Playing, at a D&D table near you!
- Tough Encounter, but this time with Character i thought to begin with the straight battle with the Hydra, just to show some of the changes. first of all, the Hydra tries to attack from ambush (from the water most likely). then, as the fighter/ barbarian/ melee person reaches it, it over runs it, to position itself where it can reach as many as possible. it will than attack savagely everyone, but 3 heads will always wait before attacking, 2 of them masking the other (you can say they use the delay option).
as soon as some serious damage to the hydra is done (mainly heads) it suddenly changes tactics! the main head seem more intense and all heads are attacking the same foe! the players should feel the change of mood, and it should surprise them, but due to the hydra having less heads it shouldn't (hopefully) be fatal.
another important difference from this version of battling a hydra than the previous one is that now the players can target the dominant head instead, if they wish to just drive the hydra away. once the dominant head is gone the hydra is again uncontrollable (until a guardian head asserts control), and so it would prefer to retreat.
- "the stalking duo" an encounter suitable especially for low levels- two young hydras (3-4 heads) have arrived at the same territory, and are trying to assert dominance (as with heads, as with hydras) and to drive the other off. they come to a crude agreement/ competition- taking turns, whomever causes the most damages/ kill the strange new creatures in the territory (the adventurers) wins. the party is stalked and attacked again and again in sporadic, cautious attacks of the hydras, usually when they are at a disadvantage, only to have their harassers heal and run away. as a DM play each of the two a bit differently, and you have an interesting situation (the PCs may or may not realize there are two attackers). emphasis should be made on quick attacks and retreat, the hydras using their superiority in water to escape.
- an odd patron: as they traverse in it's territory, a speaking hydra cautiously makes an offer to the PCs. as it speaks they notice to ugly burnt stumps. the hydra has been attacked and pursued by a tribe of kobolds/ lizardman/ other fire using creatures, and it needs someone to help it get rid of it's molesters. the hydra may offer many things in return- a trip on its' back through more dangerous parts of the swamp, information, (secret words to open passageways, the solution to a puzzle and so on) part of it's treasure ("we can kill it and take it!"... "um not realy- it buried it's treasure all over the damn swamp")
- reinforcements, unexpected reinforcements: this is a surprise encounter- the party battles some humanoids, or creatures and so on, and at some point one of them retreats, going for "reinforcements". everybody gets excited, moral is up ("you'll be sorry when the reinforcements arrive!"). the party expects probably some elite soldiers or so, when suddenly arrives a 9-11 headed hydra! (spell caster variety) the hydra made a deal- info and treasure for it's help in battle. and this is one of the numbered amount of times it is to offer assistance. such a hydra equals a troop of soldiers all by itself, but now it fights with the humanoids in an odd combination of cooperation. (the party may make a better offer mid battle to try and persuade it leave)
- Migration of eyes, centered on you! the druids are alarmed when a large number of hydras are making their way towards a small but important village/ tiny city! this is the time of migration of eyes, but why are they behaving so? as the characters arrive to the place they may have to repel s few hydras, until they learn from one of them there is a strong scent from this place. someone in the town (a druid, the mayor, a noble, a cleric of destruction) somehow captured a large hydra and is keeping drugged underground in a well ventilated place. the scent causes the hydras to be driven to get to the captured hydra, and nothing will stop them. as a ranger notifies a legendary hydra is on the way, the race is on to find the captured one before a massacre hits the town (an encounter for mid levels)
-the making of a legend: a hydra of some renown learns of the party, and by various means gets to meet it. it wants them to help it become a legendary hydra. the party are to escort the hydra to various locations, with more than half her heads meditating, and help it achieve various goals in it's transformation. this spiritual quest should emphasize the struggle between beast and intelligence in the hydra, and could be quite interesting roleplay wise.
