Alright, I would have had this ready sooner were I not such an upstanding citizen of the Procrasti Nation. :D“They’re baaaaack...!”
-Anon“The Maidentaker”: Death Beast Stalker
I first came up with this monster back in the 3rd edition Master DM Competition #7
(the forerunners to the current XDMCs). That was about five years ago, and updating the stats to 4th edition has been... interesting. Enjoy!Setup
A series of kidnappings have been happening in the area. The only details known are that they have only been of young women, have always occurred at night, and have been perpetrated by a creature of incredible strength and speed. Now townsfolk are afraid for their daughters, and are looking for some heroes to stop the attacks and rescue the victims.
Additional information the PCs may be able to pick up is that the attacks almost seem targeted, and that whatever is doing this knows ahead of time where to go to find their victims. A successful Streetwise check (DC 20) would result in some of the villagers recalling a handsome traveling minstrel named Jean Brassard (pronounced John Brayso) passing through the area, wooing some of the same women who have since disappeared. If the Streetwise check is especially successful (DC 24) it would will reveal from one of the girls that Jean did mention that they should “go far away with him” and that he might “whisk them away in the night”. These seemingly harmless quips have taken on a sinister edge to the nervous girls, who are worried they might be next.
A History check (DC 28) would recall that the term “maiden taker” was an alternative name for a monster more commonly called a death beast, a fast, deadly creatures bred for war, thought to have disappeared long ago.Encounter 1: Things That Go Bump In The Night
(level 7 skill challenge; 900 XP)
There are several ways the PCs could arrive at this encounter; first, they could be trying to track down Jean Brassard, arriving in a town he has recently visited. Second, they could stake out where they suspect the next attack to be. And third, the monster just happens to come to the town the PCs are staying at.
The encounter begins with a woman’s scream piercing the night, rousing the townsfolk in a clamor. Should the PCs rush to the scene, read aloud or paraphrase the following:”With the crash of timbers and broken glass, a large shape bursts from inside the house. In its clawed hand it clutches the unconscious body of a young woman. The creature is a powerfully built biped, with almost draconic-looking features, though to compare it to a dragonborn would compare a human to an ogre. It gazes through a contraption on its head that resembles a set of horses’ blinders, and its faintly glowing red eyes belie an awareness more than that of a mere beast. With a few powerful strides, the creature takes off for the woods with a speed as fast as a horse.”
The monster isn’t interested in a fight at this time, and is easily faster than the PCs. A skill challenge involving Perception (to find tracks) and Athletics (to keep up the pace) checks resolves the chase sequence. Should the PCs make 8 successful checks against DC 15 before accumulating 4 failed checks, they manage to catch up to the monster as it pauses at a drop-off point. Characters without a light source or low-light vision (or darkvision) take a -2 penalty on their checks due to nighttime darkness.Encounter 2: Ill Met By Moonlight
(level 8 combat encounter; 1,600 XP)
Should the PCs successfully keep up with the monster, they will come upon a clearing where they find the monster handing over the unconscious body of the girl to a group of figures in robes. The hooded figures then load the body into the back of a wagon and prepare to leave. When confronted, one of the robed figures yells “You idiot! You were followed! Get them!” and orders the monster to attack.
