3 Skull Lord Support Monsters: Zombie Constrictor Snake, Venom Maw, and Swarm of Crawling Claws

If you’re an avid reader of Keith Ammann’s amazing monster tactics blog, The Monsters Know What They’re Doing, then no doubt you’ve probably read his recent article on skull lords. If you’re looking for tactics on how to run this awesome beastie from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, then be sure to zip over and read Keith’s article: Skull Lord Tactics.

To piggy-back off Keith’s article, I’m going to offer up some baddies to help support Skullie Skull and his Bickering Bros:

  • A quick look at the Skull Lord’s tactics.
  • What sort of support is needed for the Skull Lord?
  • 3 new undead monsters for 5e D&D to support Skull Lord (and vice versa).

Personally, I love the Skull Lord. I mean, the guy (guys? girls? combination?) is totally ridiculous. Three heads, all enemies in life, constantly bickering with each other over what to do, who to kill, etc.

Also, Skull Lord totally sounds like an awesome name for a metal band. But I digress.

Skull Lord: The Support Caster

One thing that really stood out in Keith’s article is his mention of how the Skull Lord works better as a front-line support caster than a solo boss.

If you haven’t already read Keith’s article, here’s a rundown of the Skull Lord’s basic tactics:

  • Probably open with cone of cold to shake things up.
  • It’s going to keep its distance from characters that can do significant melee damage.
  • If it doesn’t have to move, it’ll crank out some zombies and skeletons to help it out (it can only summon five of these at a time… at CR 15, that’s puzzling, because skeletons and zombies at that level are nothing more than annoying speed bumps).
  • Once the PC’s are tied up with the undead minions, it’ll drop cloudkill.
  • After figuring out who the biggest threat is, the Skull Lord will smash that threat with all its attacks, minions, and finish it off with finger of death.
  • It’s an undead running on compulsions, therefore it’s unlikely it’ll try to escape unless its creator has specifically commanded it to. Necromancy ain’t cheap, you know?

Okay, so that’s the basics. Again, be sure to read up the article yourself to get more details.

Keith points out that the Skull Lord’s biggest weaknesses are Constitution and Wisdom-based saves, which the Skull Lord stinks at despite its higher challenge rating. In addition, it is immune to most conditions with the exception of paralysis and restrained. Therefore, it’s going to try to prevent those conditions as much as possible.

What kind of support is needed for the Skull Lord?

The Skull Lord has some glaring disadvantages. A few whacks from high-level melee fighters and he’s as good as dead. Therefore he needs some stuff to get in the way. Fortunately, his minions are good for that, but it gobbles up all his legendary actions to create them. And he only gets 5 at a time.

As a Challenge Rating 15 bad guy, chances are he’s going to go up against the PC’s sometime around levels 10 (for a deadly encounter), and maybe even earlier than that if it’s the big bad evil guy for a campaign.

If he is the BBEG for level-10 PC’s, I say toss in another 500-1,000 XP per PC worth of bad guys. It doesn’t have to be a lot (in fact, I recommend keeping it closer to 1:1 monster to PC’s), but have each one play a specific role to support the Skull Lord (and vice versa). Yes, it’ll be tough, but there’s nothing worse than a BBEG fight that ends quickly because it’s “balanced.” If you ain’t killing at least one PC in a BBEG fight, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Here’s some canned undead that works at that level:

  • Zombies with lots of hit points. The ogre zombie from the Monster Manual works especially well here since it’s got nearly 4 times the hit points of a normal zombie and is only a boost of 450 XP. Plus, it takes up a 10′ x 10′ area, which means it can tie up a lot of characters.
  • Skeletons with lots of hit points. Same as above, but instead use the minotaur skeleton to tie up multiple opponents. Plus, with +6 to hit and 17 damage, they’ll put a hurting on the heroes.
  • Shadows. Lots of shadows. Keep ’em hidden ’til the PC’s engage and then have them go nuts on the Skull Lord’s biggest threats.
  • Flameskull. Kinda pricey at the 1,100 XP price tag, but these can help out considerably by keeping PC’s on their toes.

That’s all of the out-of-the-box stuff. Of course, I’ve never been an “out-of-the-box” kind of guy. After all, the skull lord is pretty creative, as are the ones that created it. It makes sense to me that it would have some specialized undead working with to ensure that pesky adventurers didn’t foil its wicked plans!

Skull Lord Creations

The two things that the Skull Lord really needs to help it out are melee undead that can easily tie up melee fighters, especially those capable of smiting and dealing radiant damage. I’m envisioning a weenie grappler. Maybe even a bunch of them. They’re squishy, but auto restrain. This increases the effectiveness of the other attackers on the field, and attacks that rely on Dexterity saves. I think skeletal constrictor snakes might be pretty cool for this. Plus, they’re large, too!

Speaking of Dex saves, the skull lord doesn’t have a whole lot that works with Dex saves. To balance that out (and boost our snakes), something that could cause Dex saving throws would be pretty useful. Looking your way again, flame skulls.

