Arkhan is a heavily muscled, red-scaled dragonborn who is nearly seven feet tall.
Around his neck he wears a loop of golden thorns inset with dozens of gems, representing each of the chromatic dragon colors. It is an exalted Vestige of Divergence called the Wreath of the Prism and grants him control over powerful beasts and monstrosities. The Wreath causes his eyes to have a greenish-yellow color with more pronounced black slits than they had before.
His holy symbol is an amulet adorned with the five-headed dragon sigil of Tiamat built into the chest plate of his heavy armor. This same symbol is emblazoned on the front of his magic shield.
He wears a suit of jagged, spiked, obsidian-metal plate armor with green dragon scales embedded throughout the main plates. He carries Fane-Eater, a magical battleaxe carved from deep cerulean sapphire and adorned with numerous runic sigils.
Arkhan views the Lord of the Hells as a nefarious deity who has messed with the flow of the cosmos and time. He believes that by freeing the Scaled Tyrant, she would restore balance by destroying the universe that the Lord of the Hells has been manipulating.
Arkhan is a seasoned adventurer, and he works well in groups (as evidenced by his past adventures with the various members of Vox Machina). In Avernus, he is a highly charismatic leader of an entire army of dragons, dragon-worshipers, and undead. Even some Warlocks have taken Arkhan as their Otherworldly Patron.
Arkhan was a former hired killer who was imprisoned and nearly beaten to death in an attempted forced conversion by a religious cult. Arkhan was able to break his chains and murder his captors, aided by visions and power granted to him by the five headed chromatic dragon goddess, Tiamat. Thus, the (third level) Paladin chose to become an Oathbreaker and took up worship of the Scaled Tyrant.
Tiamat sent visions of a locked-away loop of golden thorns and gems to Arkhan in his dreams, so he spent months of frustrating research seeking it out until finally coming across a monk of the Cobalt Soul named Duan[spelling?] who had the knowledge he needed. He hired a group of mercenaries—Keyleth, Percival de Rolo, the Headmistress, and Dupont Dupont—to help him delve into the Vault of Shumas. They encountered and killed a few yuan-ti guarding the temple. Arkhan then barely took control of the undead caregiver there, and commanded her to show him to the artifact. She brought forth a manticore, who (following the caregiver's lead) willingly relinquished the Wreath of the Prism on its neck. When Arkhan put the loop around his own neck, the thorns suddenly jutted deep into his neck and dealt him piercing damage, changed the appearance of his eyes, and changed his vision so that colors were more vibrant and he could see the heat of others' bodies. He then was able to command the manticore.
A few years later, Vander, a high elf Arkhan considered to be "the closest thing he'd ever had to a brother," was burned to death in an attack by Vecna's death knight aided by Delilah Briarwood. This ambush also led to someone cutting out the still beating heart of a goliath companion of Arkhan's.
"The Final Ascent" (1x113)
While attempting to wrestle a gloomstalker to the ground, Arkhan stumbled into a building where Vox Machina were hiding. With the aid of Vex'ahlia and Grog, Arkhan used the Wreath of the Prism to take control of the gloomstalker he dubbed “They,” thus turning it into his attuned mount.
Afterward, he and Vox Machina struck a deal. If Vox Machina could look past the religious differences between their good-natured gods and Arkhan’s Queen of Darkness, Tiamat, and help Arkhan get revenge on the death knight, then he would in turn join them and “fight for their lives with the fury of a man who was already dead.” The group unanimously agreed and soon after put Grog and Arkhan into position to destroy an outer sigil protecting Thar Amphala.
This unfortunately attracted the attention of Sylas and Delilah, riding atop a now undead Obatalá. Arkhan and Vox Machina managed to defeat Delilah (which ended the force reanimating Obatalá), but Sylas escaped. Arkhan then took a bit of revenge by animating Delilah's corpse into his own undead puppet.
Inside the tower of Entropis, Arkhan encountered a reanimated Vander and successfully channeled the power of Tiamat to use Control Undead on his former companion. Further up the tower, had it not been for a “lucky” natural 1, Arkhan would have beheaded Shaun Gilmore due to a trick by Vecna.
Vox Machina’s moment of relief was interrupted when Vecna’s death knight caught up to the group. A revenge-fueled Arkhan chose to stay behind and sacrifice himself by holding the knight back with his two undead minions while Vox Machina continued on to confront Vecna himself.
