No Assembly Required: Durgauthbalavoar, Ghost Dragon

Welcome to the February 2012 Edition of No Assembly Required, a monthly column that provides DMs with a ready-to-use monster for a Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition campaign. The monster can of course be adjusted for other gaming systems as well. Each monster in the series is displayed complete with Stat Block, Lore, Tactics, Power Descriptions and potential plotlines a DM can use during a campaign.

Of special note is the spectacular artwork provided by Grant Gould. He previously designed the mascot, Iddy the Lich, for my blog, The Id DM, and is illustrating each monster in the No Assembly Required series. He also developed the sweet logo below for the column. Visit his site to learn about commission pricing and view galleries of artwork.

Please be sure to come back next month for another monster that can be used in your campaign. Batteries Included! This month, I present a monster for the early Epic Tier, Durgauthbalavoar. Design and details are below.

Durgauthbalavoar, Ghost Dragon

Development

It seemed like only a matter of time before a dragon was featured in this column series. Grant certainly wanted to draw a dragon, and I wanted to create the story and statistics for a dragon. Seriously, who does not want to use a dragon in their game? But with well over 100 hundred dragons published in various books and adventures, developing a unique angle on dragons is daunting. Grant and I shelved the idea but finally came up with what we hope is a somewhat original creature.
We settled on the idea of a ghost or spirit dragon; a powerful creature that was already destroyed by adventurers ages ago. However, the spirit of the dragon has returned and is once again causing mayhem. I became inspired to dive into this idea and flesh out a backstory for the dragon. Grant worked on designing a sickly dragon and experimented with different effects to make the beast appear ghostly. The result below is fantastic!

As for mechanics, I was worried about using the insubstantial trait even though it fits into the theme of the creature. As a player, fighting insubstantial monsters is a chore. And as a DM, halving damage from players and tracking when the creature suffered radiant damage, which typically negates the insubstantial trait, feels like busy work. In addition, I was wary of creating a beast that is too complicated to play because I always have an eye on combat speed. A final dynamic that concerns me as a DM is that fights, especially with Solo monsters, are often static. The players rush around the monster and the monster is pinned down; it turns into a slugfest to see who dies first. There is not enough movement or need for the players to change battlefield tactics. I wanted to ensure that would not happen without resorting to complicated powers. And I like saving throws in addition to critical misses and hits with consequences!

A few ideas I have experimented with in my campaign are added into the monster below. First, the dragon has a rechargeable move action that allows it to teleport eight squares. Combined with the Aura effects below, this ability will force the players to read and react to the monster throughout the encounter. Second, the dragon has several Auras that effect the party if they are too close or too far away. For lack of a better term, I have labeled the latter as a Reverse Aura. The ghost dragon, Durgauthbalavoar, is an evil and corrupt creature who literally sucks the life from the party at close range. However, party members too far away are blinded by the veil of darkness that hangs around the dragon. The Auras create decisions for melee and ranged members of the party, and since the dragon has a chance to teleport each round, the battlefield will often shift. The dragon itself only has four attacks, but the Auras require no rolls from the DM and drive the narrative of the combat.

Third, I set out to create a Solo that did not require the DM to set up a few encounters for attrition purposes. While that is still an option, I believe this creature could be a threat to a fully rested party. The Aura effect that drains surges and combined damage types (to help avoid resistances) should make for a dramatic combat encounter. I believe the DM could add in a Skill Challenge to offset the Corrupted Ground trait or have another important feature of the landscape that requires Perception checks (see Screams Of The Fallen power).

A final point on the design process – in developing a name for the ghost dragon, I stumbled across a dragon name generator site. I clicked through the site to find words and combined them until I found something that matched the backstory and sounded fierce. The result was formed from the following:

  • Durg – Dragolich/Foul/Rotting/Undead
  • Auth – Black/Blinded/Darkness/Void
  • Bala – Blighted/Corrupt/Plague/Scourge
  • Voar – Dead/Deadly/Death/Slayer
Sounds absolutely perfect to me! Enjoy Durgauthbalavoar, and please provide feedback about the concept and implementation of Reverse Auras and other design choices.

Origin

The city of Nalmouche once prospered as artisans, merchants and nobles alike drove the economy to new heights. The surrounding lands were cleared of dangerous beasts by a well-equipped army, which encouraged further development and construction. The reach of Nalmouche extended across the kingdom as it became the heart of commerce. The streets were clean, the landscapes pristine and it seemed Nalmouche was poised to become a bastion of good fortune and healthy living throughout the realm. But it was not to be.