The attacking group consists of the monster from before (an enslaved death beast stalker), four guards in headpieces similar to that on the death beast (enslaved human lackeys), and two of the hooded figures (arcane slavers), with the rest escaping on the wagon with the girl. The attacking group seeks to buy time for the rest to escape, and engage in a fighting withdraw. The stats for the human lackeys can be found in the Monster Manual, page 162. The stats for the death beast stalker and arcane slavers are presented below.Death Beast StalkerLevel 12 Skirmisher
Large natural humanoidXP
Perception +13; darkvisionHP
10 variable (2/ encounter; see MM glossary)Speed
10, climb 5; see also preternatural speedClaw
Reach 2; +17 vs. AC; 2d6 +7 damage.Ambidexterity
The death beast makes two claw attacks.Full Attack
Reach 2; +12 vs. AC; 2d6 +7 damage.Breath Weapon
(standard; recharge 6) [lightning]
Burst 2 within 10; +15 vs. Reflex; 4d8 +6 lightning damage. Miss:
half damage.Five-foot Step
The death beast shifts 1 square.Damage Reduction
(free, when first bloodied; encounter) [healing]
The death beast spends a healing surge and regains 31 hit points.Preternatural Speed
A death beast doesn’t take a penalty to melee attack rolls after using the run action.Alignment
Athletics +18, Stealth +16Str
25 (+13) Con
23 (+12) Dex
14 (+8) Wis
14 (+8) Cha
16 (+9)Death Beast Stalker Tactics
Death beast stalkers begin battle by closing to melee as quickly as possible, taking advantage of their preternatural speed
to run before making a charge. They prefer to strike the flanks and rear of groups, and are willing to risk one or two opportunity attacks to engage “back row” enemies like spellcasters and ranged weapon users. They primarily use their ambidexterity
, full attack
and five-foot step
abilities, varying the order depending on the situation. Should a group of enemies be clustered close enough, the death beast stalker unleashes its breath weapon
Although it doesn’t speak, a death beast stalker understands common, and can convey simple ideas with hisses, snarls, and gestures.Arcane SlaverLevel 7 Artillery
Medium natural humanoid, humanXP
(standard; at-will) [weapon]
+7 vs. AC; 1d8 damage.Magic Missile
(standard; at-will) [force]
Ranged 20; +10 vs. Reflex; 2d4 +4 force damage.Slavish Devotion
Close burst 10; one enslaved allied creature within the burst receives a +2 power bonus to their next attack roll or a +2 power bonus to all defenses against the next attack that targets them. This bonus ends if not used by the end of the slaver’s next turn.Debilitating Ray
Ranged 10; +10 vs. Fortitude; the target is stunned (save ends). Aftereffect:
the target is dazed (save ends). Miss:
the target is dazed until the start of the arcane slaver’s next turn.Alignment
10 (+3) Con
12 (+4) Dex
19 (+7) Wis
15 (+5) Cha
12 (+4)Arcane Slaver Tactics
Arcane slavers prefer to send their slaves into battle first, using their arcane abilities to pelt the foe from afar. Should they run out of slaves, they are not adverse to running away.Encounter Tactics
The death beast is several higher levels over the PCs’ expected level, almost equivalent to an elite monster. Fortunately, the slavers are more concerned with escape than attack, limiting the aggressiveness of the death beast. In addition, the death beast will never use its breath weapon attack. The death beast takes up a second line position behind the enslaved lackeys, intercepting anyone who tries to engage the slavers, and the slavers are more than willing to sacrifice the lackeys first. Should the death beast take enough damage to trigger its damage reduction
ability, one of the slavers will shout something to the effect of “too important to die” and the death beast will withdraw. If the slavers are defeated, the lackeys and the death beast will retreat. Should the PCs be defeated, the death beast is still in “non-lethal mode” from grabbing the girl, and will knock the PCs unconscious rather than try to kill them (see page 295 of the Player’s Handbook for details). If all the PCs are knocked out, the slavers will make good their escape.
During the battle, the PCs might notice that the death beast or the lackeys aren’t entirely in control of their actions, most notably if both slavers are threatened at the same time- if they both have called out “beast! protect me!” the death beast will appear to be at a loss (treat as dazed) as to how to do two things at the same time. An Insight check (DC 24) will deduce that the death beast is under some sort of mental control from the device on its head.Picking Up The Trail
Whether because of the time bought from the combat, or as consequence of failing the skill challenge, the PCs are left in an empty clearing and their adversaries on the run. They still have several options; they could go back and try to track down Jean Brassard again, to see if he is involved. If they left one of the slavers alive, they could interrogate him for information. Or, they could try to track the wagon and/or the death beast.
Should the PCs go after Jean, they should be allowed to catch up rather quickly. They could either confront him while he is in town, or catch him in a compromising position as he meets with a slaver outside of town. Either way, he gives up without a fight. He admits to helping the slavers, but he doesn’t know why they are so interested in young women, nor does he have any idea what the monster is. He does, however, know the location of his contact.
If the PCs manage to capture one of the slavers alive, a bit of coercion will divulge that the group specializes in magical control of persons and creatures, as is the function of the headpieces. The low-ranking slaver the PCs have captured doesn’t know why there has been a switch to young women, only that it may have something to do with the death beast itself. A genuine display of leniency would convince the captured slaver to give the location of their immediate superior.
