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When was the Eldritch Knight first introduced, and what is the basis for the kind of character? Obviously there's the space for some kind of cross between a mage and a warrior in D&D and other TTRPGs, but why was it specifically called "Eldritch Knight"?

My first encounter with this name was as a prestige class for 3.5e where an existing background in both a spellcasting class and a martial class was a prerequisite - but I've never understood why it's called "Eldritch", a term usually meaning sinister and ghastly (which doesn't seem relevant to the class).

Is there some other background to it that inspired the name?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ ""Eldritch", a term usually meaning sinister and ghastly" probably worth nothing that this is not really the definition of "eldritch". It's part of it, but it isn't usually *sinister" or in other way malicious or bad. "Eldritch" could be a synonym for "arcane" in symbolising something magical/supernatural (also, "arcane" defined more like "mysterious" but D&D treats it more like "magical"). "eldritch" in general is "strange" as a more neutral term and generally the most charged it goes to is "spooky". \$\endgroup\$ – VLAZ Oct 27 at 9:43
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D&D occasionally uses "eldritch" as a simple synonym for "arcane".

The Eldritch Knight originates in D&D 3rd edition. The earliest appearance is the D&D 3.5 Dungeon Master's Guide (2003), where it was used as a kind of generic patch prestige class to make fighter/wizard or fighter/sorcerer multiclassing feasible. Earlier examples, like the Spellsword originally from Tome and Blood (2001), cost the character too many levels of spellcasting to be really viable.

The Eldritch Knight was really a generic class, without any fluff. Monte Cook, who had written the 3.0 Dungeon Master's Guide, complained about this in a blog post at the time, saying that prestige classes were originally intended to have more fluff and lore about them. Nevertheless, D&D 3.5 would sometimes use these as a patch to make multiclassing more practical. Similar prestige classes in the 3.5 DMG included the Arcane Trickster (rogue/wizard) and Mystic Theurge (cleric/wizard).

The word "eldritch", popularized by the works of Lovecraft, originally connoted an eerie, otherworldly sense, perhaps frightening and unnatural. However, the word's widespread usage in D&D has somewhat diluted this quality, and it often appears as a synonym for "arcane" without any eerie connotations. Writers who frequently used the word in this context included Skip Williams and Monte Cook. My guess is that the class couldn't be called the "Arcane Knight" because there was already an Arcane Archer and an Arcane Trickster, and they wanted a synonym.

There's no particular lore of the Eldritch Knight having an otherworldly or eerie quality. They're functionally just like a Spellsword: some ordinary person who studied both fighting and arcane magic.

The sense of "otherworldly, eerie" is still used in some D&D books. For example, the sunfly swarm (Book of Exalted Deeds) is described as having an "eldritch, otherworldly quality". My guess is that there's a division between D&D writers: those who knew the word from reading Lovecraft, for whom it connoted eerieness; and those who only know it from the original D&D sourcebook Eldritch Wizardry, whose title implies the word to mean "magical" without further context.

The word "Eldritch" is often associated with the D&D 3.5 Warlock class, first presented in Complete Arcane (2004). However, this is unlikely to have influenced the Eldritch Knight, as Complete Arcane was not published until after the 3.5 DMG, and the two share no lore. The association between "warlock" and "eldritch" is solely limited to that class' signature ability Eldritch Blast and other abilities which modify Eldritch Blast. The word "eldritch" is not even unique to the warlock within Complete Arcane, being used to refer to the power of the Green Star Adept.

In D&D 4th edition's Adventurer's Vault 2, "eldritch" loses its Lovecraftian meaning even further, where it references the Eldritch Panoply, a set of magic items of an ancient group of swordmages called the Eldritch Knights. In that context, "eldritch" has no other meaning than to refer to this one particular guild. There was also an Eldritch Knight paragon path in Dragon #395, and D&D 4e also used the term "eldritch" in its Warlock class.

D&D 5th edition returns the Eldritch Knight as a fighter archetype, where just as in 3e it was merely a solution to the fighter/wizard combination, with no other direct lore implications. The word "eldritch" also appears in the warlock's Eldritch Invocations class feature, where it refers to forbidden magical lore, though there is no direct connection between this and the Eldritch Knight.

