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NPC Workshop: The Big Bad Wolf

October 9, 2015

big_bad_wolfHave I mentioned that I really enjoy creating characters? If not, let it be known that I do! While I’m generally down on D&D 3e and Pathfinder as games that facilitate good times at the table without getting in the way, I do absolutely love the character creation mini-game contained in those rules, from both the player and the DM side. Although the DM side can be a little boring, as I’m the one setting the limits and the CR system is fairly easy to abuse. In the old days, I spent a lot of time crafting NPC foes that got chewed up and spit out in 2-3 rounds, which was a frustrating experience. But these days I have Hero Lab and can indulge in my flights of fancy without paging through book after book after book for that one feat…

In any case, as I was heading off to game night recently, my very young daughter suggested I should “play the part” of the Big Bad Wolf in the game of “storytime” that I play with my friends. I chuckled and agreed with her idea, but then I thought, maybe I should! If the Boogeyman can be a fey monster in Pathfinder – a manifestation of our primal fear of dark urban spaces, perhaps? – why not the Big Bad Wolf, which is the same idea in a wild setting? The Wolf could be another servant of the Kingmaker Adventure Path’s BBEG, or perhaps a lieutenant of Lord Ivo Tesarik’s, my custom bogeyman antagonist.

The question was, how to build such a foe? First I tried a human beast-totem barbarian with the werewolf template, but the template’s wonky rules really got in the way of the feel I was going for. I wasn’t so concerned about having stats for different forms; the Big Bad Wolf is an animal first and foremost, albeit one that can stand on its hind legs. It doesn’t need to turn into a human, nor does it need the trappings of civilization such as weapons or armor.

After some thought, I started again with a jackalwere, a kind of reverse-lycanthrope. Then I added on 8 levels of the Unchained Barbarian class with the Savage Barbarian archetype, taking Beast Totem and fear-related Rage powers. The jackalwere’s sleep gaze was turned into a frightening gaze, while the fear-based Rage powers had their actions downgraded (from move to swift, and standard to move) in order to account for the action economy. What makes sense for a player in a group doesn’t always work for a NPC foe, especially one that is primarily a singleton.

In lieu of gear, I gave it some always-on spell effects: magic fang, shield of faith, and barkskin in order to improve its number a little. Finally, I adjusted its CR from 10 down to 9, as 11 HD was not a lot for a CR 10 bruiser. This is one of the areas where the CR system breaks down a bit. Adding PC levels boosts CR on a linear basis, but there’s definitely a case of diminishing returns, especially for melee types. I also tweaked a few other bits here and there to make the creature easier to run (the intimidating glare Rage power was turned into forcing a re-roll vs. its frightening gaze, instead of being related to the Intimidate skill, which has its own sub-system and is a pain to adjudicate), and to bring its abilities in-line with its CR (boosting its DR from 5 to 10, increasing the DC of its special abilities to 1/2 total HD). I also added the D&D wolf’s iconic trip ability to the Wolf’s bite.

I considered making it Large to emphasize its fearsomeness (is that a word? spellchecker says no!), but the size-changing template came with such a massive change to its ability scores that I demurred. Instead I went with an enlarge person effect upon the creature, which grew the Wolf to size Large but didn’t mess with its stats too much. In this way, I’m using the spell effect as a sort of mini-template.

The Wolf’s packmates are just fiendish dire wolves with some fey-themed palette swaps.

Just a note, the statblock includes everything: rage, spells, and power attack. I don’t use typical 3e/Pathfinder stat blocks that don’t have any modifiers applied because that’s not useful to me at the table. Taking away those effects is the uncommon case that I can deal with if it ever happens. It’s much more often, in my experience, that the foe is dead before that can happen.