Tracking the escaped wagon or the retreating death beast is difficult, but not impossible. The wagon quickly takes to the main road, where any trail would be obscured by those of normal traffic. A Perception check (DC 20) would allow the PCs to at least know which direction on the road the wagon went. After several miles, a second Perception check (DC 15) will notice a spot where a wagon has pulled off the road recently, heading off on a trail into the woods.Optional Encounter: Things That Bump Back
(level 7 non-combat encounter, 1,200 XP)
Whether through questioning Jean Brassard or a captured slaver, the PCs have been directed to Matthew Dawson, one of the lieutenants of the arcane slavers. Matthew lives in a small tower in the wilderness, under the guise of a secluded wizard. He is protected by the locked doors of the tower, and magical traps. A skill challenge involving Thievery (to pick locks) or Strength (to force open doors) resolves breaking in. Should the PCs make 6 successful checks against DC 20 before accumulating 3 failures, they make it to his private chambers. Failure means that Matthew has become aware of the PCs’ presence and fled through a secret passage. There is one catch- two of the doors are protected by glyphs of warding
, designed with the thunder damage and dazed effect. See page 90 in the Dungeon Master’s Guide for the stats of a glyph of warding
If the PCs manage to get to Matthew, direct evidence (such as bringing Jean or a captured slaver along) of his connection or a successful Intimidate check (DC 25) gets him to confess. He bemoans the recent change in tactics of the slavers, as he and several other high-ranking members thought it would bring the kind of attention the PCs represent. The situation has only served to exacerbate the split in the leadership, arguing over what should be enslaved and to what purpose. However, the might of the death beast is a source of envy amongst the slavers, and many seek its command. Command over the creature is Matthew’s biggest bargaining chip- if the PCs make a deal, he will provide them with his slaver’s control medallion and a “safe word” that is intended to be used if one of the slavers attempts to turn the death beast against another.Encounter 3: The Bigger They Are... The Bigger They Are.
(level 9 combat encounter; 2,000 XP)
The following is a sample boss fight with Torben Neilson, the head of the arcane slavers. Either by getting the location from Matthew Dawson, or following the retreating slavers, the PCs have managed to find the arcane slavers’ base of operations. Whether the PCs have to overcome additional fights with the arcane slavers before facing Torben is up to the DM. Generally, one or two arcane slavers and a few enslaved humanoids or beasts would be appropriate encounter(s).
The boss fight consists of Torben Neilson himself, his two pet enslaved hell hounds, the enslaved death beast stalker, and four guards similar to those encountered before (enslaved human lackeys). The stats for the hell hounds can be found on page 160 of the Monster Manual. Torben’s stats are presented below.Torben Neilson, Arcane Slaver MagusLevel 9 Controller
Medium natural humanoid, humanXP
(standard; at-will) [weapon]
+9 vs. AC; 1d8 damage.Ray of Capture
Ranged 10; +12 vs. Reflex; 1d8 +5 damage and the target is slowed (save ends).Arcane Snare
(standard; recharge 3, 4, 5, 6)
Ranged 10; +12 vs. Reflex; 1d8 +3 damage and the target is pulled 3 squares.Slavish Devotion
Close burst 10; one enslaved allied creature within the burst receives a +2 power bonus to their next attack roll or a +2 power bonus to all defenses against the next attack that targets them. This bonus ends if not used by the end of the Torben’s next turn.Castling
Ranged 5; Torben switches places with an allied enslaved creature.Alignment
11 (+4) Con
12 (+5) Dex
20 (+9) Wis
16 (+7) Cha
13 (+5)Encounter Tactics
Torben sends the hell hounds and death beast in first, staying behind them and with the lackeys off to the sidelines so as to block encircling moves as well as be a viable target for his castling
power. Torben will start off using his arcane snare
attack to pull unengaged PCs near the death beast, changing to his ray of capture
attack if a PC tries to work the flanks. If Torben still manages to get engaged, he will first use his castling
ability on an unengaged ally. If engaged a second time he will order one of the front row attackers to come back, preferably into a flanking position, and use his slavish devotion
ability. As in encounter 2, neither the death beast nor the hell hounds will use their breath weapon or fiery breath attack, respectively. But unlike in encounter 2, the death beast is in full lethal mode, and will try to kill the PCs with its attacks.Dealing With The Beast
If the PCs completed the optional encounter, presenting Matthew’s amulet and speaking the safe word causes the death beast to take no action (but still defend itself) for the duration of the encounter. The safe word is particular to the death beast, other safe words that Matthew didn’t mention (or know of) would be needed for the hell hounds and lackeys. What Matthew also doesn’t know is that Torben has an override to the safe word, that while not perfect, still allows a modicum of action- with a standard action, Torben can command the death beast as though it were dominated (see page 277 in the Player’s Handbook for additional information).
