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D&D 5E Epic Monsters: Catoblepas

Today’s entry in Epic Monsters has a bit of history with it, and some of the OSR gamers in the crowd may already know about the confusing relationship that D&D has with the catoblepas!

Catoblepas DnD 5e BANNER.jpg


Coming to us from the continent of Africa, this oxen has a fearsome mane (which is here, curiously, not depicted as terribly fearsome) and just loves munching on poisonous herbs—enough of them that it can breathe toxic gas! It’s also known to pop up on its hind legs and splay out its mane, scaring whatever so offended it before the poison breath is unleashed to mute and blind its foes. If you are like, “wait a minute there Mike, this sounds like a gorgon,” you’re kind of right! The catoblepas is also referred to as a gorgon in the 400 year old book The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents, which is probably where the confusion that led to the modern steely incarnation in 5E began. Its first appearance in D&D was in the 1976 TSR magazine The Strategic Review #7 followed the next year with full statistics in the AD&D 1E Monster Manual where it rocks a big whipping tail that stuns and a death stare (which offers no saving throw to resist, but its crazy long neck has a low chance of rising high enough to use the gaze so it's not necessarily TPK-ing all the time).

Design Notes: We will not be employing an instant death stare here. Starting with an oxen, this statblock has gotten spruced up with a terrifying bonus action (that mane!) and of course a “historical” poison breath. Let’s do the numbers! The DMG landed at 2.22, the Blog of Holding an even 3, and that averages out to a confident CR 2—which should make for a great surprise encounter!

Catoblepas

Large beast, unaligned
Armor Class 10
Hit Points 37 (5d10+10)
Speed 35 ft.
STR
DEX
CON
INT
WIS
CHA
18 (+4)​
13 (+1)​
15 (+2)​
2 (–4)​
13 (+1)​
4 (–3)​
Skills Perception +3
Damage Immunities poison
Condition Immunities poisoned
Senses passive Perception 13
Languages
Challenge 2 (450 XP)

Charge. If the catoblepas moves at least 20 feet straight toward a target and then hits it with a gore attack on the same turn, the target takes an extra 7 (2d6) piercing damage.

Prodigious. The catoblepas counts as Huge-sized when determining its carrying capacity.

Startling Rear. The catoblepas can use a bonus action to rear up in a manner that terrifies its foes. Each creature in a 30-foot cone must succeed on a DC 14 Wisdom saving throw or drop whatever it is holding and become frightened for 1 minute. At the end of each of its turns, a frightened creature can repeat the saving throw, ending the effect on itself on a success. If a creature's saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the creature is immune to the catoblepas’ Startling Rear for the next 24 hours.


ACTIONS
Gore. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d6+4) piercing damage.

Poison Breath (Recharge 5–6). The catoblepas exhales poisonous gas in a 30-foot cone. Each creature in that area must make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw, taking 21 (6d6) poison damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. A creature that fails its save by 5 or more is poisoned for 1 minute. While poisoned, the creature is blinded and unable to speak. At the end of each of its turns, the poisoned creature can repeat the saving throw, ending the effect on itself on a success.
 

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Mike Myler

Mike Myler



Mike Myler

www.levelup5e.com --> project launches in October!
A bit more historically accurate than the one in Volo's
One wonders why the death stare stuff is in there but not the stunning tail.
Would this not be a monstrosity rather than beast? Being a beast opens it up to wild shape and polymorph and I can't really think of any beasts that are immune to poison and sport a breath weapon.
I'd let a druid use this. The poison breath is cool but the earliest you can wild shape into this is at 6th level right? There are better damage output options among CR 2 beasts (although this is definitely an interesting one I'd have in my druid's pocket).
 


Norton

Explorer
I thought for sure Startling Rear would mean it can also fire poison "breath" from the other end as a second attack. Or would that be Fearsome Flatulence?

I've run the 5E version of these recently—just had them grazing around some bullywugs—and their death stare took everyone by surprise. They started out thinking "stupid cow" and ended up making death saves.
 

dalisprime

Explorer
One wonders why the death stare stuff is in there but not the stunning tail.

I'd let a druid use this. The poison breath is cool but the earliest you can wild shape into this is at 6th level right? There are better damage output options among CR 2 beasts (although this is definitely an interesting one I'd have in my druid's pocket).
Better damage options perhaps, but neither land nor moon druid gets access to poison immunity until level 10 (Nature's Ward and Elemental shape respectively).
 

Mike Myler

www.levelup5e.com --> project launches in October!
Better damage options perhaps, but neither land nor moon druid gets access to poison immunity until level 10 (Nature's Ward and Elemental shape respectively).
Indeed.
Wizard: "We can't get into this dungeon until some eats this poisonous root."

The druid looks up from the bush they were rummaging through, eyes alight.

Their time to shine has finally come.
 



