Guest player character
Official art of Arkhan, by Kit Buss.[art 1]
Basic information
ActorJoe Manganiello
RaceRed dragonborn (Draconblood)
Biographical information
Full nameArkhan
LanguagesCommon, Draconic
StatusAlive (in 812 PD)
Mechanical information
Creature typeHumanoid
  • Good (formerly)[1]
  • Neutral evil[2]
Level17 (Paladin 14/Barbarian 3)
Stats reference[1]
First seen"CelebriD&D with Joe Manganiello" (OSx09)
Last seen"Vecna, the Ascended" (1x114)

Arkhan, also known as Arkhan the Cruel, is a dragonborn paladin/barbarian, and a champion of Tiamat. He is played by Joe Manganiello.

Description[edit | edit source]

Appearance[edit | edit source]

Arkhan is a heavily muscled, red-scaled dragonborn who is nearly seven feet tall.[3] Around his neck he wears the Wreath of the Prism, a loop of golden thorns inset with dozens of gems, representing each of the chromatic dragon colors.[4] The Wreath causes his eyes to have a greenish-yellow color with more pronounced black slits than they had before.[5] He wears a suit of jagged, spiked, obsidian-metal plate armor with green dragon scales embedded throughout the main plates. Arkhan carries Fane-Eater, a magical battleaxe carved from deep cerulean sapphire and adorned with numerous runic sigils.[6] His holy symbol is an amulet adorned with the five-headed dragon sigil of Tiamat built into the chest plate of his heavy armor. The same symbol is emblazoned on the front of his magic shield.[7]

Personality[edit | edit source]

Arkhan has a genuine faith and loyalty to his empress, the Scaled Tyrant. He views taking the Hand of Vecna as being not for personal gain but "altruistic".[8]

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.[8]

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.[8]

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early life[edit | edit source]

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.[9]

At some point before before "CelebriD&D with Joe Manganiello" (OSx09) (when was level 6-7),[10] Arkhan was on the world of Toril. He was dispached by the Blackstaff of Waterdeep, as part of the Force Grey, to the jungle continent of Chult to locate and destroy the "Soul Monger", which was trapping the souls of the recently-departed and causing those who've been resurrected by magic to slowly rot and wither away. They found the Soul Monger in the Lost City of Omu and confronted the lich who was behind the corruption, Acererak.[11]

At some point following this, Arkhan traveled to the world of Exandria.

809-812 PD[edit | edit source]

Official art of the Wreath of the Prism, by Irina Nordsol.[art 2]

In 809 PD,[12] 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.[13][14] 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.[15]

At some point, Tiamat gave Arkhan a white dragon, Obatala.[16]

A few years later, Arkhan received visions of Tiamat telling him "the danger and the opulent thoughts" of Vecna trying to ascend to godhood. Arkhan gathered his teammates, including Vander (a high elf ranger Arkhan considered to be "the closest thing he'd ever had to a brother") and Grubby, flew to Thar Amphala on Obatala a week before Vox Machina but were ambushed by Delilah Briarwood, a death knight, and the Remnants. Everyone else was slaughtered and the still beating heart of Arkhan's goliath companion was pulled out of his chest. Only Arkhan himself managed to survive,[17] figting off gloomstalkers who came to prey on the remains of his companions, and crawling into a nearby building to regain his strength. He then found a gloomstaker to dominate with his wreath, and planned to go on a suicide mission to Entropis.[18]

"The Final Ascent" (1x113)[edit | edit source]

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.[19]

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 Obatala. Arkhan and Vox Machina managed to defeat Delilah (which ended the force reanimating Obatala), 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)[edit | edit source]

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.[20]

Depiction of Arkhan with the Hand of Vecna from Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus, page 111.[art 3]

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".[20] Arkhan had Teleported to a rendezvous point to meet Krull, one of his military advisors, who Plane Shifted them both to Avernus.[21]

Post-Campaign 1[edit | edit source]

By 911 PD a team of Cobalt Soul researchers investigated the biography of Arkhan the Cruel. They contacted the editors of "Delando's Compendium of Pantheon and Hierarchy" who had also worked on the dragonborn in the past, but the editors had ceased their own studies. For a while they had an undercover observer collecting information on Arkhan, until the editors stopped hearing from them. Five months after the communication stopped abruptly, the editors received their agent's severed left arm. Those who knew about this debated intensely about the meaning of such a message, wondering if it was a warning not to meddle in the affairs of Tiamat and her people, or if the observer had been somehow indoctrinated and had sent their own arm.[22]

Relationships[edit | edit source]

Percival de Rolo and Keyleth[edit | edit source]

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.[23] Wrapped around the manticore's neck was the same golden jeweled treasure he saw in his dream, the Wreath of the Prism.[24]

Vander[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

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.

