The Stirge: The pincher, the stinger, your favorite blood drinker!
My first test subject, with which I started this whole thing. I always loved stirges! The stirge is also a fine example on how a fairly simple monster could be made far more playable and interesting, if you put some thought into it.
SpoilerBad street Rep:
SpoilerFrom my experience with stirges, they are considered between too weak to matter (at levels 4/5 and up), or packing too much impact for such a small creature (At very low levels). The fact that the ability damage they cause is CON, which both decrease hp and is life threatening at low levels, makes them a potential game stopper.
But really, the reason I think they are really hated/ neglected is because they seem like an annoyance. After all- they are just big mosquitoes, no?
Why do I care?
SpoilerFirst, the image of something attaching you to, and then starting to sap your blood with a straw (cartoon like) has always amused, and somewhat disturbed me... Secondly- A while ago, I tried using them with some other creatures against a 9th level party some time back, and suddenly they had a different role, as a harasser and a complication to an encounter. That's when I began thinking about these blood suckers- They shouldn't just act alone, be their own encounter, but rather they should act with others! As parasites, and weak ones at that, they should try and avoid being zapped by whom they sting, and so they need a distraction, a bigger threat...
And one more idea disturbing idea came to mind: In swamps and jungles what you fear the most are mosquito swarms... what if they were stirges?
And now, presenting to you- The new and improved stirge!
Role and Concept
SpoilerMost DMs treat stirges as mindless vermin, who stupidly fly and attach to a target, even if it's highly capable of killing it. Stirges are also usually encountered in very small numbers, and often alone, which enables the party to focus on killing them quickly. I decided to play my lovelies differently- as patient, parasitic stalkers. The stirges are NEVER the main threat, they avoid attacking capable targets, and they sure as hell avoid attacking alone, when the blood-bag (PC) can strike/ burn/ kill them with ease. Their role changed from an odd encounter, to the following:
- Harassment, a constant threat, and complication for more serious encounters.
SpoilerI view stirges as predatory pests who lurk most commonly in jungles, swamps, forests and such. They travel in fairly large groups, though the stirges act independently, not coordinating attacks. The stirges most commonly attack the prey when it's vulnerable, or otherwise occupied. Common possibilities for stirges attacks (on a party) are:
- When A PC swims/ falls into water
- When one is separated from another
- When a vulnerable caster casts/ concentrates on a spell.
- When the party sleeps (The stirges fall to the ground, and crawl to the victim, biting and drawing blood as it sleeps).
- Or most commonly: When the party suddenly has it's hands full fighting something else. As the party suddenly fights a hydra, or is ambushed by lizard folks, or tries to evade the deadly dungeon traps, the stirges descend, knowing the party is worried about a bigger threat.
Place and Interactions
Their Place in the world:
SpoilerThese are the bottom feeders, feeding on those who are two weak to fight, who are trapped (Many an animal sunken in a mud pit saw the fluttering of stirge wings on nearby branches), slayed beasts (One of the best ways to get them off your back). Think of them as sort of... flying hyenas... They stay mostly in natural areas, but small flocks and nests are known to travel near rural settlements and kill livestock. A special menace occurs every 4 years, when Blood Lust Swarms emerge. (More on that later).
SpoilerStirges tend to focus and specialize on a certain kind of prey in their area (Learning their habits, weaknesses, and so on), but they are always ready to explore new prey (Such as adventurers ). It's usually the younger and more inexperienced stirges who makes the first flights, as the others watch, preparing to move if the first are successful, or wait if they aren't. Stirges often seek some sort of cover, both from ground enemies, and air born ones.
Some races, organizations and armies sometime capture flocks of stirges, to later unleash them on enemies, and it's not unknown for more savage races to use these as deterrents or outright weapons. Some even train them to attack certain enemies or banners. (In Eberron, armies wielding undead or warforged troops have sometimes used these, mostly for morale affect, relying that their own armies were impervious).
Stirges are known to be drawn and set up small nests near monsters and creatures who either kill in abundance, or have abilities that work well with theirs (Assassin vines, Carrion crawlers and rust monsters, to name a few). In return, they striges do not draw blood from their benefactor, and kill all other annoyances and pests, and act as an added defense.
