One of the joys of a monster design contest for me is always seeing monsters at the low end of the CR spectrum. It is much easier to design a monster at a medium-to-high power level, because you have more options: the creature can have more powers, more magical fallbacks, and elements that only a medium-or-high level-party can handle. So, I want to shine a bit of the judge’s spotlight on two low-Challenge Rating creatures from the recent Monarch of the Monsters contest that I found entertaining and rated higher than average.
The first of these is the cobbleswarm (by Christopher Gilliford), a CR 2 creature that draws on longstanding D&D tradition by resembling a cobbled street or floor. Be still my heart, someone is attempting a monster in the style of the lurker, the trapper, and the mimic! And yes, this swarm of stony crabs is hard to spot, and it somewhat resembles a street—and it knocks creatures prone and it can carry creatures short distances as one of its powers. This has possibilities, to my mind, because it is not lethal, but it is perfect for splitting the party. A nice twist for a creature that otherwise is not a deadly threat after the first couple levels of play. Add in some High Weirdness in the description to your players (“The street below you opens its eyes—dozens of eyes—and begins to move”) and a rudimentary understanding of traps, and you see how this truly odd creature might fit into a dungeon ecology. It’s one of those things that strikes me as quintessentially D&D-ish.
It is very much a niche monster and an oddball, but sometimes those are perfectly entertaining. And certainly what I’m looking for is entertainment from monsters like this!
By Christopher Gilliford
Medium swarm of tiny monstrosities, unaligned
Armor Class: 15 (natural armor)
Hit Points: 36 (8d8)
Speed: 30 ft
STR: 12 (+1)
DEX: 11 (+0)
CON: 11 (+0)
INT: 5 (-3)
WIS: 12 (+1)
Damage Resistances: Bludgeoning, piercing, slashing
Condition Immunities: Charmed, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, prone, restrained, stunned
Senses: Passive Perception 11
False Appearance. While the swarm remains motionless, it is indistinguishable from normal stones.
Shifting floor. Whenever the swarm moves into a creature’s space or begins its turn occupying a creatures space, that creature must make a DC 13 Dexterity saving throw or fall prone. While prone in a space occupied by the swarm, standing up requires a DC 13 Acrobatics Check.
Swarm. The swarm can occupy another creature’s space and vice versa, and the swarm can move through any opening large enough for a Tiny Stone. The swarm can’t regain hit points or gain temporary hit points.
Stings. Melee Weapon Attack +3 to hit, reach 0 ft, one target in the swarm’s space. Hit: 10 (4d4) piercing damage or 5 (2d4) piercing damage if the swarm has half its hit points or fewer.
Shift and tumble. As a bonus action, the Cobbleswarm can convey a prone creature whose space it occupies to an adjacent space.
A Cobbleswarm is made up of tiny crab-like creatures with smooth, stony shells. The creatures, often called cobbles individually, vary in size, shape, and color, but they all have six segmented legs, a whip-like stinger, and a single eye. When the eye is closed and the limbs are pulled under the shell, cobbles are nearly indistinguishable from the floor stones of a dungeon, or the cobblestones of a shadowy side street. Victims of cobbleswarms are usually caught unawares as the floor beneath them suddenly begins to writhe and shift, and dozens of eyes appear out of nowhere.
Trap affinity. Cobbleswarms seem to have a rudimentary understanding of traps, and often hide close enough to use their shift and tumble ability to slide adventurers into pits or across trapped spaces.
The second is the fraugashar (by Matthew Eyman), a CR 1/2 creature. That alone made me pay attention, because it’s difficult to do very much beyond goblin or ratlike design at CR 1/2. You need a decent story hook, some good flavor, something to make a DM say, “That’s what I want players to encounter early in the campaign!” And the fraugashar have that, at least for monsters in the cold monsters. The design isn’t great (their attacks are just as boring as you would expect), but the flavor is good. They capture foes and push enemies off cliffs, they love riding winter wolves and throwing people into frozen rivers.
