[Let's Read] D&D 4e Monster Manual 2?

Inyssius

thermonuclear catsplosion
Validated User
While the art doesn't look like traditional tiny ants, it does look alot like Bullet Ants to me. They have the same skinny sections with longer connective pieces and big bulbous head look. Which does make some sense, in that gigantic ants would look something more like the huge ants we already have rather than the small ones.

-Naxuul
Oh, certainly. I'm not criticizing the art for unrealism, because they just don't look at all unrealistic to me. My suspension of disbelief would actually suffer a lot more if they were exact scale models of iridomyrmex purpureus. My beef is just that the art doesn't provide any sense of atmosphere; it's just "oh, hey, yellow ants. There's a skull in that one's mandibles, so... I guess they're sort of big." A screenshot of any Half-Life game's antlion territories, run through any two Photoshop filters of your choice, would significantly improve this section.



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Coming to the last of the regular giant ants, we have the winged drone, a level 4 skirmisher which adds “fly 8” to the list of movement options a giant ant swarm will use to drive you insane. Its acid sting attack deals tiny damage if you’ve already got ongoing acid 5, but its Hive Drone Frenzy allows it to shift and then use this power as a free action; so, in encounters with a huge amount of ants and a good controller amongst the opposition, I could see this power being used four times per round per winged drone until your players wise up. Also: flyby attack as an at-will power. Lots of mobility here. As for Shredding Wings, I see it as less a matter of actual razor edges or anything, and more a “wing buffet” attack used with such force that it snaps the wings off. Rather like how a zombie’s slam attack can be so destructive; the zed simply hits as hard as its muscles can possibly allow, and be damned if it rips every single tendon in its arm while doing so°. That’s my rationalization, anyway.

Historic moment of the day: as a close blast 2, I believe Shredding Wings is the first even-numbered blast attack ever printed. As we’ll see in a couple of days, it isn’t the last.



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And of course we have the obligatory hive queen. As per standard, she is a level 5 Elite Controller (Leader); size Large; with an aura 10 that empowers her giant ant allies, a panoply of burst effects, and an encounter power that calls forth a handful of minions. I could write that much without even having this book. Although, with the emphasis on pheromones in this matriarch’s fluff, I have to give the designers credit for not including any nonsensical charm effects. Anyway: another minor action attack! Yay! In this case, “Kick”, a reach attack which deals very minor damage but pushes the target 3 squares (great for kicking fighters off of a beloved skirmisher, for example). Her pheromone effects, which in a shining example of realism deal acid damage due to the massive chemical doses involved, really are nice; one power essentially creates a permanent aura 4 of acidic fog, whose damage is multiplied by the number of ants in the aura (preferably lots). The summoning power introduces four hive workers, which would be utterly useless were it not for the synergy inherent in the ubiquitous Hive *caste* Frenzy abilities—but with them, it’s actually pretty cool.

So, giant ants? I like them a lot in theory. Their stat blocks paint a pretty picture, but they seem almost too slick; in melee, I know you can’t count on getting all of the factors you want. I think they would be an enjoyable diversion, at least, with their obvious slant toward “massive horde” encounters. If your controller is feeling particularly unimportant one day, it might be time to break out the giant ants!



° It occurs to me that, were I not a massive nerd, I would have used drug addicts as an example instead of zombies.



Next up: archons!
 
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chronostrike

I am Many, I am One
An additional note on the fomorian thing: I think the single most important thing here is the minion rule. Now you really can have a hoard of ants attack you party without worrying about laughable non-threat workers or potential TPK leaders. Even without the swarm powers, the base system of 4e gave the ant colony legs to stand on as an entertaining encounter.
 

Naxuul

Emo hair power!
Validated User
I am sad that the giant ants don't include a actual swarm. Swarms are cool.

-Naxuul
 

Inyssius

thermonuclear catsplosion
Validated User
An additional note on the fomorian thing: I think the single most important thing here is the minion rule. Now you really can have a hoard of ants attack you party without worrying about laughable non-threat workers or potential TPK leaders. Even without the swarm powers, the base system of 4e gave the ant colony legs to stand on as an entertaining encounter.
Formian, not Fomorian. One is a pointless race of extraplanar Lawful ant-people, the other is an insane race of mighty underdark-dwelling fey giantkin nobles each cursed (or "blessed") with one immensely powerful Evil Eye. I spent about five minutes wondering where we started talking about giantkin before I figured it out, but then I'm a little sleep-deprived at the moment... ;)

But yes, I agree.

...and, still on topic, I can totally imagine a mighty Fomorian who hoards giant insects as if they were glittering treasure, and fist-sized ants as if they were golden coins.
 
