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[Let's Read] 4e Dragon & Dungeon Magazine: Monster Articles

RobertEdwards

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Mold Men reproduction, as described isn't fast enough. Even with the Russet spores, they're just replacing those who died accidentally without reproduction. More seeds needed for more Mold Men!
 

VoidDrifter

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Wait... weren’t ‘expansionism’ and ‘shaping the environment’ the myconids’ entire schtick in 4e? You’d think that would make them mortal foes.
Myconids and moldies are both fungus-based, though, so they share similar environmental wants. Blights are corrupted creatures infused with necrotic energy, so the land they create won't sustain the fungus that moldies feed upon or sprout from. Basically, to paraphrase, they represent different kinds of corruption, and they're mutually incompatible, whilst myconids represent the same kind of corruption and thusly their ecosystem is "friendly" to moldies.
 

Kakita Kojiro

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It seems like myconids and moldies have a smaller version of the Black Dog Problem: stuck in the same niche but too similar to each other. They're humanoid fungus-people who don't speak and probably live underground, communal but led by a larger member of the group, with fungal alchemy/fungal psionics and related fungal species (IIRC, myconids + gas spores in 4e, and here moldies + shriekers).

Moldies have the thornies as pets, hints of pod-people reproduction, and a low-key sci-fi association. Myconids, frankly, have the better aesthetic, though and the hints of their blissed-out hippy culture mind-melding together is both more alien and more gameable for interactions. I think it would have been a stronger showing if the 4e myconids had killed the moldies and taken their stuff, as it were.
 

DMH

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Meta-History of the Moldies:
A sidebar states that moldmen first debuted in the AD&D adventure "S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks", and from here made it into the 1e Monster Manual II, then 2e's Monstrous Compendium (by my own limited knowledge of AD&D's supplements, I think they mean the MC Volume 1, which was later reprinted as part of the Monstrous Manual). After that, it claims, the moldies vanished until Gamma World 7th Edition brought them back in the adventure "Famine in Far-Go".
In official sources. Moldmen were in Tome of Horrors and Glades of Death from Necromancer.

My problem with all the versions is they don't seem alien enough. Having them grow russet mold in the shape of alien glyphs, giving them and thornies the ability to emit alien radiation (so many possibilities), or having them create alien technology that only half functions because of lack of materials. Or something else, they need to show their alien origins.
 

VoidDrifter

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Dungeon #203: Bestiary: Perils of the Astral Sea
Opening Thoughts:
Spanning a mere four pages, this Bestiary article is a call back to the older models of this article series, with no real purpose beyond adding a few new nasties for DMs to throw at their players. Specifically, it gives us three new monsters, a new form of fantastic terrain, and a new navigational hazard.

Aleax:
This unexpected monster is a blast from the past; aleaxes debuted in the Fiend Folio for AD&D 1e, where they were doppelganger-like agents of the gods sent to punish those who offended a specific deity, an incredibly difficult battle against which one's party members were of little help. This version is... actually much the same!

The World Axis aleaxes are divinely crafted spirits of vengeace, appearing as white-skinned armor-clad humans with shining white eyes, with the color of their armor indicating their alignment. They are living weapons sent by the gods to punish those who strayed significantly from their divinely ordained path. Aleaxes do not care for such things as "extenuating circumstances", and do not speak; they exist only to punish those their masters have decreed must be punished.

Because of this single-minded focus, if the party encounters a hostile aleax, it will only be after one of them, and it will leave as soon as that targeted individual is dead. They will, however, travel with other divine entities such as angels or devils to provide support if their target has allies; in battle, these companions will keep non-targets out of the aleax's way whilst it goes after its target.

Mechanically, this is a Medium Immortal Humanoid with Speed 8 and Blindsight 5. It's a level 26 soldier. It has a whopping four traits:
* Aleax Focus: Choose one enemy as Focus for the battle at the start of the encounter.
* Aleax Invulnerability: An aleax has total concealment and a +5 bonus to all defenses against area & close attacks from all non-Focus creatures.
* Aleax Resilience: An aleax automatically ends any duration effects applied to it by a non-Focus creature at the start of its turn.
* Regeneration: 15 HP at the start of its turn so long as it has at least 1 HP, does not regenerate on its next turn if it took damage from its Focus or did not attack its Focus this turn.

