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  • A Short Review: Cyberpunk RED

    I remember buying the Cyberpunk 2020 core book around the mid-nineties. By then it was already in its second edition. The first one was titled Cyberpunk 2013, and it was released in 1988, making it the first actual cyberpunk RPG (Shadowrun would arrive in 1989).

    This system and its subsequent iterations remained mostly at the edges of my awareness for a long time, since I was more of a Shadowrun fan. But recently I started playing the Cyberpunk 2077 video game and I liked it enough that I decided to also check out the latest edition of the tabletop game, Cyberpunk RED.

    The first thing I notice is that this is a big book. Nearly 500 pages in length, I’m sure it would be quite hefty if it was a physical copy. The first half of it is player-facing information starting with a setting overview, character creation, basic rules, combat and finally netrunning. The second half is a more detailed description of the setting, and then GM advice including a series of short adventures.

    When it comes to layout and presentation, R. Talsorian definitely learned from its past mistakes with the ill-fated Cyberpunk V.3. Cyberpunk RED’s layout is pretty clean, and its sans-serif font quite readable (to me at least). Page margins have tastefully minimalistic decoration (done in red, of course) and the illustrations are gorgeous and very detailed. Very little of the text is obviously copied from CP 2020, surely another lesson learned from CP V3.

    The mechanics are pretty much a new iteration of the Interlock system used by CP2020. The basic numbers are tweaked a bit, but it should be pretty familiar to anyone who played the earlier edition and pretty easy for newcomers to learn. There are some useful artifacts from FUZION that managed to sneak into the game, like the concept of “everyday skills” every character should know.

    The combat rules are a bit simpler all around and should be fairly fun, but I dislike that they do the “Martial Arts Thing” that was so common in a lot of RPGs written in the 90s. You can be a pleb and learn Brawling, or you can learn one of four elegant Martial Arts styles from the far and mysterious East! They make your fists into registered lethal weapons and give you access to deadly Secret Techniques! Bleh. I dislike the exoticism implied in this view.

    Armor is really good compared to gun damage, and there is a very clear “firefight meta” going on here. An unarmored character is going to go down quickly, but it’s very easy to get concealable armor that will stop most bullets at least 50% of the time. Practically every sample PC and opponent wears this exact armor and carries the only handgun with a better than even chance of getting through. The only ones who wear or carry anything lighter are those enemies whose main distinction is having shitty gear, and those PCs for whom combat is a tertiary concern.

    The netrunning rules do a solid job of avoiding the pitfalls from the original set. A hacking session is still a sort of mini-dungeon-crawl, but it’s a lot more abstract and well-integrated into “meatspace” initiative. It also requires the netrunner to be on-site, so that they can participate in the physical side of the adventure with the rest of the group. My main criticism here is that these rules remain very tightly coupled to their corresponding setting elements, just like they were in CP2020. The new netrunning system comes accompanied by a bunch of cataclysmic setting changes and a technical explanation that’s pretty much just a word salad. Luckily this is extremely easy to eject.

    The cyberware rules are essentially the same as always, though they carve a few important and long overdue exceptions to the Humanity Loss rules. Still, I feel they could have gone further.

    As for the setting… I’ll be honest, I never knew there was so much backstory and metaplot to it. I remember the setting section in CP 2020 as a sort of “lightly flavored background soup” that was just there to explain why you had cybered-up folks being all punky in this fictional city. CP RED decides to delve way deep into it, with a huge historical section that serves as a stealth “2020 era” supplement before moving on to the 2045 narrative present of this game.

    While I think the narrative presents of RED and 2077 are both very interesting, I have a lot of nits to pick with all that backstory and metaplot, and with the ways it seems to remain static for a long time or loop over itself. Personally, I’d probably move up its divergence point with the real world by a good 30+ years and condense a lot of the subsequent events up to 2077 into something more dynamic and streamlined.

    Proceeding to the GM advice, I finally find out where the copied text from previous editions is this time. The first couple of pages in this section reproduce a lot of advice I remember seeing from editions past. Some of it is serious, some of it is a tongue-in-cheek parody, all of it feels very dated when read in The Actual Year of 2022. Apparently the reader is supposed to easily distinguish the real advice from the jokes, but in my experience that never really works.

