My Greatest Monster Hits

I’m going to start this post by asking you to bear with me and the walls of roughly formatted text.  Monster Builder (the original, not the awful new one) doesn’t play nice with WordPress.

I was going through some of my notes from my current and past campaigns and thought I’d share some of the monsters I’m particularly proud of and the stories behind them.  First up is Black Claw. I’ve written a lot about him here, here’s how he was when I used him for the first time (the first session of the Eberron Campaign):

Black Claw of the Red Jackals

Level 2 Elite Controller (Leader)

Medium natural humanoid (shifter)

XP 250

HP 70; Bloodied 35

AC 18; Fortitude 16; Reflex 13; Will 18

Speed 6

Saving Throws +2; Action Points 1

Initiative +3

Perception +5

Low-Light Vision

Traits
O Bloodlust • Aura 2
Each ally within the aura gains a +1 bonus to attack rolls.
Standard Actions
m Claw • At-Will
Attack: +7 vs. AC
Hit: 2d8 + 1 damage.
m Quarterstaff (weapon) • At-Will
Attack: +7 vs. AC
Hit: 1d8 + 5 damage, and the warshaper slides the target 2 squares.
M Claw Flurry • At-Will
Effect: The Ashbound warshaper makes two claw attacks.
Minor Actions
R Unleash the Beast (charm) • At-Will
Attack: Ranged 10; +6 vs. Will
Hit: The target makes a melee basic attack against an adjacent creature of the Ashbound warshaper’s choice as a free action.
Aspect of the Beast (healing, polymorph) • Encounter
Effect: The Ashbound warshaper assumes the form of a primal beast. Until the end of the encounter, the warshaper gains regeneration 5, its speed increases by 2, and it can make claw attacks. While in this form, the Ashbound warshaper cannot make quarterstaff attacks and cannot use unleash the beast.
Razorclaw Shifting • Encounter
Effect: Until the end of the encounter, the warshaper’s speed increases by 2 and it gains a +1 bonus to AC and Reflex.
Skills Endurance +6, Intimidate +7, Nature +10
Str 16 (+4) Dex 14 (+3) Wis 19 (+5)
Con 11 (+1) Int 9 (+0) Cha 12 (+2)
Alignment unaligned     Languages Common

For this, I just renamed and dropped the Ashbound Warshaper on page 136 of the Eberron Campaign Guide three levels.  When they fought him again, he had just fallen under the possession of an otherworldly entity.  Here’s that version:

Black Claw of the Red Jackals

Level 4 Elite Controller (Leader)

Medium natural humanoid (shifter)

XP 350

HP 104; Bloodied 52

AC 20; Fortitude 18; Reflex 15; Will 20

Speed 6

Saving Throws +2; Action Points 1

Initiative +4

Perception +7

Low-Light Vision

Traits
O Bloodlust • Aura 2
Each ally within the aura gains a +1 bonus to attack rolls.
Standard Actions
m Claw • At-Will
Attack: +9 vs. AC
Hit: 2d8 + 2 damage.
m Quarterstaff (weapon) • At-Will
Attack: +9 vs. AC
Hit: 1d8 + 6 damage, and the warshaper slides the target 2 squares.
M Claw Flurry • At-Will
Effect: The Ashbound warshaper makes two claw attacks.
Minor Actions
R Emergency Healing (healing) • At-Will
Attack: Ranged 10 (targets one ally); +9 vs. AC
Effect: The target regains 5 hit points and can make a saving throw.
R The Eyes Have It (weapon) • Recharge
Effect: Black Claw makes an eye ray attack chosen randomly from the following list. Using an eye ray does not provoke opportunity attacks.1—Fire Ray (Fire): Ranged 5; +4 vs. Reflex; 1d6 + 3 fire damage.2—Exhaustion Ray (Necrotic): Ranged 5; +4 vs. Fortitude; 1d6 necrotic damage, and the target is weakened until the end of Black Claw’s next turn.
R Unleash the Beast (charm) • At-Will
Attack: Ranged 10; +8 vs. Will
Hit: The target makes a melee basic attack against an adjacent creature of the Ashbound warshaper’s choice as a free action.
Aspect of the Beast (healing, polymorph) • Encounter
Effect: The Ashbound warshaper assumes the form of a primal beast. Until the end of the encounter, the warshaper gains regeneration 5, its speed increases by 2, and it can make claw attacks. While in this form, the Ashbound warshaper cannot make quarterstaff attacks and cannot use unleash the beast.
Razorclaw Shifting • Encounter
Effect: Until the end of the encounter, the warshaper’s speed increases by 2 and it gains a +1 bonus to AC and Reflex.
Skills Endurance +8, Intimidate +8, Nature +12
Str 17 (+5) Dex 15 (+4) Wis 20 (+7)
Con 12 (+3) Int 10 (+2) Cha 13 (+3)
Alignment unaligned     Languages Common

