Posted by : David Guyll January 29, 2013

It is Greek Week over at Wandering Monsters, where James gives us the early draft of the sphinx, chimera, and hydra.

Despite my love for Greek mythology, the number of times I have used all of these monsters could be counted on one hand, mostly because it was pretty difficult in 4th Edition to get characters high enough level to tackle them (as they were each level 10 or higher). Hopefully with 5th Edition's flat-math I can throw them at my players much sooner.

I almost got an Ecology of the Sphinx article published in the last issue of Dragon that was released under Paizo's tenure, which unfortunately--or perhaps fortunately depending on who you are--got hedged out for an ecology article on the tarrasque (I also wrote up a gynosphinx monstrous class that I used for 12 levels in the last 3rd Edition campaign that I played in).

I remember describing them as mortal creatures created specifically to function as the stewards of the gods, which was a kind of way of explaining why some, like Egyptian gods, had animal heads. That may be why I prefer the idea of them being mortal spirits caught in the middle of a divine transformation. To me it provides a more engaging explanation for why they enjoy hanging out about temples, tombs, sacred sites, and the like.

Also, animal heads.

When it comes to spells I am mostly fine with androsphinxes casting as clerics due to their divine association, though I am not a fan of massive spell lists (especially when they feature spells too low level to be useful). As for the roar, I would prefer to it as a recharging ability that does more as the androsphinx is wounded.

I like the idea of giving gynosphinxes special divination traits as opposed to pretty much every divination spell out there, as powers that are not easily replicated by magic will make it more likely that characters--even fairly powerful ones--might have a reason to seek one out instead of just dropping a bunch of cash on a spell scroll.

The chimera is one of the few monsters that I am totally cool with being manufactured by someone (or thing) else, which makes me wonder why they must all have a fire-breathing dragon, goat, and lion head. Think about it, the chimera is the perfect monster that lets Dungeon Masters mix and match other monsters to create something entirely new to throw at their players, and it makes sense in the game's fiction because a wizard did it.

Limiting it to just one kind of dragon and two animals is a huge missed opportunity, and it does not make sense unless for whatever reason in the game's fiction it is the only viable three-way combination. What if druids made a chimera out of a green dragon, stag, and wolf? A blasted wasteland might be inhabited by a chimera made up of a blue dragon, elephant, and...I dunno, some form of desert-dwelling hunting cat.

The most dangerous weapon of a sand cat is its cuteness.
3rd Edition had a chimera template, but you do not really need to go that far. Just make a Customization Options sidebar with some guidelines on adding/replacing abilities with some damage benchmarks, because, after all, does it matter if a chimera has two bite attacks instead of a bite and gore?

Oddly there is no flavor text attached to these. Were they created by the gods long ago, perhaps for use as a weapon during some ancient war (after all, in Greek mythology Hera raised it to slay Heracles)? Did they spring from the wounds of a primordial? Given that they have at least five heads, maybe they are related in some way to Tiamat?

Mechanically hydras have operated pretty similarly throughout the editions:

  • In 2nd Edition hydras lost heads automatically as they took damage. They had maximum hit points per Hit Die, so once each head was severed then the hydra was slain. Its body was immune to attacks unless it dealt damage equal to its original hit points, making it possible to obliterate one with a single, powerful attack. Your standard hydra model did not grow extra heads; that was specific to the Lernaean hydra variant, which could have up to twelve and whose body was completely immune to attacks.
  • 3rd Edition required that you declare that you were trying to sever a head using the sunder action (and could ready an action to attack it as it tried to bite you). If you dealt enough damage to sever a head, two more would grow in 1-4 rounds unless you used fire or acid on the stump and inflicted 5 points of damage. Unlike 2nd Edition you could attack the body, but its scaling fast healing made this fairly difficult.
  • 4th Edition kind of combined the approach from previous editions: heads were automatically destroyed through hit point damage, but would grow two heads on the following round unless it took any amount of acid or fire damage. This meant that while it eventually die, the fight could get progressively harder if you lacked the ability to deal acid or fire damage. At least it did not have regeneration.
If I had to choose I would pick 4th Edition's take on hydras, as the fact that it automatically loses heads while taking damage escalates the danger (unless someone applies fire or acid before its turn comes about, which adds a tactical element to things). It is also easier to juggle at the table than in 3rd Edition.

The only problem is that it begs the question as to why characters can chop off hydra heads, but not an ettin's, or any other part of any other creature for that matter.

{ 2 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. In my last group session, I sent a beholder gauth at them. They needed an eye-stalk to ceate a magic item (using components from DMG2), so I let them make attack to sever an eystalk. On a hit, the attack would deal half damage and disable one eye ray. No effect on a miss.

    On a side note, the halfling shadowy rogue proved that he could even hide from a beholder. At level 1. LoL

  2. My last comment made me think: Maybe, on a critical hit, you can choose to sever a limb as opposed to deal damage? It might create several different status effects such as slowed, immobilized, or even helpless if you sever two or more limbs.
    This idea can easily be applied to any system.

    /amateur game designer/



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