If you’re familiar with the lore of the Forgotten Realms, you may have heard of the Blood War. Less of an actual event and more an age-old conflict, this was a war that was waged on the lower planes of existence for millenia.
This legendary battle was fought between the inhabitants of the lower planes, fiends. Devils and demons pitted themselves against each other – a feud between evil beings that still exists to this day.
Of course, not all fiends fit into these subtypes.
A third type of fiend, the yugoloths, neutral where demons were chaotic and devils were lawful, played an integral part in turning these two against each other.
Today, we’re going to be talking about one of the more powerful greater yugoloth races, the Arcanaloth.
We’ll be discussing these creatures’ motivations, their lore, and most importantly, how to put them into your next game of 5e D&D.
What Is an Arcanaloth?
Arcanaloths are incredibly intelligent, cunning, and sly fiends and are the second-highest rank of yugoloth underneath ultraloths. While they are just as greedy as any other yugoloth out there, their avarice tends to be mainly reserved for the pursuit of knowledge.
Medium Fiend (yugoloth), neutral evil
AC 17 (natural armor)
Hit Points 104(16d8 + 32)
Speed 30 ft., fly 30 ft.
STR: 17(+3) DEX: 12(+1) CON: 14(+2)
INT: 20(+5) WIS: 16(+3) CHA: 17(+3)
Saving Throws: Dexterity +5, Intelligence +9, Wisdom +7, Charisma +7
Skills: Arcana +13, Deception +9, Insight +7, Perception +7
Damage Resistances: Cold, Fire, Lightning; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical weapons
Damage Immunities: Acid, Poison
Condition Immunities: Charmed, Poisoned
Senses: Truesight 120 ft., Passive Perception 17
Languages: All, Telepathy 120 ft.
Challenge Rating: 12 (8,400 XP)
Innate Spellcasting. The arcanaloth’s innate spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 15). The arcanaloth can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components.
At will: alter self, heat metal, darkness, invisibility (self only), magic missile
Magic Resistance. The arcanaloth has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.
Magical Weapons. The arcanaloths weapon attacks are magical.
Spellcasting. The arcanaloth is a 16th-level spellcaster. Its spellcasting ability is Intelligence (spell save DC 17, +9 to hit with spell attacks). It has the following wizard spells prepared:
Cantrips (at will): fire bolt, mage hand, minor illusion, prestidigitation
1st level (4 slots): detect magic, identify, shield, Tenser’s floating disk
2nd level (3 slots): detect thoughts, mirror image, phantasmal force, suggestion
3rd level (3 slots): counterspell, fear, fireball
4th level (3 slots): banishment, dimension door
5th level (2 slots): contact other plane, hold monster
6th level (1 slot): chain lightning
7th level (1 slot): finger of death
8th level (1 slot): mind blank
Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 8 (2d4 + 3) slashing damage. The target must make a DC 14 constitution saving throw, taking 10 (3d6) poison damage on a failed save and half as much on a success.
Teleport. The arcanaloth magically teleports, along with any equipment it is wearing or carrying, up to 60 feet to an unoccupied space it can see.
As you can see by that robust stat block, arcanaloths are pretty impressive spellcasters. I suppose that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, considering arcana is literally in their name.
Of course, their intelligence isn’t just used for spellcasting.
An arcanaloth is truly one of the most witty creatures you’ll come across. In many ways, they can seem similar to fey with their absolute love for contracts.
Their love for knowledge and understanding of every language makes them perhaps the foremost experts on contractual agreements, which might at first seem like an innocuous trait for a fiend.
Those contracts were, however, crucial in the blood war as arcanaloths were the main go-betweens for the tanar’ri (the dominant races of demons) and the baatezu (the dominant race of devils).
It’s said that the arrangements they made between the two factions had the ability to spark war as much as they had the ability to foster peace.
Of course, like any fiend, yugoloth in particular, these creatures do nothing if it isn’t in their self interest.
Through their dealings in not just the blood war but throughout the multiverse’s history in general, arcanaloths have amassed perhaps the largest accumulation of knowledge in existence.
You see, arcanaloths are a particularly interesting race because while they do not share a hive mind, they do have a collective memory.
This memory, which is stored in the Tower of the Arcanaloths on Gehenna, collects the memories of all arcanaloths who die and can be accessed by any who are living.
With all of this knowledge, it should be no surprise that these creatures, albeit evil, value negotiation and diplomacy. Such interactions tend to go in their favor since they’re likely the smartest in the room.