"Vecna, the Ascended" (1x114)
Arkhan defeated the death knight and rejoined Vox Machina late in their battle with Vecna. He made a dramatic entrance by tossing the severed head of Delilah Briarwood and the death knight’s helmet into the crevasse below. Having used a magical potion of flying to manifest a faint pair of shimmering, chromatically-shifting dragon wings, he flew up into the fight and added key support by using the last of his Divine Smites to deal 135 points of damage in a single round and then breaking Vecna’s spell concentration at a key moment in the battle, returning a banished Grog and Scanlan to the Prime Material Plane. Eventually Arkhan and Vox Machina managed to defeat Vecna using the Divine Trammels and the Tome of Isolation. Vecna imploded leaving behind no trace save for his weaponized hand.
Then, with the support of Vox Machina, Arkhan said it was time to destroy the Hand of Vecna for good. He raised his magical battle-axe Fane-Eater above his head and whispered a prayer to his goddess Tiamat, but instead of swinging the axe down onto Vecna’s hand, Arkhan chopped off his own hand at the wrist. In the wake of Vox Machina’s shock, he attached the Hand of Vecna to himself, healed himself, and then Teleported out, claiming it was "just business". His whereabouts at the time were unknown. Joe Manganiello later revealed at D&D Live 2019 that Arkhan had Teleported to a rendezvous point to meet Krull, one of his military advisors, who Plane Shifted them both to Avernus: the first of the Nine Hells.
Arkhan briefly adventured with Percy and Keyleth several years before they encountered each other again in Thar Amphala. After receiving the mental image of a golden jeweled artifact during a dream provided to him by Tiamat, Arkhan ventured into the corrupted Vault of Shumas with Percival and Keyleth where they battled several yuan-ti before coming face to face with the temple’s spectral guardian. Arkhan took control of the ghost using his Control Undead ability and therefore gained control of the temple’s boss, a manticore named Changó. Wrapped around the manticore’s neck was the same golden jeweled treasure he saw in his dream, the Wreath of the Prism.
Vander, a high elf ranger, was a companion of Arkhan's and the closest thing he had ever had to a brother. Vander was incinerated by Vecna’s death knight during an excursion into Thar Amphala. Later, when Arkhan was traveling with Vox Machina, they encountered Vander's reanimated corpse inside the tower of Entropis. Arkhan used Control Undead to take control of Vander's corpse and bring him to the top of the tower with him. Zombie Vander was killed while assisting Arkhan during his battle with Vecna’s death knight.
Grubby, a gnome wizard, was another of Arkhan's companions who was killed and reanimated by Vecna. Arkhan briefly recognized Grubby's zombified corpse before it was destroyed by Pike in Entropis.
Arkhan’s fealty to Tiamat was a conflict with Vox Machina when they met, but their goals seemed temporarily in alignment. Arkhan joined Vox Machina and assisted them in the final slaying of Delilah Briarwood and her undead dragon before singlehandedly holding off the death knight with his two zombie minions so that Vox Machina could get the jump on Vecna. He defeated the death knight and rejoined the group, ultimately helping them to rid the Prime Material Plane of Vecna. Once Vecna was defeated, Arkhan tricked Vox Machina into believing he was going to destroy the Hand of Vecna once and for all. Instead, he cut off his own hand and used the last of his Lay on Hands pool to reattach Vecna’s Hand to himself before teleporting out, claiming this betrayal was "just business” and in no way reflected his personal feelings about the group.
As an Oathbreaker paladin, Arkhan is required to be evil, and "[w]hatever light burns in [his] heart has been extinguished. Only darkness remains." In exchange, he has immense power to control and raise undead creatures; the ability to frighten other creatures; and a +4 bonus to melee attack damage.
Arkhan multiclassed as a barbarian, granting him the ability to go into a frenzied, reckless rage.
Arkhan now wields The Hand of Vecna.
- Draconic Ancestry (Red)
- Breath Weapon (Fire)
- Damage Resistance (Fire)
- Aura of Courage
- Aura of Protection
- Cleansing Touch
- Divine Sense
- Divine Smite
- Extra Attack
- Fighting Style
- Improved Divine Smite
- Lay on Hands (70 points)
- Aura of Hate
- Channel Divinity
- Control Undead
- Dreadful Aspect
- Oathbreaker spells
- Spellcasting (Charisma-based ability)
Arkhan has access to the following spells, which do not count against the number of spells he can prepare.
