Friday, March 13, 2020

Dungeon Crawl Practice 5 - Sea Monster Statistics (Basic and 5th Edition)

Sea Encounter Details

Bishop Crab: Hog sized, muddy grey green crabs with bright blue human eyes. They are oddly communal creatures, building inexplicable edifices on their shells, along the beach and in their undersea gardens -- fragile, sometimes beautiful assemblages of detritus that look vaguely like many spired cathedrals. They are scavengers, but will defend their territory, sculpture and selves aggressively with their huge right claws, which can crush and tear through armor with ease. Thrown food or chum will convince Bishop Crabs to retreat unless their sculptures have been damaged.

Bishop Crab: HD: 2 (HP: 12), AC 3(17), ATK: 1*, DAM: 1d8(claw), MV: 40'/Swim 60', ML: 10, SV: F2
*Bishop Crabs treat all non-magical armor as leather (AC 7)

Bishop Crab 5E: HD 3D8+6 (HP: 21), AC 16, ATK: 1(melee)*, DAM: 1D8+2 (claw - penetrating), MV: 30’/Swim 40’, STAT: (S: 15, D: 15, C: 15, I: 7, W: 10, CH: 6)
* The crushing claw of the Bishop Crab treats all normal armors as a maximum of AC 13.

Blood Jelly: Hunting jellyfish of prodigious size that float at the surface to feed. Ponderous clear cushions, they drain blood with their paralyzing flesh and blistering, stinging tentacles, turning pink and then red as they feed. The jellies are far more dangerous to submerged or swimming prey, but can ram small boats to overturn them when aggravated. Jellies can be distracted with living prey or chum. Jellyfish venom loses its potency within an hour of the creature’s death, but with a fire, several hours and proper equipment, one skilled in alchemy or chemic sciences can distill the creatures to form 1D6/2 flasks of valuable regent and topical anesthetic: “pale viscera” worth 100GP per flask.

Blood Jelly: HD: 4 (HP: 25), AC 8(12), ATK: 1*, DAM: 1D6* (sting) or Special** (ram), MV: Swim 40’, ML: 8, SV: F1
* Jellies make one sting attack per round against any target in melee range and in the water with them, and successful attacks inflict damage as well as paralysis for 1D6/2 turns (beware of drowning) on a failed Save v. Paralysis
** If attacked or harassed from above the surface (on a very hostile reaction roll or if a small boat stays near for more than a few minutes), jellies can ram small boats. On an attack roll of 15 or better a jelly can capsize any boat under 20’ throwing its passengers into the sea.

Blood Jelly in 5E: HD: 6D12 (HP: 48), AC 10, ATK: Multi(reach - 10’)* or Special**, DAM: 1D6+3*** (sting - penetrating), MV: Swim 30’, STAT: (S: 17, D: 10, C: 12, I: 1, W: 6, CH: 4)
* The long tentacles of the Blood Jelly can reach anyone in the water within 10’ of the jelly and attack once per round at +3 to hit.
** If attacked or harassed from above the surface (on a very hostile reaction roll or if a small boat stays near for more than a few minutes), jellies can ram small boats. On an attack roll of 15 or better a jelly can capsize any boat under 20’ throwing its passengers into the sea.
*** The sting of the Blood Jelly is paralytic and any creature hit by them must make a DC 15 saving throw or suffer paralysis for a maximum of 1 minute, with a new save allowed each round. Terrestrial creatures will begin to sink and drown during this time unless pulled to the surface or shore.

Flying Maw: Spotted and striped in coral reds, yellows and blues, Maws are dog sized predatory fish endemic to the Pyre Sea. They hunt both sea life and birds, leaping up and gliding on long ribbed fins with their fang filled mouths agape. They can be distracted by chum and their firm red flesh is excellent eating. In 5E this creature will appear as a single swarm rather than a specific number of beasts.

