Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Ice King Cometh - Massive Mammoths and Wrothful Winter Wolves - Gussying Up D&D 5e Monsters #4

So as of 11/4 I've raised $235 for Extra Life. Thanks to any of my blog readers who've donated, and if you haven't yet, there's still time. Due to crazy promises I made on my Facebook page, I'll be wearing the above-pictured, crazy hot Ice King costume when Christy and I play Fiona and the Ice King during the 6pm-9pm slot. Due to additional crazy promises, I'll be wearing the ridiculous blond wig Christy got for her Fiona costume while I play Alice from 3pm-6pm. Further more, I made a promise to find an Alice appropriate dress to wear if I hit $250 by 4pm CST Friday 11/6/15, so if that motivates you, go donate.

If you're a blog reader and you've donated, there's still time to claim a reward (and or to donate and claim a reward).

Given the character commitments I've already made, here are the rewards still available.

  • Force me to play a wacky character off my list of Characters Too Ridiculous to play if I can (the DMs get veto power on PCs, so the intensely wacky characters might require a bit of finagling on my part but I'll try my damnedest or trick one of the other DMs into running a 5 minute mini-session or something) - DEADLINE 6AM CST Friday 11/6/15
  • Record a video of myself speaking in character, in an accent determined by donors during play. Those of you who listen to the actual play podcast or who game with me in real life know how mortifyingly bad my accents/voices usually are. DEADLINE 11AM CST Saturday 11/7/15
  • Pick out dialogue from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass (the books only, not any movies or other adaptations please.) that I have to utter in character as Alice. DEADLINE 6AM CST Saturday 11/7/15
So comment or email me antagonist.relations(at)gmail(dot)com if you want to claim a reward.

For this installation of Gussying Up D&D 5e Monsters, I've chosen the Mammoth and Winter Wolf, not because they're especially terrible monsters, they're actually pretty okay as written, but more because I realized it's been over a month since I've gussied up any monsters and the current heat wave has me dreaming of sub-zero temperatures and Wintry Arctic Adventures...


The Mammoth is basically a beefed up version of the Elephant stat block, which isn't a bad thing, but it does mean that all the changes I suggest work pretty well for Elephants as well.

Mammoths (and elephants, but I'll stop reminding you of that now) basically get three things.
  1. A Gore attack they can make once per turn.
  2. A Trampling Charge feature that lets them move 20' straight and hit a creature with a gore attack to have a chance to knock that creature prone.
  3. A Stomp attack they can only use as a bonus action against a creature that they've knocked prone with their Trampling Charge.
The way I imagine a fight with a Mammoth going is this:
  1. Mammoth charges a PC, hits them with the gore doing 11-39 damage
  2. PC fails STR save and is knocked Prone
  3. Mammoth his with Stomp doing 11-47 damage
  4. Affected PC is badly wounded or unconscious...With an average of 54 and a maximum of 86 damage between the two attacks, that could be bad news for any 4th-7th level PCs fighting and by the books a single mammoth would only be an"Easy" challenge for five 5th level PCs.
  5. PCs go into panic mode, unloading on the Mammoth and doing everything they can to prevent the Mammoth from charging again.
  6. Mammoth finished the fight without ever getting another charge in.
  7. All future Mammoth encounters begin with the PCs casting Web, Grease, or otherwise doing everything they can to prevent Mammoth charges.
Now, I can't say for certain that the encounter(s) would run that way, but in my experience it seems likely that something similar happens where the PCs decide that Mammoth charge is something that never happens again if they can help it. Now, this isn't a terrible thing, players and PCs learning from past experiences is good but... look again at the three things Mammoths get... taking away the trampling charge and all they have is the Gore attack. Since these are beasts who aren't going to be able to do much tactically, the way say, a Goblin with only a spear attack could, that turns them into an encounter that becomes very boring after the first round once the PCs go into Mammoth lockdown mode. How to fix this?

  • Add a Rider

    • This is stupid easy, but not great for lower levels. Adding a Frost Giant rider turns the encounter from Easy to Deadly (and not just deadly, but almost double the XP of the deadly threshold) for five 5th level PCs and it's still a hard encounter for five 7th level PCs.

  • Add a Grapple

    • Steal from the movies and let the Mammoth make a grapple and fling attack with it's Trunk. This gives the Mammoth something other than Gore to do in close quarters. Maybe something like...
    • Trunk Grapple - Standard Action
    • PC makes DC 18 DEX check (this is the same DC as the STR check to save vs. Prone in the Charge attack) or is Grappled by the Elephant. The elephant than makes a bonus action to throw the PC 15ft and the PC makes a DC 15 DEX check or takes 4d8+7 bludgeoning damage, they take half on a save. This is the same damage as the Gore but lets the PC avoid it completely (with the DEX save) or take half damage if they make the second save, but it does give the Mammoth a chance to clear out PCs surrounding it.

