The Hydra- "because 12 heads are better than one!"
The Hydra appears in the story of Hercules first. it has since then gained popularity, as a symbol of savagery, but also renewal and growth. a real world critter was named after this monster as well, though it's size, appetite and general demeanor are far from the renown beastly reputation.
D&D draws on the mythological Hydra, in a fairly accurate way, but it doesn't evolve her beyond that. it remains but a monster... this, i hope to change.
A few people helped me with ideas and refinement here. the main ones are AslanCross, Triaxx and Biffoniacus Furiou, but i thank all who helped. now, lets get down to business...
- Bad street Rep: a Hydra in low levels is usually a tough fight, bordering on a TPK usually. at mid-high levels it poses no challenge, as the extra heads don't really come up to par with the abilities the party has gained till then. also, the fight with a Hydra feels like solving a puzzle more than a fight- the rules for her demise often navigate players to take specific combat actions instead of begin inventive.
but more than that- the hydra lacks any further info! it exist to fight and that's all it seems. other creatures in the MM got some (if little) further information about their life, habits, culture, but the Hydra got none. but the Hydra is full of intriguing questions, when you put your mind to it...
- i care for it because:first of all, i just love the image- a beast rises from water with several nearly identical heads, snapping! the image is one of fascinated horror! but also, i think the Hydra is Unique- a creature that is several creatures in one really. i think the hydras multiple heads could be made far more interesting than just things to chop off and burn.
the "fluff vacuum" around the Hydra begs to be filled, and made interesting, compelling, challenging. i hope this entry would make the hydra more than just an encounter you need good timing and an open flame for...
and now presenting to you, the new and improved Hydra:
Perceptions and Concept
- perception: the role of the hydra in most DnD games is limited to a tough solo encounter, solvable only by battle or flight. there are three main changes in perception i have made to the hydra. the first is that though it may be a beast, it is a cunning beast, using it's surroundings to it's advantage, assessing risks and more. it knows it's strengths and weaknesses and it reacts accordingly.
the second change is that the hydras, through increased intelligence begin to speak, negotiate and even crudely trace and deal with other intelligent beings. this opens a whole new set of encounters for an adventuring party, both in dealing with the hydra itself, or with allies of her.
the third change is that Hydras now have a greater place in the world, as a rumored offshoot of the ancestor of dragons and wyrms. hydras are powerful creatures, but not as powerful as their cousins. they can achieve interesting abilities however...
- concept: a Hydra is a most peculiar creature. there are three key concepts to realize about a Hydra to really understand how much it changes through life, how much it evolves, and how conflicted it is... the first thing to remember is that the hydra is not a single creature really- it is many creatures in the same body, and there is a battle of wills and discipline. a hydra begins life with 3 heads (more on the life cycle later), and after several brief and brutal fights amongst them, the dominant head takes a position of seniority. the two other heads become subservient to it, and act as helpers and guardians to it.
these 3 heads keep leading the hydras efforts. as it gains heads the dominant "demonstrates" it's dominance, but the control is loose. at most times the heads are but half controlled by the dominant head and the guardian ones, attacking whomever they want and acting however they like. the dominant head does however assert control in matters of emergency, and other events such as negotiations and such. some who have fought hydras report this dual nature in fighting- at first the heads lash about everywhere, but once it's heads start to get loped off and burned, the main head suddenly focuses the heads attacks on the main threats.
another special and important note made by researchers- unless a stump gets burned, one of the two growing heads is Identical to the one that was cut off, including personality, memories, and so on. it was theorized that the Hydra's "main brain" was lodged in the body but none was found. this remarkable phenomenon must be part of the hydras magic, and the secret is highly sought after. it is this ability that enables a hydra to truly remain intact after a fight, in all manners.
if a stump is burned however, than that head is truly dead, like a severed limb. if a dominant head gets cut off and burned than one of the guardians takes its place (but see later on intelligence). as the heads have a different personality this means the hydra's entire attitude just changed! the guardian heads however are very loyal to the dominant head, and try their best to protect it.
