What Do I Know About First Impressions? Big Bad Bundle II (5e OGL)
Time to look at the next Big Bad Booklet Bundle that Hit Point Press shared with me, this time looking at issues 7 through 12 of the series. If you are interested in seeing the other first impressions of the Big Bad series, you can find the previous posts here:
This has components similar to the first bundle, with about 12 pages each detailing a particular “boss,” in addition to ancillary material which might include magic items, minions, lair actions, and legendary actions.
This volume includes the following bosses:
- The Maker, The Sword in the Stone Golem (CR 16)
- Miss Speckleback, The Last Frog (CR 9)
- Pork and Bean (CR 8/CR 6)
- Magda, of the Red Rune (CR 8)
- Prince-In-Ivory, The Tooth Faerie (CR 10)
- Tendon and Bone, Drow Abomination (CR 3/CR 4)
In addition to the individual booklets, there is the standard print and play PDF that includes the print and play version of the reference cards that would have come with the physical products.
Like all of the other booklets in the series that I have looked at so far, the bosses include backstory, a section on roleplaying the boss, tactics, traits, and adventure hooks for including the boss in an ongoing campaign.
The Maker, The Sword in the Stone Golem
The Maker presents a fun boss that can cross over with some newer D&D lore, as her origin would make perfect sense for an artificer seeking their own form of immortality. The Maker is actually a combination of the consciousness in the sword activating and animating the Maker golem.
I also like that there is a potential twist, in that it’s entirely possible that the player characters won’t pick up that the sword is the “brain” of the boss they just encountered. That means that the Maker’s consciousness can hang on as an extended villain.
Miss Speckleback, The Last Frog
This is a strange boss, but it’s a good fit for a more “weird folklore” adventure. This is a giant frog that has been mutated by magical runoff into its environment. The frog survives by eating her own eggs, each of which has a magical effect. Depending on the eggs the frog has recently eaten, the encounter can vary a bit. Each egg eaten has a random effect of a position when eaten by the frog.
I enjoy the hooks that have the local villagers being concerned about the frog being killed, despite potentially being a threat. I am also very endeared to the potential reward for rescuing one of Speckleback’s eggs, the dog sized Lucky Frogs that are detailed in this booklet. I’m an easy mark for pets.
Pork and Bean
Pork and Bean represent the first “binary” boss in this bundle. Instead of a single boss, we have a team that acts as a boss. One is a stealthy bugbear assassin, and the other is a goblin berserker. Through magical mishap, the two have become supernaturally linked, and now take employment for causing others to suspend their long-term ability to breathe.
Mechanically, one of the interesting bits here is that instead of getting three legendary actions, when the two are acting together, they instead get five legendary actions. Between two bosses and five legendary actions, I’m really curious to see how this feels with the action economy of the game.
The magic items included are the shackles that the goblin berserker wears, which mainly explains the link between the two characters, and the shadow hunter’s bracer, which gives you the ability to throw necrotic energy daggers.
As a side note, after reading about the interactions between these two characters, and their relationships to their former tribes, I would almost feel bad having player characters slaughter them outright. I want to introduce them as opponents, figure out how to keep them alive, and then slowly see if the PCs want to adopt them as weird, quirky contacts.
One thing I noticed is that unlike Akkadia, which lists the CR separately if all three triplets are encountered, this just lists the CR for each character separately. This is continued for the other “binary” boss in this bundle.
Magda, of the Red Rune
Many of the bosses in these booklets are solid bosses for a particular adventure or an arc of adventures, but Magda’s backstory lends itself to a wider campaign, which is strange, given that she’s one of the lower CR bosses included in this bundle. Magda is a young spellcaster whose power scared those around her. She left home to train and found a particular book which helped her hone her powers, and then suffered a tragedy.
The book, as often is the case, is a conduit to a much more dangerous force, hoping to use Magda as a vessel to return to the material plane. In the backstory and her motivation, there are cultists, guardian constructs, portals, and the return of a banished “goddess.”
I love the backstory around all of this, but I kind of wish we had a higher CR version of Magda, so that the PCs can encounter her earlier in the campaign, then run into her again later if she manages to successfully implement some of the plans of Rel’Um.
Prince-In-Ivory, The Tooth Faerie
Goodness gracious me, is this boss my jam. It’s a weird fey creature with a darkly whimsical theme, along with creepy minions. The Prince-In-Ivory is obsessed with teeth and making deals with others to secure their teeth.
Not only do you have some creepy story seeds to add to a campaign, but you also have some random encounters for the Prince-In-Ivory’s court, showing the weird menagerie he keeps, and the disturbing activities they get up to at home.
In addition to the Prince-In-Ivory’s stats, you also have stats for swarms of tooth sprites (the art isn’t the same, but I can’t help but think of Hellboy 2) and Tooth Golems.
While you can obviously use the Prince-In-Ivory as a boss for a given adventure or arc, he’s also a strong background story element, as a “known” archfey in a campaign. Also, I can’t help but wonder what a Warlock bound to the Prince-In-Ivory would look like.
Tendon and Bone, Drow Abomination
It’s worth noting that the backstory for Tendon is a bit heavy, including the violent death of a parent and the endangerment of a child. It’s a twist on the standard “you failed Lolth, so you get to be a drider” story, with the drider’s child being mutated by a strange crystal in the Underdark.
Like Pork and Bean, Tendon and Bone are a team boss. They also use the same “Team Legendary Actions” mechanic that Pork and Bean used, with five legendary actions to use between them. Tendon’s pet is a blind basilisk, and the two of them are bound by the power of the magical crystals that mutated Tendon.
Tendon and Bone don’t really have long term plans. Instead, they are team predators, hunting characters that get lost in the Underdark. In addition to the stat blocks for Tendon and Bone, there is also a magical necklace derived from the crystals introduced in the booklet, which has additional effects for someone that has been affected by the crystal curse that mutated Tendon.
I am happy to see this line push some boundaries when it comes to the definition of bosses, and to embrace bosses of different longevity. Team bosses are a great concept that I would love to see show up elsewhere.
There are two things that I would like to see more, based on this particular bundle. I would love to see a section on how best to introduce the character’s backstory to the player characters, because some of these bosses have some wonderful world building that could easily get lost if the PCs get too trigger happy in dealing with them. The story hooks included in each of the bosses’ booklets have been great, but I would love to see some delineation between adventure/arc/campaign hooks.
Magda, especially, really wants me to see what a “multi-step” boss would look like, with different stat blocks for when the NPC first interacts with the player characters, versus what they might look like if they came back later in a campaign.
Between both bundles, in addition to the Fulmini booklet that I have already looked at, I’m happy to keep my Patreon pledge going to see more of what these booklets have in store.