As a Standard Action, it can use its only attack; Brilliant Energy Blade, a Melee 1 attack which does Force + Radiant damage and targets the victim's lowest defense. As a Move Action, it can use Divine Hunt, an at-will power that lets it teleport up to 20 squares to enter a square adjacent to its focus. Finally, it has two Triggered Actions; the at-will Divine Justice (opportunity attack with Brilliant Energy Blade against Focus if it tries to move away or attack a different target) and the Recharge 4+ Focus Resonance (when the aleax takes damage from a non-Focus creature, the aleax's Focus takes damage equal to half that amount).


Atropal Deathscreamer:
This is just a variant Atropal, which was introduced in the very first 4e Monster Manual as part of the Abominations family. Whereas the standard atropal is a level 28 Elite Brute, the Deathscreamer is a Level 26 Controller. Fluffwise, there's little new here, beyond noting that atropals seek artifacts to try and complete an apotheosis into true gods, and those which haven't totally succumbed to madness might even act as veiled patrons to mortal agents.

The Deathscreamer has Speed 6, Fly 6, Immunity to Disease/Necrotic/Poison and Vulnerable 10 Radiant. It has the trait Blighted Presence (Aura 2, enemies in aura halve the HP they regain from healing effects) and five different actions.

As a standard action, it can use either of two attacks; Life-Draining Touch (at-will, melee 2, necrotic + psychic damage on hit and auto slides the target 3 squares) or Death Scream (Recharge 5, Close burst 3, on a hit target takes necrotic & psychic damage & is dazed (save ends); first failed save means they are also Weakened (save ends both), second failed save means they drop to 0 HP, or die if already at 0 HP).

As a Move action, it can use Shadow Stalk to teleport 10 squares. This recharges when first bloodied.

Finally, as a minor action, it can speak a Word of Doom (at-will but 1/round); this Ranged 10 Attack vs. Will, if it hits, strips the target of all Resistances and Immunities, as well as forcing it to roll twice and take the lower result when rolling saves; these effects all end when the target takes a save.


Githyanki Antipaladin:
Another blast from the past, Githyanki Antipaladins are the most powerful and loyal of all githyanki to Vlaakith, and are rewarded for their devotion by being entrusted with a position of absolute authority and command. To quote the article; if an antipaladin walked into a dwelling of its own kind, murdered everyone inside, and burned it to the ground, other githyanki would accept the act: The antipaladin did it, so it was justified. Fortunately, these elite agents are rarely found together, and instead are usually undertaking pilgrimages across the Astral Sea or pursuing quests for the Lich Queen, either alone or with small groups of hirelings and loyal githyanki - they often have command over their own spelljammers. The article spells out in detail how they fight, and also includes a brief sidebar noting that these guys can make great recurring villains for Astral campaigns.

Mechanically, a Githyanki Antipaladin is a Medium Natural Humanoid, and a level 24 Soldier. It has Speed 5 and the trait Antipaladin Grace, which means it ignores attack roll penalties and its attacks never trigger enemy attacks. It has one central attack; Silver Bastard Sword, which is Melee 1 vs AC and on a hit inflicts the "cannot spend healing surges (save ends)" condition. If a creature suffering that condition either willingly leaves an adjacent square to the Antipaladin or attacks a creature other than the Antipaladin, then the Antipaladin can make a Silver Bastard Sword attack as an opportunity action, a power called Planar Vengeance. The Antipaladin also has access to the powers Mindwalk (teleport 10 squares as a move action; this is technically Encounter, but is recharged whenever Planar Vengeance is triggered) and Psionic Bonds (Recharge 5+, ranged 5, vs. Fortitude, target falls prone and is immobilized, save ends).


Dawn War Scars:
These are literally scars in the fabric of creation left behind from the Dawn War; whilst deadly to mortal creatures, astral beings attuned to a scar’s energy might settle nearby, feeding off it and using it as a defense. Mechanically... well, I can't sum this up better than the article does:

Effect: A Dawn War scar covers an area between 3 and 6 squares on a side. Each scar deals a specific type of damage: cold, fire, lightning, necrotic, poison, psychic, or radiant. Any non-immortal creature that starts its turn in the scar’s area loses any resistance or immunity to the scar’s damage type for that turn and takes 15 damage of that type.