Additionally, the death beast’s enslavement device isn’t failsafe. The first time the death beast becomes bloodied will trigger its damage reduction
ability as normal. However, should it become bloodied a second time, things start going wrong. Sparks and static leap from the device, and the death beast is stunned (save ends). And once the death beast makes its save things start going very wrong- it tears the device from its head, and suddenly turns upon Torben and his remaining slaves.Epilogue: Its Never Over When You Think...
Once Torben is defeated, there are still a few loose ends. In the depths of the arcane slavers’ base, the PCs will find a cavern that has been overgrown with charcoal-black vines. These vines seem particularly drawn to mineral deposits, groundwater, and the thermal draft of a small fissure in the caverns. An Arcana check (DC 20) will correlate this to examples of the “classical” elemental energies- earth, water, wind, and fire. Nearer to the middle of the expanse, the PCs will come across clusters of growth along the walls. Within these vine clusters are the kidnapped women- unconscious but alive, though showing symptoms of a drain on their life force. At the center of the expanse, a similar, though much larger cluster rises from the ground, the vague outline of a death beast visible within.
The formerly enslaved death beast is very protective of what is in the cavern, an will contest any attempt to damage or disrupt the vines or free the women from their alcoves. It will have followed the PCs in, though at a distance, and first warn with an audible hiss, escalating to pushing the PCs away, and finally striking them with its claws. Even in its wounded state it will fight, but stops if the PCs back off. Once the second death beast hatches in a few days, the first will cease its protests, even going as far as cutting the women free and letting them go. Afterwards the beasts will generally keep to themselves, hunting local game creatures but otherwise keeping a low profile.
There is still the question of how Torben came to learn the ritual to make death beasts, as well as what to do with Torben’s ritual book, which also details how to make the enslaving contraptions the arcane slavers use. There could be more copies out there, and people ruthless enough to use them.Appendix
Monster Design Explanations:
Death Beast Stalker: taking terms from 3rd edition an applying them to the death beast’s abilities was a lot of fun, and give it a unique fighting style in 4th. Its attribute scores are a direct copy, and I was surprised how close its attack bonuses and defenses are to its previous stats- even its hit points are fairly close. Its Will save being the exception, as there’s no longer such a thing as a “weak defense” in 4th. Its variable energy resistance covers that it used to resist almost every kind of energy in 3rd, and its damage reduction
ability represents an accumulation of attacks over the course of the fight that have done less damage.
Arcane Slaver: pretty simple- increase the level of a human mage to 7, and tweak its powers to have effects that would be useful in taking prisoners. The slavish devotion
power is more or less “aid another” with a range.
Torben Neilson: starting with an arcane slaver, changed role to controller, upped the level to 9, and changed powers to emphasize status effects instead of damage. The castling power was a clever way of giving him a flavorful shift ability.
“Enslaved” would probably be a condition or a template, similar to dominated, but without leaving the creature dazed. As mentioned in the entry, similar to dominated creatures, enslaved creatures will not use encounter or recharge powers.
The details of death beast creation involve starting with a “root bulb” from which the charcoal-black vines grow in search of suitable mineral deposits, water sources, air currents, and warmth. Once the vines have found sufficient resources, alcove clusters form. Torben’s notes contain reference to “suitable hosts”, and as it currently stands, this means young adult women. The alcoves will keep them alive but unconscious, in order to fulfill their purpose of draining away their healing surges. The enforced extended rest of the process makes it perpetual, draining away at the same rate they recover, and the more healing surges the victims possess, the faster the death beast grows. After a period of months, to weeks if sufficient energy is available, the death beast emerges fully developed and able. If left alone, the process will continue, spawning death beasts one after another.Death Beast Lore
As creatures new to this era, little would be known about death beasts. Should they become more established, the following information would be known with a successful Monster Knowledge (Nature) check:
DC 20: Death beasts tear into opponents with their clawed hands and incredible speed. They occasionally wield a breath weapon, and can take a surprising amount of punishment.
DC 25: Death beasts were originally bred for for an ancient mortal war, though they are more made than born. They grow from an accumulation of elemental energy and leeched vitality taken from people.Thematic Elements
1. At least one confrontation is a non-combat skill challenge that uses no Charisma-based skills as primary skills.
2. Fulfilling a minor quest (described in the entry) could cause the villain to become neutral to, or allied with, the adventurers.
9. The villain serves multiple masters with contradictory motivations.
10. When first encountered, the villain appears to be the main antagonist, but isn’t.
That's Someone, with a capital S.
"Cat's out of the bag on that one, isn't it? Who puts cats in bags, anyway? Cats hate bags." -Sheogorath, Oblivion