Dragon Encounters

Creative Combat Encounters, and other ways of using the monsters of dungeons and dragons

DEATH TYRANT (beholders): Fighting the Massacre


(I suggested in the article that any giant types that die
under the death tyrants gaze should become ogre zombies rather than regular
ones. [Note: since this isn’t explicitly mentioned in the Monster Manual,
it probably qualifies as homebrew.] I used a fair amount of giants here for
that reason.

Combat rating 17


1 Death tyrant (CR 14)

3 Ettins (CR 4)

5 Ogre zombies (CR 2)


Combat rating 20


1 Death tyrant [in-lair] (CR 15)

1 Herzou (CR 8)

3 Vrocks (CR 6)

2 Driders (CR 6)


Combat rating 21


1 Death tyrant (CR 14)

4 Hill giants (CR 5)

2 Dao (CR 11)


Combat rating 23


1 Death tyrant [in-lair] (CR 15)

1 Death knight (CR 17)

3 Fomorians (CR 8)

1 Oni (CR 7)

3 Vampire spawn (CR 3)


The reason a beholder zombie isn’t mentioned here is because
I considered two beholder types in the same battle to be too chaotic and too
much to keep track of. However, if you’re running a dungeon with a death tyrant
as boss, by all means use it in one of the fights before the boss battle.
[Probably guarding the death tyrant’s door. It will consider having killed
another beholder as one of its greatest accomplishments, and that will make the
beholder zombie one of its most prized possessions.]

How to Use – Combat Encounter 1 (Difficulty 17)

In this scenario, the city has fallen to the death tyrant. * The death tyrant has zombies, giants (ogres, ettins, cyclopes) and possibly other monsters rampaging through the city and setting fire to some of the houses. While a few citizens might be killed, the true goal is to send the people running. The monsters have been arranged to funnel the people toward some large open plaza, probably near the center of the city. Only there, under the gaze of the death tyrant, will the majority of them be murdered, so that the death tyrant’s eye ray can successfully convert them into zombies with minimum effort.

This is a scenario that pretty much has to be run in theater of mind (although having a map available is useful, as it makes it much easier to describe the positions of the various character.)

The scenario starts with the players arriving at the center square. The townspeople are already there, huddled together in the center (or near the center. It might be nice to put a statue and/or fountain in the middle. In addition to being thematically appropriate, and breaking up the monotony, it will give cover. That is always useful, and even more so if the PCs include a rogue. You could also include some empty wagons around the edges, set up by merchants selling wares.) There are multiple paths leading into the center square. Any of them not already blocked by zombies or other minions have frightened people still coming in, and will be blocked off soon. At the main road leading in is the death tyrant himself. You might want to give him a few guards.

The crowd will take their turn on initiative 20. The first round, several (6-8) people collapse, crushed by the crowd. They will rise as zombies on their next turn.

The zombies will collectively attack the crowd unless a PC draws their attention and distracts them. When they attack the crowd, just assume that every two zombies kill one citizen, who will become a zombie the following round. Left unchecked, the zombies will probably grow into a massive group before the end of the battle.

If you need to increase the zombies further (if the players are doing too good a job at killing them,) either have the death tyrant use his disintegration ray to collapse the masonry on several people or have it send in a few minions to attack the townsfolk. (I would probably not do this more than once. Meaning, if they take out those minions, it won’t send more minions to replace them. The minions it sent the first time will keep on killing until the PCs stop them. If attacked, the ones attacked will fight back to defend themselves, but return to killing civilians if the players break off the fight.)

If they fight off the minions guarding one of the streets leading in, they will be replaced a round later. If they kill off these ones too, that exit is now clear, but the chaos in the central plaza is by now such that not everybody is able to reach the street and flee. (The exact amount will depend on the number of zombies in the square.) You can reward the players, if you want, by reducing the number of new zombies created and by making it easier to travel through the main square. See the next paragraph.

The crowds tend to cluster together, either in one large group or in a few groups. Traveling through the crowds is like moving through difficult terrain, despite their efforts to make way for the people defending them. If the people panic, any PCs in their way have to make a strength save or get either pushed back or knocked prone and trampled [bludgeoning damage.] The DC needed, and the amount of damage, will depend on the size of the crowd and their panic level.

One thing you might like to do, especially if the PCs have spent time in this city before, is to create an NPC captain of the guard. Having him on hand will give you a bit more leeway to help out with controlling the crowd and/or fighting the zombies if the players seem overwhelmed, and if he’s doing too much have the death tyrant target him. If they know him, they might regret his death. [Use either the veteran or knight statblock, or if you want something higher the gladiator statblock. You can say that fear for his city is giving him the brutal power instead of the gladiator’s combat training.]

The scenario will only end when the death tyrant is dead [or the players defeated.] The players have to protect the crowd from the zombies, and possibly other minions of the death tyrant, while also sparing attention to fight the death tyrant at the same time. For its part, the death tyrant won’t overlook the PCs. Even before they attack it, it recognizes them as its greatest enemy and will focus its attacks on them.

* How does the death tyrant take down the city? The Monster Manual says that death tyrants use zombies as decoys and as bait for traps. Based on this, I would suggest that it sends a number of zombies to infest an area, leaving people to assume a curse or a lesser enemy. Once the city commits a large number of the city guard to clear out that area, it takes advantage of the guards’ absence to attack the city from a different direction.

This plot could be used by the DM as a forerunner for the main plot. Have the players join the guards on their quest against the zombies. Since a zombie quest is boring and too low level, have them split up from the main group to go into the most dangerous area to gain information, deploy an item that will bring down the curse, take out a boss, rescue some guards, or just split them off through some kind of accident [maybe a landslide] and they have to struggle to survive and to eventually rejoin the group.

Then they come back to the city [possibly after a long rest, using nightfall as an excuse] and realize they’ve been tricked. Begin the main scenario from above.

As bait means a false infestation, as above, but with the goal of luring guards out so it can capture them and torture them for information [fear, confuse, and charm rays would make awesome interrogation tools], and possibly turn some of them into double agents on its side. This plot doesn’t easily involve the players, however.

Combat Encounter 2 (Difficulty 17)

When fighting a death tyrant inside its lair, have the final room (the boss fight room) be a long hallway, about a hundred feet long and no more than twenty feet wide. [the death tyrant might have a fancy room beyond it, but that’s not where the fight will take place.]

The death tyrant will have a guard of undead, giants, and maybe some other monsters. They’ll have to fight their way down the hall while the death tyrant is shooting at them and preventing healing, and any living monster will have to be defeated twice.

I would argue that any creature that is giant type should turn into an ogre zombie upon being reanimated. Since the text doesn’t mention it, this is technically homebrew, but it is also common sense.

If you want to up the difficulty a bit further, have the last 20-30 feet be an open pit, with spikes and/or some type of magical, ever burning fire.

[The main reason for this hallway, even more than to prevent melee attacks, is to prevent clerics from using turn undead. The death tyrant is an undead boss with no defense against turn undead, and you do not want your boss to be forced to run screaming within two rounds. A death knight minion or ally is the only other way to prevent this.]

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About Me

I have been a DM for several years, and I was designing home RPG games since my young childhood. I have been a fan of many different types of games (computer, board, RPG, and more) and have designed several for my own entertainment. This is my first attempt to produce game content for a wider audience.