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Inyssius

thermonuclear catsplosion
Validated User
ARCHON

Archons embody the single largest change made to D&D by this new edition. I’m not going to get into what they were; let’s save that for later, and focus on what archons are now: the soldiers of the Elemental Chaos, changeable elemental spirits forced into more disciplined shapes by primordial magic and elemental binding. Fire archons are made in great arcane forges in the Elemental Chaos, as we learned in the excellent (and free!) Ecology of the Fire Archon; presumably other archons are made in a similar process, though I don’t know for sure. Ever since the first Monster Manual, flavor material associated with archons has had absolutely surpassing quality—in art and fluff—and this trend continues here. This book presents three types of archons, earth, storm, and water, adding on to the fire and ice archons in the MM1 and the air archons in Manual of the Planes.

Archons are born soldiers, made to fight for the forces of Chaos against the forces of Light; though that war is long since lost, the secret of making archons has been preserved by efreeti, giants, and djinn. Archons are loyal by nature. They know their place. Unfortunately for their would-be new masters, they know their place is under primordial rule, and the primordials are now all either dead (Haemnathuun, the Blood Lord), twisted and crippled (Orcus, the Demon Prince of Undeath), bound and severely weakened (Mual-Tar, the Thunder Serpent), or very dormant (Blazing Rorn, the Fury). So they act in a more mercenary role now, waging war for an efreet noble’s provincial concerns as a poor substitute for fulfilling their true purpose. Archons have a built-in love for warcraft, and they have little tolerance for any employer who insists on conducting war badly. Water archons will walk out immediately if not allowed to serve as raiders, for example. Now, there’s a significant flaw in the initial archon description on page 14, which instead claims that “these creatures of energy exert little will of their own … those few archons that are independent prowl the Elemental Chaos, attacking creatures without elemental origins.” This does not match with anything ever printed about archons, even in this entry. Mercenaries need to be very willful simply to remain mercenaries, but no archons are truly independent; at their very core, all properly made archons are at least semi-disciplined soldiers.

The presence of archons, in some intangible yet readily apparent fashion, gives the entire surrounding area an increased affinity for the element they embody. Droughts precede the gathering of fire armies, long-dormant volcanoes grow active, and fuel burns much more fiercely than usual. Presumably the same would apply to other archons, which is an interesting thought. Aside from earthquakes, what results would follow an affinity for earth? An increased density of passages to the Underdark? Sinkholes opening inexplicably? Metal, rock, and other materials growing harder and less malleable, more difficult to shape?



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ARCHON, EARTH:

I’m particularly intrigued by a passage in Dragon stating that some high-ranking fire archons choose to pattern themselves after the efreeti—efreet—augh, hell with it, the plural is “efreets” now—who now create and own most of their forges, choosing to take slaves and build city-styled compounds (in perhaps even a cargo cult-like fashion). I wonder: might earth archons pattern themselves after dao, or is the metaphysical nature of rock too self-assured for that? Since dao are known for their living-statue beauty, and earth archons are rather lumpy things, might an earth archon take hammer and chisel to himself in an attempt to replicate the perfect appearance of their usual employers? Since art and art appreciation are not the typical purview of earth archons—I don’t know if they can even see—the results would probably be more grimly amusing, or even disturbing, than “beautiful”.

Anyway, there are some interesting tidbits in the Earth Archon Lore table. Where fire archons prefer a “rapid, destructive blaze” of assault, earth archons prefer a slow and inexorable advance. They’re excellent strategists, like most archons; they prefer to take, hold, and fortify positions. “In this regard earth archons are similar to ice archons and work well with them”, the book says; unusually for this sort of creature, archons of one element have no qualms with working alongside beings forged from other elements. Fire archons will work perfectly well with water archons, and earth commanders will gladly employ air zephyrhaunt assassins. This lore table is also the first place dao have been mentioned anywhere in 4E, I believe.

Three varieties of earth archons are featured in this book: ground rager, seismic striker, and rumbler. I’ll be tackling them momentarily.
 

MadMac

Registered User
Validated User
There's something about the artwork for Archons that makes me want to shout "Cobra!" and jump into a badly designed tank. I mean that in a good way. To me, they're like the ultimate faceless mooks. Not minion trash mooks like the Foot Clan, but more like the elite guard of the super badguy who shows up for the season finale. The ones the heroes get to show off making a final stand against with the coincidently smoother animation that they've been cutting corners the last 6 episodes in order to pull off. :D
 

Inyssius

thermonuclear catsplosion
Validated User
There's something about the artwork for Archons that makes me want to shout "Cobra!" and jump into a badly designed tank. I mean that in a good way. To me, they're like the ultimate faceless mooks. Not minion trash mooks like the Foot Clan, but more like the elite guard of the super badguy who shows up for the season finale. The ones the heroes get to show off making a final stand against with the coincidently smoother animation that they've been cutting corners the last 6 episodes in order to pull off. :D
Yes! Exactly!