Flying Maw: HD: 1 (HP: 4), AC 7(13), ATK: 1*, DAM: 1D6 (bite), MV: fly/swim 80’*, ML: 6, SV: F1
* Flying Maws attack prey in the water normally, while flying and leaping at those in boats. On a flying attack with roll of 15 or better (even if they miss/fail to damage the target) the Maw will knock a prey into the water where they can swarm. On a flying attack that hits the Maw will remain stuck on their target, biting and thrashing for 1D6/2 automatic damage at the start of every round until the Maw is killed. Individuals with a biting Maw attacked must Save vs. Wands to act (including attacking the Maw) while it is attached.

Swarm of Flying Maws: HD: 8D8 (HP: 36), AC 13, ATK: 1 (close - 0’) +5 hit*, DAM: 4D6** (devour - penetrating), MV: Leap/Swim 80’, STAT: (S: 13, D: 13, C: 12, I: 1, W: 6, CH: 2)
*Swarm: A mass of Flying Maws that surrounds a swimming target or hurls itself at a terrestrial one will move into its space and devour it alive. The swarm can swim or leap through openings small enough for a 20lb, 3’ long fish, and cannot regain HP or temporary HP. Because of their numbers the swarm has damage resistance to all normal weapon attacks, and immunities to: charmed, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, prone, restrained and stunned conditions.
** Biting Swarm: The Flying Maws will attack one target within their space stunning the target on a successful hit as well as inflicting damage.

Malign Thrall: Those who succumb to the whispered blandishments of the Malign Intelligence (See Vampire Ecology to follow) and accept its offer become ravening vampiric thralls -- emaciated, flesh shrunken to the bones, hard as wood. Most wear only the rags of a shipwrecked sailor or a treasure hunter’s tattered leather armor and carry only daggers. Living in a twilight state of blood fueled ecstasy they often fish for sustenance beyond the creatures that the Intelligence allows them. Retaining a varied amount of mortal will and intelligence, Thralls serve as the Intelligence’s diplomats and troubleshooters and are entirely subsumed within its desires. They are unlikely to attack, but will also keep their secrets (claiming to be castaways and hermits), spying, watching and feigning harmless madness until the Intelligence needs them.

Malign Thrall: HD: 4 (HP:24), AC 5 (15)*, ATK: 1, DAM: 1d6 (claw or by weapon), MV: 60’, ML: 12, SV: CL 10
* Normal weapons hardly damage the abdead flesh of a Malign Thrall and no single attack can inflict more than 6 points of normal damage.

5E Malign Thrall: HD: 5D8+15 (HP: 40) AC 14*, ATK: 1 (melee - claws or weapon) +4 hit, DAM: 1D6+2, (claw- slashing), MV: 40’, STAT: (S: 15, D: 14, C: 16, I: 12, W: 13**, CH: 15)
* Striking a Malign Thrall is like chopping wood, damage resistance to normal weapons and immunity to poison.
** Malign Thrall has advantage on all saves vs. magic and is immune to sleep, charm and other mind affecting spells.

Polyp Cloud: The planula of deadly wandering coral, egg sized larva that rise in a dense cloud to drift and grow in the light, always seeking an anchoring point to attach to and quickly drag into the depths. Bursting from the water like soap bubbles, the thousands of individuals in the cloud float slowly on internal gases, but once the grinding shards of their “feet” shards find a surface -- vessel, rock or victim they deflate and dig in.

