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  • Let's Read the 4e Monster Manual 2: Spider

    If there’s one thing that D&D doesn’t lack, it’s monstrous spiders. The Monster Manual gave us a bunch of them; the Monster Vault would update some of these and add new ones. The Monster Manual 2, published between those two books, adds a whole new batch that doesn’t overlap with either of the other books.

    All of the spiders here have Tremorsense 10 and a climb speed enhanced by the Spider Climb trait, which allows them to walk on ceilings. They also have a Web Walker trait that allows them to ignore difficult terrain caused by webs. Finally, they have the very obvious Spider keyword, which allows them to be affected by all those drow and ettercap abilities that benefit “spider allies”.

    Bristle Spider

    Copyright 2009 Wizards of the Coast.

    These elephant-sized arachnids were originally bred by oni to serve as their mounts. In our narrative present, several other peoples have adopted them as well. Their biggest fans are the ettercap and the drow, neither of which have ever met a spider monster they didn’t like.

    Bristle spiders can also be found in the wild, where they inhabit dense jungles and caves. These environments tend to have enough cover to allow even these huge monsters to hide effectively and ambush their prey.

    Bristle Spiders are Huge Natural Beasts, and Level 15 Elite Lurkers with 232 HP. They have a ground speed of 8 and a climb speed of 6. I don’t know if they make webs themselves, but they still have Web Walker. As lurkers, they’re trained in Stealth.

    Their basic attack is a venomous Bite that deals damage with slow and ongoing poison damage riders. They can also spit an Acidic Poison Spray in a Close Blast 5. This targets reflex and deals both instant and ongoing “acid and poison” damage, and also slows.

    Those bristles are also useful in combat as part of the Bristle Blast attack (recharge 4+). This is a minor action, Close Blast 5 attack against Fortitude. It deals no damage, but a hit blinds and dazes the target for a turn.

    Despite being an elite, the bristle spider lacks a double attack ability. Instead it relies on its at-will acidic poison blast to hit multiple PCs per attack, with a side order of bristles to keep them vulnerable. It would probably work better as an elite controller than an elite lurker, with more HP and better AC.

    The sample encounter is level 14 and has a bristle spider acting as a palanquin for a drow priestess and her drow blademaster bodyguard.

    Phase Spider

    Copyright 2009 Wizards of the Coast.

    A returning classic, Phase Spiders have undergone some changes to account for the absence of an Ethereal plane in 4e. Here, they’re fey spiders with innate teleportation powers. They were originally created by the eladrin as biological weapons meant to infiltrate the halls of the drow and wreak havoc inside. It’s a spider arms race!

    These spiders can survive nearly anywhere as long as they have prey to hunt. Their favorite targets are fey creatures, to the extent that they’ll go after the fey members of a mixed-origin party even if a non-fey target would be more advantageous. This behavior was probably an attempt by eladrin wizards to get them to go after drow. You can imagine how that turned out.

    Phase Spiders are Large Fey Beasts, and Level 8 Skirmishers with 87 HP. They have ground, climb, and teleport speeds of 6. Good luck pinning them down.

    Their bites deal somewhat low damage, but have a dangerous rider: targets are initially slowed, but after the first failed save they become unconscious. This is also a (save ends) condition, but the victim is completely unable to act while it lasts and is even more vulnerable to attack than if they were “just” stunned.

    Ethereal Bite allows the spider to teleport 10 squares and make a bite attack, working as a good ambush starter. Ethereal Repulsion is an interrupt that triggers when an enemy moves adjacent to the spider: it attacks their Will and teleports them 4 squares on a hit.

    This makes ranged attacks the best way to deal with phase spiders. They, in turn, will eagerly teleport to the party’s back line and munch on the squishies, relying on Ethereal Repulsion to delay any rescue by the melee defenders.

    The sample encounter is level 7 and features two eladrin fey knights leading a pack of three trained phase spiders.

    Tomb Spider

    Copyright 2009 Wizards of the Coast.

    These rotund arachnids are a Shadowfell species that has particularly strong incentives to seek out passages into the world. Their lifecycle requires them to lay eggs inside corpses, so they seek out crypts and graveyards for use as breeding grounds.

    When the eggs hatch they animate the corpse, which acts as ambulatory shelter for the hatchlings until it finally splits open and lets them out. Orcus cultists just looove tomb spiders, as do all other types of death-themed villain.

