D&D Ideas — Insects

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Welcome once again to the weekly newsletter. This week’s topic is insects, which we discussed in our live chat. We hangout every Monday evening at 8 p.m. EST and talk about D&D, RPGs, gaming, life and whatever nerdy stuff comes up. Speaking of insects, in Feeling Buggy adventurers can aid an unusual insectoid creature to overcome its greatest enemy — their own imagination! — and gain a loyal retainer in the process in one of the 55 Out of the Box encounters available now! You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates and info on how to game with Nerdarchy, by signing up here. Visit the brand new Nerdarchy Live here to subscribe and hit that notification bells so you don’t miss live chats on Mondays at 8 p.m. eastern plus our regular three videos each week where we talk about D&D and other RPGs. While we are at home following health safety guidelines we’re continuing to film our videos remotely and Live Chat Revivified streams weekdays at noon eastern with creators joining Nerdarchist Dave to talk nerdy and take questions from the live audience. With the COVID-19 pandemic situation we want to assure everyone we’re following all the guidelines and regulations, and practicing safety and preventative measures like social distancing, and we strongly urge everyone to do the same. Our partners and employees health is our No. 1 priority. Visit Coronavirus.gov for the latest news, updates and developments.

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Delving Dave’s Dungeon

I was inspired by the news for this week’s topic. Murder hornets is an evocative pairing of words if nothing else and it got me thinking about gaming and games as most things do.

One of the early games I ran for fans was a bug hunt style game inspired by the Alien movie franchise and the Zerg in Starcraft. Another great pop culture reference for insects and bug hunts in Dungeons & Dragons would be Starship Troopers. I’m sure there are a lot more places you can draw inspiration from.

Fourth edition D&D introduced the kruthik, a combination of insect and lizard. They can now be found in 5E D&D in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. These are great threats for low to mid level adventurers. Let’s build an encounter with kruthiks as the threat. I’ll then give some alternate monsters from the Basic Rules in case you don’t have access to them.

Kruthik facts

  • Challenge range of ⅛, 2 and 5
  • They live a hivelike existence
  • Range in low to average Intelligence
  • They are tunnelers with tremorsense
  • In combat they all have pack tactics. Two of the three varieties get multiple attacks and have ranged attacks.

Imagine these monstrosities hunting the party. They burrow beneath the road the players are heading down directed by one of the hive lords. They create a 30 foot diameter pit rigged to collapse when characters walk over the center of it with six adjoining tunnels. The young kruthik rush out and swarm the party driven on by the adults, who hang back with the cover of the tunnels where they can launch their spikes from.

The hive lord would enter the fray after the party has been softened up or use hit and run tactics. After the young are killed the adults and hive lord might withdraw into the tunnels. Do the adventurers dare pursue them? If not will the vermin return with more young only to do it all over again?

Here is how the encounter breaks down by the numbers.

  • Difficulty. Hard for six 10th level characters
  • Monsters. 1 Kruthik Hive Lord, 6 Adult Kruthik, 8 Young Kruthik

A well balanced party working together of lower range like 5th-7th level could probably handle this encounter in my opinion.

I get it — some of you might not have Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. Here are some substitute monsters from the Basic Rules. The same set up can work with some slight differences. Ankhegs would lead with their acid spray before the beetles move in. The question then becomes how is the xorn controlling all of these bugs? Perhaps it came into possession of a magic item or ate a strange gem giving it power over bugs and buglike creatures. But why is it attacking the party?

Alternative creatures from Basic Rules

  • 1 Xorn
  • 6 Ankheg
  • 8 Swarm of Insects (beetles)

I hope you’ll have fun using this encounter to bug your players.

From Ted’s Head

Insects are a lot of things to a lot of many people. But right now there is a lot of Buzz about the Murder Hornet. So as soon as Dave suggested this as a topic I knew that I was going to make a creature stat block. I struggle as I am typing this with several different options. Now the murder hornet on the nes is basically the same size as a regular hornet as far as size for a stat block. But I also like to use the things I make in my home games at some point. So as I look at mini miniature shelf I have medium sized monstrous wasps that I converted some time ago from a click base to a custom base. I do believe they were from Mage Knight.

The other thing I am struggling with is how lethal should I make them? Is it possible to make a tiny version of them that has a minor ability but then make a medium sized that is actually lethal. We know that we have the example of a cockatrice that can turn creatures to stone for a duration, but then the basilisk that is permanent, if you do not kill the creature they will break off parts and eat them. So we already have a precedence. But what else could be leathal enough to be called murder hornets that could be as bad as being turned to stone?

So without further ado, lets take a look at the murder hornet.

The murder hornet is a potent insect that is very deadly even when it is small. But if given time to kill and consume it will quickly grow to human sized and be even more of a problem to eal with. Much more than any commoner would be interested in dealing with.

Vicious. These beasts while not any more sentient than any other insect seem to enjoy the pain they cause for they are willing to feed on their unconscious victims before waiting for them to have died from their injuries.

Carnivorous. Most insects tend to feed on creatures small them themselves, not so with the murder hornet. They tend to work in small groups or swarms to take down larger prey and consume them.

