5E D&D Monster Spotlight — Chimera
The chimera is such a classic Dungeons & Dragons monster from mythology and has made an appearance in all of the editions of the game. In fifth edition D&D a chimera can be encountered in a few different environments — grasslands, hills, mountains and the Underdark. These are all straight out of the 5E D&D Monster Manual and I’d add the aerial environment as well. This gives us quite a few places we can drop an encounter in with a chimera. They enter gameplay during tier two with challenge rating 6. Chimera are quite formidable with a decent amount of hit points, a fly speed of 60 feet and three attacks per round, one of which can be replaced with its Breath Weapon. Let us not forget villains like to employ chimera as mounts. A single chimera would be a medium challenge for four 5th level characters. These nasty beasts average 53 points of damage on a single round when they use their Breath Weapon or 32 when they can’t. If this D&D monster is played up to its full hunter archetype this is significant damage potential.
To roleplay a chimera you must become the chimera
As a Dungeon Master there are things to keep in mind when portraying these beasts. The chimera is the creations of the demon lord Demogorgon. Whether it is just the nature of being spawned by a demon lord or a consequence of mashing three different creatures together the chimera somehow manages to embody the worst aspects of each of its component creatures — the greed of the dragon, the cruelty of a cat playing with its prey and the stubbornness of the ram. These traits are important to keep in mind when planning an encounter using this D&D monster.
Regarding the hunter archetype I mentioned most likely a chimera is a singular monster being encountered by itself. As standalone straight up fights these types of encounters aren’t very interesting but exploring a D&D monster through their motives can help them take on new life and meaning. A chimera wants to hunt for food and sport, find shiny things, seek a mate and defend its territory. All of these are going to be motives. Three of these right off the bat can bring a chimera into conflict with an adventuring party. Don’t forget to look through that lens of greed, bloodlust and tenacity.
A successful hunter who has been around is going to respect a well armed group and be a bit cautious in how it proceeds. But it’s still a chimera, which is essentially the honey badger of the D&D world. It might start by swooping in with a strafing run at night to see how the intruders react. This gives characters at most one round for most of them to respond and then it’ll be gone into the night sky. It also allows a DM to set the scene. I’d call for Wisdom (Perception) checks to see how much the characters actually are able to see and make out from the initial attack. Between it being night and having fire thrown in their faces all of a sudden details might be difficult. Remember — darkvision is imperfect with everything in black and white and still considered dim light.
Think about a predator who would stalk prey for days or even longer driven by a stubborn need to possess the gold a group of adventurers may own not to mention wanting to destroy them for daring to trespass through its territory. A chimera isn’t a very intelligent creature but it does have a better than average Wisdom score, which means its tactics won’t be complex but certainly cunning. A chimera would stalk the party with hit and run tactics swooping in and breathing fire on as many characters as possible while grappling one of the weaker party members and attacking others. With one of the weaker adventurers grappled the chimera can fly up and drop them. Some birds use this method to crack open shellfish and nuts. This makes it a fair tactic for our chimera.
On top of all this its ability to fly lets a chimera make a lair in hard to reach places like the top of a sheer cliff at a dizzying height. It might keep rocks piled at the entrance for those times pesky adventurers try to scale their way to its lair. Imagine a party of adventurers tracking the beast to its lair. The brave souls begin to climb as the chimera appears over the ledge looking down at them. It makes eye contact and then pushes a large stone over the ledge at the climbers. The climb to the top just got a lot more interesting. Even after the party arrives at the top the chimera can still attempt to knock them over the ledge.
A chimera is also a D&D monster ideal for scaling encounters nicely by adding it to other monsters or tweaking it a little. As I mentioned earlier what villain wouldn’t want one of these critters to use as a mount? In our Out of the Box Encounters book you can find an encounter called Gang of One, which both tweaks the monster by changing it to an arctic variant and gives it a magic item to fundamentally change how the creature works. It wears a headband of intellect taking it from animal level Intelligence to a super genius. I feel inspired to create a new encounter with the Out of the Box Encounters style.
Sometimes a DM wants to increase the challenge of an encounter but without simply piling monsters on characters. There are two techniques I want to employ here. One is using waves and the other is not letting the characters take a long rest. This encounter includes two waves of the same monster alternating between them. While one monster takes a long rest the other harries the adventuring party by not allowing them to take a long rest. This could lead to a third problem for the adventurers — levels of exhaustion. If this game of cat and mouse goes on for days the characters begin making Constitution saving throws to avoid exhaustion.
Wilderness, grasslands, hills, mountains, subterranean or aerial
5 — Deadly
80 cp, 200 sp, 260 gp, 150 pp, ornate silver mirror set with star shaped obsidian worth 250 gp, spell scroll of mirror image, potion of water breathing (2)
This encounter works as something interesting for characters traversing a large swath of wilderness. A pair of chimera decided to settle down and raise a family. Somehow these two hateful, stubborn, greedy creatures have found love and are a mated pair with cubs. Chimera usually mate and then one drives the other out of its territory. In this case they’ve stayed together and actually like each other.
The chimera have claimed a huge swath of land as their territory — anywhere from 60-160 square miles of landscape they know very well. A group should be able to cross it in 3-8 days. A character who succeeds on a DC 13 Wisdom (Survival) check finds either claw or burn marks when they first enter the chimera domain. These marks are scattered throughout the edges of the territory as a warning to intruders. A character who succeeds on a DC 16 Intelligence (Arcana) check identifies the type of creature that left the marks. The chimera patrol their territory regularly and know early on it has been invaded.
Both chimera have dealt with well armed groups in the past and have learned how to best deal with them. One of them makes hit and run attacks during the day. They take short rests if they are injured and regain hit points using their hit dice the same way a character would. During their attack they breath fire on as many characters as possible, head butt another and attempt to grapple a character. If a character fails their opposed Strength (Athletics) check the chimera begins to carry them aloft. At 50 feet the chimera drops them, which deals 5d6 bludgeoning damage from the fall. You might consider allowing a character to use their reaction to slip out of a backpack or other item in the chimera’s grasp and only fall 10 feet and taking only 1d6 damage but losing the item, which could be recovered later from the creatures’ lair.
The pair continues this routine until the intruders are driven off or dead. At night the chimera switch places with one taking a long rest while the other harries the characters throughout the night. Their goal is to prevent the party from taking a long rest. Each day without a long rest require a Constitution saving throw from the characters to avoid gaining a level of exhaustion.
The chimera make their lair inside an enormous hollowed out hill at the center of the territory where they keep their treasure hoard of 80 cp, 200 sp, 260 gp, 150 pp, an ornate silver mirror set with star shaped obsidian worth 250 gp, a spell scroll of mirror image and two potions of water breathing. Three chimera cubs also nest within the lair.
After the chimera are dealt with there is the matter of the cubs. Character might seek to find a buyer for the trio or try to rear them on their own. If you think toddlers can be unruly you haven’t seen anything compared to a chimera cub. If the characters do try to keep the chimera cubs feel free to wreak havoc on the camps they try to set up. If one chimera is killed and the other driven off it holds a grudge and possibly continues to stalk the group beyond their territory.
*Featured image — An arctic chimera with a headband of intellect causes grief and terror in Gang of One, part of Out of the Box Encounters. [Illustration by Kim Van Deun]