Friday, August 28, 2015

Brutal Bugbears and Baleful Banshees - Gussying Up D&D 5e Monsters #1

As discussed before, Thomas and I have been thinking of how to improve 5e Combat and part of that is tinkering with monsters. So here are my first attempts, a take on the Bugbear and the Banshee, both of which are included in the D&D Basic packet.

A few notes first...

I haven't play-tested these at all, so they're entirely theoretical. It's changes I like, so I'll probably make use of them when I use the creatures in 5e and update the posts with any notes or discoveries.

I'll probably steal liberally from 13th Age and Dungeon World. I also plan on only looking at monsters from the D&D Basic rules so that the originals are freely available for comparison.




First, Bugbears. Probably my favorite of the goblinoids, even if I've never quite settled in my own mind on how they should relate to goblins and hobgoblins. Bigger, hairier, nastier goblins basically, but who haven't giving up on the dirty tricks of their smaller cousins.

Looking at the stat block on page 13 of the DM D&D Basic Rules (v0.3) Bugbears get Brute to do an extra die of melee damage which is pretty nasty but in the good kinda way that I want to keep. Tangentially, Brute makes a decent and simple monster template if I wanted to steal Thomas' approach to monster templates.

The next bit, Surprise Attack, is pretty shite, in my opinion, as it requires Bugbears to surprise a creature and hit in the first round of combat. Now, that fits with the big sneaky goblin feel, but it requires Bugbears to always be hiding and ambushing and requires players to be failing some perception checks. Either the DM will never get to use this, as bugbears fail to be sneaky enough to outwit eagle-eyed PCs and/or missing the first surprise round or players will start to feel grouchy about being beset again and again by nigh-invisible bugbears who brutalize them before they can get their bearings.(for those of you playing the Antagonist Relations blogpost drinking game, take a drink for "Zack uses alliteration as though impersonating an Anglo-Saxon poet.")

I think I'd rather swap that out for a Double-Team feature partly inspired by the 13th Age Bugbear
Here's how I'd put it: 
  • Double-Team 
    • Trigger: Natural even miss
    • If the target is engaged with at least two opponents the target takes 1d8 damage on the miss.
This keeps bugbears dangerous in groups but also since I changed it to trigger on a natural even miss instead of all misses, it won't affect the PCs every round. The Double-Team move should also be easy to apply to any other monster that uses a lot of teamwork.

Another thing I'd update, at least for some Bugbears, is to drop their javelins and shields, and therefore AC by 1, and give them Great Flails. These bugbears wouldn't have a ranged option or as high an armor class (and remember, with the flatter math of 5e, that 1 point difference in AC should make a greater difference than in 3/3.5/4) but we could give them the following Action in place of the attack actions present in the standard stat block.
  • Great Flail
    • Melee Weapon Attack
    • +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.
    • Hit: 13 (2d10+2) bludgeoning damage
    • Natural 16+ : target is tripped and knocked prone
Now instead of being dangerous mostly in the first round of combat and only if they manage to get the drop on the PCs, these bugbears should be dangerous in groups and you can swap in one or two with great flails to keep the PCs on their toes (or sweep them off of them)

Bonus: d12 Bugbear Loot Table
  1. Nuthin' but the hide armor on his back and the weapons in his hands.
  2. 2d6+X Silver Pieces, where X=# of bugbears, like 2d6+8 SP for 8 bugbears
  3. 2d6xY Copper Pieces, where Y=# of bugbears, like 2d6x4 CP for 4 bugbear
  4. Roll twice on a trinket table (like this one or this one)
  5. 1d6 Gold Pieces
  6. Poorly smoked meat jerky, equivalent to 1 day of rations, but PCs who consume it need to make a DC 5 CON check or be Poisoned for 1d4+1 hours.
  7. 10' of chain
  8. a Hunting trap
  9. A crude map of the best ambush locations in an area (probably the combat location, but if the DM is feeling generous and/or the bugbear fight was tougher than expected it could be a different nearby location)
  10. A poisoner's kit
  11. Manacles
  12. A single use magic item, like off this D&D 5e Cypher generator or the Sly Flourish Single Use Relic generator

Now, if it were me, I'd roll a d12 for the first bugbear, a d10 for the second, a d8 for the third and so on down to d4s or maybe d6s for any bugbears in excess of 4. 

Now onto Banshees, looking the stat block on page 11 of the DM D&D Basic Rules (v0.3) kinda makes me want to gouge my eyes out instead of running this creature. The damned thing has NINETEEN different resistances and immunities, two special features, and three actions, two of which are almost as large as the stat blocks of entire beasts on the other half of the page. WUT?

