In the previous post I speculated about the horde of albino apelings from Sea of Death and their relationship to the Suloise derro of the Greyhawk setting.
I think the cross bred origin, while somewhat distasteful admittedly, does fit with the original derro concept and is an expansion on the folklore. To that end, modeling the albino apelings as single minions or a swarm seems like a fun project, so I’ll present some of my design thoughts here.
Design Notes: Modeling an Apeling Horde
A Swarm Primer
Essentially the PFRPG swarm subtype is a means of representing a large mass of Tiny sized or smaller mooks (otherwise ineffectual or weak creatures) as a viable opponent by generalising the combined efforts of many creatures into an individual “collective” creature with a single set of hit points, hit dice, attacks, speed, armor class, saving throws etc. Their special abilities including distraction and immunity to being tripped, disarmed and grappled reflect a horde of disorganised apelings well.
Such abstraction essentially speeds up gameplay as there is no need to roll for dozens of minor opponents, while their automatic attack provides the GM with a means to grind down the party’s resources, particularly if they have to fight a swarm with a lack of magical attacks. Effectively a swarm is less a single combat creature than an encounter hazard, and has to therefore be thought of and dealt with differently from a standard fight as suggested by this WotC 3.5E article. In a lot of ways a swarm works a lot like an ooze, but it’s an ooze made up of abstracted humanoids.
Swarms also make for a quick and dirty abstraction of massed combat, but I’m not going to attempt to deal with that topic in this post.
The most applicable swarm to use as a basis for this exercise would seem to be the monkey swarm from the PFSRD. Unfortunately the base creature for the apeling horde I intend to use is the baboon, which is Small sized – swarms are specifically composed of Tiny sized or smaller creatures…
Hmm, how about charau-ka? Nope, they’re Small sized as well. Unless perhaps I use those pygmy charau-ka from the Kaava lands… hang on, we’re talking Greyhawk here not Golarion.
Houston we have a problem. Or maybe not.
How about using a troop instead?
The Concept of Disorganised Troops
Ah, but troops are used to represent “an organized group of trained soldiers that act as a unit, rather than as individuals” I hear you cry!
To which I humbly counter: “a troop is something of an abstraction, in that the component creatures that make up the troop are mostly irrelevant; only the troop as a whole matters. So that means it’s the overall design that’s the key here, not the individual “soldier”
So perhaps we can use this to flip this around into something useful.
If it acts like a troop, maybe it can be reflected by the troop rules.
Let’s go back to the monkey swarm and have another think. Note that monkey swarms have a special ability “Coordinated Swarm (Ex)” that accounts for their improved coordination compared to the usual vermin composed swarms originally intended by the rules.
Coordinated Swarm (Ex)
A monkey swarm coordinates its attacks more than a typical swarm, and deals swarm damage one step higher than a swarm of its HD would normally cause.
So perhaps we can have a “disorganised” or “untrained” troop as a corollary, ie. a group of larger sized creatures than those in swarm that fight collectively like a troop but less effectively?
*Untrained Troop (Ex)
An apeling troop is untrained and therefore less organised than a typical troop, and deals swarm damage one step lower than a troop of its HD would normally cause, but a minimum of 1d6 damage.
I think this could work well, provided the apeling horde is designed with enough hit dice to compensate for this penalty – I’m not to worried by this actually as the apelings in Sea of Death mainly behave as an obstacle and distraction for the heroes rather than as a combat opponent, so high hit points, low swarm damage and effects of the “Chaos of Combat” suit the overall albino baboon troop concept just fine…
Horde Hit Dice – EL / CR “Rule of Thumb” Calculations
So where to pitch the Hit Dice of the apeling swarm?
Surely fighting up to two dozen baboons would be an interesting and significantly taxing warm up challenge for a reasonably equipped party?
I want it to be tougher than the monkey swarm for certain but not so powerful that it overshadows it’s derro masters or results in TPK. Let’s start with the basic CR 1/2 baboon and consult the relevant Designing Encounters section of the PFSRD for guidance. We’re likely dealing with as “troop” of 16 or more baboons here, all piled into a 10′ by 10′ area effectively, so that should give us a guide. Looking at the CR equivalence table, adding 16 creatures adds +8 to the CR of the encounter. If we shift up an extra CR to 9 for good measure, the equivalent HD for a humanoid according to the PFRPG Bestiary is HD 12.
Let’s use the standard d8 hit dice for hp, steal the baboon’s existing Abilities and Racial modifiers for Acrobatics and Climb as a base and note we don’t need to make any specific size adjustments. We’re suggested 6 feats and 12 Skill ranks but let’s sort that side of things out later
Looking at the swarm attack table, that would usually result in a troop attack inflicting 3d6 damage per round – fairly hefty, but if we invoke our new “Untrained Troop” Special Weakness, this drops down to 2d6, the same as a monkey swarm but this troop is going to have several times the staying power due to increased total hp.
The resulting base apeling troop has 66hp (12d8+12), BAB +9, CMB -, CMD – and a troop attack 2d6 plus distraction that is significant enough but non-lethal I reckon using the eyeball of faith. For tougher parties, pumping up the hp to soak up more damage and/or stacking together a few apeling troops with some derro savants or leaders is likely to provide a memorable enough encounter.
Let’s go with that base for now and work out the math for Init, AC, saves etc down the track when we build the final statistics block.
Special Abilities and Attacks
To keep it simple for this first example, let’s omit any special attacks for the apeling troop – sure, the original example Russian Rifle Troop had a ranged Fusillade attack and a Grenade Volley, but these baboonlings aren’t charau-ka and don’t use weapons in any case, so they aren’t likely to be throwing sh… ahem, rocks at their opponents.
OK, so maybe they probably will, but that’s a mechanic to address another day I guess. Probably more important if I design a derro slaver troop.
Now there’s a really great idea… hmmm.
Back to the albino apelings.
Adding in the darkvision, albinism (light sensitivity), muteness, insanity and frenzy of the base creature we worked up previously works simply enough for the troop version without need for additional adjustment apart from tacking “Untrained Troop” at the end.
These apelings are Greyhawk in origin so they should understand but not speak Derrosh (a Suloise dialect) and perhaps Common. In Golarion or MIdgard, I’d just substitute Aklo instead but I’ve an idea for pygmy charau-ka as a local Darklands substitute…
Filling in all the remainder and skipping the intricacies of the usual working out then leaves us with the final stat block.
Previous Post: Of Albino Apes and Pygmies…
Addendum: Derro Cave Druid Savants
All this talk of apelings and baboons makes me wonder about the viability of derro druids, specifically the cave druid archetype, as a variant savant build. According to this article, most of the focus of the archetype is on shifting into ooze shape and the potential difficulties with this according to the RAW – although there’s a strong link to oozes for derro already admittedly, perhaps I’m looking for something else entirely to lead the frenzied baboon horde?
A derro druid with an apeling animal companion and the Cave domain is simple enough in concept but adding an apeling troop animal companion might be an interesting character option to develop. The version statted above with HD 12 is probably prohibitively powerful however and swarm animal companions can be tricky enough to work out even when using vermin as a base.
Regardless, the foremost obstaclefor a derro druid (or cleric) build is the use of Wis instead of Cha for spell-casting. This presents a real issue, but I recall seeing a feat somewhere that can convert the primary spell-casting and there’s a couple of archetypes like the Mysterious Stranger (gunslinger) that substitute Cha for Wis as the Ability score similarly for grit.
I think there’s something to this idea however so I’ll revisit it later.
Perhaps a specific Savant Druid archetype is in order?