    After we get past this bit of cringe, we get to advice on plotting adventures. Though it talks in terms of “script-writing”, it does recognize things will go off-script and that improvisation is essential. “Just roll with it” is very basic advice but it’s still welcome.

    The system for awarding XP at the end of each session recommends classifying players according to their playstyles, and evaluating them based on how well they stuck to that classification. The combat monster should get XP for fighting well, the roleplayer for roleplaying well, and so on. I’d have been all over this back when 2020 was still the distant future. These days, though, I don’t want to have to tell Player A that they got less XP than Player B for failing to live up to the way I think they should play. In my games, when someone does something worthy of a XP bonus, everyone gets that bonus. We all lift together!

    Finally, just like in CP2020, there’s a section of “screamsheets”, two-page spreads containing a handful of fictional news articles on the left and a mini-adventure on the right. These are entertaining.

    Final Impressions

    It might seem like I’m complaining a lot, but I’d happily play Cyberpunk RED. The system is simple and very playable, and most actual groups are likely to care little about deep metaplot cuts. It’s a good game overall.

    Speaking as a GM, I don’t think the CP RED system clears my personal “Treshold of GURPS”. If I had ample time to prepare and plan, I’d probably adapt its setting to that system. However I’d happily run the game as-is if I had to do it on the spot. I’d just hand out the ready-made RED iconics as PCs, and pick one of the short adventures at the back of the book.

    In either case, if the setting’s timeline was important, I’d probably use the hypotethical condensed version I mentioned earlier. And I’m definitely going to ditch that advice that says a group of PCs can’t hope for anything more than their own survival and maybe doing some small good beyond that. You don’t get to say that and have a setting where Rache Bartmoss can take the whole NET and quite a few megacorps down in one fell swoop, and where Johnny Silverhand’s raids on Arasaka Tower are practically a regular event. If these clowns can have that much of an impact, then so can any PC group whose players are interested in this sort of game.

  • Let's Read the 4e Monster Manual 3: Banderhobb

    Copyright 2010 Wizards of the Coast

    This is part of a series! Go here to see the other entries.

    I’m fairly sure Banderhobbs are a new monster. If they appeared before, it was in a book I don’t own.

    The Lore

    Banderhobbs stuck in my memory as a notable monster when I first read this book, and now that I’m here again I can see why. They’re D&D’s take on the Boogeyman, the monsters parents use to scare their children. Be good, or a banderhobb will come to you in your sleep and take you away.

    This isn’t just a fairy tale, though. Banderhobbs really exist. On moonless nights, they set forth from their home in the Shadowfell, cross into the world, and look for victims. Once a banderhobb has chosen a victim, it will chase and swallow them.

    All banderhobbs live in the same sinister tower in the Shadowfell, under the command of an ancient master the book doesn’t describe beyond saying he exists. Banderhobbs who catch their victims return there to regurgitate them, intact, in front of their master. No one knows what the inside of the tower is like, or what happens to the abductees.

    The Numbers

    We get three Banderhobb stat blocks here. They’re all Shadow Magical Beasts with darkvision and ground/swim speeds of 6. Their levels place them in the mid-to-late paragon tier.

    Banderhobb Warder

    This Large monster is a Level 16 Soldier with 160 HP. Warders are the ones that most closely resemble a classic horror movie monster or boogeyman. They have an uncanny ability to chase their chosen victims, appearing from under beds and inside closets, always a step ahead.

    They strike with a Reach 2 Lonfinger Claw or with a Longfinger Clutch that’s a little weaker but can target two creatures. Both attacks mark on a hit, and the mark lasts for a turn. They can also make a a Range 5 Lightning Tongue attack that deals lightning damage and knocks prone on a hit.

    Marked enemies are in for a bad time. When they end their move, the warder can teleport up to 10 squares to appear next to them. If they try to make an attack that doesn’t target the warder, the warder can Swallow them! This is an attack against Fortitude, and the warder can shift 3 squares before making it. A hit means the victim is removed from the map, as they’re now inside the warder.

    While in the warder’s gullet, they take ongoing 10 damage. They can make melee and close attacks against the warder, or take other non-attack actions. The effect lasts until the warder hits 0 HP, or until it spits the victim out as a free action.

