Deep Scion Tactics

Holy heck. The entire month of May got away from me. Sorry about that, readers.

Anyway, today it’s back to business, with the deep scion from Volo’s Guide to Monsters. Technically a humanoid but giving off serious aberration vibes, the deep scion is the product of a pact with a great undersea power—one made under duress, at the point of drowning, so the terms aren’t nearly as favorable as those granted to warlocks. Not only transformed but brainwashed as well, the deep scion can take the form of its previous self, but it no longer considers its previous self to be its true self; that identity is lost.

Deep scions have two forms, “humanoid” and “hybrid.” The hybrid form is its “true” form, having humanoid torso, legs and arms but crustacean claws, tentacles (non-prehensile) emerging from its head and a mouth that DEAR GOD WHAT IS THAT THING? In its humanoid form, it moves at a humanoid-typical 30 feet on land and, like other landbound creatures, swims at only half that speed. In its hybrid form, its walking speed is 20 feet, but its swimming speed is 40 feet. If it can, a deep scion maximizes its movement by using its Shapechanger action in the middle of the turn in which it travels from land to water or vice versa, taking this action at the moment it reaches the shoreline. This way, even if it’s used its full walking movement to reach water, once it transforms, it still has another 10 feet of swimming movement left to go.

In combat, deep scions are pure brutes, with exceptional Strength and very high Constitution. However, their expertise in Deception makes this as formidable a weapon in social encounters as their battle axes are in melee. They also have proficiency in Insight, Sleight of Hand and Stealth. Deep scions are spies as well as warriors; they fight only when their cover is blown. As I’ve said before, it’s easier to punch someone after fooling them has failed than it is to fool them after punching them has failed.

They have 120 feet of darkvision, which is useful not only for skulking around at night but also in the watery depths where sunlight doesn’t penetrate. These two backdrops—nighttime and underwater—are the deep scion’s preferred combat settings. If confronted on land during daylight hours, it runs like hell toward the nearest body of water to make its escape. It doesn’t cover its escape by turning hybrid, then issuing a Psychic Screech: the two full actions this operation takes is too much of a delay.

In water, on the other hand, Psychic Screech is the first action a deep scion takes in combat. It’s a once-per-encounter ability; there’s no reason not to use it right away, against as many enemies as possible. Thus, if it isn’t within 30 feet of all its foes already, a deep scion first moves toward them until it’s within 30 feet of its farthest opponent, then uses Psychic Screech.

After issuing its screech, the deep scion closes with an opponent and starts mauling. Ideally, it would like to attack a stunned opponent for advantage on its rolls; however, it’s likely that in the intervening rounds between its Psychic Screech and its next action, a non-stunned opponent will close in and engage it. That can’t be helped, unfortunately. If an enemy engages, the deep scion simply has to slug it out. At least in the water, its enemies will have disadvantage on attacks with all but a handful of thrusting weapons.

An oddity about the deep scion is that it’s a suitable boss enemy only for low-level adventurers, who aren’t likely to have obtained the kind of magic necessary to breathe underwater and consequently may not even be able to pursue it if it tries to swim away. They can hold their breath and dive in after it, but this puts a cap on how long they can fight and how far they can go. Nevertheless, except at night, combat on land is much less desirable: although a deep scion can do almost as much damage with two battle ax strikes as it can with one Bite and two Claw attacks, its foes won’t be saddled with the disadvantages of fighting underwater. At least in darkness, its darkvision gives it a small edge over opponents without it.

If a deep scion faces off against player characters who are more experienced than level 3, it’s going to realize fairly quickly (after being only moderately wounded—reduced to 46 hp or fewer) that it’s outmatched, and it will try to strike a deal to get out of the situation. It has no intention of adhering to any such deal, but with its proficiency in Insight, it can make a good educated guess about what the PCs want and offer it to them in exchange for its freedom, and with its expertise in Deception, it can make its case convincingly. Against a party of level 2 or 3 PCs, it will fight until it’s seriously wounded (reduced to 26 hp or fewer) before Disengaging, then Dashing off into the deep.

Next: Mordenkainen’s yugoloths. (Mordenloths?)

