Friday, 22 February 2013

Stat Block - Flail Snail

1E's Fiend Folio

I've been playing D&D since 1981 and the first AD&D book I bought - I otherwise relied on photocopies of the "big three" plus my Basic and Expert sets - was the Fiend Folio in 1982.

To say that the Fiend Folio was a mixed bag was a major understatement. It does not measure up well against the first Monster Manual or Monster Manual 2. (And it really surprised me when I read an interview with Mike Mearls some years ago where he openly admitted to advocating for the inclusion of more Fiend Folio monsters in the early 4E releases. That's why we got crap like the berbalang rather than more of the classic D&D monsters like, for example - frost giants, in the first Monster Manual. It also explains why I don't like what I have read about D&D Next: clearly I've got different design philosophies to Mike Mearls.)

One of the silly monsters that was included was the flail snail. Now this is a monster I completely ignored for nearly 30 years, treating it as just another bad idea from the Fiend Folio. However, along came Paizo with Misfit Monsters Redeemed and this picture:
Suddenly, the flail snail didn't quite seem so irredeemably silly anymore. Anyway, last night I was reading the excellent Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium and noticed the entry for armour of scintillating colours and thought back to how the original flail snail's shell had the same effect as a robe of scintillating colours, the inspiration for the 4E item. So, using Paizo's write-up plus the entry in Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium as inspiration, I decided to stat up the flail snail.

Flail Snail
The biggest concern I have about this monster in play is its low speed. With the right terrain, a ranged attacker should be able to reduce the 'snail to mincemeat quite easily. However, in terrain that enforces close combat, the 'snail should prove to be a real brute as it can knock enemies prone as an at-will attack and then use a move action to basically keep them prone for at least one more turn. Unfortunately, it doesn't have any other ability to take advantage of prone enemies; if I decide to amend the stat block I might just simply give it a damage bonus against them as it is a brute rather than a controller.

Looking at it again, I could also see it being a soldier. After all, the shell suggests a high AC - I went with resist 5 all while unbloodied to represent the shell's effects - and while it doesn't mark its targets, it certainly stops them from getting away.

Yeah, it really is a soldier.

Before I go back into Adventure Tools and finesse it some more, I need to give some thought as to what other monsters I can pair it with. It really needs some artillery or controllers that it can defend but the key is going to be the terrain because its slow movement really does limit it on the battlefield.

Hmmm, maybe that ghaunadan invoker of Ghaunadaur I was thinking about today has managed to train a group of flail snails to follow him by feeding them some sort of corrupt Far Realm-infused slime....

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Stat Block - Adaru

3.5E's Monster Manual V

One of the interesting things about 4E from a monster perspective was that the monsters got better designed as later products were released. Monster Manual V was proof that 3.5E was very different. The need for system mastery - and the seeming absence of editors who had it - showed in the numerous errors in stat blocks but it wasn't just the numbers that were off: there was a distinct lack of creativity.

Turning to pages 20-22 you will find a new demon named the adaru. This is the picture:

The flavour text is great. I particularly love this part from under its ecology:
Adarus are treachery and deception given form. When a mortal speaks an untruth that has grave consequences, it is said that a new adaru is born, taking shape in the bowels of the Abyss.
You look at the picture, you read this description and you expect something that poses a risk to your loyalties and your integrity. Instead you get a boring monster with a bite attack that also has poison that damages your Constitution - not Wisdom, not Charisma but your Constitution. You could reskin it as a spider and nobody would notice any difference.

I was thinking today that I want to write my adventure set in the Mere of Dead Men that will be a homage (aka an outright rip-off) of at least two of the adventures from the Mere of Dead Men series that were published in five consecutive Dungeon magazines - isses 69-73. In particular, the adventure would draw inspiration from Dungeon 71's Dreadful Vestiges and Dungeon 73's Eye of Myrkul. More on that in another post.

Dreadful Vestiges included an NPC cleric of Cyric who was a corrupted cleric of Helm who happened to fall afoul of some incorporeal undead known as defilers which have only been officially published in Dungeon 71. These undead had several unique (in the literal sense of the word) abilities including a poison that could change an enemy's alignment to chaotic evil. I thought about creating 4E versions of the defilers but then I thought of the adaru and what they could be. And, as the cleric in Dreadful Vestiges has a summoned hezrou ally, perhaps another abyssal monster would be appropriate.

