Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Effectiveness of Knights in Dungeon Fantasy

The Effectiveness of Knights in Dungeon Fantasy

This is part of the Melee Academy series with +Peter V. Dell'Orto at Dungeon Fantastic and +Douglas Cole at Gaming Ballistic writing about shields and +Jason Packer at RPG Snob focusing on two-handed weapons.


Knights are an interesting template in Dungeon Fantasy. On the one hand, they have a very straightforward combat role: masters of armed melee slugfests. On the other hand, they have rather limited utility outside of combat. By default, they lack supernatural powers, but they have enough points available for customization to buy a full lens from another template and still have points left over. Overall, how do they rate?

The Basic Chassis

Knights start with solid physical attributes and low mental attributes, which is reasonable for a physically oriented template. They have excellent combat skills, with reasonable amounts of unarmed ability, missile and shield skills, and primary weapon skills in the 17+ range. Knights also have a good selection of weapons, with a variety of sw/cu choices available but also flails and spears.

For secondary skills, knights get low levels of Armory, Tactics, Strategy, and Leadership. These aren't bad skills, but they are mental skills that the knight isn't particularly good at, which lowers their effective utility. An optimized wizard with IQ17+ can have better Armory at default than the trained knight, which can make many knight players ask why they bother.

One interesting quirk of DF is that Carousing, the skill of gathering rumors in taverns, is an HT skill. There's something slightly weird about the way that the knights and barbarians of DF are the ones who find most of the potential quests. Still, it gives the physical templates a way to contribute in the pre-adventure planning, so it's probably for the best.

Advantage Selection

All knights have Combat Reflexes and High Pain Threshold, which are nearly mandatory for focused combatants: Combat Reflexes helps avoid hits, avoid surprise, and avoid being scared by monsters; while High Pain Threshold means a knight can take hits and keep fighting. They also have 60 points to spend at their discretion, and a good list of advantages to buy. A knight can add an entire lens to give themselves slightly more versatility, improve their basic attributes, or add Luck and Weapon Master to give themselves the daredevil attitude and stupid damage abilities of the swashbuckler.

One often overlooked advantage choice that more knights should take is increased Basic Move. Knights are usually at Medium or worse encumbrance, slowing them down quite a bit. All of a knight's great combat abilities mean nothing if the combat is over before the knight arrives at Move 3 or less.

Knight! or Not

The option to use Wildcard skills requires some interesting choices from the Knight. On the default template, knights have 51 points allocated to knightly skills, so a Knight! can have Knight! at stat+2 and 3 points left over. It's basically a trade of ridiculously high primary weapon skills for improved mental skills and the ability to use a lot of weapons. Knights who anticipate acting as heavy cavalry should definitely take this option, since the 3-skill set of Broadsword, Lance, and Riding (Horse) gets bought at stat+2 anyway.

For games that are using Wildcard skills and the destiny point rules from Monster Hunters, Knight! is a much simpler decision. The 4 destiny points that can be spent in combat are very valuable, and are probably worth not having skill-20 in a single weapon.

Knights and Race

In games using the Tolkien family of races, knights are mostly going to be humans or dwarves. Dwarves get Pick-axe penchant, for cheap increases skill for axes, and cheaper dwarven axes. Elves and halflings don't bring as much to the table.

In games using the full range of DF races, there are a lot of fun but sometimes expensive options. Gargoyles have inherent DR and wings, reinforcing one of the knight's strengths and improving their Move and maneuverability to get around one of their weaknesses. Coleopterans have 4 arms, which means a Knight! can reasonably carry a pole-arm, bastard sword, large shield, and a slung crossbow or bow, and use each and every one of them as the tactical situation demands. Half-ogres are stupidly strong and can be bought with Weapon Master (primary weapon and shield) and Luck out of the starting point budget.

Equipping Knights

The basic choice for a knight is either medium shield and axe or flail versus two-handed sword. Knights who can buy perks have the option of Reach Mastery, which opens up pole-arms as a cheap and versatile version of the expensive two-handed sword. If perks are available, Sacrificial Parry is nearly mandatory and Shield Wall Training is de rigeur for knights with (large) shields. Knights with shields generally want to use thrown weapons for ranged attacks, since the mechanics of strapping and unstrapping a shield take too long. Two-handed swordsman can use crossbows and bows as they please.

For armor, the simple choice is knights want as much armor as they can afford, counterbalanced against the need to have a Move of 4+.

Knights in Play

The role of the knight is to find quests while drinking in taverns and to destroy mortal enemies while exploring dungeons. The knight is the go-to guy for fighting animals, corporeal undead, and constructs. A reasonably constructed starting knight can defeat even deadly monsters like Siege Beasts or Sword-Armor Golems.