    Tomb Spiders are Large Shadow Beasts, and Level 11 Elite Controllers with 226 HP. They have Resist 10 Necrotic, along with ground and climb speeds of 6. Their bites damage, daze, and inflict ongoing necrotic damage (save ends both). Someone bitten by the spider can’t use the Second Wind action until the end of the encounter, though they can still be healed by other means.

    These spiders definitely to spin webs: they can shoot Web Nets at single targets as a minor action (Ranged 10 vs. Reflex). A hit restrains the target and makes them vulnerable to necrotic damage until they pass a save. Less often, they can squeeze out a glob of Webbed Terrain (recharge 5+), which affects a large area and immobilizes on a hit. Hit or miss, the webs remain as difficult terrain until the end of the encounter.

    The sample encounter is level 11 and features a deatphriest of orcus leading 2 battle wights and 3 cultists to battle, using the tomb spider as armored support.

    Tomb Spider Broodswarm

    Copyright 2009 Wizards of the Coast.

    This is a swarm of tiny tomb spiders that has just burst out of their corpse nest. It’s a Medium Shadow Beast (Swarm), and counts as a Level 10 Lurker with 84 HP. It has the standard spider traits from this entry, and the standard swarm traits of being resistant to melee and ranged attacks, and vulnerable to area attacks.

    Its Swarm Attack aura (1) slows those caught inside. Its Swarm of Bites attack is a lesser version of mommy’s bite, and instead of attacking it can use Shadow Drift (recharge 5+) to shift shift 5 squares and gain +4 to all defenses for a turn.

    There are no stats for the undead corpse that houses the spiders, but you can probably use something like a non-royal mummy described as being wrapped in webs instead of linen wraps. Depending on your tastes, it could be a minion that disgorges a Broodswarm when killed, a regular that does the same (and thus counts as an elite two-stage monster), or a regular reskinned mummy if you want the young swarm to die when it dies instead of bursting out.

    No sample encounter here, as the adult tomb spider used the space for it.

    Final Impressions

    I kinda like the phase and tomb spider mechanics… but in the end, it’s more spiders. By the end of the edition we’ll end up with enough spider variants that you’ll have one for every situation, but you should definitely not use all of them in the same campaign.

  • Let's Read the 4e Monster Manual 2: Sphinx

    Copyright 2009 Wizards of the Coast.

    Sphinxes already made their 4e debut on the Monster Manual, and the MM2 gives us an additional variant.

    The Lore of the Sphinx Mystery

    All sphinxes have a common origin as sacred guardian beasts, as described in the Monster Manual entry, but not all of them are exactly alike. This stat block represents an individual with preferences and abilities different from those of the typical MM1 sphinx.

    All sphinxes have the ability to propose challenges that help separate intruders from visitors who have a right to be at the places they guard. Riddles are a classic but are far from the only option, and the MM1 entry made some effort to stress that part. Here, though, we go the other way.

    The Sphinx Mystery is an individual who’s way into riddles. She doesn’t just use them as her basic authentication scheme: she also uses them as weapons in the middle of an actual fight. She likes riddle games so much that she might just choose to keep playing rather than fighting with lethal intent, if her opponents can keep the game fun for her.

    Intruders who can’t answer those riddles are in real trouble, though, because they do real damage and are as sticky as warlock curses.

    The Numbers

    The Sphinx Mystery is a Level 19 Brute with 224 HP. Despite being a regular, she still has an action point. This might be an editorial error, but it’s fun so I’d keep it. She also has low-light vision, and moves at ground and air speeds of 6.

    Most of her attacks are part of the standard lion beast arsenal. The likely fight-opener is a a Terrifying Roar (encounter) that targets Fortitude, deals thunder damage, pushes 5 squares, and knocks prone. Her basic attack are Ancient Claws that do heavy damage, and she can also use a Bite of Ages that deals light damage, knocks prone, and immobilizes with the weight of history (save ends).

    As a minor action, the Mystery can use Riddle Me This (Ranged 10). This is an at-will ability that represents the sphinx compelling someone to solve a riddle. This “hits” automatically, and dazes the target until the riddle is answered or until the encounter ends. Answering the riddle requires spending a minor action and succeeding at a DC 25 History check. Anyone can attempt the test on their turn, not just the affected PC.

    If the targetted PC doesn’t attempt to solve the riddle on their turn, they take 2d8 psychic damage at the end of that turn. They also take this damage if someone else answers the riddle for them. This damage is light, but about in line with the amount of “traditional” ongoing damage an effect at this level would cause.