- Hellish Rebuke
- Inflict Wounds
- Crown of Madness
- Animate Dead
- Bestow Curse
Arkhan has access to paladin spells up to 4th-level. As a 14th-level paladin, he can prepare up to 11 spells per day.
- Death Ward
- Danger Sense
- Primal Path: Path of the Berserker
- Reckless Attack
- Unarmored Defense
- Obsidian Flint Dragon Plate +2: You gain poison resistance. The bladed and jagged nature of this armor grants the wearer advantage to break non-magical grapples.
- Wreath of the Prism
- Hand of Vecna
Appearances and mentions
- Campaign One
- "Don't hurt him!" – To Vax, trying to wave him off as he tried to subdue a gloomstalker using the Wreath of the Prism.
- "I'm sorry, it was just business. Until we meet again..." – To Vox Machina after chopping off his own hand, replacing it with the Hand of Vecna, and before using it to Teleport away.
- Joe Manganiello revealed Arkhan's motivations and epilogue at "D&D Live 2019: The Descent". From Arkhan's point of view, his actions had been "altruistic". Arkhan had taken and attached the Hand of Vecna in the hopes to use such a powerful magic item to free his deity, the Scaled Tyrant, from her prison in Avernus (first of the Nine Hells). With the Hand in his possession, he Teleported to his keep in Avernus. As of May 17, 2019 (roughly the 63rd episode of Campaign 2), Arkhan is still in Avernus, trying to unlock the power of the Hand of Vecna and the Whispered One's ability to teleport entire cities across planes, so that the Scaled Tyrant will be free to destroy and enslave the planes of existence.
- When Adam Lee of the D&D creative team learned about this, Adam revealed that the upcoming D&D adventure takes place in Avernus ("The Descent into Avernus"). Joe sent "books of material" to Adam, so Arkhan was added to the adventure (and thus, Forgotten Realms lore) as a canon NPC. This Arkhan is a general of Tiamat, in command of an entire army of dragons and dragon-worshipers, including his chief military advisors: Torogar Steelfist (a minotaur Brute Fighter, who Joe previously played on the Stream of Many Eyes in 2018) and Krull (a tortle Death Domain Cleric). Torogar serves as Arkhan's bodyguard, and in Avernus, he rides a motorcycle-like Infernal War Machine. Krull is an evil mastermind who performs magical and alchemical experiments in Arkhan's Tower to benefit his master and his army (such as grinding down unicorn horns to manufacture a concoction that helps Arkhan heal and stave off the necrotic power of the Hand of Vecna).
- Joe has described Arkhan's status in Avernus as being a mixture of the villains Ariakas and Verminaard from the Dragonlance setting of Dungeons & Dragons.
- Arkhan's official title is "Highlord", which is a title for the five draconic generals of the dark goddess Takhisis in the Dragonlance setting of Dungeons & Dragons. It is unknown if there are (or ever were) other Highlords besides Arkhan in Avernus or elsewhere, but given that Joe compared Arkhan to Ariakas (Emperor of the Dragonarmies and second-in-command to Takhisis), it's possible that Arkhan is the Scaled Tyrant's only Highlord, or at least of a superior rank to any other Highlords.
- The spell Teleport can only transport you to a destination on the same plane of existence as you (even if the destination is known to you), so Arkhan arranged to meet with a minion of his elsewhere on the continent of Issylra in the event that Arkhan survived the Battle of Vasselheim and succeeded in Teleporting away with the Hand of Vecna. Joe decided the minion would be a Cleric (since Clerics are one of the few classes able to learn the spell Plane Shift), which provided the beginnings of the character Krull. Upon Arkhan rendezvousing with the tortle Death Domain Cleric, Krull healed Arkhan, fed him a Potion of Vitality (to get rid of the side effects of Arkhan's Barbarian Frenzy), and then Plane Shifted them both into Arkhan's Tower in Avernus.
- Joe revealed that Arkhan was inspired by Conan the Barbarian, Darth Vader, and the Lord of Darkness (from the 1985 dark fantasy film Legend).
- Arkhan has the second highest AC (at 24) of any player character to appear on Critical Role thus far – surpassed only by Zerxus Ilerez's AC of 25.
