Not to be confused with the miniature Imperial Titan..
"The knight is a man of blood and iron, a man familiar with the sight of smashed faces and the ragged stumps of lopped-off limbs; he is also a demure, almost maidenlike, guest in a hall, a gentle, modest, unobtrusive man. He is not compromise or happy mean between ferocity and meekness; he is fierce to the nth and meek to the nth. The man who combines both characters – the knight – is not a work of nature but of art; of that art which has human beings, instead of canvas or marble, for its medium."
The "knight" (pronounced 'Kuh-niggit' for you Frenchies with outrageous accents) is a title given to a loyal servant of a monarchy in olden Europe. To start your knightly lineage, you must be valuable enough to your lord that he eventually bestows knighthood upon you. Once that is done, you are officially part of your kingdom's nobility (albeit at the near bottom of the ladder, but you're leagues better off than the common folk) and any children you bear will also be knights, who will then continue your proud lineage throughout the ages.
The etymology comes from Cniht / Knecht among Saxons in England and Saxony - a house servant. But if you were serving a lord, he might lend you a horse thus making you a rādcniht. Meanwhile in the post-Latin parts of the post-Rome, the cavalier was still riding around the estates of post-Gaul. As with the Equestrian class in the Roman Republic, they had to own the land and resources to keep a horse - and in Dark Age Western Europe, that meant signing on to some feudal lord. So the Venn between "knight" and "cavalier" was a slightly blurry single circle.
The knight started becoming the chivalrous, romantic daredevils we all know and love by the 12th, due to the influence of Christianity and Islam throughout Europe, and to a lot of romantic bullshit from the Languedoc troubadours. They are usually rich-enough blokes that knight families typically owned at least one estate that they may develop as they see fit.
These guys were the greatest thing in Europe's arsenal for nearly a thousand years before being weakened by Swiss pike formations, another Chinese import, and the idea of a professional and standardized standing army which gradually put an end to the age of knights. Then, in the 19th century and after the French revolution, Romanticists who wanted to defend the old order of things against upstart ideas about "democracy" and suchlike began looking to the past with rose-coloured glasses and forgot about the shitty quality of that period and instead saw dashing knights in shining armor (a phrase that originally meant "the new guy who has never been through battle").
In modern parlance, Knight is the catch-all term for some posh bloke who fought on horseback with decent armour and weapons. It was the case for some time, but the term 'Knight' has started to refer to the social rank of the man, not the way he fought, around the XIIth century. 'Chivalry' does refer to horsemanship, however.
Most armored guys on the battlefield of High and Late Medieval period (usually carrying shield, non rusted armor and a decent weapon) were Men at Arms -- a better equipped class of soldier. Through patronage of a wealthy lord, large groups of these blokes were kitted out with decent weaponry and armour (to varying degrees). They sometimes had a horse if there weren't enough cavalry; otherwise they were just a better equipped form of infantry. They were usually of better social standing than their comrades serving in a Lord's (or Knight's) armies as meat shields and arrow fodder (conscripted peasant), although that itself would vary: from men who their overlord might socialise with to a degree, to a better-off commoner like a merchant who simply bought better armor than the smelly peasants, or just some smelly oik with an aptitude for combat who was kitted out at his Lordship's expense.
Since most Knights were fairly wealthy, they nearly always fought as Men at Arms (being that they could afford decent plate armor, an arsenal of weapons, and a war horse, on their own), though not all Men at Arms were Knights. It is also worth noting that Men at Arms usually were poorer equipped than Knights, and often received little to no training which usually lasted between a fortnight and a month. Knights, however, were trained from the age of six and this training lasted until their mentor deemed them ready to be a full knight (that age varied, but generally was around 17-18 years; Edward the Black Prince, for example, was granted full knighthood in 16 years). They also had the option and means of having their own armor and weapons specially made/procured for them. Additionally, any non-noble who was able to attain knighthood though exemplary military service would have been a warrior few could equal.