Polyp Cloud: HD: 4 (HP: 16), AC N/A*, ATK: 1**, DAM: 1D4*** (shred), MV: 20’, ML: N/A, SV: F0
* It’s impossible to miss a Polyp Cloud, but normal and magical weapon or spell attacks inflict only 1 point of damage, full damage only from area of effect spells and weapons.
** When the cloud engulfs a small boat or 10’ area of a larger ship all within are subject to attack, starting with the vessel itself and attacking each individual aboard/nearby once each round until the Polyp Cloud exhausts its HP or is destroyed. Vessels under 20’ must save vs. wands to avoid being hulled and sinking. Polyps cannot attach to/attack metal plate, but will find gaps in armor.
*** Polyps latch on and dig in when they attack. Each attack by Polyps inflicts damage to both the Cloud and the target. Any movement after injury agitates them and they dig deeper, until they root on bone, inflicting 1D6 points of damage/new vessel saving throw when jostled. Polyps attached to a person or vessel have HP equal to the damage inflicted and may only be removed carefully with a dagger or scalpel 1 turn per HP. Faster removal attempts will cause additional damage, but can remove 1HP of Polyps per round..

Polyp Cloud in 5E: HD: 5D8 (HP: 22), AC 12, ATK :1 (close - 0’) +3 hit*, DAM: 1D8**(shred - penetrating) MV: 20’, STAT: (S: 6, D: 13, C: 12, I: 1, W: 12, CH: 2)
*Swarm: A Polyp Cloud entirely fills a 10’ x 10’ space. The swarm can float or swim through openings small enough for an egg sized bubble, and cannot regain HP or temporary HP. Because of their numbers the swarm has damage resistance to all normal weapon attacks, and immunities to: charmed, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, prone, restrained and stunned conditions.
** Whenever a Polyp Cloud hits it inflicts equal damage to itself and its target as the cloud roots on the vessel or victim. Small vessels (under 20’) make a DC 10 check (assume +0 to vessel roll) or begin to sink. Larger vessels will take damage. Individuals struck by the Cloud take damage as the Polyps grind and root in flesh. Quick movement, jostling or combat excites the Polyps and they dig deeper inflicting damage again. Carefully removing the rooted Polyps without further injury requires 10 minutes for each Hp of Polyp.

Sea Dead: Bloated floating corpses, reanimated by the unwholesome arcane esters leaking
from the rotten hulls of the Plague Fleet. They hunt at night, and will clamber up the sides of anchored vessels within a mile of shore, swarming in great numbers. During the day the sit quiescent, food for crabs and flies but if disturbed they slowly come awake and will attack nearby mortals.

Sea Dead: HD: 2 (HP:10), AC 8 (12), ATK: 1*, DAM: 1d8 (maul), MV: 40’, ML: 12, SV: F1**
* Sea Dead are sluggish and always act last in combat.
** Sea Dead have all undead immunities.

5E Sea Dead: HD: 3D8+9 (HP: 22)*, AC 8, ATK: 1 (melee)+4 hit**, DAM: 1D6+1 (maul - bludgeoning), MV: 20’, STAT: (S: 13, D: 6, C: 16, I: 3, W: 6, CH: 5)***
* If killed with normal weapons sea dead will keep fighting for 1D6/2 rounds at -1 to hit while ignoring further damage.
** Sea Dead are sluggish and always act last in combat.
***Immune to poison, sleep, charm and other mind affecting spells. Can move and act in darkness.

Sharktopus: 10’ to 30’ of ropy muscle, rough sandy skin, ivory teeth and barbed suckers ready to devour and destroy. Despite these creatures appetite there’s a strange, cruel intelligence behind the expressionless orbs of their black eyes that enjoys taunting terrestrial creatures and tormenting its prey. Sharktopus sometimes let prey escape after a (usually lethal) taste, can be distracted/mollified by offerings of live prey, and often grapple a single target and then flee to the depths to drown and devour it in peace.

Sharktopus: HD: 6 (HP:45), AC 6 (14), ATK: 5*, DAM: 3D6 (bite)/1D6** (tentacle) x4, MV: Swim 80’, ML: 10, SV: F6
* The Sharktopus may not bite unless the target is in the water or has been grappled by the Sharktopus’ tentacles.
* If the sharktopus hits with a tentacle the opponent is automatically grappled by a STR 16 hold, can be crushed for 1D6 per round until free, and in the next round the Sharktpus can pull the grappled victim into its maw for an automatic bite (3D6 damage) or hold them under water.

