No Assembly Required: Thurl Bal’zud, Cleric of Laduguer

Welcome to the May 2012 Edition of No Assembly Required, a monthly column that provides DMs with a detailed 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 his 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 an evil Duergar Cleric of Laduguer, Thurl Bal’zud, who can be inserted into the path of any adventuring party exploring the Underdark during the Epic Tier.

Thurl Bal’zud

Development

At times, I turn to keys over to Grant and allow him to run with a character concept through his process of illustration. He was inspired to create a “dark evil Dwarf.” I considered creating a backstory for a villainous Dwarf, but then thought it would be more interesting – both visually and conceptually – if the character was a Duergar or Azer. I pitched both options to Grant and he selected the Duergar as his favorite, and off he went. He sent back a sketch with the following, “I thought maybe instead of armor I’d go for more of a mage/priest look, with robes and such, and maybe he has a magic hammer — could be a nod to Thor’s hammer, since Avengers is opening.” How timely!

I enjoyed the idea of developing the backstory for an evil cleric, so I started to research the prominent gods for Duergars and settled on Laduguer. Grant incorporated the color scheme from the Symbol of Laduguer and incorporated the Duergar’s mastery of fire to wreath his ritual hammer in flames. With his visual design locked into place, it was time for me to focus on his powers.

Last month, I received some pointed feedback regarding the severity of damage inflicted by the deadly shadar-kai, Kemah Timmonen. Never one to avoid critical feedback, I spent time considering other methods to create opportunities for monsters to hammer (pun intended) players with high damage while still keeping the encounter fair and balanced. I went back to different Boss battles in videogames when the Boss would cycle through two or more stages. One stage would allow the Boss to dish out devastating damage but open it up for attack. A second stage would result in the Boss going into a defensive shell to “recharge” another powerful attack; during the recharge stage, the Boss would feature increased damage resistance. I decided this sequence would work well with a Cleric alternating between praying to his god for power during one round and unleashing that power in the next round.

The powers of Thurl Bal’zud are a combination of the typical powers found in the Duergar race and the alternating sequence of “going into a shell to gain power” and “inflicting a lethal attack with high damage.” I thought about a variety of methods to increase Thurl’s defenses during his Prayers to Laduguer. One option would be to increase his defenses, but then I thought about how it would add one more thing for a DM and players to track during combat. Instead, the defensive shell would grant Thurl damage resistance, which is easier to track and it still allows the players to target Thurl without penalties. The powerful attack, Become My Slave, builds on the Expansion racial power and inflicts double the damage of a normal attack by a level-appropriate monster. Since Thurl is cycling between Prayers to Laduguer and Become My Slave, he is only attacking once every other round and the damage “balances out” in my mind.

I proposed this concept to a few players and learned that I unknowningly reinvented the wheel, “Congratulations, you created a Lurker.” Well, damn – that’s not really the vibe I was going for! But that seems to be exactly what I did; the role of Lurker is described in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (p. 54):

Lurker monsters have some ability that lets them avoid attacks, whether by striking from hiding or by turning into an invulnerable statue while regaining strength. They usually deliver one devastating attack every few rounds, while concentrating on defense in between.

In my mind, I do not consider the character a Lurker, but there is no argument that he falls directly into the description above. Regardless of the Monster Role you believe he fills, I think he could be an interesting addition to a combat encounter. Other may find him completely ludicrous or redundant. As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback!

Origin

The Underdark is filled with many dark denizens, but perhaps the most loathsome are the Duergar. These slavers despise all other races, but save their strongest hatred for Dwarves. The Duergar have long pledged allegiance to gods who endorse subjecting other races to slavery and service. One of the most ancient of these gods is Laduguer, who is also known as the Gray Protector. His worshippers hold steadfast to his doctrine of exploitation of slaves and exclusion of other races.

One of his most devoted servants is Thurl Bal’zud, a Cleric of Laduguer in the klegesk caste of Duergar society. Thurl was never presented with an alternative to the slave trade as he was raised in Harvalos, an insular citadel protected from outsiders by rampant volcanic activity. His brethren only left the safety of Harvalos to perform slave raids or make trade with other races who they could barely tolerate. The myopic focus of his kin led him to follow in the footsteps of his forebears and join the ranks of those in religious service. He mastered his craft through years of prayer and harsh rituals, offering sacrifices of his own flesh but more often the lives of countless slaves in the name of the great Laduguer.

