Combat rating 5
1 Chuul (CR 4)
2 Giant octopuses (CR 1)
1 Swarm of quippers (CR 1)
Combat rating 6
1 Chuul (CR 4)
1 Sea hag (CR 2)
1 Yellow slime (CR 2)
2 Harpies (CR 1)
Combat rating 7
2 Chuuls (CR 4)
1 Animated armor (CR 1)
1 Manticore (CR 3)
Combat rating 8
2 Chuuls (CR 4)
1 Griffin (CR 2)
3 Merrow (CR 2)
How to Use – Terrain obstacles
A brief look at the chuul’s picture tells us that this monster isn’t going to have trouble navigating difficult terrain. Between the extra legs for balance, and the pincer like grips that it clearly has at the end of each leg, it’s not going to slip, let alone fall, very often.
This, especially when combined with the creature’s low intelligence, suggests that it won’t be too careful about the floor of its lair, and in front of said lair. When using a chuul, here are some terrain effects that you might want to scatter around to trip players up.[I’m putting suggested DCs in brackets. You can use the DCs, or you can take the ideas and play them as you like.]
- Slippery (moss covered?) stones: The chuuls live by the water, and that leads to high humidity in the summer and to rocks becoming submerged when the water level rises due to rainfall in the winter. The rocks next to the water are going to be very slippery. [I would suggest a DEX save, DC 10 when stepping on these rocks, or being attacked while on these rocks. No more than one save a turn, but with disadvantage if moving more than 20 feet in a turn. Monks don’t suffer the disadvantage. Failure means falling prone, or falling into the water if it’s within 5 feet.]
- Water: Walking through water is hard, and fighting in water is harder. [Half-speed through water, and disadvantage while fighting someone on dry land. Climbing out depends on the slope, but can potentially require an athletics check [DC 10-14, depending on slope and height] to climb out. Chuuls swim, and are therefore unaffected.]
- Rotten wood: Since the chuuls tend to live by ruins, this idea is adding the ruins of a dock to the mix. (While the aboleths would never have built docks, wide open land next to an area where the water isn’t shallow is good land for both aboleths and humanoids, and thus might well have been settled multiple times. Also add in the fact that the chuuls like ruins, as it gives them a place to store their treasures.) Lack of maintenance means even if the wood looks somewhat healthy, it might be rotted away inside. [When a player stands on it, it breaks, dumping him into the water. That space is now water.] Also note that when one piece breaks it weakens the rest. It is possible that places where PCs stood safely a turn ago will collapse if they stand there again. (Chuuls have long legs, as well as four legs. Distributing their weight prevents it from collapsing under them.)
- Hidden hole: With large amounts of rubble and junk in the area, sometimes it shifts around, and sometimes cracks or holes form between the pieces. A PC stepping carelessly might end up with his leg stuck inside such a hole, and the pressure of stepping into it causes the rubble to shift around and trap his foot all the firmer. It is also possible for loose dirt to cover the hole; in which case it can’t be seen. [Designate an area, and whenever a player enters that area roll a dice to see if he stepped into the hole [one is six chance.] Once caught, he can free himself with a minor STR. check [DC 10], but he takes a small amount of damage [2d6?] and his speed is halved for that turn. Another player can use their action to free him without a dice roll or any penalty. This is an effect you probably can’t use twice.]
- Piles of rubble: The chuuls move stuff out of their way, and stack it up with no thought for stability. This leads to the rubbish forming large, unstable piles at the side of their domain. In addition to being difficult terrain, it can collapse, causing PCs to slide or even end up buried underneath it. [I would somewhat prefer to eyeball it, but if you want to roll, anytime a player walks onto a pile or is attacked while on a pile, roll a d6. 1-3, nothing happens. 4-5, player starts to slide. Make a DEX save [DC 12], and if he fails, he moves five feet from the center. If he’s on the center, move five feet in a random direction. This movement can trigger opportunity attacks. On a roll of six, the pile collapses. Make a DEX save [DC 14] to avoid being knocked prone and buried. Once buried, getting out requires spending an action to make a STR save [DC 12]. Or someone can use their action to dig the PC out [automatic success, although he’s still prone.] Anyone near a pile when it collapses has to make a DEX save [DC 11] to avoid getting knocked prone. They’re only buried if they fail by five or more. Multiple attacks on the same turn count as one attack. Fallen piles no longer slide, but there is a risk of Hidden Holes when walking there [see previous.] The chuuls only roll if they’re attacked, not when they move, and they have advantage on DEX saves due to extra legs.]
Combat encounter 1: Collected (difficulty 6)
The Monster Manual tells us that, when not serving an aboleth or other master, chuuls are habitual collectors. This is going to give us all we need to create two different combat scenarios.
In this first scenario, the chuuls see some or all of the party members as being magical, interesting, and worthy of being added to their collection.
The best targets to be collected by the chuul would obviously be sorcerers, but clerics, druids, paladins, and warlocks should work fine as well, as with all these magic permeates their body and makes them magical. If you need, though, any class could be argued to be magical, as even barbarians have powers that are out of the norm for most humans.
Use at least three chuuls, this way when one of them successfully paralyzes a collection-worthy PC, they can drag that PC away while the others preoccupy the remaining PCs from coming to the rescue. [To be clear, I expect the others to successfully come to the rescue. But there won’t be any challenge to it if it’s easy for them to do so.] The chuul carrying the prisoner will use its actions to dash, thereby offsetting the reduction to its movement that grappling normally causes. [Keep in mind that if they’ve grappled a halfling, the small size means that there isn’t any movement reduction.]