Knight's tournaments were NOTHING like how we picture them through Hollywood; they were not leisurely affairs of organised jousting with the King's retinue and nobles looking on. Jousting itself was regarded as a sideshow compared to the main attraction of a tourney - the melee, which was in many respects a mock battle, designed to keep knights practiced in combat without actually killing anyone and an attractive prospect for many young knights to rise in stature through winning the tourneys. Two sides of knights would meet in the tourney ground (usually a massive area encompassing the length between two towns) and clash in brutal hand-to-hand combat with the aim of securing opposing knights for ransom (that were subject to the regular rules of war).
It is also worth noting that some Knights did not fight at all, being too sickly, too old when war broke out, or simply too scared. Due to this, some knights engaged in civilian leadership roles, rather than military ones.
The Modern Take
In our current times the misconceptions mentioned above have created a stereotype in the general public's mind of what it means to be a knight: an owner of land and a castle, wearing that ridiculous heavy armour on top of a mighty horse and being the upmost example of honour, valour and nobility. As stated in the opening paragraphs. This is because during the Victorian and Enlightenment eras, commoners started revolting against them. Around 18th and 19th centuries. The upper classes in Europe began romanticizing the dark ages, knights in particular, in poems and stories until what it originally is now buried under a mound of half-truths and plot twisting. In order to justify ruling over their former peasants and to make themselves feel better. TLDR look up the French Revolution.
Consider that tricky part of the tale of King Arthur: his dad Uther Pendragon wants to have it off with the lady Igraine, who is married to his enemy Gorlois. So, using circumstances and Merlin's magics, Uther takes on the identity of her husband, has his way with her, and then nine months down the line Arthur is born, an illegitimate child. This is left out of many tales except those seriously referencing the old poems as it is not the heroic source of the once and future king that many would expect (in later legend there is emphasis that Gorlois conveniently dies in battle before the conception occurs, therefore changing the fluff of the legend in Uther's favor. A predecessor to Matt Ward, it looks like).
Many still use knights as a standard for human warriors of chivalry going out and slaying various beasts and saving various maidens (most fantasy settings, RPGs and MMORPGs use knights as a class type, some renaming to
make them sound more original rip off D&D like 'Paladin' or 'Crusader').
Why Knights deserved (and still do deserve) the hate
- Most Knights were a medieval version of That Guy.
- Knights were legally not allowed to be killed in battle. While ransomed by the enemy they would be entitled to food, women and booze.
- They asked the Pope to ban crossbows (and other "missile projectiles") because they were pussies and didn't want to accept the fact that a lucky peasant can royally murder them before they got close. This failed because it was impossible to enforce and unlike today one nation couldn't punish another for doing something they don't like without large military formations. Branding the enemy heretics means shit if they have better weapons than your own.
- They could kill peasants/serfs and get away with it (at least their own serfs; killing the servants of another knight without their permission is frowned upon).
- These assholes only had to work three months per year.
- They could even literally dodge military service by bribing the king instead. So yes, we have a thug that is legally not entitled to be killed, could abuse people with no repercussions and taxed the peasants extra because he could send THEM to battle, a.k.a the Landlord. By 21st century we now know that conscription makes for inferior recruits.
- The general incompetence in the way the Crusades were carried out-- general infighting between various warbands with national rivalries broke out, then murdering and raping Slavs, Poles and Byzantines while they were getting their asses kicked by Muslims and the Mongols from the East.
- The Mongols did their jobs of driving out the Muslims for them. The Crusading Knights who ran away stole all the credit.
- Instead of going home and letting the Eastern Roman Empire(aka Byzantine Empire) administrate the territory they actually did retake (due to the Byzantine army being crippled by the Turks at Manzikert due to inter-dynasty infighting), these assholes set up their own principalities between the Empire and Jerusalem. During the 4th Crusade, Knights (already ticked off at how the Byzantine populace revolted and massacred Italian merchants in the capital city
they were arrogant and were rich due to controlling all the banking like the Jewish people back in Western Europe) led the campaign under orders from Pope Innocent III that ransacked Constantinople once they backed a coup but learned the Emperor didn't have any money to pay for their services. Set up their own empire to get their asses kicked by the "Greeks" a half century later who restored it for a short time. These wars made the eastern empire permanently crippled and easily taken over by the Ottomans. The Crusades also gave Muslims the inroads to take control of Spain for centuries.