While you may not often see an arcanaloth in its true form, it’s useful to know what that is exactly. These fiends appear as 6-foot tall humanoids with the heads of jackals, war dogs, or other similar canines.
Always dressed immaculately, all arcanaloths have the appearance of nobility.
They wear pristine, ornate clothing, and the only thing about them that would give their fiendish nature away is the mischievous smiles that cross their faces when they’re about to strike a deal.
Yugoloths, much like demons, have an interesting hierarchy that rules over the entirety of their society.
These fiends adhere to a strict caste system, but it is a system in which you can be promoted. Doing so provides you with more than just a title; it provides you with a complete physical transformation.
Since arcanaloth is the second-highest caste for yugoloths (outside the rare yugoloth lords), it is the goal of most of these creatures to attain the rank of ultroloth.
This goal, while attainable, is extremely difficult. Ultroloths make sure that any arcanaloths attempting to achieve promotion are… dealt with.
Naturally, this means arcanaloths have to rely that much more on their cunning.
For every promotion leading up to arcanaloth, a fiend needs to learn a special lesson (such as the yagnaloths learning that being given free will does not equal power).
Arcanaloths, however, are tasked with replacing an existing ultroloth. It’s the belief of many that the only reason arcanaloths are so focused on gaining knowledge is to be able to achieve this impossible task.
Of course, it could also just be a representation of the yugoloths drive for perfection as a whole.
DMing an Arcanaloth
As anyone who’s ever run a campaign or adventure in the feywild can tell you, tricky characters are some of the most fun you’ll ever have as a DM.
These characters are such an interesting combination of the social and exploration pillars of D&D, with each interaction feeling like a puzzle or a trap.
While arcanaloths do have stat blocks, you likely won’t be using them for combat unless the players make some grave mistakes.
For example, in The Curse of Strahd, a hostile arcanaloth named Neferon guards the Amber Temple, dedicated to a nameless god of secrets.
In this case, the players made a mistake in thinking they could play Curse of Strahd without dying at least a few times.
Instead of combat, arcanaloths are a great tool for creating intrigue and showing that whatever is happening is connected to incredibly important knowledge.
In Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, a nameless arcanaloth is the headmaster of an entire floor of Undermountain that trains students seeking to master the arcane arts.
That headmaster will not attack but will put the characters through some tests. He’ll either request magical items or that they slay a bone devil in order to pass through to the next level.
He also might allow spellcasters to train under him, but to do so they must first pass his test, which requires either an incredible amount of patience or the ability to not be killed by one of his pupils.
Since arcanaloths are so focused on the pursuit of knowledge, they only leave Gehenna if they believe they’re going to find some.
They might try to collect some from the players, or they might be a valuable tool in teaching the players.
Either way, remember that these are evil characters, and while diplomatic, their silver tongues will say what they need to put them on top.
It’s a good idea to make them seem like they have the best interest of the players in mind while actually leading them into some sort of trap.
That trap, by the way, should almost definitely be a mental one more than a physical one.
An important thing to remember is that arcanaloth rarely show their true form unless it will serve them.
They might be assuming the identity of a character the players trust, or they might be pretending to be an unassuming merchant or dignitary.
When roleplaying as an arcanaloth, you should really be putting as many layers of deceit as you can into the mix.
Arcanaloths in Combat
If something goes very wrong for the players, they might find themselves up against one of these tricksy daemons.
The fight shouldn’t end in the arcanaloth’s death unless the players manage to outwit them or deal enough damage before it has the chance to teleport away.
While the stat block does provide a list of spells, these are creatures that have access to almost infinite knowledge, so just about any wizard spell will be appropriate if you decide to go in a more homebrew route.
The spells on its casting list will decide how you fight with the character.
Likely, the arcanaloth will be a ranged attacker, letting off spell after spell to defeat its opponents. If a player gets too close to it, it will teleport away, and it will only use its claws as a last resort.
If you’re planning on combat from the start, you should include a few lesser yugoloths at its command to do the brunt of the actual attacking and to make the arcanaloth less of a viable target.
There are two main ways that a losing arcanaloth will react.
One is by summoning another arcanaloth (or a couple more lesser demons – your choice); the other is teleporting away and then making itself invisible.
Arcanaloths are really incredible creatures, and I could genuinely write an entire book just on existing lore for them.
They are one of the most intelligent creatures you may ever have the fortune of playing as a DM – even most gods pale in comparison.
I hope this article has excited you as much as it has me, and as always, happy adventuring.