Posts in Samurai Jack
Jack in the Dungeon #3: The Soul Collector
demongo_minions.jpg

The latest creature inspired by the great Samurai Jack comes from episode XXIII: Jack vs. Demongo, the Soul Collector. The main villain of the episode, Demongo, is one of the most dangerous that Aku has sent against Samurai Jack to this point. The interesting thing about Demongo is that while he himself is not so dangerous he commands a vast host of defeated warriors and creatures perfectly under his control. Each time he defeats another warrior he adds their soul to his army.

In the episode, Jack tears through Demongo's warriors again and again but because upon death the souls return to Demongo's control he can just send them back at Jack no matter how many times he kills them. Eventually Jack realizes the only way to defeat Demongo is to enter into Demongos soul prison by latching onto one of the defeated warriors souls before Demongo recollects it. Once inside he finds a ethereal-like soul prison, with all of Demongo's warriors kept in a kind of stasis until he calls upon them.

As a one off villain for an episode he's kind of cool. But as a potential recurring villain in Dungeons and Dragons? I think he's absolutely terrifying and awesome. With a few tweaks to keep him from being completely overpowered and a DM to balance his captured warriors strength against the party, a Soul Collector can be a painful thorn in the side to any level of adventurer.

demongo_stats.png

The key to making this guy a lot of fun in your campaign is getting creative with the Soul Prison. A Soul Collector could have literally anything in it's bag of souls to toss at the player. Dinosaurs. Devils. An old friend of the party it hunted down just to spite them. Centaurs. Minotaurs. Anything else that ends in -taurs. Did I mention dinosaurs? The key to making it compelling as a side villain over the long term is variety and scaling up with the party.

I've compiled a few examples of a Soul Prison that scales in challenge a few steps at a time. A Soul Collector could have just one of these sets of creatures or all of them, or literally whatever you want. The Soul Collector can be every monster in one. Have a blast.

Soul Prison 1 - 
2 Kenku (1/4)
2 Winged Kobold (1/4)
2 Bullywug (1/4)
2 Pseudo Dragon (1/4) (50)
1 Mephit Ice  (1/2)
1 Mephit Dust (1/2)

Monsters: 10 (gang)
XP to award: 600 XP (150 XP each)
Difficulty multiplier: 2.5
Adjusted Difficulty Rating: 1500 XP
Encounter Challenge Rating: 4

Soul Prison 2 - 
Centaur (2)
Quaggoth (2)
Minotaur (3)
Were-Tiger (4)

Monsters: 4 (group)
XP to award: 2700 XP (675 XP each)
Difficulty multiplier: 2
Adjusted Difficulty Rating: 5400 XP
Encounter Challenge Rating: 9

Soul Prison 3 -
Gnoll, Fang of Yeenoghu (4)
Cambion Devil (5)
Cyclops (6)
Tyranasaurus Rex (8)

Monsters: 4 (group)
XP to award: 9100 XP (2275 XP each)
Difficulty multiplier: 2
Adjusted Difficulty Rating: 18200 XP
Encounter Challenge Rating: 17

Jack & The Dungeon #2 - The Minions of Set

Samurai Jack the TV show may have finally reached its epic conclusion but I have only begun to turn Aku's minions into terrors of the tabletop battlefield!

Today's offering comes from Samurai Jack Episode XXXI: Jack In Egypt. During the prologue of the episode we see Jack as a child playing with some other students in an Egyptian temple. He falls through a weakened floor into a secret chamber where he reads about 3 minions of the evil Egyptian deity Set who have been imprisoned there. When we cut back to the future, Aku has released these 3 demonic entities from their imprisonment as Samurai Jack approaches the now ancient ruins of the temple he once played in as a child. There the minions of Set await him.

Armed with black weapons that glow with an evil fire, unbelievably fast and strong, and protected by powerful regeneration abilities. These 3 anthropomorphic badasses can only be defeated by "summoning the protector and calling the sun". The sun is of course the egyptian god Ra who gets a sweet cameo at the backend of this episode once Jack manages to summon him. In the show this is accomplished by Jack searching out 3 pieces of a scarab hidden around the temple complex. Each piece contains a clue pointing to the next.