-Pet: the two suggested encounters/ complications are set when a dragon adopted a hydra as a pet. in the first the party enters a dragon's lair, expecting to find it only to find a many headed hydra instead! after causing it much damage, and spending some of the resources, then the dragon appears! (this is especially true when combining a pyro hydra with a fire breathing dragon for example- the party will use it's protections and cold based spells before meeting the dragon). the second occurrence comes when the party seeks some dragon's help, only to be attacked by a hydra before that. after slaying it, they reach the dragon who asks them if they've seen it's missing pet- it misses it so! (now there's a critical bluff/ diplomacy check if ever there was one!)
- armies of the lizardfolk:when some lizardfolk decide to wage war / raid on some city/ some coastal villages add some hydras to them- un speaking ones will function as troop carriers and shock troops, while speaking ones will act as commanders and planners. the synergy should work fine, with perhaps low level casters joining each hydra casting resist fire on the hydra. the focus should be on the dual roles the hydras take- from frontliners to commanders.
-worshiped of the kobolds: similar to the dragon idea, the concept here is to surprise the characters! as the kobolds they fight keep praising "the great lizard" the PCs come to expect a dragon, only to meet a small (or not so small) hydra.
Bonus section! interactions with other monsters of the Compendium!
-Stirges: these creatures don't seem able to penetrate the hydras tough hide. as a hydra grows more intelligent, it tries to encourage stirges to make their home in it's lair, as an added protection. small hydras (such as in the duo encounter above) try to lure opponents to stirge infested locals, and then use their help to finish up the foes.
-BloodLust Swarms: an entirely different matter- hydras fear these creatures and usually submerge themselves as they approach, snapping and taking down one stirge at a time.
- stone giants: the hydras rarely live in areas close to stone giants, so there is not much interaction, the only exception or legendary hydras, who sometime travel away from the swamp. stone giants prefer to kill these hydras, fearing them. this is not true to the many headed oracles, whom even the stone giants respect, after a fashion
-In Thunder's Step groups: the ThunderClaps stone giants are more sociable than their kin, even to hydras, and have been known to talk and exchange information with them. these groups take a special interest to note the whereabouts of any exceptional hydras, watching who might become an oracle. with these peculiarities, the ThunderClaps try to create a close bond, offering services in exchange for oracular vision.
-Yeth Hounds: (i'm taking a bit of creative liberty Prometheus):the hounds of fear fear themselves the hydras. but with their flight they are in no real danger. yeth hounds often try to drive hydras out of their territory, but not to kill- something preverse in them enjoys that the vicious engines of destruction are out in the world..
- Barghest: Barghests often appreciates the protection a speaking hydra (one it can deal with that is) can provide it, and will often try to broker a deal with it. a hydra have many times hired a barghest to "deal" with those who would hunt it with fire.
many hydras though, as they get smarter and smarter dislike dealing with such a creature (even hydras have standards) and cease to deal with it.
- Wights: no special relationships. the hydras usually dislike the undead for their smell, but they also fear them for their ability to kill them without fire. a hydra will usually try to finish the menace itself, or deal for allies to do it for it.
- Nagas: some nagas like hydras, but most don't, due to the assumed relationship to dragons. nagas are still a worthy adversary due to their spells and poison though. it is rumored that both ascendent paths of nagas contain some of the secrets for a transformation to legendary hydras, and some 12 headed hydras have been known to seek either a dark naga or a guardian one.
bone nagas especially love to try and poison (control) many headed oracles... though they don't get their vision, they get to lie to others about what they are, and thus influence events greatly.
- Gargoyles:they are neither pray and conversation is hard as well. some hydras who frequent ruins however become fascinated by gargoyle script, and can become quite attached to the place as a result. hydras rarely actually communicate with these beings. again- the exception is the legendary hydras, whose increased wisdom and many heads enables them to notice the gargoyles in spite of the fade out power.. in those instances the hydra usually confirms to the "nature of the structure" thus gaining the gargoyles cooperation
- troglodytes: due to the trogs migratory nature there is no special interaction between the two races, other than fights when the trogs decide they need something from the hydra's territory.
in conclusion: i hope it was an interesting read, and that some new ideas sprang up. i would again like to thank all who helped me, and as usual- all comments (especially words of encouragement) are welcome!