Pimp My Orcus

by Mike Shea on 29 November 2010

Of all of the creatures in the monster manual 1 most worthy of an update, none needs it more than Orcus, the Prince of Undeath himself. Since the beginning of D&D 4th Edition, there have been three different reprints of Orcus including the Monster Manual 1, the Prince of Undeath adventure module, and the stat card included with the Orcus miniature. None of them, however, are worthy of the might of the most iconic demon prince.

Today we're going to give Orcus what he deserves, a true upgrade. We're going to build two versions of Orcus. A straight level 33 solo brute version of the Prince of Undeath and a highly upgraded "God of Death" version. Both are intended to be very challenging for a group of level 28 to 30 adventurers. While the first version is intended to throw into any high level encounter, the second is built for a very specific encounter and storyline setup, described in the article.

Without further fanfaire, let's start pimping the Prince of Undeath!

Increasing damage output

We'll start by giving Orcus a much-needed damage upgrade. We'll beef up all of Orcus's attacks to Monster Manual 3 levels including his aura which now does 20 necrotic damage and 40 when bloodied. This helps pierce through the inevitable necrotic resistance PCs should have at this point.

We'll get rid of Orcus's burst power and replace it with a wand sweep included in the Empowered Orcus published in Bruce Cordell's E3 module, Prince of Undeath.

Orcus needs a way to threaten ranged attackers so we'll give him a "get over here" style teleport attack. He'll likely use this before using a wand sweep.

We'll keep his touch of death attack and have it recharge when he's bloodied. This seems evil but remember that most epic-tier PCs will have a lot of ways to restore themselves when reduced to zero.

We're also going to beef up his tail lash reaction. Instead of a stun, we'll let him push someone 4 squares, knock them prone, and give them a very nasty ongoing 25 poison damage. We'll make this wand attack both a minor action and a reaction when hit.

Increasing defenses

Like all good solos, we're going to give Orcus a good way to avoid status effects. We'll go pretty basic here with an effect that lets Orcus remove a single status effect at the beginning of his turn and reduce dazes and stuns. This way he doesn't lose entire rounds of actions due to a well placed "unconsious - save ends".

Let's go to the stat block:

Initiative +22

HP 1525; Bloodied 762

AC 47; Fortitude 48; Reflex 43; Will 45

Immune disease, poison, necrotic

Saving Throws +5

Speed 6; fly 10; teleport 6

Action Points 2

Aura of Death; Aura 20

Enemies that enter or start their turns in the aura take 20 necrotic damage (40 necrotic damage while Orcus is bloodied).

The Dead Rise

Aura 6; All squares are difficult terrain. While bloodied, at the end of his turn, Orcus summons one Abyssal Death Ghoul per PC within the aura (Speed 8; 45 AC, 43 other defenses, +35 vs AC; 20 damage and immobilized. When reduced to zero burst 2; +33 vs Fort; 20 damage and target loses necrotic resistance). These ghouls activate at the end of Orcus's turn.

Unholy Resilience

When stunned, the attacker may choose to remove Orcus's move, minor, trigger, or standard action. When dazed, the attacker may choose to remove Orcus's move, minor,or triggered action. Orcus can end one effect on him at the start of his turn.

Wand of Orcus; At-Will

reach 4; +38 vs AC; 4d8+33 and the target is -4 to defenses (save ends).

Touch of Death; Recharge 6; recharges when bloodied.

+36 vs Fort; the target is reduced to 0 hitpoints. Miss, the target takes its bloodied value in necrotic damage.

Wand Sweep; at will

Orcus makes a wand attack against all targets in reach.

Death's Call

Range 20; +36 vs Will; does not provoke OAs; target is teleported to a square adjacent to Orcus.

Tail Lash

reach 5; +36 vs Reflex; 3d10+24 damage and pushed 4 and knocked prone and ongoing 25 poison damage (save ends).

Reactive Tail Lash

when hit with a melee attack; perform one tail lash against the triggering enemy.

