A Demonic Success Story
Winner of the often disputed title “Lord of the Undead”, Orcus has been the big bad demon plotting the downfall of life itself since the 1st edition of D&D. Recently demoted somewhat from evil god to demon lord, Orcus is a supremely powerful but potentially defeatable foe for the highest level of D&D adventuring. What’s the best way to topple this unfriendly fiend? How should he be integrated into your campaigns? Make a play for the Wand of Orcus as we go through everything you need to know.
By His Demonic Bootstraps
Orcus didn’t start out a deity or demon lord, he started out as your common garden variety necromancer. We don’t have a lot of the specific history of his time as a mortal, but we know he was into murder and undead magic and presumably did enough wildly evil things to land his soul in the abyss.
All demons in D&D start out this way. Chaotically evil mortal souls damned to the abyss for their life’s transgressions. Each demon starts out as a little useless larva, a maggot with a distorted face resembling the one they had in life. It’s tough being a soul larvae and you’re far more likely to be used as currency or eaten than actually develop into a proper fiend through either spending enough time absorbing the evil energies of the abyss or being purposefully “promoted” to serve as some fiend’s underling.
Orcus worked his way up though, taking the same chaotic routes through the abyss as everybody else, Orcus was just either far more clever or far luckier. Orcus worked up from a soul larva all the way up to a balor, and became a demon lord, ruling over Thanatos, one of the layers of the abyss. Even ascended into evil godhood (and then demoted back to demon lord) he still looks quite a bit like the archetypal balor, red, wings, goat legs, the whole pit-fiend getup.
His actual personality is a sort of mix between evil incarnate and an old man yelling for everybody to get off his lawn. Orcus can’t stand all this noisy disgusting “life” that seems to pervade the multiverse and plots to get rid of it entirely. Orcus want’s a nice quiet universe filled with nothing but him and his undead servants.
Followers of Orcus are usually necromancers, liches, vampires, and everybody else who’s really into the whole undead scene. He tends to grant powers to those evil enough to ensure a good swathe of that nasty “life” stuff will get crushed with it.
The Wand of Orcus
Originally made from the skull of an adventurer that was giving Orcus some trouble, we can’t discuss Orcus without discussing his signature weapon. It’s gone through some redesigns as the editions have passed but it’ll always be very clearly identified as a “super evil magic wand”. Where most demons would fling a big fiery whip or a nasty greatsword, Orcus commands the undead and unleashes the highest-level necromancy spells from his signature wand.
While most demon lords have their signature weapons, the Wand of Orcus is particularly noteworthy due to Orcus’s habit of dropping it into the hands of mortals. True to his chaotic nature, Orcus enjoys passing off his wand to aspiring necromancers and other evil followers just to see what carnage they can reap with it and the undead armies it summons. Once the torches have gone out and the pitchforks are put away, Orcus quietly scoops his wand back up.
Orcus has gone through several levels of divinity, but the one he finds himself at (and for a good chunk of his history) has been that of a demon lord. Demon lords are some of the most powerful beings that exist and are barely a step below deities, but they’re not entirely out of the question for mere mortals like an adventuring party to deal with.
Huge fiend (demon), chaotic evil
Armor Class 17 (Natural Armor), 20 With The Wand Of Orcus
Hit Points 405 (30d12 + 210)
Speed 40 ft., fly 40 ft.
STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
27 (+8)14 (+2)25 (+7) 20 (+5)20 (+5)25 (+7)
Saving Throws Dex +10, Con +15, Wis +13
Skills Arcana +12
Damage Resistances Cold, Fire, Lightning
Damage Immunities Necrotic, Poison; Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing from Nonmagical Attacks
Condition Immunities Charmed, Exhaustion, Frightened, Poisoned
Senses truesight 120 ft., passive Perception 22
Languages All, Telepathy 120 ft.
Challenge 26 (90,000 XP)
Wand of Orcus. The wand has 7 charges, and any of its properties that require a saving throw have a save DC of 18. While holding it, Orcus can use an action to cast animate dead, blight, or speak with dead. Alternatively, he can expend 1 or more of the wand’s charges to cast one of the following spells from it: circle of death (1 charge), finger of death (1 charge), or power word kill (2 charges). The wand regains 1d4 + 3 charges daily at dawn.
While holding the wand, Orcus can use an action to conjure undead creatures whose combined average hit points don’t exceed 500. These undead magically rise up from the ground or otherwise form in unoccupied spaces within 300 feet of Orcus and obey his commands until they are destroyed or until he dismisses them as an action. Once this property of the wand is used, the property can’t be used again until the next dawn.
Innate Spellcasting. Orcus’s spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 23, +15 to hit with spell attacks). He can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components:
At will: chill touch (17th level), detect magic
3/day each: create undead, dispel magic
1/day: time stop
Legendary Resistance (3/Day). If Orcus fails a saving throw, he can choose to succeed instead.
