Iconic Design: The Lich King

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about the mathematics behind the Challenge Rating system.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t know if there is a more iconic fantasy video game out right now that has more name recognition than World of Warcraft. Whether you’re a fan or you think the game ruined fantasy/MMOs/PC gaming/young people/whatever, you can assume that most gamers have at least heard of WoW before, and many people who aren’t gamers might be familiar with it from its prime time commercial run; not many games can claim that they have had a Super Bowl commercial slot. I wanted to do something big for the first Iconic Design installment, and World of Warcraft is a big-name game. Now all I need to do is pick a big-name character from this big-name game to build.

Arthas Menethil. Fallen Prince of Lordaeron. The Lich King. Biggest. Villain. Ever.

By the way, Happy Valentine’s Day.


It’s a story every gamer knows. Arrogant prince becomes an arrogant paladin. Arrogant paladin goes off and becomes even more arrogant. When confronted by a plague of undeath, arrogant paladin decides that the only course of action is to commit mass genocide upon his own people before traveling north to try and wipe out the threat once and for all, but ultimately succumbs to a malevolent force and falls, becoming an antipaladin who acts as the harbinger of the apocalypse for roughly a third of the known world.

Every gamer has heard that story before, right?

Build Concept

In order to properly pay homage to the Lich King character, we need several things:

  • Antipaladin Levels. Arthas is basically the iconic fallen paladin.
  • The ability to command a large number of undead.
  • Cold-themed abilities. With the addition of WoW’s Wrath of the Lich King expansion, Rune and Blood abilities are also preferred.
  • A decent melee attack bonus. The Lich King is a warrior first and a spellcaster second.
  • Very High-CR. He is a figure of myths and legends in World of Warcraft.

This is the build that I have selected in order to meet these goals:

  • Anti-Oradin. For reference, “Oradin” is Paizo Community lingo for a multiclass paladin/oracle with the ultimate goal of qualifying for the holy vindicator prestige class. As its name suggests, this build is designed to do the opposite; antipaladin/oracle to qualify for holy vindicator.
  • Mythic Tiers. The Lich King needs to be mythic. I have selected the Hierophant mythic path for him.
  • The graveknight template. This is an optional addition and is better suited for GMs looking to make high-powered characters for their campaigns. As a player, your GM won’t likely allow you to accumulate this template. An interesting note, Paizo’s Creative Director has said that a creature must have a CR higher than 25 in order to be a Demigod, and a 20th level character with 10 mythic tiers is CR 24 (or CR 25 if he has PC wealth); this template will give our Lich King just enough extra oomph to push him into the realm of the demigods.

Early Levels (1–7)

  • Class: Antipaladin 4/Oracle 2/Holy Vindicator 1
  • Feats: Power Attack (Human Bonus), Cleave (1st), Extra Lay on Hands (3rd), Command Undead (Revelation Bonus), Alignment Channel: Good (5th), Improved Channeling (7th)
  • Abilities: Aura of Cowardice, Aura of Evil, Channel Negative Energy (+2d6), Cruelty: Shaken, Detect Good, Oracle’s Curse (Wasting or Black Blood), Plaguebringer, Smite Good (1/Day; +4), Touch of Corruption (Cha + 4/Day;+2d6), Undead Servitude (3 + Cha/Day; +1d6), Vindicator’s Shield
  • Antipaladin 1st Level Spells (0/day)
  • Oracle Orisons Known: bleed, detect magic, guidance, resistance, virtue
  • Oracle 1st Level Spells Known: cause fear, deathwatch, inflict light wounds, sanctuary

The Lich King begins as a human with a 20 pt. buy for his ability scores. Use the following: STR 16 DEX 12 CON 12 INT 10 WIS 10 CHA 15. At 4th level, Arthas’s Charisma becomes 16. If you know you are going to apply the graveknight template (aka you’re the GM), you can optimize The Lich King a little bit by switching his Int and his Con; when Arthas becomes undead, he loses his Constitution score and uses his Charisma modifier when determining his bonus hit points and Fortitude saving throws. And yes. I did hear all of you optimizers squeal a little bit at the mention of this. It is music to my ears.

Arthas’s first four levels are in antipaladin; we can assume that he was a paladin first, and then he found Frostmourne and fell from grace, becoming an antipaladin. At 5th level, Arthas gains his first level of oracle; his mystery is the bones mystery, his curse is either wasting or black blood (from the Black-Blooded Oracle archetype located in Paizo’s Inner Sea Magic campaign setting guide), and his first revelation is Undead Servitude, which gives him a limited channel pool equal to his oracle level as well as Command Undead as a bonus feat. His 6th level is also in oracle, as he needs a base attack bonus of +5 in order to qualify for holy vindicator at 7th level.

