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Creature Conversion – Sul Khatesh

June 2, 2011

Oh man. Sorry about taking so long to post this week, reader(s?). But, I have a good excuse–or at least, if I don’t have a good excuse, I have a project I was working on instead. And I present it today: I just finished converting none other than Sul Khatesh! *crickets chirp* Sul Khatesh? Dragon 337 article Eternal Evil: The Lords of Dust by Eberron creator Keith Baker? A delve into some of the coolest and most hardcore of all Eberron villains? No?

Oh well. Let’s begin anyway.

 Now, with these here “Creature Conversion” articles, I’m interested in going back to older D&D monsters and villains, and dusting them up to modern standards (usually cross-edition, but there are some Monster Manual I monsters begging for a dusting…). However, we hit our first snag: Sul Khatesh is such a larger-than-life NPC that it proved nearly impossible to do her justice. In fact, it took me a solid week to do her justice. With her, I’m not sure where to begin.

So let’s begin. First though, a link to the finished product, for those who don’t care to read: [Link]

What’s a Sul Khatesh?

Sul Khatesh is a rakshasa rajah, or an Overlord if you will. They are worshipped/siphoned by the Lords of Dust, an immortal gang of schemers (mostly rakshasas, though any epic-level fiends can apply) who more or less want to release them from prisons they’ve been held inside since nearly the dawn of time. This would prove detrimental for human society, since these Overlords are powerful as all Hell.

How powerful? They can grant domain spells, and other godly abilities, without having divine ranks; they are literally indestructible, there is no quest or item or entity capable of killing one (only the couatls, through species-wide suicide, managed to contain them, and even that was only temporary). When the demonic armies were marching against the draconic armies, the demons planned around the Overlords (“Alright, Sul Khatesh is going to invade the southern continent, so we’ll need the rest of our regiments to invade the northern continent.”), treating them as one-man armies (and that’s in a war where the opposing force is composed entirely of solo monsters paragon tier and epic tier in strength).

Sul Khatesh, specifically, is the Keeper of Secrets. She knows all, sees all, and schemes all: while other Overlords might be so powerful they can wield their strength like a cudgel to single-handedly decimate entire planes,  she has the same amount of power but prefers putting the entirety of her intellect behind it. She is, putting it mildly, a dangerous foe.

Doing the Conversion

So when I sat down to this conversion, I had no idea where to begin. First of all, her stat block consumes five pages of Dragon Magazine (though I’m including the list of traits that all Overlords have in that count; three pages without); her primary attack comes in the form of spellcasting, where she has access to all Wizard/Sorcerer spells, spontaneously, and they’re all Quickened with caster level 40.

To put that in perspective, I once ran a game (the ever to-be-continued story “Last Stand of the Iron Hand”) where a group of 17th-level adventurers took down a god using nothing but a couple 8th and 9th level Wizard spells that they happened to have prepared for the day; Sul Khatesh has all spells prepared, so if Wizards were powerful enough to break the Challenge Rating system by defeating a foe 30 CR above their head, Sul Khatesh breaks it, grinds it into dust, snorts it, pees it out in a few hours, then casts disintegrate on the toilet bowl.

Ironically, however, even though she has about a million powers, she completely lacks any sort of flavor. Weird, right? But think about it: with her ability to cast epic spells (such as Familicide), every wizard spell in the book (literally), her natural shapeshifting ability as an Overlord into any creature, her ability to counter all spells as a free action and her virtual immunity to all forms of damage minus electricity and sonic (and possibly a couple others, but I don’t really care to find out what), she simply is so overrun with power that there is no peculiar trait that shines through. Rust monsters rust your gear; liches drain your levels; tarrasque reflects your spells and bites you; but Sul Khatesh? She casts meteor swarm. Repeatedly.

On the other hand, I eventually decided, this was what made her unique: she was the Overlord of Boy Scouts: she came prepared for every situation, could do anything she wanted, and was frighteningly overpowered because however many plans you made, she could out-plan you as a standard action. And, arcane magic, while a huge generic heap of spells, certainly had its own flavor from divine or primal magic… and the rest of her powers revolved around her being super-knowledgeable about, well, everything, so I had the rough outline of a “mission statement” for Sul Khatesh: she would have a huge list of extremely arcane-sounding spells to draw on (eventually I decided make them ‘words of power’, because that sounds more epic and knowledgeable), and would be frighteningly over-prepared for every situation. And, of course, overpowered.