5E Sharktopus: HD: 8D10+32 (HP: 80), AC 13 (natural armor), ATK: 1(melee)+6 to hit*, 4 (reach 15’)+5 hit **, DAM: 3D8 + 5 (bite - piercing), 1D6+2 (tentacle - bludgeoning) MV: Swim 50’, STAT: (S: 19, D:15, C: 18, I: 12, W: 12, CH: 6)
* The Sharktopus may not bite unless the target is in the water or has been grappled by the Sharktopus’ tentacles.
** Tentacle attacks inflict damage, and the target is automatically grappled, escape DC 18. Grappled targets are moved to the water if on land, and one can be devoured the next round for automatically successful bite attack. While using a tentacle to grapple the Sharktopus cannot use it to attack.
** Blood Frenzy: Sharktopus has advantage on all attacks against injured opponents.

Zombie Leviathan: a cetacean corpse the size of a trade cog, poisoned by the magic of the Morass’s tainted water and now a ponderous, mindless, engine of hunger and destruction. The Leviathan floats at the surface, flesh broiling in the sun above and melted by the sea below, gas bloated innards bursting to spill rancid guts like tentacles that dangle beneath the waves. Incredibly dangerous, capable of smashing even large vessels into flinders, but slow and inattentive -- there is no good reason to assault a Zombie Leviathan and plenty to steer clear of these slow moving horrors until they rot and sink in a few months time.

Zombie Leviathan: HD: 12 (HP:95)*, AC 10(10)**, ATK 1***, DAM 6D6 (Bite***/Ram****), MV: Swim 20’, ML 12, SV F8******
*If killed with normal weapons Zombie will keep fighting for 1D6/2 rounds at -1 to hit while ignoring further damage.
** Zombie Leviathans are hard to miss, but thick layers of rotting blubber make them harder to injure. Normal weapons inflict ½ damage on Zombie Leviathans.
*** Zombie Leviathans lack coordination and speed, they attack all human sized or smaller targets as a 2HD creature.
*** On a successful bite attack a human sized creature will be swallowed by the Leviathan and in addition to bit damage, trapped in its noxious innards taking 1D6/2 suffocation damage each round. A Save vs. Poison is needed to attack from within the Leviathan each round, and if trapped prey inflicts 10 or more points in cutting damage it can struggle free.
**** Against larger targets (including vessels of all kinds) Zombie Leviathans will ram, automatically striking to crush small boats and stave in the hulls of larger ones. Small Boats will always be overturned, but all vessels make a save vs. wands to avoid being destroyed (small) or holed (large).
***** Zombie Leviathans are undead and have all appropriate immunities

5E Zombie Leviathan: HD: 20D12+60* (HP: 200), AC 8**, ATK: 1 (bite or ram) +1 hit***, DAM: 3D10+10****, MV: 20’, STAT: (S: 30, D: 6, C: 16, I: 1, W: 3, CH: 1)
* When killed with normal weapons a Zombie Leviathan will keep fighting for 1D6/2 rounds, ignoring further damage.
** Zombie Leviathan is immune to sleep, charm, mind affecting spells, lightning and poison. Resistant to: fire, cold, necrotic and all non-magical weapon attacks.
*** Zombie Leviathans are sluggish and always act last in combat.
**** If a Zombie Leviathan bites a medium or smaller opponent they are grappled and swallowed. After taking bite damage the victim is trapped inside the noxious beast, is Poisoned, and takes 1D6 poison damage automatically each round. Trapped victims may cut themselves free by inflicting 30 Hp of slashing damage, but will be Stunned and Prone for 2 rounds afterwards recovering from the Poisoned condition.
**** Zombie Leviathans will ram vessels rather than bite, attacking at +9 and dealing double damage vessels.

