D&D 5E Tricky monster design - trimming the fat?

Quickleaf

Legend
I frequently homebrew monsters, either because I can find nothing quite right in my sourcebooks or I want to surprise my experienced players. But often I struggle with fitting my ideas into a reasonably sized stat block. Generally, I try to keep to 8 or fewer abilities, ideally less, and that seems to be a good guideline to keep it manageable at the table, but it's so easy to blow past that.

I'm working on a design for an "Alabaster Mountebank" (some visual inspiration) that's tripping me up. It's a trickster who sold their soul to the demon lord Graz’zt, thinking in their arrogance that they could outwit their master but never quite succeeding. Eventually, they were drawn to the Abyss when the contract came due to serve as a special blend of elite guard, harlequin, and spy-hunter. The alabaster mask they wear is symbol of their pact. And in the lore I'm somehow linking them to the cape of the mountebank magic item, just not sure how yet...

I drew inspiration from the old Mountebank class in Dragon Magazine Compendium, added some bits from elsewhere, and gave it a creepy teleport hitchhiking/swapping power. My maths estimate it as a CR 9 currently (for whatever CR is worth).
  • How can I slim down the stat block? It's feeling a little too long. General tips or specific suggestions?
  • Does it need something to feel more fiendish? What would you suggest?
  • Would you estimate it as about a CR 9 as well?
  • Is the stat blocking hitting on theme? Does it feel like the opening description I gave? Is there something you feel like it should have but is missing?
  • Does it occupy a sufficiently unique niche to justify its own stat block?
Thanks for your help! This one has been a tough nut for me to crack...

Alabaster Mountebank
Medium Fiend, Chaotic Evil
Armor Class 16 (studded leather)
Hit Points 110 (20d8+20)
Speed 40 ft.
STR 11 (+0) DEX 18 (+4) CON 12 (+1) INT 14 (+2) WIS 14 (+2) CHA 18 (+4)

Skills Deception +12, Insight +6, Intimidation +8, Perception +6, Performance +8, Persuasion +8, Sleight of Hand +8, Stealth +8
Damage Immunities poison
Condition Immunities poisoned
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 16
Languages Common, Abyssal
Challenge 9 (5,000 XP) Proficiency Bonus +4

Deceptive Attack (1/Turn). The mountebank deals an extra 17 (5d6) damage when it hits a target with a weapon and has advantage on the attack roll, or when the target is beguiled.

Magic Resistance. The mountebank has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.

Masked Soul. If subjected to any effect that would read its thoughts, detect its emotions or alignment, or sense that it is a fiend, the mountebank may make a Charisma (Deception) check opposed by the other creature’s Wisdom (Insight). If the mountebank succeeds, it chooses what the creature learns as if it were truth.

Spellcasting. The mountebank’s spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 16). It can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components:
3/day each: alter self, blur
1/day each: confusion, mislead, teleport (self only)

ACTIONS
Multiattack. The mountebank makes two rapier attacks or four dagger attacks.

Rapier. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 8 (1d8+4) piercing damage plus 10 (3d6) poison damage.

Dagger. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 20/60 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d4+4) piercing damage.

Mass Beguile (recharge 4-6). Each creature of the mountebank’s choosing within 30 feet must succeed a DC 16 Wisdom save or be beguiled (as per Beguiling Stare).

BONUS ACTIONS
Beguiling Stare. A creature within 30 feet that can see the mountebank must succeed a DC 16 Wisdom saving throw or be beguiled (as a magical charm effect) until the end of the mountebank’s next turn.
A beguiled creature is vulnerable to damage dealt by the mountebank, suffers disadvantage on Wisdom saving throws and ability checks, and does not gain its Dexterity bonus to AC or initiative. On a successful save, the creature does not realize magic was used against it.

Teleport. The mountebank magically teleports, along with any equipment it is wearing or carrying, up to 60 feet to an unoccupied space it can see.

REACTIONS
Deflect Missiles. When the mountebank is hit by a ranged attack, it may reduce the damage by 24. If this reduces the damage of a thrown weapon to 0, the mountebank can catch the weapon if it is small enough to hold in one hand and it has one hand free. If it catches a thrown weapon in this way, the mountebank can make a ranged attack with the weapon, as part of the same reaction. It makes this attack with proficiency.

