Copyright 2010 Wizards of the Coast

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I believe Cave Fishers originated in AD&D, one of the many examples of “cave ceiling fauna” in that edition. Your group might be on the lookout for darkmantles, spiders and piercers, but they’ll never see the cave fisher coming. This is their 4e debut.

The Lore

Cave fishers are nonsapient predatory arthropods about the size of an adult human. They’re entirely natural and mundane, by the standards of D&D. They hunt by hiding in cave ceilings, and pulling prey from the ground using either sticky strands or spear-like appendages.

As the name implies, cave fishers hang out underground. They prefer caves with high ceilings and plenty of ledges, where they make their nests. They organize themselves in loose collectives, and newly-mated pairs fly out to look for an empty ledge to nest in.

The two varieties of cave fisher presented here aren’t different species, they’re different sexes: anglers are female, and spikers are male. Anglers lay eggs and watch the nest, hunting only when prey wanders nearby. Spikers range farther out to look for food.

Cave fishers can’t usually be tamed, but people tend to use meat-based bait to lure them to caves they want protected and to distract them when passing through those caves. Hobgoblins sometimes capture fisher eggs and train them from hatching to serve as living artillery.

The Monsters

Adult cave fishers are Medium Natural Beasts. Spawn old enough to be a threat are Small. They have darkvision, a ground speed of 6 and a climb speed of 5 with Spider Climb (5 and 4 for the spawn).

Cave Fisher Spawn

Fisher spawn lead a stressful existence from very early on. A weak individual is likely to be devoured by its siblings if they get hungry enough.

These Small spawn are Level 2 Minion Brutes. They attack with their pincers and do extra damage against immobilized, restrained, or helpless targets.

Cave Fisher Angler

This adult female tends to stick close to the nest, and rely on its ledge for concealment. To hunt, she lowers a sticky filament to just above head height of the passing prey, and snaps it around the prey’s neck when they pass underneath.

Anglers are Level 3 Lurkers with 37 HP. They have the Sniper trait, which ensures they stay hidden if they make a ranged attack from concealment and miss.

This is useful because their Filament Strangle counts as a ranged attack! It has range 5, targets Reflex, and though its initial damage is weak it pulls the target 3 squares and restrains them (save ends). The pull can be vertical, and the target can end that movement suspended in midair. This effect can be sustained with standard actions in subsequent rounds, dealing automatic damage to the target and pulling them again.

Aside from passing the save, there are few options from escaping the filament. The victim can teleport or be teleported, which frees them automatically; or one of their allies can target the filament with an attack. The filament has the same defenses as the angler, and hitting it frees the victim but deals no damage to the beast itself.

If an angler does get into melee range of a PC, it can also use its basic pincer attack, which does average damage and has no special effects.

It’s likely that the PCs will only realize an angler is hunting them when the first victim gets grabbed by a filament. And once that happens it can stay in full cover atop that ceiling ledge until it has to peek out to try and grab someone else!

Cave Fisher Spiker

Spikers are the males of the species. Instead of producing a single strand of filament, they can spit small tangles of it at greater ranges. These either harden into spikes, or envelop a victim and begin contracting. The creature uses these techniques to kill its prey and drag the carcass back to its nest.

Spikers are Level 3 Artillery with 37 HP. They have the same Sniper trait as the angler, and a Camouflage trait that gives them +2 to defenses against ranged and area attacks.

Their basic attacks are a pincer in melee, and a filament spike at range. Those contracting filaments are represented by the Filament Wrap attack (recharge 5+), which does no immediate damage but immobilizes the target and inflicts 5 ongoing damage (save ends both).

Spikers tend to focus their fire on a single victim, since their instinct is to kill it quickly and make off with the body.

Cave Fisher Line Spiker

Hobgoblins that manage to capture a batch of cave fisher eggs like to use a combination of magic and their ancient beast-taming techniques to turn them into weapons of war. This results in a specimen that’s less robust than a wild spiker, but which can follow commands and fire in formation to support the troops.

Like Spikers are Level 4 Minion Artillery. They have the usual pincer melee attack, and their basic ranged attack is a slowing spike that does a bit of damage and slows for a turn. Once per encounter they can use a Toppling Spike that deals a bit more damage and knocks prone. Since they’re minions, this should be their first attack. Line spikers want to stay far away from the front lines and will likely run away rather than engage the PCs in melee.

Final Impressions

These cave fishers have enough unique mechanics to distinguish themselves from other “ceiling fauna”. Their low level makes it likely they’ll be the first such fauna the PCs meet. They can also inhabit the Underdark, but you might want to boost their levels if you want to place them there.

Since they’re regulars, your PCs shouldn’t run into lone fishers, at least not as a full combat encounter. You can make an “all-wildlife” encounter with 2-3 mated pairs at once, or with 1 mated pair and other opportunistic underground predators. Line spikers, of course, will always be accompanied by squads of goblinoids including at least one beast tamer.