Friday, October 16, 2009

Level 4 Terrors

Continuing the trip through Heroic tier, it’s the enemies of Level 4 that can harass your party. These are the monsters that are the highest that should reasonably threaten a level 1 party, so I’ve included a pair of “boss” type monsters in this article

Cavern Choker

These lurkers are oldies but goodies. They’ve been around a while, and are as robust as ever. They’re basically the monster version of defenders, able to suck up a party member who will have a tough go of things if he isn’t trained in Athletics or Acrobatics, since the Choker applies an inherent penalty to escape, and his Body Shield ability can keep the other characters from knocking him away once he’s latched on.
His actual attacks aren’t that scary, damage-wise, but Ongoing 1d8+3 and restrained isn’t anything to sneeze at. At the beginning of the encounter, these guys should probably roll Stealth against the party’s passive perception and only scramble out to snatch a delicious-looking adventurer in the second or third round. You can safely add a Choker as the “sixth member” of basically any other encounter; they don’t really work or socialize with non-Chokers, but they’re opportunistic enough to follow around goblins and pick off an enemy for themselves. Cavern Chokers appear on page 42 of Monster Manual 1, and in most low-level Wizards’ nightmares.

Visejaw Crocodile

With a big ol’ smile like he sports, you’d think he’d be nicer. Crocs are a great verisimilitude creature that aren’t fantastical or magical, but can be plenty terrifying just the same. If there’s a river or lake that needs crossing (or a wizened sage’s hut in the swamp), Visejaws can make an interesting encounter. They’re soldiers, and will stay in their square doing a death roll on a grabbed foe (Clamping Jaws in the book, but you should definitely play up the raw power of a giant crocodile with their real-world habits), but can easily shift into the role of Lurker, with their outstanding Stealth score. Similar to the Choker above, they make a great “latecomer to the fun,” but they have no problem starting in plain sight, as long as there’s a few feet of muck they can make a move action and Stealth check at the end of it.
They can’t really be paired with other tasty (to a croc) creatures like Bullywugs, but a group of undead or Myconids would certainly be appropriate. Take advantage of their swim speed and aquatic combat rules to give the croc an edge, and also let a tactical opponent get the crocodile on land where a striker can tear it apart. Visejaw Crocodiles appear on page 45 of Monster Manual 1.

Barghest Savager

These guys are neat. They’re smart (for goblinoids) and have several tricks up their sleeves, or paws depending. They stand in for werewolves if you need some level-appropriate shapeshifters for your campaign’s theme, they’re likely to banter with the party as they attack, with condescending trash-talk while they swing around an axe,and then switch into their wolf form to try and strike fear into the party. Their recharging Super-Nimble-Strike attack is powerful, but their “Power Feed” is what takes the cake.
The Barghest, if he sees a cool At-Will or Encounter power from the party (or a unique ally), can replicate it once (and the power’s reliable), and the idea of a worg throwing a Magic Missile or dropping a Drow’s Faerie Fire should entertain you. Mixed in with your normal goblin hordes, Barghests become the ringleaders or mob bosses of pretty much any bandit group. A Barghest, by nature of his cunning and supremacy over his goblinoid kin, could easily be a miniboss-type antagonist, running away and leaving his men to the party’s mercy to raise another strike force – or team with a higher-powered group of Duergar or Ettercaps or what have you and lead them back to the party and their riches. Barghest Savagers are on page 20 of Monster Manual 2.

Brain in a Broken Jar

Despite first appearing in d20 Modern’s Menace Manual, the trusty undead brain in a jar escaped to a good game, and shows up in 4th Edition on page 140 of Open Grave. The great thing is a Brain in a Jar can either be a really sinister, unsettling enemy, or a hilarious joke machine, depending on the style of campaign you’re running. The jar is described as faulty or failing, and its occupant has gone quite insane, though whether that’s Futurama-style goofy flying brains or sadistic, Lovecraftian-cultist crazy is up to you. They’re controllers with flight, invisibility and mind control, and are one of the lowest-level monsters that feature the dominated condition. Take advantage of their hover modifier and float a Brain in a Broken Jar 2-4 squares above the party (use an adjacent d6 on the battlemat to keep track of elevation), and let the rogue make an Acrobatics check to wall-jump (or get an assist from the fighter) to stab at it for a memorable, cinematic fight. The Brain in a Broken Jar usually has a servant with hands to manipulate its admixtures, experiments and tomes, so think about throwing in an elite brute along with some cannon fodder skeletons when designing the climactic battle with “the wizard too poor or unskilled to perform a lich ritual.”