Astral Lodestones:
These strange objects bend space around themselves, allowing them to interfere with teleportation effects in their presence and also painfully unraveling creatures in close proximity. They vary in size from about 3ft in diameter to the size of a small vessel, and are a notorious hazard of the deep Astral. Wizards sometimes capture the lodestones and use them as protective wards for their lairs and towers.

All in all, it's a nasty little level 23 hazard with an Aura 3 called Crushing Presence (creatures in aura are Slowed, creatures that end turn there take 15 Force damage) and an At-Will triggered attack called Teleportation Sink that reacts when a creature teleports to or from a square within 10 squares of the lodestone, resulting in an attack vs. Fortitude that, if it hits, does 3d8+18 Force damage and forcibly teleports the creature to a square adjacent to the lodestone.


Closing Thoughts:
What is there to say about this article? Like most Bestiary articles, it's short, sweet and to the point. It's nothing fancy, but I like what they did - the Aleax in particular is a monster. I mean, holy spit, this right here is a hardcore PC assassin! And yeah, that was intentional, but if you want to remind players that no built in mechanical penalties exist for playing a Paladin and then screwing over your own church in major ways doesn't mean no penalties period...
 
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VoidDrifter

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Dungeon #204: Bestiary: Denizens of the Demonweb
Opening Thoughts:
As with the previous article, this is just a simple asortment of new high-level drow themed monsters, plus a new hazard. It also provides us with a glimpse into the 4e rendition of the Demonweb Pit, which wasn't really fleshed out much in 4e, although a sidebar on the first page points us to both the Monster Manual 3, for other Abyssal Drow stats as well as stats for Lolth herself, and to The Plane Below for a skill challenge on navigating the Demonweb.

The Demonweb is described as a void crisscrossed by ever-shifting webs, creating a labyrinth of pathways shrouded in gray mist that defies all mortal efforts to map it out. Within, one can find ancient ruins of cities and castles, and the remains of long-dead gods and primordials. It's also filled with innumerable planar portals, with the article stating that it rivals Sigil for its connections to the rest of the multiverse. Only Lolth and her chief advisors know where any particular portal can be found - and even they lose track of certain portals, since they continually move into new configurations.


Demonweb Retriever:
As the name implies, Demonweb Retrievers are golems in the shape of Huge-sized emonic spiders that Lolth deploys on missions to obtain artifacts or prisoners that are of particular value to her. They are single-minded engines of destruction, annihilating anything that stands in the way of their programmed objective and leaving the moment it is achieved, even if this means abandoning a fight. Really, there's not a great deal of nuance to talk about here, fluff-wise, so let's talk shop.

Mechanically, a Demonweb Retriever is a Level 27 Elite Skirmisher; a Huge Elemental Animate (Construct) with Speed 8, Climb 8 (Spider Climb) and Teleport 5. It has the traits Frightful Presence (Aura 3, enemies in aura grant Combat Advantage) and Unrelenting Grab (creatures grabbed by the retriever move with it and must stay within 3 squares).

As a standard action, it can use Scythe Claw (Melee 3 vs. AC), Twin Claws (Scythe Claw is used twice), or Retrieve (makes Twin Claws against one target; if both hit, the target is grabbed and the retriever teleports 5 squares). All of these are usable at-will.

As a minor action, it can use the At-Will (1/Round) Eye Ray attack, allowing it to blast a Ranged 10 Fire Ray (fire damage, ongoing fire damage), Cold Ray (cold damage, slowed until end of the retriever's next turn), Lightning Ray (lightning damage, dazed until end of the retriever's next turn) or Death Ray (necrotic damage, weakened until end of the retriever's next turn).

Finally, it has the At-Will Triggered Action "Vengeful Claw", which lets it make a Scythe Claw attack against any creature within 3 squares that hits it with a melee attack.


Drider Ghostwalker:
As everybody knows, driders in the World Axis went from a punishment by Lolth to a reward. Which makes sense, frankly, because Lolth is a goddess of dark elves and spiders, so changing a dark elf to be more like a spider should be a sign of her favor. But ghostwalkers? They're a little different.

