Monster Optimization: Pimp My Kalarel

by Mike Shea on 23 May 2011

Each version of D&D has a different key villain in my mind when I think about it. For me, 4th edition’s key villain is Kalarel, the Scion of Orcus that first appeared in Keep on the Shadowfell before the core 4e books had even been released. In my own campaign, Kalarel was a serial killer hunting down young girls in his twisted attempt to appease his dark lord. He was a campaign-wide villain, lasting until level 17 when the party killed him near the end of Demon Queen’s Enclave.

A reader recently sent me a note asking how I would rebuild Kalarel today. Given the big changes to monsters since the release of the Monster Manual 3, it is a good time to look at this villain.

I’m lazy, however. I’m not going to be giving you stat blocks of this arch villain. Instead, we’re going to use the great arts of reskinning and level modification to help you get a head start on the Kalarel you need for your own campaign. We’ll look at building four versions of our favorite antagonist, one at level 8, one at level 18, and one at level 25.

Rebuilding the 8th level Kalarel

Even with reduced damage, the original Kalarel was a powerful force. As written in the module, Kalarel faced PCs nearly five levels lower than him. This made him particularly lethal. If you’re running the adventure as written, you probably don’t need to beef up Kalarel’s stat block to keep him as a threat.

If you want to turn on the nightmare mode, however, there’s a simple trick. Use the damage per level charts in the updated Dungeon Master’s Kit or the updated Dungeon Master’s Screen to upgrade his damage. In short, at level 8, Kalarel’s Rod of Ruin and Decaying Ray attacks should do 2d8+7 damage. You might also drop his attack scores by one to put him more in line with other level 8 monsters.

Oh divine art of reskinning

For our level 18 and level 26 versions of Kalarel, we’re going to fall back to my favorite monster building technique, reskinning. I’ve written about reskinning before and showed how you can turn a white dragon into a cyborg assassin, but it is worth looking at again. Reskinning lets you fill out nearly any battle with monsters that fit your story and run as smoothly as you can hope with very little preparation. For our two higher level versions of Kalarel, we’re going to look for appropriately leveled elite controllers in the Monster Manual 3, the Monster Vault, and the Dark Sun Creature Catalog.

Level 18, Kalarel the …. Catoblepas?

Perhaps after his defeat in the Keep on the Shadowfell, our villain found himself in the Shadowfell. After years of brutality and worship to Orcus, Kalarel finds himself once again in charge of Orcus’s dark plans, now taking place in the Shadowfell itself. At level 18, the Catoblepas Tragedian from the Monster Manual 3 is a great creature to reskin into the scion of Orcus. All we have to do is rename some of his powers and hand-wave some other statistical anomalies such as size and we’re all set.

Instead of the Raven Queen’s Presence, it is now the Presence of the Prince of Undeath with the same effect. Instead of Gore, it is a smash with Kalarel’s new magical skull-tipped rod. The poison breath you can turn into Kalarel’s poisonous cloud spell and the withering gaze turns into Kalarel’s Finger of Death. Final Glance becomes Orcus’s Shadow Bond. All of the defenses, all of the effects, all the rest of the stat block should work fine.

Level 25 Kalarel the … Sorcerer King?

Drawn back to Orcus’s citadel, Everlost, deep in the pits of Thanatos, our villain finds himself torn apart by Orcus’s most powerful sorcerers and rebuilt into a shadowy apparition of far greater power.

For our epic-tier Kalarel, we can dig into the wonders of the Dark Sun Creature Catalog into the forbidden pages of the Sorcerer Kings. Andropinis the 25th level elite controller will do very well for us. Again, we merely have to reflavor the attacks to turn this sorcerer king into Orcus’s favorite Exarch. I won’t go through power by power but generally Kalarel’s powers should be those of shadow and necrotic. Andropinis’s psionic attacks can either be converted by keyword or left as-is. The summoning of Legionaire Vestiges also works well in our vision of Kalarel.

What’e left is a Kalarel that your party is sure to remember. Just don’t forget to Protect your Elite Villains!

Re-level to fit using the laws of Perkins

These rebuilds might not be the perfect level for your campaign. This leaves you with a couple of different choices. First, you can find other elite controllers in our three favorite monster books (MM3, Dark Sun Creature Catalog, and Monster Vault) or you can use Chris Perkins’s Instant Monsters to level your monsters up or down. The technique is fairly simple. Add or subtract 1 from each defense, attack, damage score, and 10 hit points (20 for elites) for each level you move your monster up or down. There’s probably better math you can do, but that will work well enough.

What? No Stat Blocks?

I’m hoping to give you something better than a stat block in this article. I’m hoping to give you the ability to relax and free up a lot of your time by using all the stat blocks Wizards has produced to build your own villains in about 30 seconds. Give it a try.

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy the Lazy Dungeon Master. You can also support this site by using these links to purchase the D&D Starter Set, Players Handbook, Monster Manual, or Dungeon Master's Guide. Send feedback to @slyflourish on Twitter or email mike@mikeshea.net.