Incubation. If a lone hornet is able to find or take down a large enough prey it will burrow within and begin consuming it from the inside out at a ridiculous rate. Within 48 hours the tiny bug will have grown exponentially over and over again until it is the size of a human. Then it is terrifying to those who see it along with now more potent venom.

Murder Hornet

Tiny beast, unaligned

Armor Class 11
Hit Points 27 (6d6 + 6)
Speed 10 ft., fly 40 ft.

STR: 6 (-2)
DEX: 12 (+1)
CON: 12 (+1)
INT: 2 (-4)
WIS: 13 (+1)
CHA: 5 (-3)

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 11
Languages
Challenge 1/2 (100 XP)

Painful Poison. All targets of the attack action that are successful bestow the poisoned condition to the target of a successful attack. Targets remain poisoned until they finish a long rest.

Actions

Sting. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 2 (1+1) piercing damage and 2 (1d4) poison damage, and the target must succeed on a DC 11 Constitution saving throw against be stunned. On a failed save, the creature is stunned due to the sheer amount of pain wracking the muscles of where the hornet stung you. It must repeat the saving throw at the end of its next turn. On a success, the effect ends. On a failure, the creature is Stunned for 1 hour.

Massive Murder Hornet

Medium monstrosity, unaligned

Armor Class 15 (Natural Armor)
Hit Points 52 (8d8 + 16)
Speed 20 ft., fly 40 ft

STR: 16 (+3)
DEX: 8 (-1)
CON: 15 (+2)
INT: 2 (-4)
WIS: 8 (-1)
CHA: 7 (-2)

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 9
Languages
Challenge 3 (700 XP)

Opportunist. The murder hornet has advantage against ant target that is in pain due to being stung already.

Painful Poison. All targets of the attack action that are successful bestow the poisoned condition to the target of a successful attack. Targets remain poisoned until they finish a long rest.

Actions

Multiattack. The murder hornet may make 2 sting attacks

Sting. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 10 (2d6 + 3) piercing damage plus 7 (2d6) poison damage. Target must succeed on a DC 12 Constitution saving throw or be paralyzed for 24 hours.

Now these are not as lethal as our petrifying buddies but I still think I captured the flavor quite nicely.

5e D&D insects insectoids out of the box nerdarchy
In Feeling Buddy, one of 55 Out of the Box encounters, adventurers aid a distraught insectoid to overcome their greatest enemy and gain a loyal retainer in the process.[Art by Kim Van Deun]

From the Nerditor’s desk

The flickering light of burning braziers casts writing shadows on the walls of the occult summoning chamber. Abyssal symbols drawn on the ground flare with evil power and a repulsive creature appears within a cloud of sulfurous smoke. A repulsive batlike face and maw of jagged teeth screeches at you as it flexes thick legs and arms ending in wicked black claws.

* * * * *

The purplish mushroom’s feelers creep across the cavern floor. Four stalks protruding from a central mass lash out at you, rotting flesh with the slightest touch. If you’re killed your body decomposes rapidly and new violet fungus sprouts from your moldering corpse.

* * * * *

Dark magic holds the decaying bones of a dead warrior together, pinpricks of evil light in its eye sockets focused squarely on you. The skeleton advances, its bony feet scraping against the cold stone floor of the mausoleum. It raises a rusted blade to strike at you, driven to snuff out the living. Or, from somewhere in the darkness you hear a gurgling moan. A form lurches into view, dragging one foot as it raises bloated arms and broken hands. The zombie advances, driven to kill anyone too slow to escape its grasp.

* * * * *

Pretty evocative and frightening huh?

You awake in the middle of the night. You stumble groggily down the hall to the bathroom. Your hand fumbles to find the light switch. You squint at the brightness of it for a second before your vision adjusts. On the floor near your bare feet a centipede scuttles for escape into the darkness of your home’s walls.

Now imagine that centipede is 3 feet long!

Insects in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons prove capable of freaking players out at any level. I say players specifically because beast type creatures have one quality more than any other — relatability. Fear and repulsion are in the eye of the beholder, and in my experience aside from iconic terrors nothing freaks players out than hostile — especially giant — versions of creepy crawlies and dangerous predators we recognize from our own real lives.

Malicious demons from the Abyss, necrotic flora of the Underdark and corpses animated into evil undeath by magic threaten adventurers as equals to the giant centipede. All of these creatures found in the Basic Rules are challenge ¼ but seriously, when’s the last time violet fungus struck terror into the hearts of D&D characters? A single dretch can pack a punch but four on one means the demon’s trip to the Material Plane will be a short one, and a party against a lone skeleton or zombie can go at it with gusto, feeling good about the quick victory over the 100% no question about it evil undead creature they just destroyed.

Giant insects on the other hand, from the lowliest CR 0 giant fire beetle and giant fly (eww!) to CR 3 giant scorpions (they’re Large for crying out loud!) are just gross on a whole other level. Maybe entomologists out there have a soft spot for insects but most people I know want to turn them into soft spots if you catch my drift.

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