Creature Variant: Giant Spider and Spiderlings

Giant Spiders

I’ve always liked giant spiders as denizens of fantasy worlds, ever since my young mind was introduced to them by way of The Hobbit.  Spiders are creepy to begin with in the real world, so it seems only natural to imagine bigger and deadlier versions lurking in the dark places between the points of light in D&D.  Imagine my surprise when 4th edition only offered up a couple of variants of this classic monstrous vermin, and none that were simply a low-level Giant Spider (as vanilla as that may be).  (Update: the Monster Manual 3 offers up the Ambush Spider, a 2nd level lurker).

Desiring an creepy but simple-to-run arachnid for my game, I quickly threw together a Giant Spider of my own, using the Deathjump Spider (MM) and Bristle Spider (MM2) as templates.

To add to the creepy-crawliness of the encounter, I also whipped up some Spiderlings, minion versions of the Giant Spider.  They lack the poisonous sting of their mother, but possess that uncanny spider talent to move out of the way just as you’re swinging a shoe sword their way.

Add in a few squares of spiderweb terrain (DMG p.69) and a couple of Giant Spiderweb Traps, and you have an encounter fit for beginning adventurers.  (The newly released Monster Manual 3 contains a sidebar [MM3 p.183] presenting cobwebs in which spiders can hide and web sheets which are similar, but less potent, than my homebrew Giant Spiderweb Trap.)

Slipping Past and Pushing Through

Occasionally a player asks, “Can my character tumble past the enemy and get behind him?”  An excellent question.  A literal interpretation of the Player’s Handbook would say, well, no.  “You normally can’t move through an enemy’s space unless that enemy is helpless or two size categories larger or smaller than you.” (PH p.284)  But the Dungeon Master’s Guide recommends “saying yes” as often as possible to reward players for thinking in creative and unexpected ways.

So how should you implement it?

I found a very nice pair of house rules on the Wizards Community Forum that allow moving through enemy squares, posted by forum member delugeia.  They are as follows:

    Slip Past: Part of a move Action

  • Opposed Check: Acrobatics vs. Reflex
  • ✦ Success: Treat the target’s space as difficult terrain and move though (provoking Opportunity Attacks as normal).
  • ✦ Failure: Fall prone in the square prior to entering the target’s space; the target can make a melee basic attack against you as a free action and has combat advantage for the attack.
    Push Through:  Part of a move Action

  • ✦ Opposed Check: Athletics vs. Reflex
  • ✦ Success: Treat the target’s space as difficult terrain and move though (provoking Opportunity Attacks as normal).
  • ✦ Failure: Fall prone in the square prior to entering the target’s space; the target can make a melee basic attack against you as a free action and has combat advantage for the attack.

Of course, if you rule that PCs can use these actions in combat, it also means that monsters can use them to their advantage as well…

DMing Boldly

Sarah Darkmagic recently blogged about playing boldly:

For me, playing boldly means a few things. Most importantly, it means coming outside your play style comfort zone and having your character do interesting things. It’s really scary, I know. D&D doesn’t have save points and there is always an underlying risk of character death. But the truth is, I’m not some heartless computer adjudicating the rules exactly as written. And the players aren’t some sort of kill bots looking to rack up the most damage possible against the big bad guys. (Well maybe they are, but that’s a different story.) Doing the same thing week after week, using the same powers in the same way, over and over again, makes for a boring game. I can try my best to shake things up by adding different challenges, but if the players approach them the same way, then I’ve accomplished nothing.
Besides, it’s these moments of vulnerability, of epic wins and epic failures, that make for great gaming stories.

This is great advice for any player, but I think it’s also something to keep in mind as a DM.  The responsibility of running several monsters at a time, encounter after encounter, tends to make it easy to fall into a rut.  The monsters fire off their powers, and maybe take advantage of a tricky ability, but then resort to whatever their best attack is.  Repeat ad boredom.