During a mining expedition in a nearby mountain range overlooking the northern border of Nalmouche, an ancient and terrible beast was disturbed from his slumber. A green dragon burst forth from the mountain and took flight for the first time in many an age. The dragon flew over the skies of Nalmouche for several days before flying off into the distance. The residents of Nalmouche – first horrified by the beast – were relieved the dragon had passed them over and were hopeful the beast found a new lair to call home.

The dragon indeed departed Nalmouche for several weeks to scout the lands, but returned to Nalmouche to claim its riches. The destruction by the green dragon was deliberate and brutal. Residents of Nalmouche chocked on the poisonous breath of the creature while the army was ripped to shreds. The mighty beast took its time and would fly off to regain strength only to return days later to kill once again. Many fled Nalmouche, but few escaped. Thousands died. The dragon demonstrated not a single ounce of mercy as it slayed everyone in its path.

News of the dragon’s assault spread to outlying towns and villagers. Would-be adventurers combined forces to defeat the dragon, but only added to the piles of dead corpses that littered the city streets and surrounding countryside. It is believed that when all hope was lost and death took all but a few poor souls still trapped in Nalmouche, the famed Jonquil Sisterhood traveled to the city to vanquish the dragon. In a battle that lasted many days and wiped out all by a few of the legendary Sisterhood, the great beast fell into the smoking ruins of the city. The vile blood oozing from the dragon’s great body defiled the many corpses that lay strewn upon the ground. The few remaining members of the Jonquil Sisterhood did not celebrate the victory after the death of so many. The solemnly condemned the city and rescued any remaining survivors.

The great dragon became known as Durgauthbalavoar to those that lived to tell the tale of the destruction of Nalmouche. The city was abandoned along with the poisonous corpse of the dragon and the thousands of victims that fell from its malice. Nalmouche fell into further ruin and over thousands of years, the city was swallowed by the shifting landscape itself. The Jonquil Sisterhood disappeared into books of history and later myth. The name Durgauthbalavoar was long forgotten.

Unknowingly, a new settlement has been constructed on the corrupted grounds of Nalmouche. The ancient remains of the city lie far below the surface, but the growing settlement has disturbed the spirit of the mighty Durgauthbalavoar. The ghost of the dragon has been unleashed from its unholy rest and seeks revenge for his death. The dragon now terrorizes the lands, draining the life from any living creature. A new request has been sent to adventurers to defeat the menace once and for all.

Lore

History DC 20: It is spoken in several legends that a great green dragon once was unleashed from its mountain lair and destroyed the nearby city of Nalmouche. The name of the beast was Durgauthbalavoar, and it annihilated nearby cities and settlements. The beast was said to be merciless as it killed thousands of people in its reign of terror.

History DC 27: Durgauthbalavoar was finally slain by the Jonquil Sisterhood, an adventuring company with incredible skills and talents. All but a few of the Sisterhood were lost in the battle, but a final blow was landed to snuff out the dragon’s life. The corpse of Durgauthbalavoar and the thousands of victims were left to the rotting ruins of the city.

Religion DC 27: Nalmouche is described in one ancient tome as a wasteland of unholy ground. It was believed a purge of life occurred on the ground, which resulted in thousands not receiving proper burial. The area is thought to drain the life from any living creature that is unwise enough to enter the area. It is believed a great beast that caused the death and destruction still haunts the grounds.

Durgauthbalavoar In Combat

Durgauthbalavoar can be used as a single Solo monster, but a DM could add any number of undead monsters to add complexity and challenge to the battle. For example, waves of zombie minions can burst from the very earth or an undead and corrupted hero from the Jonquil Sisterhood could serve as a lieutenant for the dragon. The DM could also add a concurrent Skill Challenge to offset the Corrupted Ground ability.

Durgauthbalavoar will used his Breath Weapon to affect as many enemies as possible early in combat. He will use Ghastly Bite in inflict ongoing damage to different targets each round while using Vicious Claws to defend itself from and reposition strong melee attackers. Once per round, Durgauthbalavoar will use Scream Of The Fallen to target an enemy not yet affected by the power, starting with those that remain out of range from its melee powers.

Durgauthbalavoar will use Lost In The Void whenever it is available to keep his enemies unbalanced, which also allows for his Aura powers to become more effective and unpredictable. Corrupted Ground slowly drains the life-force from any nearby creature while Shadows Of The Night envelops ranged attackers in darkness. The final Aura, Vile Blood, is triggered when Durgauthbalavoar is bloodied, and results in nearby enemies taking additional damage whenever the dragon himself takes damage.

