Cadaver Collector Tactics

Cadaver collectors are like monstrous Roombas that scour the endless battlefields of Acheron, scooping up corpses and recycling the souls that formerly inhabited them into specters, which are then bound to fight for the cadaver collectors’ masters. Although native to that outer plane, they can be summoned to other planes as well, including the prime material—and if the summoner dies or loses control of them, they just keep on Roomba-ing around, turning living beings into cadavers if there aren’t already cadavers handy.

With Intelligence 5, they’re mechanistic juggernauts that never vary their method. What is their method? Well, they’re brutes, with extraordinary Strength and Constitution, so whoever, whatever and wherever their targets may be, they march straight at them. They have no independent judgment and lack the Wisdom to discriminate among targets, but they have a function, and a good machine completes its function with maximum efficiency, so they tend to head toward concentrations of bodies, whether those bodies be alive or dead. When they’re close enough to three targets to engulf them all in a 30-foot cone of Paralyzing Breath, that’s what they do (as long as this recharge ability isn’t on cooldown). And when they come within melee reach of a paralyzed target—or when cheeky opponents with magic or adamantine weapons run up and impertinently attack them—they employ their dual Slam Multiattack (rolling with advantage if the target is paralyzed, with every hit a crit).

What if they’re attacked by foes with nonmagical, non-adamantine weapons? They ignore it and keep juggernauting toward the nearest knot of humanoid organic mass. These attacks can’t hurt them and have no relevance to their mission. Woe betide the third opponent to get in on the action, though: at that point, the cadaver collector’s density-detecting algorithm kicks in, and all it has to do is take a couple of steps back—heedless of opportunity attacks—to nail all three with Paralyzing Breath.

Once per combat, a cadaver collector has access to the Summon Specters bonus action. The question is when it uses this feature, which has no particular connection to how many opponents it’s fighting or has already defeated in a given combat encounter, and I’m not sure that any obvious answer to this question presents itself. One could reasonably argue that, for maximum advantage, it always uses it in the very first round of combat, to maximize the difficulty of the encounter from the get-go. But am I alone in thinking that’s deeply unsatisfying from a narrative point of view? It seems like Summon Specters should happen at a more dramatic moment, doesn’t it?

So what could that moment be? Should it be tied to how much damage the cadaver collector has taken? (Having taken moderate damage—being reduced to 132 hp or fewer—would be a reasonable bar to set for this criterion.) But the cadaver collector is a servant—nay, an implement. As a construct, it has no self-preservation instinct and no purpose other than to follow its instructions. It seems more like the trigger for Summon Specters should be connected to what’s happening with the cadaver collector’s allies. But then again, there’s also the possibility that the cadaver collector has no allies, because it’s gone errant.

This is going to be a real reach—I admit it forthrightly—but what if the cadaver collector has a sort of uncanny intuition for when the tide of battle needs a nudge, either when the introduction of some fresh forces could turn a losing fight into a winning one, or when a battle the cadaver collector’s side is winning with great effort could be turned into one it can win handily? If you need to make this sense weirder and more mechanistic, what if the cadaver collector always bases its judgment on however many allies it had, and whatever condition they were in, when it was last under its summoner’s control? In other words, maybe it was summoned as an auxiliary to the Khuren Kharuul, an elite guard unit 50 hobgoblins strong, and it activates Summon Specters once combat has gone on long enough that it’s strange that its opponents would still be holding out against 50 hobgoblins.

None of these rules really lends itself to consistent application. I think the best rule is probably to use Summon Specters when it feels right to you as the DM, and not to try to justify it.

It should go without saying, but just in case it doesn’t: A cadaver collector doesn’t retreat, no matter how much damage it’s taken. It does its thing until it’s busted.

Next: steel predators.

12 thoughts on “Cadaver Collector Tactics

  1. Hi! I suggested the Jolly Corpse Machines, but I forgot to ask something. Does the Collector have to have corpses slung on its back like a Corpse flower to activate Summon Specters?

  2. While the collector itself might not have a self-preservation instinct, its creator or owner might very well be (or have been) interested in a fail-safe. Sort of like how electrical grids don’t have a self-preservation instinct either, but we’ve added circuit breakers to prevent damage.

    The collector is an investment, after all, and their owner or creator wouldn’t want it destroyed. It’s original purpose is to scour endless battlefields, so it can be reasonably expected to encounter multiple roving bands of stragglers or looters (and thus combat encounters) per day. Seeing as summoning specters has limited times it can be used, a prudent creator or owner might add a damage threshold for the summoning to kick in to save their investment when it’s in trouble rather than have it summon specters the first time it sees combat after a rest.

    At least that’s how I would justify a damage threshold triggering summon specters.

      1. Another interesting take is that rather than considering it a fail-safe, treat it like a breach.

        If it’s purpose is to collect souls and recycle them, then dumping those souls as combat specters is directly contradictory to its mission.

        So what if when players are attacking a cadaver collector, and they score a crit below a certain HP threshold, it’s treated like a “breach” that releases weaponized souls?

        I feel like it fits into a pretty interesting big dumb machine

  3. I loved seeing your thought process on the Summon Specters action and when it should occur. I featured one of these a little while back and basically came to the same conclusion following a similair thought process. There’s no right answer I could divine so the best time is when it feels right as a DM. For that encounter it was the third round when a nova of radiant damage occurred to it. I described the coalescing of spectral stands over the surface of the cadaver collector as I described the damage it sustained, but they didn’t actually burst free till the collectors turn

  4. So are you going to start putting together Volume 2 or should we start printing these out in a format to add to our book? If the latter, would you be able to include a link? One of the things I noticed when using the posts, if I printed them off the website for my campaign, is that there were about 10 pages for each one as it printed the whole page.

  5. I actually wonder if the Collector might not have some Specters out already at the start of some battles, depending on location. The flavour text describes them as berserkers, and as helping to paralyze foes (which Specters can’t do unless killing counts), but the big thing is that the Specters are there to help with collecting. If there’s a big bundle of corpses to harvest, I could see it summoning them (even early, if the corpses are pre-deceased) to help gather up the bodies more efficiently.

    Additionally, the Specters don’t fade away until the Collector is destroyed. So if any survive a prior battle, the Collector may well wind up with anywhere from a couple of Specters to a small army that were previously brought out and survived whatever cause the Collector had to bring them forth.

    Though, curiously, since it’s based on resting… does the Collector rest? It’s immune to exhaustion, but for the ability to work it must, despite being shown as a kind of ceaselessly harvesting construct.

  6. I think the cadaver collector needs to kill a creature to summon its specter, or at least that was what Mordenkainen said. He also said that the Howler’s screaming allowed its prey to escape (it paralyzes them) though, so…

    I’m going to go with it not needing to kill the creature, but they had to have died in battle, and it also needs the corpses nearby (so you can have the impaling)

  7. I would just like to point out, that everyone has missed something very important. And I don’t just mean everyone here. I mean everyone. The collector can summon specters once per combat, and those specters vanish when the collector is killed. PER THE RULES AS WRITTEN: the collector can have an army of specters.

    It can only summon them once per combat, but once they are out they are out. They don’t just go away, they have no time limit. This is per da rules. They could be walking around with hundreds or even thousands of specters raised over millennia.

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