When statting these guys out I decided to go all out. Jack flat out states that these are the strongest enemies he has faced to date in the episode - which takes place in Season 3 after Jack has faced incredibly powerful enemies in the future already. They are Challenge Rating 20. Each of them. If you want to use these fiendish warriors in your game I think there are two ways to do it.

One way is to put them up against a party of very high level players and make the fight more of a straight duke out. Somewhat boring, but as these are some of the most powerful warrior of an ancient god, maybe context could lend some weight to the combat. I think the better way is to throw them at a group of lower level ("low" as in 12-16) and include this concept of an item designed to banish them. Playing out a high stakes chase in an ancient pyramid trying to find the pieces of the scarab before the minions bring the players down.

One of the neat things about Faerun is that because of TSR's idea to import the mythology of the worlds various cultures into the Forgotten Realms, Set the Egyptian god pretty much already exists whole cloth as a member of the Mulhorandi pantheon. Mulhorand is known as one of the "Old Kingdoms" of Faerun, along with Unther (which has more of a Mesopotamian vibe). It's to the south and east of the sea of fallen stars and is a land of god-king pharoahs, pyramids, and bizarre fantastical creatures. Dropping in an ancient pyramid dedicated to Set, with these 3 minions locked away inside doesn't take a lot of envelope pushing for the Forgotten Realms.

The thing to remember about the stats I've drawn up here is these guys are not intended to be fought head on. Just like in the episode, make your players run for their lives! This should be an absolutely desperate encounter at high levels with the minions beating on the players at every turn. To make this fun it will require some creative DMing and players, allow them to come up with ways to slow them down. Jack spends some of the episode hiding, sometimes he's knocking buildings down into their path, etc. A deadly game of jackal-fiend and mouse!

Placing the pieces of the scarab of Ra in hidden places with clues is the second part of making the encounter work. Once assembled, adventurers will be able to turn the tide on the Minions. I didn't include anything about a gigantic avatar of Ra coming down like at the end of the episode but don't let that stop you.

Jack & The Dungeon #1 - Beetle Drones
Scaramouch the Merciless

Scaramouch the Merciless

Samurai Jack is an excellent cartoon that ran from 2001 to 2004 on Cartoon Network. It was recently resurrected by it's creator for an also excellent (so far) conclusion to the original story. One of the many things that makes Samurai Jack so good is the huge variety of original creatures and characters that Jack encounters throughout his journey. From the talking dogs with british accents in episode 2 right up to the musical assassin Scaramouch the Merciless in the first episode of the revived series Samurai Jack is packed to the gills with awesome characters.

While re-watching a bunch of classic episodes in the lead up to the new season I realized that nearly all of the episodes play out like D&D encounters for a party of 1. Jack must contend with alien monsters, bounty hunters, devious puzzles and traps, and magic items of all stripes. All in the name of an epic quest to rid the world of the god like evil sorcerer Aku. Jack even travels into the belly of a dragon in an attempt to heal it and save a nearby village. How's that for a D&D-esque narrative?

With all of this in mind and armed with the Angry GM's excellent series on monster building in 5e D&D, I have set forth on my own quest to translate the monsters and magic from the world of Samurai Jack to the world of Dungeons and Dragons. I think it will be great DM exercise to deepen my understanding of the 5e mechanics and hopefully churn up some fun monsters and items for myself and the D&D community at large to have fun with. 

This series isn't intended to teach you the gritty crunch of monster building, the Angry GM (and others) have already done a great job of that already. Through this series you can see my process for transforming narrative characteristics from the screen into game mechanics for the table. That way the next time you see a creative monster in a movie or TV show you can feel empowered to make a stat block and throw that thing at your players so you can enjoy watching them squirm against a new unforeseen foe.

For the first installment of this new series I decided to start with the first of Aku's future minions that Jack has to fight: the Beetle Drone.

Samurai Jack fails his Athletics check.