Action Recovery and All-Around Vision are methods for Durgauthbalavoar to remove unwanted status effects and avoid being flanked by enemies.

Power Descriptions

Corrupted Ground: The presence around the great undead beast fills your body and soul with an unrelenting pressure to submit to its will. You are forced to muster your resolve to press on with any attack. The very earth and air are defiled as the beast extracts your life-force. 

Shadows Of The Night: The beast is followed by a thick void as it blankets the surrounding area in waves of darkness. From this distance, the darkness is too much to filter and you are blinded by the void.

Vile Blood: You puncture the spirit of the dragon’s defenses, yet sense this unholy and unstable creature is now bursting forth thousands of years of vile necrotic and poisonous substances. In addition, painful wailing and screaming can be heard surrounding the creature, as if his many victims are now fighting back to take their revenge.

Action Recovery: The dragon appears to shift in and out of focus as its spirit takes greater form to launch attacks only to withdraw slightly into another plane of existence. It appears that any damaging effects are left behind as the dragon shift back into this plane.

All-Around Vision: Regardless of your positioning, you cannot seem to catch the ghost dragon off-guard. It does not grant you any quarter in close combat and seems to anticipate your next move. 

Ghastly Bite: The dragon chomps down with his rotting and jagged teeth, gashing your armor and inflicting dark and poisonous wounds that continue to burn and spread up and down your body.

Vicious Claws: Unleashing his claws, the dragon slashes fiercely through your ranks and staggers you backward from the impact of the blow. (Critical Hit – The swipe of its claws penetrate your defenses and strike at your most vulnerable area. The nails sharp points of the claw puncture your armor and skin leaving additional wounds.)

Breath Weapon: Durgauthbalavoar rears up on its legs and spews forth a toxic blend of necrotic and poison breath. The corrosive stream of noxious gas and liquid coats your body and reduces your strength immediately. The breath burns your eyes and creates blurred vision as you attempt to press on with your attack.

Screams Of The Fallen: A cacophony of screams fills your mind blocking out all other sounds of battle. The pained voices appear to be calling for the death of the evil beast looming in front of you, but they are being psychically pushed away by the creature onto you. The dizziness array of hundreds of terrible screams will continue to wear down your resolve to continue the fight as your brain is overwhelmed by the auditory input.

Lost In The Void: The dragon appears to close in on itself as the veil of darkness is sucked back into its center. For a moment, the great beast disappears. That brief moment is followed by a mighty roar elsewhere on the battlefield as it begins to attack your friends elsewhere.

Bloodied Breath: The dragon is injured! He lets out an angry roar. The beast senses you are a legitimate threat for the first time and immediately unleashes another blast of its toxic breath.

I am aware of a few typographical errors in the Stat Block. I will work to fix those quickly. Thank you.


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.


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About The Id DM

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.

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9 Responses

  1. I really dig this monster. A few thoughts based on Epic Play.

    One of the problems with dragons (at any tier) is when players surround them and avoid the worst of their breath weapon (because it is a blast). This is especially an issue at higher tiers where the PCs can really pin that dragon down. In that case your main damage (until bloodied) is two claw attacks and the minor attack, which won’t be enough. At Epic tier monsters that should be real threats need ways to deal with mobility issues. Some ideas:

    – either make Shadows of the Night aura 4 (my preference) or increase the other two auras by 1, so you basically have only a 1-2 square safe zone. This allows the dragon to just shift and apply pressure properly.

    – the minor attack should not provoke OAs, so it can reliably use it each round.

    – lost in the void could be a no action or free action with a limit of 1/round

    – consider changing action recovery to a more vile defense. For example, what if every time hit by one of those, the dragon gained an action point which it could use in a round and above the limit of 1 action point/round AND the stun/daze/etc. effect ends? This can be very formidable if you want a monster that can’t be shut down and forces the players to “fight clean”. (You don’t want every monster to be this way, but it works for a solo you want to not see shut down).

    – Consider adding “Effect: Durgathbalavoar makes a Ghostly Bite Attack against one of the targets” to the Claw attack.

    Some or all of those changes might keep the dragon from getting shut down, helps it have reliable damage even when surrounded, and increases its damage output to the equivalent of 5 monsters fairly reliably.

