My favorite aspect of 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons so far is the dynamism of encounters. More than just a juicy descriptions or an intriguing scenario, you have the tools to make encounters that are mechanically dynamic and entertaining. The monster below was my experiment with a “boss fight” encounter that borrows from the worldbreaker mechanics designed by Gamefiend over at the AT-Will blog.
The table I was running at the time was around level 2 and had around 8 players. DnD4E, like many systems, tend to stress and buckle under the weight of extremes. Normal encounter creation guidelines went out the window! With almost twice the normal amount of players, standard experience budgeting yielded at least double the damage potential of a normal encounter and unless a copious dose of minions were added yielded at least twice as many monster hit points.
This, however, afforded me a chance to play around and experiment with the nuts and bolts of the system. Building an encounter with a copious number of minions off-sets some of the issues of monster heavy fights. Through this we found that minion hordes were really fun! Less book-keeping for me, more chance for all of the players to squash mooks and feel heroic.
I wanted to make a “boss encounter” that captured the fun of the minion horde, but also felt appropriately dramatic for a finale.
Thus Saklas, the Grave Serpent, was born!
Whispered tales in cloistered halls speak of an ancient serpent with powers that defy even the natural order of the world. Chill mists cling to the scales of said serpent much as dread mists hang on restless graves. Marble white scales undulate, the slithering sides of Saklas continually writhe as the hundreds, nay thousands of serpents move as one. It is said that it is adorned with the distorted face of a man or perhaps a mangy lion’s head yet wreathed in a mane which willow wisps to the subtle movements of its constituent body. The wise speak little of this beast, loath to invoke the ire of its ancient temper.
It has been claimed by some that the white serpents of Saklas form out of thick air and dissipate amongst whispers in the dark. The serpents seep into shallow graves summoning since deceased specters. They coil about the spines of the living and unliving alike injecting foul necromancer’s spittle. They say corpses walk bearing the marks of alabaster serpents. Some say they are not wholly serpent, not wholly mist, and not holy in the slightest.
What purpose drives it? Revenge for its accursed form? Slaking its incessant appetites? Silencing saints set against its stratagems? Some even claim it has been locked deep within a planar prison biding its time. Mutters against the dark lay claim to many manifestations of Saklas’ malevolence.
Saklas is often heralded by an outcropping of undead and sudden disappearances. Victims uniformly bear the markings of coiled serpents in varying shades of white.
Saklas’ presence is unmistakably precluded by profusions of white mist. Saklas usually scouts with a few white serpent minions before making an appearance personally. The volume of the mist grows as combat ensues and fades, dissipating as Saklas loses strength. Only when the mist is dispersed has Saklas been truly dispelled.
Mechanically, Saklas breaks the rules because he has no actual hit points. Saklas vitality is measured in the number of remaining minions; each minion destroyed weakens Saklas. The number of minions presented is formulaic, (11 x Players) minions. To further break it down: 1 x summoned minion, 2 x body minions, 3 x burst minions, 2 x bloodied body minions, 3 x bloodied burst minions for each player. Feel free to adjust the volume of serpents based on your group.
Regarding the ongoing poison damage, despite stacking (also a rules departure) it did not pose to be imbalancing. The party that played versus the initial draft failed to utilize a single save granting ability, but still managed to win the day with the majority of players bloodied or near dying. 8 ongoing damage was the highest stack reached by one unfortunate player, who managed to land a save and survive after receiving a heal from the party leader.
The serpent minion’s stats are as follows:
The serpent minions largely share the same statistics as the whole, but each individual serpent is of course less powerful than the main entity.
Because this fight is almost entirely minions, area/zone powers have a distinct advantage as do multi-attacks against Saklas’ main body. Should the players struggle, suggest the benefit of these attacks and save/resistance granting powers.
Feel free to drop by and comment below, you may even get the drop on us. Next time!