Shell Game. When a creature teleports within 60 feet of the mountebank, and the mountebank can see that creature, the mountebank may teleport to the space that the creature vacated. Alternately, the mountebank may attempt to swap places with the creature; the creature must succeed a DC 16 Charisma saving throw or the mountebank teleports to its new space and the creature teleports to the mountebank’s space.
If the mountebank wishes, it may adopt an illusory guise of the teleporting creature that lasts for 1 minute after teleporting. The changes wrought by this effect fail to hold up to physical inspection. Otherwise, a creature must take an action to visually inspect the illusion and succeed on a DC 22 Intelligence (Investigation) check to discern that the mountebank is disguised.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Hawk Diesel

Adventurer
I have a couple of thoughts. Hopefully they are helpful, but we'll see:

Damage Immunities poison
Condition Immunities poisoned
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 16
Don't fiends typically have resistance to fire, cold, and lightning damage? Also they usually are resistant to non-magical weapon damage. You may want to consider that. Also, not sure if it is a devil or demon, or if the taxonomy is even something you use (I don't), but fiends can have devil's sight that allows them to see in darkness and magical darkness as if it's normally lit out to 120 feet.

Deceptive Attack (1/Turn). The mountebank deals an extra 17 (5d6) damage when it hits a target with a weapon and has advantage on the attack roll, or when the target is beguiled.
I'd suggest allowing this just a flat 1/turn without limitation. Less book keeping as a DM that way. Alternatively, you could have a similar ability (maybe 2/day or recharge on a 6) that allows a flourish that turns a miss or normal hit into a critical hit.

Masked Soul. If subjected to any effect that would read its thoughts, detect its emotions or alignment, or sense that it is a fiend, the mountebank may make a Charisma (Deception) check opposed by the other creature’s Wisdom (Insight). If the mountebank succeeds, it chooses what the creature learns as if it were truth.
It might be easier to just base this ability off of the Nondetection spell and say that he can't be targeted by divination spells of magical scrying.

BONUS ACTIONS
Beguiling Stare. A creature within 30 feet that can see the mountebank must succeed a DC 16 Wisdom saving throw or be beguiled (as a magical charm effect) until the end of the mountebank’s next turn.
A beguiled creature is vulnerable to damage dealt by the mountebank, suffers disadvantage on Wisdom saving throws and ability checks, and does not gain its Dexterity bonus to AC or initiative. On a successful save, the creature does not realize magic was used against it.
Not sure about this one. I see what you're trying to do here, but it is a bit unwieldy. First, it's really unusual for an ability that is defended by a particular saving throw (wisdom in this case) to also reduce the effectiveness of that same saving throw. So personally for me, I would take out the disadvantage on Wisdom saves.

Also, the negation of Dexterity bonus to AC is a level of granularity not normally seen in 5e, plus it makes record keeping more complicated for you and your players. I might just have it where creatures attacking effected targets can do so with advantage. And its similar with initiative. Is the intent that an affected creature might get delayed in initiative if it gets lowered temporarily by this ability? I'd personally just take that part out.

But making it easier to hit an effected target AND increasing the damage they would take is a huge double whammy. Especially since the mountebank already has an ability to hit a creature harder if it's beguiled.

Personally, I might use Hypnotic Pattern as an inspiration for how to design this ability. Charms a target, they can't act while charmed, and ends if they take damage.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
The default damage for the daggers should be 6, not 4. Four attack with any single weapon type feels a bit off for something at the mid-point of the challenge scale. That seems a bit excessive.
If you want to pare the stat block down a bit, the reactions are where I'd look first. Shell game seems a bit... cumbersome to me.
On the beguiling issue - I think Hawk Diesel is right, imposing a loss of Dex bonus is a bit weird in 5e. It's usually just replaced by giving attackers advantage on attacks. The duration is also a bit weird. Since the bonus action could come first in a round, this gives the mountebank up to two rounds of benefit from it if they remember to do it first, only one if they do it later. That should be made more consistent - I'd set it to the start of the mountebank's next turn. Then they'll be nudged into using it at the beginning of their turn and they get one round's worth of benefit.
 

MatthewJHanson

Registered Ninja
Publisher
A couple thoughts.

You have a few abilities that are like things that are similar to other things in the game, but not quite. Deceptive attack is a lot like sneak attack, but not quite. Teleport is a lot like misty step, but not quite. Why not just give him sneak attack and misty step. As a GM I find this saves my cognitive load, since I already know how the existing things work.

I agree with what some others have said about what others have said about beguiling stare and think hypnotic pattern would be a good base.

I'd probably stick with just one reaction. I find that reactions are the easiest thing to forget with monsters, and it's oddly easier to forget two than one. Plus it only gets on reaction around and both are circumstantial, so they might never come up.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Really appreciate your feedback @Hawk Diesel, @billd91, and @MatthewJHanson ! Simplicity is good, I'm just stumped on how to get there – yeah in terms of verbiage, but more importantly in terms of making it simpler while preserving the monster's concept/themes.

That's pretty much my #1 challenge with most of the monsters I homebrew – how to maintain the monster's design niche, while keeping the stat block tight.

Fiendishness:
Yeah, you're right @Hawk Diesel, demons have cold, fire, lightning resistance. I was trying to represent something that felt like it was relatively recently turned into a fiend or straddled a sort of middle-ground between mortal and fiend. It's a fiend, but it is not a demon. Er, well, the distinction made sense when I was originally writing the monster...