- Knights were expensive. Lords could arm several archers and infantrymen for half the price. Knights however, were theoretically the smartest bunches he could summon, as they were trained since birth to be elite soldiers. However without real standardization (unlike modern army recruits), it's hit-or-miss if the training was actually worth a damn or if it even worked in their theater of battle.
- Training wasn't really that practical in the first place. The reason why training of modern soldiers is standardized is so that when brought together they can all function as one unit regardless of origins. Giving each knights' house carte blanche on military training means your army's effectiveness is the equivalent of playing darts blindfolded. While there were Knight Orders that could work together in unison, those groups were rare.
- Only rich kids could become Knights and you had to be part of the nobility in the first place.
- Chivalry only applied when they wanted it to or was only required among specific (usually religious) groups.
- Some idiots want to bring them back, despite the fact that horses are harder to get, guns exist and will get them shot in the face by anyone with a 9mm handgun. Unlike modern wargear medieval armor is not rated against and will perform poorly against bullets, shrapnel and crossbows, etc. Even if it was brought up to spec using modern materials, modern body armor made of polymer, ceramic plates, and synthetic fibers can stop just about everything medieval armor can and more, at a fraction of the cost and weight and minus the glaring downsides.
Why being a Knight sucked
- Jousting was pay to win (going back to Knights being That Guy). Ever play a video game and a new item update releases with cool new weapons and armor? It might have took you days or a week just to get one of them. Then comes this guy with all that new gear stomping you with little skill on their part. Jousting was like that. If a Knight was rich enough he could buy a specialized set of jousting armor that made it impossible to unhorse him. Poorer Knights had to make do with their battle armor, which was designed for movement rather than not falling off a walking glue container.
- Knights had to buy their own equipment, as unlike modern military forces the feudal cheapskates in charge wouldn't foot the bill. If they didn't have a high enough status or weren't buddies with the armorer, there would be a chance of their weapons and armor being of questionable quality and forged by an apprentice instead. This meant that lower ranked Knights may have went into battle with the dark age equivalent of a school science project, regardless of how professional it might look on the surface.
- Becoming a Knight meant that you had to be hit in the face with a gauntlet. Made out of metal. So you could end up talking like a European Little Nicky if the guy knighting you was a big enough jerk. For obvious reasons, this was eventually replaced with the more traditional tapping of your shoulders with a sword.
- As a Squire you had a high chance of being raped by the man training you, more so if you weren't a noble of high rank. If he's one of those types who took Christianity seriously, instead you'd likely be beaten constantly for failing to live up to his overly high standards.
- Because of how the nobility works, there's a decent chance you're inbred and your to-be wife chosen by arranged marriage will be closely related to you by blood (genetic diversity tends to suffer under eugenics). What's that? You don't want to marry and fuck your sister(?)? Too bad, we need an heir, do it or be disgraced.
- Crossbows, Firearms and (better trained) mercenary pikemen ruined your day. Some guys who took a vacation in the Far East came back with pretty cool stuff that kills you in an instant regardless of all that fancy gear you got. Luckily for you their weapon takes forever to reload, making a well timed charge or a sneak attack on him seem like a really good idea. Unfortunately that other guy also has a pistol, maybe even two. Worse, he is likely a German mercenary with a Flamberge, whose sword breaks your own in half. Then he shoots you with one of his handguns.
- Granted a good enough Knight could become a decent rifleman/gunslinger in his own right, but by that time the utility of your original station was pretty much over.
- The Feudalist system was pretty much the mafia of the Middle Ages. You piss off the wrong person above your rank or if they want what you have (land, wife, daughter, livestock, even just your peasants), you and your family could be stripped of your land and titles, either by other Knights, from a siege via cannons, or condemnation as a heretic and burning at the stake, with your assets divided up and even your family given to other nobility. The fact that the Mafia arose in Sicily a short time before the Renaissance is more than enough evidence of how bad Feudalism was.
