Sunday, October 14, 2018

Aboleth Equipment

One of the great appeals of the aboleth as a monster is its versatility. Although it debuted in a classic high fantasy module, its alien appearance and body-horror abilities (it transforms victims into water-breathing slaves!) fit well within Lovecraftian settings. And because its mental abilities are psionic in nature, the aboleth could easily work in a science fiction campaign. This last point was first developed by Brandon Grist in “The Ecology of the Aboleth: The type best known is also the least dangerous,” from Dragon Magazine (March 1988). In addition to statting out a series of progressively more powerful aboleth variants, Grist explicitly connects aboleths with use of advanced technology. For example, the noble aboleth “is almost never encountered outside an aboleth city, where its role is that of the scientist. It does research, conducts experiments, and travels to alternate worlds to gather information.”

I have to admit, at the time Grist’s article appeared I didn’t much care for mixing D&D with science fiction. (I didn’t dig Barrier Peaks, either.) But something about the idea must have stuck with me.

“After Strange Gods” was a proposed mini-campaign of mine explicitly intended to be a temporary change of pace from D&D. I had found a game system I liked and had written notes and an outline, but unfortunately, the campaign never quite got off the ground—schedules just never aligned. I was going to use Bad Axe Games’s Grim Tales rules, which are an excellent adaption of d20 Modern for low-magic, fantasy settings.

The primary inspiration for “After Strange Gods” was the fantastic Tripods series of books by John Christopher: The White Mountains (1967), The City of Gold and Lead (1968), and The Pool of Fire (1968). I was introduced to this series through a nifty comic adaption that ran in Boys Life magazine during the early 1980s. Given the recent popularity of young adult fiction, I am shocked that Christopher’s series has not been revived for television or the movies.

Another important inspiration was Steven Spielberg’s 2005 underrated remake of War of the Worlds. The first ninety percent of this movie is unalloyed greatness, which makes it all the more of a letdown when Spielberg loses his nerve at the very end. That aside, I found his depiction of the alien tripods completely terrifying.

Other, lesser inspirations included movies like Planet of the Apes (1968), Zardoz (1974), Logan’s Run (1976), Stargate (1994), and the Mist (2007).

The campaign was to begin as a classic, low-magic setting, with the PCs all members of a tribe of bronze-age hill folk living on the edge of civilization, caught between a howling wilderness filled with unknown terrors and a decadent kingdom ruled by distant, heathen princes. Typical perils included cannibal humans, mutated animals, giant vermin, aberrations, oozes, and carnivorous plants.

In the first few sessions the PCs would have discovered that their world was actually a post-apocalyptic landscape. The Ancients of legend had been humans defeated by an alien invasion. The victors had installed themselves as the distant and unseen Masters, ruling through mind-control and brute force. The most visible representatives of the Masters were the Seraphim, masked creatures in golden armor who flew through the air in silver chariots, and the omnipotent Tripods.

As the campaign progressed the PCs would have explored the kingdom, eventually discovering that the Masters were aboleths and their Seraphim servants skum in power armor. The Masters were working to open dimensional rifts that would completely transform the planet into a Lovecraftian hell. The culmination of the campaign was to have been a battle in the City of the Masters to close the rifts and drive the aboleths from the sunlit world.

Once I made the connection between aboleths and the Masters of Christopher’s Tripods series, a lot of the campaign fell quickly into place. I was also inspired by reading “Operation: Counterstrike,” an old AD&D adventure by Marcus L. Rowland from White Dwarf 28 (Dec 1981/Jan 1982). This adventure was an experimental mashup of science fiction and fantasy elements; the villains of the piece, the ralkans, are based on the Martians from H. G. Wells' the War of the Worlds.

Fortunately, d20 Modern provides useful rules for supra-science equipment that could be easily ported into a 3.5e game. Although aboleth tripods wouldn’t make sense in every D&D campaign, I think they have a lot of potential.

The following text is Open Game Content.

Aboleth Equipment

Aboleth employ alien knowledge to construct organic devices.

Aboleth Cap: This strange device resembles a small net made of slimy, pulsing seaweed. When placed on the head of a living creature an aboleth cap immediately bonds to the host and can only be removed with a DC 23 Heal check. Failure inflicts 1d6 points of Intelligence damage to the host. An aboleth cap occupies the same magic item slot as a helmet or hat. While worn, the host has a -4 circumstance penalty to all Will saves to resist an aboleth's enslave ability. Further, an enslaved creature wearing a cap is only entitled to a new Will saving throw once per month, and the aboleth's control is extended to 24 miles.