    • Bah, you are correct on the minor provoking OAs. I will go back in to clarify that point. I do not think Screams Of The Fallen should provoke OAs. As it reads now, any PCs within three squares have to make a saving throw or lose two healing surges while any PCs six or more squares away are blinded. This results in ranged PCs having the 4-5 squares away area to play with to stay out of both auras. Since the dragon will be teleporting up to eight squares on every other turn (on average), all PCs will be forced to move around.

      I also plan to edit regarding status effects so the dragon has the chance to save at the beginning of the round as well. I thought about adding in a double attack or option if both claw attacks hit, then the dragon can also bite.

      Thank you for the feedback!

  2. Any way these could be put into a format that makes for easy copy-past? or in the monster builder format?

  3. Like alphastream I really like this monster and I’m making notes to use it for my own campaign. A couple of my own thoughts:
    -Corrupted Ground, I’m probably going to separate this from the monster entirely and instead make it a hazard of the terrain and plan something that’ll allow the players to try to disable it.
    -Shadows of Night is cool, but I feel the -5 is glaringly out of place. Just use a 5, the text explains how it works.
    It kinda bothers me that there is no combo melee attack. Yes, you have the Vicious Claws that can be used, but I rather like monsters that have simple (basic bite) and (basic claw) and then a standard action combo = (bite, claw, claw) or similar.
    I am in agreement with Alpha’s other notes about the minor attack and lost in the void.
    I like the suggestion for Action recovery, although I thought of an alternative I think I’m going to use instead of simply dropping it or gaining an action point, maybe Durg transfers one condition to an enemy within 5 squares. I imagine the party will quickly reconsider what conditions to pile on Durg when they find themselves suffering for it.

  4. Brutal! That’s all I have to say 😛

  5. I really like solos that re-share/reflect conditions back on PCs, though it should be used sparingly and thematically. I didn’t suggest it for this creature because it didn’t seem to fit.

    My fav is likely the snowman that Band of Misfits made, where when stunned (maybe dazed too?) it had a chance to redirect it back at the stunner. That is a pretty awesome defense. It reminds me of Spell Turning and in particular a fun battle in Living Greyhawk with a massive monolith. Wizard casts Maze on it, reflected back on him, and he’s gone for a round as he figures out the Maze. It was a huge surprise and lots of fun. Spell Turning, Primal Turning, Mirror Mind, Weapon Redirection could actually be fun as a stable of powers that return a particular power source back. This keeps it thematic. Say a solo is a powerful arcanist, so it has Spell Turning and can as immediate reflect anything other than damage that is part of the power right back at the caster. Recharge bloody or 5-6 power (depending on tier) and thematic and effective.

  6. I used a modified version of Durgauthbalavoar in my Level 29, Epic Tier session tonight. My party is working through the tail end of the Scales of War adventure and instead of using the prescribed dracolich guardian, I decided to drop a leveled-up, slightly modified version of this bad boy into the mix.

    I lowered the range of all auras by one since it was a tighter space and I wanted to keep things moving and interesting. I also went ahead and made the shadow veil work as a barrier that blocked line of sight from either side (total concealment) so those on the inside couldn’t see out and vice-versa. Half the party ventured in at first and the other half were left facing a trap of portals opening to the Far Realm all over the room. The barrier blocking line of sight became a really interesting part of the encounter because it essentially forced the party to split if they wanted to try and mitigate the healing surge drain of the aura. By the way, that was a devastating part of the encounter. They are already in a time crunch, so their surges are precious and they started freaking out when the first player failed their save.

    This was a great combat with dynamic choices and it really kept the players moving back and forth. Probably one of our most exciting encounters in a long time.

    Especially after the players pushed the unbloodied dragon through a portal into the Far Realm. Then it got weird. Then it got awesome.

  7. 2 players in my group, the cleric leader and the wizard controller, had to leave before I finally got them to the big show down with the boss dudes. They’d been wandering through the Nation of the Dead, borrowed from http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=38868 . That left us with a paladin defender, and a ranger, sorcerer, and executioner striker. They party is currently lvl 12.

    I sent them the following message to catch them up on what they missed

    So we plodded along with the remaining 4 this evening. We went with option C for initiative(2 minutes to plan tactics at the top of the round, then continue as normal) which resulted in people not understanding what 2 minutes means, and much grumbling. Took them an actual hour to decide what happened in the missing game time hour mentioned on facebook, very slow start. They instantly deviated from any of my anticipated actions, and made a bomb out of bits and pieces in their inventories(glow worms, icy hot gel, nodule juice, and various other things) and made a booby trap. They found a door at the back of the sanctuary and started out, just as the undead broke in the front, the resulting explosion shoved them down a long corridor, ending in a graveyard. They also set fire to a large section of the city.

