Several weeks ago, I was contacted by Thadeous with an offer to write a monthly column for This is My Game. I was flattered with the offer, and jumped at the opportunity. Thadeous and I shared several emails searching for a unique angle that would be different than the material I routinely publish on my blog, The Id DM, and be useful to DMs searching for ideas for their campaign. One area that Thadeous viewed as an option for me to take over was the stalled Monsterology 101 series.
I had previously set a goal to publish more content that DMs could simply print off and use in their game. I have posted a Heroic Tier ambush encounter and a Paragon Tier adventure on my site, and I truly enjoyed writing a detailed history and campaign plotline for a NPC at Stuffer Shack earlier in the year. I spoke with Thadeous about creating one monster each month for This is My Game, complete with a Stat Block, Lore, Tactics and potential plotlines that could be used by any DM in their campaign. Since I want to create the monsters and the articles that feature them to be as comprehensive as possible, I have relabeled the Monsterology 101 series to No Assembly Required. Just visit This is My Game each month for a new monster to use within your campaign. Batteries Included!
Of special note is the artwork provided by Grant Gould. He previously designed the mascot for my blog, Iddy the Lich, and now will be illustrating each monster in the No Assembly Required series. He also developed the sweet logo above for the column. Visit his site if for additional artwork and commission information.
Esau, Exarch of Tharizdun
I love the show LOST. I think it is brilliant television, and even with its flaws, it is one of the best television shows I have watched. My wife and I are currently watching the seasons again on Blu-ray for the first time, which is a treat itself. I warn those that have not watched LOST that important spoilers will be discussed in the following paragraphs. Any readers who do not want to deal with spoilers but still want to read through the monster’s description can do so by skipping the rest of this section. Otherwise, read on to learn about my development process.
While watching LOST again, I started to think about the great intrigue that is built up for the “monster” on the island. Most of what we learn about the monster is not presented until the final season, but we see glimpses throughout the show of what would become known to most fans as The Smoke Monster. The Smoke Monster is actually a different form of a human man that is trapped on the island. Without diving into the lore of the show, I have been thinking about how to turn The Smoke Monster from LOST into a villain that fits into the Dungeons & Dragons universe.
A final note, I am always experimenting to increase the amount of roleplaying during combat in my campaign. However, this is the first time I have created a monster ability that requires players to roleplay to avoid a nasty status effect. The power for Esau, Dramatic Flashback, may not be for everyone; a DM needs to know her or his group well before unleashing such a power. Hopefully by Epic Tier, most DMs have the trust of their group and it produces some memorable moments at the table. Enjoy Esau, Exarch of Tharizdun, and please contact me with any questions or feedback.
Esau was a man of humble birth in a remote corner of the world. The date of his birth is long-since forgotten; it is believed he has lived for many ages. Even as a child, he craved to understand and master his surroundings. Esau never knew his father, but enjoyed the deep love and devotion of his mother, Sarae. He developed into a headstrong adolescent after his mother passed away, leaving him directionless with no extended family. Esau believed he had a destiny in life to accomplish great things; he was certain that he was meant to be someone important.
To fulfill this need, Esau studied tirelessly from books, scraps of parchment and anything else he could get his hands on while working manual labor to earn enough for shelter. He demonstrated talent at a young age, and sparked the attention of a local scholar while repairing the teacher’s home. The scholar was impressed with the boy’s unique designs and craftsmanship but was amazed when the boy was speaking fluently in different languages to other laborers in the village. The scholar opened doors for Esau and welcomed him into various schools of learning. Esau devoured all of the materials in his classes, outperforming all other students in mathematics, language, and religion in the process. He began experimenting with alchemy, rituals and other magics, which slowly drew concern and ire from his masters. Esau eventually grew tired of the limitations imposed by his teachers and left to make his own fortunes, which he did quickly through a variety of ingenious alchemical inventions.
He traveled the world in search of his destiny, convinced that he had not yet reached his potential. He could not find peace; his mind burned with thoughts of glory and power. He pursued religion as a source of study, thinking perhaps the gods would guide him on his quest to fulfillment. He explored the words of the gods of intellect, creation and civilization. But the teachings of Ioun, Corellon, and Erathis left him feeling cold and empty; they did not provide the answers he so desperately sought. After many years, Esau accumulated a vast fortune, owning many lands and impressive holdings. But he continued to live his life convinced that he was missing his true purpose.
During another exhaustive search through scrolls and tomes, Esau found a small piece of parchment with a translation for a script he could never interpret previously. The translation allowed him to return to previous scrolls that were illegible to him. The scrolls spoke of two beings, The Elder Elemental Eye and The Chained God. Esau had never heard these names before, but The Chained God connected with him on a guttural level, “I am also trapped here. Trapped in this life that is not my own. I am searching for freedom, and perhaps this is my path.”
Esau disappeared from his normal life. He became consumed with learning more about The Elder Elemental Eye. His travels crisscrossed the known world and later the planes, as he mastered great magic. He did not believe he was a bad man, but his thirst for knowledge and power soon resulted in him taking advantage of others through trickery, coercion and brute force. He followed the trail of the Cult of the Elder Elemental Eye, finding numerous splintered groups and individuals that pledged their allegiance to The Chained God. He gleaned what useful information he could, but viewed these people as threats to his quest to unlock the mysteries of The Chained God, and either led their lives into ruin and despair or dispatched of them outright.
