Thursday, September 24, 2015

Menacing Manticores and Stinging Scorpions - Gussying Up D&D 5e Monsters #3

I've had Manticores on my mind lately, primarily due to my Planarch Codex pick up game which featured a manticore obsessed wizard tower, a manticore vs. gelatinous cube fight and now an order of wizard experimenters who call themselves the Millenary Order of the Manticore. Head of a man, with three rows of fangs, body of a lion, wings of a dragon (not pictured above), spiked tail that shoots spines like arrows and per legendarily accurate information source, Wikipedia, " It devours its prey whole and leaves no clothes, bones, or possessions of the prey behind." So imagine my (lack) of surprise when the D&D 5e Manticore is completely... uninspiring... How uninspiring is it? So uninspiring that the Giant Scorpion, which is also a CR 3 monster, is more dynamic but also might be overpowered, which is why covering that monster in this post as well.

Standard disclaimers apply and all that nonsense...
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. 

So 5e by the book Manticore vs. 5e by the book Giant Scorpion? First, let's take a look at the Manticore in Dungeon World and the Manticore in 13th Age because they're handy and both are good in different ways and provide a good baseline.
  • Dungeon World Manticore
    • Gets a stinger and the impulse "Poison them" and wings making it seem fairly iconic.
    • Backstory blurb and impulse "Rip something apart" plus Messy tag cast them as a freak magical creature cobbled together by crazed wizards, which is double plus cool. (If you're playing the Antagonist Relations Drinking Game, take a drink for "Zack uses double plus unironically")
    • It's Dungeon World, so the stats are simple and easy to implement. Overall an entirely worthy Manticore entry.
  • 13th Age Manticore
    • Gets poisonous tail spikes, crushing leonine jaws and wings, which seem pretty iconic.
    • Backstory blurb in the 13th Age core book is pretty crazy and awesome, but I'm only covering stuff that you can get for free, so let's ignore it (but it's good, I promise).
    • They get two claw attacks, with the possibility of adding tail spikes on a natural 16+ roll or a single bite attack that does extra damage against creatures suffering from poison, These two attack options utilize some of the best 13th Age monster mechanics by leaving some up to luck (16+), some up to GM (claw or bite) but making it clear when a monster would use each attack without needing a paragraph on The Tactics of the Manticore... Because obvs the Manticore uses claws until it poisons someone (For those playing the Antagonist Relations Drinking Game at home take a shot for "Zack does a bad LSP impression" and take a second shot if you don't recognize the initials LSP because you're a bad person and you should feel bad. (And then take a take a drink for "Zack makes a Futurama reference" and then take a drink for "Zack uses parenthesis inside of another set of parenthesis" and then you might want to think about getting your stomach pumped or taking a break or something...))
    • The 13A manticore also gets the volley of tail spikes attack that can affect 1-3 enemies to deal poison damage and each time the manticore does so it takes damage which is pretty metal. This incentivizes the GM to get the manticore up close and personal without relying on the dumb "Tactics of the Manticore" paragraph.
    • Again, a worthy Manticore entry.
Now, onto 5th Edition D&D...
  • Manticore DM Basic Rules Pg. 35
    • Starts with nonsense about exactly how many spikes the Manticore has (24) and how long it takes for them to regrow (a long rest). I get that in one way this makes a world more realistic but on the other hand will this ever come up and does it need to be specifically spelled out in a stat block? I guess a savvy player could count the tail spikes and somehow trick the manticore into using them all up in some devious cat and mouse but the nit-picky count the tail spikes business has none of the punch of the 13th Age Manticore taking damage when it uses spikes is much more satisfying to me. Maybe this is some hypocrisy on my part as I'd rather players be responsible for any nit-picky inventory tracking than the GM have to do it.
    • The Manticore has tail spikes, wings, but no poison, which sticks out a bit, since the rest of the stats and attacks are fairly...bland. So, sort of iconic? But I really do think of Manticores as having poison/venom.
    • The meat of the stats, attacks. The manticore gets three attacks, a bite and two claws or three tail spikes (though, remember, it only has 24 until it takes a long rest, so really it can only use that 8 times, unless the PCs break off the fight and let the Manticore hide and rest for 6-8 hours, and that is a fact that is important enough to waste space on in the stat block).
    • None of these attacks do poison damage, none of them do anything but damage. There is nothing special here, other than this monster basically has a bow and quiver of 24 arrows that magically regenerate if you're nice enough to let it go away and sleep for a while.
Compared to the...
  • Giant Scorpion DM Basic Rules Pg. 27
    •  Same CR as the Manticore, but more interesting, though in a way that will infuriate the players.
    • So no flying or ranged attack, but gets blindsight, which probably best simulates arthropod vibration senses. 
    • Just like the Manticore, the Giant Scorpion gets three attacks, two claws and a sting(er).
    • But whereas the Manticore just does damage, both of the Giant Scorpion's attacks have extra effects...
      • The Claws have an auto-grapple when they hit, and the stats call out that each claw can grapple a target... Now the escape check isn't too onerous (DC 12) and grappled just keeps them from moving away without escaping but players will hate this, especially if they're used to their melee toughs being really mobile.
      • The Sting does piercing damage plus poison damage with a save for half, but the half damage is still 2-20 poison damage and the sting piercing damage is only 3-12, so even on a successful save you might take more damage from the poison than the sting. You're looking at a minimum of 5 damage on a sting and a maximum of 52 (which is, funnily enough, the HP given for the giant scorpion)
So what do we have in brief?