Presumably, Lolth can also elevate a drow to ghostwalker drider status as a reward. But the article says that she prefers to create them as punishment, taking the souls of male drow heroes who betrayed her, scourging their souls until they are torn apart, and then forcibly melding these tatters with the essence of fiendish phase spiders, trapping the screaming drow's soul within the resultant drider. She takes particular delight in making the first victims of a new ghostwalker be people that it knew in life.

Due to their phase spider basis, ghostwalkers exist partially between the physical world and the world of ghosts; to them, the world is made up of sea of gray, in which living beings sound out as fields of light. Able to move with preternatural stealth and silence, as well as sliding through physical matter as if it were air, ghostwalkers make excellent spies and assassins. They are also the secret behind Lolth's fabled omniscience; ghostwalkers are stationed near all of the portals in the Demonweb, and charged with tailing intruders to their realm. The magical visions these creatures can send to Lolth's high priestesses, and the Spider Queen herself, provide them with a view of the entire Demonweb.

Mechanically, a Drider Ghostwalker is a Large Fey Humanoid (Spider) Drow, and a Level 26 Lurker. It has Speed 8 and (Spider) Climb 8. It has the Ethereal Sight trait, which means that it can see anything within 20 squars, including invisible creatures/objects, and creatures can't gain cover or concealment benefits from a Ghostwalker.

It has two Standard Actions; Dagger (at-will, melee 2 or Ranged 10, vs. AC, damage plus ongoing poison damage - both increased if the target is granting combat advantage) and Assassinate (Recharges when a target hit by this power is not reduced to 0 hit points, Melee 2, vs. AC, if a target is bloodied after taking damage from this attack, the target drops to 0 hit points).

As a Move Action, it can Phase which lets it move up to its speed with the benefits of the phasing trait and without provoking opportunity attacks. This power recharges on a 5+.

Finally, as a Minor Action, it can become Invisible until the end of its next turn. This power recharges when the Ghostwalker is first bloodied.


Lolthtouched Demonbinder:
In 3rd edition, demonbinders were drow who magically bonded demons to themselves as symbionts and gained powers as a result. In this article, they are instead presented as half-demon drow, born as a result of drow mothers consorting with non-glabrezu demons. Because of this, they are, for some reason, specifically selected to serve as Lolth's personal advisors and ambassadors to the other ambitious fiends of the Abyss. To paraphrase the article; a single seed of disinformation implanted into a demonbinder might unravel centuries of work, for they possess secrets that can collapse empires, sunder planes, and disrupt entire theologies. They wield mystical powers based on their blood-heritage to demons, and are surprisingly deadly combatants.

Mechanically, a Lolthtouched Demonbinder is a Medium Fey Humanoid (Demon) Drow; a Level 27 Controller. It has Speed 6 and Fly 5, as well as the trait Cunning Deception (Aura 2, enemiees in aura take -2 to all defenses).

It has a whopping four attacks, all of which are Standard Action to Use:
* At-Will, it can make either an Abyssal Blade attack (Melee 1 vs. AC, slides 2 squares) or a Claws of the Glabrezu attack (Ranged 10 vs. Fortitude, inflicts damage and restrains on a hit).
* Once per encounter, it can use Blades of the Marilith (make 4 Abyssal Blade attacks, shifting 1 square after each attack).
* Finally, it has the Recharge 5 power Screech of the Vrock (Close burst 3 vs. Will, psychic damage plus push 5 squares on a hit, push 2 squares on a miss).

Additionally, as a Move Action it can use Demon Gate to teleport 10 squares, and this power recharges when first bloodied.


Yochlol Queen's Guard:
Finally, we close up our monsters list with these; nothing really fancy here, these are just the ultimate version of the common Yochlol. Only four of these monsters exist at any one time, and they normally serve as Lolth's personal bodyguards, although she may send them out as escorts on missions of vital importance. Each such yochlol is created by immersing the soul of a single chosen mortal in a pool of raw chaos and elemental matter hidden in the depths of the Demonweb Pits, here described as Lolth's personal lair within the deepest heart of the Demonweb. It takes centuries of unceasing torture for the transformation to complete itself, and the result scrubs away all of the yochlol's mind to leave only undying loyalty.