He finally learned he name of The Chained God, Tharizdun, and developed a new goal – immortality. Through decades of toil in the Abyss and several other planes, Esau located the prison of Tharizdun. The god instructed Esau to find the Crystal of Ebon Flame, a lost artifact that is formed by an actual tear from The Chained God. Tharizdun was impressed with Esau’s abilities, and tasked him with finding the Crystal of Ebon Flame and returning to free him once and for all. Before leaving the prison, Tharizdun granted Esau immense power to ensure that nothing could stop his quest.
Esau found the Crystal of Ebon Flame, but in his moment of triumph, he failed to recognize the divine curse placed upon the relic. The curse ripped his body apart with searing radiant light; only the power granted by The Chained God saved Esau from total annihilation. Esau survived and channeled his essence into a pillar of black smoke. Over centuries, he has been able to take over the forms of those that have died, and he has used this to his advantage whenever possible. He has often killed important members of society only to impersonate them for decades to serve his own needs. He remains trapped in the mortal realm and continues to search for an escape from his bonds to retrieve the Crystal of Ebon Flame once more, and free The Chained God forever.
History DC 28: Esau is a name referenced in scattered documents throughout thousands of years. In ancient documents, he is referred to as a young scholar of blossoming promise. In later documents, he is believed to be a great thinker and alchemical genius. Unreliable sources claim that he lost his mind and retreated into other planes of existence. The name of Esau also appears in unrelated documents that seem to relate to important moments in the history of the mortal world.
Religion DC 31: Esau is the name of a worshipper of The Chained God, Tharizdun, who attempted to locate the Crystal of Ebon Flame. Esau’s goal was to use the artifact to free Tharizdun from his eternal prison, but his body was torn apart by the divine curse that was placed on the Crystal. He is rumored to have survived the curse by some power granted by The Chained God himself.
Esau In Combat
Esau will often lure talented adventuring parties into his service, usually by impersonating a high-level member or society whom he has previously slain. He will assign the party to help him in his quest of once again possessing the Crystal of Ebon Flame, but will turn on the party as soon as they retrieve it or are no longer useful to him. He will erupt from his humanoid form into a swirling pillar of black smoke. Foes must endure the immense fear that Esau strikes into their hearts if they are to face him in battle.
Esau is not armed with a weapon, but uses his insubstantial smoke form to savagely attack the party. He will use his telepathic powers to force enemies to endure the memories of vital moments in their life in the hopes of distracting them long enough to finish the kill. He will being by sweeping the battlefield to attack as many foes as possible to disorient the party. He will then focus on one or two enemies to reduce them to 0 hit points. Once reduced to 0 hit points, Esau’s enemies are dominated by his presence and take actions to help finish off the remaining party members. Esau has been empowered by The Chained God, and is immune to multiple status effects.
Esau will often lure adventurers into a location where he is surrounded by other Abyssal allies. If he believes the party is powerful enough to end his life, then he will flee if possible. He is not motivated to kill any one adventuring party. He is motivated to unlock The Chained God, gain dominion over the world and obliterate the gods that tore apart his life.
Fearful Disorientation: The sight of the writhing pillar of black smoke causes you to tremble in fear and flee for your life. Your mind swims with memories of pain and personal agony caused by important people in your life. You see them surrounding you and taunting you, and have no choice but to strike out at them to protect yourself.
Tharizdun’s Gift: The essence of the smoke appears able to shake off your effects. It does appear you can slow, daze, stun or dominate this creature in any way. You sense that this power is granted from a higher being.
Smoke Sweep: The pillar of smoke dives to ground level and pounds into you and your allies. The smoke slams into you before rebounding onto another foe.
Crushing Smoke: Smoke consumes you as you are squeezed with an unknown force. The air escapes your lungs as your body is grabbed and lifted off the ground.
Not on the List: The column of smoke hurls you at one of your allies. You hurdle through the air with unspeakable speed and crash to the earth unable to stand from the severity of the fall. Your ally also falls to the ground from the impact.
Dramatic Flashback: The column extends immediately in front of your face. Images of your life flash before your eyes in the swirling smoke. The painful memories weigh heavily on your mind. You feel compelled to express the emotions now brimming in your heart. If you cannot express yourself soon, then you believe you will not be able to go on with your life.
Jacob’s Ladder: The smoke lashes out quickly and throws you off the ground. You are tossed 50 feet in the air and plummet back to the earth as the smoke focuses on another threat.
Fallen Ally: Your body falls to the ground as you lose consciousness, hanging on to the last cliff of life. As you lay dying, your body is infused with a foreign spirit. Malicious images fill your head as your actions become disconnected from your reeling brain. You feel compelled to execute the will of Esau, turning on those who you once considered friends.
Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. The Id DM is a psychologist during the weekdays. He DMs for a group of fairly loyal and responsible PCs every other Friday night. In the approximate 330 hours between sessions, he is likely anxious about how to ensure the next game he runs doesn't suck.