Flys Doesn't Fly Manticore
Darkvision Blindsight Scorpion
3 attacks per round 3 attacks per round Tie
Ranged attack (usable 8 times*) No Ranged attack Manticore, I guess, though it really doesn't feel like much of a victory.
Claws just do damage Claws auto-grapple on hit. Scorpion
Bite just does damage, though a pittance more than the claws Stinger does damage on a hit, plus either a ton of poison damage on a failed save or a moderate amount on a successful save. Scorpion by a wide margin

I guess an argument could be made that the Manticore is still a more interesting monster by the book than the Giant Scorpion, but I, for one, am not buying that argument.

According to the encounter building guidelines, 2 giant scorpions or manticores are a hard encounter for five 4th level characters, but unless the GM is utterly ruthless tactically, I just don't see how a manticore (damage output 12-29 a turn, or 12-33 while the tail spikes last) is any competition for a giant scorpion (damage output 10-32 + 2-40 poison damage a turn for 12-72 total). To demonstrate how potent the by the book giant scorpion is, an Elephant is a CR 4 creature that has lower AC than either Scorpion or Manticore, higher HP, and a seemingly nasty Gore/Stomp trampling charge duo that only does 16-64 damage and requires maneuvering room and the target gets a DC 12 save to avoid being knocked prone to set up the Stomp.

So, how do I propose making the Manticore more interesting and tempering the potency of the Giant Scorpion? Let's tackle the Manticore first, mostly by ripping off the excellent mechanics of the 13th Age Manticore...

  • Let's ditch the nonsense about tail spikes regrowing and steal the Tail Spike regrowth mechanism from the 13th Age Manticore to make the Manticore more metal.
  • Since we're having the Manticore take damage when it uses the Tail Spikes, let's double it's HP. Most 5e monsters need extra HP anyway, so this shouldn't be too big of an issue.
  • Let's encourage the GM to bring the Manticore up close and personal by dropping the tail spike range down to 50/100ft.
  • But wait, what about Venom? Let's add "and target has to save on a DC 12 CON check or be Poisoned" to the Tail Spike. We'll drop the damage down from 1d8 to 1d6 to compensate. The Poisoned condition gives creatures disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks, making it nice and nasty, but since it's fairly common and dwarves and Stout Halflings get advantage on saving throws against poisons it gives those races a chance to shine.
  • Continuing our whole-scale pillaging of the 13th Age Manticore, let's grab the Battering Paws 16+ free Tail Spike attack and adapt the extra damage for the Bite attack on poisoned creatures.
  • Finally, let's steal the fantastic flavor of "It devours its prey whole and leaves no clothes, bones, or possessions of the prey behind" and some of the Dungeon World flavor to fill the Manticore stomach full of loot and tie it to the player favorite magic item "Bag of Holding"...

Manticore (in the style of 13th Age)

Large Monstrosity, lawful evil
Armor Class 14 (natural armor)

Hit Points 136 (13d12+52)
Speed 30 ft., fly 50 ft.
STR 17 (+3) DEX 16 (+3) CON 17 (+3) INT 7 (-2) WIS 12 (+1) CHA 8 (-1)
Senses: darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 11
Languages Common
Challenge 3 (700 XP) I'm guessing at this here....

Venomous Reservoirs. Each time the manticore uses its volley of tail spikes attack, it takes 1d6 damage, or 2d6 damage if it is below half it's maximum hit points.


