Yuan-ti Suck: A Revamping of the Vipers

Here’s a new addition to a small series that is taking a closer look at one of my favorite monster types in all editions of D&D, the Yuan-ti. Unfortunately, it’s my belief that they were done a disservice in 4th edition by being stripped of their uniqueness. It seems ongoing poison is the thing that their latest designers think distinguishes them the most. Fie, I say. These creatures are cruel and insidious masterminds, and if you end up reaching their nest in the game, they’re not going to be unprepared with tepid damage and a lack of options. They’re religious fanatics who have notoriously mastered both arcane and psionic powers and they need to be scary again.

My last post brought to you a revised and empowered version of one of the yuan-ti’s most feared soldiers in their company, the abomination. You can see that here, but we’re pushing forward to bolster the ranks of these monsters for your game by providing decent alternatives to the hierarchy already built in the Monster Vault and Monster Manuals for 4e.

So here’s the Yuan-ti Malison Stalker, revised. Stalker is just a poor choice of naming as they aren’t really lurkers. This creatures actually has some surprisingly decent effects, but once again, entirely too simplistic to be feared as one of the most dangerous creatures in the world. So here’s the skirmisher type of yuan-ti, ramped up for your pleasure.

Some notes on the improvements:

  • First of all, morningstar?? Um, no. I don’t think Zehir would approve of any of his followers using a weapon that has the word morning in it, let alone anything that mildly connotes or resembles a radiating ball of light like the sun.
  • Basic attack: this is going to be your bread and butter yuan-ti monster to throw at the PCs. As they are effectively the most ubiquitous warriors in these cults we need to keep them a simple but fearsome threat. I love that the basic attack keeps enemies from marking, but the ongoing poison in this nest of creatures is starting to get out of control. That, and you already have ongoing poison with your ranged attack. Reading further into the other variations of monsters you’ll notice that the Poisoned Domination power of the yuan-ti malison chanter targets creatures taking ongoing damage. By taking out the ongoing here on the stalker we’re reducing the opportunity for that power to trigger, and thus a bit of synergy between them—but seriously, there are plenty of other ways to give out ongoing poison damage and the chanter’s power is a 5, 6 recharge anyway. So let’s scrap the ongoing poison here but keep it dangerous by changing the ongoing poison to vulnerability. Vulnerability is a rarely used gem in 4e; it can be really scary, and provides some interesting shake up on the battlefield. One might say its a tad more dangerous than ongoing 5 poison, but like I said, yuan-ti are dangerous.
  • Okay, well, it’s sad that they weren’t designed with darkvision. I don’t know why it would hurt the monsters to give them a little integrity. But on top of that, the senses are a great device that all creatures have already built in. If all creatures have something plugged in for it (they have nothing plugged in if they have no special senses, by default), then you can use that as a mechanic to flavor the threats. Darkvision, in this case, can be used against the PCs, some of whom may actually have it and can bypass that danger. I’m referring to the Deeper Darkness power in the abomination monster posted earlier. Now, if you just give all yuan-ti darkvision, they’re immune to their allies’ devious powers and can also feel more like they actually revere the god of darkness. They weren’t even designed with low-light vision! Geeze.
  • Finally, our skirmisher yuan-ti here needs a little pepper, something to make him a little more like a zealot since the original monster just looks like a leveled-up bugbear with a snakeskin hat on. When this doomed viper man dies, or kills a doomed character, there’s going to be a little unholy prayer to the one and only snake in the sky, Zehir. Zehir’s going to hear that prayer and send down some help as a reward in the form of everyone-on-my-side-gets-more-awesome. Sacrifices are made, and now the yuan-ti is less of a plain old skirmisher and more of a fanatic. This can be a little crazy if you throw a handful of these stalkers into the same battle, but once again, that’s how yuan-ti roll. You decided to enter the snake pit, don’t expect to get out easy.

Enjoy the stalker, and return back soon to pick up some more finely tuned monsters here at Rules As UNWritten!



Yuan-ti Suck

At least, the do in 4e. Yuan-ti used to put the fear of Zehir in me in previous editions though, what happened? Yuan-ti are supposed to be odious, insidious creatures that worship the god of darkness with an unhealthy obsession with enslaving and frankensteining every creature they come across. They should be loathed and feared but in 4th edition they’ve been reduced to “Generic Monster that deals ongoing poison”. Wow WotC, what a way to drain the awesomeness.

I’m thinking about it now and one of the reasons I think they were so fearsome in previous editions is because each yuan-ti defied any one role, having lots of interesting choices and features. There were no roles back then, no strikers or controllers, so the monsters pretty much had a bevy of options and what you used and the way you played them basically defined what kind of role they took in battle. In 4th edition, and to their credit, the designers have separated the tactics commonly used by the monsters into roles, denying some creatures some features in order to have them solely focus on others. This has made for a great streamlined and more variable combat setting. The 3.5 yuan-ti abomination had Produce Acid, an effect that deals damage to you when you hit them, something in the realm of a skirmisher or brute power now. But they also had Baleful Polymorph so they could turn you into a tiny useless viper, definitely something of a controller power in 4th edition. Okay, so what does the 4e yuan-ti abomination look like that WotC has written? They’re a soldier: they deal ongoing 5 poison damage and mark you as their basic melee, they can pull you and grab you as a minor and then they can bite you for poison damage and ongoing 10 poison damage when they have you grabbed. That’s it.

Simplicity is important in 4e. I get it. But the once-terrifying abomination has become nothing more than a re-skinned hook horror. There’s nothing in there at all about darkness, there’s nothing in there about their unholy zealotry, and if you knew you were going up against them and forgot to get some (relatively easy to come by) poison resistance, that’d pretty much be the only thing to get really worried about.

Enough griping. I’m changing them. I’m fixing them. And I’m posting them up here for you to bring the fear back into your players’ hearts when they find out they’re dealing with yuan-ti.

Some notes on the improvements:

  • The new Produce Acid is almost just like the babau’s aura, and this is a nasty thing on a soldier. Marking a PC and then damaging them for hitting back is mean, but so are yuan-ti; they’re insidious and cruel and this feature is perfect for them.
  • Devour Minion is going to be great for when the abomination is surrounded by his pureblood devotees (stay tuned for those); they’re going to keep the big one up and swinging because Zehir won’t let you into Samaragd if you just died without protecting one of his children. I took it, ironically, from the Tiamat’s Red Hand monster theme. Shouldn’t I have used the Snaketongue Cultist monster theme? Actually there are some nice features in that one too, but this one made more sense I felt for the imposing abomination. He is, after all, an abomination.
  • Deeper Darkness was how they got you in previous editions. It sucked to be in the dark, and that’s where the fear comes from. These creatures are born from darkness. They need darkvision, and they need to abuse those who don’t have it.

I want to throw a lot more into the abomination, but I’m going to withhold the temptation. I don’t feel like this is too complicated of a monster right now; it’s just complex enough to keep the PCs nervous, but if they come prepared they should be able to match this guy, and now, feel better about themselves for taking down a more fearsome foe.

Instead of inundating you with all my other design edits to one of the most detestable creatures in D&D, I’ll be feeding them to you piecemeal, so check back for more revolting and molting vipers later!