(the aboleth, with its ability to enslave, can probably use
almost anything as its minions. [after enough time enslaved, most creatures
would get used to obeying even if the enslavement is broken.] Those below are suggestions.)
Combat rating 12
1 Aboleth (CR 10)
1 Cyclops (CR 6)
Combat rating 14
1 Aboleth (CR 10)
1 Kua-toa archpriest (CR 6)
3 Kua-toa moniters (CR 3)
2 Water Weirds (CR 3)
Combat rating 17
1 Aboleth (CR 10)
4 Chuuls (CR 4)
1 Water Elemental (CR 5)
1 Sea hag (CR 2)
2 Wyverns (CR 6)
Combat rating 20
1 Aboleth (CR 10)
1 Adult black dragon (CR 14)
1 Blue salad (CR 7)
1 Grey salad (CR 9)
The control gems make slaad fairly easy to use
In this case, I might also suggest that the spells Primus
used to build the spawning stone (see the slaad’s flavor text) was leaked by
the aboleth’s in order to give them a minion that can move inconspicuously.
This would explain the slaad’s association with water. I would not have thought
of water as a chaos element.
How to use – First Encounter
[Note: I am going to present the aboleth as one long campaign story. I don’t think you will find it particularly difficult to use parts of it without using it in its entirety. I am also going to mark the difficulty of each part separately.]
Story. The players have heard of the aboleth’s presence, and they wish to meet with it. Perhaps they want information from it, perhaps they want to defeat it, or maybe it heard of them and wishes to meet [and own] them. Spin it as you wish.
They meet an NPC who finds a way to meet them, and offers to guide them in. The best way to do this without arousing suspicion is for him to be somewhat reluctant, and let them offer him money or fight off a monster for him. If the aboleth is instigating the encounter, the NPC could hire them to gain information or defeat the aboleth.
The NPC is working for the aboleth. He isn’t charmed, as that would run a risk of breaking over distance, instead he’s blackmailed. The aboleth has one or more of his family/loved-ones prisoner [charmed], and if he cares about their survival, he has no choice but to obey. The aboleth’s probing telepathy gives it all the information it needs to know who it can trust, and who will betray it.
The area around the aboleth is barren wasteland. If it wasn’t originally, the pollution of all surrounding water will do that. On the way to meet the aboleth, they cross one or two bridges and/or pass through narrow ravines. Describe this [the reason will be apparent soon.] You can throw in a minor combat encounter if it’s getting tedious.
At some point they meet another NPC. This one is charmed, and the main reason for the first NPC was to validate this one. He greets him/her, introduces them to the players, and makes it clear without saying so that he’s know him/her for a while, and that the second NPC is not charmed. [Don’t say that they aren’t charmed. That will make it obvious that they are. Why are you mentioning it otherwise?] The second NPC is probably some type of adventurer, [I suggest ranger,] to give them a reason to be here.
Toward the end of their journey, they pass by the edge of a large lake, perhaps they pass over it in a boat. If they go around, have there be at least one area where the mountain behind them forces them to pass near the water. This lake is the aboleth’s lair, but their guides will tell them otherwise.
Finally, they will come to a much smaller pond, perhaps a fountain. Some rough runes have been carved into it to make it look more special, and if pressed, either one of the guides or the aboleth will let slip that it is (or contains) a portal to the elemental plane of water. This is a lie to explain why the aboleth would make this smaller pond its lair instead of the big one that they passed.
[When designing this, I thought it too much of a coincidence that there should be two large lakes right next to each other.]
The aboleth has a regional effect letting it appear anywhere that can be seen by a person it has charmed. It will use that to appear here, and if it wants to learn anything about the party it can use conversation and its probing telepathy ability to do so. Appearing here will also establish that this is its lair, which will help catch the PCs off guard.
If the aboleth wants the PC’s as slaves, considers them a threat to eliminate, or has any other motive to take them down, it will attack on the way back. If they manage to stay out of range, it will use its enslave action to get one of the PCs to fall in to the water, thereby prompting the others to rescue him. [With this enslave action you can present it as an accident, so that even the one being enslaved doesn’t recognize what happened. The aboleth has the wisdom to know who is most likely to fail their WIS save.]
