Combat Challenge 7
1 Barlgura (CR 5)
2 Gargoyles (CR 2)
1 Barlgura (CR 5)
2 Beserkers (CR 2)
3 Cult fanatics (CR 2)
Combat Challenge 9
1 Barlgura (CR 5)
2 Gnoll fangs of Yeenoghu (CR 4)
2-3 Perytons (CR 2)
Combat Challenge 11
2 Barlguras (CR 5)
1 Chimera (CR 6)
3-4 Ogres (CR 2)
How to Use
With the barlgura we have one of the weirdest combos in D&D. A creature of no intelligence to speak of, with a whole bunch of spells whose usage revolves around being used subtly. I’m honestly wondering if maybe there was a printing error and the spells were originally meant to go to a different monster, perhaps the glabrezu. As a negotiator with high intelligence, the glabrezu could well use a few spells that would let him disguise his nature. Then again, the glabrezu is already highly overpowered as it is.
Regardless, the spells are in the possession of the barlgura. How shall it use them?
Keith Ammen gives one set of ideas in his blog that revolve around the barlgura being an ambush predator. In fairness, the barlgura does have stealth. To my mind, however, the large size, the lack of grappling ability, the reckless trait, the bright orange color, and the look of violent rage on its face all seem to add up to a creature that doesn’t do subtlety.
(As an aside, this is one of my favorite pictures in the monster manual. I feel the picture does a very good job of painting a picture of what facing it would be like.)
This is what I’d do with its spells.
Invisibility it will use in its basic use. Some quirk has given it various spells, and it has figured out that invisibility lets it get the jump on enemies, so why not use it.
Disguise Self is another spell that it tries to use for subtlety, but it doesn’t really understand how to do it. The outcome is that the PCs will see a large-sized animal or NPC charging them, with a mad grin and a look of bloodlust across its face. The barlgura has no sense of what to disguise itself as, however, so they might see a large deer or bunny rabbit lunging toward them, or an elderly person or even a baby. [Large-sized, mind.] The effect will be either a horror vibe, or confusion. If you use an NPC that the players know the effect will be both. My guess is they’ll think that he’s being mind-controlled, and will act accordingly.
Entangle is reserved for countering hit and run tactics, meaning any time that a PC moves away from the barlgura and attacks. (If they’ve just fleeing, it can run after them unless they’re somehow exceeding the barlgura’s speed. That would also be cause to cast Entangle, but is extremely unlikely.)
Phantasmal Force is used when the barlgura is being somehow restrained, or otherwise prevented from attacking. It will use phantasmal force to show the PC restraining it what it wants to do to it, I.E., he’ll see a second barlgura appearing from where the first one is standing, running over to him [through a wall of force if necessary] and clobbering him. As this will do 1d6 damage, there is a chance that this will ruin his concentration and end the spell. Assuming that the barlgura targeted the correct player. With its low intelligence, that can’t be taken for granted. (Given the choice between Phantasmal Force and summoning variant, it will probably choose Phantasmal force, as that is more direct.)
The barlgura also has the option of reckless attacks. If you want something more elaborate than just using this feature always, (I favor not using it constantly because that way it’s more noticeable when you do use it,) I would suggest that any time two of its three attacks fail in one turn it switches to fighting recklessly. Once it starts fighting this way it doesn’t stop, unless for whatever reason it can’t make any attacks in one round. Then it drops reckless until the next time two of three attacks fail.
Combat Encounter 1: Cliff Climbing (difficulty 7)
Create a battlemap of a cliff face. Instead of being a representation of the width and length of an area, this battlemap will represent width and Height. The battlemap will have a number of ledges, most of which are probably only wide enough for one person to stand in one place, although multiple people can stand next to each other along the width. [this removes the need for length.] You can have areas where two or more people can stand, and areas that are so narrow that different PCs can’t easily pass each other. Just find a way to mark these places.
You’ll also need to mark which areas are climbable, letting the players know where to climb and forcing them to move back and forth across the ledges. Or perhaps this last part is unnecessary, as they can’t fight while they’re climbing. (My guess is that if they can move and fight in the same turn, they will, if not, they’ll take turns.)
You can also add in places rock outcroppings blocks line of sight, but since the ledges will be doing that it’s probably unnecessary. Another optional possibility is marking sections of the mountain face as weaker than others, so that if they cast a destruction spell there it will cause a rockfall. This can be beneficial or negative.
I would give them some amount of pursuit. Starting from the second round, have two gnolls appear every round until they escape the scenario. They have to escape, as the gnolls are pursuing them in too large numbers to defeat. If they fight, they’ll eventually get overwhelmed. Make sure your players know this.
[Two gnolls a round is meant for a party of four fourth-level players. For each additional player or level, add half a gnoll a round. (Half a gnoll meaning that every other round there will be an additional gnoll. Two half gnolls will be an extra gnoll each round.) You can vary it by including occasional higher-CR gnolls.]