Here's the cleric and his hezrou ally from Dungeon 71:


Firstly, the stat block of the adaru in Monster Manual V includes all the movement modes shown here. I decided to use that as inspiration as I picture it operating by sneaking up on its victim, sinking its bite into the poor unfortunate and then skittering away with segmented steps ready to repeat the process on the next enemy it can find. After all, corrupted by the Abyss requires that the enemy be slain by the ongoing damage; there is no incentive, per se, for the adaru to keep using its corrupting bite unless the enemy shakes off the ongoing damage first.

Secondly, the monster is actually really simple to run. It bites, it scatters, it waits and it's a melee controller. It will definitely need allies to survive, and those allies will benefit from its fetid cloud.

Anyway, my version of Dreadful Vestiges will have the fallen cleric of Torm (as Helm is no longer around) whose apostasy was directly a result of an adaru. And, in a homage to the sample encounter presented in Monster Manual V, the adaru will be named Mal'tanx. (It seems that adaru can summon babau demons in 3.5E; I better stat up some babaus before I go much further - I daresay Mal'tanx will need their help!)

Stat Block - Tanarukk

Hellgate Keep & The Scourged Legion
Symbol of the Scourged Legion
The 2E adventure Hellgate Keep introduced us to tanarukka (the plural of tanarukk), tanar'ri-blooded orcs spawned in the dungeons of the titular fortress. These were the basic troops of the Grintharke the balor and later formed the basis of the Scourged Legion - Grintharke and the Scourged Legion both have a role to play in my Neverwinter campaign, particularly if the PCs choose to seek out Gauntlgrym.

They were roughly as powerful as ogres pre-4E; in 4E, they become mid- to late-Paragon threats. I'm returning them to 5th-level, much as they had 5 hit dice in 2E and 3.xE.

I have a few tanarukk miniatures - maybe 4? - which were inspired by this picture by Wayne Reynolds:
Tanarukk & Fey'ri
As fey'ri will also be playing a role in my Neverwinter campaign, this picture will definitely become known to my players as well.

I've created about 30 stat blocks in the past three days and this one - at least right now - is my favourite.

The ideas are largely stolen from the 4E version of the tanarukk - brutal rampage, abyssal fury (originally indominatable fury) and death burst (originally avenging fire but the name changed to match the similar power of the balor) - while variable resistance was simply copied from other 4E demons.

The pre-4E versions had a bite attack; I changed that to demonic hunger - it's still a bite attack - to boost the tanarukk's damage when bloodied and also to give it a chance to gain temporary hit points, something that could work well in combination with abyssal fury in terms of boosting its staying power (although 5 temporary hit points is going to disappear quickly). I am concerned that the size of the close burst for the death burst power may be too high; close burst 1 or 3 is probably more appropriate.

But my favourite power is brutal rampage. I think it's a perfect power for a brute, particularly one with demonic origins. I can't wait to see these in play.

Edit: For comparison purposes, here's a copy of a stat block from August 2009 that I did for  a tanarukk with the same role and level. Thanks to the vagaries of Blogger, I can't centre it without it simply randomly appearing elsewhere in this post, nor can I add these comments after the stat block. While I definitely prefer my newer version - and don't even recall making the earlier stat block! - I like the slam/grab/bite combination, no doubt inspired by the fact that the miniature is grasping its axe with one hand and has the other hand free (not that this explains why I armed the monster with a falchion).

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Stat Block - Duergar


Before 4E, the duergar - also known as grey dwarves - were psionic evil dwarves whose psionic abilities were explained as being the result of a history of being enslaved by mind flayers. Their two signature abilities from the time they first appeared in 1E were invisibility and expansion, the latter being the ability to increase in size.

One of the 4E changes that I detested was making duergar into hell-tainted dwarves with the same history as before but with their deity, Laduguer, being revealed during the Spellplague years as merely being Asmodeus in disguise. As a result, duergar were no longer psionic but infernal with with ability to throw great spikes from their beards.