Druids are divided in their opinions about the stirges, for they can cause great harm, yet have a place in the natural world. The most troubling issues are the Blood Lust Swarms.
Worthy of note is the secondary impact on environment: The stirges, similar to mosquitos, have a tendency to be spread blood borne disease. Feasting on blood, and living in hot environment, they usually carry some diseases in their system. Combined with migrations at times, the stirges are a disease carryign vector. The stirges are usually resistant to most known humanoid diseases, and have been at time used to drain the blood of the sick. (House Jorasco's major enclaves in Eberron uses them instead of leeches). Some believe stirge organs may be used to fight off certain diseases, and hunt them for that.
The following are suggestions that support the concepts detailed so far:
1) Blood drain (ex): Once attached the stirge needs to succeed on an attack against the flatfooted AC- This simulates the critter finding a clear piece of skin, giving an advantage to heavily armored characters. This attack comes in the following round of the attachment. If successful, the Stirge immediately drains blood.
2) Numbing effect: The insertion of the proboscis is preceded by a spraying of a numbing liquid from the stirges gland- this means that characters unaware of the stirges presence remain unaware to the proboscis (this mainly concerns sleeping characters).
3) Blood sense: Stirges has an acute sense of locating blood, and can sense it's presence in a 30' radius, even if blinded and deafened. This enables the stirges to notice locations of hiding or invisible characters (Though the latter still benefit from concealment). this sense is blocked by two an inch of solid, or two inches of fluid.
4) Skills: Stirges get a +8 racial bonus to their move silently checks while on the ground, not fluttering their wings (Again, used with sleeping characters mostly).
5) Diseases: Stirges often carry diseases (Up to the DM, but about a quarter of them seems good?) If a target suffers blood drain, it also contacted the disease, if failing the appropriate save.
6) Blood Lust Swarm info: Every several years, massive swarms of stirges migrate out of their nesting habitats. These swarms attack indiscriminately, viable and nonviable targets alike, utterly fearless, utterly driven (This behavior is a far cry from the normal pattern of the cowardly stirge!). What is even more disturbing is that once attached, a stirge drinks until it is killed, or it dies from over feeding (about 10 con),when it's body ruptures in gory blood. These swarms blood sense increases dramatically, up to 1000 ft, though the reason for this yet evades research. Compound on that, these swarms attack with their pinches as well, making them a menace (though less) even to bloodless targets, such as warforged (Treat this as the normal damage dealtby a swam).
The following are but a suggestion forthe Blood Lust Swarm statistics. I'm not very savvy with monsters rules and builds:
- 8-10 HD, with +2 hp per HD (the swarm's con increased due to constant rage)
- Swarm traits of course, half damage from weapons and so on, distraction and the like...
- Blood lust rage: Basically like a barbarian's rage, applied consistently, until the swarm disperse. animal empathy and emotion calming magic do not work.
- Increased blood sense: The range of this ability increases to 1000 ft for the swarm. It always moves towards the target with most blood. That is it's primary target. Most stirges avoid other targets in the swarm's path, and thus it only causes the blood loss damage below.
- Increasing blood loss: Besides the usual damage of the swarm (from pincers), an engulfed target suffers 2d4 damage the second round it is in the swarm, increasing by 1d4 each consecutive round. (As more stirges latch unto the target_. This blood loss decreases once the target leaves the swarm. (With an appropriate number of stirges attached)
- Attacking the main target: All the stirges attack. Aith hundreds of stirges upon the target, the stirges basically kill any viable target with blood, on the second round (drawing blood round), unless the character succeeds on a fortitude save (DC high, but not impossible). If the target survived, it's hit point are at -1, and 1d4 con, losing one each round. A heal check (again high) can stop the blood loss... the swarm moves immediately to the next main target.
- Dwindling swarm: The more blood the swarm takes, the more of it's members die. This is especially true with main targets, and practically negligible with "on the way" targets. The usual method of dealing with swarms is sacrificing a large number of farm animals, who's bloodless shriveled husks, with bloated dead stirges around them is all that remain after a night of the Blood Lust Swarm.
