Saturday 12 December 2009

Saturday Night Fight Club - Catoblepas v Umber Hulks

Yes, it's Saturday Night, and you know what happens next. Two monsters that would probably have got on perfectly well, had a few beers, shared an anecdote or two, maybe eventually gone on holiday together, end up fighting for your entertaiment. So, put your hands together and welcome our two contenders for the main event....

Umber hulk

No. appearing 1-4
AC 2
Move 6”
HD 8+8 (average hp 44)
No of attacks 3
Dam per attack 3-12/3-12/2-10 – average total damage of 21
Special attack – confusion (any intelligent creature that views the umber hulk’s four eyes must save vs. magic or be confused for 3-12 melee rounds)
THAC0 = 12
Therefore to hit the catoblepas is 5 or better on a D20 or an 80% chance.


You'll remember this lovely creature from one of my recent posts.
HD 6+2 – average hp 29
No of atts 1
Dam per att 1-6 plus stun (base 75% chance minus 5% for every hit die above one – the umber hulk therefore has a 40% chance of being stunned)
Special attack – Death gaze 6” range.
THAC0 = 13

2/6 chance of total surprise and the gaze affecting ‘a party member’. I assume from this phrase that it can only affect one person, logical if you consider that it is a gaze weapon and therefore focussed. It’d be damn lethal if it was a wide-angle effect.

25% chance that the creature can get its head up long enough for the gaze to work. This increases by 15% each round if both the catoblepas and its attackers are still.
If it is moving its head around to get a fix on quick movements, there is only a 10% chance that it will get the head up.
A fleeing victim with eyes averted still gets affected by the gaze but it gets a saving throw.

Two judgements need to be made here. Is the catoblepas an intelligent creature for the purpose of the umber hulk’s gaze? Are the umber hulks taken by surprise or do they know that the catoblepas is there?

Let’s assume that the answer to the first is no, and the answer to the second is yes, they do know that the catoblepas is there. There are no precautions that can be taken against the gaze of the catoblepas; the umber hulks had just better trust to weight of numbers.

Okay, this is not one of those where I can just stack up the averages and work from there. For example, what’s an average of certain death?

Let’s play…..Trial by Combat!

Round 1 – here come the umber hulks. We’ll throw two in to be going on with, possibly a third in reserve, just in case.

We’re ruling that there is no surprise, therefore we first roll to see if Catoblepas gets a gaze in before Umber Hulks 1 & 2 pitch in.

88 – nope.

He swings his tail to see if he can stun one of the Hulks.

Rolls a 3 – the tail sweeps empty air.

In come the Hulks.

Umber Hulk 1 rolls to hit 10,18,10

Umber Hulk 2 rolls 13, 2, 8

Basically, they’ve hit with all six attacks. Roll those damage dice.

Umber Hulk 1 claw attacks 9 per attack, Bite attack 8

Umber Hulk 2 claw attack 7 per attack, bite attack 5

Total damage to the catoblepas is 45 – he’s been torn to bits.

Let’s just run that again to see if anything different happens second time around.

Round 1 – the umber hulks pile in again.

Again, we’re ruling that there is no surprise. Let’s see if Catoblepas gets a gaze in before Umber Hulks 1 & 2 get busy with the claws.

66 - it would appear not.

He swings his tail to see if he can stun one of the Hulks.

Rolls a 7 – the tail misses.

The Hulks launch their attacks.

Umber Hulk 1 rolls to hit 13,7,10

Umber Hulk 2 rolls 4, 6, 16

Basically, they’ve hit with five out of six attacks. Roll those damage dice.

Umber Hulk 1 claw attacks 8 per attack, Bite attack 8

Umber Hulk 2 claw attack 7, bite attack 5

Total damage to the catoblepas is 36 – he’s been torn to bits again. Deja slain.

Okay, let’s be fair to the catoblepas and rule that the umber hulks are just out for a walk when they come across the long-necked one.

But unfortunately he rolls a 3.

So, no instant death for the umber hulks. Let’s see if the catoblepas can get a gaze in before the hulks get to him.

He rolls a 34.

And we can proceed from there much as before…

Okay, let’s do it again.

Round 1

He swings his tail to see if he can stun one of the Hulks.

Rolls a 10 – the tail fails to hit.

The hulks get their claws ready.

The squeamish amongst you can look away now.

Okay, so that should have answered Rusty’s question.

However, let’s have a bit of fun now and see if the party that fared so badly against the stirges last week does any better against the catoblepas this week.

We have a party of low-level (say 2nd) adventurers, average AC4, six in the party, average hp 11 each.