Aboleth Tripod: These towering fighting machines consist of a large, turreted body on top of three long legs. The body has a large window recessed under a deep cowl. While within the tripod, an aboleth has the following changed statistics:

Tripod CR 11

Gargantuan aberration (aquatic)

Init +0

AC 21, touch 7, flat-footed 21 (+8 armor, +0 Dex, +7 natural, -4 size)

hp 476; hardness 15

Ref +0

Immune critical hits

Spd 40 ft.

Melee 2 claws +22 (4d6+20/19-20) or tentacle +20 (2d8+20)

Ranged gas projector +6 touch (gas)

Space 20 ft; Reach 15 ft

Special Attacks lightning gun

Str 50, Dex 10

Grp +26

Gas Projector (Ex) This weapon fires cylinders of poisonous gas. Each tripod can hold up to 4 cylinders. This is a thrown splash weapon, range increment 250 ft, that on contact generates a 20-ft. radius bank of black smoke, similar to a fog cloud. These vapors automatically kill any living creature with 3 or fewer HD (no save). A living creature with 4 to 6 HD is slain unless it succeeds on a DC 15 Fortitude save (in which case it takes 1d4 points of Constitution damage on the aboleth's turn each round while in the cloud). A living creature with 6 or more HD takes 1d4 points of Constitution damage on the aboleth's turn each round while in the cloud (a successful Fortitude save halves this damage). Holding one's breath doesn't help, but creatures immune to poison are unaffected by the effect. The cloud lasts for 1d4+1 rounds.

Hardness (Ex) A tripod has hardness 15. Subtract 15 points from all damage the tripod would take.

Lightning Gun (Ex) 180 ft line, once every round, damage 6d6 electricity, Reflex DC 15 half.

Skills The aboleth suffers a -8 armor check penalty on the appropriate skills while within the tripod.

Arms and Armor of the Seraphim: The Seraphim are skum outfitted with golden armor covered with elaborate decorations and featuring a fearsome articulated mask. The armor weighs about 20 lbs. and provides a +7 armor bonus, with a maximum Dexterity bonus of +4 and an armor check penalty of -3. Seraphim armor also augments the skum’s physical abilities. A skum wearing Seraphim armor is stronger, faster, and more nimble than ever before. The armor augments physical strength, granting a +4 bonus to the skum’s Strength score. The armor augments reaction times, granting a +2 bonus on all Reflex saves. Additionally, Seraphim armor can improve traction and augment the ability to move quickly, increasing the skums’s movement speed by 10 feet.

A Seraphim rod is a ranged weapon that fires a pulse of destructive sound at the target, dealing 2d6 points of sonic damage. In addition, any creature damaged by the sonic pulse must succeed on a DC 15 Fortitude save or be deafened and shaken for 1d4 rounds. A Seraphim rod weighs about 3 lb. and has a range increment of 40 ft.

Seraphim CR 2

Usually LE Medium aberration (aquatic)

Init +1; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Listen +5 (+9 underwater), Spot +5 (+9 underwater)

Languages Aquan


AC 20, touch 11, flat-footed 19 (+7 armor, +1 Dex, +2 natural)

hp 11 (2d8+1 HD)

Fort +1, Ref +3, Will +3


Spd 20 ft., swim 40 ft.

Melee bite +7 (2d6+6), 2 claws +2 (1d4+3)

Ranged Seraphim rod +2 (2d6 sonic plus special)

Special Attacks rake (+0, 1d6+2)


Str 23, Dex 13, Con 13, Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 6

Base Atk +1; Grp +7

Feats Alertness

Skills Hide +0 (+4 underwater), Listen +5 (+9 underwater), Move Silently +0, Spot +5 (+9 underwater), Swim +8

SQ amphibious

Special Abilities

Rake (Ex) Attack bonus +0 melee, damage 1d6+2. A skum also gains two rake attacks when it attacks while swimming.


The following text is the property of Wizards of the Coast, Inc. and is Copyright 2000 Wizards of the Coast, Inc (“Wizards”). All Rights Reserved.

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