Mysteries and the unknown:
SpoilerThe only real mystery is the existence of the Blood Lust Swarms. These horrifying monstrosities are the exact opposite of the secretive, cowardly, dumb stirge. Some theorize that angry divine powers are behind this, some that it's a manifestation of nature's wrath. (In Eberron they are attributed to the Devourer, or the Fury. the Ashbound consider them a vengeful force, the Wardnes are uncertain, and so on). It does seem to help to keep the stirges populations in check though- the Swarms come every some years, and all of them at the same time frame. however- no one has yet been able to predict when the swarming happens, or what triggers it.
Playing, at a D&D table near YOU!
"They're out there, i can feel it!":
A basic harassment, tension and terror set up: As the party enters a jungle/ swamp/ deep section of a forest, they notice the strange fluttering of wings and strange humming. (Someone with know nature can make a check learn about stirges. with a high enough spot skill, someone may notice a few of the stirges on branches and such... watching...). As the party advances, keep mentioning the humming from time to time, and make some spot checks. they'll notice the little cuties around them... in front of them... behind them.
At some point when someone does anything that distract them, make an attack with 1-3 stirges (On the most occupied/ exhausted character). The party should easily beat them/ kill them, but the fluttering will increase momentarily. The stirges will continue to follow, with maybe one more attack. After that they'll just wait, biding their time... if you wish to add a bit more terror, add some dead animals and creatures somewhere, with blood drained.
"When monsters attack, so do we!":
At some point after this, when the characters suddenly engage in battle, have a greater amount of the stirges attack! Some should also seem to attack the monster, though if they have enough natural AC, this can be negligible. This could prove especially surprising if the party shields some vulnerable party member (wizard?) from the monsters, only to have him attacked by the ever waiting stirges. The stirges would also most likely attack anyone who goes "maneuvering" separately, like rogues and scouts... Repeat this pattern of attacking when the party is attacked (the party can use it once or twice against badly armored foes) 1-3 times. Once the party learned of the threat, and how to avoid/ fight back, they wait... as only stirges can..
[B]other good points to attack[:/B] Could be when the party crosses a bridge, when they swim, when they climb up/down a rope/ cliff. Any time they are a bit more busy...
"When night descends, so do we! who needs a vampire really?"
As the party prepares to sleep, some of the stirges keep being around. If the party sleeps in the open then they are in for some trouble, but even if they somehow barricaded themselves, the danger is lessened but not averted... as some characters begin to sleep, some of the stirges fall to the ground (You might allow a listen check for that, though finding the stirges can be more difficult). They then crawl to the nearest character, and suck some blood from it (see the numbing effect in game mechanics). The guarding character should have some chance to find and kill the intruders (flat footed on the ground). If they sleep in a barricaded place, then less stirges can come in, and they are easily detected and destroyed.
note that the loss of blood also means no healing during the night, and that the casters did not get a "good night's sleep".
"The gang leader and his stooges": This isn't part of the encounters above, Stirges often reside near an effective creature- how about a large hall, in which some carrion crawlers reside? When a victim is paralyzed, suddenly a stirge or two descend on the wrapped up meal (and the party must deal with their buddy's distress as well). Or a spider spider's (or aranea's, or a drider's) den with all it's webs... once a prey is caught, come the blood suckers... or perhaps a rust monster who coexist with some stirges- once reduces the AC, the other reduces the Con till they fall... stirges could work remarkably well with fairly non intelligent creatures, especially if they don't have blood, such as... Golems? A group of stirges resides near a ruin guarded by some golem or another, swooping by whenever it starts pounding it's next meal...
"Blood Lust Swarm":
The swarm itself is meant to be horrifying, and very deadly if not handled properly. but it can be diverted and redirected fairly easily, if one knows how. There are two significant complications though: Not knowing when it will strike, and the mystery surrounding it. As a part of a campaign, in which the party has a few encounters with stirges in an area, they learn that the main is druid concerned at the increasing numbers. Then, as the party explores something unrelated, they suddenly comes upon the nest, of hundreds, if not thousands of stirges!
The encounters? First- flee the swarm and distract it. Second- alert the population, and find a way to deal with it. Third- Learn that it wasn't the only swarm...
As you see, other than the swarm I haven't diverted that much from what's written in the MM. This could easily be done with many other "banal" monsters! The stirge is indeed a treasure, if used right, and there are so many other treasures out there, just waiting... looking forward to your feedback...