You might want to have the encounter begin with the chuul surprising them, as they might have a hard time getting to the collection-worthy PCs, who are mostly back-rank spellcasters.
(Is this scenario harder than if they were simply going for the kill, as the game makes surely intended? I think possibly. The chuuls damage is extremely low, so there isn’t much chance of them killing a player, while there is a chance of them successfully imprisoning a player. It the end of the day, even if it isn’t harder, it’s still an interesting variation.]
Here is a list of different ways of imprisoning PCs, and some other variations to make life interesting:
- The chuul throw the player into a pit. The advantage of this is that the pit can be right near the combat, allowing the chuul to rejoin combat almost right away. The walls of the pit are slippery with moss, making climbing out extremely difficult.
- The chuul carries the PC into their base, and imprisons them inside a room. If could be that the room has a lock, and the chuuls know how to use locks based on memories from when they served the aboleth. Otherwise, the chuul drags some heavy rubble in front of the doorway in order to block it. This imprisonment is the one that the players will find the most impossible to escape from on their own.
- The chuul takes the PC into the water. Possibly the chuul means to leave him on a rock in the middle of the water, possibly it’s going through the water to get to a pit or cell that is has on the other side. Regardless, if the player breaks the grapple while they’re in the water, the grappled player will be stuck in the middle of the water. If the grappled player is paralyzed, he’ll immediately start drowning.
- The chuul carries the PC over one of the piles of rubble. If the grapple is broken while they’re on the pile, the pile will almost certainly collapse or at least slide. As the player is off balance from having broken free, raise the DC of the DEX save by two. If he’s paralyzed, the pile will land on top of him and he’ll be buried. At that point, the chuul will leave him alone. As far as its concerned, under a heavy pile is a fine place to imprison the PC.
At some point, after they’ve escaped 3-4 times, the chuuls should give up on capturing them and switch to normal combat strategies.
I should mention that while the chuuls are occasionally interested in taking prisoners, they don’t know much about how to keep prisoners alive. The food they provide the prisoners will be edible to the chuuls, not necessarily edible to the prisoners. They won’t have any way to bring them water, and it won’t even occur to them to provide warmth and shelter.
This means that the players are unlikely to encounter someone who has been taken prisoner by the chuul, and if they do, they have almost certainly been taken prisoner recently. [finding a rotting corpse or skeletons in the chuuls prison also makes a lot of sense.]
Combat scenario 2: Rescue Mission (difficulty 7)
In this scenario, the chuuls have captured an NPC. The NPC contacts them by use of the message spell, asking them for help. To make matters worse, there is a killer pursuing the NPC, and the chuuls have left their captive defenseless. If they can’t get to the NPC before the killer does, he/she is dead.
(The killer is essential to this scenario. Without a killer, the players will most likely just fulfill the mission by attacking and killing the chuul. The chuul will never think to take advantage of the fact that they have a captive. Once the killer is added the players can no longer do that, as it would take too long.)
Ideally, the NPC should be someone they already know. Failing that, perhaps they were on a mission to meet this NPC in order to learn some important quest information from him/her. The NPC will have been informed that they were coming, so that they know that the PCs are in the area and able to rescue them.
Another alternative, if you don’t mind a slight homebrew, is that the spell is modified to reach any friendly parties in the area. If you do this, you should probably include mention of a reward in the message.
The obvious choice for the killer would be an assassin (CR 8). If you don’t want to use an assassin, perhaps because the CR is too high, other enemies that would work are a drow warrior (CR 5), a Githyanki fighter (CR 3), a helmed horror (CR 4), a revenant (CR 5), or a wight (CR 3).
(When you make the map, don’t worry about the killer’s route or about plotting where he/it will be each turn. Just figure out how many rounds you want the players to have in order to achieve the rescue (I suggest approx. 10,) and leave it at that. If it makes you feel better, virtually every computer game uses this strategy. Here.)
Here are ideas for obstacles and obstructions that they’ll face in this scenario:
- A chuul is standing near the entrance to the building or near a doorway they need to take. There are a few piles of rubble around to give cover. Chuul are stupid, so it shouldn’t be too hard to lure it away. (Although they’re also aberrations, so it might act in an unexpected manner.)
- The players are making their way through the building when they hear the noise of a chuul coming in behind them. You could place more chuul in front of them, so that they can’t readily advance, or they could be in a dead-end room with no time to retreat. If you choose a dead-end room, you should decide whether there are sufficient hiding places in the room for the entire party, and if so whether any of the hiding places are big enough that the party can hide together. [If you’re providing hiding places, you probably want to have the chuul remain in the room. If it goes in and out there won’t be much challenge.]
- There is loose rubble in front of the door, or the door has jammed and needs to be broken open. Problem is, doing so will cause a lot of noise and alert the chuul. Alternatively, the players accidently made a noise and now the chuul are coming to investigate. [Have the chuul be coming from ahead, not behind, or this won’t be a problem.]
- The players are nearly up to the prisoner, but there are a pair of chuuls standing around blocking the path forward. What’s more, they see the killer moving stealthily on the far side of the chuul. They’re nearly there, but the killer is ahead of them.
Assuming this last idea does end in a climax fight, you’ll probably want a climax fight after they rescue the prisoner. Have freeing the prisoner make a noise, have several chuuls burst in on them, and in the middle of the fight have the killer appear on other side of them, forcing them to adjust positions if they’re to protect the former prisoner.
(If they somehow killed the killer when they saw it on the other side of the chuuls, I would remind you that there can be more than one killer.)