The single-mindedness of Thurl Bal’zud has seen him rise in the ranks of the clergy. His dedication to Laduguer is unquestioned by other Duergar, who are impressed with the focus of his rituals and extensive offerings to the Gray Protector. Thurl has commanded his slaves to perform great services throughout the citadel of Harvalos, including the creation of fortifications and other defensive measures. The Duergar do not fear interference from surface dwellers, but remain alert for the presence of foul creatures such as mind flayers and aboleths. Thurl Bal’zud has led many expeditions beyond the safety of Harvalos in search of lost shrines to strengthen the protection against the abominations that could threaten to enslave his kind once more. His courage and mastery of Laduguer’s prayers has protected him on these journeys and extended the defenses of Harvalos.

Lore

Nature DC 18: Duergar resemble dwarves, but their association with devils and evil gods has granted them strange powers. They are almost exclusively found in settlements in the Underdark, often near volcanic activity.

History DC 20: Long ago, Duergar were subjected to enslavement by mind flayers for centuries before gaining freedom with the assistance of infernal forces, such as humanoid devils. Surviving members have become renowned slave masters and hate all other races.

Religion DC 25: Thurl Bal’zud is a member of the highest caste in Duergar society, the klegesk. Members of this caste are known to be powerful military leaders, wizards or clerics. The markings on his hammer and robes indicate that he worships the god, Laduguer, also known as the Gray Protector. Laduguer preaches the enslavement of non-Duergar beings and the sanctification of ancient shrines to enhance the protection of Duergar citadels.

Thurl Bal’zud In Combat

Thurl Bal’zud is typically surrounded by a variety of slaves from other races who have been bent to his will. At times he may be meeting with infernal creatures such as humanoid devils or performing a ritual in the presence of other Duergar priests and warriors. His allies will attempt to engage the adventuring party while Thurl Bal’zud uses Prayers to Laduguer to build strength for Become a Slave. His other defense is Infernal Quills, which is triggered whenever he suffers damage from a nearby attacker. His allies benefit from the Crush Nonbelievers aura that bolsters their attacks against enemies.

If a battle turns against Thurl Bal’zud, he will command his slaves and allies to to slow his enemies so he may retreat to fight another day. He will offer Prayers to Laduguer and then attempt to flee from the situation to find another location with increased defenses or reinforcements.

Power Descriptions

Crush Nonbelievers: Thurl Bal’zud can be heard over the clashes in battle, chanting in what appears to be an ancient dialectic of Dwarven or Deep Speech. His words seem to inspire strength in those that fight for him, even the unfortunate slaves who have been bent to his will. Their attacks seem more likely to ring true, as if the evil god, Laduguer, is guiding the blows himself. 

Expansion: Thurl Bal’zud for a moment seems to shrink into himself, but in the next instant you see him grow in size and stature. His body expands and now fills up the room. The small ritualistic hammer he holds now expands to the size of a lethal warhammer. You and anyone else close to him are pushed back by the increase in size, which also allows him to strike out farther with his enormous hammer.

Prayers to Laduguer: The Duergar holds his hammer in both hands in front of his body and closes his eyes. His robes sway with an unknown breeze as he mouths a prayer to his slaver god, Laduguer. The air surrounding Thurl Bal’zud crackles with energy and a thin fiery sheen appears to envelope his space. Your attacks barely disturb his meditation and the power drawing into his body brings you to your knees.

Become My Slave: Thurl Bal’zud opens his eyes after offering his prayers to his evil god, Laduguer. He releases a primal scream as his body ripples with energy (see Expansion). He focuses his god’s power into a mighty strike with his warhammer, which is wreathed in fire. The power of the attack smashes through your defenses and burns with the rage of Laduguer himself. (Optional if player drops to 0 hit points) As you fall unconscious, you are greeted with reassuring words from Thurl Bal’zud, “Yes, you will now do my bidding and I will care for you. Nothing can hurt you so long as I am here to protect you.”

Infernal Quills: Your attack penetrates the Duergar’s defenses. His body responds immediately and propels vile quills in your direction. The quills dig deep into your flesh, causing additional pain and distracting your ability to execute your next attack.


