Unveil the Power of Thief-Like Creatures in D&D Campaigns

By RJ on 12 February 2023.

No one expects a rogue as a monster, do they? Well, if you play your cards right, they shouldn't! Do note: I'm not speaking for all the conniving bandit lords Dungeons & Dragons groups battle, the goblins who are quite thieving, or the hill giants who pillage every pantry in sight. I mean legitimate monsters who use actions inspired by the archetypal rogue class present in nearly every fantasy roleplaying game imaginable.

In this article, we are crafting a formidable foe inspired by rogues and providing plenty of inspiration for more monsters in the same vein.

Let me loop you in on other potential rogue-based foes before we hop into my fully fleshed-out creature:

  1. The Crawling Claw Arcane Trickster. This tiny undead hand can control another spectral hand that specializes in picking locks, confusing targets, and even performing silent assassinations.
  2. The Balor Demon Swashbuckler. This lord of abyssal pits has mastered one-on-one combat, sparring with archfiends and other balor demons. Moreso than others of its kind, it can maneuver across the battlefield with relative ease and confuse foes with its rapid movements.
  3. The Kobold Genius. This small, reptilian humanoid calculates its opponent's moves seconds, if not minutes before they play out. It forms plans within plans and ensures they're all outlined both in mind and on parchment.
  4. The Bugbear Assassin. This vile goblinoid understands the best way to execute a variety of targets wielding a variety of weapons, venoms, and poisons.
  5. The Bandit Lord Trickster. This human rose through the ranks of a greedy bandit clan through sheer intelligence and manipulation. He doesn't only work charismatic magic among his own criminal folk, though. He often attends royal gatherings and balls to trick haughty nobles into accidentally contributing to his powerful bandit clan.
  6. The Rhinoceros Soul Knife. This huge beast was enchanted by an ancient, deceased wizard whose menagerie was loosed upon the world upon his death. The rhino can slice through reality with its charge and force tiny, psychic horns upon its foes.
  7. The Skeleton Thief. This sentient undead was raised by a necromancer and trained to break into wizard towers protected from the living with wards. The skeleton, that of a halfling, sneaks and steals as well as any other living thief.
  8. The Ogre Mastermind. This hulking ogre is not like its kin, rather, the ogre understands how to coerce those around into completing desirable tasks and working with those outside its usual circle. Most of its webbed plans are scrawled across the walls of its cavern home.

I promise you each feels distinct, and each is system agnostic.

Now, let's leap into this article's foe, a particularly dexterous giant.

The Hill Giant Acrobat

Usually, hill giants are viewed as slow-moving, even stumbling hulks. Not the hill giant acrobat, a variant of hill giant who seeks to subvert expectations.

What is a Hill Giant Acrobat?

Acrobats are not born with the innate ability to leap from precarious perch to perch, flip seven times in the air with a single jump, and twist themselves through the most contorted obstacles. They must train relentlessly to hone their physical craft, consume only the best food to sculpt their bodies, and ensure their body and mind work as one, well-oiled machine. 

Hill giant acrobats follow all these procedures and protocols, but only with someone of extreme intellect at their helm. Naturally unintelligent beings, they must be constantly taught and reminded of the huge reserve of strength inside them. This strength meshed with speed and a moderate intellect leads to a near-unstoppable force. Many acrobats use quarterstaves as their weapon of choice. Hill giant acrobats, though, pick out a suitable tree and carve it into a staff for combat. Some of the most legendary imbue their staves with Giantish runes, empowering them with the might of their kind's arcane history.

In Eldar, hill giant acrobats descend from the Order of the Big Stick, an organization of expertly-trained hill giants from the long-dead giant empire of Nargond. Most members of this order are not only acrobats, but they've mastered the Way of the Four Elements. They combine their mastery of acrobatics and elemental strength to channel swift, magical strikes into their tree-sized staves.

In Golgifell, hill giants are all that remain of giantkind in any formidable number and even they are rare. No hill giant acrobat has emerged from the hills & mountains west of the Farloth Peninsula...yet. If one of these odd hill giants were to exist, it would likely be in the Towerpeaks or the lowlands leading into the Gulonde Desert.

A hill giant and his tree by garmonbozia94.

Sample Hill Giant Acrobat

Here's an example hill giant acrobat!

Base Monster: Hill Giant, Monster Manual page 155.

Added Ability: Master of Movement. The foe treats vertical surfaces as if they are regular terrain. On horizontal surfaces while standing upright, the foe gains 20 feet of additional movement. In addition, if they fail a Dexterity saving throw, they may reroll it twice per long rest.

Added Action: Shocking Blow. The foe makes a special attack roll against a target within melee range. If the attack hits, the target must make a Constitution saving throw (8 + Proficiency + the foe's Strength modifier). On a failure, the target becomes Paralyzed until the end of the foe's next turn. In addition, the target takes an additional 6d6 damage based on the foe's weapon. If the foe uses a bludgeoning weapon to make this attack, the attack roll has advantage.

Plot Hook: The hill giant acrobat was sent to eliminate the owner of an ancient relic, then return the relic to its red dragon patron. However, the ancient relic's properties were unknown and during the hill giant acrobat's struggle with the relic's owner, they used the item against the giant. Now, this hill giant acrobat is under the psychic-control of a wealthy dwarven mogul who has realized what an asset it is. The red dragon knows this too and seeks the return of his treasured servant. The player characters might run into the hill giant acrobat on the street as it escorts the dwarven mogul, be hired by the red dragon to free the giant from its trance, or requested to take out the giant by a rival mogul.

Regardless of where and when you decide to drop the hill giant acrobat into your D&D campaign, it's sure to leave a giant-sized crater.

In Summary

As with all other classic character archetypes, typical rogues make excellent bases for ravenous foes and NPCs in your D&D 5E or other RPG campaign. Remember:

  • Character classes can inspire foes on the Dungeon Master's side of the screen or table. Use them as a starting point for your next villain.
  • Rogues make excellent, intelligent antagonists with a knack for powerful, pointed assaults.
  • Even the oddest of creatures can inherit the coolest of abilities from the rogue archetype. Sometimes, these strange ideas become the most compelling and memorable!

The last RJD20 article explored what microtransactions might look like in One D&D. If you'd like a grim but very likely glimpse into the future of this particular brand of RPG, give it a read!

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