There are days when the grind of combat becomes a simple matter of pointing and declaring “I hit that one” or “I cast this spell”. Sometimes what is required is a combat so utterly challenging that players are forced to think outside the box, get creative, and push themselves to the very limit. It need not be the bigbad, the final villain, the single enemy to which all other narratives have been merely a pursuit. It might be something stumbled upon in the course of exploration, something rumoured, but never sought, or something simply in the way of something else…
The raid boss, or nemesis villain, is more a staple of the hack-and-slash style RPG than the narratively driven tabletop role-play, but it’s fair to admit sometimes that we’re gamers of a new generation, who want a break from talking around a campfire, and just want the deadly thrill of facing a foe designed to kill.
The following uses design elements and rules catered to Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, but as always can be modified to fit other systems, settings, and genres. I give you…
The Library of Golnoranthe
Arcanaloths are a dangerous breed of fiend. Among those conniving clans of contractors, mercenaries, brokers, and traitors – the Yugoloths – they are not the strongest, or even the most powerful, but devious beyond reason or comprehension, inserting schemes and plots where there needn’t have been any, sewing chaos where chaos is most beneficial to its own goals, or the goals of whoever’s paying the most.
Golnoranthe falls in this category well. Her singular desire to amass every shred of dangerous and outlandish lore having driven her to extremes of plotting, sycophantically doing the bidding of anyone who can grant her access to a tome she does not yet possess, or from whom she can steal such a prize. Her library is a demiplane, that clings like a parasite to the very edges of Gehenna. It is filled with books of dangerous knowledge, more than could ever be read, especially as she spends more time in the pursuit of such books than she does reading them. Those seeking specific knowledge can approach her with gifts, but there is never a guarantee that she’ll be willing to divulge any part of her collection.
The arcanaloth is a typical example of her kin, using the relevant stat block from the monster manual, except that her spell list would not include fire spells out of fear for her collection. Replace the cantrip Firebolt with Ray of Frost, and Fireball with Vampiric Touch.
She also has three legendary actions. Legendary actions can be taken immediately after another creature has ended its turn, and replenish each time Golnoranthe begins her turn. Once she has used a legendary action once, it cannot be used again until the start of her next turn.
Book – Golnoranthe reaches out to a bookshelf within 5 ft of her and takes a book from the shelf. The book has a 40% chance of animating and becoming a living book (see below).
Cast – Golnoranthe may cast a spell of 2nd level or lower, expending a spell slot as normal. If she expends 2 of her legendary actions, she may cast a spell of 3rd level, or if she expends 3 legendary actions, she may cast a spell of 4th level. The spell she casts must come from her spellcasting ability, and not her innate spellcasting ability.
Teleport – Golnoranthe uses her teleport action. She may immediately make a stealth check to attempt to hide.
In combat, Golnoranthe will spend a great deal of time in retreat, teleporting frequently to evade damage, hurling magic missiles and low level spells at enemies who draw too close. Characters with uncannily high insight may notice a pattern to her movement, not seeking to escape, but actively moving to specific locations, gathering an item, and then moving on. She will not cast the Finger of Death spell on another creature.
Condensed knowledge is a dangerous thing, and in such close proximity to one another some books gain a life of their own. If a creature knocks a bookshelf books will scatter, a creature may choose to take a book from the shelf, or Golnoranthe may pull one down as a legendary action (above). In any case where a book is freed from a shelf it has a 40% chance of animating and becoming hostile to any creature other than Golnoranthe herself.
Books have a flight speed of 10 ft. unless otherwise noted, each have 30 hit points, armour class of 14, immunity to poison and psychic damage, and resistance to all other damage types except fire and slashing damage. They act immediately after activation, and then again on initiative counts 20 and 10 from that moment on. If a book animates, roll 1d6 to determine its type.
1 – Distilling the Melancholia of the Lower Planes On each of its turns, this greyish volume of withered pages exudes a mournful sobbing sound. Creatures within 30 ft of the book that can hear it have disadvantage on attack rolls, and all wisdom and charisma saving throws and ability checks until they leave the range of the book, or until the book is destroyed.
