Sunday, 8 January 2017

Let's Read the 5e Monster Manual - The Empyrean


Behold, the Mary Suest monster you could ever throw into your campaign. A walking (swimming, flying) manifestation of holier-than-thou immortality. The Empyrean is a literal demigod; beautiful, powerful and better than you. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at the Empyrean before – my eye was always drawn to the overweight-bank-manager-meets-Lolth depiction of the Ettercap rather than this blue Abercrombie and Fitch model.

The concept of the god’s mortal descendants is in many cultures, from Hercules to Maui to Vali to Cu Chulain. Let’s see how D&D handles it…

Art It’s a big, buff blue dude with a bizarre stance that doesn’t seem to work right. He’s wearing some sort of demure skirt, a pro-wrestler’s belt and knee-high boots, so the whole image is a bizarre combination of kinky and boring. The Empyrean shares a lot of conceptual and artistic space with the Deva, Planetar and other creatures featured in Monster Manual’s hunky-fireman calendar subsection. It doesn’t really inspire much in the way of excitement or interest in me, I must admit. I’d build his appearance on his progenitor’s, personally.

Purpose and Tactics
Obviously, this is your ultimate big bad, rocking out at CR 23 and with the caveat that should be mess up daddy will simply resurrect him anyway. Ignore the ‘75% chaotic good’ - this incarnation of celestial privilege is obviously far more exciting if he’s rebelling in some way against the parental figure (one of my villains has this exact story). As with all BBEG CR23 badasses in your campaign, your players will never know him as ‘An Empyrean’. They’ll know him as Kelthren, Thrice-Cursed Son of the God of Knowledge who betrayed him to Vecna.

It’s essential that any Empyrean be first and foremost an NPC, with a name, backstory and relationship to their parent. Integral to that will be his relationship to his parent’s domain(s). My villain was a child of a god of seas and storms, and thus can never leave dry land. Perhaps your Empyrean is rebelling against the God of Truth, or Industry, or Wine – and is therefore lying, lazy or teetotal.

As a result of this, I’d chuck out most of the spell list and powers for thematic alternatives, but let’s see how good the RAW Empyrean is in a scrap. As it would ruin a precious, railroading DM’s day if their pet NPC was made to look embarrassed, the Empyrean has Magic Resistance and Legendary Resistance, so you’re never going to take them out of commission that way. Ditto Illusions, as they’re packing Truesight. They can only be harmed by magic weapons, but any player crossing swords with a CR 23 has so many magical weapons they butter their toast with a Holy Avenger.

In terms of Magic, there are some big-hitter evocation spells and some At-Will utility, which can be used to damage the party- Earthquake can be very disruptive and damaging in an urban environment, and Firestorm gives some much-needed AoE. The Empyrean’s attacks are pretty damaging but dropping one of those a turn doesn’t seem like all that much impact in a high-stakes epic-level combat. He has some excellent support options if you’re giving the Empyrean minions (you are at this point throwing the CR budget rules out of the window, no doubt) as Bolster and Trembling Strike can massively boost his side in a battle against the players, and it makes sense that the Empyrean would rule over some minions.

Some aspects are interesting, for example the built-in Pathetic Fallacy, where the weather reflects his mood: excellent fluff and an excuse for you to battle in thunderstorm or hurricane. The idea of their being ‘beautiful, statuesque and self-assured’ doesn’t gel though. For me, the story an Empyrean should tell is almost Oedipal – it’s about the relationship to a father-figure (who could be overbearing and cruel and capricious – they are a god after all) and the pressure to meet familial expectations (when your brother was your age he was worshipped across the world – you’re still living in the basement of Valhalla). If anything, insecurity should define the Empyrean, and lead into their actions.

Plot Hooks
Kuldgirr the Wrathful rules the vast empire of the Kulgur Wastes, and plunders any town that takes his fancy. His father, men say, was the War-God Aegishjamlur himself, and he sees all the world as his dominion…

Gruthfrith’s mother, Hedelleleid, was the Mistress of Songs, the patron god of bards, singers and beautiful things. Gruthfrith’s fingers are a blur; his voice makes a Nightingale weep, and as women lay at his feet and men bury him in gold, a thought grows in his mkind like a cancer. Why is HE not Master of Songs, Patron of Bards, Singer and Beautiful Things…?

Vallnir’s father, Kelum, the Righteous Fire, demands endless self-sacrifice and ceaseless vigilance. As Vallnirr crosses yet another battlefield, and spends another way warring with evil and terror, despair has grown in his heart like rot. Kelum never sees him as worthy. Kelum never values his life. Should he spend his entire life earning the approval of Kelum? Or should he, for once, use his mighty gifts to benefit himself.

Aumvorax once was the most feared pirate of the Dameshti coast. Loved by his father, The King of Storm and Spray, and his Mother, the Queen of Deluge and Deeps, he was master of all seamanship, and his ship, Favoured, grew fat with plunder. However, in one fatal storm Aurumvorax was wrecked, and washed ashore, and found himself screaming at a mother and father whose fickle favour had slipped through his fingers like so much sea-water. Cursing them, he made his Dark Pact and swore an oath to be revenged…

Verdict: Poorly executed, but a great seed for compelling NPCs. 

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