With that in mind, I went ability-by-ability through her original stat block, and came up with a list of jotted notes on how to convert her, brainstorming as many problems and solutions as I could at once. It really helped that the Eberron Campaign Guide already has one rajah in it as a baseline for comparison:

  • Overlords are effectively divine rank 7; Vecna was, in 3E, divine rank 10; Vecna is level 35 in 4E, Bel Shalor (ECG 30) is level 34. Level 34 is appropriate for Sul Khatesh.
  • Sul Khatesh was a level 40 wizard, with enough epic spell levels to cast Quickened everything without worrying about running out of slots before the party was dead. She should be able to cast multiple spells per round in 4E.
  • Large native lawful evil outsider in 3E, but described as being made of pure shadow; I’ll make her a Large shadow humanoid in 4E, Evil in alignment.
  • Overlords are immortal spirits, and cannot die; 4E already has a mechanic for that, called discorporation.
  • Has darkvision, remote sensing 7 miles, trained in all sensory skills, can see magic, can see with true sight, can read thoughts, can see a creature’s history and secrets at a glance; compress this into one or two traits, and give her skill training in Perception.
  • Speaks all languages; Supernal might’ve been appropriate if she were an actual goddess, but since she’s not, I could either go with Bel Shalor’s ‘Abyssal, Common, Draconic’ or just write All. “All” implies she’s actually spent the time to learn each individual language, which is more appropriate, so I’ll put that.
  • Fast healing, immune to most forms of damage and attacks, resistant to thunder and lightning, dread aura for protection, and while it looks like she’s in a mist her mist doesn’t provide protection; insubstantial would make her look ‘misty’, cover her resistances, and most modern solos don’t do regeneration effects, even gods.
  • Her speed is equal to that of a divine rank 7 goddess; as an overlord, she also has an at-will teleport power. Bel Shalor, under equal conditions, got a speed of 8, fly 8 (hover), teleport 4, and phasing. A simple 1:1 conversion of that should be fine.
  • Staff of forgotten secrets: her unique weapon bound to her (unstealable, no point in writing up item stat block), capable of hitting ghosts, and erasing spells; I don’t care about the ghost thing, and don’t want to have her melee attack overcome the extremely rare PC insubstantial power, but I can have her staff erase highest-level powers no problem (people shouldn’t melee with the angry goddess anyway)
  • Can instantly counter all spells as a free action; in 3E, this was a cool little ability because it was actively draining her spell reserves to throw spells at her to counter, and it made her feel like a wizard. In 4E though, she has no spell reserves to drain, and there’s no such thing as counterspelling to make using it feel like a wizard. I’ll throw it in to the final product but drop it if it feels out of place.
  • Change shape; Sul Khatesh can take on the shape of anything from a housefly to a tarrasque. Clearly overpowered, and yet also clearly part of her identity as a rajah: she should at least get the ability to doppelganger as someone, but maybe I should give her the ability to take on different forms in combat, like the 4E Strahd.

So What Happened?

You can still see a lot of my original notes make it into the final product linked above (and below). Eventually, I tried to combine the aspects of several of my favorite solo monsters into one beast: I borrowed the spell-menu from the beholder (I didn’t want to type out each power, as it would have filled up two pages with all of that header information), the two-form solo monster (with discorporation!) from Lolth… I tried to make her match up to Bel Shalor, but I didn’t pay too close attention to that since he’s pre-MM3/MV errata, solo-style, and monster formatting.

But there’s still a great deal of this boss which is mine. I had to write up her ‘solo’ abilities that let her keep fighting when stunned, I completely made up her final form myself (the idea of a giant four-armed crab which eats people is both terrifying and, somehow appropriate for Sul Khatesh). I tried to keep it all feeling as ‘ungodly powerful spellcaster’-ish as possible, and I think the final result is satisfying.

I even managed to fit in some short explanations of just how knowledgeable she is into terrible vision and how she manages to influence the world even while caged and asleep in slumbering power; personally, I think as much flavor should be fit into the mechanics as possible, screw these sad ‘+x vs. Reflex; 2d6 + 5 damage’ boring lines.

Oh yeah, and her exarch person, Hektula. Simple job: took the MV rakshasa mage, pumped her up 10 levels, gave her a couple extra powers, suped up her normal powers, and called it good. Sound too simple? Do a comparison of the rakshasa noble and Durastoran the Wyrmbreaker some time: I used the exact same advancement techniques as used on him.

Concluding Thoughts

Hopefully I’ll work out a better technique for discussion monster conversions in future versions of this article, but for right now I’m exhausted from trying to make her stats perfect. And frankly, I’m still not satisfied, I want to tweak her some more.

But anyway, I think for right now she really represents a streamlined, stylized version of what she was in 3E: a master of magic and knowledge, a shapeshifter, a manipulator. Someone you don’t want to get on the wrong side of for several good reasons.

I’m always seeking opinions though, so, have at ye. Oh yeah, and: post-article [Link]

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