Jul 27 2015

Monster Monday: My Little Monster Studies

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Okay, okay, it’s not a monster writeup. But it has a monster in it, and it’s Monday. So deal with it!


My Little Monster Studies: Displacer Beast by the-gneech on DeviantArt

Commission for Miertam, possibly the start of a new series, of Twilight learning all about monsters… the hard way. This episode’s entry is that adorable little six-legged tentacular light-warping critter, the displacer beast. Fluttershy, of course, thinks it’s adorable… and clearly Twilight is speechless with admiration!

Such a weird-honkin’ monster and one of my favorites, even if I rarely actually use them. 😀 Inspired originally by “Voyage of the Space Beagle” by A. E. van Vogt if my memory serves correctly, modified slightly and now immortalized by Dungeons and Dragons. Aside from its devious nature, the displacer beast has a permanent illusion of being some distance from its actual body. I never really thought that would actually be that confusing until I started drawing this, but now I can totally see it.

On an artistic note, for this pic I decided to do a piece that used the pony character models but drawn in my own style rather than trying to simply mimic the MLPFIM style. Whattya think?

-The Gneech

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Jul 22 2015

Worldbuilding Wednesday: Baselines

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Sometime a while back I happened upon some articles about worldbuilding with the Monster Manual, and I’ve been doing some thinking about it on my own since then, particularly in regards to the “normal people” of a D&D world.

Somewhere lost in the dim mists of the edition wars, there was an interesting article about the balance of 3.x, and how DCs, skill ranks, and ability scores all worked perfectly to simulate a realistic setting if you assumed that almost every person in the average D&D world is an NPC classed character of level 1-5 or so with ability scores ranging from 8-12. Even the paltry 1d4 damage of a dagger is deadly if you only have 4 hit points, and on that scale is the 5d6 damage of a fireball any more dangerous than the 2d6+3 battleaxe of an orc? Not really. To a low-level 3.x NPC, anything that has a positive attack bonus is likely to kill them with one or two shots.

With that discussion in mind, I started looking at the NPC stat blocks in the 5E Monster Manual to see what I could deduce about the “normal” population. Here’s what I found.

  • Still sucks to be the 99%. Commoners (CR 0) have 10s across the board, 4 hit points, and a +2 proficiency bonus (but no proficiencies). Racial bonuses and any training you wish to give them will make the biggest difference– a racial stat bump and proficiency in a given skill will get them all the way up to the dizzying heights of +3 at something.
  • Constabulary/soldiery quality varies widely. A Guard (CR 1/8) is almost three times as durable as a commoner, with 11 hit points and of course armor that makes them very difficult for the unwashed rabble to hit in the first place– but they are positively outclassed by the Thug (CR 1/2), whose 32 hit points and multiattack with their mace put the guard in big danger if the thug manages to win initiative. The guard still outclasses the Tribal Warrior (CR 1/8) by virtue solely of their better gear, but all three of them look like amateurs compared to the Veteran (CR 3) or the Knight (CR 3). The Gladiator (CR 5) is probably the scariest “normal” opponent, with a sturdy AC 16, 112(!) hit points, and three attacks.
  • As I am a gentleman, sirrah, I beg of you, “Not to the face.” The Noble (CR 1/8) is fragile, with a mere 9 hp and only his parry to protect him. Even surrounded by guards a noble is well-advised to surrender to the Bandit Captain (CR 2) solo, with his three attacks and 65 hit points, much less one who’s surrounded by, y’know, his Bandits (CR 1/8), who are akin to tribal warriors in ferocity. Knights by comparison are much more fearsome, being well protected (AC 18), durable (hp 52), and can probably take the Bandit Captain one-on-one plus is a better leader.
  • No, Mr. Bond, you are only CR 1. The Spy (CR 1) is roughly on par with a 2nd or 3rd level rogue, quite dangerous even to the Thug if they can get in a sneak attack or two, but not much danger to the Veteran in a straight-up fight. The Scout (CR 1/2) is tougher than a Guard or a Bandit but not by much.
  • Using magic is cheating! Spellcasters weird the CR system. The Mage (CR 6) is a 9th level wizard, with 12 AC, 40 hit points, and one cone of cold, making it a glass cannon. The Priest (CL 2) is a 5th level cleric, and the Druid (CR 2) is a 4th level druid. 5E calculates CR almost entirely as a factor of hit points and damage output assuming a solo encounter, so the fragile mage and the not-really-a-combat-specialist priest end up being fairly low on the CR totem pole for the amount of impact they can have as part of a well-crafted team. But then we look at the Archmage (CR 12), who is an 18th level wizard. These crazy-powerful reshapers-of-the-universe who can stop time or grant a wish still don’t rate as powerful as a single storm giant because they “only” have 99 hit points and can only fire off cone of cold three times.