On its attack, it will hit each PC with its tentacle strike twice, three times for PCs with a CON save. It will prioritize those PCs who are likely to run out of range if given the chance, and then attack the melee fighters. If it has someone enslaved, or if you want it to enslave someone, skip the tentacle attack on that person. [The aboleth has the wisdom and intelligence, not to mention the eons of experience, to know who has which saves, and which PC will prefer to fight from a distance.]
Once it has everybody tagged, it will dive out of reach and take a long-rest to refresh its HP and abilities. The PCs are now trapped, taking damage from being out of water and unable to heal. All it has to do is wait, and when they are on the edge of death it will offer them life in exchange for their freedom. If it’s feeling extremely generous it might offer them freedom after a few decades of servitude. Regardless of its offer, it knows that they will accept. They have no choice.
Escape From the Aboleth’s Lands (difficulty 10)
At this point, you are probably going to have to give the players a way out. I don’t think they can escape by themselves.
I would have some friendly being contact them, possibly through a message spell, and offer to help rid them of the aboleth’s curse if they can get to it. [If you’ve already brought such a creature into the game in the past, and it happens to live sufficiently near, all the better. The players might think of it even without your suggestion. That said, prepare a way for it to contact them in case they don’t think of it.]
The ally cannot come to them, however. [Perhaps the magic around the aboleth blocks it. Perhaps it has a treaty with the aboleth preventing them from infringing on each other’s domain. Or you can come up with something else, if you prefer.] The PC’s challenge will be to get to it.
Some of the obstacles that they will face:
- Start with their guides leading them the wrong way. The guides will suggest a shortcut. [They didn’t suggest it on the way in because the far end of the shortcut [the end not near the aboleth] isn’t near where they started. If they follow it, it will end in a rockfall that the guides will claim wasn’t there the last time they came through.
[Not only will this waste time, this will cause the PCs to get turned about, and perhaps lost. Escape is now more than just retracing their footsteps, assuming they don’t want to go past the aboleth’s lake again.]
- Those unaffected by the aboleth’s slime skin disease [I.e., the guides and those enslaved] will suggest that they go for help, as they are unimpeded. If the others consent, they’ll leave and they won’t come back, leaving them to take damage every turn for as long as possible. Narrate each damage roll separately, so as to give the players as much chance as possible to decide when they give up waiting for them to come back.
- If any PCs are enslaved, use them now (you can only leave them enslaved so long without being unfair to the players playing them.) I suggest on top of a mountain pass, where they can use their height advantage to roll boulders onto the other players and to push them down. I would use moves like this instead of direct attack [if the enslaved characters are spell casters, non-damage spells such as gust of wind instead of damage spells] in the hope that it will cause the other players to respond in kind. [And only damage can possibly break the enslaved status.]
- The aboleth will be doing what it can, through its minions, to prevent escape. Bridges that they took on the way in will be cut, and mountain passed will be blocked by rockfalls. Remember that the players are weakened* by the disease, and a climb or jump that might be normally easy at their level will have disadvantage, or may even be impossible (don’t be afraid to rule that the action is beyond them under the circumstances.)
(You can also describe the terrain around them, and let them choose which way they think will work best for them. Making a map of mountains and valleys in advance would be recommended.)
- If it looks like the PCs might be getting away, the aboleth will send its minions [for this, you can use gnolls, orcs, or any low CR monsters] in to harass the PCs directly. This can include defending the tops of mountains, narrow passages and places where a chasm might be crossed [also consider using piles of stones as a fortification, to prevent the PCs taking them down with ranges weapons and spells.]
Alternatively, making hit-and-run attacks, and retreating deeper into the aboleth’s territory. If the players follow them, they’ll be moving in the wrong direction, and if they don’t, the minions will be able to keep attacking.
- Finally, to help the players, you may need to provide some small lakes/ponds/pools so that they can use healing magic to stay alive. Of course, they don’t have to be easily accessible. Aside from at the bottom of cliffs [with no easy access into the valley,] underground might be a good idea. It doesn’t have to be deep underground, but if it’s inside a large cave, you can use the regional effect where the floor is slippery, this makes problems all by itself, and if you add a cliff down, or minions defending the water, you have a real challenge.
[If you provide a way for a minion to see the water, [perhaps a hiding spot,] you can have the aboleth appear to talk to the players and let them know that they’re only chance is to surrender. It won’t be able to physically assault them, though.]