And that’s where it clicks nicely with the Frost Walker power; the fraugashar are unimpeded by icy or rocky terrain and they never slip on ice. Suddenly, the encounters write themselves, with these small fey using terrain to hinder foes and shove much larger humans around, drifting toward a frozen river.
Not a perfect design, but there’s just enough there to make a low CR creature stand out. And really, that’s all I want from a creature aimed at starting characters: enough to worry them, to put a spin on combat, without crushing everyone. Both of these do that with movement powers, which have the potential to move a hero into great danger (but usually don’t if that hero has friends handy with a rope or 10-ft. pole!).
Well done to everyone who entered the contest, whatever the CR. You made judging this contest a blast!
The fraughashar are a race of cruel, short, and tricky fey who inhabit cold mountainous regions. Fraughashar are known for having light blue skin, short pointed ears, sharp needle-like teeth, and always seeming to have a devilish smile on their faces. They often dress themselves in tanned hides and animal skins. They are usually armed with a big wooden shield and a small axe or sling. The fraughashar are often found near cold rivers or river gorges; they view these as sacred places in which their evil god Fraugh dwells. Fraughshar are very protective of their lands, they will often kill and capture any unfortunate person who wanders into their territory. When in battle, fraughashar often take advantage of their greater mobility in rough and icy terrain to lead their opponents into traps and push them off cliffs into the cold, fast, and rocky rivers below. Opponents the fraughashar capture alive are often tied on a pole with their hands behind their back, stripped naked, and left face down on the snow or ice for long periods of time. After a certain amount of time passes (usually before their captives freeze to death) the fraugshar will throw their captives into the freezing cold river as a sacrifice to their cruel god. The fraughashar are also known to occasionally capture and ride Winter Wolves into combat; they are the mount of choice for powerful fraughashar chieftens.
The origin of the strange and deadly fraughashar is unclear. Some druidic legends claim the fraughashar were born out of a winter so cold and cruel that the spirits of the river itself froze. They say that when the river spirits finally did thaw, they emerged as the fraughashar. Bardic tales claim that the fraughashar are actually a corrupted tribe of goblins, and that they were permanently transformed and disfigured during a botched attempt at summoning an ice devil. The bard tales claim that the fraughashars’ sacrifices to the river are attempts to give souls to the ice devil so it will restore their true form. Whatever the case one thing is certain: the fraughashar are a cruel and merciless race that will kill and sacrifice anyone who comes near their lands.
By Matthew Eyman
Small Fey, neutral evil
Armor Class 15 (leather armor, shield)
Hit Points 4d6+4 (18)
Speed 25 ft.
STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
8 (-1) 14 (+2) 12 (+1) 10 (+0) 11 (+0) 7 (- 2)
Skills Stealth +4
Damage Resistances: Cold
Senses passive Perception 10
Languages – Sylvan
Challenge 1/2 (50 XP)
Frost Walker: Fraughashar are unimpeded by rocky and/or icy terrain and move at their normal speed when traveling through such terrain. When moving onto slippery ice, fraughshar do not need to make a Dexterity check to avoid falling prone.
Multiattack. The fraughashar makes two attacks: one with its bite, the other with its handaxe.
Bite. Melee weapon attack: +1 to hit, reach 5ft, one target. Hit: 1 (1d4-1) piercing damage.
Handaxe. Melee weapon attack: +4 to hit, reach 5ft, one target. Hit: 5 (1d6+2) slashing damage.
Sling. Ranged weapon attack: +4 to hit, range 30/120, one target. Hit: 4 (1d4+2) bludgeoning damage
2 thoughts on “Judge’s Commentary: Monarch of the Monsters 5—Low CR Design”
These both look like a lot of potential fun. The fraugashar fit nicely into a Northlands niche that isn’t filled with much other than cold-flavored versions of common creatures, and the cobbleswarm definitely evokes some of my favorite D&D illustrations from 5th grade, which is a great thing! I can easily see these things quietly creeping down a passage in the Cartways. Maybe give them a way around darkvision?
Great stuff, folks! Keep it up!
I can definitely see adding cobbles to the Manor in Phandalin. Thanks for two fun posts!