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Delvebound: Nightblade Revisited

What is a Nightblade

When starting to design mechanics of just about anything, it’s best to start by reading up on what it is you’re trying to achieve. What do we know about the subject? What lore exists? What has been written, what has been seen, and what are assumptions. While the original nightblade class took this into consideration, I hadn’t actually written anything down for me to refer back to. I really like how I put these ideas down for the Rogue and how that ended up being displayed in the mechanics.

Elder Scrolls Online has provided a ton of distinct mechanical expectations of a nightblade. When this project first started, and the nightblade was originally written, I used older lore as my inspiration and focused less on ESO. Primarily looking at shadow magic and the quintessential shadowmage: Azra Nightwielder. I really wanted to capture that feel and a lot of the shadow magic that came from Shadowkey.

Today, I’m hoping to capture more of what was presented in ESO, while not straying too far away from the current design.

Getting Started

First things first, I wanted to review how nightblades were depicted in each of the games they appeared in; what were their descriptions and what skills / mechanical benefits did they have.

Game Representation

Starting back in Arena, nightblades were considered under the umbrella of the mage class. Way back in their first appearance, it talks about how they use magic to infiltrate, spy, and sneak around. Sounds pretty much consistent with today, so that’s a really good start. Arena also gave nightblades a boost to their critical hits, which is interesting. Obviously has that Sneak Attack feel to it.

An interesting disadvantage that nightblades have in Arena is that they are more effective with their magic than with their fighting ability. I think that is really apparent with the current nightblade design. Maybe a bit too much. I think they could see a benefit to getting a boost to their fighting–but Legionnaire’s Guide to Cyrodiil provided a bunch of new spells (like veiled strike and teleport strike) that give them a magic boost to their weapon attacks, and Tharn’s Grimoire of Incantations (coming soon) provides even more.

Daggerfall pretty much shares the same concept as Arena, but added a bit more development to the mechanical side. Ilusion was a primary skill (with dodging and stealth being the two other primaries), short blade was their major offensive skill, and alteration, destruction, and restoration filled out the back end. Battlespire gave them a bit of an opposite-bard comparison, which I think is interesting, since I see bard as fitting in the same Mage/Thief hybrid. Both Daggerfall and Battlespire mention their skill in illusion magic and high agility.

Both Morrowind and Oblivion gave nightblades the “magic” specialization, which aligns with their introduction in Arena. An interesting divergence begins here, with their main attributes being Willpower & Speed, and alteration pops up (which makes sense with the lore–as shadow magic is extremely powerful and can alter reality itself). Morrowind put destruction in the back seat behind mysticism, illusion, and alteration. And then Oblivion came around and tossed out illusion entirely in favor of alteration, destruction, and restoration. That’s interesting, as Shadowkey introduced some healing elements to shadow magic and pushed its alteration capabilities.

Shadowkey brought illusion back into the nightblade’s concept, but then Skyrim dropped it again in favor of destruction and alteration for the nightblade npc class.

Elder Scrolls Online gave nightblades the most mechanical concepts and described them as opportunists that can get in and out of trouble easily.

Shadow Magic

After looking at class description and mechanics, I took a look at shadow magic, the bread and butter of the nightblade. It’s an obscure type of magic that seems to blend many types of magic together, including alteration, conjuration, illusion, and restoration. It can be used to: create shadowy, ethereal weapons; absorb shadows to increase your capabilities; communicate over great distances or have out-of-body experiences; teleport around; drain life forces from others; create pocket dimensions; travel to distant realms; or alter time and space itself. Pretty heavy stuff.

I can see the gradual shift toward alteration as time and lore around shadow magic was created. The translocation and world altering aspects are quite obvious.

Preliminary Conclusion

Over the years, nightblades and their tool kits moved around a little bit. They started out back in Arena and Daggerfall as these half-casters that focused on illusion magic and stealth. Morrowind slowly brought other schools of magic to the front, and then Oblivion moved illusion out entirely in favor of other spells. Magic starts to look like it took an even greater focus on the class in later games, but that might be my view.

This really shows their versatility within their expected tool kit. Using shadow magic, they can favor illusion spells for blending into the shadows and peering through them, or they can focus on alteration based translocation spells, moving quickly or even teleporting through the shadows. Others nightblades might prefer a more offensive route, dealing mostly with destruction magic and bladed weapons.