- As this entire section will be a long, exhausting grind [by design, as that’s what the aboleth wants. The problem I’m coming to solve in this paragraph is that it might be too much for the players,] you might want to have them discover something interesting. I will put an idea at the end of this article, but you’d be better off with something that would act as a plot hook, perhaps for your next storyline after they’re finished with the aboleth, or perhaps something that has to do with the overall plot they were working on before they met the aboleth. It can’t be something too long, as in-game they need healing before they can do anything else, and out-of-game you don’t want to distract them from the storyline to too great an extent, but something that will break the monotony is a good idea, and preferably something that will excite them, and give them a sense of accomplishment [this section is extremely short on that.]
*[It doesn’t say weakened, but it makes complete sense that people whose skin is burning away from contact with the air will not be at their normal capabilities. I’m not suggesting it affecting combat [that would be too strong a negative, and also not something the text should have said if it was relevant] but having it affect [STR and DEX] skill checks seems perfectly reasonable.
Against the Aboleth – Second Encounter: Underwater Combat (difficulty 11)
If the first encounter goes the way it should, your players will be raring for revenge. As a definitive fight against the aboleth will necessarily take place underwater [the aboleth might fight on the surface, but it will dive as soon as it looks like it might lose,] this section will be to suggest the tactics the aboleth will use against the players underwater.
Before the players can face it underwater, you will have to give them some form of underwater breathing. Water breathing won’t do it, as the aboleth will enslave the caster and order him to drop the spell. They’ll need something that won’t depend on a specific character [or one that depends on a caster who isn’t going with them to fight the aboleth,] and if it can be dropped, it has to be able to be replaced mid-battle.
They’ll probably also want a protection against the aboleth’s disease.
You should also remind them that non-piercing weapons will be doing half-damage. If they’re stupid enough to cast a fire spell underwater, that’s their fault, but the difference in weapons is both less obvious and not something they can fix mid-battle.
If you want another stage, you can use one of the combat setups I give at the beginning of the encounter. Or you can decide that the encounter is already long enough, and move straight to the underwater battle.
[If you do stage a fight above water, the aboleth is going to start very low on HP. You might need to give it a [one-use] powerful healing potion/scroll, or decide that it has a lot of unimportant enslaved minions that it can use psychic drain on (the aboleth moves a lot faster than the players, and it might take them a while to get to the bottom of the lake where the fight will take place.) Or you can decide that the aboleth had a lot more HP that average. Just be aware that the players might forego taking a long rest between stages just so that the aboleth doesn’t heal, in which case you should limit its healing or at least warn the players about it.
And now, its tactics underwater: (I’m going to set the scene at the bottom of lake as containing a handful of submerged, partially destroyed houses. Perhaps this was a city once, long ago. You should be able to use my ideas without it, however. Just use overhangs and caves along the side of the lake.)
- The aboleth will lead them on a chase through some of the houses (perhaps in a door and out a window.) Once the PCs are strung out the aboleth can double back [it moves much faster than them. Remember that they’re at half-speed underwater.) and attack the vulnerable back rank. I.e., the mages.
- The aboleth can also let them catch up and then attack the walls and/or pillars, bringing the house down on top of them. This will either leave some of them trapped, allowing the aboleth to attack the rest of the party while they escape, or trap them all. The aboleth can reach in with its long tentacles to attack them, and they won’t be able to attack back. [Be receptive to whatever ideas they come up with to escape. I’m suggesting this strategy in part based on the fact that at this level they should have spells/abilities that they can use to get out of difficult situations.
- When it decides to force the last confrontation, it will choose one of two options
- Use its tentacles to churn up a cloud of dirt and sand, leaving the players blinded. While the aboleth will have disadvantage also, the players won’t even know where to attack, while the aboleth has a high passive perception and can make a perception check to sense the players as a legendary action.
- Attack where there’s a low roof or overhand over deep mud. The players will either have to attack while lying at a weird angle, which should probably interfere with their movement and possibly with their attack, or they’ll step into the mud, which will leave them trapped in place, unable to move without the other PC’s help to pull them out of the mud.
- The enslave option also opens up a whole bunch of things the aboleth can do using hostages. I’m going to give that its own section.
