinforce the blackguard as a dark warrior by magnifying certain qualities so they best reflect domination or fury. Proof of domination, for example, lets you make a close burst 1 attack that damages and weakens your target, while rewarding your attack with a surge of temporary hit points. Slave to fury, however, grants you a potent attack you can use whenever an adjacent enemy hits you with a melee or close attack—effectively letting you make opportunity attacks in reply to attacks directed to you until the end of your next turn.

Proof of Domination
Grim Blackguard Attack 11
You raise your weapon high and dark tendrils crawl forth, fetching crucial life and strength from those around you.
EncounterDivine, Necrotic, Shadow, Weapon
Standard Action Close burst 1
Target: Each creature in the burst
Attack: Strength vs. Fortitude
Hit: 2[W] + Strength modifier necrotic damage, and the target is weakened until the end of your next turn.
Effect: You gain 3 temporary hit points for each creature you target with this attack.
Slave to Fury
Grim Blackguard Attack 11
Reckless anger takes hold, instilling you with the preternatural speed necessary to respond to each new attack with one of your own.
EncounterDivine, Shadow
Minor Action Personal
Effect: You grant combat advantage until the end of your next turn. Until the start of your next turn, you can use the secondary power at will. If you don’t use it at least once, your weapon attacks on your next turn deal 1[W] extra damage.
Secondary Power (Divine, Shadow, Weapon)
Opportunity Action Melee 1
Trigger: An adjacent enemy hits you with a melee attack or a close attack.
Target: The triggering enemy
Attack: Strength vs. AC
Hit: 2[W] + Strength modifier damage, and the target is dazed until the end of its next turn.

Surely You Can’t be a Good Blackguard, Right?

Cavaliers must have certain alignments to choose a specific virtue, and blackguards are no different. Unlike their 3rd Edition counterparts, however, evil is not mandatory. As unlikely as it may seem, some blackguards do channel divine energy through their vice without becoming too tainted by it. They can resist evil’s influence and use dark power against the very same forces that would corrupt them. Although many may be evil, blackguards make for awesome antiheroes, and having one in your adventuring party gives you a decided advantage when challenging your foes.

About the Author

Robert J. Schwalb contributed design to such books as the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide, Draconomicon I: Chromatic Dragons, Manual of the Planes, P2: Demon Queen's Enclave, Martial Power, Player's Handbook 2, Eberron Campaign Guide, Eberron Player's Guide, Divine Power, Adventurer's Vault 2, Draconomicon 2: Metallic Dragons, and Primal Power, as well as numerous articles for D&D Insider. Robert lives in Tennessee.