At this stage in the game, Arthas has a few tricks up his sleeve, but nothing to really brag about. He has two separate pools of channeling; one for negative energy, one for commanding undead. He has Power Attack and Cleave and he also has a few extra tricks. Arthas’s ability to reduce his enemies’ save DC against his shaken cruelty is nice, and the fact that he nullifies immunity to fear is nicer still. Arthas has antipaladin spellcasting and oracle spellcasting, but both aspects are fairly weak at 7th level.

Mid Levels (8 –14)

  • Class: Antipaladin 4/Oracle 2/Holy Vindicator 7
  • Feats: Power Attack (Human Bonus), Cleave (1st), Extra Lay on Hands (3rd), Command Undead (Revelation Bonus), Alignment Channel: Good (5th), Improved Channel (7th), Spell Focus: Necromancy (9th), Undead Master (11th), Channel Smite (PrC Bonus), Greater Channel Smite (13th)
  • Abilities: Aura of Cowardice, Aura of Evil, Bloodfire, Channel Negative Energy (+6d6), Cruelty: Shaken, Detect Good, Divine Judgment, Divine Wrath, Faith Healing (Empowered), Oracle’s Curse (Wasting or Black Blood), Plaguebringer, Smite Good (1/Day; +4), Stigmata 3, Touch of Corruption (Cha + 4/Day;+2d6), Undead Servitude (3 + Cha/Day; +4d6), Versatile Channel, Vindicator’s Shield
  • Antipaladin 1st Level Spells (0/day)
    • Antipaladin 1st Level Spells (0/day)
  • Oracle 4th Level Spells Known: inflict critical wounds, plague carrier
  • Oracle 3rd Level Spells Known: animate dead, contagion, inflict serious wounds
  • Oracle 2nd Level Spells Known: hold person, inflect moderate wounds, inflict moderate wounds, lesser animate dead
  • Oracle 1st Level Spells Known: bane, cause fear, curse water, deathwatch, inflict light wounds, murderous command, sanctuary
  • Oracle Orisons Known: bleed, detect magic, create water, guidance, mending, read magic, resistance, virtue

As with many multiclass builds, Arthas’s unlife starts to look up as Nerzhul invests more and more power into him. Arthas’s Charisma increases to 17 at 8th level, then 18 at 12th level. All seven levels Arthas earns in this stage of his career are holy vindicator levels, which give him a couple of neat tricks. He gains the ability to heal himself rather effectively via empowered healing. Arthas is going to be using his holy vindicator levels to progress his oracle spellcasting and both of his classes’ channel energy abilities, which gives Arthas one channel pool for commanding the undead as well as the ability to expend uses of touch of corruption to damage foes with a separate pool of channel energy. By 8th level in this prestige class (or character level 14), Arthas channels the undead as a 9th level oracle or channels negative energy (including the ability to channel the undead) as a 12th level antipaladin. This is the true advantage of this build; the ability to have two separate pools of channel energy when commanding the undead is huge. At 14th level, Arthas’s antipaladin pool can command 12 HD of undead and his oracle pool can command 9 HD of undead, for a total of 21 HD; a whopping 7 HD more than he could have accomplished as a single class character.

Arthas isn’t going to be making use of his vindicator’s shield, but the stigmata earned at 2nd level provides some nice bonuses to his attack rolls (which is sorely needed considering he had to give up +1 BAB when grabbing his first oracle level). The true linchpin of the multiclass combo, however, occurs at 5th level. Channel Smite on its own is a decent addition to Arthas’s arsenal, allowing him to spend uses of touch of corruption to increase his melee weapon damage, but bloodfire takes this ability to the extreme, increasing his channeling damage by +1d6 and causing his foes to bleed for 1d6 damage and become sickened. That’s a damage buff anyway you look at it for the Lich King, and both the sickened and bleeding aspects fit well with the “plague-ridden blood-fueled monstrosity” theme that Warcraft likes to give its Death Knights.

Other notable abilities earned include Divine Judgment, which allows Arthas to spontaneously (and instantly) cast death knell when he knocks foes into negative hit points as a sort of undead coup de grace. Divine wrath’s ability to spontaneously doom targets is also very sweet. Both abilities are made better considering Arthas’s signature weapon is a greatsword (19–20 crit range) and both can alternatively be used should Arthas ever become subjected to a critical hit.