In all cases, nightblades have a well defined place among the other Elder Scrolls classes. As one of the original and constant classes, nightblades are a key part of the TES franchise and need to be taken care of and properly represented. They fill a specific niche, as sneaky magic users, but have a versatility to them that gives a wide variation to their particular skill set.

Delvebound Class Concepts

Under the Delvebound class philosophy, every class fits under either the Mage, Thief, or Warrior, or is a combination of two. Kinda like a color wheel of classes. For the Nightblade, I’ve considered it to be a blend of Mage and Thief, and I think that is reflected currently, but there might be some ways to lean into it a bit more.

Mage classes, those big spellcasters, are mostly shown as having access to the Spellcasting feature, which goes all the way up to 9th level spells. Thief classes, at least in Delvebound, tend to have access to some form of Expertise-like features, and rely a bit on luck. Bards and rogues gain Expertise, where thieves get advantage on certain key skills.

Nightblade Concepts

Nightblades get access to spellcasting, though it works a bit differently. Instead of the regular amount of magicka points of a full caster, like the mage has, they get a smaller amount, but it regenerates over a short rest rather than a long rest. This gives them a unique playstyle, needing to manage their magic and blend martial and magical to meet their potential. Over time, We’ve made a few changes to exactly how many magicka points they get, and in the most recent changes, they get a few tweaks to how their spellcasting works. To differentiate their style of magic from other spellcasters, they now get Night Magic at 1st level, and the description is a bit clearer in how that works—and they have a more defined way to deal with multiclassing.

In Arena and Daggerfall, nightblades had the same amount of magicka as spellswords. They were kinda like half-casters, if you translate them into 5e mechanics. I could definitely see nightblades as half-casters, which would make a neat balance with the mage hybrids: nightblade on the Mage/Thief side, and spellsword on the Mage/Warrior side. With the way nightblades have been built, with lower magicka points than a typical full caster, but relying on short rests to reach their full caster potential, they feel a bit like a half caster as is. I think this works well to make them feel like a half-caster, without them being a half-caster. Also, changing the nightblade to a haf-caster seems like a pretty big change from how they have been in Delvebound and I didn’t want to make such a sweeping change to their style.

When it comes to how they blend in with the Thief class style, it’s a bit less obvious, but still there. They currently have the Cunning Action feature, which is familiar to Thief classes. Shadowhand gives a bit of a shadow-thief-y feel. Shadow Step lets them bounce around a bit, making it easy to hide, and Magical Ambush gives a bit of a ‘sneak attack’ vibe with a magic twist. I feel like these are okay, but could be improved on. I’ve also been wanting to get away from shared features and custom classes using standard 5e features (to a degree—I definitely have exceptions to this rule), so removing Cunning Action in favor of something unique to the nightblade is a goal for the next update.

In the book Stepping Through Shadows, the author implies that translocation magic is the most useful spell for a nightblade–and it also mentions how difficult translocation magic is to learn. Over time, nightblades get better and better at this “stepping through shadows” until it becomes a reflex. The Shadow Step feature is the main representation of this, along with some of their unique spells. It’s kind of a one and done feature and doesn’t build on the lore of increasing expertise. I could definitely see this adjusting to be a key part of the nightblade class with built in growth.

Another book found in-game is Shadow Draining: A Hypothesis. It discusses nightblades using siphoning spells. There is absolutely nothing in the base class that fits this currently, though a lot of spells were added in LGtC that fit this bill, like absorb health, drain skill, funnel health, and magicka drain.

From all of this, I think I have a good idea of some concepts I want to incorporate into the nightblade class in Delvebound:

  • Nightblades are spellcasters that favor the dark and use magic to conceal themselves.

  • Nightblades sacrifice combat in favor of magical ability.

  • Nightblades practice illusion, translocation, and siphoning magic.

  • Nightblades favor shadow magic, which is versatile, with a wide range of specializations.

  • Nightblades combine stealth, magic, and blades, which make for a deadly combination.

With those key points in mind, we relook at the nightblade and build on the existing class and subclasses to improve them.

Applying Nightblade Concepts

Finally, we take what we’ve learned from the lore and apply it to the class design in a way that makes sense. This next part of the introduction to the revised class looks at what has changed and how it fits into the design concepts above.

