This post is part of a series! Go here to see the other entries.
Rakshasas are inspired by Indian mythology and have been in the game from the days of AD&D 1st Edition. In Fourth, they’re in both the Monster Manual and the Monster Vault.
Rakshasas are evil spirits encased in flesh. In their natural forms, they look like humanoids with the heads of great predatory cats, usually tigers. Their hands are also “inverted”, with the palms located where the back of a human’s hand would be and vice-versa. This looks odd, but doesn’t impact their dexterity in any way.
A rakshasa’s greatest desire is to accumulate lots of wealth and power and to spend eternity surrounded by luxury and vice. They have absolutely no moral qualms when it comes to achieving these goals, of course. Rakshasas are highly skilled at fighting, arcane magic, and many other skills they had time to hone during their centuries of life.
While each individual’s abilities vary as much as those of player characters, each Rakshasa has enough skill at illusion to be able to disguise itself as any humanoid. They use this to infiltrate mortal society in order to achieve those positions of power. Why go to the trouble of building a kingdom yourself when you can just gank some king and replace him? And then maybe kill his family off so you can replace them with your own buddies and hangers-on?
In other words: you know all those nasty rumors people spread about doppelgangers? Turns out it’s the rakshasas who do most of those things. And since the doppelganger entry describes them as mostly just people trying to live peaceful lives, I wouldn’t be surprised if the rakshasas were responsible for pinning their own misdeeds on innocent doppelgangers. A setting that includes both cat-folk and rakshasas will also see the former shoulder some of the later’s bad reputations.
Fighting rakshasas is difficult. First you have to figure out who it is. Then you need to deal with its entourage of lackeys (unwitting or not). And only then will you fight the beast itself. Even if you kill one, it will reincarnate elsewhere in the world after a period of time wandering as a tormented, bodiless spirit. Reincarnated rakshasas come back as full adults with all of their memories and abilities, and are quite likely to try to get some payback on whoever killed them. Legends say a rakshasa can only be truly slain by a blessed weapon that pierces its heart.
The Monster Manual says that the origins of Rakshasas are shrouded in mistery, but that most sages believe they descend from demons who escaped from the Abyss and er, spawned in the world. Rakshasas themselves scoff at this notion. Demons are too uncouth to have produced such refined creatures as they!
The Monster Vault gets more specific: a Rakshasa is what happens when a Deva goes bad. Devas are a playable race introduced in the Player’s Handbook 2, and occupy roughly the same narrative space as aasimar from previous editions but in a cooler way. They have that “immortal spirit encased in flesh” thing going on, and reincarnate as fully formed adults when they die, with little memory of their past lives.
Devas have ties to the Astral Sea and to the forces of good, but when a Deva turns to evil they come back as a Rakshasa when they next reincarnate. Theoretically, if a Rakshasa repents and rejects its evil ways, it will become a Deva again in its next incarnation, but such an event has yet to be recorded.
Rakshasa are Medium Natural Humanoids, with a land speed of 6 and low-light vision. Their signature ability is Deceptive Veil, a minor action illusion that allows them to disguise themselves as any medium humanoid. Piercing the disguise requires an opposed Insight test versus their Bluff. Obviously, all Rakshasa have pretty good Charisma and are trained in Bluff. The MV version puts less emphasis on skills and has a fixed DC equal to 20+the level of the rakshasa. Given they’re usually Paragon-tier, this leads to “spot the doppelganger” levels of difficulty.
There’s no less than six different stat blocks for rakshasas across both books, five in the MM and one (plus two updates) in the MV.
Rakshasa Warrior (Both)
What passes for a “foot soldier” among Rakshasa, you can likely find them acting as elite bodyguards for their higher-ranked overlords. Warriors are Level 15 Soldiers with 142 HP and all common Rakshasa traits. Both versions are good physical combatants, and the MV one has a few more magical tricks at its disposal.
Warriors wear scale armor and wield heavy shields and longswords. Their longsword attacks have them roll twice and use either result, meaning they always have 5e Advantage on them. A hit does some damage and marks the target for a turn.
They can also attack with their claws, which are just a weaker basic attack in the MM but have an ongoing damage (save ends) rider on the MV, meaning you actually have a use for them there.
If a marked enemy within 5 squares shifts or attacks someone else, the warrior can use a Tiger Pounce to close the distance and make a claw attack. The MM version shifts, the MV one teleports.
The MV Warrior also has an Illusory Ambush minor-action encounter power that performs a complex switcheroo: it turns the warrior invisible, creates an illusion of it on the same square, and allows it to shift its speed. The transition is indistinguishable to observers and the effects last for a turn or until the illusion is attacked.
Rakshasa Archer (Both)
Archers are level 15 Artillery with 110 HP and all common traits. They fight in melee with their Claws (which have a small ongoing damage rider in the MV) and at range with their ornate longbows. They can make two basic longbow attacks against different targets as a standard action. The MV version also applies 5e Advantage to its basic longbow attacks.
