This column aims to provide players with tips on creating effective and interesting characters of various types. So, whether you're a beginning player creating your very first character or an experienced gamer looking to put some punch into an old standby, this column is for you!
Eldritch knights (Dungeon Master's Guide, pg. 187) combine some of the best characteristics of fighters and arcane spellcasters, making them truly flexible and dangerous opponents.
- Easy Qualification: It is relatively easy to become an eldritch knight. Prospective eldritch knights must comply with only two criteria. First, they must be able to cast 3rd-level arcane spells (something that a 9th-level duskblade, 7th-level bard, 6th-level warmage, 6th-level sorcerer, or 5th-level wizard can do). Second, they must be proficient with all martial weapons; taking a level of barbarian, duskblade, fighter, ranger, or paladin satisfies this criterion (and gives the character proficiency with more armor and shield types than a typical spellcaster). Warmages are particularly suited to becoming eldritch knights because of their ability to ignore the arcane spell failure chance of some armor (such individuals often take the Battle Caster feat from Complete Arcane, allowing them to wear even heavier armor).
- Good Armor Class: An eldritch knight who picks his spells and feats carefully (see "Playing an Eldritch Knight," below) enjoys a much better armor class than a normal spellcaster.
- Average Hit Points: An eldritch knight's uses 6-sided Hit Dice, giving them more hit points than a single-class spellcaster but less than a dedicated fighter-type.
- Good Will Saves: An eldritch knight's arcane spellcaster levels give him excellent Will saving throws.
- Good Fortitude Saves: Taking a level of barbarian, fighter, ranger, or paladin improves the prospective eldritch knight's Fortitude save far beyond that of a single-classed wizard or sorcerer. Additionally, the eldritch knight prestige class follows the fighter progression for saving throws, further enhancing a character's Fortitude saving throw bonus.
Although the eldritch knight is a solid, well-rounded prestige class, it does have some weaknesses.
- Spells: Eldritch knights are at least one step behind single-classed sorcerers and wizards when it comes to the maximum level of spell they can cast. The level of fighter (or whatever martial class chosen) coupled with the first level of eldritch knight combine to reduce the raw power available. If an eldritch knight takes more than one level of a martial class, this effect is even more pronounced.
- Poor Attack Bonus: An eldritch knight's base attack bonus is better than a normal spellcaster's but is not as good as a single-classed fighter's.
- Poor Reflex Saves: Most eldritch knights have poor Reflex saves.
- Loss of Class Abilities: Although advancing as an eldritch knight grants additional spellcasting levels in one arcane spellcasting class, the character does not get any other benefits from that class. For example, the familiar of a fighter 1/wizard 7/eldritch knight 3 only has the abilities granted by a 7th-level master, and not a 10th-level master.
Playing an Eldritch Knight
If you are planning on play an eldritch knight, you should keep some things in mind. An eldritch knight needs to be very aware of his position within the group. It is likely that he is neither the party's best wizard nor fighter; however, being relatively skilled in both classes makes him a useful addition to any adventuring group.
Certainly, an eldritch knight's higher hit points and armor class mean that they can afford to get into combat more often—and, once there, stay longer—than a single-classed spellcaster. His proficiency with all simple and martial weapons also gives him more attack options.
Arcane Spell Failure
Perhaps an eldritch knight's most dreaded enemy is his own armor! More specifically, many armor types and shields can interfere with the gestures necessary to cast many spells to such an extent that the spell fails. Luckily, eldritch knights have developed several tactics to reduce or eliminate the problem of arcane spell failure. Most eldritch knights use a combination of the strategies listed below to get around this common problem.
No Somatic Component: Eldritch knights often memorize spells that have no somatic components, because such spells have no chance of arcane spell failure. The accompanying list provides many useful spells from the Player's Handbook without somatic components.
