Dissecting Monsters: The Watcher’s First Creature from “Better Than Any Man”

The_Watchers_First_Creature by Gennifer Bone
Art by Gennifer Bone

=The Watcher’s First Creature=
Armor 12, 6 Hit Dice, Movement 30’ fly, no attacks, Morale 12.
This is a tendril-growing eyeball imprisoned in an electrified gelatinous shell in the shape of a seven foot cube. And it flies.

The cubic creature can read the thoughts and memories of anything it looks at, including knowing what inanimate objects have done and what has been done to them. It is not able to communicate with humans however, so when it learns something that The Watcher (or anyone else) should know, it has no choice but to mime its message… difficult when one’s body is an eyeball surrounded by a mass of flailing tendrils and encased in a large cube.

As  one  might  expect  by  the  lightning  constantly  striking  across its insides, hitting the cube with a metal mêlée weapon is a bad idea. However much damage is inflicted on the creature, the attacker also takes that much in electrical damage (save versus Magic for half damage).

When struck, the creature also shoots a tendril out at the attacker (which  plugs  the  hole  in  the  shell,  preventing  caustic  liquid  from escaping). The attacker must save versus Paralyzation or the tendril wraps around both the weapon used to attack and the arm(s) holding the weapon. This will not only immobilize the arm(s) and prevent the attacker from making any more attacks, it will also prevent the character from moving away. Anyone entangled in the tendrils like so will also be affected if the creature is attacked and discharges electricity.

The tendril itself is Armor 17 (and metallic, so striking it causes a discharge), 1 Hit Die.

Those attacking the creature with missile weapons will also have tendrils grab them, but the tendrils grow thicker with distance; add 1 Hit Die per 20’ distance of the attacker.

The creature will let its tendrils loose only when those entangled have dropped their weapons, have surrendered, and there are allies waiting to take the prisoner into custody.

If the creature is destroyed, it will explode doing 6d8 damage in a 10’ radius, 5d8 damage out to 20’, 4d8 to 30’, etc. Save versus Breath Weapon for half damage.

Something I really love about Raggi’s publications is the way he skillfully integrates a sort of nonsensical silliness into everything. Sometimes it’s overt, as it is with Twinkly in “Fuck for Satan,” or as it is with The Defiler’s creature, which I’ll get to soon. Here it’s a little more subtle, with a creature who can know everything about anything it looks at, but is completely incapable of sharing that information reliably. I can just imagine how frantic it would look trying to get someone’s attention. “These aren’t just random tentacle wigglings, I’m trying to tell you something!” I would have a lot of fun explaining weird tentacle motions, and watching my players try to decipher their meaning. I may need to come up with a reason for a similar creature to appear in one of my games as an ally of the players, just so I can have that opportunity.

In combat, this is perhaps one of the more straightforward beasts described in this series. “Hit it until it is dead” is a perfectly viable strategy. And while there are roadblocks which prevent that task from being easy, none of them are liable to overwhelm the players immediately. Players foolish enough to use metal weapons will take damage equal to that they inflict, but unless they’re low level they’ll probably survive this once. And even then, it’s the consequence of a mistake, and they receive a saving throw. So that’s quite generous.

The entangling attack the creature has similarly tame. It restricts the players actions, which could lead to the player being harmed by others, but is not in itself directly harmful. It would be a small matter to stop, destroy the tentacle, and retreat. Interestingly, the tentacles are much more challenging for those who attack from range, which is a great trick. It turns the tables on what is often assumed to be a ‘safe’ strategy.

The explosion when the creature dies is somewhat problematic for me. It’s also the only real threat this creature poses. It functions like a trap. One which can easily be deadly, and the player receives no sufficient warning of. Add to that the fact that the players are incentiveized by the mechanics discussed above to move into melee range where the damage they take will be greater. Note also, however, that every single way in which this creature causes damage is reactive. If the players leave it entirely alone, then at the very worst it is a spy who cannot effectively communicate with its master. Bearing that in mind, it could be argued that the PCs deserve whatever fate they bring upon themselves.

None the less, I think it’s important to describe the creature’s appearance and actions in a way which hints at the potential danger of destroying it. It’s (essentially) a glass cube filled with acid.* When that glass is cracked, and a tentacle shoots out to plug the hole, I would say something to the effect of: “One of the tentacles inside the cube moves impossibly fast, shooting out to plug the hole and grab at you. But it’s not fast enough to stop a squirt of green liquid from leaving a smoking black mark on the ground.”

*At least, this is how I read it. The initial description makes it sound as though the gelatin which surrounds the creature is of a single consistency: a gel. Later, though, it’s stated that the outer shell needs to be plugged by tentacles to prevent “caustic liquid” from escaping.

Deadly Dungeons 29: The Weathered Door

Weathered DoorOf late, I’ve been trying to work on creative tricks and traps which don’t rely quite so much on magic. Which isn’t to say I don’t like magic. A look back through previous deadly dungeons posts will show just how much I love the idea of insane wizards making fucked up nonsense because they don’t have anything better to do with their immense power. But I feel as though I’ve relied too heavily on magic as a crutch in my game design, so I’m trying to push myself to create interesting challenges which could be crafted by thieves, or primitive peoples.