Endgame (15+)

  • Class: Antipaladin 4/Oracle 6/Holy Vindicator 10
  • Feats: Power Attack (Human Bonus), Cleave (1st), Extra Lay on Hands (3rd), Command Undead (Revelation Bonus), Alignment Channel: Good (5th), Improved Channel (7th), Spell Focus: Necromancy (9th), Undead Master (11th), Channel Smite (PrC Bonus), Greater Channel Smite (13th), Leadership (15th), Quick Channel (17th), Greater Spell Focus: Necromancy (19th)
  • Abilities: Aura of Cowardice, Aura of Evil, Bloodfire, Bleeding Wounds, Channel Negative Energy (+6d6), Cruelty: Shaken, Detect Good, Divine Judgment, Divine Retribution, Divine Wrath, Faith Healing (Maximize), Oracle’s Curse (Wasting or Black Blood), Plaguebringer, Smite Good (1/Day; +4), Stigmata 3, Touch of Corruption (Cha + 4/Day;+2d6), Undead Servitude (3 + Cha/Day; +4d6), Versatile Channel, Vindicator’s Shield
  • Antipaladin 1st Level Spells (0/day)
  • Oracle 6th Level Spells Known: create undead, mass inflict moderate wounds, harm
  • Oracle 5th Level Spells Known: ghoul army, greater contagion, mass inflict light wounds, unhallow
  • Oracle 4th Level Spells Known: divine power, imbue with spell ability, inflict critical wounds, plague carrier, unholy blight
  • Oracle 3rd Level Spells Known: animate dead, bestow curse, chain of perdition, contagion, false life, inflict serious wounds, prayer
  • Oracle 2nd Level Spells Known: hold person, inflect moderate wounds, inflict moderate wounds, instrument of agony, lesser animate dead, oracle’s burden
  • Oracle 1st Level Spells Known: bane, cause fear, curse water, deathwatch, inflict light wounds, murderous command, sanctuary
  •  Oracle Orisons Known: bleed, detect magic, create water, guidance, mending, read magic, resistance, stabilize, virtue

Arthas truly comes into his own, frightening power by the end of the game. Arthas’s 16th and 20th level ability score increases both go into Charisma, increasing it to 20. Furthermore, by the end of the holy vindicator prestige class Arthas casts spells as a 9th level oracle (giving him access to 4th level spells) and has two channel energy pools, functioning as a 14th level antipaladin (+7d6) and a 12th level oracle, allowing him to command up to 26 HD of undead before factoring in his Undead Master, which increases both pools by 4 HD for a total of 34 HD. Arthas also gains his divine retribution capstone by 16th level, which allows him to spontaneously cast bestow curse on his enemies when he critically hits or is critically hit in return.

After fully advancing in the holy vindicator prestige class, Arthas’s best claim to power lies in taking his final four levels in oracle, improving his caster level to 13th, high enough to cast 6th level spells at 19th level. In addition, he can pick up the bleeding wounds revelation, which causes his Greater Channel Smite to deal additional bleed damage because Arthas makes heavy use of negative energy damage. Ultimately, Arthas ends as a 20th level character who can cast more spells per day than a 20th level antipaladin and who can command more undead than a necromancy wizard could dream of thanks to the nature of the holy vindicator’s channel energy ability. He has several nasty damage options thanks to his Power Attack and Greater Channel Smite feats and he has the abilities needed to command a legion of undead.


But why stop here? We can make things mythic. As I mentioned early, I selected the hierophant path for Arthas for several reasons, the largest being that this mythic path heavily interfaces with the channel energy mechanic, which Arthas has in strides. Most (if not all) of Arthas’s mythic ability score increases should go to Charisma, especially if you are a GM who plans on transforming him into a graveknight.

  • Path Abilities: Alter Channel, Divine Source (4; Chaos, Death, Evil, Rune; Ice, Murder, Undead, Wards), Life Current (3), Mythic Domain (Bones Mystery), Puppetmaster.
  • Mythic Feats: Channel Smite, Command Undead, Improved Channel, Power Attack, Undead Master

Let’s look at what Mythic does to Arthas, shall we?

