Categories
Uncategorized

Opposites Attract

Read to the end for some fun stat blocks!

Opposites are hard; just ask Nale.

In the long running D&D webcomic, the antagonistic twin of a primary protagonist is not only committed to fighting his brother, but doing so with a team meant to mirror the good guys. “I’ve already invested a lot of time and energy into this ‘Evil Opposites’ theme, I’m not about to rock the boat now,” he asserts in one comic. But what exactly makes an opposite? “The elf dude is old and highly skilled at magic… and an apprentice would be young and barely competent!” offers Sabine, his right hand woman, “So they’re opposites!” The comic continues to play with this dichotomy throughout its run, offering various comedic “opposites” to the good guys as the Linear Guild continually replaces fallen members.

The Dungeons & Dragons cosmology is defined by its opposites, not just good and evil but, more distinctively, law and chaos. And these universe shaping forces have their own exemplars, creatures that embody the philosophies themselves, namely (checks notes) robot cubes and colorful frog monsters.

OK, don’t get me wrong, I like both modrons and slaadi, it just, feels a bit off to me that these examplars are, well, not really opposite. Modrons are lawful enough, they’re robots after all, with regular shapes; and slaadi sort of work for chaos, I guess, being based on amphibians that change so drastically throughout their lifetimes; but as exemplars, they just feel out of place. Some have tried to change the exemplars: 3rd edition all but ditched the modrons, replacing them with the ant-like formians. So, I guess that pits a sorta chaotic amphibian vs a sorta lawful eusocial insect, which I guess is more thematically opposite in a way but still leaves me underwhelmed versus archons, demons, and the like. Pathfinder, unable to use any IP monsters, replaced slaadi with serpentine, reality warping proteans, who I rather like, and work even better in my opinion in combination with slaadi as an implicit reference to the Egyptian ogdoad (a group of primordial deities of chaos and darkness with the heads of snakes and frogs) giving both a nice mythological pedigree. Pathfinder’s lawful axiomites are cool in theory, living mathematical equations; but I’m underwhelmed that they usually take the form of shiny humanoids.

I have put my mind to thinking over the years how to improve the modrons and slaadi as opposite exemplars in my own lore. The best place to start is with each’s defining qualities. So, what defines a modron, for instance? They are mathematical shapes, sort of like the characters of Flatland, with corresponding social castes, that’s pretty lawful. As mentioned about, they’re metallic, robotic even. But, perhaps most importantly, let’s be honest: they’re dice! I think that’s what makes them fun for D&D, because they are (or some of them are) representations of one of the game’s primary features. And though dice are used to create random (read, “chaotic”) results, over the long term, dice produce probability, the bounded accuracy of 5e, and thus do work as a force of ultimate law within the game of D&D and thus the D&D cosmos as well.

If dice represent the order and structure of the game (a physical exemplar of the game’s mechanics, you could say), then what represents chaos? I thought about imagination, about artwork, prose, flavor, but when I tried to settle on something physical, it became obvious: in a pen and paper game, chaos would be the pen, or rather, the ink! 1And paper? Well, paper would be neutrality, wouldn’t it? The blank slate? I don’t know where I’m going with this, but maybe the stuff for a future design.

Ink works on several levels: to start, unlike the immutable form of modrons and other constructs, ink is mutable, either shapeless or any shape. Another quality we can add to ink is color, which I think is a very chaotic quality. We have names for particular colors, but the lines between them are fuzzy and subjective, and there are theoretically infinite different colors, even if we can’t necessarily perceive the differences. Contrast metal, which is not only firm and solid, but based on atomic structure: if an atom has 79 protons then it is gold, if it has 78 then it’s platinum, there’s not some shade in between, at least without diving deep into quantum theory. Plus, we already have an established dichotomy between metals and colors in the games titular dragons, and while that divide skews good vs evil, it was, in the original tripartite alignment, lawful metallic vs chaotic chromatic dragons, so I don’t have a problem adopting the same here.

Image of spilt ink by Prawny, via Pixabay.

Ink works so well as a foil to dice, that I considered making an ink monster from scratch, but… when you get right down to it, I do like the slaadi. And also the proteans, for that matter. So, maybe I’m stretching my justification a bit now, but… doesn’t a frog look kind of like an ink blot? And aren’t strokes and scrawls sort of like snakes? What if, in my version of the D&D cosmology, ink as the ultimate form of chaos can shapeshift into many forms, but the simplest and most common forms are blots and scrawls, frogs and snakes? If nothing else, it’s a good excuse for me to use versions of both these monsters. And there’s even a sort of justification for this in the form of 4e’s Gold Slaad, a creature so washed over with chaotic energy that it becomes an ooze when bloodied:

“A golden slaad is created when a chaos storm washes across a member of its chromatic kin. The creature’s form is unstable, though. A golden slaad collapses into a viscous creature after physical wounds weaken its body.”

Mechanically, I wanted to do more with my modrons and slaadi (which I’m calling hedrons, after polyhedron; and koaxians, from the the chorus in Aristophanes’ ‘The Frogs’). I wanted the lawful exemplars to be creatures that enforce the rules and the chaotic ones to break them. Except, I can’t really break rules… all the monsters follow the rules of the game. But I wanted them to feel like they were breaking the rules. For the koaxians, then, the signature ability is Phrenetic Shapeshift, and ability that mines the abilities of another creature at random, but within the same CR and with some additional limitations for balance reasons.