Night Magic. The first change that was made was for clarity and delineating their magical style. By changing their Spellcasting feature to Night Magic, we indicate that it doesn’t exactly pair with other spellcasting classes. New instructions on how to handle multiclassing with a nightblade has been added, and quite a few new clauses have been added to this feature to fill in some gaps, clarify, or just touch up some sloppy writing.

Nighteye. This feature moved from 3rd level from 2nd to give them the ability to see in the dark a bit faster. It also makes sense for them to be able to see in magical darkness that they create—nightblades are comfortable in the dark, and the class should represent that.

Stepping Through Shadows. This replaces the Shadow Step feature from 5th level, and places it at 3rd. It also takes part of the Cunning Action feature that they lose (the ability to Hide as a bonus action), and puts it here. A little later, but still early. With Stepping Through Shadows, a nightblade really doesn’t have a need to Dash or Disengage, when they can just teleport away.

As the book of the same name says, translocation magic is the most important tool in a nightblades kit. It’s difficult to learn, but nightblades get better at it over time. 3rd level is one of those common defining levels where a lot of campaigns start, so it makes sense to have this here—you don’t learn it right away, but at one of those defining levels. It’s also been updated to grow in power over time, based on your proficiency bonus. This fits in with how stepping through shadows is described in the lore.

Critical Essence. This is a big, new defining feature that has been added to build on the Thief style features. It fits in with the idea of a Sneak Attack, but in a very different way mechanically. Siphoning magic is important to a nightblade, and the idea behind this is slowly siphoning energy out of the liminal edges of creatures and objects to build your own capability. It also helps the nightblade set up really strong openers and can create a bit of a tactical meta game that relies a bit on luck (another Thief style concept).

After building up your crit range, you can start to plan around getting those critical hits, choosing which spells you want to roll the dice on getting that big hit. The advantage gained from Stepping Through Shadows also helps your chances of scoring this strike.

The nightblade is also made a bit of a utility class, as their spell list has a ton of non-damage, control spells. We wanted the Critical Essence feature to also help the nightblade with their ability to protect themselves or succeed at whatever they want.

Phantasmal Escape. We wanted to give the nightblade a nice survival trait, especially since there is a good chance that a nightblade will be in the danger zone. This feature also fits in with the lore that eventually a nightblade can step through shadows as a reflex. I love how that all adds up.

Subclasses. With this new update, the subclasses were completely reworked. Completely. To the point that only the Shadowmage remains. What does this mean for your Betrayer or Seeker? I don’t know. That’s up to you. If you’re liking that subclass, keep playing it. The only change to consider is the Subclass Spells that they gain. Instead of just having an expanded spell list, the updated nightblade subclasses get to learn those spells instead. Work with your GM to pick two spells per level that match the subclass concept.

As for the new subclasses, the names were inspired by their unique build styles from Elder Scrolls Online, and many of their features are inspired by some of the skills those builds favor. As a side note, nightblade has been my main ESO character for years, so I am happy to give this class a re-imagining to fit that better.

Each subclass utilizes shadow magic, which is usually the siphoning or translocation parts, but some rely on the restoration side through healing or protection.

Blood Magus is meant to be a bit of a healy support subclass. Nightblades are uniquely designed to provide strong support and control opportunities, if you want to go that way, and the Blood Magus gives you another way to support your allies. This one focuses on siphoning magic to help others.

Deathweaver leans a bit more into magical damage and plays on siphoning to harm.

Living Shadow relies on using the shadows to protect itself, giving it a big boost to survivability. These nightblades can spend a bit more time in melee range and rely on magic and luck to keep them safe (a nice combination for a Mage/Thief hybrid).

Shadowmage has changed its focus a bit from the previous version and instead is heavily inspired by the little lore about Azra Nightwielder. It revolves around the secrets of shadow magic and is intended to become a more magic and utility focused character style.Their ability to translocate stretches further than most other nightblades.

Umbral Assassin should be the obvious choice for players who want to be big into dealing damage in melee. It has a few touches of conjuration, destruction, illusion, and translocation magic, making them a well rounded shadow magic user. I also wanted their main ability, Lotus Fan, to feel like a fighting style in a way, while still being very different from a martial characters fighting styles

Last Remarks

I hope this explanation gives you some insight into the design concept behind the nightblade and helps you get a sense of what we’re trying to build. I’m really excited about these changes and how they help build on the nightblade identity and create a unique class concept. Please leave your feedback on the class below, and I can’t wait for it to be released in the next rules update!


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