Oh, and the Queen's Guard are capable of telepathic communication both with each other and with Lolth wherever they might be in the multiverse. Fun.

Mechanically, these Medium Elemental Humanoid (Demons) are Level 28 Soldiers, with Speed 6, Teleport 6, Immunity to Charm/Fear/Poison and Resist 15 Psychic. They have four specific powers, all of which are usable at-will.

As a Standard Action, they can make either a Tentacle attack (Melee 2 vs. Reflex, poison & psychic damage and target is slowed (save ends) on a hit) or a Tentacle Fury attack (use Tentacle 3 times; if at least two of these hit the same target, that target is also restrained until the end of the yochlol's next turn).

As a Minor Action, they can use Servant of the Queen to transfer one save-ends effect from an ally to themselves.

Finally, when an enemy within 2 squares makes an attack that doesn't include the yochlol as a target, it Triggers the Guard the Queen attack, which results in the yochlol making 2 Tentacle attacks against that target as an Immediate Reaction. If they both hit, the same restraining condition as Tentacle Fury applies.


Other Bits:
The article contains two sidebars. One, "Characteristics of the Demonweb", lists three possible terrain effects to apply to encounters on this layer. The second, "Lolth's Twisted Web", is an interesting little advisor to the DM on how to use Lolth's deceptive nature to their advantage - I'll quote this below.

Lolth’s Twisted Web
Among all the villains an adventuring party might face, Lolth is unique in her dedication to deception. High-level characters and experienced players know that every word the Spider Queen speaks serves her interests. Even so, Lolth rarely engages in direct trickery, knowing that the most insidious way to betray ambitious adventurers is to tell them the truth. She offers characters what they want: treasure, the solutions to quests, or hints of how to destroy powerful demon lords and gods. When you incorporate Lolth into your campaign, remember that her webs of deception are so thick that they twist around the truth. Lolth might end up becoming an adventuring party’s most beneficial ally for a time—but you can be sure that this alliance benefits Lolth in the end.
Finally, the article closes with a new Level 26 Minion Hazard; the Demonweb Doomspore. These large, phosphorescent mushrooms sprout from the corpses entangled throughout the webbing, and explode when exposed to combat, filling the area around them with a powerful hallucinogen that drives creatures to turn on and murder their allies. Nasty stuff.


Closing Thoughts:
This is another short, simple article that knows what it wants to do and sets out to do it. I really like this. It's not fancy, but it's a nice little array of epic-tier Lolth-flavored threats, and what can't you do with those if you're running a Drow-centric campaign?

Also, I must say, I really, really like the Drider Ghostwalkers. Yeah, they're technically Underground Monkey trope, but they have an interesting backstory and a really solid place in the Demonweb's... ecology, I guess? I feel they add a lot more to the overall game than just being a new face to punch.

And with this, we have reached the final trinity of monster articles for this let's read. We have two Ecologies, and one... I don't actually know what I'd classify "Elves With Demonic Designs" as. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
 

Snoof

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Is there such a thing as a normal Retriever in 4e?
There's ones in the MM2 without the demon subtype. They're flavoured as constructed created by the Primordials, although it also points out their programming gets subverted by demons reasonably regularly.
 

VoidDrifter

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Dungeon #204: Ecology of the Swordwing
Opening Thoughts:
As oboserved by... I think it was Talisman, in their Let's Read of the 3.5 Monster Manual... 2 or 3, not sure, WotC seemed to really have a bee in their bonnet about trying to make The Next Big Aberration, resulting in every monster related splatbook having at least one shiny new quasi-eldritch abomination in an attempt to give WotC the street cred that TSR had attained for coming up with the Aboleth, Beholder and Illithids.

None of their efforts really bore fruit, outside of maybe the Chuul. And I'm sure somebody out there who knows the THAC0 table off by heart will correct me that the Chuul was actually an AD&D monster all along.

Even 4th edition didn't stop them from trying. When the first 4e Monster Manual debuted, page 249 featured the Swordwing; a many-winged humanoid bug with one human-like hand and one scimitar-like chitinous blade for a limb. Something about that image is weirdly familiar, but I don't know why... anyway!