I’m ruling that their average THAC0 is going to be in the region of 19 and that they are trudging through the swamp, never having read this blog before and therefore completely unaware of what the hippo-like thing ahead of them is. I'm also assuming that they wade straight in rather than stay outside the 6" range and use their bows and other missile weapons.


Round 1 – let’s roll that surprise roll.

5 – no-one meets the gaze of the catoblepas. The party have no idea what it is, since no-one has dropped dead yet, and rush in to attack.

Catoblepas swings its tail, hits with a 15. Roll of 98% means that the luckless adventurer actually stays upright but takes a hit point of damage.

1 hit – 7 damage
2 miss
3 hit – 8 damage
4 miss
5 miss
6 miss

End of round 1. The party has hit twice, doing a total of 15 damage. The catoblepas is still there and looking mighty annoyed.

Round 2
There’s a 25% chance that the catoblepgas can get its gaze working. Let’s roll


Zap! One adventurer falls dead with no obvious reason. The tail swings in, hits for 6 damage and stuns its luckless victim.

The adventurers, all four of them pile in again. 3 hit, doing 8, 3 and 6, a total of 17 damage. The catoblepas has now taken 32 damage and keels over.

So at the end of round 2, the party is down one dead, one stunned and a dead catoblepas.

Yes, attacking in numbers increases the odds that you’ll survive this particular monster. Not quite as dangerous as it might first appear – the chances of getting hit by that gaze are quite low. And of course low AC and poor hp are going to tell against it in combat.

Nevertheless, dead is dead and although the party in this particular combat were only low levellers, imagine if it had been someone’s cherished 10th leveller who got that unlucky roll against him.

But what if there were two catoblepas, both munching away in the swamps, a bit like page 14 of the PHB?

Round 1 - a 2 is rolled, one character meets the gaze of the first catoblepas and drops dead.

Round 2 – the party splits into two to take on the beasties.

1,2,3 take on catoblepas 2

Round 2 – gaze fails to make contact. Tail hits, one member stunned, 4 damage. Two attack, both miss.

Round 3 – gaze fails to make contact. Tail hits, one member stunned, 2 damage. One left standing, misses.

Round 4 – gaze fails to make contact. Tail misses. Party member attacks, hits, 2 damage

Round 5 – gaze fails to make contact. Tail hits. Party member stunned, 3 damage.

4,5,6 stick with number 1

One member has already died. The catoblepas swings with its tail, hits and stuns the unfortunate adventurer, 4 damage.

One member (the only one still standing) attacks, misses.

Round 2 – gaze fails to make contact. Tail swings, hits, stuns victim. 5 damage.

Now, here’s an interesting thing. One member of the party is dead, five are stunned. What happens when they wake up? Are the catoblepas waiting for them? If they are, then there is a good chance, 2/6 possibly, that they meet the gaze of the beasts as they open their eyes. And even if they don’t, they’ll still have to make a saving throw vs. gaze. Which I'm assuming is Death Magic, an average across all four saving throws of 12.75, let's call it 13. That's a 35% chance of survival. Not what would be considered good odds.

So that’s probably two more party members down. And as the others get up to flee (would you stick around after a pummelling like that?) then whichever of the survivors on which the catoblepas gaze will have to make another saving throw, although the catoblepas will still have to roll 25% to focus their gaze long enough.

So what have we learned tonight? Catoblepas have a one-shot sure fire definite kill weapon but the odds of them using it successfully are pretty limited. Scant consolation if you happen to be on the receiving end, however. If you're going to use these monsters against a party, make sure that you have two to hand - and plenty of D6 for your players to roll up new characters.


  1. THANKS for this -- fun AND informative! I surely would have predicted victory for the catoblepas, especially against your mock PC party, given how nasty that kill weapon seems. I knew the umber hulks would pose a challenge, but WOW! The catoblepas is not as bad-assed as I had assumed.

  2. Yes! You have responded to the will of the people and audience demand! 1 on 1 might be a different deal. Umber hulks are my all time favorite creature, but I have not used them in a while as none of the characters in my world are up to the challenge. Until I read this post, I had forgotten just how tough the hulks were.

  3. @ Carter - the kill weapon is indeed nasty but the odds of using it successfully are very low in comparison to the odds of opponents hitting the catoblepas' worryingly poor AC. The tail stun option, as we see in this example, does do damage against low-level parties or monsters, but with a high-enough AC, even that is neutralised to a certain extent.

    @Rusty - glad you enjoyed the show. I had a look at that illustration of an umber hulk, failed my save and became confused for a while. Nearly bought all the 3.5e core books as a result B-)

  4. Very clever post! I also thought that the catoblepas would be pretty devastating. I have only used one once before, but I gave its weapon the ability to turn to stone, like a medusa, over the death gaze.

    Excellent post.