Daily Monster #31: Amphisbaena

Second snake of the week! I have to say that this monster was a first for me. I usually try to keep an open mind about monsters, but this one… well, read and find out.

I’m going to be real honest with you guys, I had no idea what this thing was, and even though there are actually two different stat blocks for it on dndbeyond (one a monstrosity and one a beast) neither of them has a picture. Despite the weird name it turned out to be a pretty straightforward creature. Don’t believe me? Let’s discuss the…


Amphisbaena

The basics

Yup, that’s right. It’s second snake of the week, except I guess you could count this one as a two for one deal, considering it’s got two heads. The question is, does having two heads give this creature any sort of combat advantage? Let’s find out.

As mentioned before there are currently two different statblock that we will be discussing separately. The first one comes to us from the Ghost of Saltmarsh module.

In it’s GoS form, the Amphisbaena is a medium monstrosity of CR 1/2 with an AC of 14 and a pool of 2d8+2 hitpoints.

While not necessarily weak, it is also nothing our adventurers would be too scared of. We’re talking about a -4 INT and CHA, +0 WIS, +1 CON, and a +2 STR that is only out shinned by their +4 DEX.

This GoS version also gives the creature access to a Two Heads feature that grants advantage on perception and a few condition saving throws. Other than that, it’s pretty bland with only a Bite-Bite Multiattack that might trigger a poisoned condition on a failed DC 11 saving throw. Over all, not bad, but also just meh.

The second version of this creature’s statblock comes to us as part of one of the adventures included in Tales of the Yawning Portal.

This variant of the creature is definitely more threatening with a size Huge (this time not a monstrosity but simply a beast), and a CR of 3. Although the Amphisbaena’s AC is two points lower than in it’s GoS version, this beast form does come with the benefit of a waaay larger hit point pool of 8d12+8.

In terms of numbers, well, I’ll leave it up to you which one is better. For this second statblock we’re looking at a +4STR, +2 DEX, same CON, WIS, and CHA as before, but a reduced INT of -5.

Both versions of the creature share the same speed of 30ft walk/swim, a perception of +2 and a mere 10ft of Blindsight. Unfortunately, the second version does lose access to the GoS Two Heads ability.

We still get access to Multiattack and a Bite attack but in addition we have Constrict, which I think does a good job of reflecting the creature’s higher strength score. Luckily for us, this new ability is also compatible with our Multiattack.

The lore

This creature comes to us frm ancient Greek Mythology were it was described as a two headed ant eating snake. It is said that when Perseus flew over the land carrying Medusa’s severed head, the blood that dripped down became offstrings of this creature.

While some versions of the story describe it as also having wings and scaley feet, the version that made its way into our favorite TTRPG lacks both of these features. The Amphisbaena made it’s first appearance in 3rd edition after which it wasn’t seen until it made its reappearance for 5th edition.

Other than what we learn from mythology there’s not a lot to go by for this creature. Their statblock notes that they do prefer temperate climates and marshes and there is some evidence that, in the past, they were able to turn their victims into stone but it is unclear how exactly they lost this ability.

When it comes to combat both heads are able to act independently, often dividing the tasks of defense and offense between the two. We know that, unlike many snakes, Amphisbaenas tend to be incredibly aggressive, often attacking anything that comes into their territory. Although they favor smaller prey, they are not beyond hunting and devouring some of the smaller humanoid races if faced with starvation.

Even though there have been multiple attempts at training these creatures as companions, it is an extremely dangerous and difficult task to do so, and more often than not, an unsuccessful one at that too.


The execution

I think one of the many important skills you learn as a Dungeon Master in this silly game is to know which of the hundreds and hundreds of official creatures available would make good encounters and which ones… wouldn’t.

Look, I’m not even judging or anything and I definitely don’t want to compare Amphisbaena to this week’s other snake. I just don’t think they’re that great. Especially when there’s plenty other snakelike creatures to pick from that just, offer better things, I guess.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Greek mythology and I honestly think the concept for this creature could be pretty great. It’s just that I don’t think either of its statblocks do it justice. And maybe in another article series we could talk about how we could turn this ‘meh’ creature into an interesting monster to run, but as it stands, I would not use this creature in any of my campaigns and I don’t think you should either. The only feasible way I see of using the Amphisbaena as it is currently statted would be as a minion for when the party ends up fighting a Medusa, but even then I just think there’s a lot of waaaay more interesting monsters you could use for that one.

I guess my final verdict for this one is that it’s simply not a monster worth its own encounter. Heck, I don’t even know if it deserves to be a minion monster. The fact that there’s two statblocks and very little lore kind of makes me think that WotC is still a little confused about this one.


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