Instead of making a normal or double attack, the archer can opt to use a Ghost Arrow (Ranged 20 vs. Reflex; recharge 5-6) which does necrotic damage and prevents the target from spending healing surges (save ends).
Aside from Deceptive Veil the MV version also has Illusory Escape, which pulls the same switcheroo as the warrior’s power, but triggers when the archer is hit by a ranged attack. It recharges when the archer is first bloodied.
Rakshasa Mage (MV)
Rakshasa Mages are Level 16 Controllers with 153 HP, all common traits, and a whole lot of illusion spells. They make it almost impossible for the PCs to keep to any sort of formation, since all of their abilities do something even if they miss.
The mage’s most common attack will likely be Misleading Visions (area burst 1 with 5 vs. Will; enemies only), an illusion that does psychic damage and slides the targets 4 squares on a hit. On a miss, it still slides them 1 square.
A bit less often, it will intensify those illusions into Visions of Terror (area burst 1 within 5 vs Will; enemies only; recharge 5-6), which do greater psychic damage and immobilize (save ends). On a miss, they still do half damage and slow for a turn.
They can also create Persistent Images as minor actions. These may represent any Medium or smaller object or creature, and can be animate, but produce no noise. They appear with 10 squares of the mage, and it’s a DC 22 Insight check to realize they’re illusions. That’s easy for mid-paragon characters, but they still have to take the time to analyze the illusion. The image lasts for a turn, but the mage can both sustain it and move it 6 squares with a single minor action.
If the PCs manage to cut through all the bullshit and close to melee range, they’ll find the rakshasa mage is quite proficient with its Claws, which do respectable damage and teleport 3 squares on a hit. Even a miss still teleports the target 1 square.
Rakshasa Assassin (MM)
This black panther Rakshasa is a Level 17 Skirmisher with 160 HP and all standard traits.
Assassins fight with paired shortswords, and they can perform two basic melee attacks per standard action. They also deal extra “sneak attack” damage with combat advantage. The quotes are important here - if they attack twice, both attacks get the bonus damage, unlike what happens with PC rogues.
Aside from the usual Deceptive Veil, they also have a couple of ninja skills. Shadow Form gives them phasing during any turn in which they move more than 2 squares. Phantom Distraction (close burst 1 vs. Will; recharge 5-6) is a minor action that does no damage but dazes for a turn on a hit.
Rakshasa Noble (MM)
Nobles are basically slightly stronger mages with a different illusion repertoire, and are the people warriors, archers, and assassins serve. They’re Level 19 Controllers with 178 HP and all standard traits. Their native speed goes up to 7.
As a minor action they can use a Phantom Image (recharge 5-6) to essentially give 5e Disadvantage to all attacks made against their AC or Reflex that turn. If either result is a critical, though, it’s the one that counts. There’s a bit of increased risk there.
The noble’s main attack spells are Mind Twist (Ranged 20 vs. Will) and Phantom Lure (Ranged 10 vs. Will). The first does psychic damage and dazes (save ends). The second does no damage and slides the target 5 squares.
Every so often the noble can cast a Frightful Phantom (Ranged 5 vs. Will; recharge 5-6), which does a heap of psychic damage, pushes the target 5 squares and stuns it (save ends).
If all else fails, the noble has to resort to its weak Claws, which do a bit of damage and blind for a turn on a hit. They’re more of an aid to get away from melee range than a proper attack.
Rakshasa Dread Knight (MM)
This is at the level range that could represent one of Eberron’s feared Lords of Dust. It’s a Level 24 Soldier with 220 HP and all common traits. Dread Knights project an Aura of Doom (5) that cuts surge-based healing in half for any enemies inside.
Thei fight with Longswords in melee that have that “roll twice and use the better result”/”5e Advantage” bonus, and also mark for a turn. Dread Knights can use a standard action to make three such attacks against the same target, and if at least two hit the victim is also dazed (save ends). That’s a lot of d20’s hitting the table at once.
They can also use Claw attacks, though these are nothing special. They could benefit from an ongoing damage rider like the MV updates.
For utility, aside from Deceptive Veil they can use a Knight Move to fly 6 squares as a move action, though they must land at the end.
Dread Knights are a bit mechanically simpler than I imagined, but they’re still dangerous and won’t be alone when encountered.
Sample Encounters and Final Impressions
We have a whole bunch of sample rakshasa encounters here, ranging from level 15 to 24. They all follow a similar theme, being basically what you fight at the end of the adventure after uncovering the rakshasa plot and getting past the unwitting entourage. The groups consist either of all-rakshasa Evil Parties, or 1-2 rakshasa and a group of dangerous pets or other equally evil co-conspirators (yuan-ti, cambions, devils).
I’m a cat person, so I quite like these villains based on looks alone. You want to pit your party against Shere Khan, you use a Rakshasa. Given their decadent nature and tendency to collaborate with devils, you might also be able to use them as a metaphor for how big corporations have an affinity for fascism. If rakshasa existed in the real world, people like Zuck, Musk and Thiel would be serious candidates for being evil tigers in disguise.