Vox Machina[edit | edit source]

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.

Character information[edit | edit source]

Notable items[edit | edit source]

Abilities[edit | edit source]

Dragonborn abilities[edit | edit source]

  • Draconic Ancestry (Red)
  • Breath Weapon (Fire)
  • Damage Resistance (Fire)

Paladin abilities[edit | edit source]

  • Divine Sense[26]
  • Lay on Hands (70 points)
  • Fighting Style
  • Spellcasting (Charisma-based ability)
  • Divine Health
  • Divine Smite[27]
  • Sacred Oath (Oathbreaker)
    • Oathbreaker spells
    • Channel Divinity
      • Control Undead[28]
      • Dreadful Aspect
    • Aura of Hate
  • Extra Attack
  • Aura of Protection[29]
  • Aura of Courage
  • Improved Divine Smite[30]
  • Cleansing Touch

Barbarian abilities[edit | edit source]

  • Danger Sense
  • Primal Path: Path of the Berserker
    • Frenzy
  • Rage
  • Reckless Attack
  • Unarmored Defense

Proficiencies[edit | edit source]

Arkhan's first level is in paladin,[31] granting him the base proficiencies of that class.

Proficiency Source Ref.
Athletics Paladin [32]

Paladin spells[edit | edit source]

As a 14th-level paladin, Arkhan has access to paladin spells up to 4th-level and can prepare up to 11 of them per day.

Spell Level Notes Ref.
Hellish Rebuke 1st Oath spell
Inflict Wounds 1st Oath spell
Crown of Madness 2nd Oath spell
Darkness 2nd Oath spell
Animate Dead 3rd Oath spell [33]
Bestow Curse 3rd Oath spell
Blight 4th Oath spell
Confusion 4th Oath spell
Death Ward 4th [34]

Behind the scenes[edit | edit source]

  • Arkhan was created when Joe Manganiello's friends, playing with Joe in their home game, were helping Wizards of the Coast play test D&D 5th edition, and switched over to 5e in their home game as well. For 5th edition, Joe created a dragonborn paladin named Arkhan because he has loved dragons since childhood and was fond of Tiamat. Initially, Arkhan was good aligned.[35] He was inspired by Conan the Barbarian, Darth Vader, and the Lord of Darkness (from the 1985 dark fantasy film Legend).[21]
  • A month and half before "The Final Ascent" (1x113), Joe and Matt wrote a 6-page backstory for Arkhan following his story after "CelebriD&D with Joe Manganiello" (OSx09) and until he met Vox Machina in Thar Amphala, as well as developing the Exaltant version of the Wreath of the Prism, upgrading him from sixth to seventeenth level, and exchanging his bone cleaver with the Fane-Eater.[36]
  • Joe Manganiello revealed Arkhan's motivations in "The Final Ascent" (1x113) 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. 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 was 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.[21] 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.[37]
    • The spell Teleport can only transport a creature to a destination on the same plane of existence where they are, 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.[38]
    • When Adam Lee of the D&D creative team learned Arkhan's story, Adam revealed that the upcoming D&D adventure that takes place in Avernus (The Descent into Avernus) will feature Arkhan (and thus, Forgotten Realms lore) as a canon NPC. Joe sent Adam "books of material" on his character . 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 extracting life essences out of good-aligned creatures to manufacture a concoction that helps Arkhan heal and stave off the necrotic power of the Hand of Vecna, which is slowly decomposes one side of his body). Fifty skeletons and thirty zombies defend the tower, which is also guarded by the adult white dragon Obatala.[39]
  • 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.[37]
  • Vander, Grubby, and his friend goliath are characters played by Joe's real-life brother and producing partner Nick, writer/comedian Will Hines, and Joe's trainer, respectively.

Appearances and mentions[edit | edit source]

Quotations[edit | edit source]

  • "Don't hurt him!" – To Vax, trying to wave him off as he tried to subdue a gloomstalker using the Wreath of the Prism.[40]
  • "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.[41]

Trivia[edit | edit source]

  • 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 also holds the record in Critical Role productions for highest damage done by a guest player character in a single turn targeting only creature at a time with 135 points in "Vecna, the Ascended" (1x114).[42]
  • Gale Force Nine supplied Manganiello with a custom Arkhan miniature for him to use during episodes 113 & 114.[43]
  • The only player character with an armor class higher than Arkhan (24 AC) is Zerxus Ilerez (25 AC).
  • As of August 2022, Arkhan had the highest character level of all guest characters 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.
  • Arkhan was the first player character with evil aligment across Critical Role campaigns, followed by Yu Suffiad.
  • It is unknown which Paladin oath and which deity Arkhan kept before becoming an Oathbreaker at Level 3.
  • Arkhan shares his name with the character Arkhan the Black from the Warhammer Fantasy & Age of Sigmar Universe.
  • Arkhan is one of the available Champions in the game Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms.