2 – A Death to All Secrets The eyeball on the cover of this book instils the viewer with a sense of guilt. The book designates a creature within 30 ft of it. That creature cannot attempt to hide or become invisible, and cannot attempt to deceive. The creature cannot cast illusion spells, and must make a concentration check on any illusion spell it already has cast on each of the book’s turns. These effects last until the creature is out of the range of the book, or until the book is destroyed.
3 – Hunger, a Torment That Unites Us All This swollen tome of red pages chooses a creature within 30 ft of it. On its turn that creature can only choose to forgo its action in favour of eating something it has on its person, or making an unarmed (bite) attack against an animal or plant it can see. Unless the creature is already capable of making a bite attack action, the attack is the same as a standard unarmed attack, except that the damage is piercing, rather than bludgeoning.
4 – The Fascination Game The book – covered in purple velvet – intrigues all who come within 30 ft and can see it. A creature who enters the space must succeed on a wisdom saving throw DC 16 if they attempt to move more than 30 ft from the book. If they fail, they instead must move the remainder of their speed towards the book. Attacks against the book have disadvantage.
5- The Final Curiosity On each of its turns this oily. black book sucks life from living beings who wander too close. Creatures within 5 ft must succeed on a wisdom saving throw or take 2d8 necrotic damage. Creatures within 30 ft of the book are vulnerable to necrotic damage, and deduct their intelligence modifier from their death saving throws.
6 – A Cautionary Tale To The Ambitious On each of its turns this book has a 40% chance of summoning an imp. If it does so it takes 10 fire damage.
During combat, Golnoranthe seeks four scrolls placed at very specific parts of the library. These scrolls form the final part of her transformation, a process she was hoping to delay until she could gather more knowledge. She always sought more knowledge. Once she has visited all four scrolls and spent an action activating them, she will return to the centre of the library and cast Finger of Death upon herself, completing the ritual.
A creature who is proficient in arcana can identify the nature of the ritual. A successful check of DC 13 or the detect magic spell confirms it is a transmutation spell, and a check of 20 or above realises the full extent of the power as listed below, as well as confirming that the ritual requires Golnoranthe to be slain while all four scrolls are active and in the correct positions.
Scrolls cannot be destroyed but can be moved while inactive by breaking a chain that holds each in place. The chain has 80 hit points, an AC of 14, and resistance to all damage except for poison, to which it is immune. A creature can deactivate a scroll that has been activated with an arcana check of DC 10 + 3 for each activated scroll.
Golnoranthe: The Living Lore
Once the ritual is complete, Golnoranthe has become a large entity of fluttering paper enshrouding blackened flesh. Glowing eyes shine like beacons, and four, long arms reach out to pluck notes from the vortex of knowledge. She recovers all spell slots and hit points, and replaces her legendary actions with those listed below.
Cast – Golnoranthe may cast a spell of 3rd level or lower without expending a spell slot. If she expends 2 of her legendary actions, she may cast a spell of 4th level, or if she expends 3 legendary actions, she may cast a spell of 5th level. The spell she casts must come from her spellcasting ability, and not her innate spellcasting ability.
Teleport – Golnoranthe uses her teleport action. She may immediately make a claw attack.
Whisperer – Golnoranthe moves a gibbering mouther within 30 ft of her to an unoccupied space within 30 ft of where it began.
The library itself no longer exists. Instead there is now a void without gravity, in which 3d8 gibbering mouthers float and drift. The door still exists where it was before.
Potentially terrifying, and a useful dungeon to drop in at mid to high-level campaigns. A blend of dungeon and monster that could prove devastating to a party unless they can stop her quickly. As for next week, the choice is yours…
20 Boats, a short rundown of their layout, crew, typical cargoes and trade routes. If you’ve ever been short of a means of transport from continent to continent, this will serve as more than just a name generator.
20 Travelling Partners to meet on a caravan, on the road, or to join you in the wilderness.
20 Villages and Hamlets with unique little pieces of flavour, at least one pub, at least one NPC, and at least one feature of interest to each of them.