Tabletop Highlight: D&D 3.5 and Knights

One of my favorite classes to play in Dungeons and Dragons is the 3.5 edition’s Knight. This class is listed in the Player’s Handbook II and is probably the best class to use for the “Tank” role based on class abilities alone. Almost all of their abilities are geared toward grabbing enemy focus, surviving, or protecting their comrades. All of this comes at the cost of a lot of more the damage-oriented abilities or skills you might associate with fighter or barbarian tank builds. So often, a front-line tank fighter or barbarian’s skill set is focused around the idea of “if it is dead, it can’t hurt me or anyone else.” Yes, you can build a fighter’s AC (Armor Class: it determines how difficult it is to hurt you character with an attack) super high while still focusing on damage and you can get a Barbarian enough HP to tank a few disintegrate spells (which are as dangerous as the name implies) without healing, but Knights are focused on both of those things.

As one of the few classes with a d12 hit die (the die used to determine how many hit points the character gains each level), they can have almost as much HP as a barbarian before they start raging. Since their primary focus is staying alive and taking damage so other characters do not, putting the highest attribute score in Constitution is almost a requirement. The second-highest attribute score can work as well, but raising it with magic items as soon as possible is a must because a Knight can never have too many hit points. The alternative attribute for the highest attribute score is actually charisma. A lot of a Knight’s abilities are based on Charisma. Charisma can help a Knight challenge the boss to fight them and only them, grant them and their allies bonuses based on the Knight’s inspirational battle cries, and can help Knights come up with clever challenges to cause all enemies to charge them. Outside of battle, a Knight’s charisma can help them move through the social circles graced by royalty and nobility as they further their knightly cause.

As they progress through their levels, Knights enjoy a full Base Attack Bonus progression (one point per level) but, oddly, have only Will as a primary save. If you look through their abilities, you will find that Knights have abilities that can help them save allies who are being mind-controlled or mind-affected (made afraid, under the power of suggestion, etc), so having a high Will save means they are more likely to remain free long enough to save their companions. Other interesting abilities include being able to prevent enemies from easily moving past you (or using the common rogue trick of tumbling past the tank in order to attack the squishier characters behind them) by causing the space around them to be treated as rough terrain. This means that people cannot simply run past them or tumble past them thanks to the knight’s defensive capabilities. Other abilities include a boost to their AC as a result of using a shield and the ability to take part (and eventually all) of the damage dealt to an adjacent ally. If you’re protecting a spellcaster who gets shot by an arrow or stabbed by a rogue, you can opt to take some of that damage in order to mitigate what might have otherwise been a killing blow.

As far as combat goes, Knights get access to mounted combat feats, along with a lot of technical combat feats through a “bonus” feat system ever few levels. While a Knight may never do a lot of damage, compared to other martial classes, they can still dominate a battlefield riding about on a well-trained mount using a Lance in order to maximize their damage. They also have an ability called “Fighting Challenge” that gives them bonuses against a specific target they’ve challenged to a fight. The Fighting Challenge is a type of “Knight’s Challenge” which also includes things like the “Test of Mettle” which causes all enemies in earshot to focus on attacking you, the “Daunting Challenge” which causes weak enemies to flee in terror, and the “Bond of Loyalty” which allows a Knight to continue making will saves against mind-affecting spells or abilities until the Knight is free or out of Knight’s Challenges.

The most interesting use of the Knight’s Challenge, and what makes them the ultimate tank, is what they earn at 20th level: “Loyalty Beyond Death.” This allows a Knight to spend uses of their Knight’s Challenge to literally continue moving after they’ve functionally died. At 20th level, a Knight will have over 200 hit points. A character typically dies once they pass -10 hit points. A 20th level Knight can spend uses of their Knight’s Challenge to continue moving and acting once their hit points pass below 0 until their body is completely destroyed or they run out of Knight’s Challenges to use. This means they can still be healed back to the point of being alive or just sacrifice their live in one last glorious charge as they face down an ancient, all-powerful dragon or lich in order to buy a village or their allies time to flee.

There any number of other feats that can greatly benefit a Knight as well. Shieldmate lets you provide adjacent allies with an AC bonus based on the shield you use. Heavy Armor Specialization, a feat with dovetails in with a Knight’s ability to ignore movement penalties resulting from wearing Heavy armor, provides you with a permanent reduction to the damage you take as a result of wearing Heavy armor. The proficiency feat for Tower Shields also benefits a Knight because it increases the bonus provided by Shieldmate, increases your AC even more, and lets a Knight use their shield as protection from arrows or AoE (Area of Effect) attacks for anyone who isn’t tough enough to survive them. There is even a feat or a type of enhancement magic for armor and shields that lets your AC bonus from your armor and shield apply against certain magical attacks that normally just need to make contact with a character, rather than break through their armor. With the right builds, a Knight can because an almost unstoppable tanking machine.

I wouldn’t recommend using a Knight as the primary front-line combatant because their damage output is lower than most other martial characters, so they’re not always great picks for 4-person groups, but they work amazingly in larger groups, even if there are no other front-line martial characters. Especially if there are no other front-line martial characters. Next time you need a tank and don’t want to play the lawful good paladin, play a night! They can be lawful anything and their emphasis is more on their knightly oaths than obeying the rules of the land.