This door will probably make the most sense if it is in a windswept, possibly sandy location. Somewhere that wood would be stripped without being damaged to the point of being structurally unsound.

This is a wooden double door. It is clearly dilapidated, the wood has deep grooves in it and splinters easily, but is still quite sturdy. Each of the two doors has horizontal metal handles. On each door, above the handles, are two vertical strips which are clearly discolored from the rest of the door. It’s obvious something was once there but is not any longer.

A cursory examination of the handles will reveal that there is blue paint on the parts of it which are protected from the weather. Closely examining the discolored vertical lines on the door will also reveal small flecks of blue paint there. They are small enough that a person would need good light to see them, and cannot be rushed.

If pulled, the handles do not open the door. In fact, they are not even connected to the door. They are instead fitted to small panels in the wood. These panels are well crafted enough that only a successful search roll will find them. Once removed, the panels release small gas canisters which instantly blast anyone standing within 5ft of the door, requiring them to make a save versus poison. Fortunately, this gas is very old and should have been replaced long ago. On a failed poison save, roll 1d6 to determine the effect:

  1. Death.
  2. A permanent 1d6 reduction of a random stat (roll 1d6).
  3. A permanent reduction of 1 to a random stat (roll 1d6).
  4. The character becomes violently ill, and becomes completely incapacitated for 2 weeks. After this time, no ill effects are suffered.
  5. The character spends 10 minutes being violently ill. The noise, and the smell, attract a nearby monster.
  6. The victim’s body actually reacts well to the aged poison, and they heal 1d6 damage.

If the characters instead turn the handles before pulling them–so that the horizontal handle is instead vertical, the panels will lock in place. This will allow characters to open the doors safely. The fact that the handles can turn is not immediately obvious, as the pivoting point has become jammed with debris. But once the characters decide to make an effort to turn the handle, it can be done with only minor difficulty.

Picture Thursday 45: The Wizard’s Challenge by David Hoffrichter

The Wizard's Challenge by David HoffrichterOften when writing these picture Thursday posts, I wish I had a better vocabulary with which to describe what I’m seeing. Today that is doubly true. Something about this piece is just perfect. The way it looks stylistically similar to the art you might see in a children’s book, juxtaposed with the hard-edged content of a fearsome beast and a man with the intent to kill it. I am entranced.

Absolutely check out David Hoffrichter’s DeviantArt page. It’s filled with phenomenal work. I really like this piece titled “Implements of a Wizard,” as well as “Tales of the Ogre Witch.”

I’m a big fan of digital art, but it’s undeniable that there’s a certain quality to art produced with traditional means. One which is fully evident in this artist’s work. A tangible feeling which makes it seem somehow more real.

Deadly Dungeons 28: Ladder Conundrum

LadderCrankIf it isn’t clear, this is a vertical map. Also it is not to scale.

The first thing the players are liable to notice in this room is the crank. It’s large, with a bit of rope wrapped around it. The end of the rope disappears into a hole in the floor. If the players choose to look around, they’ll discover a fairly obvious trap door. It’s much too small for a human, or even a halfling, to fit through, and there is no easy means of opening it. (Though a bit of prying will yield results).

If the players are able to screw up their courage to fiddle with the mysterious crank, and turn it, it will pull more rope out of the ground. Simultaneously, a ladder will begin to rise from beneath the trap door. The ladder is made of wood, and wobbles a little, but will not break unless put through undue stress.

The crank can be turned until the top rung of the ladder reaches a height of 200 ft–just high enough for it to be equal with a small alcove high on the wall which leads to other areas of the dungeon.

Unfortunately, while this alcove is normally open, turning the crank below causes a heavy sliding door to descend from the ceiling. This door has no handholds, and is flush with the walls around it. Players on the top rung of the ladder will find no purchase for a grappling hook. And lifting the 300lb door while standing on the top rung of the ladder would be a feat of exceptional difficulty.

The door and the ladder move relative to one another, so that the door is not completely open until the ladder is all of the way down, and it is not all the way closed until the ladder is extended to it’s maximum height. The door, however, is only 6ft tall. So when the ladder is at half-height (100ft), the door will only be open 3ft; when the ladder is at three-quarters height (150ft), the door will only be open 1.5ft; etc.

I’m curious to experiment with this room. It clearly works best as a low level challenge, since high level characters will have access to spells and ability which will make overcoming this room child’s play. However, I honestly can’t think of a good way for 1st or 2nd level characters to overcome this challenge.

Anybody have any ideas?

Picture Thursday 44: Brother System by Nick Patterson

Brother System by Nick PattersonI’ve kind of got monsters on my mind, if you haven’t noticed.

This is a piece from Nick Patterson, an artist who does a lot of the weird surrealist stuff that I’ve been into lately. Stormwatcher and Tank Thing are both good examples of his recent work, I think. He creates images which are, for lack of any better description, fucked up in the best possible way.