  • Add a reflexive action that triggers when a player gets a Critical Failure/Natural 1

    1. Think of fighting a mammoth, sweeping it's trunk and tusks back and forth, rearing and stomping, you make a mistake during that and you could easily be thrown about or knocked prone, so why not add...
    2. Tusk Sweep - Reaction, triggers when a PC rolls a Natural 1 when making a melee attack or ability check within 10ft of the Mammoth
    3. PC must make a DC 18 STR save or be knocked prone, if the target is knocked prone the mammoth can make one stomp attack against it as a bonus action.
    4. This lets the Mammoth make use of the Stomp attack outside of their charge and seems to fit the chaos that would be a battle against a mammoth.
Personally, I'd add both the Trunk Grapple and Tusk Sweep to any Mammoths that don't have a rider and figure that any Mammoth with a rider would have armor that would prevent it from using the grapple (and add a little to the AC) and the weight/control of the rider would prevent the tusk sweep. But either with a rider or the Trunk Grapple and/or Tusk Sweeps it seems like you'd keep the Mammoth from being quite as much of a one-trick pony, reduced to only making Gore attacks after the PCs figure out they shouldn't let it charge.

Winter Wolf

The 3rd and least used of the classic D&D trio of wolves (the others being wolf and dire wolf, or quartet if you want to include Worgs), but also the most powerful, partly due to it's intelligence and icy breath weapon.

Winter Wolf gets a Pack Tactics feature that's pretty deadly, giving them Advantage on any attacks against creatures that have an one of the wolf's allies adjacent. They also get thematic Wolf perception advantage on hearing and smell checks and advantage on hiding in snowy terrain. One of the things I often forget about Winter Wolves (and Worgs too) is that they're intelligent (and at least in 5e have their own language? Huh?) so I kinda want to tweak their Pack Tactics to:

Clever Tactics

The Winter wolf has advantage on any attack rolls against creatures that have been attacked by one of the wolf's allies since the end of the wolf's last turn or if at least one of the wolf’s allies is within 5 feet of the creature and the ally isn’t incapacitated.

This might be making them incredibly dangerous, but it would let them work well with Yetis throwing rocks or Arctic Hobgoblins with bows. Maybe I'd drop the adjacent ally bit if it seemed like having that and the attacked clause seemed to powerful, but I think it better reflects a cleverness above the normal wolf pack tactics.

Winter Wolves get a scaled version of the wolf/dire wolf bite that can knock the target prone and then an Icy Breath weapon (because Winter Wolves, basically). The Icy Breath refreshes on a 5 or 6 on a d6 and let me confess, if I haven't before, that I don't like the Refresh mechanic because I forget to do it... So let's gussy it up!

  • Twice an Encounter
    • We could just let the Winter Wolf make two breath weapon attacks during an encounter, or do something where the breath refreshes when the wolf hits half HP.
  • 13th Age It Up
    • Or we could steal from 13th Age White Dragon and not have the Icy Breath be a seperate attack and instead a free attack that triggers on a high attack roll. Since I prefer this one, I'll write it up below. I also want to add Cold damage to the bite, because Winter Wolf!
13th Age Style Winter Wolf Bite and Breath

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.
Hit: 11 (2d6 + 4) piercing and cold damage. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a DC 14 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone.

Natural 16+: The winter wolf can make an Cold Breath attack as a free action. If the winter wolf makes a Cold Breath attack the target does not have to make a save or be knocked prone.

Cold Breath. The wolf exhales a blast of freezing wind in a 15-foot cone. Each creature in that area must make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw, taking 18 (4d8) cold damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

Then instead of trying to remember a 2nd roll for each Winter Wolf each round of combat, instead I'm just paying a little more attention to the bite attack I'm making, which for whatever reason, is much easier for me to do personally.

There you are, a couple tweaks to make Mammoths more than a first round of combat threat and to make it easier (for me at least) to keep track of Winter Wolf Cold Breath. Now I'm going to give in to my inner Ice King and curse the fact that it is the above the ungodly temperature of 60 in November and consider what sacrifices I can make to Ymir to bring more seasonable freezing temperatures and snow.


  1. I enjoy your dislike of the refresh. I wonder, however, if it isn't just about as neat to say that the breath refreshes on a natural 18+ on the creature's primary attack. Its not an extra roll that way, but might be easier to remember for most creatures.

  2. I actually prefer the 13th Age refresh-less approach I grabbed here because then the GM doesn't have to decide if it's the turn to use the breath weapon or to wait and have the PCs have three crits and kill the beast, it just happens.


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