3. Hecate, The Black Queen

Hecate, the Black Queen

CE Vampiric Loredrake Adult Shadow Dragon Abjurant Champion 5

"By the dread crown you will know her:
Her touch is the death of men,
her voice the fall of night
and she strives doom unto all the world."

- The Old Verse

Spoiler: Queen's Side Castle (Intro)
It was a good night for hunting.

As had become his habit of late, Criostryx had come down from the mountains with the encroach of the colder months. His mate and offspring had flown off near a decade ago, so he'd hardly had much reason to stay up in the Pillars of the Moon year-round. This gave him more than enough free reign to reclaim and explore the lower steppes and foothills that he'd once soared through in his youth.

As he winged over a frozen river, the ten-ton lizard took a moment to gaze down and marvel at his own silhouette reflected across the open sky. His pearlescent scales glittered under the eyes of the full moon, a coat made up of chips of diamond and ivory. He suppressed a frown at the sight of a few mottled grey-blue scales around his joints. A sign of middle age, this, and hardly a flattering one. The huge white dragon inhaled sharply and let out a petulant huff, casting down a torrent of ice and snow to obliterate the reflection before moving on.

Best not to dwell on it. What he needed was some fresh prey! Casting his gaze about as he surged forward, Criostryx scanned the nearby hills and vales for any sign of movement.

There! Not five minutes in and he'd already caught sight of a small herd of aurochs huddled together for warmth in between some low stone walls. As he approached, Criostryx recognized the barrier as having been erected by the locals about a century ago. The dragon snorted. What was the point of piling rocks together to keep prey in like that when you could just catch them in the wild? He'd never understand these humans.

Yet while navigating upwards on the air currents and preparing for his first dive, Criostryx saw something quite unexpected: a shadow moving at the edge of the enclosure. The white hunter watched as it closed the distance to the nearest aurochs, snatching it up in a matter of seconds.

The horned livestock let out a plaintive moo as the shadow pinned it down, but the noise quickly turned into a scream as its life was unceremoniously extinguished. The rest of the herd was already scattering, all but trampling each other to distance themselves from this new predator.

And then the shadow took off, wings of darkness unfurled, and the dead aurochs clutched in its talons. Though he still couldn't get a good look, under the moonlit glare its silhouette was instantly recognizable to him.

Criostryx's eyes widened. Another dragon, here? Impossible. This was too far west to be anywhere near Gelidon's hunting grounds, and even the upstart Antharyx knew better than to taunt him so openly. After a moment, he decided that it didn’t matter.

Whoever this newcomer was, they were about to learn that this was his territory.

With massive wing beats the white dragon launched himself forward through the air at full speed. The shadow was heading due south with a small head start, but as the chase began Criostryx's lips curled back into a toothy grin. This little dragon might have been a predator elsewhere, but in the air, he was the faster.

He pushed himself down on his trajectory, the better to take advantage of any warmer air currents nearer the ground and blend in with the new-fallen snow. The shadow had evidently noticed his presence however, as it swiftly dropped the aurochs and committed itself entirely to escape.

It would do them no good, thought Criostryx. He had every advantage; speed, size, and he knew the terrain better. At close quarters, he would tear this youngster apart. All he needed to do was funnel them into a good kill zone, and it would be over.

To his bemused surprise, the dark dragon made a sharp left bank, its flight path taking it into a small gap between two rocky promontories. Trying to hide perhaps, or come up with some ambush to turn the tables? Either way, they'd just volunteered for a swift death: there was no way out of that ravine. Letting out a deep chuckle, Criostryx followed.

The walls of ice and rock were perhaps forty feet apart at their most narrow, but it was enough for him to fit with nearly half a wing to spare on either side. As he hurtled onwards, he dodged and weaved between any protruding roots or outcroppings. Directly ahead, he could see his quarry getting larger as the gap between them narrowed.

And then - without warning - they stopped.

Criostryx had to slow to avoid colliding into them unintentionally, fully extending his wings to catch the maximum air drag. His tendons and muscles burned with the sudden force of inertia, but he didn’t acknowledge the discomfort in front of the interloper.

"You want to beg for mercy, is that it?" he gravelled in his native tongue after he'd come to a full stop. "Save your breath. You should have asked before stealing from the territory of Criostryx the Frigid Death."

