- Encounter Appearance: 35 Denouement
- AC 21 (decreased by Daylight)
- Speed 30 ft, Fly 30 ft
- Darkvision 120 ft, passive 11
- Vulnerable to radiant damage (MM, appears to be unimplemented)
- Resistant to acid, fire, necrotic, thunder, and nonmagical physical weapons
- Immune to lightning, cold, and poison damage
- Immune to prone, restrained, grappled, paralyzed, exhaustion, petrified, and poisoned
- Textbook Shadow Demon average/max HP: 66, 108
- 353 taken (~406 with radiant vulnerability), 44 combined HDYWTDT by Grog and Trinket
This encounter was a lot of fun to research and break down. It’s great to see where Matt took inspiration, modifying its abilities and personality to turn a low-level monster into a terrible fiend that both haunted Percy’s thoughts and provided a decent challenge for the drained party.
Shadow demons stand apart from the typical demonic hierarchy in that, rather than forming from the Abyss, they originate from dark magic from the Material Plane. As such, they cannot transform into more powerful entities like their damned counterparts by means of promotion by higher-ranked demons. However, this lack of interaction with other demons does not keep them from evolving, as deals with mortals allow shadow demons to gain power via vicarious death and destruction.
Orthax did share many of the basic abilities, resistances, immunities, and vulnerabilities of a textbook Shadow Demon, including light revealing and weakening its more tangible form. Its Incorporeal Movement allowed Orthax to travel through creatures and objects as if they were difficult terrain. It is unknown if it took the usual 1d10 force damage for ending its turn in the wall, outside the range of its attackers. Shadow demons deal an average of 10 psychic damage for each hit, and an additional average of 17 psychic damage if it has advantage on the roll (granted by Faerie Fire, in this case). Its claws also seek to latch onto the fears and memories of its victims, which we saw was prevented by Pike’s successful Wis save.
However, it should be clear by now that Orthax was not a typical shadow demon, not including its crow-like beak that inspired Percy’s mask. Its increased health (over 350, opposed to the 66 average) combined with a three-pronged multiattack were just the first steps to making it a legitimate challenge. Revenge is such an integral part of the fiend that this theme is present in both how it corrupts its victims and how it attacks its enemies in combat.
The entirely original ability Rampage Pulse seems to have its roots in Pathfinder’s Synaptic Pulse. Instead of stunning all who fail the Wis Save of DC 18, though, Rampage Pulse deals an estimated 2d6+3 psychic damage and invokes a guided confusion effect that instills Orthax’s rage into those who failed the save, guiding them to target creatures the shadow demon chooses. Rampage Pulse appears to have been a rechargeable ability, meaning Orthax would need to roll a 6 (on a d6) in order to use it again (which happened).
Even Orthax’s strategy revolved around its dedication to revenge. After Pike dealt an impressive amount of radiant damage to its dark form, its entire strategy shifted to seek retribution from the holy gnome. The Mark of Vengeance seems to have similar properties to Vex’s Hunter’s Mark, though we were fortunate to have only its description rather than a demonstration. This was cast as a reaction to Scanlan’s first Vicious Mockery, rather than as one of Orthax’s bonus actions.
A few people mentioned that the Orthax encounter was an overly simple encounter. In this case, a large portion of that has to do with preparation, as well as lucky rolls. Heroes’ Feast saved many a Wisdom Throw (preventing Orthax’s screech from dealing a lot of in-party damage), and Keyleth’s Faerie Fire also ensured a significant portion of attacks landed. Most of all, we can blame Readied Actions, which accounted for a consolidated 154 points of damage, dealt primarily with advantage. Pike also suffered greatly for dealing such a large amount of radiant damage to it. Fortunately, she never entered the single digits.
Lady Briarwood provided another interesting wrinkle to the fight, wasting both Percy and Vax’s turns to ensure their one-armed prisoner did not escape. Technically, her cloak should have already forced disadvantage against her, but invisibility still seems like an appropriate choice for a fleeing wizard. (We also congratulate Vox Machina for allowing Cassandra to deal the final judgement.)
The time spent inside Percy’s mind allowed Orthax to feed off his anguish and grow as a corrupting influence. After initially advising Percy on the creation of the Pepperbox, Orthax waited until the perpetrators of Percy’s betrayal crossed his path again. From that point, all he needed to do was provide a little encouragement, as most of the work was accomplished by the gun.
One item of note from the DMG (p206) is the Sword of Vengeance, which is cursed with and possessed by a vengeful spirit. A creature attuned to the sword is unwilling to part with it, among several other unpleasant but unutilized Pepperbox traits (e.g., disadvantage when using any weapon that is not the Sword). While we doubt that Taliesin’s attachment had to do with anything other than the cost of the weapon (and the cost to replicate it), from an RP perspective, it forms a very convenient parallel. This parallel is furthered when we see that the spirit appears to be removed from Percy entirely upon the Pepperbox’s acidic destruction.