So when you look at these figures for the “baseline” populace, you start to see some trends. First off, hit points are all over the map. An assassin going after the king might have to be able to kill someone with 9 hit points, 52 hit points, or more depending on if that king is a mighty warrior or a feeble aristocrat. Still, it would appear that most members of the “normal” populace have about 5-30 hit points, which means that they’d fare wildly differently against a goblin’s knife but roast equally in the breath weapon of an adult dragon. It’s only when you get to the most battle-hardened NPCs (the Bandit Captain, the Gladiator, the Knight, the Veteran) that facing that kind of threat becomes even feasible, much less having any chance of success.

It also means that an NPC “adventuring party” consisting of a Veteran (fighter), Spy (rogue), Mage (wizard), and Priest (cleric) would be a “hard” encounter for a party of four 8th level PCs and “deadly” for anything lower. If we assume “hard” to be roughly where groups come into parity, that puts a generic group of adventurers solidly in the “heroes of the realm” tier.

If you look at skill levels as measured by proficiency, most skilled experts have about a +3 to +5 with their most tricked-out ability, and somewhere around +1 with everything else due to their ability scores. Few NPCs have saving throws to speak of, maybe a +2 or +3 with their best ability. A few outliers buck these trends, having +6 or up to +10 with one or two things.

Thus, an “average” person in 5E has something like AC 13, 20 hp, +5 with their best skill and +1 with any others, +3 to their best saving throw and +1 with the rest, and can do somewhere around 10 points of damage in a round of combat with their primary attack. In an average-person-vs-average-person fight, whichever one wins initiative and makes better use of situational advantages will probably defeat the other in 2-4 rounds, probably getting fairly beat up themselves in the process.

It also means that player characters start outclassing “average” people somewhere around 3rd level probably… which is just about right.

-The Gneech

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Jul 20 2015

Monster Monday: Tentamort for 5E

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One of my old Fiend Folio favorites, brought to the new edition. The flavor text is not mine, I just did the stat conversion. NOTES: Is it nuts that a CR 2 creature can have 55 hit points? That seems nuts to me. 5E, you have strange math.

Attack of the killer mustache!

Tentamort (CR 2; 450 XP)

Medium monstrosity, unaligned


Armor Class 12
Hit Points 55 (10d8+10)
Speed 10′, climb 10′


Str 15/+2, Dex 14/+2, Con 13/+2, Int 3/-4, Wis 14/+2, Cha 5/-3


Skills Stealth +4
Damage Resistances poison
Condition Immunities prone
Senses darkvision 60′, passive Perception 12
Languages


Retraction. The tentamort may compress itself and all of its tentacles into small crevasses in rocky, swampy, or otherwise suitable terrain. Doing this gives it AC 15 and advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks but renders it immoble.

Spider Climb. The tentamort can climb difficult surfaces, including upside down on ceilings, without needing to make an ability check.

Tentacle Sever. The tentamort’s tentacles may be targeted in combat. Each one is AC 12, 15 hit points. Damage done to a tentacle counts against the creature’s total hit points. A severed tentacle is destroyed and cannot attack. It regenerates severed tentacles over the course of three days.


Actions


Multiattack. The tentamort makes two attacks, one with each tentacle, or two with its poison tentacle against a grappled target.

Grasping Tentacle. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 15′, one creature. Hit: 11 (2d8+2) bludgeoning damage and the target is grappled (escape DC 12) if it is medium or smaller. While grappling the target, the tentamort has advantage on attack rolls against it and can’t use this attack on other targets. The tentamort may attempt to push or pull the target 5′ per turn as a bonus action if it defeats the target in a contested Strength check.

Poison Tentacle. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 15′, one target. Hit: 11 (2d8+2) piercing damage and the target must make a DC 12 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for ten minutes. While poisoned, the target takes 9 (2d8) damage at the beginning of each of their turns and cannot recover hit points. The target may make a new saving throw to overcome the poison at the end of each of their turns.

(Text from the Pathfinder PRD.)

Tentamorts are eerie ambush predators, preferring to let prey come to them rather than seeking food out, and relying on their excellent senses to warn them of approaching meals. A tentamort possesses several tentacles, most of which are used for locomotion but two of which have evolved for singular purposes in securing food. One of these longer tentacles is covered with tiny, sticky nodules and is capable of constricting prey, while the other ends in a long, thin stinger. The tentamort’s method of attack is to grab its prey with its constricting tentacle and sting the grappled target with the other. Tentamort poison is particularly horrific, as it swiftly liquefies the creature’s internal organs into a rancid slurry the monster can then drink with the same stinger, siphoning out the fluid with foul sucking sounds. Larger creatures often require multiple stings (and multiple failed saving throws against the venom) before they can be fully absorbed by a tentamort. Tentamorts are almost mindless, possessing just enough intellect to make crude animal judgments about peril and food. Once a tentamort has grabbed prey, it tends to focus entirely on that creature, ignoring attacks upon it from other sources as long as its current victim remains a source of nutrition. After a tentamort finishes consuming a creature, all that typically remains are the bones and skin.

A well-fed tentamort uses the hollow corpse of its meal as a sort of incubator for its eggs, injecting the body with a caviar-like mass of black eggs that mature in the rotting carcass for several weeks until a dozen or so hand-sized tentamorts hatch and crawl out of their host’s orifices. Depending upon the availability of other prey, anywhere from one to six of these may survive, feeding on rats and Tiny vermin, until they eventually grow to adulthood. Tentamort young look like dark blue starfish with a single red eye in the center—they do not possess their longer, specialized tentacles until they mature. A young tentamort often attaches itself to a larger predator, clinging to it much the same way a remora clings to a shark, dropping off to feed innocuously on its host’s kills while the creature sleeps.

Some tentamorts grow much larger than their human-sized kin. Known as greater tentamorts, these ogre-sized creatures have at least [18] Hit Dice and are Large sized. Their two specialized tentacles grow to 20 feet long, providing the creature with greater reach than a Large monster normally possesses. Greater tentamorts are never found in groups, for these creatures can only achieve such monstrous size through cannibalism, as if there were some key nutrient in another tentamort’s body that allows them to exceed their typical physical limitations. Some of these creatures have mutations giving them two tentacles and two stingers. Yet the most disturbing quality possessed by these monsters is their unexpected intellect—greater tentamorts are often as intelligent as humans, or more so. They cannot speak, but possess an eerie form of telepathy that works only upon creatures they are in physical contact with—a feature they often use to “chat” with their food as they eat.

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Jul 06 2015

Monster Monday– Goblin Mobbers for 5E

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When goblins go to war, they quickly learn that in a fair fight with, well, just about anyone, they are going to get their clocks cleaned. So obviously the answer is to never fight fair! To that end, goblins organize in small mobs (they’re too rowdy and undisciplined to be properly called a “squad”), with each mob going after a single combatant or group of combatants.

Within a mob, most members are pretty ordinary goblins, of the variety found on page 166 of the Monster Manual. However, there are some other specialized mobbers that also show up, especially once goblins are seriously on the march.

Goblin Trappers

These annoying pests hurl a bag of wet and sticky goo made from monstrous spider glands and web fibers that act similarly to tanglefoot bags at their foes, so that their allies can then attack at range with impunity.

Goblin Trapper (CR 1/4; 50 XP)


Small humanoid (goblinoid), neutral evil
Armor Class 13 (leather armor)
Hit Points 7 (2d6)
Speed 30′


Str 8/-1   Dex 14/+2   Con 10/+0
Int 10/+0   Wis 8/-1   Cha 8/-1


Skills Stealth +4
Senses darkvision 60′, passive Perception 9
Languages Common, Goblin


Nimble Escape. The goblin can take the Disengage or Hide action as a bonus action on each of its turns.