Deceptive Attack:
Yes, the "(1/Turn)" is shorthand meaning that it can only deal that damage once per turn, like a rogue's sneak attack, just like you said @Hawk Diesel. That's a good question about why I'm not just using sneak attack verbatim @MatthewJHanson – the reason is that this monster is designed to work in many situations where it will be fighting by itself (either entirely, or for the first part of combat while it waits for the cavalry to arrive). That's why I cut the "You don’t need advantage on the attack roll if another enemy of the target is within 5 feet of it, that enemy isn’t incapacitated, and you don’t have disadvantage on the attack roll." And replaced it with "a beguiled enemy." Because it's something the monster can do on its own without support. As far as cognitive load, it's a great point - from my perspective my version has LESS text than sneak attack, so that's less cognitive load. But I can see how other DMs who've memorized lots of player facing rules might differ.

Masked Soul:
Yeah, @Hawk Diesel, the reason I went with different verbiage than nondetection is that the spell only applies towards magical means of detection. I wanted to include things like the paladin's divine sense, ranger's primeval awareness, summoning a pixie to use heart sight, any subclass or racial features that are nonmagical but involve reading thoughts/detecting emotions, etc. That's something that no monster in the game currently does AFAIK.

I also didn't want the ability to be a "hard counter" to players investing in divination magic – e.g. the sphinx's Inscrutable is a "hard counter." Trying to play up the elements of a "touch of mortality" and "chaos" in the monster's theme. It's not the unknowable mystery of a sphinx, but the caginess of fiend-that-was-once-mortal and knows how to act the part.

Teleport:
Actually, @MatthewJHanson you reminded me that the Teleport is supposed to work more like dimension door (i.e. don't need to see destination), so they can "teleport through walls", but I was struggling to trim down the verbiage of dimension door. And the stat block was feeling bloated already. I'd like to get it to that "teleport through walls" version – that is a unique and scary niche in 5e & harkens back to my source material – but not sure on the wording or the recharge/uses per day yet.

Reactions:
Yeah, I think you're right @billd91 and @MatthewJHanson - I need to cut one of the reactions. Shell Game is at the core of the monster's identity – it's a unique niche that no other monster in 5e has. And it's meant to evoke an "oh crap" moment for players who've used a cape of the mountebankhave I been leaving a monster illusioned to look like me in my wake every time I teleport with this thing?!? As much as I love the image of this monster catching a dagger...or actually, my original idea was catching thrown things like a bead of force or bead from a necklace of fireballs... I guess I'll nix Deflect Missiles.

Beguiling Stare:
I'm thinking on what you guys shared, and still pondering what I'll revise with this one...
 
Last edited:

Get rid of the rapier, if you are keeping 4 dagger attacks. No reason to ever have a clearly inferior option. 4 daggers for 4d4+16 is better than 2 rapiers for 2d8+8, so he would only use the rapier if he didn't want to maximize his damage potential. Which would be, never?

As is, you have multiple reactions and bonus actions and actions. That means you are going to be doing a lot for a single creature. If this is intended to be a solo BBEG, it might work, but is he going to have enough HP to last more than 2-3 rounds as a solo?

Also, teleport ability and teleport spell... redundant even though you are thinking of them having different capabilities.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Thanks @LordEntrails, yes you're right about that. Either I'm going to stipulate that its Deceptive Attack only applies to melee attacks, or - more likely - I'll remove its dagger attacks altogether. Since I'm probably nixing the Deflect Missiles, that's one step to removing the juggling harlequin theme I was going for, so removing daggers would be the logical extension of that edit.

Yeah, typical turn would look like Beguiling Stare + 2 Rapier Attacks, possibly using Teleport instead if it is pinned down in a bad way. The reaction would only kick in if a PC teleports, so might not come up at all. Not too complicated.

Intended use of the Alabaster Mountebank is as a social ambusher (high Deception & might not register as a fiend & Beguiling Stare's first draft reduces target's initiative score) and a "first on scene" spy-hunter who either gets backup in 2-3 rounds or flees with intel on the PCs so they need to chase / stop it. So it's not a true solo/boss by any stretch of the imagination, rather the narrative around the monster puts it in the situation of being a lone actor first and foremost, but having support from an array of demons / fiends / cultists when the daisies hit the fan.

I'm not sure I follow the redundancy critique about Teleport and Shell Game? What, in your mind, would make them not redundant?
 

I'm not sure I follow the redundancy critique about Teleport and Shell Game? What, in your mind, would make them not redundant?
In the OP you have spellcasting with Teleport known, and then a bonus action called teleport. At least how I do stat blocks would indicate that it has a special ability teleport, as well as availability of the spell teleport.
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top