A good visual can do a lot for a monster. Since we at Necromancers of the Northwest rarely have the luxury of an art budget, it’s important for us to be able to come up with monster concepts that can be visually cool and appealing while also being very easy to describe. For today’s Exotic Encounter, I wanted to provide you with a large undead that was comprised of components from dozens of different bodies, but I wanted to ensure it wasn’t just forming a giant humanoid (because that’s been done). While I considered several shapes the finished form could take, I ultimately settled on the one I thought would be most interesting: a tree. Specifically, a hangman’s tree.
Hundreds of mangled and bloody body parts emerge from the ground, limbs twisted unnaturally together to form the shape of a single towering tree, branches of arms and legs spreading outwards, hands and feet twitching horribly. Here and there humanoid heads can be seen, like macabre fruit.
CORPSE TREE CR 12
NE Huge undead
Init +6; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +25
AC 27, touch 14, flat-footed 21 (+6 Dex, +13 natural, –2 size)
hp 178 (17d8+102)
Fort +12, Ref +11, Will +15
Defensive Abilities swarmlike; Immune cold, undead traits
Speed 30 ft., burrow 40 ft.
Melee 2 slams +20 (4d6+10 plus grab)
Ranged carrion shot +16 (1d4+5 plus disease and ichor)
Space 15 ft.; Reach 15 ft.
Special Attacks grab, grisly display
Str 31, Dex 22, Con —, Int 13, Wis 20, Cha 21
Base Atk +12; CMB +24 (+26 bull rush); CMD 40 (42 vs. bull rush, can’t be tripped)
Feats Awesome Blow, Combat Reflexes, Great Fortitude, Improved Bull Rush, Improved Natural Attack (slam), Intimidating Prowess, Power Attack, Skill Focus (Stealth), Toughness
Skills Intimidate +35, Knowledge (religion) +21, Perception +25, Sense Motive +25, Stealth +24
Languages Aklo, Common
Carrion Shot (Ex): As a standard action, a corpse tree can launch one of the body parts that comprises its body at a creature. Treat this as a ranged attack with a range increment of 10 feet. If the attack hits, it deals damage as listed in the corpse tree’s stat-block, above, and the target is exposed to the corpse tree’s disease and ichor. Even if the attack misses, if the result would be sufficient to hit the target’s touch AC, the target is still coated in gore, and while she does not suffer any damage, she is still subject to the disease and ichor effects.
Disease (Ex): Bog rot. Carrion shot—injury; save Fort DC 23; onset 1 day; frequency 1/day; effect 1d6 Str, Dex, Con, or Cha damage (determine randomly using 1d4); cure none. The save DC is Charisma-based.
Grisly Display (Ex): A corpse tree that begins its turn in control of a grapple with a creature at least one size category smaller than it can extend a noose of ropey entrails and use it to hang the grappled creature from its undead branches. This requires a successful grapple check. A creature that is hung in this way is unable to breathe, and automatically takes damage as though the corpse tree had successfully grappled it each round (including the round in which this ability is used). The corpse tree is not considered to be a part of the grapple. The entrail noose can be attacked directly. It has an AC of 18, 20 hit points, and DR 10/slashing. If the entrail noose is reduced to 0 hit points, the creature is released, falling to the ground in the nearest unoccupied space. A creature that dies while displayed in this fashion is absorbed into the corpse tree, causing the tree to heal a number of hit points equal to the slain creature’s Hit Dice. A standard corpse tree can have up to two Large creatures (or 4 Medium creatures, or 8 Small creatures, etc.) displayed in this way at any given time.
Ichor (Ex): The body parts that constitute a corpse tree constantly drip with blood and offal. Any creature hit by a corpse tree’s carrion shot attack, or which is grappled by the corpse tree, must succeed on a DC 23 Fortitude save or be sickened for 1 minute. The saving throw DC is Charisma-based.
Swarmlike (Ex): Although a corpse tree is a single entity, and not a swarm, its body is comprised of a collection of shifting and interchangeable pieces from a large number of corpses, granting it some of the benefits and drawbacks of a swarm. A corpse tree is not subject to critical hits or flanking. A corpse tree is immune to any spell or effect that targets a specific number of creatures, with the exception of any mind-affecting effects that are somehow able to affect it despite it being undead (such as if the caster has a special class feature or feat), and necromancy effects that specifically target undead and which mimic mind-affecting effects (such as halt undead or control undead). A corpse tree takes half again as much damage (+50%) from spells or effects that affect an area, such as splash weapons and many evocation spells.
Although there are a few scattered reports of corpse trees being formed under more unusual circumstances, the vast majority of these undead form after mass hangings, when large numbers of bodies are left swinging from the boughs of a large tree, especially if the bodies are later buried beneath it (or simply left there, with the bones remaining where they fall). The collective rage of all these victims, whether justly or unjustly slain, and their disdain and hatred for all those that watched their deaths and treated the taking of their lives as little more than entertainment, keeps their spirits from rest, and over time, as the spirits’ individual personalities and memories fade, all that is left is an overwhelming rage that bonds the spirits together, and the single memory of that terrible, twisted gallows.
Despite being intelligent, corpse trees live for nothing more than their rage. Upon forming, a corpse tree will typically go on a rampage throughout whatever community spawned it, and only once that initial vengeance has been had will it begin to turn its thoughts towards further malevolence. While corpse trees tend to lack the vision for widespread or complex plots (and, for that matter, prefer a more personal, up-close approach in dealing with their victims), they generally prefer to spread as much suffering and misery as they can, and are intelligent enough to identify when a particular settlement may be too strongly fortified to allow for a direct assault.