Note on stating monsters for 5E and B/X:
One of the hardest parts of this project is to make it work with both the 1981 Moldvay Basic D&D (Also the most popular base system for contemporary rules light D&Dalikes or 'Retroclones') and 5th Edition D&D. There are significant differences between the editions and where they make it easy to focus play, but Plague Ships is a Dungeon Crawl -- or location based exploration adventure, meaning that a big part of this project's task is to figure out how to better use level based design within 5E.

This is not an easy task, beyond a certain lack of or ambivalence toward exploration rules which can be at least partially rectified with a few mechanical and ethics of play changes (which I will eventually address), the power curve for 5E characters is steep. Power here being heavily focused on the ability of PCs to survive and win combat encounters with ever stronger and more complex enemies. Obviously, 5th edition monsters also rapidly increase in power and a combat that is balanced for 1st level PCs will be inconsequential by 3rd level. The usual answer to this issue is Challenge Rating and carefully gauging encounter difficulty by adventure region to keep pace with rapid level growth. For a level based Dungeon Crawl like Plague Ships this is a thorny issue.

First, level based design, and especially random encounter design generally seeks to include a variety of risk and is not necessarily concerned with the balance of an individual encounter. Some monsters should be mere inconveniences and others terrors as the goal of encounters in level based design is always not to provide a balanced tactical combat, but to offer the players a space for problem solving, or at least the decision to fight, negotiate or run. When monsters are tightly gauged to a particular level of PC power it's hard to provide such a variety of encounters without making monster strength or numbers itself dependent on PC level.

Secondly, B/X combat and monster design assumes larger parties of 6-12 adventurers and henchman, while 5E generally focus on 4 or less adventurers. Monster numbers tend to track this, and B/X design often uses larger numbers of weak monsters to create dangerous challenges. Indeed the complexity and increased variety of 5th edition combat almost necessitates a smaller number of combatants to avoid endless combat rounds, a concern that's of great import in designing an adventure that demphasizes combat.

Frankly, I'm also not an experienced 5th edition monster designer. I find the mechanical complexity of 5E's creatures relatively uninteresting, sometimes frustrating, and have usually just reskinned creatures directly from the monster manual. Here I am largely continuing that trend, though adding and changing special abilities and other changes, while trying to follow the general practice of 5th edition monster placement and keep CR values within the overall range of enemies appropriate for 1st - 5th level adventurers. Admittedly this might not work, both because a CR 5 challenge is not especially feasible for a 1st level party and a CR 1 enemy a waste of time for a 3rd level party. Of course players (of both B/X and 5E) will do best if they recognize the creatures at the top of that range like the Sharktopus and Zombie Leviathan and avoid them.

Additionally I've tried to keep monster numbers low by making the B/X creatures slightly more powerful individually, and converting the more numerous ones into swarms.
For individual creatures I either reskinned something appropriate, (Sea Dead are Zombies) repeating the basic stat-lines and changing abilities as needed, or created new creatures based on a general understanding of the differences in the systems, and the way I envision encounters with the creature playing out.

This second approach is more difficult, but is still largely a process of reskinning basic creatures from the Monster Manuals of 5th edition and Basic. It’s easy to see the way that the two systems differ when making a side by side comparison of a few different monsters. A zombie for example.

In Basic the Zombie is a 2HD (2D8) creature with a poor (AC 8/12) armor class that does reasonable (D8) damage. An immunity to Sleep and Charm and an often inherently hostile disposition means that Zombies are somewhat dangerous to low level parties who tend to depend on the sleep spell or trickery as a means of victory against numerous, weaker foes. They are manageable however, both because they can be tricked into self destruction and because they have serious disadvantages in combat (Clerical turning included). Most notably the Basic Zombie always acts last is combat.

The 5th edition Zombie is somewhat the same, but with telling differences. At first glance a 5E zombie has over double the HP (3D8+9), worse AC, inflicts less maximum, but slightly greater average damage (1D6+1 v. 1D8) and has an additional +3 vs.+2 to hit. These all seem to be basic differences between the way 5E works: greater HP values (and a bizarre varied HD that seems to exist solely for pedantic taxonomical reasons) to compensate for high PC damage output, hit bonuses and damage structures that offer more consistent and predictable drain on character resources.

