Monsters of Numeria!
Badmudderfugger and Solomani are doing such a great job with the creatures of Iron Gods, over on DungeonMusings and Lazy Dungeon Master that there isn’t often much for me to do. They’re both pretty far ahead of me, and I know that I just use theirs without much alteration, although when I do rebuild I’m considering posting it, here, for a different perspective. Would that be useful, for anyone?
The one place I can fill in, though, is the random encounter table, and I don’t have to worry about duplicating their work, because they’re well past these bits.
In that spirit, two creatures that you might not ever see, but should be a lot of fun if you do. Who knows, they might be useful for your 5e games even if you’re not playing Iron Gods. After all, who doesn’t want to throw a giant bat-creature or a ghost made from the restless soul of an adventurer killed by a trap? (And what could be more D&D than being hunted by spirits of failed adventurers past? A truly vicious GM could literally haunt a party with their own failures…)
Sabosan communities are usually found in vast, deep caverns, and are typically brutal tribes held together by a strong leader, surviving by raiding the livestock of other underground races. On the surface, they keep to the darkest jungles, traveling in pairs and carving out their hunting territory together. That may be where sabosan are found, but they come from somewhere much more alien. The first sabosan arrived through interplanetary gates, thousands of years ago. Since then, others have been carried by crashed spaceships or released from hellish prisons onto the world. Once, however, they came from the homeworld of the thrake.
On Kasath, the dominant races are hexapodal, and the sabosan are no exception. Their second set of arms, however, has become a pair of leathery, bat-like wings. Whether this was a case of parallel evolution, and the sabosan and thrake share a common ancestor, or a case of demonic intervention, no one is sure. Even the sabosan themselves tell different stories. Some maintain that they have always had wings, while others give credit for their ascension to various demon lords. One thing is certain: where sabosan and thrake find one another, they will go to extremes to destroy one another. This hatred runs deep in their blood, and even those of each race born millions of miles from home react with revulsion when they meet.
Sabosan are night-hunters. Although they are capable of functioning during the day, they savor the terror elicited by their sudden, screeching emergence from darkness elicits. Every part of a sabosan is built for the hunt: even their echolocation ability or wings are offensive weapons to blind and deafen their prey. They subsist on the nutrients in blood, and while they can life on large animals, intelligent prey make for better sport. Sabosan rarely fight to the death, and will usually flee if reduced to less than half their hit points. They never forget a beating, however, and will stalk an enemy for years, if necessary, waiting for the right moment to strike them.
Strong and wiry, sabosan rarely stand over 6 feet tall or weigh more than 170 pounds. They are usually covered in dark red fur suitable for masking them against Kasath’s red skies and sand.
Gearghosts are cautionary tales for adventurers. When a mortal is killed by a trap, particularly one that they feel they should have been able to bypass, or one that was especially brutal, they may return to life as a gearghost, bound in undeath to the source of their regret. Jealous and malicious, gearghosts haunt dungeon complexes or similar structures, repairing, resetting and improving old traps, as well as building new ones. They can not abide other explorers defeating the trap that bested them, and will attempt to lead adventurers into ever-more-deadly traps and encounters.
Rarely do gearghosts engage opponents themselves, however. They prefer to act as guardians of trapped complexes, always eager to feed more souls to the very traps that took their own lives. A gearghost looks like a tiny cloud of mechanical parts, parts it uses to repair traps, with a metal skull hovering atop the swirling debris.
Hacking the Sabosan and the Gearghost
(Above: a picture of a sabosan riding a robotic scorpion from Wardens of the Reborn Forge, but which would be perfect for Iron Gods.) Fun fact about bats: their wings aren’t wings. Their wings are basically hands, and they don’t “fly” so much as “swim through the air.” Knowing that, it made sense to tie the sabosan to the thrake, especially in this adventure path. They’re not just some “random encounter,” they’re a hated enemy that your PCs never even knew they had, if, like me, you have a thrake or kasthan PC. (The whole “kasathans” from the planet “Kasatha” doesn’t make sense to me: we don’t call our planet “Humana.” Sometimes, major species and their worlds have different names.) Are they a different race, or are they the result of an ancient pact with a demon lord? How about Nocticula, whose favored animal is a bat, and who has bat-wings, herself? Maybe they’re just bat-people out of Mayan myth, and that’s okay, too. In Iron Gods, though, I wanted them to be bat-people from space.
The sabosan were interesting to create for a number of reasons. First, there is no “Fly” skill, so hovering works differently, which means that their “dust cloud” ability had to be rewritten. Also, the echolocation ability had to be changed. Their bite attack used to do bleed and Constitution damage, which I replaced with a hit point maximum reduction and fatigue. I wanted them to act like a vampire bat without actually being undead. That seemed like a fun twist: “this thing is killing me exactly like an undead thing, but it’s alive!”
The gearghost is a perfectly, uniquely, wonderfully D&D monster. Its entire reason for being is to reset and improve traps that your PCs thought they had bypassed or beaten. Where else in fiction or movies do traps play such a big role that they require a type of creature that fills an ecological niche? I don’t understand why there isn’t one of these in every dungeon. Evil wizards should always keep one as a pet. I bet that, properly trained, they even do windows. They don’t have to be an undead, though. It might be fun to have multiple trap-resetting creatures: a less murderous but more mischievous fey version would make sense, as would a demon of trap-setting. The gearghost could be flavored to be either of those with just a little moving around of resistances and vulnerabilities. There was no picture of a gearghost on the internet, so you’ll just have to imagine it.
If you’re looking at the gearghost and thinking: “it doesn’t do anything but reset traps, and there are only two pages of traps in the DMG,” you’re absolutely right. I recommend James Introcaso’s 20 Traps in a PDF, over on World Builder Blog. We definitely need more traps, otherwise the “dungeons” part of the game looks a little lopsided. Maybe I’ll get to some, at some point.
There we go: two very different monsters, a bit unlike anything in 5e, so far. I’d love to hear how they play at your table, and I’ll definitely share how they play at mine, when we get there.