Actions
Sticky Goo (Recharge 5-6). Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, range 30’/60′., one creature. Hit: The target is restrained by the sticky goo. As an action, the restrained target can make a DC 12 Strength check, tearing free of the goo on a success. The goo can also be attacked and destroyed (AC 10; hp 5; vulnerability to fire damage, immunity to bludgeoning, poison, and psychic damage).
Scimitar. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5′, one target. Hit: 7 (1d8+2) slashing damage, or 5 (1d6+2) slashing damage if used one-handed.
Shortbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, range 80’/320′, one target. Hit: 5 (1d6+2) piercing damage.


Reactions
Fling the Goo! If the goblin trapper’s Sticky Goo ability is available, the goblin may use it as a reaction on any creature that moves within 30′ of it.

Tactics: A goblin mob that has trappers will let them act first (using a Delay action if necessary), preferably throwing their pots of goo from ambush. This in turn sets up the lobbers (see below) to fling their own pots, and then the regular goblin soldiers to rush in and finish the job. The goblin trapper avoids melee if at all possible, hanging back and plinking away with its bow while scrambling to get another pot of goo ready to fling.

Goblin Lobber

This annoying little grub has a backpack full of alchemist fire bombs and flings them as fast as it can prime and light them. However, not being the brightest of creatures, they have more than once been known to accidentally blow themselves up.

Goblin Lobber (CR 1/4; 50 XP)


Small humanoid (goblinoid), neutral evil
Armor Class 13 (leather armor)
Hit Points 7 (2d6)
Speed 30′


Str 8/-1   Dex 14/+2   Con 10/+0
Int 10/+0   Wis 8/-1   Cha 8/-1


Skills Stealth +4
Senses darkvision 60′, passive Perception 9
Languages Common, Goblin


Nimble Escape. The goblin can take the Disengage or Hide action as a bonus action on each of its turns.
Oops. If a goblin lobber is blinded, frightened, incapacitated, or knocked prone, it accidentally immolates itself, doing 7 (2d6) fire damage to itself and every creature in its space, and doing 3 (1d6) fire damage to every creature within 5′ of it.


Actions
Fire Bomb (Recharge 5-6). The lobber flings a fire bomb at a designated spot within 60′ of itself. All creatures in a 5′ sphere centered on that spot must make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw, taking 7 (2d6) fire damage on a failure, or half that amount on a success. All creatures within an additional 5′ radius of that spot take 3 (1d6) damage (no saving throw). The fire spreads around corners and ignites flammable objects in the area that aren’t being worn or carried. If a character is restrained by a goblin trapper’s goo, that goo takes the fire damage as well.
Scimitar. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5′, one target. Hit: 7 (1d8+2) slashing damage, or 5 (1d6+2) slashing damage if used one-handed.
Shortbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, range 80’/320′, one target. Hit: 5 (1d6+2) piercing damage.


Reactions
Out With a Bang! When the lobber is reduced to 0 hit points, it may choose to set off a fire bomb with its dying breath as a reaction, doing 7 (2d6) damage to itself and every creature in its space, and doing 3 (1d6) fire damage to every creature within 5′ of it.

Tactics: The lobber will wait for a trapper to successfully trap someone, then throw its fire bomb at that creature, hoping to catch as many targets in its blast as possible. Like the trapper, the lobber will avoid melee, hiding behind cover if it can in order to prepare its next bomb. Lobbers don’t always have the best fire discipline, and may happily catch their own allies in the blast if it means hitting more enemies in the process.

Goblin Mob Encounter Templates

Attack Mob (875 XP encounter budget, 350 XP award)
This is a fairly typical hit squad, often sent with orders to take out a specific target (such as the party cleric or spellcaster). Once the objective is complete, the mob will scatter.

  • 2 Goblin Trappers (CR 1/2; 50 XP each): Attack first, immobilizing objective, then retreat with Nimble Escape
  • 1 Goblin Lobber (CR 1/2; 50 XP): Fling their bombs at the target, then retreat with Nimble Escape
  • 4 Goblins (CR 1/2; 50 XP each): Surround and attack the target.

Harassment’R’Us (600 XP encounter budget, 300 XP award)
These jerks don’t necessarily want to kill their foes (although they probably wouldn’t mind), so much as to slow them up and waste their time, or soften them up for a bigger fight to come.