- Arkhan has the highest character level of all guest characters so far, at 17.
- Arkhan has crossed over into more one-shots than any other character in the series, three, beating Jester by one. In Arkhan's case, Joe Manganiello played him in the episode of CelebriD&D he was featured in, alongside Taliesin Jaffe and Marisha Ray, who played as Percival and Keyleth respectively. Manganiello played as Arkhan again during The Wizards of the Coast's "Stream of Annihilation event, in the Mike Mearls DMed "Tower of the Curator" adventure. Manganiello also plays a 6th level version of Arkhan in season two of Force Grey: Lost City of Omu.
- Vander and Grubby are characters played by Joe's real-life brother and producing partner Nick and by writer/comedian Will Hines, respectively.
- Gale Force Nine supplied Manganiello with a custom Arkhan miniature for him to use during episodes 113 & 114.
- Arkhan is one of the available Champions in the game Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms.
- Arkhan shares his name with the character Arkhan the Black from the Warhammer Fantasy & Age of Sigmar Universe.
- It is unknown which Paladin oath and which deity Arkhan kept before becoming an Oathbreaker at Level 3.
- Arkhan the Cruel set the all time D&D record for points of melee damage inflicted in one round with 323 during the live streamed, Mike Mearls DM'd inaugural "Founders and Legends Day" game celebrating what would have been Gary Gygax's 80th birthday.
- Arkhan is one of two player characters (the other being Dusk) to be a villain in any campaign.
- See "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 54:44.
- See "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 1:00:21.
- See "CelebriD&D with Joe Manganiello" at 52:29.
- Joe Manganiello on stealing the Hand of Vecna by D&D Beyond at 6:01.
- See "CelebriD&D with Joe Manganiello" from the beginning to 1:58.
- The spelling is the same when the identically named region in Marquet is mentioned later. See "The Gates of Zadash" (2x08) at 1:10:46.
- See "CelebriD&D with Joe Manganiello" from 49:16 to 54:00.
- They recognized Arkhan in "The Final Ascent" (1x113), stating the CelbriD&D episode was considered semi-canon.
- See "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 1:09:28.
- See "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 1:41:16.
- See "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 1:10:08.
- D&D Beyond Interview with Joe Manganiello and Chris Perkins. https://youtu.be/TLWsG6a4xqM
- See D&D: Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus, 5th ed., pp. 113–In the adventure, Arkhan is accompanied by the manticore Chango.
- This adventure was played out in an episode of CelebriD&D.
- See "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 4:34:31. Arkan uses his "Divine Sense" ability
- See "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 2:05:11. Arkhan uses his "Divine Smite" ability
- See "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 2:05:22. Joe states that his one-handed battleaxe deals a base 2d8 damage; Fane-Eater does not innately deal an extra d8, so one of these is from Improved Divine Smite
- See "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 3:56:09. Arkhan uses his "Control Undead" ability on Vander
- See "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 3:09:52. Arkhan casts "Animate Dead"
- See "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 3:58:44. Arkhan casts "Death Ward"
- Item cards for Fane-Eater, Obsidian Flint Dragon Plate +2, and Wreath of the Prism (Exalted) were available in Matt's public Dropbox as of 10/3/2017.
- See D&D: Dungeon Master's Guide, 5th ed., p. 224. These properties may not all be canon to Critical Role.
- See "CelebriD&D with Joe Manganiello" at 51:07.
- See "Vecna, the Ascended" (1x114) at 5:32:05.
- Joe Manganiello on stealing the Hand of Vecna by D&D Beyond at 6:42.
- Joe Manganiello on stealing the Hand of Vecna by D&D Beyond at 6:42.
- Joe Manganiello on stealing the Hand of Vecna by D&D Beyond at 4:59.
- See "Vecna, the Ascended" (1x114) at 4:16:29.
- Fan art of Arkhan, by Joma Cueto (source). Used with permission.
- Fan art of Arkhan, by Lady Rossë (source). Used with permission.
- Official art of the Wreath of the Prism, by Irina Nordsol (source). Used DM response with permission.
- Fan art of Arkhan wrestling the gloomstalker, by Lap Pun Cheung (source). Used with permission.
- Fan art of Arkhan with the Hand of Vecna, by Lap Pun Cheung (source). Used with permission.