another important aspect to learn about the hydra is that as it ages, it adds not only heads, but also intelligence, wisdom and charisma! these are added to all the heads, but the dominant one, which have began the smartest, is always assumed to have the best scores. hydras also begin to speak at a certain age, and so their options broaden considerably. the hydra's relatively fast growing mental capabilities mean that it changes rapidly, becoming smarter and wiser at an incredible pace. the hydras you met a few years back isn't the hydra you're meeting today...
the last aspect to remember about the hydra, which stems from the previous two, is the constant struggle within it. the hydra contains many heads, with various mental capabilities, forced to live together. some heads are more "civilized" (in a broad manner of speaking) while others are always more beastly. a hydra, even an elderly one of 12 heads will always display both aspects- beast and intelligence, savagery and refinement. most who dealt with hydra say this is the most unsettling aspect of all. you can one minute deal with a noble, only to be attacked by a bloodthirsty mob the next...
Place and Interactions
- Place in the world: the exact origin of Hydras is unknown. scholars often theorize that there was some common aquatic ancestor to to be dragons and hydras, but where and how the split happened no one knows. other scholars say that the trolls and hydras have a common ancestry, but there is nothing to support that fact. whatever the truth is, the hydras remarkable recuperating abilities, and it's immense speed at getting mentally and physically powerful makes it a dangerous creature indeed.
which is exactly why it is hunted down so thoroughly. humanoids (and other intelligent creatures) of most races try to hunt down hydras as soon as they appear, when small, in order to prevent them growing up to the full menaces they are. this is why hydras continue to be rare. in order to survive a young hydra must grow cunning, calculating, cautious. hydras tend to attack from ambushes when possible, and might quickly retreat if the opponent isn't beaten down. however, the hydra, like the trolls, suffers from a nearly constant hunger, and so sometime remain in a dangerous fight and fight savagely!
a hydra grows from under the skin of it's parent (some who fought parenting hydras report that the writhing movement under the skin of her back only added to the disgust) until it erupts. as soon as it can stand on it's feet, it is set loose- parental care isn't common amongst hydras (though there have been exceptions). the small 3 headed hydra then must fend for herself, and find a new habitat, as it's parent will drive it off. if it is strong enough, cunning enough, it will survive. otherwise it will be hunted down.
every some years, depedning on the food in the previous years, a hydra ages a bit, grows a bit, becomes smarter and wiser, and grows another head. from a certain number of head it might learn how to speak from eavesdropping on the local intelligent creatures. (a hydra begins to speak when it gains it's 8-9 head usually). some rare hydras begin to develop spell casting abilities, similar to dragons. these abilities increase as well as the hydra ages.
as said before, burnt up stumps never heal, and if a dominant head was burnt, than the general mental capabilities of the hydra are less than what they could have been (it was the smartest and wisest). guardian and less senior heads have been known to develop spell casting abilities instead of a burnt dominant head but that is truly rare.
hydras display a strange behavior prior to mating. each hydra emits a subtle scent, either a "calling signal" or a "responding signal". hydras who are responders, than feast mightily in their own territories, before starting to make their way towards the calling hydras. the scent is subtle, but strong, and can be carried away for miles upon miles. this times of "migration of eyes" are accompanied by stories of hydras away of their local habitats, mostly moving as stealthily as they can, but sometimes going on a feeding frenzy. when the two (or more) hydras meet they mate. hydras are bisexual so they fertilize each other in weird mating (including the biting off of most heads). the one who called will usually now make the journey back to where the responder came from, thus changing territories... the newly born hydras will begin their life in a few months.
the normal limit for a hydra is 12 heads. some hydras however are capable to make some pivotal change in their body's physique, and go beyond that, to 13heads and more they become known as Legendary hydras. they increase much in size as they grow more heads, and they also gain special capabilities (again reminding dragons). what marks them more special however is the balance they achieve amongst their heads. these hydras are usually calm, collected, insightful. no more is the struggle between intelligence and beast. some say these rare and remarkable creatures are almost serene...
