Chapter Two - Brewing Monsters
It’s been a bit since I’ve been able to sit down and write this one out. If you’re an astute follower of R.E.D on Facebook you would have seen a FB story that we posted mid game as one of our players had been grappled by a mega trapdoor spider (something bigger than a giant spider *shrugs*). I’d put a particularly Australian theme on that spider by having it erupt from a trap door of it’s own creation.
It was my intention that my next post would be how I was going to integrate a prophecy into the campaign. However, the adventurers didn’t get to the point of speaking with the required NPC to unlock that particular tidbit so rather than discuss something that didn’t happen, I’ll talk about the two areas of DMing that I hadn’t done before. Home brewing a monster and failing forward.
As I said in my previous post, I’ve not actually done any home brew before. While the players of my Strahd campaigns and other various one shots were on rails as much as a chicken is in flight, my DMing style was. I’d never mess with the stats of my creatures. I personally felt that I didn’t have the knowledge or knowhow of how to change the monster without making it overpowered, resulting in an unwanted TPK, or worse still, being required to pretend to forget some of the creature’s abilities to keep the adventurers alive (something I suspect Matt Mercer does quite a lot). I don’t want to pull punches as it doesn’t feel authentic and as a player I can tell when my DM has done this. I feel cheated. I do get that as a DM you may not want me to roll another character, but if that is the case, it’s probably best to not put a fight in front of us that we can’t win (especially when we’ve never fought the creatures before). We all know players don’t run from a fight. If we took on a fight we shouldn’t have let us make that mistake. Set the tone for the campaign and kill one of the characters. I’d rather death than go up against a monster that mid combat is hit with the nerf bat.
In any case, with my three level three adventurers I wanted to set up some interesting combat. Something where the terrain was going to make things more difficult. I also wanted to use a monster that had more intelligence. To fit in with the story, what I really wanted to use was a spider. So I flip open to Giant Spider in the Monster Manual and… I was disappointed. Instantly I knew this creature was going to be killed by my team in two or three hits. I didn’t want to add more of them as I wanted this to be a ‘momma’ spider. So what to do? Boost it’s hit points? Nah, it’s still a rubbish stat block. I needed to give it new abilities as well. But the thought of this caused a little trickle to run down my pant leg. I was saved however when YouTube’s algorithm somehow had predicted I’d be in this situation and had added this video by Matt Colville to my feed (Not by complete happenstance I admit. I had been absorbing Matt’s content in the recent times like a fat kid at an all you can eat dessert bar).
So, armed with Matt’s guidance I figured I’d give it the old college try. My base creature was going to be the Giant Spider. Firstly, I bumped up the size. Large to huge. This isn’t that big of a change stats wise, but as I had a spider miniature from the board game Massive Darkness I figured I could use that (Note: When I dropped that mini on the table I did note the faintest whiff of underpants chocolate coming from them).
Next, I looked at it’s hit points. Too low. Far too low. My adventurers all have the ability to do at least 2d8 plus stat bonus on their hits. Add onto that hex or hunter’s mark and you have one dead bug. While the only good bug is a dead bug (inspiration for you if you know the reference), let's have the creature die in the third or fourth round. So I bumped it up to 90.
Changing and adding Abilities
Looking at the giant spider I was happy with it’s Spider Climb, Web Sense, Web Walker and the Web rechargeable abilities. Pretty standard spider stuff there. I liked the bite with the extra poison damage on a con save. I kept the damage output here the same as the giant spider as a potential 16 hp of damage combined worked well against the characters. I did give the creature multi attack however as a +5 to hit still leaves it with less than a 50% to hit my front line adventurers.
However it was the reaction abilities that made the fight fun. The fight was set up in a 60 foot radius of spider web using conditions from the web spell, DC 12. In the middle my momma spider had set up it’s trap door where it could sense as creatures were walking along its web. It was to wait till something was right outside it’s door before striking. The players had the opportunity to see the trap door if they did an active perception check of 15+. Passive perception I gave them a penalty as the trap was camouflaged. The characters were specifically looking in the trees above them rather than the ground. When they got within 5 feet of the trap door, the combat round was initiated and all the players would be given the surprised condition.
Now I know what you’re thinking… ‘but Mister Random Encounter DM, surely the players would have just burnt down all the webbing’. Yep… that’s why the crucial NPC’s home was right in the middle of the web as well. If they burnt the web, they would burn him as well. I was hedging my bet by thinking that they would want to keep him alive. His odds of survival were likely 50% though. They didn’t
During the first round of combat, the spider would use it’s free ‘object interaction’ to push open the trap door, jump out and grab the adventurer with its new ‘web grapple attack’. This would be a +5 to hit like it’s bite however rather than do damage it would shoot web with the attack then pull the character down into its tunnel, the door naturally shutting behind it. This gave the team a round of panic as their front liner was now gone.