But this particular piece, Brother System, really gets the creative energy pumping in my head. The contrast of black & white ink with the stark red of each creature’s inhumanity gives immediate impact to their monstrosity. The expression on the visible face is frightening, but also vacant and terrified. I think the idea of such a horrible monster being scared is much more unsettling than if it was made to look menacing.

The two appear to be wearing suits over their bodies, with just their face exposed. Are they technologically advanced, or are they the remains of someone who was technologically advanced? They certainly seem to be in control of themselves, given their vulcan mind-meld posture. What are they doing? Perhaps (lacking a tongue or lips) they are forced to communicate via tactile telepathy?

You should absolutely check out more of Nick Patterson’s gallery. It’s rife with ideas for a creepy adventure.

Dissecting Monsters: The Watcher’s Second Creature from “Better Than Any Man”

The Defenders Second Creature-The Watcher’s Second Creature-
Armor  immaterial,  10  Hit  Dice,  Movement 180’ fly, 1 tumor attack (see below), Morale 12.

The creature attacks by willing a tumor to grow in a target within 100’, and it accomplishes this with a normal to-hit roll. Targets which are hit grow a tumor of some size. Roll 1d4 to determine this tumor’s “size factor.” This is the amount of encumbrance points the tumor adds to the target and the chances in 6 that, when the character is successfully attacked, the attack hits the tumor.

If  a  tumor  is  hit,  the  character  takes  normal  damage from the attack plus the same damage again as the trauma causes the tumor to release toxins into the character’s body. (This will happen every time  the  character  is  damaged  by  an  area  effect  attack  as  well.)  Then  the
victim must make a saving throw versus Poison, or suffer 1d4 more points of damage.

Keep track of the damage the character suffers due to those failed Poison saves. When the amount cumulatively suffered by that specific type of damage (even if some is healed along the way) equals the character’s maximum Hit Points, the character is taken over by the tumor and transforms into a living mass of cancer. Game over.

The  victim’s  tumors  have  eyes  all  over  them  in  the  same  manner  that the creature itself does. The creature can see out of the eyes on its victims’ tumors.

A tumor can be reduced in size each time a healing spell of any type is specifically cast on the tumor—for each 6 that comes up on the die rolls for the healing spell, the tumor shrinks one size. Such applications of the healing do only affect the tumor and do not heal damage. If a character is exposed to radiation, a saving throw versus Poison will also shrink a tumor one size. Time may also change the size of a tumor. Every month the character should save versus Poison. If the save is successful, the tumor shrinks a size, if the roll is less than half of what would have been needed, the tumor grows one size. When the tumor is at size factor zero, it is gone permanently.

The creature does not technically exist by any measure other than “I can see it!” and so it may sense and move through solid objects as if they were not there. Physical objects pass through it and existing on six dimensions simultaneously (none of them this one except as a mirage) it is even immune to all magic.

The creature is itself harmed by magical attacks made against the tumors of its victims, including physical attacks made with magic weapons. These
attacks do damage to both the victim and the creature.

This beast is almost more of a force of nature than it is a monster. Encountering it is like encountering an avalanche or an erupting volcano. The most sound strategy is to flee from it. If you try to fight something like that, you end up buried in snow, melted to slag, or in this case, riddled with cancer.

The Defender’s second creature isn’t quite as invulnerable as it might seem at first. Like other monsters from this series, there is an obscure trick which allows it to be defeated easily if the trick is discovered. Unlike the other creatures, that trick is really the only way to kill the thing. Nothing else will work. In most cases, I would say that’s poor monster design. A game of “guess what the GM is thinking,” which is never fun.

However, there are a few mitigating factors here. First, the creature has no real attacks. It can create tumors, and the tumors are dangerous, but they’re more of a long term danger. The players have as much time as they need to think about the tumors, and what to do with them. The only time the tumors actually put the character’s life in danger is when the character is the subject of attack. And if the character is being attacked, then their life is in danger anyway. The cancer is more of an imposed vulnerability than it is an attack.

Second, the creature’s completely immaterial nature (literally nothing in this world seems to exist for it) should make it very quickly obvious to any competent group of players that they need to retreat. When the players are informed that their weapons pass through it as though it were an illusion–as do their spells, magic items, and other methods of attack–then if they don’t retreat to reassess the situation, they’re being foolish. Likely some member of their party will be cancerous by this point, but as stated above, the cancer isn’t really that dangerous unless the group decides to ignore it entirely.

And once the players do flee from this beast, the fact that the eye-covered cancerous growths look very much like a corporeal version of the creature they just fled from seems to me a very good indication that they should stab it.

One thing I’d be curious to know is how much of the treatment information the players ought to be able to find in their world. If the cleric says “I want to try to cure this cancer, how do I do that?” should the GM tell them that casting healing spells directly on the tumor might have some effect, or is that something the players need to decipher for themselves? Personally, I’d tell my players that sort of thing, but I wonder if that is what was intended.

This is easily my favorite monster from the module.

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