Posted by: Jess Riley | November 14, 2008

How Do You Do It? – Death Knights

With the release of Wrath of the Lich King, I’d be surprised if the majority of people weren’t trying to answer this question in some way – how do you roleplay a Death Knight?

Having not done it myself yet, I don’t want to provide any definitive answers, but I want to call attention to a few things I have noticed about it and can say for sure.

One, I want to share this conversation I witnessed on City General the other day.

Person1: So, who’s going to roll a Death Knight?
Whole Variety of People: Me!
Person2: I’m going to roll an orc Death Knight.
Person3: I’m going to roll a gnome Death Knight. With pigtails.
Person4: I’m going to roll an undead Death Knight.
Person5: An undead Death Knight? Um, that makes no sense.

This was where I had to stop and think. Hold on – either I’m missing something very important, or Person5 in my story is. Why couldn’t an Undead be a Death Knight?

Let me go into some background, here. The original death knights, the first generation ones, (some of whom may or may not still exist; it’s uncertain) were the soul and all associated bits bound within the body of a reanimated human corpse. The second generation death knights are the immortalized soul and associated bits of a hero pledged to the Lich King.

Now, without going into all the details of free will and realignment with factions, which are the essential role of the PC Death Knights in our story – I can’t imagine where anyone would get the idea that an Undead couldn’t, or shouldn’t, be a Death Knight.

Apart from the fact that as far as the casual viewer is concerned, all first generation Death Knights would look pretty undead, there’s quite a few compelling storylines that could come out of an undead (by which I mean, for the purposes of this of this post, mean a Forsaken) opting to realign himself or herself with the Lich King.

Unusual, you bet. Most of the Forsaken are actively against anything to do with the Lich King, and who can blame them? But ‘makes no sense’? I could come up with a tonne of different reasons why it could happen, and every one of them is probably a more interesting and compelling character story than the last one.

Several of them require sociopathy as a major character trait, and one of them requires exactly three zeppelins and a piece of cheese, but I could do it.

So, alright, the question remains: how do you play a Death Knight?

If we assume that all PC Death Knights are heroes who have pledged themselves to the Lich King, and that they are then going to realign themselves with their relevant faction, that’s a big hunk of characterisation you need to explain right there. What caused them to pledge themselves to the Lich King? Did they actually admire him? Did they just want a bit of power for themselves? Did they feel threatened by him? Were they a double-agent who got sucked in too deep? Had their girlfriend just left them, so they did it out of spite?

For Elune’s sake, don’t go with that last one, please.

Now, once you’ve answered this question, you need to go about explaining how they feel about that, now. Presumably they have some feelings about it, and quite strong ones at that. How do they express these feelings? To whom?

I can’t answer these for you, as I’m not your character and, you know, I’m not entirely sure myself — but here’s another post for you on the general lines of ‘Jess rambles about characterisation while offering no actual helpful hints’.

I’d make a tag for it along the lines of Sean’s game design tag, but sometimes I like to pretend my posts are more than that.

(Edited for clarity.)


  1. Perhaps a ‘Double Agent’ theme might work. An Undead screened and sent in as a drastic measure by the Royal Apothecary Society?

  2. A forsaken could be a death knight. There are numerous ways it could be explained.

    First, there is the obvious double agent thing. Then there is an undead simply going mad from their “condition” and turning evil. Or an undead could be looking for lots of power, and becoming a death knight certainly gives you that. Or maybe they felt Arthas would ultimately win, and wanted to be the one slaughtering and not the one being slaughtered. Or perhaps they were a human who died, was raised and then turned into a death knight; explaining the fact they look undead because of rotting a bit before being changed. Or perhaps the hold of the Lich King came back over them and they were chosen as one of the new breed. Or perhaps life as an undead was so terrible, they wanted to get lost again under his will and not feel all the sorrow they had to deal with now.

    Point is, there are plenty of reasons to make sense of an undead becoming a death knight. And personally, I feel it be harder for other races to explain the change over. Because short of their deep hatred for Arthas, the undead are perhaps the most primed race to be a death knight.

  3. […] […]

  4. Forsaken Death Knight CAN be played… and you CAN make up a background… Dah’! You can make up reasons for whatever you want… that doesn’t give the thing more SENSE.
    Technically speaking ALL DK ARE UNDEAD. So, what is an undead death Knight? they all are. Forsaken are the Undead that ABANDONED the Lich King to follow Sylvannas in her revenge (just in case you didn’t play Warcraft III)
    SOoooo, a Human dies and turns to Sylvannas, becomes Forsaken… then he DIES AGAIN (which, per se, doesn’t make sense) and goes with Arthas? That’s how it works? hahaha When does it end? when they are so rot or so damaged from that much dying that they can’t walk anymore? hahaha

  5. Actually, in broad terms, saying all Death Knights are undead is not exactly true. Some Roleplayers play their death knights as alive, only that their soul had been taken by Arthas. To each their own.

    The truth is, roleplayers who are creative enough, smart enough, and willing to put some thinking time could come up with a better scenario for a Forsaken DK than the ‘double agent’ schtick (Which I’ve seen just a little bit too much of, thank you.)

    To be honest, the Forsaken are the most geared race to become a death knight. Oddly enough, it’s the elves, both Night and Blood, that I don’t see would make any sense. But again, to each their own.

  6. As for the scenario playing a DK to 80 without doing the quest to talk to the king, I am currently doing this on alliance side, and it appears that Stormwind is the only city that is “off limits” (ie guards throwing stuff at you.) Darnassas is fine and I can use the Auction houses there. Oddly enough, I am friendly with all of the alliance factions despite not having completed that quest.

  7. I’d also like to point out that a person could just Rp an Undead Death Knight as a newly released scourge. One could say that their Undead Death Knight was never a Forsaken, and he only just freed him/her self. You’d have to over look only one quest; that being the one where you kill a character of your race.

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