D&D 5E Epic Monsters: Green Knight

Don’t lose your head over it, but today Epic Monsters is going after the most verdant member of the Knights of the Round Table: the Green Knight!

Green Knight DnD 5e BANNER.png

His name sometimes changes depending on the story (along with a few other details), but they all establish the Green Knight as a central character to the Arthurian myths, a teacher of sacred things and tester of other Knights of the Round Table. During a Christmas feast he appears and challenges the court to a beheading game: strike him once with his axe, and a year later he’ll return the strike. King Arthur volunteers but Gawain insists otherwise then decapitates the Green Knight—who picks up his own head, puts it back on, and promises to meet again at the Green Chapel in a year’s time.

Their next meeting is sooner than Gawain realizes however as his host on the way to the declared site (Bertilak de Hautedesert) is actually the Green Knight. Gawain’s chastity and loyalty are tested while in Bertilak’s castle, resisting the seductions of his wife, and the warrior agrees to exchange prizes from hunting in the area nearby. When New Year’s Day arrives Gawain goes to the Green Chapel to honorably suffer what was promised—and the Green Knight spares Gawain three times before revealing his other identity.

This is also when he relates other information that changes based on the specific retelling (that he was sent by Morgan le Fay, or by his mother-in-law). One of the more interesting tales has him helping King Arthur fight a sprite loose in the castle, using a scroll of some kind to take control of it and send it back to attack its conjurer (King Cornwall).

Design Notes: Let’s review the design goals here: a knight that can flawlessly present himself as a different person, little bit of divine scroll capability, axe that decapitates people, and unphased by having his own head cut off. Done and done—let’s do the numbers! Surprisingly the Green Knight scored highly both on the DMG (8.33) and the Blog of Holding (8.8333), averaging out comfortably at Challenge Rating 8.

Green Knight​

Medium humanoid, lawful neutral
Armor Class 18 (plate)
Hit Points 102 (12d8+48)
Speed 30 ft.
18 (+4)​
11 (+0)​
19 (+4)​
11 (+0)​
14 (+2)​
15 (+2)​
Saving Throws Con +7, Wis +5
Skills Deception +8, Insight +5, Perception +5, Persuasion +5, Religion +6
Condition Immunities charmed, frightened
Senses blindsight 30 ft., passive Perception 15
Languages English
Challenge 8 (3,900 XP)

False Identity. The Green Knight can remove his armor and assume his other identity as Bertilak de Hautedesert, gaining advantage on Charisma (Deception) checks made to conceal that he is the Green Knight.

Headless. The Green Knight can survive without his head.

Regeneration. The Green Knight regains 10 hit points at the start of his turn if he has at least 1 hit point.

Relic Worker. The Green Knight has advantage on Intelligence (Religion) checks made to interpret spell scrolls, and can use any divine spell scroll.

Multiattack. The Green Knight attacks three times with his greataxe or handaxes.

Green Greataxe. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 10 (1d12+4) magical slashing damage. When the Green Knight scores a critical hit against a creature that has at least one head, the creature makes a DC 15 Strength saving throw or he cuts off one of its heads. The creature dies if it can't survive without the lost head. A creature is immune to this effect if it is immune to slashing damage, doesn't have or need a head, has legendary actions, or the GM decides that the creature is too big for its head to be cut off with this weapon. Such a creature instead takes an extra 30 slashing damage from the hit.

Handaxes (3). Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 20/60 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d6+4) slashing damage.

Heavy Crossbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, range 100/400 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d10) piercing damage.

Parry. The Green Knight adds 3 to his AC against one melee attack that would hit him. To do so, the Green Knight must see the attacker and be wielding a melee weapon.

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Mike Myler

Mike Myler


I'm missing the mythical elements in this. There's a reason why the Green Knight is in fact green, and why he first appears at Christmas (or New Year): he's a symbol of Nature's death and rebirth during winter. There's also a reason why it's Gawain who takes up the challenge: he's a symbol of the Sun, growing stronger until midday and then gradually weakening during the afternoon.

(Arguably, if Gawain had found the Green Knight during the summer, he himself would have been stronger and the Green Knight would have been harmless.)


Some Green Knight trivia, this tale may have come from Islamic sources:

“Some scholars suggest that al-Khiḍr is also represented in the Arthurian tale Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as the Green Knight. In the story, the Green Knight tempts the faith of Sir Gawain three times. The character of al-Khiḍr may have come into European literature through the mixing of cultures during the Crusades” -Wikipedia


Does he? As far as I recall, the test is all about honour -- and related to that, courage -- not faith. Will Gawain show up to have his head chopped off? That's a big one: whether he has the honour and courage to fulfil his end of the deal, even though no-one would blame him for backing out when he learns that the Green Knight is a supernatural/enchanted being.

But the actual test is with Bertilac's wife. For three days, Bertilac goes hunting and Gawain stays in his castle, and they agree to give each other whatever they acquire during the day. So the first day Bertilac gives Gawain what he brings home from the hunt, and Gawain gives Bertilac a kiss (having fended off Lady Bertilac's advances except one kiss). Second day it's the same. The third day, Lady Bertilac gives Gawain a girdle that will make him invulnerable. So where Gawain fails the test is in not giving that girdle to Bertilac. (And the poem ties this in with the founding of the Order of the Garter, I seem to remember -- again, honour, not faith.)

It still takes courage to go and meet the Green Knight though. It's one thing to accept a girdle that will supposedly help you survive, it's quite another to actually sit there and wait while a giant swings his axe at you (another quibble: in the write-up, the Green Knight is a medium humanoid, but as far as I recall he's supposed to be larger than man-sized). Gawain passes this test, and the verdict is that he's as honourable and courageous as it's possible for a human to be in the face of the supernatural. It's one of the reasons why Sir Gawain and the Green Knight remains popular: it portrays Gawain as a flawed, more human hero than you usually see in Medieval Romance.

(There's a mention of Gawain having a portrait of Mary on the inside of his shield, so there's a case to be made that he draws his courage from his faith in her, but I don't remember anything else that can be described as a test of faith.)

Disclaimer: I studied Middle English poetry at length in uni, but that's 25+ years ago. I might be misremembering some of the details.

Mike Myler

Have you been to LevelUp5E.com yet?
I don't remember anything from my reading that led me to believe this fella is fey. Hanging with fey maybe, or taking a page out of their book possibly, but nothing directly related to aos si (which would definitely be mentioned if that was in play, and the fact that it wasn't felt pretty purposeful). The big tell for me was using a scroll to manipulate a fey—if dude was fey he'd have traded something, or persuaded it, or tricked it, not pick up some divine scripture and use that to bind the sprite's will.

He isn't human. He isn't bound by physical laws, he appears from nowhere with no history, he vanishes without trace. He can change his appearance. He is neither Good nor Evil, but he has close ties to the natural world and the seasons. He arises from the point where Christianity overlaps with paganism, and has connections to figures like The Green Man and Herne the Hunter.

NB, my main sources where Tolkien and the Simon Armitage retelling.

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