All the MM told us was that Swordwings lived in the Underdark, in tall "nesting spires" made out of wasp-like stone-hard paper, and that each swordwing is defined by a fixating with collecting one particular kind of treasure, which could be anything from humanoid skulls or hearts to weapons, gems, magic items or books. They were led by more powerful beings called Crownwings, which had multiple kinds of collection. They were both absurdly powerful; level 25 Soldier for the swordwing and Level 26 Skirmisher (Leader) for the Crownwing.

4e's Underdark splatbook would... add very little else to the swordwing lore, other than presenting the Buzzing Vaults, a sort of swordwing "holy site", and stats for two new swordwings; the Slasher (level 23 Lurker) and the Cutter (level 28 Minion Skirmisher).

So, this is the first in-depth examination of who swordwings are and what their deal is we've had in 4th edition. Which is kind of ridiculously when you think about how long it took between the swordwing's introduction and this article's publication.


Driven By Obsession:
Swordwings collect stuff. This is the single defining truth of the race. A swordwing's collection literally defines it as an individual. Only a few swordwings in a hive collect a specific category of items, but crownwings contending for status might acquire the same types of objects or vie with one another for an item that falls into more than one category - such competitions always end in violence.

A swordwing's focus item is of the utmost importance; anything not related to its collection is simply junk in its eyes, and will be either discarded or saved for the potential to barter - swordwings prefer to simply take what they want, but if bartering seems like an expedient option, they will happily trade "trash" for "treasure". But note that swordwings will only trade "trash" for "treasure"; the concept of "trading up" does not exist in their psychology, and a swordwing is simply not capable of voluntarily giving up a portion of their prized collection.

Obviously, mess with their stuff at your own peril. A swordwing will chase a thief to the ends of the earth and beyond to retrieve its missing treasures, and it will never stop so long as it lives.


A Hive of Killers:
Swordwings inhabit underground hives in the Deeps region of the Underdark, and form a complicated caste-based social system. The pinnacle of the hive is the Queen; a fertility-bestowing (see Reproduction, below) advanced form of crownwing who violently adjudicates disputes between crownwings and leads the hive in worship of the Far Realm entity Dhogostho-Attu. Below the Queen are the Crownwings, who are the leadership caste and struggle in their own complicated internal hierarchy. Under the crownwings are the Slashers and Shapers, specialized drones who each offer unique abilities to the hive. Just slightly below them are Drones (the common adult swordwing), and at the bottom of the pile are Cutters, who represent the immature fledglings of the hive.

The Buzzing Vaults, introduced in the Underdark supplement, are a seemingly sacred site to swordwings; at irregular intervals, various swordwings will trek here from their native hives and engage in bloody melees. These congregants are made up of crownwings, drones and slashers, and the survivors either maintain their crownwing form or mature into crownwings, as appropriate. Precisely why this happens, nobody knows; some believe that crownwings are sent here as a form of punishment, whilst the drones and slashers are sent as a kind of lethally trying reward.

Daily life consists of the queen passing on a responsibility to each crownwing, who then pursues it with a cadre of lower-caste servants; the more favored the crownwing is, the larger its entourage. Success does not guarantee promotion, but failure guarantes demotion or dismemberment, so crownwings are quite motivated to complete their duties.

Outside of such tasks as hunting for food, preparing for or making war, and repairing nesting spires, crownwings mostly focus on trying to claw their way up the political ladder. This requires two things; the ability to murder one's superior, up to and including the queen, and a collection of sufficient merit that one's surviving peers agree you deserve to take the dead crownwing's place. This is a process that can take weeks, as the remaining crownwings carefully examine and debate the virtues of the would-be social climber's collection; sabotage by political enemies is common, and most ambitious crownwings resort to bribery. Thusly, a crownwing's existence is a juggling act between having subordinates accomplish delegated tasks and expanding its personal collection - and this need to ensure its collection is good enough to make the promotion effort succeed keeps them from just killing each other all the time.


Nesting Spires:
All swordwings reside in open-topped, conical structures that stand roughly 15 feet tall. They resemble stalactites or stalagmites made of gray paper, but are actually hard as stone - the Shaper caste fashions them from local materials and a natural adhesive resin.

