Combat rating 1/2
1 Needle blight (CR 1/4)
3-4 Awakened shrubs (CR 0)
0-2 Giant rats (CR 1/8)
Combat rating 1
1-2 Needle blights (CR 1/4)
2-3 Violet Funguses (CR 1/4)
Combat rating 2
3 Needle blights (CR 1/4)
1-2 Scarecrows (CR 1)
Combat rating 2
2 Needle blights (CR 1/4)
1 Ankheg (CR 2)
Other suggestions: Giant spider.
How to Use – When and Where
I would suggest that blights should hide during the day [mostly applicable to twig and vine blights. Needle blights just remain motionless, perhaps going to sleep.] The reasons are threefold.
- Blights have a stronger horror vibe than most monsters in the Monster Manual, and horror is always most effective in a night setting. (Many people would argue undead as the main horror monsters. My feeling is that undead are somewhat overused for horror, and this will work against them. They can obviously be made to work as horror, but I’m talking about horror off the cuff, with minimal extra work.)
- The origin story is that they come from a vampire. Enough said.
- With their low CR, blights have to move around in numbers to be a threat to even the lowest level party, but they don’t have the intelligence to coordinate. If they have a fixed time when they move around, all you need is to add in a shared instinct for where to ambush prey [I.E., they think alike,] and your problem is mostly solved.
Due to their nature as plants, evil beings with intelligence can harvest their seeds and then plant them where they want them. This can be to cover up the entrance to a tomb or other hiding place, on the outskirts of their territory as a defense, inside another creature’s territory as an attack, or other.
The spell speak with plants and animals should let evil beings control them, or you could just say that evil beings can sense the evil in each other and cooperate naturally. [I mean intrinsic, magical evil, such as demons and hags. Orcs and bandits aren’t evil in the same way.]
The standard fighting style of a needle blight would be to advance until it has a target within range, shoot a volley of needles, and then use any remaining movement to retreat as far as it can, then repeat this again the following turn. It will only use its claws if an enemy reaches it in melee, as they are a significantly weaker attack.
If its enemy attempts to retaliate, they are hampered by low lying branches making it obscured terrain, and the growth of vegetation making it difficult terrain. Especially if it is night, you can place walls [boulders, barriers] that they won’t know about until they’re right next to them, and ditches they might not notice until they fall into them [if they fail a perception check,] thanks to the overgrowth of vegetation.
[Logically, the needle blight itself shouldn’t have its vision obscured, thanks both to its unique form of sight and to its kinship with plants. In practice, I’m leery of giving this type of advantage to an enemy who is only a CR 1/4.]
Since a hit and run strategy is not what you want to base an encounter around [you win such encounters by depriving your enemy of the ability to target you. Hunting them down is a losing strategy,] I’m going to create combat encounters where the goal isn’t directly against them, and with a different main enemy in the second encounter [although the needle blights will play significant part in both encounters.]
Combat Encounter 1: The Maze (difficulty 3)
Setting: The players need to access a location [boss fight, dungeon entrance] within a city that has become overgrown with blights. The goal of this scenario is to find a way to get past the blight infested areas while still retaining enough health to complete the primary mission.
When you make a battle map, scatter several rooftops, courtyards or other elevated areas, and place needle blights on several of them. The players don’t need to take down these needle blights, but going between the buildings will allow the needle blights to launch quite a volley of attacks on them. They have to decide which rooftops they need to clear, and in what order.
To stop the players from just clearing out all the rooftops out in a fixed order, from side to side, you can put them in a circle, with every rooftop being adjacent to at least two others, or put the stairs leading up to the rooftop between two rooftops.
I might also suggest limiting the information available to the players. After all, they can’t see a rooftop that’s behind the other rooftops, and trees can obscure vision further. [Since you don’t want to obscure vision too much, I suggest giving them a full or mostly full moon when fighting at night. Even if the players have darkvision, that’s limited to 30 feet in most cases.] They can obviously choose to gather more information with rogues or familiars.
[A homebrew idea: give each needle blight 1-3 berries, each of which will restore 1 HP. [Twig blights have at most 1 berry. Vine blights have a single extra-strength berry that restores 5 HP. The berries have a shelf life of 12 hours, to prevent them from being stockpiled. Fire attacks destroy the berries, as might some of the other area-of-effect spells.