10 thoughts on “Deep Scion Tactics

  1. Welcome Back Keith! I’m glad to see you are back, and excited for your new book to come out. Considering the info provided in Volo’s about their creation and purpose do you see a reason why these might be encountered en mass or how they would behave as part of a larger group? Also, the description regarding their death states that when they die in their hybrid form they are “stripped of the magic that robbed them of emotion, leaving behind the corpse of the person the deep scion once was”. If a spell such as Revivify was used on them following this would you rule that they would come back as the person once were, or would they come back as an evil monster? Thanks for your care and thoughts, and again, welcome back.

    1. Just like vampires can be killed and resurrected as the mortal they were before, I think it’s reasonable a deep scion could be restored from death back to the person they were before.

    2. Most of the time this kind of question is very specific to the exact spell used

      In the case of the deep Scion you’re right, even revivify would restore them, but I’m other cases (say, a zombie) Crawford has confirmed revivify would bring the zombie back.

      So tldr: yes revivify saves a deep scion

  2. Thanks for this post. Love this monster. I’m running a fight against multiple Deep Scions who have infiltrated a city tomorrow. Level 5 party, so one was never going to be enough. I’ve been operating under the assumption that the ritual for creating one is extremely strenuous for the target and often unsuccessful, but the enemy has conducted it on a number of children from villages its forces have overcome. Those children who survived the ritual are now living as urchins in the PC’s city, accompanied by the few adults who have survived the transformation, including a distant cousin of one of the PCs. In my game, even when the ritual is successful, the stress often drives adult recipients somewhat mad, meaning that not all of the adult Deep Scions are able to find a normal life as cover and wind up as (really dangerous) homeless folks. The PC’s cousin has, however, maintained his full faculties and has been undermining the city government with false information downplaying the threat to the East. That they turn back to their initial human form when killed could cause some real problems for the PCs when they try to explain.

    What I’m still trying to decide is how the Psychic Screech will affect other Deep Scions. As written, it would seem that it should affect them, but I’m considering giving them advantage on the save, giving them some other major bonus, or just ruling that they aren’t affected. I still don’t want to overuse it – if they’re immune to each other’s screeches, things could get really ugly really quickly if they optimize, and also boring for the party. Any thoughts on this, anyone?

    1. Oof. From the flavor text, I get the distinct importation that the writers meant for deep scions to work solo—and didn’t really consider the effects of multiple Psychic Screeches. It seems to me that deep scions’ screeches shouldn’t affect other deep scions; why would they? But if you need to handwave it, you can just make sure that the deep scions are in a ring around the PCs, and all more than 30 feet from one another. The necessary radius for that ring is 20 feet for two deep scions, 5(n + 1) feet for any greater number.

      1. Thanks again for the post, and also the comment. This is the first time I’ve ever asked for advice on the internet about RPGs.

        It went pretty well. I decided you were right and that they wouldn’t be affected normally by each other’s screeches, but that they would still generally prefer not to screech near each other. Some of them wound up staying in human form the entire time, the better to run away if given the opportunity, which limited the screeching a bit, and the others kept themselves to one screech per round at most (seemed like something that would have diminishing returns).

        Now the corpses have reverted to human form, with the only sign that they were ever anything else being the ichor-like stains on their clothes. The party will have some explaining to do!

        Despite my best efforts, they captured one alive, which is going to be great fun. He’s just an innocent-looking urchin, and a number of passerby saw him emerge from an alleyway with several arrows sticking out of him, followed by a PC who chased him down and beat him unconscious. I’ve really enjoyed this monster, and it was wonderfully fortuitous that your post arrived when it did.

    2. For flavor, I would rule that when a Deep Scion screeches, every other deep scion within a mile’s radius could be able to sense the screech.

      This is homebrew, and anything but RAW, but it could be interesting

      1. I like it! And it’s sort of in keeping with the whole creator-gets-a-memory-download-if-it’s-in-the-same-body-of-water thing.

  3. The mouth is lifted almost exactly from the Sarcastic Fringehead, which I think is, incidentally, a great name for a fish.

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