There’s an old saying in RPG game design: Don’t create a stat block for creatures that you don’t want players to kill.
One of the most popular books of an earlier roleplaying era was Deities and Demigods. For me as a tween, this book taught me as much about the basics of mythology and storytelling than it did about the roleplaying game it supported. As a sourcebook, it was amazingly informative and imaginative.
It also led to some ridiculous game play situations. In one of the most infamous stories from Dragon magazine, a letter to the editor describes a character killing the god Thor. The character? First level. The method of killing the God of Thunder? Pushing him off a “tall wall.”
While this story is obviously silly and egregious, it highlights the risk that a game designer takes when making statistics for very powerful beings meant to be beyond the scope—narratively and mechanically—of the players’ power to deal with.
Gods, seraphs, daemon lords, and other supernaturally powerful entities may or may not be “out of bounds” in the stories that players and game masters want to tell. Many 5th Edition campaigns thrive with characters fighting mortal foes. Even the most ancient dragon is still mortal, despite having immense power physically, intellectually, and magically.
But what happens when the players want to kill the immortals, entities that are as much ideas as creatures? How do you slay Death itself? Is it possible to vanquish Fear? Can Famine be struck low?
Attacking the Darkness
In the Grim Hollow setting, beings exist that act as manifestations of these larger metaphysical concepts. Obviously, the extinct gods are one manifestation of immortality, and the Arch Seraphs and Arch Daemons are another. These follow the mythological and religious standards of divine manifestations of specific concepts or elements. Miklas is the embodiment of healing and forgiveness, while Tormach is the embodiment of war and destruction.
On Etharis, these ideas of personifications of larger concepts are also taken a step further. In Grim Hollow: The Monster Grimoire, we treat the Great Beast as one of those forces. The Beast doesn’t get a stat block because the elements that the creature represents — corruption, mutation, endless chaos, savage destruction — cannot ever be defeated, even by the most powerful characters.
One doesn’t win battles that can’t even be fought, but one can be vigilant and courageous in the face of an impossible foe. One can make a life that celebrates the good in the world by refusing to give in to the evil and the inevitable. This is a central premise of dark fantasy in general, and Grim Hollow in particular.
Making the Impossible Happen
This is where the Filth Grazer enters the picture. Grim Hollow: The Campaign Guide mentions the Filth Grazer as an entity that feeds on death, rot, refuse, and sickness. It’s a creature powerful enough to infect the entirety of Etharis with the fatal disease known as the Weeping Pox. It can change shape, and it has the capacity to fulfill the wishes of a simple fisherman, creating one of the most powerful cities in the world over his lifetime
However, if the stories told about its conflict with the vampire Analita Von Raiza are to be believed, the Filth Grazer can be defeated. That elicits a simple question that is terribly difficult to answer: What is the Filth Grazer? How can a creature that can make wishes come true fall to a vampire? Is it a powerful but still mortal creature? Is it a divine creature, on par with Daemons or Arch Daemons? Is it a planar being that cannot be destroyed, meaning the stories of its defeat at the hands of Analita Von Raiza were lies or exaggerations? Perhaps the victor of the battle who returned was not really the vampire at all, but the Filth Grazer in disguise?
Those questions illuminate another peril that game designers face every day: by creating a thing, that entity is tattooed onto the skin of the game for a long time. As much as game masters and players are free to create their own stories within their own games, the published rules and settings often hold more weight than they should in the minds of the audience.
And yet, as game designers, we must create. We must make the tools that the players and game masters use to fashion and construct their own stories. The best we can do is to say that age-old line: Here’s one possible way that you might run your game or tell your story. Use it in the best way possible for your game and build your own tools when your game is best served by doing so.
Filth Made Manifest
With all that in mind, here is a possible version of the Filth Grazer to use for your game. This version is a creature as powerful as it can be while still allowing powerful characters to defeat it.
You can just as easily create your own version of the Filth Grazer, either more or less powerful than this one, depending on the story you want to tell in your 5e campaign.
The gelatinous mucus that covers the Filth Grazer in its natural form holds powerful magic. Ten vials of the substance can be scraped off the creature’s corpse, but this process must be completed within 3 minutes of the creature’s death, after which the creature melts into an inert goo.
This substance can be used in 2 ways. First, the substance can be imbibed without any alchemical alterations. A living creature that does this must succeed on a DC 20 Constitution saving throw or die, dissolving into nothingness. On a success, however, the creature gains the ability to both breathe air and water for 10 years.
If the substance is treated with 1000 gp of rare herbs, a proficient alchemist can spend 3 days and succeed on a DC 15 Intelligence (Nature) check to create an antidote to the Weeping Pox for 1 person who has the disease.
DC 15 Intelligence (Nature): The Filth Grazer lives in the deep waters of Etharis, nearing the shores in places where a large amount of filth, refuse, or diseased beings are dumped into the water.
DC 20 Wisdom (Medicine): The Filth Grazer is responsible for the Weeping Pox, although how the cursed disease was manifested is impossible to know.
DC 25 Intelligence (Arcana): The Filth Grazer is immune or resistant to most forms of magical energy, and it might even be able to use magic to change reality. It’s gripping tentacles can cause a grasped victim to rot from the inside out.
Why is the Filth Grazer’s WIS and CHA beyond 30? I thought the limit on attributes in 5E was 30…