Samurai Jack fails his Athletics check.

The beetle drone is the basic foot soldier of Aku when Jack arrives in the future. In Episode 2 and 3 an army of them is sent to wipe out the aforementioned group of rebellious talking dog archaeologists. We see them running up and down vertical walls and steep inclines perfectly, using tactics of grappling and surrounding their target.  So how did I start translating that into a D&D monster?

First I tried to identify what were the obvious narrative characteristics of these creatures that separate them from any other generic minion. Here's what I came up with:

  • They attack in swarm-like groups, working together to surround their prey.
  • They are proficient grapplers, managing to hold even the mighty Samurai Jack a round or two.
  • The beetles move fast in addition to being able to scale vertical walls.
  • They are mindless hunter/killer drones, following a mission objective to completion or destruction.

As the Angry DM suggests I started by sussing out the Challenge Rating. We can see Jack ripping through these things like butter. Aku clearly has a ton of them at his disposal, but they don't have much functionality beyond hunting targets to either retrieve or kill for Aku. So that means I want to be able to send them at players in groups, at lower level parties in smaller squads of two to six and against higher level players in waves. They also don't need to be smart or charismatic, but have a reasonable wisdom score to perform their jobs as hunters as well as good physical stats, particularly strength.

At the same time, they aren't pushovers. Against normal human beings (or aliens, or weird dogs) these things would be efficient hunters for Aku. From the combat ability they display in the show, one could imagine a single beetle taking down a few goblins before they bring it down. Given all that, CR 1 was the natural place to set the bar.

Monster Traits in 5e can add narrative flavor to a creature and I used three here. Spider Climb, Pack Tactics (renamed Swarm Tactics, because it sounds cool), and Grabber. Spider Climb gives them their sweet wall scaling capability, so they can come down a hall full speed on the ceiling Aliens style. Swarm Tactics represents their method of surrounding a target as a unit. To represent their high speed, I chose 35 feet for land and climbing. Why 35? Because it is one square faster than most humans can move in one turn. Round after round they close slowly on their prey. When they do they can capture them using the Grabber trait, which states that if both their claw attacks successfully hit the same target, it becomes grappled by the beetle.

Now for their attack. These things are armed with 4 bad ass scythe arms. Giving them a multi-attack of 4 would bring it's offensive CR up and make them more lethal than I intend them to be. Interestingly enough, in the show they only ever seem to strike at Jack with 2 blades at a time. So two attacks per round. I modeled the damage off of the Sickle, for 1d4 damage. However, they're quite strong at STR 16 meaning each sickle is dealing 4 - 7 damage or 8 - 14 if both hit, triggering the Grabber trait.

On the defensive side, they're relatively easy to hit even at low levels with an AC of 13 but they have enough HP to soak a few hard blows from low level players. This is in line with the DMG suggestions for a CR1 creature for AC but the HP is dropped down to account for Swarm Tactics and the creatures high strength bonus to damage.

To further emphasize their role as hunters I gave them proficiency in Perception and Athletics for their skills. Perception to help sniff out enemies, of course. With an Athletics of +5 they have some serious bulk to throw around in the grappling department. 

But what use is this kind of creature in D&D? Imagine a wizard too busy with his research creating a pack of clockwork beetle drones to retrieve rare magic reagents he needs for spells and potions. The adventurers traveling the woods come across a pack of 6 beetle drones swarming around a growling Owlbear. Even as it rends one apart with its beak the others move in behind it methodically bringing it down with insectoid bladed arms. Carefully, almost surgically, they begin prying off its beak and removing its eyes before scuttling straight past the players ignoring their presence. If the party chooses to attack and are at a low level, one or two of the beetles peel off the pack to engage while the others return to the tower. At higher levels, maybe they trigger the two dozen beetles held in reserve to swarm out like an angry ant colony. That might cause a few conversations around the campfire that night.

I hope you found this useful, it was a fun exercise trying to translate something from screen to statblock. Feel free to steal this, tell me its garbage, or come up with your own version. As for me, there will be more Samurai Jack inspired creatures to come!