- Some angry peasant spits on you, or another noble sneezes in your direction. You are now dying of the bubonic plague.
- Or you could get Tuberculosis instead. Or both. Hell, you could just die because of the abysmal hygiene and sanitation standards of the time.
Fantasy Knights in a Nutshell
If you are a chivalrous knight in a modern fantasy setting, your usual duties will include:
- Quest Taking: from killing a dragon to driving the moles out of the fields of farmers, anything that troubles the people you must take care of. It doesn't have to be you directly, though. If the task is too unworthy for your stature, but still needs fixing, sending your apprentice or hiring other people to do it in your stead also works.
- Monster killing: a category of its own (although often a Quest as well). There are various nasty critters around and in ye olde times you would serve as a pest exterminator for hire. The bigger and badder the monster you slay, the more famous you are with the kingdom.
- Damsel rescuing: even if she is married (or you are), you could get a kiss, a handkerchief, and hopefully a hefty reward for giving her a hand.
- Helping out your king: at times you'll be called on to help your king or lord and hook up with a bunch of your knightly mates to rout some naughty foreigners giving the kingdom trouble.
- Wench pulling: you keep an entire industry of busty women in business with the profits from your questing.
- Looking impressive: your armor and weapons aren't just your tools but also your icons. It gives the peasants something nice to gawk at are and often symbols of your deeds and character. Many knights are recognized simply by their gear (i.e: Excalibur for King Arthur).
- Example setting: along with looking good, you have to practice being good to and showing everyone how to be a goody-two-shoes. From escorting ladies to putting your cloak out across a puddle, from saying hello to Ted the stable boy to upholding your kingdom's faith and smiting any heretic who dares besmirch your god, being a choir boy is a 24/7 job. This is also the reason why Knights are typically Paladin equivalents in fantasy.
- If you should fall short in your chivalry, it usually suffices to take on a particularly challenging and meaningful quest to restore your honor. If there's one thing peasants like better than tales of upstanding knights, it's tales of knights who stumble and get back up again (or die trying).
- The flip side of upholding the code of chivalry is enforcing the code against oath-breakers. Knights who completely forsake their vows are especially harmful to your profession's reputation, so be vigilant for rumors of 'black knights' and the like.
- Training a squire: Building up a knight household is a ton of work, and if you died without a legitimate heir to your name, all your hard work over the decades would have been for naught. So, you had to train a successor who will carry your knight household throughout the ages. Train them well and don't just treat them as a glorified servant, as that little buttmuncher will be the one who'll be representing your legacy once you're gone, and you don't want your house to be remembered for that dastard who became the unbearable shame throughout the land.
Real Knights in a Nutshell
- Bureaucrat: in most areas of Europe, barons were the main land holding class and baronies roughly analogous to large townships (the modern word county coming from the slightly higher rank of count). Knights owed allegiance to barons and generally served as their officers of government, from constable to tax collector. A knight's fee (the quantity of land to sustain a knight) was roughly a couple thousand acres, and the typical barony consisting of roughly a dozen fees. Since a family could reasonably tend 5-10 acres, this basically means a knight was responsible for a few hundred homes.
- Officer: you owe service to your lord. If they call on you to fight, you have to. In this regard knights were analogous to lieutenants or sergeants. Being men at arms, knights were expected to know how to fight, how to lead and teach others to fight. If they were particularly good fighters they might be used more like champions and vanguards, while the less martially able would still be expected to be capable of organizing and leading some men. In medieval Europe, the basic formation was the "lance", roughly equivalent to a squad, consisting of a knight and his retinue (perhaps a dozen men). Lances were organized into companies, captained by a noble (typically a baron or count). Lances wouldn't necessary take the field intact; for field warfare, knights would assemble as cavalry and their retainers would form the body of infantry. As the medieval wars dragged on, the concept of lances broke down and it became more normal for nobles to outfit and lead companies of men with consistent equipment and some training (company of bow, company of pike, etc).
