The first version of D&D I ever player was one of the many Basic boxes, and I remember carrion crawlers being there. It’s quite likely they’ve been a thing since the beginning.
Back then I had a hard time seeing why they were dangerous, since their main attack did no damage and their bite was weak. This is because I didn’t know what a big deal paralysis was, being a kid and new to the game. If you have fond memories of those BECMI-or-earlier crawlers, you’ll be happy to know they still paralyze here.
Carrion Crawlers are present on both the Manual and the Vault. The Monster Vault has updated versions of both crawlers that show up on the Monster Manual, plus two new varieties, so you don’t loose anything by going with the Vault versions only.
The Monster Manual blames a Cocaine Wizard whose name is lost to history for creating the first crawlers. The Vault elaborates on that story a bit more: this wizard didn’t create the monsters, she opened a portal to the Far Realm in an attempt to learn its secrets. A whole lot of bad stuff went through and destroyed the city she was in. The crawlers came through on the wake of that main wave drawn by all the corpses.
The Vault also has a bit more to say about their habits of these tentacly worms. They feed on carrion but don’t like to compete for it with other scavengers, to they lair in places where food is plentiful but mobility is limited for the competition: caves, sewers, dungeons, swamps choked with vegetation, and so on. They’re also drawn to battlefields and cemeteries. A city dealing with a siege or plague is in even more trouble than usual if it has crawlers in its sewers.
Carrion crawlers are territorial and will attack any trespassers. It’s also possible for a crawler to follow a party of adventurers from a distance and, when they meet other monsters, rush in to help them along the way to becoming carrion.
Let’s go through the crawlers as presented by the Monster Vault. I’ll note any differences between these and the MM versions as appropriate. All crawlers except for the last one are Large Aberrant Beasts and have darkvision. They also have a climb speed equal to their land speed with the “spider climb” special that also allows them to cling to ceilings.
First we have the MV-only Carrion Crawler Scuttler, a Level 5 Skirmisher with 63 HP. It’s the fastest of the lot, with Speed 8. Its basic attack is a bite that does extra damage to stunned targets. It can also attack with its tentacle, which target Fortitude, have a bonus to hit prone targets, and do no damage but stun on a hit (save ends). After stunning the target, the scuttler can shift its speed and pull them along. As a move action it can perform an Unsettling Scuttle, shifting its speed and making an attack targetting Fortitude against anyone whose space it goes through. On a hit, this does no damage but knocks the target prone.
This is how it fights: scuttle next to someone to knock them down, hit them with the paralyzing tentacles and scuttle away with the victim to chomp at them in peace. In the proper terrain, this makes it as dangerous as an horror movie monster.
The classic Carrion Crawler is a level 7 Soldier with 81 HP. Its basic attack are the tentacles, which target Fortitude, do damage plus ongoing poison damage and slow. The first failed save worsens this to immobilized, and the second to stunned. All the while, the target is still taking that poison damage - this variety’s poison is less paralytic but more toxic. Even on a miss it still slows for a turn. It also has a bite.
This one exists in both books, and the main difference is that the MV crawler’s tentacle and bite damage has been fixed - the original’s was extra-low for some reason. On the other hand, saves against the MM crawler’s tentacles took a -2 penalty.
Next is the Carrion Crawler Putrefier, a level 15 soldier with 148 HP. It emits a Nauseous Stench on a 3 square radius that does ongoing poison damage and slows anyone who starts their turn in there (save ends both). Its tentacles target Fort , do necrotic damage and allow the crawler to pull and immobilize the target. This worsens to stunned and ongoing necrotic damage on the first failed save. It bites too, but that’s just physical damage.
Finally, we have the Enormous Carrion Crawler, which I guess is what you get when a classic crawler has a few decades to grow. It’s a Level 17 Elite Soldier with 332 HP. Its tentacles and bite are up-gunned versions of the classic crawler’s, and it also has threatening reach 3. Additionally, it can attack with either two tentacles or a tentacle and a bite in its turn, and it can use a Tentacle Flurry to hit everyone in a Close Blast 3 with its tentacles. The flurry recharges once the crawler is bloodied, so it can be used twice per fight.
The MM version is the same, with much lower damage and a -5 penalty on saves against tentacle effects.
Encounters And Final Thoughts
I guess the MM versions of the crawler are the ones who best capture my BECMI memories, because they do piddly damage but their paralytic poison is particularly dangerous. I can see why they changed it, though.
Stunned is right there with dominated as one of the most hated conditions in 4e. It’s the condition that best represent paralysis - you can’t do anything until you save. This makes the lowly carrion crawler scuttler one of the scarier monsters in the MV lineup, because it can stun instantly and carry you away. Fighting it in terrain where it can scuttle out of reach of the PCs while carrying one of their friends is going to be unnerving.
Since most crawlers are standard monsters, they won’t be found alone. You might not want to pit the PCs against an equal number of crawlers (or scuttlers!), though, since that has the potential to stunlock the entire party. On the other hand, that was a real danger in the BECMI days too.
The proposed encounter in the MV is level 7: two crawlers and three othyugs. Makes sense, since they could share an habitat and not compete for food.