I’m not sure if this Big Bad will ever see play, but I had fun putting him together! 🙂

The Big Bad Wolf

CR 9, XP 6,400
“Jackalwere” barbarian (unchained, savage barbarian) 8; rage, buffed, power attack
CE Large fey (monstrous humanoid, shapechanger)
Init +7; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, scent; Perception +16
Aura frightening gaze (30 ft.; target is shaken while in range and for 1d4 rounds afterwards; successful save means target doesn’t have to save again for 24 hours [but see fearsome growl below]; Will DC 21 negates)

AC 23, touch 14, flat-footed 19 (+3 deflection, +3 Dex, +1 dodge, +9 natural, -1 size, -2 rage)
hp 155 (3d10+8d12+52 + 22 temp), max 200
Fort +13, Ref +8, Will +9 (+10 vs. fear)
Defensive Abilities DR 10/cold iron, improved uncanny dodge

Speed 40 ft.
Melee bite +17 (2d6+16 + trip), claws +17/+17 (2d6+16/19-20)

Special Attacks rage (22 rounds/day, included), fearsome growl (swift action; adjacent target; force reroll vs. frightening gaze), terrifying howl (move action; all shaken foes within 30’ become panicked for 1d4+1 rounds; Will DC 21 negates)

Str 22, Dex 16, Con 18, Int 10, Wis 15, Cha 14
Base Atk +11; CMB +17; CMD 33

Feats Improved Critical (claw), Improved Initiative, Improved Natural Attack (bite, claw), Iron Will, Power Attack (-3/+6, included)
Skills Acrobatics +9 (+13 jump), Bluff +4, Climb +12, Intimidate +20, Perception +16, Stealth +9, Survival +4 (+8 tracking), Swim +12
Languages Common, Sylvan

SQ alternate form (wolf; lose claw attacks and increase speed +10 ft.), magical effects (barkskin [+4], enlarge persongreater magic fang [+2], shield of faith [+3]); caster level 11th)

The Wolfpack

CR 4, XP 1,200
CE Large fey (animal)
Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, scent; Perception +10

AC 14, touch 11, flat-footed 12 (+2 Dex, +3 natural, -1 size)
hp 37 (5d8+15)
Fort +7, Ref +6, Will +2
Defensive Abilities DR 5/cold ironresist cold 10, fire 10; SR 10

Speed 50 ft.
Melee bite +8 (1d8+7 + trip)

Str 19, Dex 15, Con 17, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 10
Base Atk +3; CMB +8; CMD 20

Skills Acrobatics +2 (+14 jump), Perception +10, Stealth +3, Survival +1 (+5 tracking)

SQ magical effects (magic fang [+1]; caster level 5th)

  1. Pinkius permalink

    Do you have a total for his melee attacks? With greater magic fang and rage included?
    base stat blocks can be misleading with creatures that primarily fight raged.

    • I actually don’t “do” base stat blocks, not for NPCs; they’re useless to me. Everything is included up there: rage, spells, power attack, because that’s the state the players will encounter the Wolf in. Peeling those effects off is the rarer case that I can deal with *if* the time comes.

      But I should make a note of that!

      • Pinkius permalink

        This seems like the kind of monster that would have rend, did you consider adding that?

      • I toyed with that, but I think I would want to reduce the damage elsewhere if I was going to add rend. Maybe downgrade the bite & claw damage to d8s, and add in a rend for d8 + 9, maybe? +9 is just the STR bonus * 1.5, which is the standard for rend I believe. The average damage vs. AC 20 is roughly comparable, with rend being a little higher.

      • Pinkius permalink

        Just for funsies, here’s a giant squid! It’s the big bad wolf’s equal! Cr is silly.

      • Well, CR 9 is just my guesstimate. CR is kinda worthless around the time of 4th or 5th level spells, anyway.

      • Pinkius permalink

        Thing is, for certain creatures they’ll give them a lower CR than the actual power level of the creature for things like Dragons, because they’re intended to be a bigger challenge. It’s a freakin’ dragon after all. Reason being they need to trick the GM, who might otherwise toss dragons in their game as random enemies, suddenly the PCs are struggling with this monster of a creature, it needs to be plot significant!

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