- Politician: you're part of the elite which means you have to spend an infuriating amount of time jockeying for influence or just protecting your current position. If you don't play ball by engaging with the rest of the aristocracy and maintaining your status, you'll find yourself in disfavor. If you're not seen as pious enough, the church will start hectoring you with the same effect.
Both 1st edition Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2e featured the knightly archetype in their options. For 1e, Gary Gygax himself created the Cavalier in an issue of Dragon Magazine as a variant Paladin. It... didn't work out so well. For 2e, the knightly motif was conveyed by certain Kits, predominantly for the Warrior class-group, with the most obvious version being, again, the Cavalier.
The Cavalier is not held up very highly by most Grognards, for reasons explained on its page.
Third Edition's version of the Knight was introduced in Player's Handbook II and released for free as part of the book's preview. They have a high base attack bonus and roll D12s for HP. Their abilities are purely related to taking hits and forcing a single target to hit them, similar in concept to a 4E tank class, but with significantly less versatility in terms of providing damage output, boosting allies or disrupting the flow of the fight to suit his party. Probably one of the weaker classes as too much of its abilities are focused on being a punching bag of HP instead of an actual tank that is hard to hurt and lacks the ability to fuck things over, if you're familiar with how Marking a target works in 4E, its based off this guy, but at least in 4E you have penalties other than the -2 to hit to control your opponent. Like paladins this class has a code of conduct. Unlike paladins, the consequences of breaking this code of conduct last a day tops (directly anyways, who knows what larger setbacks it might result in). The code of conduct consists of what they consider a "fair play". Part of the code of conduct is not dealing lethal damage to helpless foes. By the way, some creatures are immune to non-lethal damage.
Knight is tier 5. Their one task, tanking, is theoretically useful but they aren't that good at it and simply unable to try against most threats. Outside that they aren't very useful.
TL;DR A bunch of Hit Points that prototyped the tank class mechanics of 4E that lacks any choice beyond taking it in the gut. Avoid and just refluff a paladin as an atheist.
The knight was introduced in "Heroes of the Fallen Lands", the first of the two Essentials splatbooks for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. Flavorwise, knights are protection-focused warriors, champions who lead village militias, caravan guards and adventuring parties, favoring the use of heavy armor, hand weapon and shield to endure attacks as hold foes in place as the rest of their party closes in for the kill. Many knights belong to benevolent military orders, and whilst they are not paladins proper, they are still respected for their dedication to good (or at least martial perfection).
Mechanically, the knight is a "simplified" take on the 4e Fighter, this Martial Defender (with some Leader aspects) abandoned the AEDU System to something closer to an old-school fighter. Instead of the traditional front-loaded approach to class-features, the 4e knight gains different features at different levels. Instead of using the martial exploits system, it uses a combination of heroic-tier Utility powers and at-will stances, which modify the effects of its basic attacks. This formula would be reused for the Slayer, introduced in the same book.
A knight's core power is Defender Aura, an at-will utility used to mark foes, which goes in tandem with its Battle Guardian at-will attack to punish marked foes that try to slip past it. Its other level 1 features are Weapon Talent (+1 to your attack rolls with weapons), Shield Finesse as a bonus feat, access to two of the knight stances, and its only Encounter attack, Power Strike. It gains Improved Power Strike (use Power Strike 2/encounter) at level 3, Combat Readiness (+2 Initiative) at level 4, and Weapon Mastery (+1 damage with weapon attacks) at level 5. At level 7 it gains both an extra knight stance and one of the two Weapon Specializations, which adds a rider to its Power Strike attack; Bladed Step for heavy blades and Staggering Hammer for hammers. At level 8, it gains the utility power Shield Block, and at level 9 its Improved Combat Readiness feature boosts its initiative bonus to +4.