    At this point, it took them another half an hour to decide to travel north to the castle, or south to the arena, eventually deciding on north rather than travel through the burning section of town, which I think would have been much more awesome. Totally off the rails at this point. They head to Tiberius’ castle, which I had a map for( https://www.dropbox.com/s/qi1eojqiyryro20/Tiberius%20Castle.jpg ), but no other information.
    They go all sneakified through the castle gates, heading up a tower to a greenhouse, setting off a trap that brings all the plants to life. They defeat that obstacle, then head inside.

    F__k me for giving the room 4 doors to choose from. Another half an hour passes and they move through not 1, but 2 doors into empty rooms. They travel down a flight of stairs into the basement, and find 4 connected rooms that Tiberius uses for various research. By this point, I figured Tiberius has finished with his work at the arena and heads back home. They try to prepare an ambush in the basement, and by that I mean they stood still and did nothing. Tiberius entered, setting off a trap that dropped Hydrix(Eric) and the Reapers(Sharralan, Nibbik, Primpel) down into a different room, while the other 3 remained up top. Tak(Allister) used his turn to prop open the trap, lower a rope, and jump down after Hydrix. Sever(Nathan) and Mona(Dorothy) attacked Tiberius dropping WAY too many effects on him. Since Tiberius could no longer see either of them, he jumped down the hole to the next area as well, summoning skeletons attached to his armor by chains. (stolen from the Dread Emperor, a dude in various editions, http://cdn.obsidianportal.com/images/520106/The_Dread_Emperor.jpg usually with children chained to his armor. Any damage he takes is split up between himself and the attached).
    He took a few more hits from the group, then the trap in the room started. Holes in the floor produced tiny skeletons(squirrels, foxes, pixies, etc) with explosive runes inscribed on their bones. They had a single function, other than being cute, and it was to walk towards an enemy and read their rune, “kaboom” before exploding and dealing damage to anyone close by.
    Now that the party realized the damage was being shared through the skeletons, they amped it up a bit, destroying the skeletons. Tiberius then attached the chains to Hydrix, Sever, and Sharralan. With the death of the skeletons, Tiberius’s ritual to summon the death titan was complete(at this point, the party had taken some serious damage) and it started to crawl up out of a pit at the back of the map https://www.dropbox.com/s/agu9f8a9ohpvjgs/Bone%20Pit.jpg

    They were warned that it was only at partial strength, but would be soon out of the pit. They continued a weirdassed, non-tactical fight with no real direction, for another round. Mona attacked Tiberius, but her random sorcerer attacks ended up hitting Hydrix for a crit. Tak hit Tiberius, dealing damage to all the attached. Nibbik cacked from one of the exploding skeletons. Tiberius used a charm power to make Tak and Mona attack each other. Around this time, the death titan, Durgauthbalavoar crawled from the pit, and I handed out
    https://dl.dropbox.com/u/53616579/minis2013b.jpg

    He was adapted from http://www.myrpgame.com/2012/02/07/no-assembly-required-durgauthbalavoar-ghost-dragon/ and leveled appropriately. Durgauthbalavoar’s first move was to teleport them to the southern arena that I assumed they would have moved to first, but c’est la vie. It was at this point, with an arena filled with undead gladiators, a dire tiger, a death titan, Tiberius, and a lone resummoned skeleton, that Dorothy decided to call it a night =)

    The arena has an item that I hope they will snag, called a battle standard of healing. Anytime an ally spends a surge in the items range, each person gains 1hp. That doesn’t sound like much, but if you are at -15 hp, and you regain 1, you heal from 0, which makes a person instantly conscious and not dying. That is my cleric replacement, lol.

    Anyways, I wish you guys all the best wherever you end up, and I just wanted to keep you informed as to what the group was doing in your absence. I shall enjoy kicking the s__t out of them with my huge death titan(oh yeah, using the dracolich mini from the ravenloft board game. he’s 3 by 3, so his auras take up space starting from there, makes it kinda huge, hehe) and see what they do. The intent is for a round or maybe 2 to pass before he teleports them to another section of the city, before finally teleporting them back to their guildhall, where he shall proceed to ‘wreck their shit.’

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