Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year: the weather is finally starting to cool off as the trees grow beautiful in their fall colors; people come together to plan parties and costumes; escapism and fantasy are normalized, even if it's only for one night; and, of course, there's plenty of delicious candy!
I particularly love the intersection between D&D and Halloween. I'm a baby when it comes to horror movies, but with D&D it's different. Perhaps its the premise: your character is supposed to be powerful; you're supposed to be able to fight back against the darkness. It makes it feel achievable instead of dreadful, and I love that feeling on either side of the screen. Halloween adventures are some of my favorite to write. Last year we released Terazul Returned, our first published adventure and one of our fan favorites. This year we'll be releasing a brand new spooky adventure, but more on that later (follow us on Instagram and Twitter for more details).
In the mean time, if you're looking to delight your home group with a scary surprise, we've got something for you!
A Tricky Treat
It's been a while since I played Minecraft, but even after years removed from the game, I still remember the terrifying feeling of hearing that "Hssssssss" through a wall, followed by a massive explosion that sent you tumbling into the oblivion below. Creepers were one of the scariest things when the blocky survival builder game first released.
So... what if we could use them in D&D?
Parts of the statblock are meant to scale for different tiers of play. Whenever you see values presented in brackets, like [this], that is telling you each of the values for each of the tiers of play. For example, if you are running the adventure for a party of level 8 heroes, you will use the Tier 2, or second, entry in those brackets. In the case of the Detonate action, the DC would be 15 and the damage would be 6d6 force and 6d6 thunder.
Since the statblock is entirely scalable, CR and Proficiency Bonus have been omitted. We also left out the dice for the health totals and omitted the average dice numbers for better readability (who even uses those anyway XD).
Designing the Creepers
The part that makes a creeper feel so terrifying is the inevitability. Once you hear that noise, you know what's going to happen. You have to make a split second decision to run, or try and kill it quickly enough to avoid the doom. That's a fun gameplay decision, and one you don't see much of in D&D. Most enemies in the game have smaller decisions on specific damage types or condition immunities, but rarely is there a true sense of urgency pitted against an inevitable doom.
To capture that feeling, the Creeper needs to do a few things mechanically.
It needs to get close enough to be dangerous. The explosion radius should be limited enough that you can escape it, so that means it should be sneaky or fast enough to close the distance. Considering the behavior of the enemies in Minecraft, we opted for sneaky. How often were you digging and suddenly noticed that green face of doom frowning from way too close? So give it a reasonable movement speed, 50 foot explosion radius, and a solid stealth bonus.
It needs to signal what's about to happen, giving the nearby characters a choice: run, or fight? That's where the tension comes from, and that led to the wording of the Detonate action.
It needs to be a meaningful-but-achievable threat. If it is impossible to kill in a single round, then there isn't really a choice in how to handle it. But we don't want it to be so easy to kill that there's no risk to staying close to fight it. As such we went for both decent AC and HP. The HP isn't so high that a reasonable round of damage can't put it down, but the AC is high enough that sub-par dice rolls will land the group in trouble. We used the following assumed to-hit bonuses for each tier of play, and then decided that a combatant should have to roll an 9 or higher to hit it. Tier 1 = +5 Tier 3 = +10 Tier 2 = +7 Tier 4 = +13 We also used this table to estimate damage, assuming a part of four heroes that are each dealing, per round, about... Tier 1 = 10 damage Tier 3 = 40 damage Tier 2 = 25 damage Tier 4 = 50 damage
Another consideration is usability. There probably aren't too many D&D games set in the world of Minecraft, so we need to dress these creepers up as monsters that you could reasonably find in any setting. This led to three different creature types, each with traits that help make the creature type be more than cosplay while still keeping the bulk of the creeper's functionality the same.
The undead creeper captures a little of those Left 4 Dead vibes - undead that are bursting with necrotic energy and are about to burst. These will make it that much harder to reach the necromancer's sanctum.
The construct creeper: an automaton designed to rush forward and destroy swathes of enemy troops and fortifications. This one is perfect for an Eberron setting where the party has stumbled across the unexploded ordnance from the Last War.
The aberrant creeper is one of those oddballs of the Far Realm whose evolution feels like the fever dream of a scorned DM. Part of a hivemind, these particular creatures help to defend the nest of their more stable brethren.
Have fun rolling dice, and Happy Halloween!