ColonelHardisson

What? Me Worry?
This is a good alternative to the official one, especially if I want to run a low-level game.

I'm wondering if you've considered doing a more true-to-the-source-marerial version of the basilisk? As in, the little winged lizard that is so poisonous in nature it can kill everything downwind or downstream of it.
 

Mike Myler

www.levelup5e.com --> project launches in October!
This is a good alternative to the official one, especially if I want to run a low-level game.

I'm wondering if you've considered doing a more true-to-the-source-marerial version of the basilisk? As in, the little winged lizard that is so poisonous in nature it can kill everything downwind or downstream of it.
Hmmm. Got a source or two on that?
 

dalisprime

Explorer
Hmmm. Got a source or two on that?
Check the wikipedia entry on it:
"There is the same power [as catoblepas] also in the serpent called the basilisk. It is produced in the province of Cyrene, being not more than twelve fingers in length. It has a white spot on the head, strongly resembling a sort of a diadem. When it hisses, all the other serpents fly from it: and it does not advance its body, like the others, by a succession of folds, but moves along upright and erect upon the middle. It destroys all shrubs, not only by its contact, but those even that it has breathed upon; it burns up all the grass, too, and breaks the stones, so tremendous is its noxious influence. It was formerly a general belief that if a man on horseback killed one of these animals with a spear, the poison would run up the weapon and kill, not only the rider, but the horse, as well. To this dreadful monster the effluvium of the weasel is fatal, a thing that has been tried with success, for kings have often desired to see its body when killed; so true is it that it has pleased Nature that there should be nothing without its antidote. The animal is thrown into the hole of the basilisk, which is easily known from the soil around it being infected. The weasel destroys the basilisk by its odour, but dies itself in this struggle of nature against its own self."
From Pliny the Elder
 

Mike Myler

www.levelup5e.com --> project launches in October!
Check the wikipedia entry on it:
"There is the same power [as catoblepas] also in the serpent called the basilisk. It is produced in the province of Cyrene, being not more than twelve fingers in length. It has a white spot on the head, strongly resembling a sort of a diadem. When it hisses, all the other serpents fly from it: and it does not advance its body, like the others, by a succession of folds, but moves along upright and erect upon the middle. It destroys all shrubs, not only by its contact, but those even that it has breathed upon; it burns up all the grass, too, and breaks the stones, so tremendous is its noxious influence. It was formerly a general belief that if a man on horseback killed one of these animals with a spear, the poison would run up the weapon and kill, not only the rider, but the horse, as well. To this dreadful monster the effluvium of the weasel is fatal, a thing that has been tried with success, for kings have often desired to see its body when killed; so true is it that it has pleased Nature that there should be nothing without its antidote. The animal is thrown into the hole of the basilisk, which is easily known from the soil around it being infected. The weasel destroys the basilisk by its odour, but dies itself in this struggle of nature against its own self."
From Pliny the Elder
Aye I punched up the Wikipedia page but didn't spot anything about wings. Keen on knowing where @ColonelHardisson is reading about such things.
 



ColonelHardisson

What? Me Worry?
Aye I punched up the Wikipedia page but didn't spot anything about wings. Keen on knowing where @ColonelHardisson is reading about such things.
Sorry I'm so late in replying.

Mostly it has to do with medieval depictions that seem to indicate the basilisk and cockatrice are essentially the same creature. Probably the most vivid depiction that leaped to mind is the basilisk from Petersen's Field Guide to Creatures of the Dreamlands from 1989. The pic there depicts it as both reptilian and vaguely like a rooster.

I know I've seen depictions of the basilisk as a small winged lizard, but I can't seem to locate WHERE I've seen them. So, my apologies for not being able to provide references. I know that as far back as when I got into D&D, circa 1978-79 when I first saw the Monster Manual, I recall thinking the basilisk was poisonous rather than capable of petrifying as shown in the book. Why I thought that, I'm not sure. I'll beg off here and chalk it up to me being wrong.
 

Mike Myler

www.levelup5e.com --> project launches in October!
Sorry I'm so late in replying.

Mostly it has to do with medieval depictions that seem to indicate the basilisk and cockatrice are essentially the same creature. Probably the most vivid depiction that leaped to mind is the basilisk from Petersen's Field Guide to Creatures of the Dreamlands from 1989. The pic there depicts it as both reptilian and vaguely like a rooster.

I know I've seen depictions of the basilisk as a small winged lizard, but I can't seem to locate WHERE I've seen them. So, my apologies for not being able to provide references. I know that as far back as when I got into D&D, circa 1978-79 when I first saw the Monster Manual, I recall thinking the basilisk was poisonous rather than capable of petrifying as shown in the book. Why I thought that, I'm not sure. I'll beg off here and chalk it up to me being wrong.
Jolly good. If you stumble across something that enlightens this mystery do let us know about it! I love obscure real world monster lore. ^_^
 

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