Spells without Somatic Components
0-level: flare, light
1st-level: feather fall, hold portal, true strike, ventriloquism
2nd-level: blindness/deafness, blur, darkness, knock
3rd-level: displacement, suggestion, tongues
4th-level: dimension door, lesser geas, shout
5th-level: contact other plane, teleport
6th-level: mass charm monster, geas/quest, mass suggestion
7th-level: Otto's irresistible dance, phase door, power word blind, teleport other, greater teleport
8th-level: power word stun
9th-level: Mordenkainen's disjunction, power word kill, prismatic sphere, teleportation circle, time stop, wail of the banshee, wish
Extend Spell: Some spells, such as false life, protection from arrows, and overland flight, combined with the Extend Spell feat from the PHB, can last for a sizable part of a day (although extended spells take up a spell slot one higher than normal). Eldritch knights often cast these spells before putting their armor on, thus obviating their arcane spell failure chance.
Still Spell: Taking the Still Spell feat allows eldritch knights to cast spells without somatic components. A stilled spell takes up a spell slot one level higher than the spell's actual level, but has no chance of arcane spell failure.
Use Magic Items: While, unfortunately, scrolls are treated as spells in terms of arcane spell failure chance, other wondrous items such as wands and staffs are not. Thus, an eldritch knight can wear any kind of armor he desires and use such magic items without fear of failure.
The kind of equipment coveted by an eldritch knight depends on their focus (see "Sample Eldritch Knight Builds," below). Magic weapons and armor (preferably crafted from mithral, which reduces arcane spell failure by 10%) are a necessity. Adding the twilight armor special quality (Player's Handbook II) reduces the chance of arcane spell failure by a further 10%. However, all eldritch knights should aim to buy a ring of force shield (+2 bonus to AC, no arcane spell failure chance) to replace their shield or buckler as quickly as possible. Beyond that, stat-boosting items for an eldritch knight's relevant base classes are very handy. Wands, staffs, and rods ignore arcane spell failure and are also a useful addition to an eldritch knight's armory.
Sample Eldritch Knight Builds
The eldritch knight is a very customizable prestige class. In particular, a character's feat and spell selections define his role within the party. As discussed above, all eldritch knights should consider the Still Spell feat to offset their arcane spell failure chance. Many eldritch knights also take Lightning Reflexes to improve their poor Will save. Finally, they often take Extend Spell (PHB) or Practiced Spellcaster (Complete Arcane) to increase the duration and efficacy of their spells. Eldritch knights with the Eschew Materials feat (PHB) do not have to use material components costing 1 gp or less; this allows such characters to wield two-handed weapons, or a weapon and shield, while casting spells with such components.
Many eldritch knights take at least one level of spellsword (Complete Warrior 79) for that prestige class's ability to reduce arcane spell failure. However, the decision to take levels in other prestige classes (if any) depends on the eldritch knight's focus: weapons or magic.
The following notes detail three different styles of eldritch knight. There are many more!
Melee Eldritch Knight: A melee specialist eldritch knight likes nothing better than diving into battle, using his spells and weapons to smite his foe. Such characters normally use their arcane spells to augment and protect themselves. They often take four levels of fighter to qualify for the Weapon Specialization feat before becoming an eldritch knight. Such characters normally focus on using one kind of weapon taking the Weapon Focus, Weapon Specialization, and sometimes Improved Critical and Power Critical feats (Complete Warrior 103). Arcane Strike (Complete Warrior 96) is an absolute necessity for this kind of character. Melee-focused eldritch knights also often take levels in the bladesinger (if an elf or half-elf, Complete Warrior pg. 17) or dervish (Complete Warrior pg. 25) prestige classes, in order to complement their combat prowess (depending on the precise weapon they use).
Archer Eldritch Knight: This type of eldritch knight is often an elf with levels of arcane archer. A true expert with the bow, he uses true strike, cat's grace, and so on to increase his accuracy. Archer eldritch knights also often take levels in darkwood stalker (if an elf or half-elf, Complete Warrior pg. 23) or Order of the Bow Initiate (Complete Warrior pg. 68).