    Note that the target will be dazed, which means that if they attempt to answer the riddle, that’s the only thing they can do on their turn. So it might be better to let an unaffected buddy answer it and eat a single instance of that psychic damage.

    The Mystery’s last attack is the amusingly named Corrective Maul, which is a claw attack that does even more damage and recharges whenever anyone fails to answer one of her riddles.

    Sample Encounters and Final Impressions

    The riddle mechanic is awesome! It makes the sphinx very controllery despite her being a Brute. Since the riddle is ranged, you’ll want to delay her entry into melee combat a bit until she can apply it to every PC. As a regular monster, the sphinx will always be found alongside a few buddies, so they can help with that.

    The sample encounter is level 16: 2 nothic cacklers, 2 savage minotaurs, and a sphinx mystery. This is either an evil sphinx running with other assorted marauders, or a more traditional guardian who has managed to recruit several would-be intruders to her service through riddles and bets.

  • Let's Read the 4e Monster Manual 2: Slaughterstone Construct

    I think Slaughterstone Constructs first appeared on the D&D Miniatures game in late 3e. Their naming style marks them as a construct created after the “(Material) Golem” namespace had been mostly exhausted.

    The Lore

    The approach to an underground dwarf fortress usually consists of a number of narrow tunnels, and that’s where most of the fighting happens when these places are attacked. Tunnel fighting is a nasty affair, particularly when it’s two large armies going at it. No place to run, no place to hide. Each inch of ground is bought with lives, and when you advance you step on the bodies of foe and friend alike.

    Slaughterstone Constructs are the dwarven answer to this problem. They’re defensive siege engines built for the singular purpose of making sure the only ones who die are the invaders. Their intended usage is that you set them loose on a tunel and watch them run through it while turning everyone inside into chunky salsa. Their extreme toughness and strength means not many armies can stand up to them even in a more open field.

    Creating a proper slaughterstone construct is quite difficult. To sculpt the body, you need a solid block of stone upon which the blood of a hero has been shed. Even if you have that stone, only the very best dwarf artificers can turn it into a construct. You’ll only find these things defending the largest and wealthiest dwarven kingdoms, or other places that have good relationships with them.

    Note that the blood requirement doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice a hero on the stone block. You could cut the stone from a cave or tunnel where that hero has fought. Alternatively, if your GM likes this sort of technically correct solution you could get yourself a brand new stone block and ask a certified war hero to prick their finger and let a drop of blood fall on it. Neither of these methods is easy (heroes don’t grow on trees!) but they’re far more ethical than sapient sacrifice.

    If you have neither a master artisan nor a source of heroic blood but you still want your blender tank, you can pay a middling craftsdwarf for a knockoff that’s less reliable but still pretty strong.

    The Numbers

    We get three varieties of slaughterstone constructs here. Two “genuine” models and a knockoff. All of them are Large Natural Animates with the Construct keyword. They have darkvision, a ground speed of 6, and the ability to squeeze into Medium passages without any penalties and without granting combat advantage. They’re immune to poison, disease, and sleep.

    Their Int is 1, the worst possible score, but you don’t need more than that when your only two functions are “walk forward” and “kill”. They probably respond to commands of equivalent complexity like “stop killing” and “go back to your garage”.

    Slaughterstone Eviscerator

    Copyright 2009 Wizards of the Coast.

    Eviscerators are armed with a large number of whirling scythe blades, and look a bit like super-edgy stone mantids. They’re Level 18 Brutes with 212 HP. The blades never stop moving, and to model that they have a Whirling Blades aura (2) that deals 10 damage to anyone caught inside.

    As weapons, those blades are are Reach 2 and have the High Crit property. Their basic attack deals heavy damage to a single target, and they can also be used in a Whirling Bladestorm (recharge 6+) that hits everyone in a Close Burst 2 for average damage. This makes them as dangerous in the open as in a tunnel.

    Slaughterstone Hammerer

    Copyright 2009 Wizards of the Coast.

    These are more robust than eviscerators and mount stone hammers instead of blades. Once they reach you, it’s really hard to get away from them. Hammerers are Level 25 Soldiers with 233 HP.

    They project a Thunder Step aura (2) that slows those caught inside. The hammers can be used in two different attacks: a basic Slam that deals average damage and knocks prone, and a Hammerstrike that deals the same damage and dazes (save ends).

    None of the hammerer’s skills mark enemies, but if you use them properly enemies will have no option but to attack the hammerer anyway.

    Slaughterstone Slicer

    This is our “knockoff”, described as a less powerful version of a genuine eviscerator. It’s a Level 11 Elite Brute with 276 HP.

