This is part of a series! Go here to see the other entries.
Manticores are based on Persian myth, and have been in D&D at least since the days of BECMI. Here they are present in both the Monster Manual and the Vault.
Manticores are monsters with the body of a very large lion, bat-like wings, and a vaguely humanlike face. Their tails are long, whip-like, and tipped with iron spikes.
These creatures are sapient, but deeply stupid and even more deeply mean, living up to their Chaotic Evil alignment. They claim large hunting territories around their lairs and are known to extend them even further on a whim. Like, say, when they discover a tasty village just on the other side of the current borders. They specifically seek out sapient prey if at all possible. Their favorites are humans and dwarves.
Tough technically capable of parley, manticores rarely bother listening. Those who manage to get through to a manticore can sometimes appease them with bribes of food, a tactic also used by smarter villains who want to hire some manticore muscle. There’s absolutely no guarantee the manticore will show up for the job, or stay appeased. Even manticores trained since they were cubs have a tendency to turn on their handlers. Should the beast actually hold its end of the bargain, it might end up serving as a mount for the villain commanding it.
Manticores have three rows of teeth that work a bit like a shark’s, often falling off and being replaced by new ones. Loose teeth and spikes, often stuck in mangled corpses, are a sure sign that you’re in manticore country. Despite having all those teeth, they prefer to use their claws in combat.
Heraldry has them as symbols of unpredictable danger, viciousness and cruelty. Manticore iconography is used in danger signs such as those meant to keep people away from an unstable abandoned mine or the like. They’re also adopted as symbols by groups such as evil mercenaries or bandits who want to seem all edgy and badass.
The Monster Manual only has one manticore stat block, but the Vault has four, each with a different role. That’s enough for you to make an all-manticore encounter. They’re Large Natural Magical Beasts.
Manticores run at speed 6 and fly at speed 8. Their keen senses give them trained Perception, and all of them can shoot those spikes from their tails. They don’t run out of ammunition either. Perhaps the spikes magically grow as soon as they’re fired, or perhaps there are so many to begin with they have Enough(TM) for any given fight.
The classic model is a Level 10 Elite Skirmisher with 210 HP and the Mount keyword.
Its basic attack is a claw, and it can launch spikes out to Range 10. The spike attack allows them to shift 3 squares either before or after firing. Manticore Fury is a standard action that allows the beast to make both a claw and a spike attack in any order. Every so often (recharge 3-6) the manticore can whip its tail really hard and fire a Spike Volley (Area Burst 1 within 10).
Its mount ability is Guided Sniper, representing the fact that it allows its rider to act as a spotter. This gives both the basic spike throw and Spike Volley a +2 bonus to hit.
I’m tempted to plop a cheeky goblin atop a manticore, but realistically the rider would be someone more badass - otherwise they’d just get eaten instead.
Manticore Striker (MV)
Essentially a regular version of the MM elite manticore, this one is a Level 10 Skirmisher with 106 HP. None of the MV manticores have the Mount keyword or abilities.
The striker can shift 2 squares either before or after its claw and tail spike attacks, and lacks the ability to make both in the same round. If someone hits it, though, it can make a spike counterattack as a reaction, shooting a tail spike at the attacker without provoking opportunity attacks.
Manticoer Impaler (MV)
This Level 11 Brute has 138 HP. Its claw and tail spike attacks do Brute-level damage, and it also has a Tail Lance (melee 2 vs. AC) that can grab a target by impaling it.
The escape DC on the grab is 19, and while grabbed the target takes ongoing physical damage. While it has a creature impaled, the manticore’s flight gains an altitude limit of 6 squares.
While it’s grabbing someone, the manticore can also use Prepare to Drop, a move action that allows it to fly its speed and pull the target along. This includes pulling them straight up! It’s not stated in the stat block, but I think the manticore can choose to release someone it’s grabbing on its turn. Damage from the drop uses standard falling rules (1d10 per 2 squares/10ft, IIRC).
Manticore Spike Hurler (MV)
As you might have guessed from the name, this is the Artillery manticore. It’s Level 13 with 100 HP.
It has the usual claw and tail spike attacks, with the spike being more accurate and doing more damage. It can also launch a spike volley (area burst 1 within 10) at will.
Manticore Sky Hunter
This one is a Level 13 Soldier (Leader) with 130 HP, and it’s remarkable for being a manticore that cares about its allies. It has a Shielding Wings aura 1 that grants allies inside a +2 bonus to AC and Reflexes.
Its basic attacks are the usual claw and tail spike, with the claws also marking for a turn on a hit. As a minor action it can also let out a Threatening Roar that automatically marks everyone in a Close Burst 1 for a turn.
If any marked enemy within 5 squares makes an attack that doesn’t include the sky hunter, it can use a tail spike attack on them as a reaction (Defender’s Spike).
Sample Encounters and Final Impressions
The MM has two encounters featuring its elite manticore:
Level 11: 1 manticore, 1 galeb duhr rockcaller, 4 ogre savages.
Level 13: 2 manticores, 2 hill giants, 4 ogre thugs (minions).
In the first one I think the manticore is serving as the galeb duhr’s mount, having finally come across someone it can’t eat. While it’s funny to imagine the hill giants trying to hide the manticores in the second encounter, I don’t think that would work out very well for them.
I like manticores, they’re fun to run and fun to fight. The four MV stat blocks give us a bit more variety in tactics while staying true to the core MM concept. Perhaps you could take a pair of those and make them into Huge Elites so that those giants can finally make their dreams of flying come true.