Defensively the Zombie’s AC is also similar (though the higher attack bonuses of 5E characters mean they will hit far more often), but immunities and other limitations are different. The 5th edition Zombie is immune to poison, but it seems to lack the immunity to sleep, charm and other spells all early edition undead possess (and 5E’s sleep spell is far weaker than Basic’s - affecting 5D8 HP of foes vs. 2D8 creatures of 4HD or less*). 5th edition Zombies also aren’t subject to the special rule of acting last in any combat, but their -2 to initiative rolls from having only a 6 Dexterity (not that bad really - many lesser monsters have low DEX scores) will have a similar effect. However, in addition 5E Zombies have a complex special rule that keeps them from dying until they’ve a few extra hits, which is neat, but an additional calculation and DC check each time a Zombie might fall doesn’t seem worth the trouble and extra time.

The differences suggest that HP levels in 5E are much higher -- meaning PC damage output is greater. Likewise monster damage output is both higher and steadier (though not to the same degree and with a lower chance of killing PCs outright in a single blow, because player HP is higher) largely because monsters hit more often and last for more rounds. However, special abilities are fewer and less narrative -- more mechanical. To me this is an indication that 5E combat is more direct and more predictable, a conflict that players can gauge the risk of more readily, but aren’t expected to circumvent or gain advantage in through narrative trickery (i.e. luring Zombies into a pit trap, another enemy, or even a narrow hall doused in oil). My prejudices suggest this is because without supply depletion mechanics the only major threat to the player characters is the loss of HP and each encounter is designed as discrete, which makes tactical combat predominate. However, these outdoor random encounters are discrete, and again this might just be my distrust of newer systems.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly the number of Zombies encountered is 2D4 (or 4D6 in a lair) in Basic D&D and a ¼ Challenge rating in 5E - which suggests they appear in groups of 4 to oppose a (small 4 character) 1st level party. The balance of Basic’s “No. Appearing” vs. 5E’s “Challenge Level” is perhaps the most difficult one to strike here, as the pace of combat and its purpose is assumed to be different in the two editions. In 5E combat is a or the mainstay of play, and the direct source of character advancement - adventures are often designed around the player goal of confronting and battling monstrous threats. In Basic monsters are an obstacle to the character’s goals of treasure recovery (though combat is an inevitable sort of consequence in Basic games) to be avoided where and for as long as possible. I’ll be paying attention to the difference in monster numbers between editions, but as an adventure designed for classic play, Plague Ships doesn’t use Challenge Rating - indeed some of the creatures on this wandering monster table will have CR’s far higher then even a 3rd level party can be expected to fight. This of course offers the possibility that players more used to the style of 5th edition will engage in combat with enemies they can’t defeat - but that’s an issue of the Ethics of Play that I can’t properly address with monster stats.

The gist is that to rewrite Basic monsters in 5E I’ll need to up their HP considerably, pay attention to their numbers, modify their damage output to make it more steady, reframe special abilities and recognize that one of the major weapons of the low level D&D party, the sleep spell, is largely absent. I’ve ignored the passive perception, darkvision and other detection aspects of the 5E monster, because I suspect they are both obvious (underwater monsters can find and eat you in the water) and rarely used in play anyway.

The success of these techniques, and how well they hold up on a larger scale, is unknowable without play testing. There will be more hurdles, and foresee continued difficulty reconciling monster strength with the rapid level advancement of 5th edition, as well as trouble balancing level design vs. encounter design or random encounter checks vs. the assumption of short and long rests, but for now we have this selection of creatures.

*Roughly … One 4+1 HD creature can be put to sleep - which means 1 ogre, wearboar or dire wolf per the 1981 Moldvay Basic monster manual (nothing else has 4+1 HD).

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