At level 11, it gains Stalwart Assault (Add Con bonus to Speed and melee weapon damage rolls in the first turn in an encounter), Stalwart Action (when you spend an action point, gain Resist 10 to all damage until the end of your next turn), and another Improved Power Strike (Power Strike 3/encounter). At level 12, it gains Greater Weapon Specialization, which gives it either the Shielding Blade or Bludgeoning Counterstrike utilities, another Improved Power Strike (4/encounter) at level 13, Paragon Weapon Mastery (+2 to all weapon attack rolls) at level 15, Armor of Conviction (gain Resist 5 to all damage while bloodied) and the Bolstering Strike utility at level 16, another new knight stance at level 17, Devoted Knight (using your second wind or total defense creates an aura 1 until the end of your next turn that grants your allies +2 to all defenses) at level 19, and Tactical Focus (you can slide a target you hit with Power Strike by +1 square) at level 20.
In the epic tier, it gains the Knight's Valor utility power at level 22, the Relentless Knight feature (can spend +1 healing surge when you use second wind) at level 23, Epic Weapon Mastery (+3 to all weapon attack rolls) at level 25, and finally Spirit of War (you can make a save to end an ongoing effect at both the start and end of your turns) at level 29.
It gains a chosen Utility Power at levels 2, 6 and 10.
General opinion is that it's a pretty badly handled class. It's strong at the Heroic Tier, but quickly falls behind the AEDU System classes from epic tier onwards, as its stance-modified basic attacks just don't cut it anymore.
|Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Classes|
|Player's Handbook 1:||Cleric - Fighter - Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Warlock - Warlord - Wizard|
|Player's Handbook 2:||Avenger - Barbarian - Bard - Druid - Invoker - Shaman - Sorcerer - Warden|
|Player's Handbook 3:||Ardent - Battlemind - Monk - Psion - Runepriest - Seeker|
|Heroes of X:||Blackguard* - Binder* - Cavalier* - Elementalist* - Hexblade* - Hunter*|
Mage* - Knight* - Protector* - Scout* - Sentinel*
Skald* - Slayer* - Sha'ir* - Thief* - Vampire* - Warpriest* - Witch*
|Settings Book:||Artificer - Bladesinger* - Swordmage|
|Others:||Paragon Path - Epic Destiny|
*·: Non-AEDU variant classes
Pathfinder - The Cavalier
Paizo has added traditional knights/men-at-arms to the Pathfinder roleplaying game, as the Cavalier class. They're a lot like Paladins without the magic. They differentiate themselves from the other melee classes in two major important ways: mounts and orders.
The Banneret (or Purple Dragon Knight, in-universe) is a Fighter martial archetype revolving around the concept of an elite and noble warrior whose skill allows them to inspire others to greatness in battle. It gets a bunch of class features reminiscent of 4e's Warlord, like healing allies when the fighter uses their Second Wind, triggering an ally to attack when you use Action Surge, and the ability to extend Indomitable to your allies.
The Oath of the Crown for Paladins, meanwhile, specifically represents the blur between knight and paladin, with a focus on lawfulness, order, and the sanctity of civilization in contrast to the paladin's general focus on doing good. It has features that let it serve as a mighty champion, and spells that tap into its spiritual authority, mostly enchantments like Command and Geas.
That not enough for you? Not only did we get a Cavalier subclass for the Fighter in the Kits of Old unearthed arcana, November 2016 gave us a full-fledged Knight subclass, which is essentially an even tankier version of the Cavalier. It can mount and dismount for only 5 feet of movement cost, has advantage on saves against falling off, always lands on its feet if it does fall off (providing it's no higher up than 10 feet and isn't incapacitated), has what is essentially the Fighter's Marking ability from 4e, a bonus skill with a "knightly" theme, the ability to make an attack as a reaction to an enemy moving within 5 feet that stops them moving if it hits, the ability to trade combat advantage for a bonus attack, gains a free opportunity attack each round, and gains +1 AC when wearing Heavy Armor.
|Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Classes|
|Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk |
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Warlock - Wizard
|Tasha's Cauldron of Everything:||Artificer - Expert - Spellcaster - Warrior|
|Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft:||Apprentice - Disciple - Sneak - Squire|