Alright, I've calmed down, I kinda get why 5e is so nitpicky with the resistances and immunities, but it doesn't mean I have to like it. How is damage resistance "bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical weapons" better than "damage resistance nonmagical weapons"? Take a look at the stat block for Banshees in Dungeon World. See any of that laundry list of 19 resistances and immunities? NO YOU FRAKKIN DON'T. But look at that wonderful special quality tag "Insubstantial", could that cover a large chunk of those resistances and immunities? YOU BET YOUR GORRAM ASS. (for those of you playing the Antagonist Relations blogpost drinking game, take a drink for "Zack uses cursewords from a fictional world")

And it doesn't get better when you get past the resistances and immunities. Does the Banshee need the Detect Life ability, especially given that it only covers "general direction they're in but not their exact locations"? This is the worst kind of fluff being passed off as a bit of crunch. Oh, this evil undead creature should be able to detect and stalk life? I kinda thought that was assumed and didn't need to be spelled out as a damned ability. The Incorporeal Movement nonsense is even worse... so the banshee can move through physical things with some difficulty but will also take damage if she ends her turn inside an object? I thought it was just to keep the banshee as a half-assed ghost and keeping the best incorporeal stuff for full-assed ghosts, but NOPE, looking ahead to page 22, the Ghost has the same crappy ability. I mean, I can almost see how it would let a clever party of murder hobos trap a banshee or ghost in an object, but on the other hand, moving through things with ease is a big part of being incorporeal. 

Now for the actions, Corrupting Touch is fine, it's corrupting because Necrotic damage but otherwise is not very flavorful. Horrifying Visage, this isn't terrible, but it's super wordy and kinda a waste of an action, when it could be a free action or bonus action, plenty of room for improvement. Finally, Wail... now, this is just me, but I think you can lose the bit about the banshee not being able to wail in sunlight, what self-respecting Banshee is traipsing about on a bloody sunny day? Sunburst, the only spell in the D&D 5e Basic rules that creates Sunlight is an 8th level spell that does 12d6 radiant damage with a save for half damage that undead are specifically worse at. As a Challenge Rating 4 creature, I think that banshee has a lot more to worry about if they run into a 15th level Cleric who can cast Sunburst... Not that Wail gets any better after that, with a dumb save or drop to 0 HP effect, with damage on a successful save. I think I need to just redo the whole flippin' stat block to salvage this nonsense, so without further ado, here is the Antagonist Relations Banshee, with commentary in italics.

Banshee

Medium undead, chaotic evil
Armor Class 12
Hit Points 126 (12d10+60) I've given my banshee over double the hit points of the basic version because I'm going to get rid of all the resistances and put in a couple vulnerabilities in their place.
Speed 0 ft., fly 40 ft. (hover, insubstantial) Here's where I'm putting that insubstantial tag to indicate that this banshee can move through solid objects.

STR 1 (-5) DEX 14 (+2) CON 10 (+0) INT 12 (+1) WIS 11 (+0) CHA 17 (+3)
Saving Throws WIS +2, CHA +4

Damage Immunities: Cold, Necrotic Poison
Damage Vulnerabilities: Fire, Force, Radiant These weren't called out as vulnerabilities for the basic version, but they were about the only damage types that the damned thing didn't have resistances or immunities to.
Condition Immunities: Charmed, Frightened I'm totally letting that insubstantial tag take care of exhaustion, grappled, paralyzed, petrified, prone and restrained, because really, wouldn't being insubstantial/incorporeal cover those?
Senses: Darkvision 60ft., passive Perception 10
Languages: Common, Elvish
Challenge 4 (1,100 XP) Though I mucked about mightily with the Hit Points, that really shouldn't change the rating as I just added HP to remove all the nonsense resistances.

Actions

Corrupting Touch. Melee Spell Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (2d8+2) necrotic damage
Natural Even Hit: The target needs to make a DC 13 CON save or gains one level of Exhaustion 
I toned down the damage a little, making it 4-16 instead of 5-20, and added a little flavor with the chance for the Banshee to drain a PCs life force as simulated by the Exhaustion mechanic

Horrifying Visage (Bonus action, 1/combat). Each living creature within 60 feet of the banshee that can see her must succeed on a DC 13 WIS saving throw or be frightened for 1 minute. A frightened target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, with disadvantage if the banshee is within line of sight, ending the effect on a success. Until the Banshee uses her Horrifying Visage she can choose to appear as a beautiful human or elven woman. 
I went with living creature instead of non-undead to give Warforged or similar construct PCs a little bonus for not being technically alive. I made the power a bonus action usable once per combat to get rid of the need to spell out that creatures would be immune to it for 24 hours blah blah blah. If they come across another Banshee I'd let players argue (if they thought of it) that they'd have advantage on the check but I don't think that you're ever going to have players wandering through a catacombs full of banshees, or rather, at least I'm not.

