Surprise! We’ve been working on this one for a little while now. Here’s the thing, in view of the TV show and with half of our writers taking to replaying the video games, some of us looked at each other and went “you know what would be cool? Witcher week” and so here we are. Expect more Witcher related articles for the rest of this week! But for now, let us begin the departure from our regular dndbeyond schedule with the…
That’s right! For our first Witcher Week bestiary entry we have none other than the biggest pest in the game! Humble beginnings and all, am I right?
As a bit of a disclaimer, this week’s monsters are not part of the Dungeons and Dragons world and as such have no official stats. I’ll be using Regerem’s Book of Beautiful Horrors which you can find over here.
Now that that’s out of the way, these are the two sets of stats presented for us:
As you can see, we have two versions of this creature just like in the games. Speaking of “in the game”, these monsters originally fall under the necrophage category hence their ending up as undead.
Part of me wanted to question just how stealthy these statblocks make them but then I remembered my experience playing the games and… yeah, that checks out; call me a wuss but, even though they’re pretty easy to handle even on Death March (highest game difficulty setting) I’ve still gotten a couple of jump scares.
I think Regerem did some great work with this book and translating the creatures into Dungeons and Dragons statblocks, but I still have to point out that 22 hit points for a CR 1/2 creature that is known to show up in sizable groups might just be a little too much. I’d definitely consider lowering their hit points just a bit unless your party has some good sources of radiant or fire damage.
Let’s talk about features; the regular old Drowners get Pack Tactics, which, again, can be pretty scary for low level adventuring parties but that’s their one and only passive ability. As for the Drowned Dead or stronger variant of today’s monster, they don’t get Pack Tactics but a nasty Blood Frenzy feature that grants them advantage on damaged targets. We also get this bit:
My only qualm with this is that I think it’s a little too similar to the regular Drowner’s Drag Under attack and makes it kind of moot, but hey, at least it’s still kind of thematic and it does free them up to simply dish out some damage with their Claw attack instead and I suppose it’s a passive ability.
On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, I think my favorite thing about these statblocks is the fact that the Drowned Dead have a reaction for Uncanny Dodge! I’m a firm supporter for monsters having more things in their arsenal.
If you want to check out their full stat blocks I definitely recommend taking a look at the Book of Beautiful Horrors.
One of the things I’ve always loved about this series is the heaps and heaps of lore that we get for even the weakest, least important of things. It is no different for today’s monster. In fact, I can tell you that there are plenty monsters from official D&D content that don’t get nearly as good a treatment in any of the various editions. Take note, D&D!
Why don’t we start with a bit of mythology? Drowners take inspiration from Slavic stories of vodnik: water spirits described as frog-like humanoids with green beards and black fish scales, and while this doesn’t quite match their video game counter part, the next part certainly does; when angered, vodniks are notorious for breaking dams, drowning the local townsfolk, and even taking their victims as slaves.
If we are to believe the various entries in the video game’s lore sections, Drowners are the result of those who drown or have their bodies tossed into lakes, rives, and such. Depending on whether you were a simple peasant back when you were alive or a notorious criminal you might end up as a Drowned Dead instead; a particularly strong and dangerous variants of the same monster.
These creatures inhabit all kinds of bodies of water, from the ocean and swamps to the towns abandoned well, and are specially active during storms or rainy seasons. They feast on any scraps or carcasses that they come upon but won’t hesitate to ambush any travelers or passersby who walk close enough to their watery lairs.
Although a single Drowner is no threat for most people able to handle a weapon, these monsters are known to work in packs upwards of three of them and prove surprisingly difficult to hit with their fast movements and slippery hides.
It’s important to note that, as reflected in their low intelligence, these creatures cannot speak any languages and don’t seem share any sort of society among them except for perhaps following the command of the stronger Drowned Dead.
First, for the sake of my sanity, I just have to point out that these things are a goddamned pest in the games; they’re absolutely everywhere so unless you want to make your players quit the campaign after rolling for encounters with these guys three times a day I would definitely consider making them just a tad more uncommon in your game. That said, one of my main goals for Witcher Week is to try to capture that special flavor, that je ne sais quoi that makes the world of the Witcher series so special. Here’s my idea: an escort mission.
As your players reach the nearby swamp area, they come across a bit of a sight: a caravan of merchants (or nobles, your pick) that has stopped in the middle of the road and a handful of NPCs arguing amongst themselves next to it. Our valiant heroes learn that, although crossing the swamp is the only way to reach the next city, the caravan’s drivers are more than a little on edge about doing so, what with the recent news of people going missing in the area. Upon seeing our heroes approach and noticing their weapons and armor, they offer payment in exchange for being safely escorted across the swamp.
I would definitely make sure to set up a few noncombat hints of what’s about to come as the players start treading into the swamp; maybe have them find an empty campsite with drag marks towards the murk or a few decomposing bodies here and there, but our main encounter would come in a bit later.
To make for some interesting terrain, I think I would have my Drowners ambush the party as they are halfway through crossing a low bridge but you could technically set up this encounter along the road if you prefer. You should do your best to make the players understand that the key here is that their characters must defend the caravan. This way you could have a few Drowners whose sole focus is dragging down the NPCs rather than attacking our adventurers. Will your players defend their charges or will they focus on themselves? Choices are one of the things that makes playing Dungeons and Dragons so unique.
Depending on your party level or how mean you’re feeling that session you could also add in a couple of Drowned Dead, just keep in mind that this might mean rolling for your NPCs as well.
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