This idea gives an advantage to melee fighters in a scenario that might otherwise be too biased to spellcasters. It will also give more staying power to players, which can be both a positive and a negative. The positive is that you don’t have to be as careful that the players retain enough HP through the scenario to be able to meet the next challenge. The negative is that it makes the players more likely to go through the village clearing out all the blights, which will end up boring everybody. You’ll have to make certain that they take enough damage taking down the blights that this is impossible.]
Final suggestion, you can give them too many blights to fight through. If you do, make it clear to them that they won’t be able to take down all the blights, and that more blights will replenish the ones killed if they try to do it other multiple days. Players have a default assumption that they’re supposed to kill all the monsters they meet.
Combat Encounter 2: The Boss Fight (difficulty 3)
The players need to defeat a dark boss that appears only at certain specific times, in a specific area. (An idea for building homebrew monsters and bosses quickly will be presented at the end of the article.)
For the area where the boss fight will take place, I suggest a small clearing with a stone floor. There are trees at the sides of the clearing, with their low-hanging branches obscuring sight of the surrounding area. The players arrive some time before the boss is scheduled to appear, and if they are smart, they will cut down the branches [or the trees] during the time they’re waiting. If they’re even smarter, they’ll create barricades to reduce the ability of the blights to attack during the fight.
To make certain they realize the threat, I suggest placing a [minor] needle blight encounter on the way to the clearing, and another while waiting for the boss. [They should still have time to fix up the area after defeating this encounter.] Make certain that nothing in the description of the boss fight they were given implies that the blights will leave them alone during the fight, and perhaps even go out of your way to mention that they will interfere.
I already discussed needle blight fight strategy above (under the heading titled needle blights) and there is nothing more that needs to be added over here.
2 Minute Homebrew
When you need a monster to fit a plot, you won’t always be able to find what you’re looking for in the Monster Manual. It’s only one book, and it can’t contain everything. The same is true no matter how many supplements you buy. The realm of homebrew is vast. Entire books could be written on how-to do it. This is just one quick way.
Introducing: Combining monsters with spells.
(Before I go into detail, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention something even easier. Sometimes, you don’t even need homebrew. Sometimes, all you really have to do is to take stat block you haven’t used recently and aren’t planning on using, and change the monster’s description and behavior.)
Take a monster one CR lower than the monster you want to end up with. Take a spell of a level equal to one-third of its CR, rounded down. (For CR 2 or less, use a cantrip.) The spell should ideally be one that does damage. Less ideal but still usable are spells that impose negative conditions.
Adjust the spell so that the damage of that spell is automatically added every time it hits its target with its attack roll. If the damage is meant to hit an area, have it only apply to the target of its attack. The spell is only combined with its attack rolls. Constructs, giants, humanoids, and beasts tend to be the best choices of monsters for adjusting as their abilities tend to be basic. (If the monster has an area-of-effect ability, either remove it or leave it in its original form, depending on whether it fits your monster’s theme. If you remove it, you can probably leave the CR as is, especially if you don’t change the monster’s HP. You can also change the damage type of original attacks and effects without effecting the CR.)
If the spell deals damage, you can have it automatically apply, with no save. After all, you already rolled to hit the target. If the spell applies a condition, or does a lot of damage (anything equal to the damage that attack would originally do, or nearly equal,) add a save. I.E., they only suffer the effects if the enemy manages to hit with its attack roll and they fail the save.
You can give it a few other spells of the same level if you want to boost it capabilities more. These spells function like normal, and are cast instead of its normal attacks when it uses them.
In addition, if you want a normal monster, add 20-25 HP to the monster’s original HP. If you want a boss, add 40-50, and add +1 to all saving throws the monster makes.
Boost the monster’s CR by 1.
Finally, adjust the monster thematically to fit the spell. If it’s a fire spell, give it a fire sword or a flaming aura. If it’s poison, a sickly green radiance. For the others, something else.
This homebrew idea isn’t perfect, and no doubt you can find ways to break it, but as long as you aren’t trying to break it you should be able to use it as a decent tool for when you need a new monster on the fly.