Regarding the meaning of "eldritch" in D&D

In D&D, there's this fundamental variety in the way the word "eldritch" is used. Both before and after the publication of the Warlock class in 2004, you see it both as a general synonym for "magical", and as having a darker meaning: mysterious, scary, ancient but also magical.

You first see the word used in Eldritch Wizardry (1976), one of the first D&D books, which kind of pinned down a connection for a lot of writers between the word and arcane magic, the sort of magic wizards use in D&D.

Skip Williams, who co-wrote the 3.0 core rulebooks, often appears to use the term as a simply synonym for "arcane magic". We see this in "The Sea Devils" (1997) p.90: "Magical items and spells ennable [sic] characters to survive underwater through a variety of eldritch methods." We also see it in his foreword to Combat & Tactics (1995): "swirling action, ringing steel, and eldritch flashes of magic." He or his works may have influenced the name of the class.

Monte Cook, another co-writer of the 3.0 rulebooks, used the name in his third-party Book of Eldritch Might series, again as a synonym for "arcane". We know that he was not working at WotC by the time the 3.5 DMG was written, however.

Other writers often use "eldritch" in specific reference to "eldritch fire". It's quite often used to refer to magical things found in dungeons, where it is usually something menacing or scary. Races of Faerûn (2001) has the feat Eldritch Linguist, which again is using it in its tone of simply meaning "arcane" prior to the Warlock class.

KRyan notes that in 3.5, "eldritch" is often used to refer to warlock-exclusive abilities: this is indeed often the case. This is entirely due to the warlock's Eldritch Blast ability, and other class abilities or feats which use the word eldritch because they modify Eldritch Blast.

However, the warlock does not have exclusive domain over this brand, even in the very limited context of the names of player-character abilities in D&D 3.5. The feat Eldritch Corruption (Heroes of Horror p.122) applies to any spellcaster. Eldritch Erosion (Complete Scoundrel p.77) is a feat for rogues who sneak attack enemies with spell resistance. The metamagic feats Entangling Spell and Lingering Spell (Champions of Ruin p.20) described as releasing eldritch energy, again a synonym for "arcane" without special meaning, while the same book p.139 details Prince-Consort Imbrar Heltharn, a death knight fallen paladin blackguard whose Abyssal Blast releases "eldritch fire".

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan The warlock did not enter D&D 3.5 until Complete Arcane, which was published after the 3.5 DMG. The use of "eldritch" in the 3.5 warlock could therefore not have influenced the 3.5 Eldritch Knight. I already mentioned that 3.5 inconsistently used "eldritch" to mean both "otherworldly, eerie" and "generally magical". In fact, the 3.5 warlock held no exclusivity to the "eldritch" brand, and only uses "eldritch" to refer to his Eldritch Blast ability and other abilities which modify Eldritch Blast. \$\endgroup\$ – Quadratic Wizard Oct 25 at 14:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Much improved, though I think you doth protest too much about “eldritch” not being exclusively used for warlock stuff. It’s a large majority. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Oct 25 at 15:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan A majority of feats or class ability names, yes, but not uses in general descriptive text, which is my meaning here. I think what the question is asking is why the Eldritch Knight uses the darker term "eldritch" for a class without dark tone (i.e. it makes sense for the Warlock to use that word, less so the Eldritch Knight); the answer to that is that some D&D writers simply use the word as if it had no dark tone, and perhaps they are influenced by the title of Eldritch Wizardry in doing so. \$\endgroup\$ – Quadratic Wizard Oct 25 at 16:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Whilst the world eldritch is dominated by Lovecraftian uses these days, otherworldy doesn't have to mean something from the Dark Dimensions. Its (plausible) etymology is elf + reich (literally Elfland). So, when the Grey Company are described as 'Elvish Wights' because of the fear of humans for the Elves of Lothlórien, it's a very similar usage. \$\endgroup\$ – richardb Oct 25 at 16:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @richardb There may be some truth to that connection. You do see it applied to the eladrin, both 3.5's ghaele eladrin in the Monster Manual, and the 4e eladrin race in the Player's Handbook. \$\endgroup\$ – Quadratic Wizard Oct 25 at 16:20
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“Eldritch” means warlock, except when it means eldritch knight

Especially in more “mechanical” text—the names of mechanical options—the word “eldritch” has been strongly associated with the warlock class since the publication of Complete Arcane for D&D 3.5e. The one major exception to that has been the eldritch knight—which originated in the 3.5e Dungeon Master’s Guide, and so predates Complete Arcane and the warlock class.