Up close, he could finally get a good look at his new prey. She - for her body was unmistakably female, the white dragon noticed - was sleek and sinuous, scales of indigo and jet over which played waves of writhing inky shadow. Her wings were so diaphanous as to look nearly transparent save for the way they shrouded the air as they moved. There was not a single scratch or scar on her, nor was she overly muscular - she was at most two thirds his weight, if he had to guess - yet something in Criostryx's brain recognized a power deep beneath her skin.

"Oh darling," she replied in the same language as she turned to face him. Her eyes were orbs of glowing scarlet. "Are you truly still under the impression that you are hunting us?"

Before Criostryx could move to correct her, he caught new shapes moving at the edge of his vision. He tried to duck out of the way, but they were already upon him. Phantasmal creatures: a host of birds and beasts, but also humanoid silhouettes moaning softly as their fingers slipped effortlessly past his hide.

For the first time in his entire two centuries of existence, the white dragon knew cold.

Staggering back and dipping towards the ground, he let out an audible gasp. He felt… empty, like he'd just flown hard for a week without resting. "What was - what are you -"


And he did. Try as he might to struggle against the command, Criostryx found to his mounting horror that he couldn't move a single muscle. The shadow dragon's gaze locked onto his with something akin to pity.

"So disappointing. You were unfortunately quite predictable, Criostryx." All around him, he saw the spectral figures spread out slowly, cutting off all escape routes behind him. There were at least two dozen here; more than enough to overwhelm him in this state.

"We really do hope you will avail yourself better when you join our collection."

Before he had time to unpack the full implications of those words the spirits were on him again. There were simply too many; each time they touched him the dragon felt a piece of himself being stolen away. He was getting so… so tired. Restrained and unable to fight back, he felt his vision begin to darken as his body gradually gave up the fight for him.

"That's it… just rest now… here, let us help you." He was vaguely aware of the other dragon's approach, of feeling claws and a tail wrapping themselves around him with surprising gentleness and guiding him down to earth.

As they alighted together in the snow, Criostryx immediately collapsed. Though the enchantment had been lifted it was all he could do to even breathe, let alone fly away. Every movement was a labour… maybe she was right, why shouldn't he just rest for a while?

Then suddenly he felt a strange pricking sensation at his throat. When he opened his eyes, all he could see was darkness and teeth. Then the unknown dragon tilted her head back, and Criostryx stared at the streams of black blood in the moonlight. His blood.

She was drinking his blood.

"No - nonono" he tried in vain to get out, but she silenced him with a single claw placed on his chest.

"Shhhhh," she said, licking away a stray droplet from her stained fangs as she leaned in close. "It's alright… it's over, it's already over…"

And then all he knew was emptiness.

Spoiler: Build Overview
Spoiler: Ability Scores
Ability Score Array Race Template 20 HD 24 HD Final
Strength 14 +8 +4 26
Dexterity 13 +0 +6 +1 20
Constitution 8 +6 - -
Intelligence 10 +10 +2 22
Wisdom 12 +10 +2 24
Charisma 15 +10 +4 +1 30