    There is no save or test that allows an early escape. The warder must die or regurgitate for the victim to leave its gullet. I guess the warder could also opt not to damage the victim if we want something like what happens in the lore story.

    Banderhobb Filch

    Instead of being a big frog thing that swallows people, the filch is a Small lizard thing that puts people in a sack and drags them away. It’s a Level 17 Skirmisher with the Leader keyword and 164 HP.

    Filches fight with their claws, using Quick Claw basic attacks that allow them to shift on a hit and weaker Hook Strikes that grab the target. Once per encounter they go on a Distracting Frenzy, attacking every enemy in a Close Burst 1 and allowing an ally within 5 squares to make a free standard action.

    They can attack from further away by hocking Stinking Gobs (Ranged 5) at their enemies, or by teleporting with Shadow Blink and making a strong claw attack at either end of the movement.

    I would guess being grabbed by a banderhobb filch means being stuffed into the sack. It’s a normal grab, so you can still fight back and try to escape, but there’s no limit to the number of greabbed creatures. The filch can use Drag Away to move its speed and pull all grabbed creatures along with it.

    Banderhobb Abductor

    We’re back to the “big frog thing” form factor. Abductors are Level 18 Brutes with 211 HP. They’re all about swallowing victims as quickly as possible.

    Their basic attack is a Bite and they can fling their Grasping Tongues out to Range 5. A hit does damage and pulls the victim adjacent to the banderhobb, grabbing it. It can use Swallow (recharge 5+) on a grabbed victim, which works like the Warder power but as a standard action attack instead of a reaction.

    When the abductor is first bloodied, it Crosses into Shadow, disappearing from play for a turn and re-appearing 10 squares away. A bloodied abductor can use Gobble, which is a stronger bite that also grabs the target and allows an immediate Swallow follow-up, recharging the ability as needed.

    Final Impressions

    Bandehobbs are spooky and evocative. The book text really lays the purple prose on thick for them, but I think that works rather well. They’re also a shadow creature without a death theme. They’re neither goth nor undead, which is kind of a rarity.

    They pair well with evil fey that have a “nightmare” theme, and that Shadowfell tower sounds like a good final dungeon for a Paragon Tier campaign.

  • Let's Read the 4e Monster Manual 3: Arcanian

    Copyright 2010 Wizards of the Coast

    This is part of a series! Go here to see the other entries.

    I don’t remember seeing arcanians anywhere else before, though they do have that “late-3e feeling” to them.

    The Lore

    Wizardry is a craft that demands great patience and care. While a warlock “cheats” by making shady deals with dubious entities, a wizard earns every bit of power they have. But some wizards have less than great patience and care, and try to reach a bit too far beyond their current ability.

    In the vast majority of cases that just results in an embarrassing fizzle, but sometimes the magic goes out of control and causes a major accident. Most of those end up turning the caster into a messy stain on the floor, but some are worse.

    In these rare cases, the wizard absorbs most of the runaway magic, which kills them and animates the corpse. The resulting entity is known as an Arcanian. Its sapient and highly intelligent, but utterly consumed by whatever strong emotion the wizard felt as they died, further warped by the nature of the magic that killed them.

    The Monsters

    Arcanians are Medium Natural Humanoids (Undead). Each is themed around an element and an emotion, though ironically they have no particular resistance against their own theme element. They have a ground speed of 6 and no special senses. They also carry wizardly implements that give them abilities similar to that of a PC wizard.

    Their signature ability is Arcane Surge, an encounter power that triggers when they hit an enemy with an implement power (anything but their basic melee attack). It makes that power deal maximum damage.

    Green Arcanian

    Green Arcanians are half-melted monstrosities. Acid seeps from their pores, and their footsteps leave seared footprints. Their driven by envy and a hatred of beauty, which they use acid magic to destroy.

    Green Arcanians are Level 8 Artillery with 67 HP. All of their attacks deal acid damage. Their basic melee attack is an Acid Touch, and their basic ranged attack an Acid Bolt that also deals a bit of splash damage to enemies adjacent to the target. Less often they can cast a Stream of Acid (recharge 5+) that does heavy damage and inflicts a -2 AC penalty and 5 ongoing acid damage (save ends both).