To really double down on the poison effects (Keith suggests lots of cloud kill), other creatures that could use poisonous area effects might be good, too. Poison spray is a cool little effect. It’s all or nothing, but given to another type of weenie might work well. I’m envisioning some kinda horrific undead monstrosity that barfs up poison gas.

Finally, since when creatures are grappled in 5e, they don’t enter the grappler’s space, this creates the perfect opportunity to throw swarms at the grappled. For whatever reason, there are exactly zero undead swarms in any of the books (as far as I can tell), which to me is just sucky. So how about a swarm of crawling claws seems like a no-brainer.

3 New Undead Monsters for Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons

Zombie Constrictor Snake

Snakes are scary. Zombies are scary. But what about… zombie snakes… that constrict! Oooo… zombie constrictor snakes. Nuff said.

Venom Maw

Those who live cruel and mean lives often die cruel and mean deaths. And sometimes, those cruel and mean souls come back as cruel and mean undead. The venom maw is an undead being created by Orcus so it may continue to spread the hate and vitriol it shared in life. They’re foul, distorted beasts, that belch poison with each whining breath. Without a victim to infect with its cruelty, the venom maw sits in pain, clawing at its own face, begging its dark god to end its misery.

Swarm of Crawling Claws

Claws! Why’d it have to be claws! Sometimes, necromancers just have too many extra hands. And why waste a good crawling claw to run around on its own when you can have an entire swarm of crawling claws?

zombie-constrictor-snake

Zombie Constrictor Snake

Large undead, unaligned


Armor Class 10

Hit Points 13 (2d10 +2)

Speed 20 ft., swim 20 ft.


Abilities Str 15 (+2), Dex 10 (+0), Con 12 (+1), Int 1 (-5), Wis 6 (-2), Cha 3 (-4)


Senses blindsight 10 ft., darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 8

Damage Immunities poison

Condition Immunities poisoned

Languages

Challenge 1/8 (25 XP)


Undead Fortitude. If damage reduces the zombie to 0 hit points, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC 5 + the damage taken, unless the damage is radiant or from a critical hit. On a success, the zombie drops to 1 hit point instead.


Actions

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 5 (1d6 + 2) piercing damage.

Constrict. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 6 (1d8 + 2) bludgeoning damage, and the target is grappled (escape DC 14). Until the grapple ends the creature is restrained, and the zombie can’t constrict another target.

 

zombie-green

Venom Maw

Medium undead, chaotic evil


Armor Class 13

Hit Points 26 (4d6 + 12)

Speed 30 ft.


Abilities Str 17 (+3), Dex 10 (+0), Con 16 (+3), Int 6 (-2), Wis 10 (+0), Cha 5 (-3)


Saving Throws Con +5

Senses blindsight 10 ft., darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 8

Damage Immunities poison

Condition Immunities poisoned

Languages the languages it knew in life

Challenge 1/2 (100 XP)


Cunning Opportunist. The venom maw has advantage on the attack rolls of opportunity attacks.

Unarmoured Defense. While the venom maw is wearing no armor and wielding no shield, its AC includes its Constitution modifier.


Actions

Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 8 (2d4 + 3) slashing damage. If the target is Large or smaller, it is grappled (escape DC 13). Until this grapple ends, the creature is restrained and the venom maw can’t use its claws on another target.

Poisonous Words. A creature that the venom maw is grappling must make a DC 13 Constitution saving throw, taking 6 (1d12) poison damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

 

swarm-of-crawling-claws

Swarm of Crawling Claws

Medium swarm of tiny undead, neutral evil


Armor Class 12

Hit Points 36 (8d8)

Speed 20 ft., climb 20 ft.


Abilities Str 13 (+1), Dex 14 (+2), Con 11 (+0), Int 5 (-3), Wis 10 (+0), Cha 4 (-3)


Damage Resistances bludgeoning, piercing, slashing

Damage Immunities poison

Condition Immunities charmed, exhaustion, frightened, grappled, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, prone, restrained, stunned

Senses blindsight 30 ft. (blind beyond this radius), passive Perception

Languages understands Common but can’t speak

Challenge 1/2 (100 XP)


Swarm. The swarm can occupy another creature’s space and vice versa, and the swarm can move through any opening large enough for a Tiny crawling claw. The swarm can’t regain hit points or gain temporary hit points.

Turn Immunity. The swarm is immune to effects that turn undead.


Actions

Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target in the swarm’s space. Hit: 7 (2d6) bludgeoning damage and 7 (2d6) slashing damage, or 3 (1d6) bludgeoning damage and 3 (1d6) slashing damage if the swarm has half its hit points or fewer.

 

Thanks for reading!

Man, I love weenie monsters. And since so many of these undead monsters I’ve created pair up well with other undead (especially those that have access to cloudkill), they’re going to be a hoot to play.

Again, be sure to check out Keith Ammann’s blog, if you haven’t already.

And make sure to sign up for more cool monsters and playable races; the opt-in is on the right side and down in the footer.

See you next time.

As usual, these monsters are free for you to use in your 5e campaigns. Just not commercially! And the art isn’t mine; borrowed from an unknown artist.

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