Maybe you have really clever tactics written down for the enemies in each of your encounters, but I can honestly say that so far in the campaign I’m running I haven’t made a monster do anything remotely “bold”.  I mean, I’ve had a few notes here and there suggesting some interesting actions the monsters can take, but they usually rely on very specific circumstances and get forgotten in the heat of the moment.  It’s just so much easier to choose a power or attack, roll the dice, and move on.

But if I don’t want my players to always take that approach, then neither should I.

Sure, risky and daring actions are the purview of adventurers, but why should they have all the fun?  I’ve littered encounters with all sorts of dungeon dressing in the hopes that the PCs will do something fun with them, but if they’re not going to then the monsters deserve the chance to improvise. Of course, your average dire rat isn’t that clever, nor your average goblin brash enough, but tougher, smarter, more cunning foes just might be.  What better way to encourage bold and interesting play from the players than to have their foes show them how it is done?

Just as the players won’t be able to show off their daring heroics every encounter, neither will their foes always assault them with risky and cunning gambits.  But when they do, it may turn an average encounter into a legendary one.

Handout: Kalarel’s Specter

This is a little something I Photoshopped up for my D&D game where I’m running H1: Keep on the Shadowfell.  It’s a handout I created to show the player’s Kalarel’s spectral apparition.  If it’s useful in your game, feel free to use it.

Kalarel's Specter

Creature Variant: Kobold Fire Skeleton

“There is a sound like breaking branches and the clattering of bones.  Something stirs among the smoldering remains of the pyre, and suddenly the bones of the departed kobolds rise from the ashes and compose themselves.  With a whoosh like tinder finally set alight, the skeletons are engulfed in flame.  One raises a bony, burning finger, and from within the empty sockets of its eyes bolts of roiling fire grow…”

The players in my campaign (Keep on the Shadowfell) recently tangled with a nasty goblin named Irontooth who had been leading a band of kobolds in raids against the town of Winterhaven.  They were unable to take him down in their first encounter with him and were forced to regroup and rest up.  Since they had wiped out most of his minions in their initial assault on his hideout, I wanted to make their return visit a little more interesting than finding him alone in a cave.  I decided that while the PCs were licking their wounds, the few remaining kobolds would gather up their dead and perform last rites.

Kobolds have a strong association with dragons, so it seemed appropriate for them to burn their dead in a funeral pyre, symbolic of the “cleansing fire” of the dragons they worshiped.  In addition to being a nice way to make the world seem more realistic and alive (the PCs would return to the cave to find a smoldering pyre and kobold bones) it also let me introduce a what I hoped would be a cool and unexpected encounter.

In keeping with the undead themes presented later, I envisioned the Kobold Wyrmpriest gathering the bodies and heaping them on a pyre, performing a dark ritual (perhaps influenced by the teachings of a priest of Orcus).  This rite had the power to reanimate the dead to ward against intruders.  The bones of the fallen would rise from the ashes, wreathed in fire, flames roiling inside their hollow eye sockets.

Thus, the Kobold Fire Skeleton was born:

These creatures provided a fun, unexpected encounter for the PCs who were in the middle of patting themselves on the backs for dispatching Irontooth and his minions.  In the actual encounter in which they appeared, I tossed a handful of kobold minions at the PCs (a hunting party that had returned to the cave and was ordered by Irontooth to guard the entrance), surprising the players by having the skeletons rise in the second round of combat. The appearance of flaming kobold skeletons that shot fire from their eye sockets elicited a couple of “whoas” and at least one “cool”, which, as a DM, is one of the more rewarding words you can hear at the table.

Dragonborn Expressions

Alas, poor Yolk...

One of my players, who happens to be new to D&D, is really getting into his character.  He is playing as a Dragonborn, a race of dragon-like humanoids that first appeared in the D&D 3.5 supplement Races of the Dragon and became a core race in 4th Edition.  When Wizards of the Coast released the 4E supplement Player’s Handbook Races: Dragonborn, my player and I were both intrigued by the short sidebar included within entitled “Speaking Like A Dragonborn”.  I thought the use of such phrases was a great way to flesh out a character so I created a few of my own for my player to use as he saw fit.  I present them here for anyone else who might want to use them.