Outside of mechanical text, the word is used occasionally to just refer to unknown or unknowable magics. Storms of “eldritch energy” and the like appear in various descriptions. Not terribly frequently, but they needed a lot of words for “magic” to keep from repeating themselves too much. The eldritch knight’s naming is in this vein, as well.

Anyway, the history:

Eldritch knight was first a “prestige class” in the Dungeon Master’s Guide for D&D 3.5e. A prestige class was one you could not start playing as, but had to multiclass into later, after you met some requirements. The eldritch knight required one to be an arcane spellcaster with martial skills, and eldritch knight levels advanced both martial and magical skills at the same time. It gains +1 base attack bonus each level, the hallmark of warriors in that edition, and on each level after 1st, it advanced the spellcasting of whatever arcane class the eldritch knight had levels in. This kind of prestige class design was very, very common in D&D 3.5e. The eldritch knight was completely bereft of any meaningful flavor, and “eldritch” referred solely to the knight’s arcane spellcasting ability.

However, soon after the 3.5e supplement Complete Arcane produced the warlock class, with its signature eldritch blast. The warlock was powered by a deal with a devil (or some fey bargain maybe—the actual patron had no effect on the warlock’s abilities), and had a vaguely “dark” flavor to it. The word “eldritch” thereafter became associated almost-exclusively with warlocks in 3.5e, and any “eldritch X” was almost-certainly an option for warlocks (e.g. Eldritch Claws, eldritch disciple, eldritch theurge). The concept of any “Lovecraftian” warlock did not exist in 3.5e however—there was no Star Pact (as in 4e) or Great Old One patron (as in 5e). As a result, “eldritch” in that edition was vaguely fiendish, not otherworldly.

In 4e, the warlock’s class feature was explicitly their Eldritch Pact. It could again be with a fey or fiend—or, for the first time, with an otherworldly, “Lovecraftian” patron in the Star Pact. The word is used for other things too, but rarely was it used in the names of non-warlock options. The big exception? Eldritch knight, grandfathered in from 3.5e’s pre-Complete Arcane days. The Eldritch Panoply, which were some legendary weapons of legendary eldritch knights, some feats for eldritch knights, the eldritch knight itself as well as its powers, use the word quite a bit. There are a couple other exceptions; some swordmage stuff uses it since the swordmage was, for a time, 4e’s take on eldritch knights (until an actual option by that name came out some time later). Outside of the names of things, the word shows up some as a word for “arcane, magical, unknown, unfathomable.” Several books use “eldritch energy” used to describe magical elemental properties of places or things.

And then in 5e, we still have eldritch blast as a signature move of the warlock, and their invocations are now “Eldritch Invocations,” and we also have the eldritch knight fighter archetype. These are basically the only real uses of the word. So again, “eldritch” refers to either warlocks or eldritch knights, and is rarely used elsewhere.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Worth noting - Dragon Magazine #280 (February 2001) had a sorcerer/bard prestige class called the "Eldritch Master" - archive.org/stream/DragonMagazine260_201801/… \$\endgroup\$ – JohnP Oct 25 at 15:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JohnP That predates Complete Arcane and so doesn’t really have a lot of bearing—the eldritch knight didn’t take over the term like the warlock did, it was just a big enough exception to be grandfathered in for later works. Also, Dragon was published by Paizo at that time, so it may not follow the same trends (although in my experience it mostly did, post-Complete Arcane). \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Oct 25 at 15:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ True, was more of a history note as it is the predecessor to the warlock, as it specifically required a pact. \$\endgroup\$ – JohnP Oct 25 at 15:51

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