Posted by : David Guyll June 11, 2013
The umber hulk is a Dungeons & Dragons staple. According to its wiki entry it was designed explicitly for the game, and it has pretty much stayed the same over the course of every edition: it is big, burrows, and has two sets of eyes (one of which can cause confusion). The only major deviation was in 4th Edition, where they reduced its Intelligence from from Average/11 to 5.
I am not sure why they pegged its Intelligence on par with most humanoid races, but nothing about it really indicates that it would be that smart, or even need to be. If you wanted to make it smart, then why not have it work with other intelligent races for labor, protection, guides, or even bounty hunters? Sounds like a much better deal than waiting in a corridor for something to happen by, and makes for more interesting uses.
Otherwise I think that even 7-8 is a bit much, and would go with something in the 3-5 range. This would still be more than enough for it to understand Deep Speech/Undercommon, and make them clever enough to create traps and wait in ambush.
Their confusion-gaze is an interesting quirk, but what about switching it up so that their gaze can also induce pacification or fear? I imagine a character wandering through a dark tunnel, and noticing a set of glowing eyes, either a soft blue or a sinister red. Think the angler fish's lure or the vampire squid. I am not saying changing its default setting, but make it either a swappable power or letting them do other things with it.
In any case I would chalk it up to a primitive psionic effect, which ties in with other underdark things like aboleths, mind flayers, deep dwarves, etc. This could give way to mutated umber hulk’s possessed of a great intelligence (possibly also psionics). They could enslave creatures, or even work with them willingly to dig out great cities beneath the surface. You could also give them a kind of Cthulhu-vibe if that is your thing.
Speaking of a Cthulhu-vibe, even though I agree that chuul renditions do little to evoke snakes (though I can see a bit of insect in there), it still looks like something that you would find palling around with deep ones or swimming through the Far Realm's amoebic sea. Frankly if the otyugh is good enough to muck about in their ranks, then I see no reason to change their type.
Mechanics-wise there is not a lot I would change. If you want to draw some inspiration from lobsters, then just have them get bigger and bigger as they get older. Gargantuan chuul, anyone? You could also toss psionics onto the mix, or divine powers if you want to have them worship some ancient sea god. Heck, maybe they were once people that were changed in a similar fashion as deep ones, but crab-people. That sounds like a good point to start for those "body-horror" elements.
I have not had occasion to use a gray render, despite their bonding shtick (which seems kind of lazy). They are not bad, just boring, so I would be interested to see if they can provide some compelling flavor regarding their origins, as well as why they bond with pretty much anything but their own kind.