Spoiler: Build Table
CR Class Base Attack Bonus Fort Save Ref Save Will Save Skills Feats Class Features
15 Vampiric Loredrake Adult Shadow Dragon +19 +11 +17 +18 Bluff +28, Concentration +22, Diplomacy +31, Hide +23, Knowledge (Arcana) +20, Knowledge (Local) +25, Knowledge (Planes) +20, Knowledge (Religion) +25, Listen +37, Sense Motive +37, Spellcraft +28, Spot +37, Use Magic Device +31 Alertness, Combat Reflexes, Dodge, Improved Initiative, Lightning Reflexes, Create Spectral Spawn, Combat Casting, Flyby Attack, Darkstalker, Improved Energy Drain, Spell Drain, Practiced Spellcaster Shadow Blend, Breath Weapon (40 ft cone, 3 negative levels), DR 5/magic, Spell Resistance 22, Frightful Presence (180 ft), Blindsense 60 ft, Keen Senses, Undead Immunities, Blood Drain (1d4 Con), Charm, Create Spawn (Vampires), Domination, Fast Healing 5, Cold & Electricity Resistance 20, Turn Resistance +4, Vampiric Weaknesses
16 Abjurant Champion 1 +20 +11 +17 +20 Bluff +28, Concentration +23, Diplomacy +31, Hide +23, Knowledge (Arcana) +26, Knowledge (Local) +25, Knowledge (Planes) +20, Knowledge (Religion) +25, Listen +37, Sense Motive +37, Spellcraft +29, Spot +37, Use Magic Device +31 Abjurant Armor +1, Extended Abjuration
17 Abjurant Champion 2 +21 +11 +17 +21 Bluff +28, Concentration +24, Diplomacy +31, Hide +23, Knowledge (Arcana) +30, Knowledge (Local) +25, Knowledge (Planes) +20, Knowledge (Religion) +25, Listen +37, Sense Motive +37, Spellcraft +30, Spot +37, Use Magic Device +32 Life Drain Abjurant Armor +2, Swift Abjuration (1st level)
18 Abjurant Champion 3 +22 +12 +18 +21 Bluff +29, Concentration +25, Diplomacy +32, Hide +24, Knowledge (Arcana) +30, Knowledge (Local) +25, Knowledge (Planes) +20, Knowledge (Religion) +25, Listen +37, Sense Motive +37, Spellcraft +31, Spot +37, Use Magic Device +32 Abjurant Armor +3, Swift Abjuration (2nd level)
19 Abjurant Champion 4 +23 +12 +18 +22 Bluff +29, Concentration +26, Diplomacy +32, Hide +24, Knowledge (Arcana) +31, Knowledge (Local) +25, Knowledge (Planes) +20, Knowledge (Religion) +25, Listen +38, Sense Motive +38, Spellcraft +32, Spot +38, Use Magic Device +32 Abjurant Armor +4, Arcane Boost
20 Abjurant Champion 5 +24 +12 +19 +22 Bluff +30, Concentration +27, Diplomacy +33, Hide +25, Knowledge (Arcana) +31, Knowledge (Local) +25, Knowledge (Planes) +20, Knowledge (Religion) +25, Listen +38, Sense Motive +38, Spellcraft +33, Spot +38, Use Magic Device +32 Versatile Spellcaster Abjurant Armor +5, Swift Abjuration (3rd), Martial Arcanist

Spoiler: Spells & SLAs
Sorcerer Spells per Day
CR 0lvl 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th
15th 6 9 8 6 - - -
16th 6 9 9 7 5 - -
17th 6 9 9 8 6 - -
18th 6 9 9 8 7 5 -
19th 6 9 9 8 8 6 -
20th 6 9 9 8 8 7 5

Sorcerer Spells Known:
CR Spells Known Max. Spell Level
15 7/5/3/2 3rd
16 8/5/3/2/1 4th
17 8/5/4/3/2 4th
18 9/5/4/3/2/1 5th
19 9/5/5/4/3/2 5th
20 9/5/5/4/3/2/1 6th

0th level – dancing lights, detect magic, caltrops, launch item, mending, message, prestidigitation, ghost sound, arcane mark
1st level - blood wind, master's touch, mage armor, nerveskitter, quickened extended shield
2nd level - create magic tattoo, quickened extended scintillating scales, wings of cover, glitterdust, invisibility
3rd level - arms of plenty, girallon's blessing, quickened extended nondetection, haste
4th level - quickened extended otiluke's suppressing field, spell enhancer, celerity
5th level - arcane fusion, permanency
6th level - extended greater dispel magic

(Spells are organized alphabetically and by order of acquisition; they also include metamagic tags from Abjurant Champion where applicable)

Spell-Like Abilities (CL 19th):
3/day - mirror image
2/day - dimension door

Spoiler: Hecate's Gamepieces
Before getting into either of the build snapshots, it's critical to discuss Hecate's most important asset and ultimately her whole motivation: her spawn. Although she is technically a dragon, the Black Queen works much better across the span of an entire campaign as a chessmaster style villain, lurking in the darkness and using all of the pieces on her side of the board. The chess motif works best when one is considering her various on-theme drain abilities used to create servants to enact her will.

Hecate's servants can be qualified into four groups. First off, there are her pawns that she creates using her Charm and Dominate abilities. These are living creatures (and not just humanoids either, as both are explicitly Charm/Dominate Monster effects at CL 18th) that she has interacted with. Just speaking to any creature can Charm them and looking into her eyes will Dominate them. These pawns can be pretty much anything alive, and on a strategic level a DM should use these as 'soft power'. They aren't really meant to fight PCs - hell, in early levels the PCs might be pawns - but rather give Hecate influence over the affairs of provinces and nations. These pawns are a great way to hook her into the political tapestry of any setting: what if the mayor, city council, or even the generals of a country secretly answer to the Black Queen?