    Slicers have pretty much the same attacks and traits as eviscerators, with smaller numbers due to the level difference. Their Bladestorm is supposed to be an encounter power that recharges when the slicer is first bloodied, despite the “at-will” tag on it.

    They also have a tendency to malfunction, becoming dazed for a turn after they either deal or take a critical hit.

    Sample Encounters and Final Impressions

    Fourth Edition’s combat rules make these constructs even more dangerous than the lore indicates. Both the lore and the rules say a construct “plugs” a tunnel and prevents enemies from passing through. The rules also say that allies may freely move and attack through each others’ spaces.

    This means slaughterstone constructs pair really well with artillery monsters, and with controllers that have good ranged attacks. They’re also pretty good with skirmishers who can dart forward, attack, and move behind the construct again. Even if they can’t do all that in the same turn, their exposure to the PCs is still reduced.

    Our example encounters are:

    • Level 11: 1 duergar blasphemer, 2 duergar fleshtearers, 1 slaughterstone slicers. Looks like it’s not just dwarves who build these.

    • Level 18: 2 Eldritch Giants, 1 Nothic Mindblight, 2 Slaughterstone Eviscerators. Maybe they conquered a dwarf fortress and stole the constructs?

    • Level 25: 1 Beholder Eye of Chaos, 1 Oni Thunderer, 3 Slaughterstone Hammerers. This is the “strong artillery”, “mobile skirmisher” setup I mentioned, in its epic incarnation. You think you’re safe because the corridor is 6 squares wide, and then you see three constructs side by side blocking all of it.

  • Let's Read the 4e Monster Manual 2: Slaad

    This article is part of a series! Click here to see the rest.

    Slaads already made their 4e debut in the first Monster Manual, and you can check out the post I wrote on them here. This MM2 entry brings us a lower-level, less-popular slaad type and an alternate mechanic for the horrific slaad spawning cycle.

    Flux Slaad

    Copyright 2009 Wizards of the Coast.

    Flux slaads seem to be the runts of the slaad family. They’re weaker and stupider than their relatives, they can’t spawn, and their chaotic mutations are at best a mixed blessing. Still, being weaker actually means they might have an easier time slipping through a dimensional crack into the world, which they love because it allows them to lord it over creatures even weaker than them.

    Flux slaads who slip into the world often end up conquering bullywug tribes and setting themselves up as their god-kings. Finding one of these on the throne instead of the usual “slightly stronger frog-dude” can be an interesting experience for cocky PCs.

    The Numbers

    Flux Slaads are Medium Elemental Humanoids, and Level 9 Skirmishers with 98 HP. They have low-light vision, a ground speed of 7, and a teleport speed of 2.

    They fight with their claws. They can use those in a Flux Rage maneuver that allows them to shift 2 squares and attack everyone they pass by during this movement. This recharges when they’re first bloodied. When they take damage from an attack, they can shift 1 square as a reaction.

    Nothing special so far, but now we come to the part that gives these slaads their names. Slaad Vulnerability Shift should really have a name that includes the word “flux” in it. This trait makes the slaad start out with random vulnerability determined by a d6 roll: (1) cold, (2) fire, (3) lightning, (4) necrotic, (5) psychic, (6) thunder. The slaad has Vulnerability 10 to that damage type, but Resistance 5 to all the other table entries. Every time the slaad takes damage from its current weakness, you roll the die again and determine a new weakness.

    Slaad Spawn

    Illustration by Wayne England. Copyright 2009 Wizards of the Coast.

    Most slaads reproduce by infecting victims with a disease called Chaos Phage, which causes slad tadpoles to gestate within the victim’s flesh. The tadpole grows and eventually erupts from its host, running away to mature elsewhere. This was covered in the MM entry for Slaads.

    A few of them are instead infected with a mutant strain of chaos phage, which produces embryos in their own flesh. These slaads are covered in gross giant boils that pop when they’re wounded, spawning miniature versions of themselves. These spawn are both almost mindless and extremely aggressive, so they often get used as weapons by their “parents”. Should they survive the circumstances of their birth, the spawn develop quickly and begin exhibiting powers similar to those of an adult within days.

    The Numbers

    Spawn are Small Elemental Humanoids, and Level 17 Minion Skirmishers. They have low-light vision, a running speed of 5, and a teleport speed of 3. They attack with bites and can also pounce using a Chaotic Slam. On a hit, they damage and knock down the target. On a miss, they explode, dealing a bit of damage in a Close Burst 1.