Wail (1/Day). The banshee releases a mournful wail, all living creatures within 30 feet of her that can hear her must make a DC 13 Constitution saving throw. On a failure, a creature takes 17 (4d6+3) Psychic damage, or half as much damage on a successful one. While a banshee is wailing, all sound within 30 feet is drowned out, preventing any verbal communication or casting of spells which require verbal components. The banshee can spend a bonus action each round to continue screaming.
I took out the save or go unconscious claptrap and bumped up damage. Inspired, by the Dungeon World Banshee Instinct: Drown out all other sound with a ceaseless scream I added the ongoing effect and honestly, I bet players would trade that ongoing inability to cast spells with verbal components or communicate within 30ft of the banshee for the save or be unconscious roll any day, but I think this is much, much more interesting. 

So overall, I dropped the word count from 357 to 277, the number of resistances and immunities from 19 to 5 (8, if you count the three vulnerabilities I added (9 if you count Insubstantial)) (for those of you playing the Antagonist Relations blogpost drinking game, take a shot for Zack using parenthesis inside a set of parenthesis"). I gave the corrupting touch a little more flavor, tried to streamline Horrifying Visage a little and turned Wail from a save or go unconscious one shot effect that might lay a party out flat if players had poor luck to an ongoing effect that feels truer to the Banshee's concept and that will provide a great challenge for spellcasters.

I'll try and do more of these in the future, I need to double check with Thomas and see if he still wants to do this himself as an ongoing thing and what kind of structure we want to put around it (if any). Let me know if you like or hate what I did with the Bugbear and Banshee or if you have other thoughts.

Stat block for the Banshee without my annoying commentary is below:

Banshee

Medium undead, chaotic evil
Armor Class 12
Hit Points 126 (12d10+60) 
Speed 0 ft., fly 40 ft. (hover, insubstantial)

STR 1 (-5) DEX 14 (+2) CON 10 (+0) INT 12 (+1) WIS 11 (+0) CHA 17 (+3)
Saving Throws WIS +2, CHA +4

Damage Immunities: Cold, Necrotic Poison
Damage Vulnerabilities: Fire, Force, Radiant 
Condition Immunities: Charmed, Frightened 
Senses: Darkvision 60ft., passive Perception 10
Languages: Common, Elvish
Challenge 4 (1,100 XP) 

Actions

Corrupting Touch. Melee Spell Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (2d8+2) necrotic damage
Natural Even Hit: The target needs to make a DC 13 CON save or gains one level of Exhaustion 

Horrifying Visage (Bonus action, 1/combat). Each living creature within 60 feet of the banshee that can see her must succeed on a DC 13 WIS saving throw or be frightened for 1 minute. A frightened target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, with disadvantage if the banshee is within line of sight, ending the effect on a success. Until the Banshee uses her Horrifying Visage she can choose to appear as a beautiful human or elven woman. 

Wail (1/Day). The banshee releases a mournful wail, all living creatures within 30 feet of her that can hear her must make a DC 13 Constitution saving throw. On a failure, a creature takes 17 (4d6+3) Psychic damage, or half as much damage on a successful one. While a banshee is wailing, all sound within 30 feet is drowned out, preventing any verbal communication or casting of spells which require verbal components. The banshee can spend a bonus action each round to continue screaming.

4 comments:

  1. This is amazing. I hope you keep doing them as I'll be using them FREQUENTLY!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Need me to take a pass at Gugs and see if we can't horrify your players further ;)

      Delete
  2. Like.

    I do wonder though, some powers can let you ignore resistance, so you'd need to take that into account with the Banshee.

    I especially like the bugbear treasure, it reminds me of a feature in the 13th Age Midguard Bestiary where they list a whole slate of crazy shit you might find on things. Cause let's face it: saying the goblins have nothing is lame. Saying they have nothing obviously useful is better, but describing some of the weird little things is much better.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not sure that there are enough powers that ignore resistance to make want to try and keep 7 resistances at the top of my head.

      Especially since I'm running a mostly post-apocalyptic game, I want to try and keep giving unexpected loot, that maybe could be useful, but maybe is just interesting junk.

      Delete

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