    Their implement power is Orb of Denial, an interrupt which triggers when an enemy succeeds on a save and makes them fail the save instead. Thankfully this is an encounter power.

    Blue Arcanian

    This shivering corpse despises warmth, and believes that people and things can remain forever perfect if they’re frozen. As you might imagine, it goes around attempting to preserve everything it likes.

    Blue Arcanians are Level 10 Controllers with 105 HP. They move slightly slower than normal at Speed 5, and all of their powers deal cold damage.

    Their basic melee attack is a Frost Staff that also pushes 2 squares and immobilizes for a turn. They fight at range with at-will Bolts of Frost that turn the area surrounding the target into difficult terrain for a turn, and once per encounter they can summon a Swirling Blizzard to deal damage over an area (half on a miss).

    Their implement power is Staff of Shielding, which once per encounter gives them +4 to all defenses against an attack.

    Red Arcanian

    These eternally burning undead are gripped in the throes of fiery passion or red-hot wrath. They want to burn the world and take great pleasure in doing so.

    Red Arcanians are considerably more powerful than the rest: Level 19 Artillery with 131 HP. All of their attacks deal fire damage, and they carry wands.

    Their melee basic attack is a Fiery Touch, and their ranged spells will be familiar to PC wizards: Scorching Burst is an at-will area attack, and Burning Hands is an encounter power that hits a close blast 5 that deals heavy damage and pushes 3 squares.

    Their implement encounter power is Wand of Accuracy, which gives them a +4 bonus to their next attack.

    Final Impression

    Just because liches are the most iconic undead wizards, it doesn’t mean they’re the only ones. Arcanians seem like a good monster to use when you want to make an adventure themed around wizards who dug too deep.

    You could have a whole ruined academy filled with a variety of them and with other supporting undead or summoned extra-planar monsters. It’s easy enough to change the ruling element of the stat blocks presented here, or to adjust their level so you can have all three in the same dungeon. Maybe there’s a tome or artifact in its vaults that the party must recover, or maybe it’s just a place they need to pass through on their perilous journey.

    Sprinkle in journal entries that hint at the disaster that destroyed the place, and add a big lich with multiple elemental attacks as the “end boss”. And there you have it, an instant Dark Souls level for your 4e table.

  • Let's Read the 4e Monster Manual 3: Apocalypse Spell

    This is part of a series! Go here to see the other entries.

    If I remember correctly, some monster books from 3e introduced the notion of living spells, creatures made from pure magic and patterned after one of the commonly available spells in the game. I guess Apocalypse Spells take some inspiration from those, but the end result is very different. The classificaion of Apocalypse Spell is only applied to those living spells that arise from the most metal of magics.

    The Lore

    Every once in a great while, someone manages to cast a truly epic spell. We’re talking the sort of thing that can slay a god, bind a primordial, instantly destroy an empire, create an astral dominion from nothing, and so on. These spells are so powerful the residual energy left in their wake can attain sentience and become a construct of pure magic whose powers and personality are modeled after the effects of their progenitor spell.

    Despite their godlike power, apocalypse spells are simple creatures at heart. The kind of magic that gives birth to them is usually destructive and indiscriminate, and so are they at their cration. The passage of years allows them to develop distinct personalities and goals. Thus they can end up allying with other creatures who share those goals, or who manage to persuade them to help.

    If all else fails, there are certain rituals that allow a powerful enough caster to assume full control of an apocalypse spell. They’re most commonly cast by the Forsaken, a society of epic villains who get an entry further into this book. Angels, devils and demons also frequently try to influence these living spells.

    The book doesn’t say it, but I would guess the population of each type of apocalypse spell is fixed. The spells that generated them were unique, and were only cast once. Killing one of them permanently reduces that population.

    The Numbers

    Copyright 2010 Wizards of the Coast

    All Apocalypse Spells are Animates with the Construct keyword, but that’s where their similarity ends. Each stat block described here represents the progeny of a different epic spell.

    They do have a common signature trait, however: Unfettered Apocalypse is a reaction that triggers when they are first bloodied or when they take a critical hit, once per encounter. It creates a perfect duplicate of the spell that lasts for a turn. During this turn, it has the same HP and abilities as the original, and can act right after the original’s action. The duplicate can’t create another duplicate itself, however, so no infinitely spawning epic monsters for you.