    We also get stats for an elite template named Slaad Spawner, which can be applied to any Large-sized regular slaad. This is turns the slaad into an elite monster, and adds a Spawn Slaad reaction power that creates a new slaad spawn whenever the spawner is hit by an attack. The new spawn appears adjacent to the spawner, and acts right after the spawner’s action. The template is unusual in that it doesn’t add additional HP to the regular monster. It does bring a new minion into play every round, so maybe they thought this was enough to make up for their lower HP. The spawner is worth double the experience of the original slaad, but the spawned minions aren’t worth any.

    Sample Encounters and Final Impressions

    The flux slaad is kinda meh aside from its “weakness roulette” mechanic. The roulette is interesting, but your party needs a lot of damage types (or a lot of lucky d6 rolls) to keep it spinning. Otherwise it’s going to stop on a type they can’t use, which means the slaad becomes resistant to the types they can. At least you can always beat it up using physical damage, which means martial types can end up being more effective against it than the casters.

    Perhaps you could build a “puzzle boss” that had the same mechanic, plus some way for the party to influence the result of the d6 roll.

    Slaad spawn and the Spawner template bring another flavor of body horror to a slaad fight. Since it seems spawn mature even faster than tadpoles, a spawner presents an even nastier apocalyptic scenario than a normal slaad. It also presents the GM with an excuse to throw lots of de-leveled slaads against a heroic tier party, since those could be “immature” slaads that have grown past the spawn stage but not developer all the way yet.

    Our two sample encounters are:

    • Level 8: A death shard, 3 flux slaads, and 2 slaad tadpoles. Likely brought to the world by a small Elemental or Abyssal rift.

    • Level 17: 2 blue slaads, 1 green slaad, 8 slaad spawn. The blues and green are likely minding their little siblings and doing a typical slaad job of it. Note that the spawn are worth XP in this encounter, since they’re not “produced” by an on-site spawner.

  • Let's Read the 4e Monster Manual 2: Skeleton

    Illustration by Adam Gilespie. Copyright 2009 Wizards of the Coast.

    The first Monster Manual already included plenty of skeletons, so this time we just get a couple more of them. The basic lore remains the same and you can see it in the link above.

    Bonecrusher Skeleton

    A Large-sized skeleton that used to belong to an ogre, minotaur, oni, or similar creature. Not having to haul all that flesh around makes it surprisingly fast for its size.

    This is a Large Natural Animate with the Undead keyword, and a Level 7 Soldier with 80 HP. It has all usual skeleton traits: darkvision, immunity to disease and poison, resist 10 necrotic, vulnerable 5 radiant. It runs at speed 8.

    The skeleton wields a Reach 2 greatclub, and it can use it to perform a Crushing Blow (reach 2; recharge 6+) that does more damage and knocks the target prone. Its superb agility is expressed as Threatening Reach 2.

    Skeletal Steed

    A horse skeleton that can act as a fearless and tireless mount, proving that mundane horses truly suck in 4e. Even a dead horse is better mount than a live one.

    Skeletal horses are Level 3 Skirmishers with 47 HP, darkvision, and immunity to disease and poison. They don’t have resistance to necrotic damage or vulnerability to radiant damage. Their ground speed of 8 and their fearless, untiring nature make them highly desired as mounts by people who don’t mind the whole skeleton thing.

    If forced to fight the skeletal steed uses kicks like a normal horse, and they can also perform them as part of a Mobile Melee Attack. You know the drill on this one: the steed moves its speed, makes an attack at any point along the way, and doesn’t draw opportunity attacks. It can also emit a Death Shriek (fear; close burst 3; recharge 5+) that does no damage and inflicts a -2 attack penalty (save ends).

    When used as a mount, the steed allows its rider to join in on the Mobile Melee Attack. Either the rider makes a basic attack while still allowing the steed to kick, or the steed gives up its attack to allow the rider to use a non-basic power.

    Sample Encounters and Final Impressions

    These new skeleton types rise in much the same way as the other ones. Most often it’s because a necromancer intentionally animates them, but sometimes a freak accident with necrotic energy can cause them to rise up as well. In such cases, skeletal steeds tend to rise along with their former riders.

    We get two sample encounters here:

    • Level 5: 1 deathlock wight and 2 standard wights riding skeletal steeds. Ancient horsemen riding again.

    • Level 6: 1 orc eye of Gruumsh plus a zombie hulk and three bonecrusher skeletons. Orc necromancer and his undead ogres.

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