The barlgura can climb any part of the walls, even the areas that are too smooth for the PCs. He can also jump over PCs to change position. He’ll move around, changing who he’s fighting every round or two, using his Invisibility to retreat without attacks of opportunity being made against him. His choice of targets will probably be pretty random, given his limited intelligence, but you can assume he was told to stop the PCs escaping and will therefore prioritize the PCs higher up.
Another strategy he might use would be to go higher than the PCs and utilize this height to throw boulders down onto them. This can take the form of a single, powerful attack (probably equal to two of his normal attacks hitting in terms of damage). It can also take the form of a boulder rolling along a ledge [or multiple ledges], doing damage to everybody on the ledge like a boulder trap, and possibly knocking them off the ledge and onto a lower ledge if they fail a DEX save. A third option is to let the boulder smash a ledge, or part of a ledge [but make sure that there are other ways left to reach the top.]
There are two possible goals for this scenario to end. Choose one:
- The easier way is that the PCs are meeting or summoning an ally when they reach the top. This means that only one of them needs to reach the top in order for them to win, and that the barlgura should concentrate most on whichever PCs are currently most ahead. Possible ideas for an ally would be: An angel, a djinn, a guardian naga, or perhaps a large number of aaracockras. Or they could activate a protection spell whose radius, once activated, will reach all the PCs. (If I was using this scenario, I would probably make reaching the allies be the original goal from before they encountered the barlgura or the gnolls.)
- The other scenario end goal is that all the PCs need to reach the top. This is easier for you to run, and harder for the players to achieve. (If one of them is knocked unconscious they’ll be in trouble. It would be useful if they have a few healing potions/scrolls/charms before they begin to reduce the risk.) At the top is a secret door/passage they can go through without the enemy being able to follow, or a bridge they can destroy behind them, or a protection spell that doesn’t have a large radius.
If they try to cut off pursuit by destroying the ledges behind them, mention that there are other ledges further away on the mountain which the enemies can use, and are possibly trying to use at the moment. If necessary, or if you want to increase the challenge, you can have some or all of the gnolls appearing ahead of them at some point. (I would probably not do this until round 5-6).
Combat Encounter 2: King of the Mountain (difficulty 7)
Note: This scenario requires a homebrew rule that the barlgura’s fist attack pushes the victim five feet away from it if it hits. [I try to provide at least one combat scenario per monster that doesn’t use homebrew at all, but I allow myself light homebrew touches for other combat scenarios If I find it sufficiently tempting.]
The players stumble into a large encampment of gnolls (too many to fight.) Perhaps you’ll start with a chase scene, as the players try to escape the gnolls, or perhaps they’re all around them and it’s impossible to escape. Either way, they see a stone lying atop two standing stones and recall an old legend. (If they have an NPC with them, he can tell them, if not either fake a knowledge[religion] check or just tell them outright.)
According to the legend, while gnolls are generally vicious killers with no morals, they do accept a specific challenge of strength. If warriors seize a tall, empty stone and raise their swords in challenge, the gnolls will meet them with a number of their own no greater than the number of warriors. Should the warriors win, the gnolls will not attack them on that rock.
(I made up this legend because I liked the idea. If you want to argue that the chaotic evil gnolls would never accept such a challenge, I would have to admit that you’re probably right. You could instead have a portal or trapdoor in the stone, have the barlgura be placed there by an evil conjurer to guard the location, and replace the gnolls with a large number of any creature that can’t climb. Displacer beasts, quaggoths, or any animal in appendix A that doesn’t have climbing capabilities are all good options.)
The battle is simple. The players reach the rock, which is 30-50 feet long but only 15-20 wide (Note: 15 is going to be a lot more challenging than 20.) The gnoll’s champion, of course, is a barlgura.
The players have to defeat it with the rider that they’re going to have trouble placing more than one PC next to it without risking that PC being knocked off. The barlgura, for its part, will be steadily advancing, using its fists to push the PCs back and knocking them off if it gets a chance.
I would think that so long as there is a PC between a ranged attacker and the barlgura, the barlgura will benefit from at least half cover. (Magic spells already suffer from disadvantage, thanks to magic resistance.)
Should a PC be knocked off, the rules of the fight allow the gnolls to attack him until he gets back onto the rock. Fortunately, the gnolls are distracted by the fight and slow to react. I would suggest that a number of gnolls approximately equal to the party level notice the fallen PC on the first round, and that you add 50% more to the current total [including dead gnolls in the total] for each turn afterwards. This means that the penalty for falling will be steep, but not instant death.
Should the players be high level and you feel that you want to increase the challenge, one way would be to add a second barlgura, but you could also choose to maximize the barlgura’s HP. This would let it use its reckless ability even more recklessly, drastically increasing the chance of knocking PCs down.
If they defeat the barlgura, then the fight is over. The gnolls won’t attack them so long as they remain on the rock. Of course, if they try to leave the rock the protection is suspended [until and unless they return] and they probably only have so much food and drink with them, to say nothing of the threat from exposure. They’ll have to get busy if they want to think of a way out.