Then we have the knights, her undead foot soldiers that Hecate has direct control over. These would be her Vampires and Vampire Spawn; anyone she has killed with her Energy Drain claws or Blood Drain abilities will come back as one of these. These soldiers play two roles for Hecate. First, they are useful as spies and emissaries, being corporeal agents that she can send to infiltrate living communities and start to secretly convert. Stronger Vampires are also useful in direct confrontation, especially those that gain class levels and have better equipment. It's ultimately up to the DM to flesh out these lieutenants, but for a game starting in the mid levels I would have some of her Vampires as the villains. Give them cool names and personalities as the PCs are forced to fight their way up the 'spawn ladder' to the overarching campaign villain.

After the knights come the bishops: her Spectres and Spectral Creatures. Through the use of the Create Spectral Spawn feat, any creature who is killed by an energy drain ability (which should include her breath weapon as well as her Energy Drain claws, see 'Additional Notes' for more on this) can rise as as a Spectral Creature. Anything other than a humanoid rises as a Spectral Creature, while humanoids just rise as Spectres. In the average campaign setting most people have 3 or less HD, which means it's as easy as visiting a single remote town to amass a few dozen Spectres. Hecate uses these as mobile shock troops, staying underground by day and taking to the skies at night. With an 80 ft flight speed and no need to rest, they can cover a lot of ground and wage brutal Energy Drain guerrilla campaigns.

Finally, we have Hecate's most valuable pieces (besides herself), which are her draconic undead rooks. Through careful ambushes and the use of a spectral air force that drains levels (against the pathetic touch AC of most dragons, incorporeal touch attacks with Energy Drain riders are basically kryptonite), the Black Queen can easily take down weakened adult or younger dragons with her Blood Drain. These would then rise to become either Zombie Dragons or other Vampiric Dragons under her control, both of which she employs as her own personal guard that never leave her side. They are her meat shields and mobile beat-sticks in higher level combats, as she uses them to overpower major threats like PCs as they approach higher levels.

I feel like it's also worth noting that Vampiric Dragons, Vampires, Spectres, and Spectral Creatures also have their own Create Spawn effects that raise perfectly loyal armies of their own as they hit people with Energy Drain and ability drain. This turns Hecate and her spawn into an exponential threat, as her ground and air forces can multiply at alarmingly rapid rates.

But more than the utility and whole bevy of tactical options having an army of spawn offers, I would encourage any DM using her to have this tie into her raison d'etre. As a vampiric dragon, her notion of what is valuable has changed: no longer is her hoard a pile of lifeless rocks and metal. No, to her every soul drained, every new servant added to her roster is another shiny thing she has amassed. In short, her hoard is her collection of undead and living servants. She covets these playthings above all things, and wants to gain as many toys as she can while preserving her existence. This is the true mindset of an immortal undead dragon.

Spoiler: Queen's Gambit (CR 16)
The doors into the inner sanctum - all reinforced noqual well over thirty feet tall - swung open without a sound, and Baron Ebzad was escorted through.

What awaited him beyond the gates was an honour guard beyond the ability of mortals to assemble. The recesses of the hall were filled to the brim with silent dead, bearing arms and armour spanning centuries. Bronze helms in the ancient Terregon style, iron breastplates as were long borne by the Justinians and more than a few longswords of the distinctive Valley make down from the Pillars. Banners from half the continent were stirred by a warm and vaguely noxious breeze, though none stood as tall as that of the Black Queen: ten silver stars on a black background, set in a perfect circle around a bloody crown. Those carrying the latter wore midnight plate, ember eyes visible only through slits in their visors.

By the dread crown you will know her, the old verse went. Her touch is the death of men, her voice the fall of night and she strives doom unto all the world. Villains drew epithets, but none quite as many as the Black Queen. He advanced, all alone surrounded by silence and blasphemy. The very instant he passed the threshold, thousands of dead kneeled in unison.

There had been a single mind at work behind it.

Forcing himself forward, Ebzad could barely stop to gape at the rest of his surroundings. Someone could fit the entire wing of a castle in here. The ceiling stretched at least ninety feet above him, great carved pillars of stone descending like roots to keep the whole place from collapsing. Though most of the walls and ceilings were smooth and unadorned, Ebzad couldn't help but notice the reliefs around the edges of the door and at the bases of the walls. In the glow of the pale mage lights, he could make out scenes of carnage, a great harvesting. He spotted several motifs of a dragon eating the sun, and everywhere he looked there were blank faces carved out of the rock.