I added a power from Boontah, Goblin Champion (found in issue 177 of Dragon) to reflect the influence of the entity within Black Claw.  Both versions were challenging and fun according to my group.  The new power really hooked them.  When he started shooting lasers from his eyes, my players were confused, but intrigued.

Next up is a creation of mine only known as the Murderball.  The Murderball is all me from the ground up.  It’s a massive construct that transforms into a spiked ball.  Here it is:

The Murderball

Level 7 Solo Brute

Huge natural animate

XP 1,500

Initiative +6                          Senses Perception +3
Whirling Blades aura 1; Creatures that start their turn within the aura take 5 damage.
HP 425; Bloodied 212
AC 22; Fortitude 26; Reflex 20; Will 19
Immune fear; poison; disease
Saving Throws +5
Speed 6 (8 while in ball form)
Action Points 2
m Fist Slam (standard; at-will)
Reach 2; +10 vs AC; 2d6 + 5
M Grab (standard; at-will)
The Murderball grabs an enemy and places them in itself to be ripped up by internal blades. A grabbed enemy is immune to murderball’s aura.  Only one enemy can be grabbed at a time.
Reach 2; +8 vs Reflex; target is grabbed -2 to escape checks
 Frenzy (standard; at-will)
The murderball may make 1 grab and 1 fist slam attack or 2 fist slam attacks per turn.
 Internal Blades (free; at-will)
The murderball tears apart a grabbed enemy once per turn.
+12 vs AC; 3d8 + 5
 Tranform! (standard; at-will)
The Murderball transforms from body form to ball form or vice versa.  In ball form, grab cannot be escape and murderball gains a +2 bonus to ac.  It can no longer make Grab or Fist slam attacks if in ball form.  It cannot make a trample attack in body form.
M Rolling Trample (standard; recharge 6)
murderball moves its speed, through enemy spaces.  Each enemy moved through takes the following attack
+10 vs AC; 3d6 + 5 and the target is knocked prone. Miss: Half damage and the target is slide 1 square.
 Reinforcements (immediate reaction; encounter)
When the murderball is first bloodied, he releases 4 Incomplete Forge Drakes to assist in the battle.
Alignment Evil Languages Common
Str 19 (+7) Dex 16 (+6) Wis10 (+3)
Con 25 (+10) Int 10 (+3) Cha 13 (+4)

Paul still talks about this one.  All of its abilities were extremely active, meaning he’d grab a player, move a player, or roll through a group.  I’m still proud of this one.

Finally here’s the villain of my last campaign.  She fought that group four times over the course of the heroic tier.  She increased in power right along with them.  She was always a bit different but had the same core group of abilities.  Here she is when they encountered the first time:

Sorena

Level 5 Elite Controller

Medium shadow humanoid

XP 400

Initiative +6                          Senses Perception +3
HP 126; Bloodied 63
AC 19; Fortitude 21; Reflex 19; Will 20
Saving Throws +2
Speed 6
Action Points 1
m Scythe (at-will; standard) • Weapon
Reach 2; +10 vs AC; 2d4 + 3
M Life Sapping Scythe (at-will; standard) • Necrotic, Weapon
Reach 2; +10 vs AC; 2d4 + 3 necrotic damage, and the target is slowed until the end of the hobgoblin warcaster’s next turn
M Cage of Gloom (recharge 5 6; standard)
Sorena makes a scythe attack. If the attack hits, Sorena makes a secondary attack as strands of shadow coil around the target.
+7 vs Reflex; the target is restrained (save ends)
C Deep Shadow (encounter; standard; sustain minor) • Necrotic
Aura 2; thick, writhing shadows surround Sorena. Sorena and any other shadow creatures in the aura gain concealment. In addition, enemies that enter or start their turns in the aura take 5 necrotic damage, and enemies (including flying ones) also treat the area within the aura as difficult terrain. Sorena can sustain the aura as a minor action. However, the effect ends if she uses shadow jaunt or moves more than half her speed on her turn.
 Shadow Jaunt (encounter; move) • Teleportation
Sorena teleports 3 squares and becomes insubstantial until the start of her next turn.
Alignment Unaligned Languages Common, Abyssal
Skills Acrobatics +11, Stealth +11, Thievery +11
Str 12 (+3) Dex 18 (+6) Wis 12 (+3)
Con 15 (+4) Int 18 (+6) Cha 15 (+4)
Equipment Scythe, Leather Armor