Hostage strategies (difficulty 12)
The premise of this section is that the aboleth has several people enslaved at the bottom of his lake. The players have to rescue them before they can kill the aboleth or they’ll die with the aboleth. Perhaps the spell letting them survive underwater is tied to the aboleth, perhaps the aboleth will order them to commit suicide when it realizes that it’s lost the battle, or perhaps the aboleth keeps them low on HP, to the extent where they’ll die the first time the aboleth targets them with psychic drain.
Who are these prisoners? In the first section I suggested that the aboleth could have the guide blackmailed, with a loved one or family member hostage to ensure his cooperation. Perhaps the players cornered him before returning to fight the aboleth. They might feel sorry enough for the guide to agree to rescue him/her. Or perhaps the aboleth has someone important that the PCs will need for the main quest, or perhaps there’s a reward if they can bring them back unharmed. The last option is to use one of the PCs, not that they’ve been a hostage long-term, but that the aboleth successfully uses enslave on them, and immediately sends them to enact one of the scenarios below.
[I have in mind for these scenarios to take place while they’re fighting the aboleth, to drive up the difficulty. You could theoretically let them happen before. Let the PCs sneak in and rescue the hostages, and then move on to the battle described in the last section.
I still wouldn’t have it happen after defeating the aboleth, though. That’s counter-climatic.
- The hostage is sitting under a boulder balanced precariously on a small surface. They warn the PCs that if they come any closer, they’ll bring it down upon themselves [which might break the enslaved status, but will also kill them.] I suggest not making it too easy to go around and sneak up on the hostage from behind.
- The hostage flees the room [location] as the PCs approach. Chasing leads to a large, heavy, open door, and steps leading down. If they follow into this basement, the hostage will come out from where they’ve been hiding [possibly behind the open door] and close and lock the door on the PCs, leaving them trapped.
- The hostage has been tied up and left next to a large chasm. When they come to untie him, he slips the ropes [he wasn’t actually tied, at least not securely] and throws them over the rescuer. There is a lot of ropes, and they function as a net [or they were a net all along, but mostly hidden by his body.] For good measure, he pushes the rescuer over the edge of the chasm, where he’ll sink in if not promptly rescued.
- Finally, you can use the abilities of the hostage himself. Like above, I suggest against direct attacks. If he’s a melee class, have him grapple the rescuer. If he’s a spell-caster, have him use his most annoying non-damage dealing spells. Illusions are good, so are enchantments. Conjuration has entangle, among other spells, and transformation also has some nice effects. Choose 2-3 low level ones that you like the idea of, and go wild.
[If a PC is enslaved, the same rules apply, but you’re limited to what he has, and you might need to be imaginative. Thinking about ideas before the game is always a good idea.
Logically, it would make sense to use his most powerful spells. If you accomplish nothing else, you’d still deprive him of his best spell slots. That said, I would not do this. The player will hate it, and in this case I don’t think the benefits are worth it. [As a rule of the thumb, only annoy the players when the annoyance will be over soon, or when you’re annoying them all equally. Depriving a player of his best moves at the beginning of a boss fight is neither of those.]
This concludes my article on the aboleth. I would like to apologize to any players whose DM read my article. I didn’t realize how nasty the aboleth were myself until I started planning this article.
Puzzle at Temple
Inside the temple, the players find a set of scales lying on one of the altars. On one side of the scales lies a miniature sword. Only players with some association to the sword can leave the room. Anyone else who tries teleports right back in.
If a player puts an item on the other side of the scale, it will shrink, and the side with the new item on it will go down, regardless of weight. The sword can now be removed from the scale, and doing so will cause it to revert to its original size. (If the players have a sufficient number of magical items, you might want to rule that only a magical item can be put on the scale. Anything else won’t shrink, and won’t affect the scale. If you do this, you will have to make the sword magical, which you might want to do anyway, just to give the players something.)
The rule of the scale is simple. You have to have a connection to the item on the scale to leave the room.
If there are two items on the scale, you have to match both. The item on the lower side of the scale can be removed, the item on the higher side cannot.
Optional extra: If there are two items on the scale, and everybody in the room matches both of them (minimum of one person, to prevent it being moved when nobody is in the room, perhaps with a rope or Bigby’s hand,) then the scale can be removed. When the scale is outside it loses its powers, but no one can remove the items on it. If it is brought into a room and not everybody matches both sides of the scale, it immediately teleports to some convenient surface, perhaps shedding the item on the higher side when it does. (The item doesn’t teleport with it.)