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The earth archon ground rager is a level 14 Controller. In this picture, he’s the one in the center. Yes, the one wearing the crown and obsidian-decorated belt is the weakest of the earth archons. Ground ragers… hold on. Why in God’s name is that two words? “Groundrager” doesn’t sound any worse than, say, “swordwing”, and it would match the precedent. I don’t exactly love that precedent, but breaking it for no reason is just annoying. Anyway, ground ragers enjoy the presence of geological activity, like volcanoes, fault lines, and sinkholes (hey, I was right!) … and those twelve words are all the fluff there is. I suppose that splitting the lore entries by element rather than by monster, as they did with the Monster Manual archons, has both benefits and drawbacks.

Mechanically… not bad, but nothing immediately jumps out at me. Like all earth archons, the rager has tremorsense 20. I love tremorsense. In fact, I think that earth archons would be improved if they were blind aside from that, so that anything not touching solid ground would be invisible to them. Earth archons don’t have earthglide or a burrow speed, a decision which I applaud. Not every earth creature should be able to ignore walls, and the “slow and steady” aesthetic of earth archons doesn’t seem to fit that anyway. He’s got an aura 5 which slows enemies who don’t move on their turn, which would be just the other side of useless if earth archons didn’t all focus on knocking enemies prone. For example, this fellow has an at-will backhand wot pushes four squares and knocks prone, and a recharge ranged burst wot knocks prone and deals half damage (and still knocks prone) on a miss. But more than that, this aura seems perfectly suited for accompaniment with ice archons—two of which have auras of difficult terrain.

So ice and rock archons really do work well together. Cool.



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The earth archon seismic striker is a level 16 Soldier; in that picture, he’s the one on the left. His kind are the bedrock of earth archon armies (I’m shocked!), he occasionally works as a guard for stone giants (what a surprise!), and he’s armed with stone javelins (Not Shown) in additon to that nasty obsidian pick… wait. With a giant shield in one hand and a war pick in the other, how does he throw any javelins? As a DM, you’re going to have to decide on that issue before you use him.

Mechanically, he’s a darn tough contender with one glaring flaw—but more on that later. His powers are focused on thunder and, like all earth archons, on the prone condition. His pick deals 3d8 + 7 damage, putting him securely in the High damage column despite pretty good accuracy and a massive critical hit bonus. 4d8 + 31 damage on a crit? Wow. Add in his ability that grants +1d8 damage against prone enemies, and we’ve got a deadly foe even without counting his marking javelins, and Seismic Stomp. And Combat Superiority, which grants a startling +5 bonus to opportunity attacks and stops any creature he hits with one (the power says “immobilizes”, which seems perfectly clear in context despite technically lacking an explicit duration).

But his Seismic Stomp power bewilders me. It’s a great power thematically, and looks awfully powerful—a recharge 6 close burst 3, that deals 2d10+7 thunder damage on a hit (half on a miss) and automatically knocks prone regardless. But what about the archon’s allies? Earth archons, including this guy, are not resistant to thunder or being knocked prone, so they will get their asses kicked if you use multiple seismic strikers with this power. Ditto titans, ditto earth and stone giants, ditto fire and ice archons; storm archons are resistant to thunder… but they fly, so this power would instead hurl them violently and hilariously to the ground when it’s used. To reiterate, though, it is a very thematic power; even as written, it would make an excellent fortification-breaker.

Final verdict: tough as nails and cool to boot, but you know you have a problem when two out of three powers desperately need editing before they can be used.



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Last (and rightmost) of the Earth Squad, we have the earth archon rumbler, breaking ever-so-slightly from the adjective noun compoundverb framework to bring you a really neat level 17 Brute. These guys “serve as shock troops in the armies of the Elemental Chaos, crushing any enemies too slow to flee”, but what they really excel at is smashing through enemy formations. One of their at-will powers is a burst 2 power that knocks enemies prone; it deals low damage, but the archon deals +2d8 extra damage if adjacent to multiple enemies, and he also has a powerful singletarget strike (very powerful, with that +2d8) so I don’t have to stamp him as Not A Team Player.

Doesn’t do anything about the hilariously low trademark Brute accuracy, though.



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And that’s it for the earth archons. Next up, storm.

Oh, one more thing: do I talk too much? Is there anything you’d like me to focus more or less on?
 
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Alter_Boy

Post Anything
Validated User
There's something about the artwork for Archons that makes me want to shout "Cobra!" and jump into a badly designed tank.
I was thinking something very similar: "Now D&D has a new Action Figure line." :p And I mean that in a good way. Demons and Devils have a great pantheon of monsters who share similar traits but have infinite permutations, like G.I.Joe or Transformers. Elementals had a bit of that in 3ed, but the act of anthropomorphizing elementals has captured my interest in them.
 

Naxuul

Emo hair power!
Validated User
Oh, one more thing: do I talk too much? Is there anything you’d like me to focus more or less on?
I like the chattyness. 4E monsters can easily have nothing to say about them, afterall most are just powers and a picture with a vague fluff paragraph, so you have to infer things about them and you're doing that well.

-Naxuul
 
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