Homebrew 5e Monster Monday: The Rook, an Undead Necromantic Infiltrator and Biological Weapon for 5e D&D

It’s not even remotely Monday. Like, not even a little bit. But hopefully bringing in a particularly nasty undead critter for you to pit against your party will assuage a little bit of my inability to stick to a timeline. Good plan? Great plan.

I like the undead. I mean, from a perfectly game-design standpoint, that is. There’s something to be said for having a monster that it is totally okay, always and without reservation, to just put the boots to without fear that you’re going to end up with one of those pesky moral quandaries. These guys are technically already dead. Killing them isn’t really the factor so much as just ensuring that they stay down. They don’t have little undeadlings (unless you’ve got a weird DM) that are going to be wondering where mummy and daddy are while you’re rifling through their pockets. They’re unequivocally evil, because their very nature subverts the natural law of the world. Bash away.

But that doesn’t mean that they should be easy. The idea of a legion of the undead with a big bad necromancer as an existential threat to your fantasy world is a trope as old as time for a reason. The idea that the dead will rise to consume the living is visceral and scary. That’s good adventure grist right there. I’ve run a couple of zombie survival D&D games, and while they were tense and gripping, they were still D&D at its best. I had heroes who used swords and magic to solve the problems of a lot of undead.

But vanilla zombies start to get old in that kind of campaign. This was before Left 4 Dead came out, so the idea of a whole cavalcade of different kinds of “infected” was still pretty new to me. I must’ve written up like fifty different kinds of undead baddies for my heroes to pulverize. By the end of that campaign I had about twenty the worked pretty well. But the only one that I’ve featured in undead-heavy games whenever I can is the Rook.

These guys are bad news, guys. If you see them coming (you won’t), run. It won’t matter. They’re faster than you. But if you’re going to die, it might as well be sick and tired.


Credit: Alexander Koval

Rook

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor,

rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief.

Took sick, poor Nick; shoulda been haler.

Rooks on his rooftop, and now worms beneath.

-Children’s skipping rhyme in Maigre

Among the hordes of shambling undead returned from the dark places beyond death, few sow as much terror and dread among the living as the mask and tatter form of the Rook. While skeletons and zombies make up the front lines of necromantic armies, Rooks fill the place where sentient and non-sentient undead blur. Not possessed of the charm and elegance of a vampire or the spellcasting prowess of a lich, but with the cunning and carefully calculated cruelty to serve as special operatives of necromancers, Rooks spread fear and disease amongst those who would stand in their creator’s way.

Doctors of Agony. The guise of the Rook is carefully tailored to strike terror into mortals. The mask of a plague doctor hides the putrid and plague-ridden remnants of an evil humanoid, smoke lenses staring impassively upon the ruin a Rook spreads. Hanging from its belt are the tools of its grisly trade: daggers, flensers, vials of alchemical concoctions specially crafted to provide excruciating death, and the odd trophy from a past victim.

Silent Operatives. Rooks are adept at moving with surprising stealth. When they execute their nefarious missions, their victims often do not realize that they share the room with a Rook until it is far too late. While the clatter of bones and groaning announces the advent of a necromantic horde, the silent tread of a Rook has long since prepared the way.


Rook

Medium Undead, Neutral Evil


  • Armor Class 15
  • Hit Points 46 (8d8 + 10)
  • Speed 40ft.

STRDEXCONINTWISCHA
14 (+2)18 (+4)15 (+2)6 (-2)13 (+1)5 (-3)

  • Vulnerabilities Bludgeoning
  • Damage Immunities Poison, Acid
  • Condition Immunities Poisoned, Charmed, Exhausted
  • Skills Stealth +6, Acrobatics +6
  • Senses passive Perception 16
  • Languages Understands the languages it spoke in life, but cannot speak.
  • Challenge 4 (1100 XP)

Ambush Predator. On the first round of any combat, the Rook has advantage on attacks against any creature that has not yet acted.

Death Burst. When a Rook is reduced to 0 hitpoints, it explodes in a choking gout of poisonous gas. All creatures within 5 feet must make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw or take 19 (3d8+6) poison damage and be poisoned for 1 minute. Creatures who pass the saving throw take half as much damage and are not poisoned.

Multiattack. A rook makes two attacks with its dagger or thrown vials.

Actions

Alchemical vial. Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, range 30/60 ft., one target. Hit 7 (1d10 + 4) acid damage.

Dagger. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5ft., one target. Hit 4 (1d4 + 2) slashing damage. Creatures hit by a Rook’s dagger must make a DC 13 Constitution check or suffer a bleeding wound. These wounds bleed for 1d4 damage per round for 1 minute or until the creature recieves magical or mundane healing.

Breath of Plague. (Recharge 5-6) The Rook opens a vent in its mask and breathes forth a gout of virulent poison gas in a 30 ft. cone. Creatures within the cone must make a DC 14 Dexterity saving throw or else take 24 (5d8) poison damage and be poisoned for 1 minute. Creatures who fall to 0 hitpoints due to this damage die. On the Rook’s next turn, a Rook may detonate the corpse of a creature killed by its breath of plague as a Death Burst, as above.

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