Unspeakable Horror Tactics


Sorry for my silence the last couple of weeks—when the kid gets sick, everyone in the house gets sick, and nothing gets done. Also, thanks to the vigilant readers who’ve pointed out the ways this site has acted weird and buggy lately. Fixing the security hole, which was the most important thing, seems to have spawned a glitch in how the first article of text displays on the home page. I’m hoping that posting a new article clears that up. (ETA: It didnt. Grrrr.) (ETA: Found a fix!)

Fittingly, I left off at unspeakable horrors, intentionally vague and broadly customizable weirdies that can be dropped into any horror setting—or, even better, in the howling voids between them. These creatures exist for one purpose and one purpose only: to give flesh to their victims’ fears. Categorizing them as monstrosities feels a bit off to me, somehow, but it’s not clear what other category fits them better. Calling them aberrations is equally awkward, and they clearly aren’t undead, fiends or anything else. Monstrosities it is, then.

With ability peaks in Strength and Constitution, unspeakable horrors are melee brutes, boldly zeroing in on foes to whomp them with their limbs. Their animal-level Intelligence precludes them from coming up with any other plan. Of its four body composition options (Aberrant Armor, Loathsome Limbs, Malleable Mass or Oozing Organs) and its four limb modification options (Bone Blade, Corrosive Pseudopod, Grasping Tentacle and Poisonous Limb), only Loathsome Limbs offers any kind of tactically beneficial modification to this approach, and the accompanying Relentless Stride trait, which provides that benefit, seems in part redundant.

The benefit comes from being able to knock another creature prone by moving through its space, conferring advantage on attack rolls against it, although the more narratively interesting application of this movement is to barrel through one foe while trying to get to another. The redundancy comes from granting the ability to move through the space of another creature, which—as a Huge creature—it was able to do anyway, as long as the other creature was Medium or smaller. What Relentless Stride offers, beyond this, is letting the unspeakable horror move through the space of a Large creature, such as a typical mount or a summoned elemental. There’s something malevolently satisfying about knocking down Sir Godfrey along with his steed, Sir Palfrey, while bounding past them to lay into Wee Heckie the Brickle.

So far, our options have been notable for what they contribute to the flavor of a combat encounter, not to tactics. But now we get to Hex Blast. A 5–6 recharge ability, and therefore worth using whenever it’s available and can be aimed at three or more foes (per Targets in Area of Effect), it normally deals a mighty wave of necrotic damage and nothing more. However, Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft offers several Hex Blast customization options, and my recommendation is, don’t limit yourself to just one.

Now, realistically, you won’t get to use Hex Blast in a typical three-round encounter; you may get to use it only once. But there are a couple of ways to let fate decide which hex your player characters get blasted with. One is to roll a d6, choose the appropriate hex from the table on a roll of 1 through 4 and default to the basic Hex Blast on a 5 or a 6. Another is to flip a coin: heads, normal Hex Blast; tails, roll 1d4 on the Hex Blast table.

I wouldn’t choose on the fly, based on the situation, because the unspeakable horror isn’t smart enough for that. It’s fair, however, to choose one or two hexes in advance to tailor the encounter to your party. And once you’ve let loose a particular hex, it’s fair to let the unspeakable horror exploit the results accordingly. That’s something that can be explained by instinct.

  • Hex Blast (Default). This option deals straight damage, so there’s nothing to exploit.
  • Beguiling Hex. This option incapacitates targets who fail their saving throws, so the unspeakable horror can get a round of free hits on them, which it happily does.
  • Bile Hex. This option deals recurring damage to targets who fail their saves, which means the unspeakable horror doesn’t need to attack them and can focus its loving attentions elsewhere.
  • Petrifying Hex. Same deal as above: An opponent who’s turned to stone is one the unspeakable horror doesn’t need to beat up. There is that one round before final petrifaction during which targets who fail their saves are restrained, meaning that the UH could attack them with advantage, but while that makes tactical sense, it doesn’t make narrative sense.
  • Reality-Stealing Hex. The deafened condition doesn’t amount to much in fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons, but the blinded condition makes the unfortunate victim a prime target. Whomp!

Unspeakable horrors are barely real to begin with; they certainly aren’t evolved creatures with survival instincts, their Wisdom notwithstanding. However much damage they take, they don’t flee.

Next: Loups-garous.

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3 responses to “Unspeakable Horror Tactics”

  1. WaserWifle Avatar

    I love coming up with wild new shapes for these things. I helped my DM once by writing a bunch of random encounters for the seaborne hex crawl sections of his domains of dread homebrew campaign. These creatures featured in the roll table for what might be encountered if you accidentally sail into the mist, and would take the forms of twisted versions of players (ones currently in the party or ones that are dead/lost), and old villains, with quick notes for what variant features they have. Come to think of it I forgot to put that these creatures could also swim or water walk since this is a ship encounter, but I’m sure my DM can reasonably intuit that or just have the monster materialise on the deck.

    1. shikomekidomi Avatar

      using the tables to come up with imaginative new shapes is a lot of the fun, like a monster that’s just a giant mouth on tiny insect legs that uses the Bile Blast to spit digestive fluids on people and otherwise bites (using the Poisonous Limb variation to do piercing damage and inject venom of course). No eyes or nose or ‘body’ just a big vaguely reptilian maw skittering on pale woodlouse like legs underneath it.

  2. shikomekidomi Avatar

    The blinded condition is also great for shutting down enemy spellcasters, though I doubt the Unspeakable Horror is smart enough to realize that something like 90% of spells require you to see the target (even the area ones require seeing the area).

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