Each nesting spire houses only a single swordwing; these ultra-territorial creatures will fight to the death to defend their space from all outsiders, even other swordwings. The bulk of the space is devoted to displaying the owner's collection, creating a cluttered jumble that the owner memorizes perfectly, with particularly prized pieces hidden inside of enclosed niches.

The size and location of a nesting spire give a rough indication as to the status of its occupant. Cutters and drones cluster on the lower reaches of a hive's vault, whilst the crownwings hang from the ceiling in much larger spires that include viewing galleries.


Reproduction:
Swordwing reproduction is at once alien and familiar. The article claims they only reproduce once in their lifetime, but I think we can ignore this because it makes very little sense. Unlike in the eusocial insects that they vaguely resemble, a swordwing queen is not the sole reproductive member of the hive; all swordwings can reproduce asexually, but only after their generative organs are activated by pheromones that only the queen can produce. This, of course, requires bribing the queen for permission.

Once rendered fertile, the swordwing seeks out a living natural humanoid creature - this often requires hunting or bartering. This unfortunate victim has its abdomen sliced open and the swordwing parent lays an egg inside before coccooning the host on the exterior of its nesting spire. Over the course of a year, the egg hatches into a grub that consumes its hosts internal organs before subsuming the musculature and skeleton, morphing it, illithid style, into a new adult swordwing, which finally cuts its way free once fully developed.

Swordwings start their collections soon after their birth, and many believe that the foundations for their collections stem from residual memories of the host organism.


Inter-Racial Interactions:
The swordwings are not exactly the most mercantile of Underdark races. All other creatures are potential prey, if only for their use in breeding; even when a swordwing does decide to trade, they have short patience spans and are are fickle to deal with.

The only creatures that really can be considered potential swordwing allies are swordwings of the same hive (different hives barely tolerate each other) and most other aberrations. They do seem to be actively afraid of aboleths, avoiding them and their territories wherever possible.

In return, many Underdark races, such as the drow and derror, harvest armblades and chitin from fallen swordwings to fashion into magical armor and weaponry - which can be rather dangerous to use, since swordwings will murderously attack anyone using such gear.


Other Goodies:
The article concludes with:

Three potential swordwing "personages" to interact with - the Oculist, a drow-eye-collector who has become a serial killer in Erelhei-Cinlu; the Market Grottos, where swordwings have established a neutral trading zone; and the Burrowing Hive, which is actively expanding its cavern.

10 different sample swordwing collections, consisting of 10 different themes (Armor, Books, Diamonds, Hearts, Musical Instruments, Paintings, Rings, Statues Swords, Wines) with each having five different suggested items.

Monster Manual 3 style updates for the Swordwing, Crownwing, Slasher and Cutter.

And two new Swordwing monster profiles; the Shaper (Level 25 Artillery) and the Queen (Level 30 Solo Brute/Leader). The Queen in particular is a beast, and not to be taken lightly!


Closing Thoughts:
This is, frankly, an article we needed a lot sooner than we got it. It's short but it's good, solid information that gives the swordwings a level of character that they, frankly, desperately needed. I mean, I'm a big 4e fan, but it's kind of ridiculous how long it took them to get this info out. We could have used this kind of racial development back when Underdark was first released.

Does it make swordwings more usable? Honestly, your mileage may vary, but I personally found it helped me "get" the creatures a lot better. There's something that's sincerely human about their fixation with their collections, and that honestly, in my opinion, makes them all the creepier - that one little touch of humanity just makes the rest of their alien natures all the more inhuman and monstrous.

At the very least, if you want to run combat encounters in 4e with swordwings, this article is handy for giving you two new variants and MM3 updates for all four of the original statblocks, which is very nice.

So, yeah, I will admit to not being the world's biggest fan of aberrations, but this article makes swordwings a lot beefier as a concept, so it gets a thumb's up from me.
 

NobodyImportant

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I’ve seen the complaint that the existence of these epic-level horrors in the Underdark feels weird and out of place, and I agree. This article adding deity-level queens doesn’t help things.

I see no reason the swordwings couldn’t have won the Dawn War entirely by themselves.

And why are they aberrations? They’re bug people! Are we making thri-kreen aberrations now too?
 
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