No, he realized. Not faces. Death masks, the kind someone might be put in before being buried. And behind each mask, patient eyes followed his footsteps. He tried to count them as he walked forward, but lost count somewhere north of fifty.

A faint stench was wafting from the furthest recesses of the chamber, where steps descended into a pool of suspiciously dark liquid. The surface rippled as something large moved beneath, and he forced himself not to look closer. Though the silent sentinels guarded the chamber, it was bereft of any visible company, yet he knew better than to consider himself alone as he completed his approach. He knew well enough just how outnumbered he was, yet what choice did he have?

There, at the end of the hall, a single platform of jagged stone stood above the pool, upon which rested a dais and a throne of silver and ebony. Every step towards it felt heavier, and at last the Baron fell to his knees in supplication. Pride was of no use here; he had nothing left but concessions.

"Welcome, Honoured Baron of Adrubal," came the sinuous voice from the being that sat upon it, the scales of waiting dusk made flesh gleaming as they moved. "How pleased we are that you have come to your senses. Now, shall we discuss your next declaration of war?"

Though Hecate is playable right from CR 15, I think CR 16 is where her build really takes off in an interesting way. I'll explain why exactly that is below, but I'll start with the setup first.

As mentioned, the Black Queen is a schemer. She'll never fight the PCs on their chosen ground and will always have backup with her. At minimum, she keeps a few other Vampiric Dragons, some Vampires and a squadron of Spectral Creatures along with some living servitors handy for when pesky PCs and other high level threats decide to step to her. Technically this number is arbitrary - she could have as many spawn or servants as needed - but I'd add just enough to make the action economy in her favor rather than the party's. If they bring allies, DMs should adjust her numbers to match.

In a tactical sense, her followers have two main purposes. The first is for them to tangle with the PCs early on, get them committed to a close quarters battle and start draining their resources. Even if the PCs are packing anti-undead measures - which they should be if they're smart - Hecate keeps living pawns around with enough contingency planning that DMs should still be able to keep the players challenged and occupied at least for a round or two. Hecate will remain hidden for the beginning of most fights using Darkstalker and not moving. This ties into her second purpose: observing the field and preparing buffs (see below). Her senses are ridiculously acute, so she watches the PCs to pick her targets. Since she has Permanency, I would suggest for a DM to have had her pick up scrolls of spells like Arcane Sight and/or See Invisibility to include in her stats but it's not strictly necessary.

Once Hecate enters the combat, she's pretty much an Energy Drain nightmare on wings. Vampiric Dragons get around the once per round limitation by placing the penalty as a rider on Hecate's claw attacks. Claws being much easier to get more of than slams, I had her pick up Girallon's Blessing and Arms of Plenty. That's at least 6 primary claw attacks per round (depending on your reading of Girallon's Blessing you might get 8 attacks), each dealing a negative level on top of some already impressive damage and Rend as a nice bonus. With Blood Wind up, she can do a full attack from 20 ft in the air. Because she's also really mean, she has Spell Drain; any prepared casters won't just lose their highest level spell slots, but she'll gain access to them. That means she will prioritize wizards, clerics, archivists, and druids in fights (which honestly is a smart tactic anyway, but the party's casters will learn to fear her when she turns their high level spells against them). What's more, Spell Drain works by RAW on her breath weapon, so if the PCs are tough she will open with a few strafing Flyby Attack runs to hit the whole group with 3 negative levels.

If a DM wants to be really mean, they'd give Hecate a few Draughts of Enervating Breath from Draconomicon to add to her breath weapon. 2d4+3 negative levels in a 40 ft cone would heal Hecate's forces by an average of 25 hp apiece while providing -8 to every meaningful roll and ripping the 8 highest level spells from each PC spellcaster (of which Hecate would gain a total of 10 to use against the party), just generally ruining their players' day.

Now Hecate can do all of the above at 15th level just as effectively. What sets her apart at 16th is access to Otiluke's Suppressing Field, which is of course extended and she will have pre-cast before the battle (it lasts 4.5 hours per casting). Hecate isn't an idiot: she knows that PCs will likely be packing Death Ward effects so she keys the Suppressing Field to the Ectomancy spell subtype (from the Ghostwalk book). Every spell with this descriptor - including Hide from Undead and Astral Projection, another anti-undead buff and high level party tactic, as well as most resurrection magic - is suppressed in a 20 ft emanation around her. This applies equally to armor and items. Soulfire armor? Scarab of Protection? Nuh uh. Mathematically speaking, the Suppressing Field will only have a 40% chance of suppressing Ectomancy spells against what is effectively CL 16, but Hecate can use Flyby Attack to exit and re-enter their areas until enough wards fail. She always stays 20 ft above the ground: this is the perfect range both for the Suppressing Field and for Blood Wind, and gives her room for her cone to still hit multiple PCs.