Alignment Chaotic evil Languages Abyssal Skills Arcana +28, History +28, Intimidate +31, Religion +28 Str 35 (+28) Dex 22 (+22) Wis 25 (+23) Con 33 (+27) Int 25 (+23) Cha 30 (+26)

Power worthy of a prince

What's left is a powerful version of the Prince of Undeath. In this state he's far more threatening to a group of high-level epic PCs than the original Monster Manual 1. If he's a campaign closer for you, you'd probably want to give him some additional support such some beefed up dread wraiths.

But what if you want something more? Lets upgrade him further to Orcus, God of Death!

The God of Death

So here's the scenario. Orcus has mortally wounded the Raven Queen with a shard of the Heart of the Abyss and is drawing her godly energy into himself. He's also created four sacrificial altars, each of which gives him a powerful protective aura.

The godly energy Orcus draws from the Raven Queen gives him some additional offensive auras as well. If the party rescues the Raven Queen by drawing the shard of the Heart of the Abyss from her, these auras are removed, but the character drawing out the shard is immediately destroyed and sent, without protection, deep into the Far Realm.

Note: This is an extremely challenging encounter built for a group of 30th level PCs with a lot of power on their side. You will want to ensure they have at least a chance of surviving this fight so tune it accordingly before running it.

Defensive altars

The four defensive altars are really intended to keep Orcus going more than just a couple of rounds. A group of level 30 PCs will have so many ways to pile damage onto him that Orcus really needs some protection to keep him from dropping in the first two rounds. These mini skill challenges will keep him up and give your PCs something to fight about.

As I mentioned in my article on the action economy, we need some way to make sure Orcus can react to all of those free attacks epic-tier PCs might get. The fire shield aura meets this action economy by hitting everyone who hits him until that altar is deactivated. The healing, damage resistance, and status effect resistant altars also help protect him, at least for a little while.

Each of the altars has an impaled servant of the Raven Queen that powers the altar's terrible magic. You'll want to scale the effects of these altars to fit your group. As written, these are very challenging. Reduce their amounts across the board to suit the damage output of your group.

To remind yourself and the group of the auras, take some 3x5 cards and write the name of each aura and its effect and throw it down on the battle table so everyone can remember the terrible auras they face.

Because Orcus is so powered up, you probably don't need to add any other monsters but the ghouls he summons.

Initiative +22

HP 1600; Bloodied 800

AC 49; Fortitude 50;Reflex 45; Will 47

Immune disease, poison, necrotic

Saving Throws +5

Speed 6; fly 10; teleport 6

Action Points 2

Aura of Death

Aura 20; All creatures within the aura take 20 necrotic damage, 40 when bloodied.

Aura of Rising Dead

Aura 6; All squares are difficult terrain. While bloodied, at the beginning of his turn, Orcus summons one Abyssal Death Ghoul per PC within the aura (Speed 8; 45 AC, 43 other defenses, +35 vs AC; 20 damage and immobilized. When reduced to zero burst 2; +33 vs Fort; 20 damage and target loses necrotic resistance). These ghouls activate at the end of Orcus's turn.

Aura of Black Shadows: Trigger: When Orcus is below 1200 hitpoints. Requires the dying Raven Queen.

Aura 20; all squares further than 4 squares away from Orcus completely block line of sight. Any creature further than begin or enter a square more than four squares away from Orcus take 30 cold and necrotic damage.

Unholy Aura: Trigger: When Orcus is below 400 hitpoints. Requires the dying Raven Queen.

Aura 20; all creatures receive 1/2 healing from healing effects.

Unholy Resilience

When stunned, the attacker may choose to remove Orcus's move, minor, trigger, or standard action. When dazed, the attacker may choose to remove Orcus's move, minor,or triggered action. Orcus can end one effect on him at the start of his turn.

Wand of Orcus; At-Will

reach 4; +40 vs AC; 4d12+29 and the target is -4 defenses (save ends).

Touch of Death; Recharge 6

+38 vs Fort; the target is reduced to 0 hitpoints. Miss, the target takes its bloodied value in necrotic damage.

Wand Sweep; at will

Orcus makes a wand attack against all enemies within reach.

Death's Call

Range 20; +38 vs Will; does not provoke OAs; target is teleported to a square adjacent to Orcus.

Tail Lash

Reach 5; +38 vs Reflex; 2d12+21 damage and ongoing 25 poison damage (save ends), and slide 5 and knock prone.