While I quite like the 4E duergar as a monster - they're clearly inspired by the half-baatezu durzagon from 3.xE's Fiend Folio - they are not the duergar that I wanted to see in my games, in part because I think the rise of Asmodeus is unnecessary and overrated. (If the designers wanted one of Baator's denizens to play a more prominent part in the 4E Realms it would have been better to choose either Malkizid, the Branded King, or Gargauth, both of whom had much more interesting and flavoursome FR-based backstories.)

Suffice to say, my duergar is more Old School... and surprisingly complicated for a 2nd-level standard monster.


While I was originally thinking of making the duergar a soldier - it is a type of dwarf, after all - I decided to go with lurker because if it was going to be able to turn invisible, it should gain some sort of combat benefit from that. So, basically it costs a round to turn invisible but then its strike the next round does more damage in the way the better-designed lurkers seem to work.
This mechanic only works when the duergar is unbloodied. Once it is bloodied, it can increase in size via expansion and then it functions more like a brute. I'm rather happy with how this worked out.

I also wanted to incorporate some ideas directly inspired by 3.xE's Expanded Psionic Handbook - psionic focus and deep impact. I like the idea of the duergar using psionics to charge its weapon in order to strike past an enemy's armour. I can remember using some duergar psychic warriors in my last session of 3.5E D&D that could do this - but 4E makes it so much easier to stat up!

I'm rather happy with this as my basic duergar. At some point I will need to stat up steeders and steeder riders. After all, a duergar isn't a duergar without spider cavalry!

Stat Block - Orc

Classic D&D Humanoids

I have a folder on my laptop's desktop titled Old School 4E Bestiary where these stat blocks are saved. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've been creating new stat blocks for D&D's classic humanoid monsters to try and bring them back to levels more consistent with their 1E hit dice. As a result, my version of the hill giant is not a mid-Paragon monster as it otherwise is in 4E - nor does it have the 12 hit dice it had in 2E or 3.xE - but it's an 8th-level brute based on the 8 hit dice it had in 1E (and in OD&D, for that matter).

Using the hill giant as a baseline, I then had to reduce the levels of pretty much every other humanoid and giant that exists in 4E. For the classic humanoids that had 1-hit dice in 1E - orcs and hobgoblins being the ones that spring to mind - I decided to bump them up to 2nd-level in 4E. This was a choice I made to allow for a progression in power from a kobold as a 1st-level minion to a goblin as a 1st-level skirmisher and then to azers, firenewts, gnolls, grimlocks, hobgoblins and sahuagin as 2nd-level monsters. Bugbears are 3rd-level and ogres are 4th-level, in both cases matching their 1E hit dice. I've statted all of these mentioned humanoids up already and will post them as my internet connection and inspiration allow.


In my mind a brute should not just have the potential for high damage, but also become more dangerous when bloodied (although this stat block doesn't incorporate any powers based on this idea - some of my other brutes do). I also like the idea of a higher damage attack that lowers the brute's defences. In the case of this orc, hacking frenzy doesn't do higher damage, per se, but it allows the orc to attack all adjacent opponents at the cost of granting combat advantage. Of course, offsetting that potential cost is that the orc is only going to use hacking frenzy when surrounded by two or more opponent who are likely to have combat advantage due to flanking anyway.

I have also retained savage demise which is the signature power for orcs in 4E. I would love to see it used in combination with hacking frenzy: imagine an orc dying after being surrounded and then lashing out against all of its foes with the last of its strength.

A quick thought about hacking frenzy. I just noticed that I made it target enemies in the burst. It might be more thematically appropriate to have it target all creatures instead. That way an orc in a frenzy is a threat to its enemies... and its friends. As a recharge power, rather than an at-will, it might also be appropriate to have it do minion-level damage on a miss, especially if changed to target all creatures.

Stat Block - Kobold

Tucker's Kobolds

The story of these kobolds has appeared in Dragon magazine - IIRC - and, of course, on the internet. As far as I can tell, it was an Old School attempt to make the weakest of the humanoid monsters into a credible threat by tactics which relied largely on DM fiat.

4E has provided the DM with a better toolset to try and make kobolds a threat - while still remaining "one hit wonders", so to speak - without simply resorting to DM fiat. While I do like a lot of the later kobold designs, as part of my desire to reduce the levels of my 4E monsters to better match their hit dice in 1E (or 2E in some cases), my basic kobold is a 1st-level minion lurker.


