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.
Bad street Rep: from 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. 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?
i care for it because: first, i 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. second- i tried using them with some other creatures against a 9th level party some time back, and suddenly they had a different role. that's when i began thinking about these blood suckers- they should act with others, they should try and avoid being zapped by whom they sting, and one more 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:
Perception and Concept
- perception: many DMs treat stirges as mindless vermin, who stupidly fly and attach to a target, even if it's highly capable of killing it. also, there are usually very few stirges present... i decided to play my lovelies differently- as patient, parasitic stalkers. the stirges are NEVER the main threat, they never attack capable targets. their role changed from an odd encounter, to harassment, a constant threat, and complication for more serious encounters.
- concept: i view stirges as predatory pests who lurk most commonly in jungles, swamps, forests and such. they travel in fairly large groups, though the stirges are independent, 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 one falls into water, when one is separated from another, when a wizards mumbles 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 the most common event- when the party suddenly has it's hands full fighting something else. (as the party fights against' the hydra they suddenly feel something land on them, turning their heads to see it preparing to draw blood).
Place and Interactions
- Place in the world: these 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), or 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 BloodLustSwarms emerge (more on that later).
- interactions: stirges 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 succesful, preparing to wait if not. stirges always seek some cover, as many airborne predators fly better than it. stirges avoid flying prey (flying animal companions and familiars can assist). some races, nations and armies sometime capture flocks of stirges, to later unleash them on the enemy. some even train them to attack certain enemies or banners. (In Eberron, armies using the dead or the warforged were known to use the flying menace, mostly for morale affect, their own armies 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 vine, carrion crawler, rust monster for example). in return, they striges do not draw blood from their benefactor, and kill all other annoyances and pests (rat control). druids are divided in their opinions about the stirges. for they can cause great harm, as well as great good. the most troubling issues are the BloodLustSwarms.
a secondary impact on environment, is the Stirges tendency to be disease spreaders. feasting on blood, and living in hot environment, they usually carry some diseases in their system when migrating. the stirges are immensely resistant to most known 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). the stirges posses a small gland that is believed to assist against various illnesses, and it is highly sought after.
Game mechanics and Mysteries
- game mechanics: but some of the main alterations are:
1) blood drain (ex): before this can begin, an attached stirge must succeed to attack (with it's proboscis) with only the armor and providing AC bonus. this is supposed to simulate the critter finding a clear piece of skin, giving an advantage to heavily armored characters.
natural armor decreases the amount of blood drained! (making creatures with a +4 to natural armor impervious).
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 pinpoint locations, and notice hiding characters, though it still needs to deal with all other implications of adverse conditions. 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: the target of a Stirges blood drain has 50% chance of attracting some sort of a disease (to be determined by the DM)
6) BloodLustSwarm 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 (far from the normal pattern of the cowardly stirge). what is more odd that once attached, a stirge drinks until it is killed, or it dies from over feeding (about 10 con). the swarms blood sense increases dramatically, up to 1000 ft. approximately. these swarms attack with their pinches as well, making them a menace (though less) even to bloodless targets (such as warforged).
the following are just basic guide lines for the swarm. i do not intend to post it here (i think it's not the place), if someone wishes, put it on the homebrew forum:
- 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 usuall 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. 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. with hundreds of stirges upon the target, the stirges basically kill any viable target with blood, and having less than +4 natural armor), 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 sdead stirges around them is all that remain after a night of the BloodLustSwarm.
- mysteries and unknown: the only real mystery is the existence of the BloodLustSwarms. 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, what triggers it.
Playing, at a D&D table near YOU!
- "they're out there, i can feel it!": a basic harassment and terror continuing encounter. 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 other than moving, 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 it has a +4 nat armor, it ignores them). 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... again this pattern of attacking when the party is attacked (the party can use it once or twice against badly armored foes) should happen 1-3 times... after that, when the party has learned and retaliated, 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, the stirges keep being around. if the party sleeps in the open then they are in for some trouble, if they somehow barricaded themselves, then 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 homies": (i apologize for my bad slang) not linked to 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). a spider's (or aranea's, or a dridder's) den with all it's webs... once a prey is caught, come the predators... 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 drink 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...
- "BloodLustSwarm": 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. however, from my point of view, two significant points about it is not knowing when it will strike, and the mystery surrounding it. i can easily imagine a campaign, in which the party has a few encounters with stirges in an area, the main druid concerned at the increasing numbers. then, as the party explores something entirely different (preferably in some old abandoned place, close by to a rural settlement), they suddenly meet a minor villain, whom they know worships some dark/ insane purpose, standing under a massive nest of stirges, who hum strangely. they engulf it as he laughs and screams (i said insane, you following me?), and then the swarm senses it's next target- one of the characters... the encounters? one- flee the swarm and distract it. two- alert the villagers/ druid/ whomever. three- prepare a sacrifice in the direction of that swarm. four- have a second swarm arrive from an unanticipated direction...
in conclusion: 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...