Multiattack. The manticore makes three attacks: one with its bite and two with its claws or three with its tail spikes.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d8 + 3) piercing damage or 11 (2d8 + 3) piercing damage against a creature with the Poisoned condition.
Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d6 + 3) slashing damage. Natural 16+: The manticore can make a Tail Spike attack against a different target as a free action.
Tail Spike. Ranged Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, range 50/100 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d6 + 3) piercing damage and target needs to make a DC 12 CON check or be Poisoned (save ends)

Created by crazed wizards by stitching together a lion, a wyvern or other smaller dragon and a humanoid head, the Manticore is a creature of fury. Its long tail ends in a cluster of deadly spikes that can envenom prey at a distance. Aside from general arcane insanity, why would anyone construct such a creature? Dark rumors swirl that Manticores devour their prey whole, clothing, possessions and all, leading many to speculate that a Manticore stomach might be a natural Bag of Holding or perhaps an important component in constructing one. Needless to say, many who have sliced open a Manticore's stomach have discovered it contains much more that it should.

What's in the Manticore Stomach? (Corpse implied) 1d12

  1. Halfling Thief
    • Halfling size studded leather armor
    • 2d6 daggers
    • Thieves' Tools
    • Crowbar
    • 1d4 Iron Spikes
    • 4d4 coins
  2. Hobgoblin Soldier
    • Hobgoblin sized chainmail
    • Shield painted with hobgoblin battalion symbol
    • Longsword
    • Longbow
    • 2d4 arrows
    • Mess kit
    • Backpack
    • Shovel
  3. Dwarven Mercenary
    • Dwarven sized Splint armor
    • Greataxe (1 in 12 chance of being +1)
    • Keg of dwarven ale
    • Heavy steel dwarven drinking mug
    • Heavy crossbow (no bolts)
  4. Lizardfolk Priest
    • Crocodile head helmet
    • Lizardfolk spear
    • Blowgun
    • 3d6 blowgun needles
    • Small onyx statue of a dragon worth 100gp
  5. Elven Wizard
    • Fine silk robes in need of repairs (manticore claw rips)
    • Spellbook or incomplete book titled "Creation and care of the Common Manticore"
    • Component Pouch
    • Fine emerald ring worth 200gp
    • Potion labelled "Healing"
  6. Warhorse
    • Military saddle
    • Saddlebags
    • 4 days rations
    • Chainmail barding
    • 4 days feed
    • Bedroll
  7. Human Cleric
    • Human sized chainmail
    • Morningstar
    • Shield with holy symbol of deity of generic good
    • 1d4 flasks of Holy water
  8. Rust Monster
    • There's got to be a crazy wizard willing to pay good money for a mostly intact rust monster corpse...
  9. Half-Elf Bard
    • Fine clothes in need of repair
    • Ostentatious hat with giant eagle feather
    • Dulcimer
    • 1d6 silver pieces
    • Rapier
    • A bottle of fine wine drugged with sleeping potion
    • A small bottle of antitoxin (if drunk before the wine, cancels the sleeping potions effects)
  10. Bugbear
  11. Gnome Jeweler
    • Gnome sized padded armor
    • Jeweler's tools
    • Magnifying glass
    • 3d100+3d12gp worth of uncut jewels and gems
  12. Gelatinous Cube (live)
    • Because there's nothing your PCs want to do more than to fight a Gelatinous Cube shortly after fighting a Manticore!

Updated to add a link to this fantastic table: YEAH, but THIS Manticore... which I had forgotten I put on my last Random Tables post... 

Now the Giant Scorpion... What would I do? Not much, first let's tweak the claw a little to drop the damage to 1d6 and let it automatically do damage to a grappled target.

Updated Giant Scorpion Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit (automatically hits a creature currently grappled by the Scorpion), reach 5 ft., one target. Hit 5 (1d6+2) bludgeoning damage, and the target is grappled (escape DC 12). The scorpion has two claws, each of which can grapple only one target.

Then let's tweak the Sting, dropping the piercing damage and poison damage and adding the Poisoned condition.

Updated Giant Scorpion Sting. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit 6 (1d8 + 2) piercing damage, and the target must make a DC 12 Constitution saving throw, taking 11 (2d10) poison damage and gaining the Poisoned condition (save ends) on a failed save, or half as much damage and no Poisoned condition on a successful one.

There, now instead of the patently ricockulous 12-72 potential damage per turn, we're down to a more reasonable 10-46 damage. The addition of the Poisoned condition to the Sting should more than compensate for the drop in damage. The claw attacks with their grapple should still infuriate the players but make a little more sense now, with the attack automatically hitting grappled creatures, incentivizing players to get out of the scorpion's reach and/or making the escape attempts.

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