The Design & Development article series premiered on the D&D website back in September 2005, and has been a staple ever since. With the approach of 4th Edition, and our designers and developers focused on the new edition, this column will be the primary vehicle for 4th Edition coverage. We’ll not only give you peeks at what’s forthcoming, but also the “how” and “why.”
Keep in mind that the game is still in a state of flux, as refinements are made by our design and development staff. You’re getting a look behind the curtain at game design in progress, so enjoy, and feel free to send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The earth quivers. The ground furrows. Turning earth knocks heroes from their feet, and a mated pair of mighty bulettes bursts into their midst.
All granite-hard hide, characteristic fins, and below-ground tactics, the bulette has been a staple of D&D since the early days. Fourth Edition continues to do it honor by making it an elite monster.
Elite monsters represent a greater challenge: They count as two monsters of their level for encounter building and rewards. Elite monsters have the word “elite” preceding their level and role.
Here’s how a fight against a pair of such beasts might go:
- The bulettes are underground using their burrowing movement. Even though the PCs can hear the creatures (a bulette isn’t exactly stealthy), they can’t attack until the bulettes rise to the surface.
- When the bulettes go, they go mean. The first burrows shallowly through the earth under the fighter and rogue – the fighter keep his feet, but the rogue falls down and makes a good target. The bulette leaves the ground to take advantage of this and bites the poor fellow, doing some serious damage.
- Bulette number two uses the same opening gambit but knocks over both the cleric and the wizard, who were next to each other. It opts to burst from the ground in a spray of packed dirt and stone. The prone heroes are easier to hit and take more damage from the wave of rocks. The fighter is also in range of the burst, but he brushes the soil aside with his shield.
- The party gets to act. The rogue rises. He’s not in a position to flank, but he can still try to do some damage. He doesn’t like the look of the bulette’s heavy armor, so he tries to slip his short sword between two stony plates before the bulette can react and he draws blood.
- The wizard’s in a bad spot. He probably can’t lay down an attack without provoking an opportunity attack or burning his allies, so he delays. Good thing, because the cleric places fear in the bulette’s tiny mind, which doesn’t offer much resistance. The bulette burrows away, taking an opportunity attack from the cleric before he gets underground (avoiding like attacks from the fighter and the rogue.
- This gives the wizard the chance to stand and cover the bulette’s space with crackling lightning -- the monster’s bulk means it doesn’t have much chance to evade the blast and it doesn’t. The fighter follows with a good, old-fashioned heavy sword swing and gets lucky: a critical hit. The bulette isn’t looking good (it’s bloodied), but now it gets to act.
- Bulette number one dives into the earth so rapidly that the heroes around it don’t get opportunity attacks. Safely in the ground, it heals some damage and then burrows under the heroes, who are now clustered close enough that the bulette can affect them all. Bulette number two follows by burrowing back into the action and bursting from the ground to rain more rocks down on the party, reminding them all that it’s time for some healing.
The battle goes on. Even though there are four heroes, it only takes two bulettes to give them a run for their money. Fourth Edition has such elite monsters because you don’t always want a straight one-on-one fight -- sometimes a monster should just be bigger, tougher, and scarier than the norm.