Tail Lash

When attacked with a melee or ranged attack; Orcus attacks the triggering attacker with a Tail Lash.

Alignment Chaotic evil Languages Abyssal Skills Arcana +28, History +28, Intimidate +31, Religion +28 Str 35 (+30) Dex 22 (+24) Wis 25 (+25) Con 33 (+29) Int 25 (+24) Cha 30 (+28)

And now the altars. These are very powerful altars so you'll want to ensure your group has a chance to figure out what they do before they burn a bunch of dailies. Give them a chance to restore dailies they spend that would otherwise get completely wasted.

HP 300; Bloodied 150

AC 47; Fortitude 45; Reflex 45; Will 45

Resist cold 30; Vulnerable Fire 20

Armor of Cryomax

While active, Orcus has damage reduction 20.

Disable; Minor action once per round; DC35; or standard action once per round; DC 30 arcana, religion, or heal. Three successes sanctify the altar and saves the servant of the Raven Queen. Each failure results in 25 damage to the PC.

HP 300; Bloodied 150

AC 47; Fortitude 45; Reflex 45; Will 45

Resist fire 30; Vulnerable lightning 20

Touch of Yanceben

When Orcus begins his turn, he heals 100 hit points.

Disable; Minor action once per round; DC35; or standard action once per round; DC 30 arcana, religion, or heal. Three successes sanctify the altar and saves the servant of the Raven Queen. Each failure results in 25 damage to the PC.

HP 300; Bloodied 150

AC 47; Fortitude 45; Reflex 45; Will 45

Resist cold, fire, lighting, poison 30; Vulnerable force 20

Shield of Ogrmoch

While active, for no action, when Orcus is the target of an effect, Orcus immediately make a saving throw against any effect at +7 (including the +5 regular bonus), even if does not normally end with a saving throw. Orcus is further immune to any forced movement or being knocked prone.

Disable; Minor action once per round; DC35; or standard action once per round; DC 30 arcana, religion, or heal. Three successes sanctify the altar and saves the servant of the Raven Queen. Each failure results in 25 damage to the PC.

HP 300; Bloodied 150

AC 47; Fortitude 45; Reflex 45; Will 45

Resist fire 30; Vulnerable cold 20

Aura of Imix

While active, any time Orcus takes damage from an attack, the attacker takes 30 fire damage. This damage penetrates 10 fire resistance.

Disable; Minor action once per round; DC35; or standard action once per round; DC 30 arcana, religion, or heal. Three successes sanctify the altar and saves the servant of the Raven Queen. Each failure results in 25 damage to the PC.

Transference of Death

While active, Orcus gains the Aura of Black Shadows and the Unholy Aura.

During the first three rounds of combat, the shard of the Abyss plunged into the Raven Queen's breast prevents anyone from going within 3 squares. This force begins to weaken each round until on round 3 during Orcus's turn, the force is gone. At this point, any PC can pull the shard free from the Raven Queen but doing so immediately destroys their body and sends their spirit deep into the Far Realm. When this occurs, Orcus immediately takes 400 damage, is -4 to defenses, and loses the Aura of Black Shadows and the Unholy Aura.

So how did it turn out?

This final battle in my ongoing level 1 to 30 campaign served its purpose well. The players found it very challenging and, sometimes, a little frustrating. Our ranger (my wife) lost one of her big spells casting it while he had the Ogremoch aura up so it failed before she could ever see it work and she'd saved it just for this fight. I should have let it recharge.

I had sent this version of Orcus to my friend and excellent game designer Chris Sims who had some suggestions. He wasn't a fan of all the auras and would prefer an Orcus that does more damage himself. Something like the dragon's free attacks in the Monster Vault for example. That probably would have worked pretty well. If Orcus got some no-action attacks at different points in the initiative, it would avoid getting hosed up by status effects.

The Imix fire shield was pretty important. It pushed out a threat every time a PC got a free-action attack which, due to our tactical warlord, was quite often.

This makes for a fine final battle but, at level 30, you'll want to give your group a good chance to try out all their abilities before going into a fight like this. Sometimes they just want to kick some ass.

As mentioned, you'll want to tune these versions of Orcus to fit the group you have but no matter how you run it, Orcus should definitely leave a mark.

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.