Wand-Wielding Eldritch Knight: This is a potentially expensive character build in terms of gold and XP cost, but it can wreak devastation among its foes. (Also, note that the character must have a Dexterity of least 15 to pull this off.) Such characters take the Two-Weapon Fighting, Craft Wand, and Double Wand Wielder (Complete Arcane 77) feats. Wands, of course, do not suffer arcane spell failure checks, so these characters normally wear heavy armor. Eldritch knights with Double Wand Wielder can use two wands at the same time, allowing them to simultaneously strike their enemies with fireballs and lightning bolts (or whatever spell combination they desire).
Sample Eldritch Knight: Cymria of Celadon
A thin, lean elf clad in scale mail and holding a glowing battleaxe stands before you. Her deep green eyes are hard, cold, and devoid of all mercy.
Cymria of Celadon CR 14
Female elf fighter 6/wizard 5/eldritch knight 3
CG Medium humanoid (elf)
Init +2; Senses low-light vision; Listen +2, Spot +7
Languages Common, Draconic, Elf, Sylvan
AC 21, touch 14, flat-footed 19 (+2 Dex, +6 armor, +2 deflection, +1 natural)
hp 56 (14 HD)
Fort +12, Ref +11, Will +10; +2 against enchantment spells and effects
Speed 20 ft. (4 squares)
Melee +2 battleaxe +17/+12/+7 (1d8+8/19-20/x3)
Ranged +1 composite longbow +15/+10/+5 (1d8+3/x3)
Base Atk +11; Grp +14
Atk Options Arcane Strike, Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot
Combat Gear wand of false life (20 charges), wand of fireball (15 charges), 2 potions of cure moderate wounds, scroll of fly, scroll of teleport
Wizard Spells Prepared (CL 8th; arcane spell failure 25%; ranged touch +13):
4th-dimension door, stilled haste, shout (DC 18)
3rd—stilled bear's endurance, displacement, stilled scorching ray, suggestion (DC 17)
2nd—blur, blindness (2) (DC 16), stilled magic missile
1st—expeditious retreat, feather fall, mount, true strike (2)
0—detect magic, flare, light, read magic
Abilities Str 16, Dex 15, Con 10, Int 18, Wis 10, Cha 8
SQ elf traits, weasel familiar, share spells, speak with familiar
Feats Arcane Strike, Craft Magic Arms and Armor, Craft Wand, Improved Critical (battleaxe), Lightning Reflexes, Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Scribe Scroll, Still Spell, Weapon Focus (battleaxe), Weapon Focus (composite longbow), Weapon Specialization (battleaxe)
Skills Concentration +11, Jump +6, Knowledge (arcana) +15, Knowledge (history) +8, Knowledge (local) +7, Knowledge (the planes) +7, Listen +2, Ride +11, Spellcraft +17, Spot +7, Swim +2
Possessions combat gear plus +2 scale mail, +2 battleaxe, +1 composite longbow (+3 Str), amulet of natural armor +1, cloak of protection +3, ring of protection +2, headband of intellect +2
Spellbook spells prepared plus 0—all; 1st—Tenser's floating disc, ventriloquism; 2nd—bull's strength, darkness, false life, knock, web; 3rd—blink, dispel magic, clairaudience/clairvoyance, fireball, vampiric touch; 4th-fire shield, polymorph
Cymria had the following ability scores before racial adjustments, Hit Dice ability score increases, and stat boosting items: Str 14, Dex 13, Con 12, Int 15, Wis 10, Cha 8.
Have a spell combination you use with the eldritch knight? Any additional advice you would include for this prestige class? (And does the name Cymria of Celadon ring a bell?) Let us know, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Creighton Broadhurst is a member of Living Greyhawk's Circle of Six and a mad-keen World of Greyhawk fan. His hobbies include trying to complete his original Temple of Elemental Evil campaign (most adventurers daring that dangerous locale do not survive) and clearing up the devastation left by his two-year-old son (who delights in wielding exotic toys to bizarre and deadly effect).