    Prison of Mual-Tar

    The primordial Mual-Tar was defeated by the gods in the Dawn War, but couldn’t be killed. So it was bound in chains forged by Moradin himself and enchanted with a unique binding ritual. As Mual-Tar strained against these chains, shards of them broke off and fell into the Astral Sea, where they gained life. Prisons of Mual-Tar are born with opposing impulses to imprison and destroy, and their individual goals are related to one of these.

    These apocalypse spells are Large Immortal Animates with the Construct keyword, and Level 26 Soldiers with 242 HP. They have a ground speed of 6 and Resist Force 15. Very few creatures have resistance to force damage!

    The Prison is surrounded by an aura (5) of Cloying Chains, who marks all enemies caught inside. As an Agent of Divine Will, it ignores insubstantiality, concealment and partial cover (but not full cover or concealment).

    It attacks with a Reach 4 Fettering Lash, which deals physical damage. If the target tries to make an attack that doesn’t target the Prison in its next action, the Prison pulls it up to 10 squares to a square adjacent to itself. It can make this attack twice per action against different targets, thanks to Double Attack. When the Prison is subject to forced movement, it can use Reactive Coils to pull the triggering enemy adjacent to itself.

    The Prison’s divine origin makes it a bit reluctant to attack divine characters, and it might be convinced to lend its aid against elementals and demons. Their Double Attack ability makes them heavy hitters, and all the long-range pulling they can do makes them excellent at isolating PCs from each other.

    Herald of Colorless Fire

    In the ancient history of the Greyhawk setting, there were two great empires who were at war with each other, and who ended up using apocalyptic spells to erase each other from the world. The Rain of Colorless Fire was the more spectacular of the two, so it’s the one that gets mentioned most often in other publications. It turned the entire territory of the empire of Suel into a desert of ash and dust that was still a big feature of Oerth’s geography in its narrative present.

    Heralds of Colorless Fire arose from the ashes of that desert and began wandering the planes. They are made from that same fire, and their innate motivation is simple: burn everything. They are, however, smart enough to toy with their victims and to lure powerful targets into favorable terrain.

    Heralds are Medium Natural Animates (construct, fire) and Level 27 Skirmishers with 244 HP. They have a Speed of 8 (fly 6), and 15 fire resistance.

    All of their attacks deal damage of the “fire and force” combined type, meaning you need resistance to both types to stop it. Fire or Force Resistance alone do nothing. This is a pretty good way of modeling supernatural fire that burns anything.

    Their basic attack is a Caress of Flame, and they can also use a Storm of Colorless Fire (recharge 5+) that allows them attack a Close Burst 1, shift half their speed, and repeat the attack. Each of these bursts does more damage than the basic melee attack.

    The Herald can use Flickering Flame to shift 4 squares as a minor action, but this ability gets shut down for a turn if it takes cold damage. I do notice it doesn’t have the usual 1/round limitation of minor-action movement abilities.

    In combat, these are zippy fraggers, well-equipped for constant hit and run tactics. They should never stay still, and should never use a move action while Flickering Flame is active.

    Shard of Uralinda

    Once upon a time, there was a Winter Fey named Rodielle who was a member of the Winter Court. Rodielle tried to woo a member of the Summer Court and was spurned. He became so angry at this that, instead of resorting to the usual fey courtly intrigue, he did something truly terrible instead.

    Rodielle devised a spell of ice and death, and cast it upon the eladrin city of Uralinda, the place which his former beloved liked the most in all the worlds. Ice shards rained upon the city and ripped it apart, killing thousands. That part was on purpose. Then the shards were animated by the souls of the slain and began wandering all the worlds. That part was an accident. Whoops!

    The tormented souls inside the shards seek the release of final death, but they only have limited control over their icy cages. So they throw themselves at anyone who seems like they can put up a fight, hoping to be slain and released. Sometimes they also get controlled by spellcasters to do their bidding, which I imagine must be even less pleasant than their baseline state.

    Shards of Uralinda are Medium Fey Animates (construct, cold), and Level 28 Minion Soldiers. Their basic attacks deal damage of the “cold and psychic” combined type, and despite being minions they also have the Unfettered Apocalypse ability. In practice, this means they last for an additional turn after you kill them.

