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Great apes are real world animals, and they’ve also been in D&D pretty much since the beginning. This MM3 entry is the first I’ve seen them in 4e, though by this point in the edition we might have gotten stats for them in some other non-Monster Manual publication.

The Lore

The MM3 doesn’t really try to model real-world great apes. Their depiction seems more inspired by pulp stories and the Jungle Book.

D&D great apes are natural animals, and have inhabited the world’s jungles since the dawn of time. Some revere them as manifestations of the primal spirits, others enslave them as laborers and gladiators. Goblins kidnap young apes and raise them as guardians. Other humanoids might use them as slave labor, and some spellcasters enslave them with magic to use as bodyguards or gladiators.

In the wild, great apes are very territorial and fiercely defend their homes from intruders using surprisingly sophisticated teamwork. Groups of apes are usually led by a “silverback”, a larger and older male who fights even more fiercely than the others to protect his family.

PCs might meet a group of apes when traveling through jungle terrain, particularly mountainous jungle. Communication is likely to be difficult unless they have a druid or another primal character with them. If they do, it might be possible to convince the apes to stand down. If they don’t it’s a fight, though I guess the apes in this case will be trying to drive the PCs off rather than kill them. Apes being used as attack beasts by sapient villains will usually fight to kill, though.

You also have the slightly less natural Ape Temple Guardians, who a long time ago used to be sapient humanoids but were twisted into their current form by some ancient curse. Now they make their homes in certain ruined temples, compelled to guard their treasures. Unlike natural apes, temple guardians are carnivorous. They fight to kill and will usually eat dead intruders, leaving their bones lying around as warnings.

The Numbers

All the apes depicted here are Medium Natural Beasts. They have low-light vision, and a climb speed (whose value varies per stat block). Their signature trait is Swift Climber, which makes them immune to opportunity attacks when climbing. Needless to say, be sure to include plenty of climbing opportunities in combat encounters against apes.

Great Ape

This “basic model” is a Level 4 Skirmisher with 55 HP. It has a ground speed of 7 and a climb speed of 6. They don’t have Spider Climb, but I’d be amenable to letting them use their climb speed to brachiate through the forest canopy.

Great apes fight with Slams and they can also attack On The Run, which allows them to shift or climb half their speed and make a slam attack at any point during the movement.

They can also use a Felling Blow (recharge 6+), which allows them to make two slam attacks against the same target. If both hit, the target also falls prone.

Great apes should rarely stand still when fighting - it’s On The Run all the way with them. The exception is when they stop a bit to use Felling Blow.

Silverback Ape

Silverbacks don’t run around. Their goal is to be a very visible and very intimidating threat, drawing all the attention and allowing their non-combatant family members to escape, and give their fellow combatants room to maneuver. They’re larger than regular ape but still Medium, and are Level 5 Brutes with the Leader keyword. Their speed is 6 on the ground or 4 while climbing.

Their Slams do heavy damage and make the target grant combat advantage for a turn. They can sometimes Fling (recharge 6+) a creature away, dealing even more damage than the slam, pushing them 3 squares, and knocking them prone.

Finally, once per encounter silverbacks can use Chest Beat as a minor action, which gives all beast allies within 5 squares a +2 bonus to attacks for a turn.

Ape Temple Guardian

Temple Guardians are Level 6 Soldiers with 75 HP, a ground speed of 7, and a Climb Speed of 5.

They fight with Clubs, which deals average damage and knocks the target prone on a hit. Swaying Strike allows them to make a club attack and shift 3 squares. And then can also Feast on a prone target, dealing light damage but gaining 10 temporary HP.

Not only do these apes use weapons, they also coordinate really well. They’ll try to surround the PCs and avoid becoming isolated from each other. If a PC gets too close to whatever they are protecting, they’ll focus fire on that PC.

You can combine them with regular great ape stat blocks for a bit more variety. Story-wise they’d all be temple guardians. They might also be under control of a naga or another eternal guardian who was responsible for cursing them in the first place.

Final Impressions

Normal great apes have too much of a “pulp gorilla” vibe for me to enjoy them as monsters. I kinda like the lore of temple guardians, though.