And here’s what she looked like when they fought her for the last time:

Sorena Darkfeather, Mistress of Shadows

Level 13 Solo Controller

Medium shadow humanoid

XP 4,000

Initiative +12                        Senses Perception +9
HP 524; Bloodied 262
AC 27; Fortitude 29; Reflex 27; Will 28
Saving Throws +5
Speed  6
Action Points 2
m Scythe (standard; at-will) • Weapon
Reach 2; +18 vs AC; 2d4 + 5
M Life Sapping Scythe (standard; at-will) • Necrotic, Weapon
Reach 2; +18 vs AC; 2d4 + 5 necrotic damage, and the target is shrouded in gloom
 Come to my Aid! (minor; recharge when minions are dead)
Sorena summons 4 Shadar-kai grunts.  When all are dead, she’ll use this power again.  They act immediately after her in the initiative order.
M Cage of Gloom (standard; recharge 5 6)
Sorena makes a scythe attack. If the attack hits, Sorena makes a secondary attack as strands of shadow coil around the target.; 2
+15 vs Reflex; 2 the target is restrained (save ends)
 Shadow Burst (minor; encounter) • Cold, Necrotic
Close blast 3; +17 vs Reflex; cold or necrotic damage, Sorena chooses for each attack, and the target takes ongoing 10 damage (save ends); 2d8 + 6
C Frightful Presence (standard; encounter) • Fear
Close burst 5; targets enemies; +15 vs Will; the target is stunned until the end of Sorena’s next turn. Aftereffect: The target takes a -2 penalty to attack rolls (save ends)
C Mark of Terror’s Grasp (free, when first bloodied; encounter) • Necrotic
Close blast 3; +16 vs Fortitude; 3d6 + 6 necrotic damage, and the target is immobilized (save ends)
 Fearful Pulse (minor; recharge 5 6) • Cold, Necrotic
Targets only those under the effects of Frightful Presence, Shadow Burst and Mark of Terror.  Target takes 10 cold and Necrotic damage.
C Deep Shadow (standard; sustain minor; encounter) • Necrotic
Aura 2; thick, writhing shadows surround Sorena. Sorena and any other shadow creatures in the aura gain concealment. In addition, enemies that enter or start their turns in the aura take 5 necrotic damage, and enemies (including flying ones) also treat the area within the aura as difficult terrain. Sorena can sustain the aura as a minor action. However, the effect ends if she uses shadow jaunt or moves more than half her speed on her turn.; 2
 Shadow Jaunt (move; recharge 4 5 6) • Teleportation
Sorena teleports 5 squares and becomes insubstantial until the start of her next turn.
 Shrouded in Gloom
While shrouded in gloom, a creature takes a -2 penalty to attack rolls and gains only half the benefit of healing effects.
Alignment Unaligned Languages Common, Abyssal
Skills Acrobatics +17, Stealth +17, Thievery +17
Str 16 (+9) Dex 22 (+12) Wis16 (+9)
Con 19 (+10) Int 22 (+12) Cha 19 (+10)
Equipment Scythe, Leather Armor

Feel free to use any of these monsters in your campaigns and let me know how they work out for you.  If you make any changes or improvements, I’d love to hear about it.

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Out Of Sight, But In Mind

This week my players finally made it to Xen’drik to start work for their patron, Merrix d’Cannith.  While the activity they have in the jungle continent and the monsters they encounter there are interesting, this post isn’t about that.  One of the major themes of my campaign is the slow march back to war in Khorvaire; this post is about how I’m trying to make sure my players don’t lose sight of that.

I should probably recap a bit at this point.  Sharn was destroyed when the players failed to stop a terrorist attack on the city.  Mathias, the only survivor from the original group was blamed and sentenced to life in prison instead of death by King Boronel of Breland, a very unpopular decision.  The characters all ended up on the same train to the Mror Holds.  En route, they were drafted by Merrix d’Cannith to help him build an illegal creation forge (the thing that makes warforged) in the jungles of Xen’drik.  Since then, they’ve been away from the intrigues of the Five Nations.