even rarer are the "many headed oracles"- legendary hydras whose many heads and insight grants them a special sight. some can look to the past, some can look to the planes, some can decipher the unconscious, some can even see the future. these are always unique beings, usually worshiped and praised...
as to how cryo and pyro hydras come to the world- it is theorized that sometime in the past a silver dragon sought to create allies, and have either mated or some other way conjoined some of it's essence with a hydra. later, a red dragon became jealous and did the same. there is no real evidence for either story though. both kinds are born to normal hydras, and no real pattern can be made out. the two kinds however do have a slightly higher percentage of Legendary Hydras
Hydras commonly live within swamps, but a few live at seas and oceans (they are incredibly rare as there is far less place to hide from predators there). contrary to common belief- a hydra cannot breath underwater, just hold her breath for fairly long periods (and you need only one head to go above water and fill the lungs)
there is one more variant, living in desert- the Sand Hydra. these have lost the smooth skin, and instead have thick smooth plates covering them. usually laying beneath the sand like blue dragons, they often attack with total surprise. a large number of Pyro Hydras are sand hydras.
- interactions: the Hydra's interaction with the environment and it's inhabitant depend mostly on it's maturity and ability to speak. once it speak a hydra becomes hungry for knowledge, and may do many kinds of deal in order to gain more knowledge. The hydra' mind/s are growing constantly, and so need common stimulation. knowledge is a strong currency with a hydra. a common consequence of a hydra gaining knowledge is a hydra gaining a class level. barbarian, sorcerer and spirit shaman are all common classes a hydra (it's dominant head really) might take.
a hydra however will always be cautious, remembering her early years evading predators and hunters. it will try to set up negotiations in a safe place, or at least close to water where it can extinguish itself. the dealing with a hydra are dealings with a group of people, one of them controlling the rest by a tight leash. it is wise to try and placate all heads, and not just one (the DM should play at least the dominant head, one guardian head and one of the bestial heads)
Hydras also have something of a dragon's need for looting, though not as strong. a hydra would rather trade with a dangerous enemy than attack it. a hydra however doesn't hoard her stuff in one place- being the cautious creature it is, a hydra hides and buries her loot everywhere in it's territory. it gains satisfaction from knowing it's all there, but unlike a dragon it doesn't need to actually lay on it.
- other hydras: a hydra is a solitary creature. when two hydras meet it is for mating only. if hydras happen to come to the same territory together, the one with less heads would leave.
- Dragons: dragons usually have no tolerance for young hydras. they older ones usually hunt them down for sport, and the young ones hunt them down seriously. the flight and breath weapon give the dragons a clear advantage. dragons do however hold a peculiar place for intelligent hydras- many times they decide to tame them a bit, and keep them as pets/ guardians to their lair! the exact reasons a dragon does so is unclear, but maybe it is out of some sort of kinship... this is especially true with cryo and pyro hydras. the dragon usually becomes attached to his/her pet and would hate to see it harmed. the hydra enjoys the protection, and the knowledge of the grander creature.
- kobolds: kobolds either hunt hydras fiercely, or welcome one to honor/worship it. most kobolds truly believe hydras are related to dragons, and so substitute this creature for the real thing. on other cases hydras often trade their combat skills for traps to their lairs from a neutral kobold tribe.
- lizardmen: like the kobolds, lizardmen either love or hate hydras. if the swamp is low on resources, they will usually hunt the hydras down. but if it is plentiful, the lizardmen will generally capture and tame hydras. they will use the none speaking ones as mounts of war, but the speaking ones often take positions of leadership in the tribe. a few tribes had gotten a legendary hydra to make it's transformation in them. these hydras are usually worshiped and venerated. when going to war, or coastal raids it is not uncommon for the lizardmen to come riding hydras (only the best warriors on them).
- Trolls: trolls and Hydras act strangely, not attacking each other if there is no immediate need. trolls have been known to consult with elderly hydras, which is quite bizarre for trolls. no one knows the reason for this... "truce".
