When the Emperor of Mankind forged his space marines they were meant to be great warriors and protectors of humanity. His gene science and warp mastery allowed him to bestow upon his creations certain gifts and flaws, making them ideal as particular weapons of war. Of all his creations, though, none were bloodier or more terrifying than the VIII Legion... the Night Lords.
A legion specialized in terror tactics, the Night Lords are known for destroying enemy morale through brutalizing a populace. And while their methods are nauseating, there is no arguing with their results. With some of the lowest body counts in the crusade (by comparison, at least), absolute fear of these astartes brought entire systems into compliance when they heard the Night Lords were being dispatched.
This guide is a follow-up to the Iron Hands Space Marine conversion I did a while back, and for more character conversions from the grim darkness of the far future, in addition to comics, action movies, and other franchises, check out the Character Conversions Master List hosted on my gaming blog Improved Initiative! And for more gaming, geekery, weird history, and other topics, consider stopping in and seeing what else is here in my full Vocal archive!
Raw Materials (Attributes and Background Traits)
Night Lords are agents of stealth, terror, and brutality. Primary concern should be given to Dexterity, with Strength as a follow-up if one is not going to be using Dexterity as their primary combat statistic. Charisma should not be ignored, as it is important for properly sowing fear among the populace.
Different legions were drawn from different human populations, first on Terra, and then from other parts of the galaxy. The Night Lords' initial stock came from the prisons of Terra, dragged out of the deepest holes the Emperor could find. Later they were drawn from the dregs of Nostromo, a planet of cannibals, killers, and worse. While there were differences in culture, honor codes (such as they are among the Night Lords), and loyalties, the two populations shared a number of factors that made them similar.
For those who wish to have an early advantage, the alternate human package Dim Dweller provides a +2 trait bonus on Stealth and Intimidate while in areas of dim light or darkness, and it grants Darkvision to a range of 60 feet. All of that in exchange for the Skilled feature, which is quite a bargain.
When it comes to background traits, there are many that will fit a Night Lord. Bred For War (gain a +1 trait bonus on Intimidate checks and a +1 bonus on CMB due to your size) may be one of the more useful, as astartes are known for being huge, and these bonuses will come into play. Vengeful (whenever you damage a creature you've hurt in the past 24 hours, gain a +1 trait bonus on damage) is fitting for the theme, but so is Silent Hunter (gain a +1 trait bonus on Stealth, and Stealth is always a class skill for you) or Reactionary (gain a +2 trait bonus on Initiative checks). Awakened From Statis (only require 2 hours of sleep per night) may be more thematically appropriate than mechanically useful, but it's still worth considering.
As always, choose the traits you will use most often, and which reflect your character background best.
Forging The Metal (Class and Corruption)
Night Lords are masters of stealth and terror, but they are just as capable of sowing death and destruction as any other astartes... perhaps more, if one believes many of the stories. The class that combines all of these aspects best is the slayer, from the Advanced Class Guide. This grants your Night Lord a wide variety of skills, the ability to study targets to learn their weaknesses, sneak attack, and a variety of slayer talents that can round out your capabilities.
Speaking of those slayer talents, one of the talents you'll likely make the most use of is Rogue Talent. This lets you pick rogue talents off of the rogue class list, and you can gain abilities like Fast Stealth (allowing you to move at full speed while using the Stealth skill), Firearm Training (gain proficiency with firearms), and Finesse Rogue (gain Weapon Finesse as a bonus feat), are just a few examples of how these talents can fill in for a relative lack of bonus feats. More advanced talents, like Assassinate, can also be useful at higher levels.
In addition to your class, though, a Night Lord is infected by darkness. From their black eyes to their pale skin, there is something that lives inside of them. Whether a flaw in their gene seed, or something more supernatural in nature, a representation of that darkness is the Shadowbound Corruption from Horror Adventures. This corruption requires the one affected by it to spend 2 days per manifestation level per month away from all light, and other life. Failure to do so requires a Will save, and failing that save leads you to destroy items of beauty, or people who are important to you. You lose hope, and are eventually torn apart by your own darkness... a harsh corruption, but one that seems to fit what happened to Konrad Curze himself.
What does one gain from the Shadowbound Corruption? Abilities like Eerie Perception increase your Perception and Stealth, while giving you enhanced darkvision (though also light sensitivity). Frightful gives you growing bonuses to Intimidate, but it also infects your mind with fearful thoughts and paranoia. Wretched Pain allows you to deal wounds that nauseate a target, though you become even more sensitive to light in exchange for this ability to inflict grievous harm.
It isn't a 1-to-1 comparison, but it does give you access to some extra potent abilities that tie nicely into the theme and class features.
Grinding and Shaping (Skills and Feats)
Slayers have access to a wide variety of skills. Intimidate, Stealth, and Perception are perhaps the top three, but Acrobatics is often necessary for movement, and Sense Motive may be necessary to determine if someone is lying to you. Even Survival is important for tracking victims, and navigating through hostile terrain. Which skills are most important for your particular Night Lord may vary, but those are the general load out one should have.
When it comes to feats, a great deal will depend on how you choose to wage war.