“Sometimes snakes walk upright.” – An expression of contempt, originally used to belittle a fellow dragonborn (comparing them to little more than a snake with legs). Implies that the person in question is deceitful, untrustworthy, or lowly.  “What do I think of him? You know what they say, ‘Sometimes snakes walk upright’.”“By/with tooth, claw, and scale.” – A proclamation that one will overcome a difficult obstacle with whatever means available.  “We shall defeat them by tooth, claw, and scale.”

“Grow wings to fool a dragon” – Response to an idea deemed ridiculous or foolish, or a request to do the impossible.  “What a brilliant plan.  Why don’t I just grown wings to fool a dragon while we’re at it?”

“Had I wings, I would still not be a dragon.” – Both a statement of identity (distinguishing the proud dragonborn people from the dragons they once served), as well an observation that superficial changes do not change who a person or thing is.

“A beautiful blade does not make it keen.” – The dragonborn version of “beauty is only skin deep”, also a philosophical warning against putting form over substance.

“A blunt sword is the weapon of a fool.”/”Only a fool wields a blunt sword.” –  Wisdom prevails over ignorance.

“An axe will break down a door, but that’s not what axes are for.” – Whimsical expression along the lines of “use the right tool for the job”.

“Greet with an open mouth”/”Be greeted by open mouths”– References the dragonborn ability to breathe fire, acid, etc., which tends to be an act of violence and, naturally, requires one to open its mouth.  It means: to receive something or someone with hostility, to vehemently oppose something. By contrast “be greeted with mouths closed” is the equivalent of “welcome with open arms”.

“To act with open mouth(s)”/”Act with their mouths wide” –  To do something foolish without thinking it through first.

“You can’t unbreak an egg.”– There’s no turning back, what’s done is done.“By Io’s blood” – Exclamation of conviction or amazement. “By Io’s blood, I’ve never seen such courage!”, “By Io’s blood, I will prevail!”

“A Tiefling with scales” – Similar to “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”

“I have but my blood to give, as Io did before me.” –  A solemn oath of service or loyalty.

“You may take my life but not my honor.” – A rebuke to one’s enemies.

“A scale may deflect an arrow. Then again, sometimes it may not.” – Somewhat equivalent to “you win some, you lose some”, also used sometimes to mean “who knows why things happen the way they do.”

“Some days it’s as if every head of Tiamat is looking your way.” – Roughly equivalent to “shit happens”.

“Allies before Self. Family before Allies. Clan before Family. Ancestors before Clan.  Honor before all.” A Dragonborn oath.

“If I had wings and a tail, I’d be a dragon.” – A statement expressing incredulity, and expression of disbelief at another’s claims.  -“I slew the Umberhulk with nothing but a knife!” -“Right, and if I had wings and a tail, I’d be a dragon.”

Painted Hirst Arts Chest


Hirst Arts Chest Unpainted


Hirst Arts Chest Painted 2




  • Thinner (50% Water, %25 Liquitex Slo-Dri, %25 Windsor & Newton Flow Improver
  • Vallejo Game Color 2 White Primer
  • Vallejo Game Color 42 Parasite Brown (drybrushing)
  • Vallejo Game Color 43 Beasty Brown (base coat)
  • Vallejo Game Color 45 Charred Brown (wash)
  • Vallejo Game Color 53 Chainmail Silver (chest bands and latch)
  • Vallejo Game Color 68 Smoky Ink (wash)
  • Vallejo Game Color 70 Matt Varnish (clear coat)


  • Prince August Super Detail Size 3 (primer coat)
  • Vallejo Size 0 (base coat/wash)
  • Privateer Press Formula P3 Fine Hobby Brush (chest bands and latch)
  • Reaper Pro Paint Size 2 (drybrushing)