A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer



Hazard/Monster: The Black Obelisk

WARNING: Possible campaign spoilers.

I've recently been having a bit of a mental dilemma with certain traps in my campaign.

My previous post talked about a specific hazard that has both positive and detrimental effects, and issues that come up as it relates to forced movement. Now I'm dealing with a solo trap that... well... I'm not sure if it should be a "trap" in the first place, at least in terms of how a "trap" is defined by the 4e rulebooks.

NOTE: In order to avoid spoilers, I will be talking in a general sense and have created a radically different object that has the same issues: the Black Obelisk.

You see, there's this object that is extremely powerful. One could argue that it's also intelligent, in the same manner that artifacts are but at a much more powerful scale. And it has friends, creatures that want to protect it and the area ahead.

One could argue that that's a trap or hazard, but I have some issues with that:

  • The object's mechanics are beyond the scope of the traditional trap's statistic block. Most traps have a single attack or action they take; this object would have more options.
  • The object provides an aura that protects its allies, so it technically functions as a controller. If it were to have healing or regenerative properties, it could also be considered a "leader".
  • The object has multiple attack types, and some of those attacks or actions are not as intense as its bigger hits, so it has Minor and Standard actions. It could also conceivably have interrupt actions and make opportunity attacks.
  • The object is powerful enough that it can't simply be dispelled by a few rolls (such as the traditional Arcana-/Religion/Thievery-based skill challenge, for example), and there's no chance of it being defeated by a single Thievery roll. It should take significantly more work to disable it, so much so that it's probably easier to destroy than to disable.

With that in mind, a thought occurred to me: what if this was a creature? That also has some issues:

  • It is an object, and as such falls under certain guidelines in terms of defenses and durability (see "Object Properties" in the Dungeon Master's Guide). Granted, those defenses will probably be boosted because of the nature of the object, but it's still an object nonetheless.
  • It has no brain or mind of its own (one could argue its attacks are by design or due to some sort of programming), so it doesn't have a Will defense. It would also be immune to other mind-affecting keywords and specific attack types: disease, poison, gaze, psychic, charm, fear and so on.
  • It's anchored to the ground, which means it can't be force moved and probably cannot fall prone.
  • It doesn't provoke opportunity attacks because its physical state never changes; it cannot "let its guard down" (see the definition of "Opportunity Actions" in the Player's Handbook) because it really doesn't have a dynamic guard like a living creature would. It also doesn't have eyes, so it qualifies as having "all around vision" and blindsight.
  • Unless one of the creatures in the encounter is a mason, it can't heal. For that matter, it doesn't know what it is to be "bloodied" either. When it drops to 0 hit points, it is destroyed.

So I decided to make my object a "object monster", treating it as an Elite monster with a somewhat modified stat block.

As an example, I have created the Black Obelisk "creature" below. I admit I threw this one together rather quickly (I even had to make post-production changes to the image in Photoshop to remove spoilers) and only made it for this blog post to give you an idea of the sort of thing I had in mind.

The Black Obelisk

As you may notice, the important differences are in the top section (hit points) and in the "Traits" section, where the obvious differences between a monster and a common trap are. Beyond that, it's a monster. I hesitated including the attributes at the bottom since they don't apply and are hardly used, but whatever.

Now this "creature" is not meant to be alone; it comes with any number of other guys. Those guys in turn draw power from the obelisk, regenerating their wounds and gaining protection from the obelisk's own attacks.

Now that I've decided on this hybrid, I might end up using it in multiple places. I don't know... I somehow prefer creature mechanics compared to trap mechanics, at least for the simpler non-deathtrap traps.

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  1. Hm! I rather like this one. But you know, I don’t see where your problem is. If you think up something awesome, don’t mind what it IS, as it only matters what it DOES.

    In this case, players are gonna get zapped and say “omg we need to kill this fast… but HOW?” They might ask what that thing is, but you don’t tell them “it’s a creatureriffic object,” but rather “a black obelisk that shoots lightning.” They have to figure out a way, which might or might not surprise you, but rather than checking the stat block for each idea, think again as you did when designing this: “Is it cool? Does it work? How?”

  2. Damn. I got all interested in your creature/object/trap, ready to read the statblocks when my work computer just won’t have it… stupid county computers…

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