As you can see, it's a surprisingly long stat block for a monster that is only a minion largely due to the quick caltrop power. And while it is statted as a lurker, it could easily have been a skirmisher or even a controller and utilised the same stat block.

4E already established that a kobold can shift as a minor - rather than move - action and I wanted to combine that sort of quick movement with the flavour text surrouding kobolds that they are noted trapsmiths (and a standard version - as opposed to this minion version - of this stat block would probably be called a kobold trapsmith and I would simply add the encounter power for the trapsmith character theme from Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook).

With quick caltrop, even approaching a kobold becomes both annoying and dangerous, especially if the kobold is allied with a dragon and now the slowed or immobilised PC cannot simply run away. It also makes it difficult for the PC to strike at the kobold in melee whereas, on its turn, the kobold can dart in and out striking with combat advantage for extra damage. 
I haven't playtested this stat block yet but I think it might have a Tucker's Kobold-like effect on teaching a new generation of players to respect the self-titled Sons of the Dragon.

(By the way, if you're wondering why the stat block includes green plus signs on the same line as the name of the power, it seems that there is yet another bug in Adventure Tools. Any time you add even a single power from another monster, this sign appears on all of your monster's powers. At least that is what has been happening for the past couple of days....)

Stat Block - Aspect of Bane

Stat Blocks

For me, the best part of 4E is the ease with which a DM can make monsters while also capturing their flavour. It's an area where 4E is simply so much superior to the pre-3.xE versions of D&D which largely relied on the ability of the DM to vary his descriptions. After all, pre-3.xE most monsters only differed in terms of armour class, hit points and damage dealt; without a DM's off-the-cuff descriptions combat against a kobold or an ogre simply felt the same, more or less.

3.xE went a large way toward fixing that but, in the end, it became time consuming to make interesting stat blocks. 4E, however, got it right from the beginning and then perfected the maths after the Dark Sun Creature Catalogue and Monster Manual 3.

I've been meaning for a while to create more stat blocks to bring the levels of 4E monsters into line with their hit dice in 1E or 2E. As I've decided to stick to Heroic to early-Paragon games from now on, I needed, inter alia, giants of a more appropriate level. Of course, once your hill giant is reduced to an 8th-level brute, the other humanoids - such as orcs, ogres and trolls, also need to be reduced in level as well. I'll be posting these stat blocks as often as my internet connection allows but I wanted to first post my new stat block for the Aspect of Bane.

One of the best things about 3.5E's Miniatures Handbook was that it introduced the concept of divine aspects - significantly (!!!) lower CR versions of divine avatars that were also easy to run. The aspect of Bane did not feature in the Miniatures Handbook but the miniature itself was released for sale and so Wizards of the Coast created a stat block for it that was printed on the card that came with the miniature.

The aspect of Bane was a CR 11 encounter and so I decided to stat my 4E version at 11th-level as an elite controller. I had thought of making it a solo and also as a soldier but elite monsters can be more interesting as it's easier to include other monsters with them.

My plan is to use this stat block in my future Black Age of Bane campaign but I'm posting it now as I rather like the way it came out.

Aspect of Bane

At the moment, the stat block includes the leader keyword although the aspect of Bane has no leader powers. I'll fix that after I have left it to "brew" for a while.

The stat block may be quite complicated to run although I think that if you grasp the essential theme it becomes intuitive.

Basically, as the aspect of a deity of tyranny, you don't want to fall prone near it - it wants you to bow before it! Besides the extra damage the aspect of Bane does against prone targets, to stand up from prone first requires a successful saving throw before a move action can be spent on the PC's next turn to allow the character to stand. (Of course, leaders generally have a way to grant saving throws at other times.)

The crushing fist of spite power was inspired by the spell of the same name from 3.xE's Book of Vile Darkness, althought it was actually more inspired by the accompanying illustration:

Crushing Fist of Spite - 3.xE's Book of Vile Darkness

Of course, the crushing fist of spite evoked by the aspect of Bane is going to be a thing of darkness.
One last thing, here's a picture of the miniature that inspired this stat block:

Unfortunately, the resolution is not particularly good... but I'm going to enjoy its presence at my table one day!