- Mind Flayers: the mind flayers usually keep a bunch of hydras, older ones preferably as an endless source of brains. the fast growth of the hydras brain is of a particular taste to the Illithid Pallet (if they have one). the dominant head is kept alive and active though, as lacking it for long periods have often made the hydras go mad and the taste to ruin...
- Druids Sects: the opinion on the hydra is controversial amongst druid circles. some consider it an abomination, while others point to legendary hydras and say the hydras have a special place in the world. druids monitor the time of mating (migration of eyes) since these tend to disturb local life.
Game mechanics and Mysteries
- game mechanics: i haven't written exact numbers (or the ever elusive CR for the hydra) but i hope this works well
1) general traits from having many heads (some of this will be repeated from the MM- it's for emphasis. some supersedes the MM):
- the dominant head controls the "move action" part of the turn. if it's cut off, than another head controls it. [B]all [/B heads gets each a standard action. for example- the hydra may move, and then attack with all it's heads.
- the hydra has attacks of opportunity equal to the number of it's heads.
- a hydra gets a bonus equal to the number of heads to spot, search, listen, sense motive and intimidate.
2) Aging: a hydra begins with 3 heads, Intelligence 3, wis 8, cha 7 for the dominant head (-1 on all for the rest) size large.
- each time it ages, it gains one head and +1 to all 3 mental stats
- at 5 heads it grows to huge, at 13 to gargantuan, at 25 to collosal.
- from int 6, it may begin to talk. each age category check (chance= 5% x int)
- 25% of hydras develop the ability to cast spells at 9 heads. they take Eschew Materials as the feat. they cast spells as sor1, and the ability goes up by 2 levels every 2 heads. this can be augmented if the Hydra takes the sorcerer class.
3) common combat behvior:
- the guardian heads will commonly provide cover for the dominant head (if it is threatened) giving +4 AC. otherwise they will attack in concert.
- if ambushing a creatures in a boat the hydra will try to turn the boat over (using the two guardian heads and others if necessary) if on land the hydra will try to remain close to water to extinguish itself.
- overrun is a common tactic of the hydra to get as many of it's heads against as many foes as possible. it';s huge size usually means the Improved Overrun feat is unneeded.
- some hydras get the snatch feat which enables them to be devastating against small creatures. improved snatch or growing to G size (legendary hydra) makes them equally effective against medium creatures.
- a hydra at first will attack everyone, the heads barely controllable in battle. only a serious threat (a who cast a fireball, a fighter with a flaming sword lopping off heads and the like) will cause the hydra to focus her attacks.
- a hydra will usually run if 1/3-1/2 of her heads were cut off and burned, though it may become enraged and attack onwards.
4) Legendary Hydras:
- grows to size gargantuan in 13-24 heads, size collosal in 25-36 heads
- apply the Monster of Legend template. i decided on the following characteristics: frightful presence, fast healing increases by 5, SR, and immunities (one to either fire or acid, the other to something entirely different. use another ability for cryo/pyro)
5) Many Headed Oracle: basically just add true sight, that is constantly active and some ability to see into the past/ future/ plains/ unknown and so for... this creatures are not really there to do battle with, but as plot instruments.
6) Sand Hydra: -4 dex, +5 AC (plates), poison DC 15 1d4 con/1d4 con (not for pyro/cryo)
- mysteries and the unknown: there are still quite a few things unknown about hydras and their development. first of course is their origin- there are many clues to it being related to dragons, but nothing conclusive. second is their amazing growth in mental abilities which is astounding. many scholars and alchemists hoped to create a brain enhancing liquid from the brain juices of a hydra, but so far without success.
probably the largest secret of hydras is the transformation to legendary hydras and many headed oracles (the latter especially). this is perhaps the true destiny, the pinnacle of hydra existence. even dragons never reached the oracle's gift- are the many heads a requirement for that? no one to date knows, the hydras themselves are silent about the details of the needed transformation.