External links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Vecna, the Ascended" (1x114) at 1:20:36.
  2. Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus, p. 111.
  3. "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 54:44.
  4. "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 1:00:21.
  5. "CelebriD&D with Joe Manganiello" (OSx09) at 52:29.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Matthew Mercer made his Magic Items Template publicly available on Dropbox, and the stat card for the Fane-Eater was available through that template. By November 7, 2017, the card was no longer available; see "Archive:Magic Items Template § Fane-Eater" for the stat card and sources for its text.
  7. "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 1:10:35. "The symbols that adorn both around Arkhan's throat and the shield that he holds up are that of Tiamat."
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Joe Manganiello on stealing the Hand of Vecna - D&D Beyond at 6:01.
  9. "CelebriD&D with Joe Manganiello" (OSx09) at 0:40.
  10. Joe Manganiello (@joemanganiello) on Twitter: "Force Grey is Arkhan in an earlier timeline (level 6 & 7), as opposed to Critical Role (level 17). Arkhan’s one shot for CelbriD&D with Percival and Keyleth and his appearance on Nerd Poker predate them both (level 5)." (November 15, 2017). (backup link)
  11. Episode 1 - Force Grey: Lost City of Omu. The miniseries is tied to the "Tomb of Annihilation" adventure module.
  12. "CelebriD&D with Joe Manganiello" (OSx09) at 2:29.
  13. "CelebriD&D with Joe Manganiello" (OSx09) from 0:00 through 1:58.
  14. The spelling is the same when the identically named region in Marquet is mentioned later. "The Gates of Zadash" (2x08) at 1:10:46.
  15. "CelebriD&D with Joe Manganiello" (OSx09) from 49:16 through 54:00.
  16. "Talks Machina #41: The Final Ascent" (TM1x113) at 33:40.
  17. "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 1:09:28.
  18. "Talks Machina #41: The Final Ascent" (TM1x113) at 31:50.
  19. "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 53:46.
  20. 20.0 20.1 "Vecna, the Ascended" (1x114).
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Joe Manganiello and Chris Perkins talk Avernus and Arkhan - D&D Beyond.
  22. The Chronicles of Exandria Vol. II: The Legend of Vox Machina, p. 202.
  23. Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus, pp. 113–In this adventure module, Arkhan's manticore is named Chango.
  24. "CelebriD&D with Joe Manganiello" (OSx09).
  25. "CelebriD&D with Joe Manganiello" (OSx09) at 51:07.
  26. "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 4:34:31.
  27. "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 2:05:11.
  28. "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 3:56:09. Arkhan uses his "Control Undead" ability on Vander
  29. "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 1:28:42.
  30. "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
  31. "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 1:30:38. Arkhan's Constitution saving throw is a 9 total, indicating that he does not have proficiency as a base barbarian would. His Constitution modifier of +2, additional +4 from his Aura of Protection, and a proficiency bonus of +6 would grant him a modifier to this saving throw of +12.
  32. "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 1:35:19. Joe rolled 27 on his Athletics check.
  33. "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 3:09:52.
  34. "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 3:58:44.
  35. "Talks Machina #41: The Final Ascent" (TM1x113) at 1:20:36.
  36. "Talks Machina #41: The Final Ascent" (TM1x113) at 29:35.
  37. 37.0 37.1 Joe Manganiello on stealing the Hand of Vecna - D&D Beyond at 6:42.
  38. Joe Manganiello on stealing the Hand of Vecna - D&D Beyond at 4:59.
  39. Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus, pp. 110–113.
  40. "The Final Ascent" (1x113) at 56:06.
  41. "Vecna, the Ascended" (1x114) at 5:32:05.
  42. "Vecna, the Ascended" (1x114) at 4:16:29.
  43. "Talks Machina #41: The Final Ascent" (TM1x113).[citation needed]


  1. Official art of Arkhan, by Kit Buss (source). This file is a copyrighted work. Its use in this article is asserted to qualify as fair use of the material under United States copyright law.
  2. Official art of the Wreath of the Prism, by Irina Nordsol (source). This file is a copyrighted work. Its use in this article is asserted to qualify as fair use of the material under United States copyright law.
  3. Depiction of Arkhan with the Hand of Vecna from Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus, page 111. This file is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Wizards of the Coast Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.