Magic Resistance. Orcus has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.
Magic Weapons. Orcus’s weapon attacks are magical.
Master of Undeath. When Orcus casts animate dead or create undead, he chooses the level at which the spell is cast, and the creatures created by the spells remain under his control indefinitely. Additionally, he can cast create undead even when it isn’t night.
Multiattack. Orcus makes two Wand of Orcus attacks.
Wand of Orcus. Melee Weapon Attack: +19 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 21 (3d8 + 8) bludgeoning damage plus 13 (2d12) necrotic damage.
Tail. Melee Weapon Attack: +16 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 21 (3d8 + 8) piercing damage plus 9 (2d8) poison damage.
Orcus can take 3 legendary actions, choosing from the options below. Only one legendary action option can be used at a time and only at the end of another creature’s turn. Orcus regains spent legendary actions at the start of his turn.
Tail. Orcus makes one tail attack.
A Taste of Undeath. Orcus casts chill touch (17th level).
Creeping Death (Costs 2 Actions). Orcus chooses a point on the ground that he can see within 100 feet of him. A cylinder of swirling necrotic energy 60 feet tall and with a 10-foot radius rises from that point and lasts until the end of Orcus’s next turn. Creatures in that area are vulnerable to necrotic damage.
Using Orcus as a DM
A campaign fighting Orcus or any of his followers is an excellent excuse for tons of undead, cruel necromancy and a touch of fiendish cult goodness. Generally, you’ll want to either make the campaign about stopping/fighting Orcus himself, or about his wand.
Because of Orcus’s propensity for “loaning out” his wand to particularly evil followers, you can use the wand as a central mcguffin that drives the plot forward. Every day the holder of the wand can summon more undead minions, perpetually fueling an ever-expanding army of undeath, play around with it. It also allows you to use the themes and concepts from Orcus’s lore at earlier tiers, since any campaign where you plan to actually fight Orcus will need to be tier 4, most likely as a final fight at level 20.
As for an actual Orcus fight, you have a good amount of wiggle room regarding the fight’s difficulty depending on what you have Orcus summon using the wand. Orcus gets 500 hit points worth of undead to fight alongside him, and that’s assuming you start in an empty room with nothing but the party and Orcus. If you’re feeling kind, Orcus can just summon 20 or so standard zombies or skeletons that the players can weed out with a good fireball or two. The nasty option is to summon 3 liches, which are CR 21 monsters themselves, with enough change for some zombie backup. Death Knights are another nasty option, as are 8 banshees, which by combining their 1/day wails will ensure that the players start the combat off by taking 24d6 irresistible psychic damage, each. Use your choice of summons to dial in the difficulty you’re looking for, using the liches as the “strongest” options, and plain zombies as the “weakest”.
Other than the undead summons shenanigans, Orcus relies on some really powerful spells, like time stop, finger of death, and power word kill. Even a full party of 20th level adventurers is likely to lose a bunch of members when fighting Orcus, if not a TPK. If you want your players to have any chance of survival, consider giving them some powerful anti-magic items, if they don’t have any already. One untimely casting of power word kill can simply delete a player.
Orcus is one of the most powerful enemies it’s possible to fight in D&D but he’s not unbeatable. Assuming you and your party are 20th level (because only a truly sadistic DM would have you face him at a lower level) you have a decent chance of bringing the old demon down.
Your first priority should be getting the damn wand. It’ll be difficult, but if you manage to separate Orcus from his wand, he’ll be WAY easier to defeat. I’ve figured out 2 solid methods to get that thing out of Orcus’s hands:
- Disarm. If you manage to get into melee with Orcus he’ll only have a +8 bonus to the disarm check needed to knock an item out of his hands, something a 20th level barbarian or fighter should be able to beat. This relies on actually getting into range of him in the early rounds though, and you’ll likely need another player to actually grab it after the disarm.
- Telekinesis. The spell telekinesis is available to sorcerers, wizards, and warlocks of the great old one. It’ll allow you as a caster to make long range contested checks to magically yank the wand out of his hands. You’re not casting a spell on him, so his magical resistance won’t work, it’ll just be straight roll offs, and ones you’re likely to win at that.
Once you get the wand, you’ll need to get it far away. Any sort of far distance teleportation or plane shifting spell will work, just get it out of the immediate area. Orcus doesn’t have any innate plane shifting or teleportation powers, so unless he’s already summoned liches to do it for him, he won’t be able to recover his wand during the fight. If he did summon liches, try to finish them off before disappearing the wand, or else you risk the liches simply dipping out for a round to retrieve their master’s weapon.
Without that wand, Orcus has a much lower AC, no access to his usual powerful complement of spells, and will be forced to rely on his creeping death ability combined with a simple chill touch cantrip and a tail attack. While he’ll still be a threat (especially if he went with some powerful undead minions), he shouldn’t be anything a 20th level party can’t handle. Good luck!
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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