    Godslayer Inferno

    Copyright 2010 Wizards of the Coast

    These are the product of one of the many spells wielded by the primordials themselves during the Dawn War. It created a torrent of white and violet flames that prevented deities from discorporating and suppressed their immortal natures. As an unintended side effect, the flames also ended up absorbing some of the divine essence they burned away and became imbued with the spark of life. They remain steadfast in their original purpose of murdering the gods and their servants.

    From the description, it seems that this was one of the few “apocalyptic” spells that was used repeatedly as a weapon of war, so I’d guess there’s a higher population of Godslayer Infernos than of the other monsters in this entry. Yay?

    Godslayer Infernos are Medium Elemental Animates (construct, fire), and Level 28 Artillery with 194 HP. They have Resist Fire 15 and a ground speed of 6.

    Both their Fiery Claws and the Fire Bolts they shoot inflict a large chunk of ongoing fire damage (20 aned 25, respectively) without dealing any immediate damage. They can also use a special attack named Godsbane Inferno (area burst 2, range 10) which does deal immediate damage as well as inflicting more ongoing fire damage. This ongoing damage is more presistent - it’s reduced from 15 to 10 with the first save, and only disappears after the second.

    The inferno’s main source of immediate damage is Cloying Flames, which causes all targets taking ongoing fire damage within 10 squares to immediately take an amount of fire damage equal to that of ongoing damage.

    Despite being artillery, the inferno also has good cause to stick close to the PCs. Its Elemental Inferno aura (2) strips all enemies inside of any fire resistance they might have and prevents them from rolling saves against ongoing fire damage!

    I don’t think ongoing fire damage stacks, so it’s unlikely the inferno itself can inflict more than the 25 its fire bolts cause. But Cloying Flames makes them pair extremely well with other epic fire monsters. If nothing else fits, you could add multiple infernos in an encounter, but their danger level grows very fast in proportion to their numbers.

    Light of Amoth

    We already heard of the dead god Amoth during Demogorgon’s entry. He was responsible for splitting Demogorgon’s original head in two, just before being himself slain by the demon. Here we learn that there’s more to this story.

    No less than three demon princes stormed Amoth’s domain to kill him: Orcus, Demogorgon, and Rimmon. They all fought Amoth at the same time, and while Demogorgon did strike the final blow in the fight, it didn’t kill Amoth immediately either. The god had time to unleash a death curse, one so powerful it consumed his remaining life force in order to take the three demon lords along with him in a universe-shaking explosion.

    The three tried to get clear of the blast, but didn’t manage in time. Orcus and Demogorgon were a little quicker on the uptake than Rimmon, so they betrayed Rimmon first and used him as a shield to protect themselves from Amoth’s curse. Rimmon was disintegrated, which is why we never heard of him before.

    As you might imagine, that curse generated living spells of its own. These crystalline giants also incorporate fragments of essence from both Amoth and Rimmon, so they’re compelled to hunt down demonic and divine creatures in equal measure.

    Lights of Ammoth are Large Immortal Animates (construct), and Level 30 Brutes with 341 HP. They’re almost gods themselves! They have a ground speed of 6, but no special resistances.

    They fight with their Reach 2 Fists of Wrath, which do a lot of damage. Fury of the Dead (recharge 6+) allows them to attack every creature in range with their fists. They can also use an ability called Legacy of Kalandurren that targets everyone in a Close Burst 2 for cold damage equal to that of a punch, and immobilizes them. Kalandurren was Amoth’s domain.

    When a Light of Amoth takes damage, it releases a Wave of Retribution that does an automatic 5 damage to everyone within 2 squares of it.

    All of this means you want to let them get surrounded by the PCs.

    Final Impressions

    I think these monsters are really cool! I don’t know if any more apocalypse spells were ever published, but I really like the basic idea behind them. I wonder if there is one for Karsus’ Avatar (FR) or the Mourning (Eberron). These magical disasters feel like they’re about the right scale for it.

    Mechanically, I find them fairly interesting. They’re not mind-blowing but they display the consistently higher level of quality that would become standard from this point on.

  • Let's Read the 4e Monster Manual 3: Apes

    Copyright 2010 Wizards of the Coast

    This is part of a series! Go here to see the other entries.

    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.

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