As an example, if you rely on precision with ranged attacks Point Blank and Precise Shot, Weapon Proficiency (firearms), and others. A full run-down of these feats can be found in my Punisher character conversion. If you intend to focus on melee combat then you'll need to ask if you're using Strength or Dexterity, as the latter would require feats like Weapon Finesse, and Slashing Grace, Fencing Grace, or Dervish Dancer depending on the nature of your weapon. Weapon Focus would also be important to have, along with either Power Attack or Piranha Strike, whichever is more appropriate to your particular weapon/fighting style of choice.
If you choose to weaponize your Intimidate skill in combat, then you may wish to take feats like Cornugon Smash (free Intimidate check on foes you hit with Power Attack), Dazzling Display (Intimidate all foes within 30 feet to leave them shaken), and Disheartening Display (increase the fear level of enemies within 30 feet by one step, allowing you to make shaken foes frightened). This is rather specific, and while suited to the Night Lords' tactics, may not be ideal for all campaigns/playstyles.
It's also important to consider if you will be able/allowed to use more technological weapons and armor in your campaign, since these items exist in Pathfinder's rule set, but your Game Master might restrict your access to them, or allow them in place of magic armor. However, if you know you're going to gain access to power armor (as mentioned below) it is considered heavy armor, and you'll need the appropriate proficiency when you eventually get your hands on it.
Finishing Touches (Equipment and Story)
The grim darkness of the far future is filled with wonders and horrors, and most Night Lords will have come across at least some of those items simply by being who and what they are.
As an example, cybernetic implants may be a part of you. From Wirejack Tendons to Cyberfiber Muscles, these items can be used to reflect your advanced and augmented biology, giving you permanent enhancements that aren't generated by magic or equipment. While there isn't a weapon on-par with the bolter, the stats for a grenade launcher may work just as well for Pathfinder. Failing that, modern firearms like the Mosin Nagant could be given appropriate enhancements and modifications (or they could fire specific, modified bullets), making your Night Lord a terror who seems to strike from nowhere given the range of their weapons. Alternatively you may wish to seek out either a powerful magic melee weapon... perhaps even one with unholy enchantments, as the Night Lords are a traitor legion who aren't opposed to wielding the powers of chaos when it suits them.
Lastly, of course, is the technological relic that is power armor. An artifact found in the Technology Guide, these suits of armor are potent enough to represent an end-of-campaign resource. And once a Night Lord is once more midnight-clad, they become even more of a terror to behold!
As a brief aside, if your table allows third-party content, I cannot recommend Savage Company enough for this character build. Everything from chain swords, to a huge variety of firearms, to articulator arms, and more can be found in this setting... there's even a Savage Company bundle deal for those who want all the available content at their fingertips!
For your finishing touches, ask who your Night Lord is, and why they're here. Were they found in stasis, and they've been awoken to a world they do not understand without the usual tools of their trade? Are they a renegade who has left their warband behind, and are now operating as a lone mercenary with a unique set of skills? Are they attempting to seek a cure for the madness their primarch's genes have infected them with before it claims them? Or do they remember when the legion at least claimed to stand for something, and they have turned their backs on all masters to operate purely in their own self-interest?
Whatever the course your Night Lord takes, put some thought into who they are, why they're here, what they're trying to accomplish, and what motivates them. And, of course, it's worth asking if they're a genuine remnant from the grim darkness of the far future, or if you're modifying their themes and history to fit Golarion. After all, Numeria is known for attempting to create new generations of dark warriors, and there is no knowing for sure what strange beings might await in the ancient starship for their pods to be opened so they can step into the light of a new dawn.
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That's all for this week's Crunch topic! Don't forget to check out my full Vocal archive for more... or if you'd like to read some of my books, like my alley cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my latest short story collection The Rejects, head over to My Amazon Author Page!
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More Grim Dark Content?
If you're a fan of the grim darkness of the far future, I've got all sorts of other fun Warhammer 40K content for you! So while you wait on my next character conversion, consider checking out some of the following stories, and listening to some of the great audio dramas that go with them (like the one above, which is the audio for my 50 Two-Sentence Horror Stories, Warhammer 40K Edition)!
- Waking Dogs: A World Eaters Tale: Crixus has fought beneath the banner of the World Eaters for over 10,000 years. There is still something of the old War Hound lurking in him, though... and when those memories push back the fury of the butcher's nails, he will put his brothers down like the rabid dogs they've become.
- Field Test: When Inquisitor Hargrave had come to New Canaan just ahead of an ork rok, she claimed she had a weapon unlike any other at her command. None could have guessed that weapon was right under their noses the whole time, though.
- Beyond The Black: The Emperor's Hand: Gav Smythe has served the God Emperor his whole life. A new member of the Inquisition, the ogryn didn't expect his next mission would be quite so personal. But when he has to take up the black sword against traitors, Gav does his duty just as he has for years.
- Broken Heroes: It was supposed to be a simple mission to recover an experimental weapon used to defend their city. As Renn and his squad are surrounded by Dead Heads and crawlers of all sizes, though, he finds himself in an ancient, buried complex. Renn isn't alone, though... something is waiting for him. A colossus of steel and fury, asleep for millennia, ready to finish what it started so long ago.