Once the PCs are stripped of any protection from Energy Drain - or gods help them, if they walk into the fight without negative level protection - they'll get obliterated by the various draining undead mobbing them, followed up by Hecate's breath and then 6 negative levels per round in close combat. They won't be able to run away fast enough!

Spoiler: Sudden Death (CR 20)
Fifteen thousand had stood against the legions dark and darkly led. They taught the Black Queen what kind of people got to grow old in these lands. The first wall they lost on the first day, and retreated after setting the houses aflame. They held the second wall for a week, until the dead sent a flock of winged dragons aflight. Wall by wall they have ground, but never without making the Enemy pay for it.

The longer they held the longer the rest of the northerners had to gather their armies, the longer the civilians of Narhold could flee without pursuit. They fought for a month and seven nights, dying in the snow as a sea of dead lapped at the walls. Hundreds of thousands, centuries of corpses marching to bring death to all the world. In the end it came down to the Old Fortress, the solitary mountain that had been turned into a castle jutting out from the plains. The dead never paused in the assault, never tired: day and night they came in silent assault, the banner of the Black Queen flying tall behind them.

And so the defenders died.

Ground away into nothing by numbers and sorcery their few mages could not match. Dead things that had once been heroes climbed the walls, the sky grew dark with falling of arrows and behind them dragons stolen from the grave spewed out clouds of fire and poison that burned lungs and skin. Less than a thousand of them left now, and most of them wounded. They'd retreated to the Coronet, the very highest point of the fortress that could only be accessed by a few narrow paths filled with murderholes. The dead had been met with streams of burning coals and thrown oil, dwarven engines roaring destruction down passages where there could be had no cover. The vampiric knights pushed through, after the horde withdrew, but they found the passages collapsing beneath them and spiked grids of steel awaiting them when they leapt. Now sorcerers that were little more than fanged skulls pounded away at the defences with foul magics, forcing the defenders to stay behind cover until the next wave of dead was ready for assault. Harald passed through the throng of wounded, clasping shoulders and trading grim boasts with what soldiers her had left.

Old men, old women. The last gasps of their generation, dying sword in hand. His eyes grew cloudy with pride. Death came to all, but tonight they would meet it as Alterians should. Holding the wall in the face of the Enemy, for the sake of all the world. Harald's beard was already flecked with blood, and he dipped out of sight when he felt the cough came. It would not do for his soldiers to know he was dying. The wound he'd taken fighting off two of the spectres to make it through the gap, at a guess. Some manner of life-draining energy, he suspected, though it made no difference. None of them would live to see dawn, replenished or not. He wiped his lips clean of blood and returned to the battlements after the cough had passed. The pounding had stopped, he immediately noticed. The assault was coming. Captain Heiserech sought him out, her worn face quivering.

"Commander," she saluted. "At first I thought that the dead had sent an emissary... but it's her."

"Is it now?" Harald grinned despite himself. "Well, let us see what the Black Queen has to say."

Maybe he'd ask for surrender. His people could certainly use the laugh.

Prince Harald strode to the very edge of the battlements, where the passages had been broken, and found a horror awaiting on the other side of the drop. The Black Queen was coiled malice, all sharp edges and razor wings. She stood at least twice as tall as a horse, and nearly double that in length. Quite small, for one of her kin, but the world had paid for underestimating her size. She flicked her tail back and forth as she recognized him.

"A princeling," the Black Queen mildly said. "We should have known. Your entire line is like a nail that refuses to be hammered."

Harald could not deny the stab of pride he felt at that. He was dying, but he would stand straight in the face of the Enemy. Even if his lungs throbbed with pain.

"In the name of Alterian Empire and the Justinian Crown, I bid you to crawl back into the hole that spawned you," Harald said. "And to take your horde of damned with you, old thing."

"You know we rather like this city," the Black Queen said. "You made it very difficult to take. We may yet build a summer palace here."