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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4 Responses

  1. I look forward to this column every time! And this is yet another awesome villain delivery.

    I like the idea of giving him a weird dynamic of prayer to gain strength followed by a really powerful strike. It is different and fun and lends itself to a very flavorful encounter. A critical hit of Become My Slave would be BRUTAL!

    I will say, the Expansion trait was a little confusing for me at first. I get what you are saying with it, but it seems more like a triggered action to me then a trait since it it has some very particular triggers and a limited duration. Maybe a triggered free action that is activated when he uses his big power and then recharges when he prays?

    All this is already communicated in the stat block, I just missed it reading through. That’s my 2 cents.

    A great villain concept, duergar are under supported and are a really cool Underdark antagonist, so I’d love to see this guy in action!

    • That is an excellent observation, and I was uncertain about where to list the Expansion ability. The idea is that he expands when using Become My Slave and shrink back to normal size when using Prayers to Laduguer.

      However, it’s a bit of a challenge to communicate that idea. I certainly see the need to add some clarity to the process, and I’ll work on that this evening and update the Stat Block.

      Would it read easier if I removed the Trait and included the information in the Power instead . . . or listed the expansion and shrinking as a (Free) Triggered Actions?

      • I’d keep the Become My Slave power small and straightforward. Big powers can be confusing too. I’d make a free triggered action for Expansion while removing the trait. I always think of traits as things that are always on (or are turned on for the rest of the encounter once a condition is met) and keep things that have a limited duration lower in the stat block. If it’s a triggered free action, then it wouldn’t take up an OA spot (like Infernal Quills, which is awesome by the way).

  2. Fun concept. I would be interested to see it in play and see how the standard action “lurk” works out. Resist 30 isn’t that much, and the damage of the follow-up attack is average 74… a level 22 Elite should be doing about 60 each round. So, I think that’s really too low as you have it – even including two uses of quills during the 2 rounds. Keep in mind that on round 2 after he goes he is no longer immune to conditions… and then he would be brutally nerfed. (Round 1, he does his prayers. Round 2, one bit attack… maybe it hits… but he is dazed, prone, pushed, stunned, whatever… Round 3, if he gets to go, he can only use his standard, but may not have viable targets, etc. Round 4 he can attack again? Too little, too easy to control.

    At least, that’s my worry based on 4E lurker design. The core issue is this: being hidden one round to deal x2 damage the next is far worse than attacking each round. Attacking each round places damage NOW, meaning that other allies might drop that target and deny it attacks… or, you might place enough pressure on that target to change things (defender moves over there, healer uses healing resource instead of an offensive one, etc.). And, you might have status effects from that attack, which happen NOW instead of later.

    For a 4E lurker to work they really need to have something insane. For example: minor action to “mark” the target (“Mark for death”, etc.). Then, standard to hide and move hidden (ideally teleport), and the target takes ongoing damage x and a condition so long as the target can’t hit the lurker. Now this is tactical. The target PC has to choose whether to suffer that horrid stuff or go and try to attack (-5 if it can even pinpoint the square). And, damage was still inflicted. For example, consider:
    Mark For Death: standard action. Select target, it is marked for death and gains vulnerability x (where x is big, at least 5/tier) and loses all resistances. Marked for Death ends when the target hits the lurker. In addition, the lurker becomes invisible and teleports 5 squares.
    Assassinate: standard action melee attack, does 3x usual damage for its level and type, plus daze, and target loses Marked for Death.

    (I’m not sure that’s great, but it is where I might start for an interesting 4E lurker. Also, I like lurkers like Joplin the Sly (MV:NV) that just speak lurker and deal “lurking” damage all the time, or the version of Market Green Grifter (MV:NV) that appears in this week’s session of Encounters).

    One last nitpick: The wording on both Expansion and Become My Slave are non-standard. No issue for home play fun, but technically Expansion as written is not a trait… it is part of Become My Slave. And, Become My Slave isn’t clear enough around what happens to the 0 hp target. It probably needs to state whether the target becomes a 1 HP minion or whether it is immune to all damage until the domination ends.

    This is all me being really critical and sharing a few things I’ve picked up. My monsters see a ton of red ink, especially when someone like Chris Sims takes a look at them!

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