But while they’ve been off, I’ve attempted to make sure these issues would still be in the back of their minds.  Things like an overheard conversation about the connection between the terrorist and the queen of Aundair or the news crier in Sharn saying how Boronel has given up his throne are my little ways of saying ‘don’t forget, there are still things going on back in Khorvaire’.

I’ll admit I’m not sure this is working.  I know the Boronel giving up his throne one hit them, but that some of the other ‘news from back home’ I’ve feed them has just kind of gone by without notice.  I’m worried that instead of returning the Khorvaire and being ready for what’s going to happen, like I want, they’ll get off the ship and wonder how everything went to hell.

The characters are the most important people in the world.  The world is for them and would be nothing if they didn’t exist.  But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work when they aren’t around.  If places were the same as they’d been left by the players, it would feel weak and artificial.  The true challenge becomes showing your players that things are happening in the world even when they’re not there to see them.

The Greatest Evils: More Memorable Villains

Heroes are great, protagonists are fantastic, but what would they be without their antagonists?  What would the Fifth Element be without Zorg?  Where would Lord of the Rings be without Sauron?  A great villain can increase how memorable your campaign is.  The best villains will drive your campaign and set your players on a truly personal quest.  Here are some ways to make your antagonist the main event:

  • Make them a constant force in the campaign.  This one might seem a bit obvious, but it can be easy to lose sight of where you’re villain fits when the players aren’t interacting with him, his henchmen, or even in his sphere of influence.  Make sure you’re players don’t lose sight of their chosen foe!  When your players spend too much time away from their antagonist, he becomes just another ‘enemy of the week’ and that’s the worst thing that can happen to your antagonist.
  • Use a special miniature for them.  When you have a figure that represents ONLY one character and that character just happens to be the man or woman who wants all of their heads, the players perk up whenever they see it.  It makes every time you pull it out of your box or case that much more special.
  • Make him irredeemable and utterly evil.   Literature is full of stories of villains who are redeemed by the end of the story, or relatable villains who you just feel really bad for.  They make for interesting stories, they make for great entertainment, and they show you how easy it is to give in to that darker impulse.  Players don’t want any of that.  Players want to kill their enemy and feel good about it after.  They want to know his death was for the good of the world and justified.  Anything that murks that up will lessen their eventual victory.
  • Make the players encounter him more than once.  When they have that final encounter with your villain, the players should have a slight idea of what they’re dealing with.  Why? Because they’ve fought before.  A defeat where the villain spares the players, a fight where they win but he escapes, a fight they can never finish, these encounters will build tension that will help drive the players animosity into the final showdown.  And when that last great battle comes, don’t go easy on them; nothing makes players enjoy a fight like coming back from the brink of death.

Remember, the villain can be just as important as the player characters.  Don’t be afraid to put the work into making one that you’re players find to be truly memorable.

Go for Glory! Sport in Your Campaigns

Ah the Olympics!  A time for competition!  A time for nationalism! A time for glory!  With athletic completion on television constantly I’ve been wondering where sports can fit in your campaign.  While some of the current sports, like field events and wrestling, would fit nicely in any campaign world, the real question becomes, why would your players be interested?

Sports can fit the interests of your players in any number of ways.  Maybe the only person who can help your players wants them to prove their greatness by winning a sports competition.  Maybe they find themselves fighting for their lives in that old classic: gladiatorial games.  Gladiatorial games can work for most settings, the post apocalyptic warlord has a fighting pit, the city has a storied gladiatorial ring, that sort of thing.  Or maybe the players have to help a sports team for their patrons.

In my Gotheer campaign there were noble houses loosely based on the Houses of Eberron.  Each house sponsored their own ‘pitball’ team.  Pitball is a sport of my own design similar to Olympic handball but with more fantasy elements.  The players avoided this adventure, but they were going to have an adventure where they helped a house’s team win the league championship.  This would have entailed thwarting others from cheating, helping the team train, protect the team, and maybe even replace members themselves.  The point here is don’t be afraid to get a little anachronistic when you include sports in your campaign.  Professional sports leagues aren’t out of the question, Bloodbowl is something that exists after all.

But don’t forget the sports that are basically what your players do every day.  Archery, fencing, javelin, discus; these are all things your players are very familiar with.  Don’t forget that sport used to just be another way to train soldiers.  Jousting is a prime example of this.

Athletic competition is a very human thing.  It’s hard to imagine a world without sports.  Including sports in your campaign is an easy thing and an easy way to add depth to your game.