"And when we chase you back into the dark, claiming it back, we'll raise an eighth wall," the prince replied with bared teeth. "On it will be written: here lie those who broke the back of the Enemy and stand those who will again."

"You fought well," the dead dragon said. "And so were owed the courtesy of this conversation. Should your soldiers wish to take their own lives instead of having them taken, we will allow them the right."

"So that we may rise whole in your service?" he laughed. "I think not. We'll burn, and you with us."

"Once wolves," the Black Queen said, almost fondly, "always wolves. What soldiers you would have made, under our banner. Die proud, then, Justinian. You were an irritation until the end."

The aging soldier smiled.

"My cousins be waiting for you at the passes, Black Queen," he promised. "With a proper royal welcome."

"We would expect no less," she replied.

He turned his back on the Enemy and returned to stand with the last of his soldiers.

When the light of day found Narhold, not a single living soul remained.

At 20th level, Hecate should have clashed with the PCs personally once or twice. She knows some of their tricks, and they know some of hers. Most of what she did at CR 16 she is still doing: bringing varieties of level appropriate spawn to the fight, preparing with her buffs, using the Suppressing Field and Flyby Attack before committing on a weakened opponent with a slew of Blood Wind claw attacks to drain them to death. Of course, she is quite capable of adjusting some of her tactics to match and counter whatever the party brings to the table. Feel free to tailor her spells known to match the exact party composition, but I chose spells that would allow her to pre-empt most enemy action.

The spells in question are, of course, Greater Dispel Magic, Arcane Fusion, and Celerity. These spells all work together to make the most of Hecate's Immediate Action economy. Where before she was holding that in reserve for Swift Action buffing, now she might need to go more on the defensive against 9th level spells. As she doesn't have any herself, she will likely be forced to burn Celerity into Greater Dispel to counterspell any Wishes or Miracles used against her side of the field and then relying on her spawn to screen her while she takes a 6 second nap. While I could have made her immune to Daze, honestly, I don't want to break Celerity that badly; the idea that the boss shuts down the first 9th level spell, but it costs her a whole round of combat would make for a really cool story that your players are guaranteed to talk about later. It shows off her awesome power while still giving the players a small victory to capitalize on. Hecate will also liberally use Greater Dispel to get rid of any negative protections that aren't Death Ward such as Sheltered Vitality. Versatile Spellcaster will help keep her going in fights to keep those 6th level slots coming.

Hecate's other major benefit at CR 20 is Martial Arcanist. Where before she lagged behind the PCs' CL a little bit, now she's jumped ahead to a base CL of 24. With Create Magic Tattoo and Spell Enhancer, the effective caster level DC for the PCs to beat her Suppressing Field is a 38. The PCs have gone from a 60% chance to beat the field to a measly 10% chance. Safe to say that the odds aren't looking too good for them now.

Finally, Hecate has picked up the Life Drain feat and the Haste spell. Haste gives her an extra attack (so 7 negative levels on a full attack routine, which is still enough to absolutely cripple a single PC), and Life Drain means that Hecate deals an extra 10 damage per negative level inflicted. Just like with Spell Drain, this feat isn't tied specifically to her claws so she can use it on her breath as well. Hecate also gains an extra 10 hp per negative level bestowed in the form of temp hp. While they won't stack, it will effectively refill every turn as long as she's draining something so it stacks quite nicely with her Fast Healing and other defences (it only works per instance of negative levels so the best she could do would be 30 temp hp with her breath, or 80 if she got an Enervating Draught).

Spoiler: Additional Notes
Spoiler: Legality Clarifications
There are two things to address here about the build as it stands before any judges decide to hit it with an Elegance penalty for illegality: the use of the Master's Touch spell to qualify for Abjurant Champion's martial weapon proficiency pre-req and the application of Create Spectral Spawn to Hecate's breath weapon.

I'll start with the spell. In the DMG (pg 176), all that it says about taking a PrC is that "Unlike the basic classes, characters must meet requirements before they can take their first level of a prestige class. The rules for level advancement apply to this system, meaning the first step of advancement is always choosing a class." So as long as Hecate is casting Master's Touch to pick up proficiency in, say, a longsword, then she can take that first level in Abjurant Champion. This thread does a much more eloquent job of arguing on behalf of Master's Touch being a valid way to enter the class right away. Once in the class, Hecate will unfortunately need to keep casting Master's Touch to advance or benefit from its features as per the 3.5 FAQ, but it's a Swift Action cast and lasts for a while so she should have no trouble casting it between fights.