When Power Attacking, Mythic Arthas now adds +3 damage per increment instead of +2. Consider that he is two-handing his greatsword and the damage goes up even further, to a total of +22 damage per attack. When using Channel Smite, he gains a +1 bonus on his attack roll per d6 of damage for a total of +7, cancelling out his Power Attack penalty. Improved Channel and Command Undead make it very difficult to resist Arthas’s calls to the undead and Undead Master adds Arthas’s tier (+10) to the number of Hit Dice of undead he can control to both pools. Since Mythic Domains adds its bonus to Arthas’s Undead Servitude ability, the final HD totals that Arthas can command increase to 58 HD (28 antipaladin / 30 oracle). Mythic Arthas can have worshipers and grants a slew of appropriate domains; he can even use mythic power to cast those spells. When he uses negative energy, Arthas treats anything less than a 4 as a 4 and he can command corpses as puppets using puppetmaster, which is a path ability from Paizo’s Mythic Origins player companion.

Now he’s starting to look threatening.

Other Notes

But he’s not quite there yet, right? After all, by World of Warcraft, Arthas has become the king of legions of undead. Might I push you towards the graveknight template, from Bestiary 3? Not only does it have the super-appropriate armor bound trait (Arthas’s powers come from his helmet, after all), but this template provides a massive bonus to ability scores, allows Arthas to use his massive Charisma bonus when calculating his hit points and Fortitude saves by merit of being undead, grants him the ability to deal additional frost damage with every weapon attack or unleash a devastating, icy blast at opponents, gives him a phantom steed to call his own (Invincible, perhaps?) and some bonus feats to make him even tougher to contend with. If you want the Lich King to be a major campaign villain, bump him up to CR 26 with this template, please.

  • Sacrilegious Aura: Do not try to heal within 30 feet of Arthas. Between this aura and alter channel, it will not end well for you.
  • Type: Changes to Undead, gains a slam attack, +4 natural armor, +4 channel resistance, DR 10/magic, immunity to cold and electricity, spell resistance (Base CR + 11; likely 35 or 36).
  • Ability Scores: Str +6, Int +2, Wis +4, Cha +4
  • Racial Bonuses: Intimidate +8, Perception +8, Ride +8
  • Feats: Improved Initiative, Mounted Combat, Ride-By Attack, and Toughness as bonus feats.
  • Rejuvenation: He reforms if you leave his armor alone or try to wear the armor yourself.
  • Special Attacks: channel destruction (melee attacks deal 5d6 extra cold damage), devastating blast (3/Day; 12d6 cold damage in 30-ft. cone; Reflex halves), undead mastery (can command 100 HD of undead for up to 24 hours).
  • Special Qualities: Summon phantom steed.

There is one final detail that I need to mention. As written, Arthas receives little benefit from his faith healing ability and no benefit from his stigmata ability if he is made into an undead. As GM, you should consider allowing faith healing to function with inflict spells instead of cure spell and stigmata to ignore Arthas’s immunity to bleed damage. These relatively small changes will allow Arthas to make full use of all of his class features and inspire terror onto his foes. Even if you choose to keep the text as written, Arthas the antipaladin graveknight is a terrifying sight to behold on the battlefield thanks to his ability to command over 150 HD of undead at once; with Mythic Command Undead, even intelligent undead are powerless before the Lich King. With this build, you’ll have a memorable villain for your campaign so long as he doesn’t open death gates to spend quality bonding time with your PCs throughout every little event in your storyline!

And there you have it; a conclusive guide detailing how to build the Lich King, either as a player or as a GM. What do you think? Is this an effective, faithful rendition of the Lich King? What would you have done differently? Is this a build you would be willing to try (perhaps in the infamous Way of the Wicked adventure path), or does the multiclassing turn you off from this build? Leave your answers in the comments below!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex’s favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune antipaladin, and his favorite pastime is devouring the brains of the living.

Alex Augunas

Alexander "Alex" Augunas is an author and behavioral health worker living outside of Philadelphia in the United States. He has contributed to gaming products published by Paizo, Inc, Kobold Press, Legendary Games, Raging Swan Press, Rogue Genius Games, and Steve Jackson Games, as well as the owner and publisher of Everybody Games (formerly Everyman Gaming). At the Know Direction Network, he is the author of Guidance and a co-host on Know Direction: Beyond. You can see Alex's exploits at http://www.everybodygames.net, or support him personally on Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/eversagarpg.


  1. This is absolutely awesome, as a WoW player i’m loving this article so much i can’t even tell.

    • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

      Thanks! Its a little out of date now in the post-ability stacking FAQ world, but it is still quite good.

      Specifically, unholy resilience doesn’t stack with the undead ability to use Charisma instead of Constitution on saving throws anymore, so the Lich King’s Fortitude save is going to be lower. That said, as an undead the Lich King is immune to most things that target Constitution anyway, and if he’s not undead (i.e. he’s built as a still-living Arthas), then this change doesn’t affect the build at all!

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