Despite his strengths, the knight needs a fair bit of support in typical delving situations. While he's nearly immune to surprise and resistant to fear, he doesn't have the ranged firepower of the scout and tends to move slowly, so powerful ranged combatants at a distance are a problem. He has no good way to deal with diffuse opponents, so things like flaming skulls, erupting slime, and toxifiers are a problem. A Low Will score makes him vulnerable to mind-affecting supernatural foes. Still, in most games, these are less common threats that the hordes of melee focused monsters, so the knight is usually a valuable member of the team.

As mentioned upthread, the knight has less to do out of combat. He can bash doors and lift heavy loads, but most people want a bit more pep in their utility than "loud skeleton key" and "mule". Armory has some uses for identifying treasure, but with skill-11, I've seen Knights fail to notice that a silk jacket was actually made of Giant Spidersilk. Knight! helps here.


  1. Just a few quick comments:

    - an IQ-optimized wizard can be better at armoury than you can, but it's a gateway to the excellent Armor Mastery perk in DF11.

    - the two-handed sword knight in my game went for sling - it's never going to break getting dropped, leverages his ST 17 (bought up with advantage points), and it's useful for tossing grenade mixtures.

    - I'm a bit surprised by axe as a main weapon choice. Not a one-handed sword? It's slightly less swinging damage, but impaling damage (especially with high skill and WM) gives you another option. And cheap swords are inexpensive to buy and replace, vs. Dwarven axes.

    Overall, great stuff!

    1. Shrivener, my Named Possession axe, is a Dwarven axe with a hammerhead. I don't think I added a top spike for impaling (I nabbed a dueling poleaxe for that) but I was sorely tempted. It's been a lot of fun, especially doing 3d(2) cut to 3d+2(2) cut if he gets his Righteous Fury on. :-)

    2. A fine, dwarven, balanced, silvered, (holy) axe does as much damage but costs a lot less than a very fine, balanced, silvered broadsword. Plus, if you're using the right supplements, can have a hammer head and a top spike. Even out of the gate, a dwarven axe is cheaper than a good broadsword.

      I've never seen anyone buy a cheap sword for any reason other than desperation.

      There is an advanced option in getting a katana or a dwarven bastard sword to use one handed, but that's not cheap. It's my preferred solution, since Reach is great, but normally I expect to see shield knights carrying axes or flails and two-hander knights carrying two-handed swords or tricked out dueling pole-arms.

      I tend to underrate impaling damage because I assume that anything vulnerable to it will have been shot by the scout long before the knight has a chance to worry about it, but then again, that's my actual play experience. YMMV. Cutting, crushing, and piercing (AD2) are the go-to physical damage types in DF.

    3. I'm not saying axes aren't useful, only that a sword is more versatile and worth looking at. Sure, the scouts can shoot it, but not everything is vulnerable to missile fire. Or at missile range. Those aren't universally true in my experience.

      Cheap swords are a great deal - breakage is uncommon, they're inexpensive, and a great way to start with a sword on a low budget - say, if you blew your money on good armor.

    4. I've found that cheap is the only way to go with much starting gear in a traditional fantasy game - DF's alternate rules for starting cash go a long way towards providing enough money to start out with some very good gear. Even cheap armor can be a real bargain for the protection that you get.

    5. I did a breakdown once of cheap, fine, and maybe one or two other types of armor by cost and weight per point of DR. Cheap and Fine can BOTH be really nice, depending on your limit. If you're super-strong, and can afford the weight penalty, Cheap armor rocks. If you're an experienced delver and can afford better armor, the weight reduction you can get (or the extra DR at a constant weight) with some of the different armors - especially plate and hardened mail - are really sweet.

    6. With swords, especially big ones, 40% cost for no reduction in utility unless you critically fail and get "a cheap weapon breaks" is a great deal. You can easily upgrade later, and it puts swords into easy reach without spending points on extra cash. Yes, they break more easily on a parry, but how often does that happen to a broadsword or bigger? Not that often, and not that early.

      Like I said, I was just surprised one-handed swords didn't even make the list.

    7. I will admit that "Paladin with Sword" was a bit stereotypical for my concept; it wasn't all that I thought the axe was end-all, be all.

    8. I'd not considered the cliche aspects of the sword - but then, you almost have to go deliberately odd to break out of cliches. Enormous Axe isn't typical for Paladins, but it's pretty common. Even Mauls are fairly common in high-strength warrior types. Go with a knobbed club, or a kusari or a whip if you want to really get outside the box.

    9. Funny you should say that: the original concept had Cadmus use a light club against most human foes, using Judo Throw to stun and subdue. That was because as a Paladin of Pharasma, he didn't want to snip off the strands of fate in his Goddess' tapestry, etc.

      This was mind-bogglingly ineffective. First, our foes seemed to always be out for our death. Second, our foes were often non-human. Third, I got no small amount of pressure to be all-damage, all-the-time where it came to Dungeon Fantasy combat. Fourth, as I mentioned in my recent writeup, the utility of Judo Throw has been proved to be near-zero - it's never actually been successful; the defenders always parry and spoil the throw.

      Ultimately, both for efficiency and to play the part better, I just started cleaving up people with my axe.