The second potential issue to address is the Create Spectral Spawn feat. This feat is found in the Web Enhancement article for Dragons of Faerun, and it reads thusly:

Quote Originally Posted by Create Spectral Spawn
You have the ability to create undead spawn with ties to the Plane of Shadow with your energy drain ability.
Prerequisite: Energy Drain special ability.
Benefits: Creatures slain with your energy drain ability arise as spawn under your control with the spectral creature template. They remain under your control until your death.
There is no question that Hecate qualifies for the feat by RAW through the Energy Drain claw ability she gets as a Vampiric Dragon. It stands to reason that she can choose to raise anyone she kills with her claws as either a Vampire Spawn or a Spectral Creature. However, I would also argue for the sake of my build that this feat should apply to her Breath Weapon. While it does not technically have the name Energy Drain, there are several pieces of key evidence to support the legality of this. The first is that in the Spectral Creature template (found in Dragons of Faerun), there is a line that states "Spectral creatures are commonly encountered in Chaulssin, City of Wyrmshadows. Shadow dragons and their progeny have transformed many former denizens of that subterranean city into spectral creatures". This to me clearly implies that any Shadow Dragon can take the feat. If that isn't convincing enough, in the same Web Enhancement where the Create Spectral Spawn feat is from there is a stat block of a Dragon type creature that actually includes the feat (pg 18) without any other forms of Energy Drain.

Now onto some adaptations and musings on alternative builds!

Spoiler: Adaptations
When I first came up with the idea for Hecate, she was much more of an ambusher and struck more from the shadows. Though I had to drop some of that to make room for Abjurant Champion and all of the energy drain rider effects, at its bones the build can be retrofit to work as a sneaky AoE monster. Certain items such as a Collar of Umbral Metamorphosis for HiPS would go a long way to making this character a brutal and highly mobile sneaky debuffer. Honestly if items were more liberally allowed in this competition, I might have changed up the build to go that way; I would have taken Strafing Breath and/or Enlarge Breath to drop huge fields of negative levels to entire towns (while swooping down to 20 ft from clerics to hit them with the Suppressing Field). One last addition - assuming that the table permits the odd spell from DragMag - would be the Fly Like An Arrow spell from Dragon 308 to get Hecate up to a 1500 flight speed. Imagine a B2 stealth bomber, but instead of a regular payload the ordinance is negative levels!

As she is, Hecate could definitely make use of some more sophisticated magic items. In her write up I assumed that certain basic spell scrolls or wands would be available in the world with attached core spells like Arcane Sight, See Invisibility, or Greater Magic Fang, but beyond that she could use some treasure from her hoard to make PCs' lives even more of a nightmare. Even if she got half of a PC's effective WBL, she would 100% boost her DCs with Charisma enhancement items and get things like a Ring of Spell-Battle to help her out against enemy casters. She would also prioritize general high level must-haves like a Belt of Battle to help with initiative and optimizing her action economy.

Finally (and I wouldn't be a self-respecting builder if I didn't go here) there are a few more Feats I would've picked up through the use of a few Flaws. Namely, I would have gone for a Widen Spell + Arcane Thesis on Otiluke's Suppressing Field. Another +2 CL and an extra 20 ft radius on the spell would go a long way to making it more effective for both Hecate and her minions to whittle away all the pesky PCs' levels down to nothing. Another way to go would be to drop Darkstalker in favor of Iron Will and use the flaw to pick up Reserves of Strength to boost her Otiluke's Suppressing Field and Nondetection spells even further. Travel Devotion would also work to give her a pseudo-pounce to start a fight, but as she lacks turning attempts it would be a once per day type thing.

Spoiler: Sources List
Core / Epic - Vampires, Core Feats & Spells
Complete Mage - Abjurant Champion, Otiluke's Suppressing Field
Draconomicon - Shadow Dragon, Vampiric Dragon, Blood Wind
Dragons of Eberron - Loredrake Sovereign Archetype
Dragons of Faerun (& Web Enhancement) – Create Spectral Spawn, Spectral Creature
Ghostwalk - Ectomancy spell descriptor
Libris Mortis - Improved Energy Drain, Spell Drain, Life Drain
Lords of Madness - Arms of Plenty, Darkstalker
Races of the Dragon - Versatile Spellcaster, Wings of Cover
Spell Compendium - Girallon's Blessing, Master's Touch, Nerveskitter, Scintillating Scales