  • 3 Goblin Trappers (CR 1/2; 50 XP each): Attempt to immobilize any foes who appear to be melee specialists
  • 3 Goblins (CR 1/2; 50 XP each): Attack with bows, preferably from cover to snipe with Nimble Escape, targeting any spellcasters or ranged specialists

Grappers’s Slappers (2,650 XP encounter budget, 1,060 XP award)
Grapper is a notorious bugbear mercenary, hiring himself and his squad of obnoxious little brutes to thieves’ guilds, orc armies, drow spies, or anyone else willing to pay the price. Although perfectly capable of stand-up fighting, their inclination is more towards commando-style missions to assassinate enemy leaders, destroying fortifications, or even just wanton mayhem. Their tactics depend on their goals, but generally Grapper prefers to sneak around and come at the target from the back in order to gain a surprise attack, while sending his Slappers to make a frontal assault or attack from ambush. Grapper also makes a great recurring villain, so feel free to assume that with time and cash he can recruit any other support he might need.

  • Grapper (Bugbear Chief, MM p. 33, CR 3; 700 XP):
  • 2 Goblin Lobbers OR 2 Goblin Trappers (CR 1/2; 50 XP each)
  • 4 Goblins (CR 1/2; 50 XP each)
  • -The Gneech

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Jun 29 2015

Monster Monday– Burning Skeleton for 5E

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We Are Legion by zilla774
We Are Legion by zilla774

An animated skeleton wreathed in hellfire and pungent black smoke, this horrific monster seeks to feed all living things to the eternal flames which consume it.

Burning Skeleton (CR 1; 200 XP)


Medium undead, neutral evil
Armor Class 15 (natural armor)
Hit Points 22 (5d8)
Speed 30′


Str 12/+1   Dex 16/+3   Con 11/+0
Int 3/-4   Wis 10/+0   Cha 4/-3


Damage Vulnerabilities cold, bludgeoning
Damage Resistances piercing and slashing from nonmagical weapons
Damage Immunities fire, poison
Condition Immunities poisoned, exhaustion
Senses darkvision 60′, passive Perception 10
Languages understands Common but can’t speak


Heated Body. A creature that touches the skeleton or hits it with a melee attack while within 5′ of it takes 3 (1d6) fire damage.
Death Blast. When a flaming skeleton is reduced to 0 hp, it explodes in a fiery blast, doing 3 (1d6) fire damage to every creature within 5′ of it.


Actions
Multiattack. The skeleton makes two attacks with its flaming scimitar or its flame orb, or one attack with each.
Flaming Scimitar. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5′, one target. Hit: 3 (1d4+1) slashing damage plus 3 (1d6) fire damage.
Flame Orb. Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, range 30’/100′, one target. Hit: 7 (2d6) fire damage.

Designer Notes

It’s no secret that I love, love, love Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition, but like everything it’s not without its flaws– mostly in the encounter and monster variety area, which in my opinion has needlessly abandoned some of the few really good ideas from 4E. Fortunately, these are easily fixable without messing around with the rules, it’s just a matter of building the content to fill the gaps.

One notable thing that’s missing in a big way is ranged threats to mix in to encounters. Most monsters are melee, melee, melee, with maybe a crossbow added at the bottom as an afterthought, and low-level corporeal undead are particularly egregious in this regard. So here’s something to correct that: meant to be primarily a support monster for a larger group, the burning skeleton hangs back and lobs fire orbs into the fray, only engaging in melee when forced to, and then likely to go out with a bang.

Mechanically, it’s mostly a reskinned fire snake with skeleton traits added.

I have more to say on the subject of encounter and monster design in 5E, which is for another post.

-The Gneech

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Jun 23 2015

Come Find Me at AnthroCon!

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Gneech and SirFox at table N14

AC 2015 is just a few weeks away! As usual, I’ll be sharing a table with my old pal Sirfox. And, as usual, I’ll be doing clean, family-friendly fare, and he’ll be smutting it up. 😉

As always, I’ll be doing badges, sketchbooks, and so forth, as well as premiering issue three of “Suburban Jungle: Rough Housing.” So come on over! Buy my stuff, I’ll be your friend!

-The Gneech

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