As for enforcing the rules, I thought that the hedrons would try to reduce every combat to base probabilities, ignoring all the class features that are so many little breaks in the rules for fun and variety. But, such an ability would be overpowered and also not fun. So, as a more limited version of that, what if they could play with advantage and disadvantage? These, the cornerstones of 5e play in my opinion, are often a simple way of bending the rules to account for the roleplay. And they’re also really easy to counteract: one advantage will counteract disadvantage, and vice versa. So, the hedrons still act by denying these opportunities to their opponents, but hopefully in a limited enough fashion to avoid being just a frustrating monster.

Below, I’ve included a sample hedron and koaxian. Only the koaxian has been playtested so far (and I hope to write about that a little more soon) but hedrons should be on the playtest docket in the next few weeks. These, and many others, are also available in the Khyberia SRD, and will be featured in an upcoming adventure!

Hedron: Cudrone

These winged, cube shaped constructs are the rank and file of hedron armies, serving as both ranged and melee infantry as the situation arises. Their blocky forms bely their agility in combat, and they can deliver a powerful sneak attack to a distracted opponent. In combat, they usually try to carry out flanking maneuvers. Even among hedrons, cudrones are noted for their square personalities, though one might rarely encounter a wry, self-depricating sense of humor underneath all the right angles.

CUDRONE

Medium Construct, Lawful Neutral
Armor Class 16 (natural armor)
Hit Points 22 (4d8 + 4)
Speed 30 ft., fly 30 ft.
STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
12 (+1) 14 (+2) 12 (+1) 10 (+0) 10 (+0) 10 (+0)
Skills Perception +2
Senses truesight 120 ft., passive Perception 12
Languages Binary, Common
Challenge 1 (200 XP)

Unquestioning Servant. Cudrones are unassailable servants of the cosmic order, and are immune to any mind-affecting magic inasmuch as it would prevent them from following their programmed orders.
Sneak Attack (1/Turn). The cudrone deals an extra 3 (1d6) damage when it hits a target with a shortsword attack and has advantage on the attack roll, or when the target is within 5 feet of an ally of the cudrone that isn’t incapacitated and the cudrone doesn’t have disadvantage on the attack roll.

ACTIONS

Multiattack. The cudrone makes two shortsword attacks or four shortbow attacks.
Shortsword. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d6 + 2) piercing damage.
Shortbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, range 80/320 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d6 + 2) piercing damage.

BONUS ACTIONS

Clockwork Stabilizers. As a bonus action, when the hedron to has disadvantage on an attack roll, saving throw, or ability check, the hedron reveals tiny clockwork apparati from hidden compartments that aid it in the given situation. The hedron gains advantage on the roll in question, effectively canceling out the disadvantage.

REACTIONS

Clockwork Destabilizers. When another creature has advantage on an attack roll against the hedron or on an ability check contested against the hedron, tiny clockwork apparati emerge from hidden compartments on the hedron that distract and hinder the creature. The creature suffers disadvantage on the roll in question, effectively canceling out the advantage.

Koaxian: Magenta B’lot

Magentos b’loti have a color like the vivid pink of a tropical flower. Raging warriors, they enjoy standing out, and can target other creatures with a telepathic psychic scream that hinders it from focusing on anything other than the b’lot itself.

MAGENTOS B’LOT

Large Aberration (Shapechanger), Chaotic Neutral
Armor Class 14 (natural armor)
Hit Points 93 (11d10 + 33)
Speed 30 ft.
STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
17 (+3) 13 (+1) 16 (+3) 7 (-2) 7 (-2) 7 (-2)
Skills Perception +1
Damage Resistances fire, lightning
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 11
Languages Common, Primordial, telepathy 60 ft.
Challenge 5 (1,800 XP)

Amorphous. The b’lot can move through a space as narrow as 1 inch wide without squeezing.
Magic Resistance. The b’lot has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.
Phrenetic Shapeshift. As a bonus action on its turn, the b’lot partially alters its form to resemble a random creature. Randomly choose a creature of the same CR as the b’lot; until the end of the b’lot’s next
turn, it gains all the actions and reactions of the selected creature, except for actions with a recharge or legendary actions. When the b’lot uses its
phrenetic shapeshift, it also loses any actions it previously gained with this ability from another creature.
Regeneration. The b’lot regains 10 hit points at thevstart of its turn if it has at least 1 hit point.

ACTIONS

Multiattack. The b’lot makes three claw attacks.
Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d6 + 3) slashing damage plus 2 (1d4) fire or lightning damage, with the damage type chosen by the b’lot.
Psychic Scream (Recharge 5–6). The b’lot targets one creature it can see within 30 ft. The target must make a DC 14 Wisdom saving throw or take 6 (1d12) psychic damage. In addition, on a failed save, the target suffers disadvantage on checks to maintain concentration from this damage, and suffers disadvantage on attack rolls against creatures other
than the b’lot until the start of the b’lot’s next turn.

This work includes material taken from the Khyberia SRD by Nick Stefanski, available at www.khyberia.com. The Khyberia SRD is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License available at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: