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Eldritch Horror at Abyssal Depths - The
Lurking in the depths since 1st edition D&D, aboleths are the legally-distinct Lovecraftian horrors of the deep we've all grown to fear. Aboleths are basically great big psychic lamprey eels lurking in the aquatic ruins of their former civilization and plotting on how to take vengeance on the dumb land dwellers. So, how should you run them in your adventures? And what are you supposed to do when your DM decides to throw you into the deep end with them? Don't breathe the and stay out of the pool as we go through everything you need to know.
lore is really Lovecraftian lore wearing a legally-distinct mask. This is a terrifying fishy that used to rule the world and can psychically influence the unwitting fools up on land. Originally from the , an of madness, they are not natives to this place. Basically, if you think of something about a "Deep One", you're right on the money or pretty darn close to a feature of the aboleths. We've got ancient sunken cities, check. Bizarre and utterly alien psychology, check. Eldritch horror, check. Loads of creepy tentacles, check. And finally, brainwashed fish people, check, and double check. They're also intensely smart and have a bizarre form of racial memory. New aboleths literally remember everything their parent remembered, and for functionally immortal beings that have been around since earliest recorded history they can hold a grudge or conduct a scheme for a very long time.
Physically their descriptions have waffled back and forth between more eel-like and more squid-like over the years, but generally they look like big lamprey eels with a bunch of bonus tentacles. If you're not familiar with lamprey eels, they're a real-life that looks like it was born in a nightmare dimension. Essentially eel-like but with a big jawless sucker mouth filled with teeth.
Aboleths are fundamentally psionic and have a nasty habit of mentally enslaving the "upstart races" (everybody not an ) to do their bidding. This wouldn't be too much of a problem if it weren't also for their trademark . Just like the hagfish, these monsters exude buckets of (a ) that surround them in the water. Touch or breath the (from attacks or simple proximity) and you risk catching the disease . The nasty goop quickly transforms you into a fishy shadow of your former self and forces you to only breathe underwater while you're affected. Aboleths use their to force their slaves into the deep, and often their aquatic cities are crewed by helpless diseased surface dwellers.
Right out of the , there are technically variant aboleths (great big nasty ones and some wimpier young forms) from previous editions, but mainly 5e just has the OG eel to work with. They're formidable threats, compounded by the fact that the most likely place to find one is in their deep in the ocean.
Large aberration, lawful evil
Armor Class 17 (natural armor)
Speed 10 ft., swim 40.
STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
21 (+5) 9 (-1) 15 (+2) 18 (+4)15 (+2)18 (+4)
Saving Throws Con +6, Int +8, Wis +6
Skills History +12, Perception +10
Senses darkvision 120 ft., passive Perception 20
Languages Deep Speech, Telepathy 120 ft.
Challenge 10 (5,900 XP)
Amphibious . The can breathe air and water.
. While underwater, the is surrounded by . A that touches the or that hits it with a melee attack while within 5 feet of it must make a DC 14 Constitution . On a failure, the is diseased for 1d4 hours. The can breathe only underwater.
Probing Telepathy. If a communicates telepathically with the , the learns the 's greatest desires if the can see the .
Multiattack. The makes three attacks.
. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 12 (2d6 + 5) bludgeoning damage. If the target is a , it must succeed on a DC 14 Constitution or become diseased. The disease has no effect for 1 minute and can be removed by any magic that cures disease. After 1 minute, the 's skin becomes translucent and slimy, the can't regain unless it is underwater, and the disease can be removed only by heal or another disease-curing of 6th level or higher. When the is outside a body of water, it takes 6 (1d12) acid damage every 10 minutes unless moisture is applied to the skin before 10 minutes have passed.
Tail. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 10 ft. one target. Hit: 15 (3d6 + 5) bludgeoning damage.
Enslave (3/Day). The targets one it can see within 30 feet of it. The target must succeed on a DC 14 Wisdom or be magically charmed by the until the dies or until it is on a different plane of existence from the target. The is under the 's control and can't take reactions, and the and the target can communicate telepathically with each other over any distance. The is nasty, but this can really derail a party, espcially that beefy fighter. While the is not bad, the removal of a player can change a battle.
Whenever the takes damage, the target can repeat the . On a success, the effect ends. No more than once every 24 hours, the target can also repeat the when it is at least 1 mile away from the .
The can take 3 legendary actions, choosing from the options below. Only one option can be used at a time and only at the end of another 's turn. The regains spent legendary actions at the start of its turn.
- Detect. The makes a Wisdom (Perception) check.
- Tail Swipe. The makes one tail attack.
- Psychic Drain (Costs 2 Actions). One charmed by the takes 10 (3d6) psychic damage, and the regains equal to the damage the takes.
Aboleths in or the rocky depths of the ocean, often surrounded by the ruins of an ancient, fallen . An spends most of its existence underwater, surfacing occasionally to treat with visitors or deranged worshipers.
When fighting inside its , an can invoke the ambient magic to take actions. On initiative count 20 (losing initiative ties), the takes a to cause one of the following effects:
- The casts phantasmal force (no components required) on any number of creatures it can see within 60 feet of it. While maintaining concentration on this effect, the can't take other actions. If a target succeeds on the or if the effect ends for it, the target is immune to the 's phantasmal force for the next 24 hours, although such a can choose to be affected.
- Pools of water within 90 feet of the surge outward in a grasping tide. Any on the ground within 20 feet of such a pool must succeed on a DC 14 Strength or be pulled up to 20 feet into the water and knocked prone. The can't use this again until it has used a different one.
- Water in the magically becomes a conduit for the 's rage. The can target any number of creatures it can see in such water within 90 feet of it. A target must succeed on a DC 14 Wisdom or take 7 (2d6) psychic damage. The can't use this again until it has used a different one.
The region containing an is warped by the 's presence, which creates one or more of the following effects:
- Underground surfaces within 1 mile of the are slimy and wet and are difficult terrain.
- Water sources within 1 mile of the are supernaturally fouled. Enemies of the that drink such water vomit it within minutes.
- As an action, the the . The copy can appear at any location the has seen before or in any location a charmed by the can currently see. Once created, the image lasts for as long as the maintains concentration, as if concentrating on a . Although the image is intangible, it looks, sounds, and can move like the . The can sense, speak, and use telepathy from the image's position as if present at that position. If the image takes any damage, it disappears. can create an illusory image of itself within 1 mile of
If the dies, the first two effects fade over the course of 3d10 days.
Using an as a DM
Any who is tired of using a , aboleths make great BBEGs (big bad evil guys), espcially given the 's impact to someone who will rapidly become an . and enslave to cap off tier 2 adventures or really nasty mid-bosses to throw at tier 3 adventurers. They're notorious manipulators and schemers, perfect for being the force behind any number of nefarious plots you may want to cook up for them. It's also important to understand that since they are immortal, they are effictively a . They witnessed the and , through their will know many useful strategies to give and a challenge.
When planning your final fight with the your first concern should be location. A fight with an near the surface will be a lot easier than a fight at the bottom of the ocean. Generally speaking, the further from dry land you go the harder your fight is going to be, especially if you take the players down into the .
The next thing to consider is how your players are going to deal with the disease. It is almost guaranteed that during a fight with an one or more of the players will be afflicted, and therefore stuck living underwater until the players can get together some 6th level healing magic. You can use this as a plothook to propel the players towards the next adventure to get some healing, but otherwise you should provide them with some handy heal scrolls or a friendly healing NPC as part of the rewards for the fight. You don't want to end up splitting the adventurers semi-permanently into air breathers / water breathers if you can help it.
Finally, a good chunk of the 's abilities revolve around mind-controlled thralls. In fact, is founded on the use of slaves. This will be a master at the use of an . I recommend providing your big baddie with a few hapless NPC puppets at the beginning of the fight to provide some variety and tasty for the to siphon off in a pinch.
If you're wondering how to play them; how would a feel about weak and challenging them? When they are so easily influenced and controlled? While a whole host of , timeless memory, they can truly make a fun challenge for a part.
No swimming for 1 hour after spotting an , kids, stay out of the pool. Seriously, the name of the game when fighting an is staying dry. If your DM gives you the choice, don't go swimming and fight the big eel from dry land. If you're lucky enough to stay dry while fighting it, use range as much as possible and just keep out of the water.
There's a good chance your DM will have you fighting on its turf though (err, surf), and once you've been afflicted with the disease you'll basically be stuck in the drink for the rest of the fight (at least). You'll be more vulnerable to actions and numerous other attacks in the water, so if you're the healer try to stay within range of anybody in the water and generally just try to stick together. The will have the full advantage of mobility and splitting up will doom for whoever gets isolated.
The best bit of advice I can give is to keep a hand free to punch your friends with unarmed strikes (yes really). It only takes 1 hit point worth of damage to get another against the enslavement and a good old, unarmed strike does a whopping 1 point + your Strength modifier. For most characters this is the least damaging way to wake everybody up once the starts psionically enslaving people.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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