In keeping with Colville’s set up for a monster, I gave the spider a once per day ability named ‘Dinner Bell’. At the top of it’s next turn the spider got to use this. The ability calls all baby spiders (insect swarm stat block with a web attack) within 100 ft to come to the creature’s aid.
That’s all I did. In retrospect I probably could have given it a couple more abilities or reactions, however I was still a little scared of trying to balance the thing.
The battle went well. The team ended up blowing a hole through the trap door to free their front liner. The players manage to navigate the web in their own ways in the midst of combat. The front liner, a samurai fighter, took the majority of the damage and somehow the warlock managed to go completely unscathed (again). On reflection I would say the spider could have been a little tougher. But I also subscribe to the 8 encounter adventuring day, so in this case 3 level 3 characters who were built for dishing out heavy combat damage took this pretty well.
For those that are interested, here’s the creature’s full stats.
Speed: 30 ft., climb 30 ft.
Skills: Stealth +7
Senses: Blindsight 10 ft., Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 10
Proficiency Bonus: +3
Spider Climb. The spider can climb difficult surfaces, including upside down on ceilings, without needing to make an ability check.
Web Sense. While in contact with a web, the spider knows the exact location of any other creature in contact with the same web.
Web Walker. The spider ignores movement restrictions caused by webbing.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 7 (1d8 + 3) piercing damage, and the target must make a DC 11 Constitution saving throw, taking 9 (2d8) poison damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. If the poison damage reduces the target to 0 hit points, the target is stable but poisoned for 1 hour, even after regaining hit points, and is paralyzed while poisoned in this way.
Web (Recharge 5–6). Ranged Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, range 30/60 ft., one creature. Hit: The target is restrained by webbing. As an action, the restrained target can make a DC 12 Strength check, bursting the webbing on a success. The webbing can also be attacked and destroyed (AC 10; hp 5; vulnerability to fire damage; immunity to bludgeoning, poison, and psychic damage).
Web Grapple Attack: (Twice per long rest) +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. If a creature is hit the target restrained by webbing (sharing all conditions of the Web action), and is also grappled. As an action, the restrained target can make a DC 12 Strength check, bursting the webbing on a success. The webbing can also be attacked and destroyed (AC 10; hp 5; vulnerability to fire damage; immunity to bludgeoning, poison, and psychic damage).
Dinner Bell: (Once per long rest) The Momma Spider needs to be in or near its trap door nest in order to activate. Summons 1d4+1 Baby Giant Spiders (Insect Swamp stats + web ability) which will appear at initiative count 20 of next round. These can appear from eggs within the nest or from the surrounding area’s webbing.
For lore reasons, which I will explain when my players come across the reason, the world of Rinth will have a lot of altered beasts and monsters that are bigger than the standard version so I’m going to have plenty of opportunity to keep working on these types of creatures.
DM’ing this game
If you had read Chapter One you would know that I’m not the biggest fan of being the DM. So I figured at the end of each chapter I would put a little note at the bottom regarding how I felt through the session.
This session was frustrating and it had nothing to do with the game itself. We’re playing at my house because I have a 15 month old son. As both my partner (who plays aRanger) and I are in the game it makes it easier on us if we don’t have to take him to another’s house to sleep along with all the gear required for running the game.
We were about two hours in when our boy woke up crying. My partner went in to put him back to sleep. We halted combat to wait for this. My friends and I chatted until she came back out and we continued on. 15 minutes later he was up again. The second time I decided to push ahead, taking our missing Ranger’s turns for her during the combat. Our son continued to wake up consistently over the next hour and a half and we decided to call it once the combat had finished as the next part of the campaign is centered around our Ranger’s backstory.
Obviously I was frustrated. It’s a lot of effort for us to get the game setup and going, as it is with everyone else, and it all fell apart due to things out of our control. Our son had slept perfectly well all week but the night we had things planned, he had a bad night. I don’t blame him or resent him. These things come with parenthood. However it did leave me thinking ‘why bother?’ I suspect it’s the reason why I haven’t set up the next game yet. I wanted to play once a month but I honestly haven’t felt like it.
I won’t let the game die out here and it is time that I message the group and see when everyone is available, but I can’t deny that the game deflated for me a little.