Saturday, 13 April 2013


Dominic Matte

Almost all of our posts recently have been about our current ongoing D&D campaign, The Long Game. So, to change it up, here's something completely unrelated and possibly a little silly. Since I may never get to run these in an actual game, I present to you my adaptation of the xenomorphs from the Alien movies as D&D 4e monster stats.
The alien starts its life cycle as an egg, from which emerges the facehugger. The facehugger's job is to attach itself to a victim's face and implant an egg. After it has done so, it dies. So the facehugger is a minion with stealth - nothing fancy, it just does its job. Acid damage if you kill it, acid immunity, etc. The only interesting part mechanically is that a successful implantation forces the target to contract the Alien Embryo disease with no save at the end of the encounter. The victim's chance to "save" was to pry the facehugger off its face.

Here's the disease track for Alien Embryo. It's not debilitating by any means - as you'll remember from the movie, everyone thought Kane was OK... until he failed his saving throws and moved to the final stage of the disease.

At that point a chestburster emerges. Not scary at all, because it's just a little thing. It'll use its speed and Stealth to run and hide, biding its time.

As stated in the disease track above, in 1d4 hours the chestburster metamorphoses into a xenomorph warrior, which is a much scarier creature. Here we get the first really fun part: the xenomorph adaptation. Aliens take on characteristics of their hosts, and conveniently enough, each race in 4e has its own power. When you run adult xenomorphs, you can either assign powers yourself - for example, if an infestation hits an elf community they'll all have Elven Accuracy - or roll a d8, because conveniently enough there are 8 races in the 4e Player's Handbook. If you don't want to worry about that, use Human Perseverance as the default. The block underneath the warrior is the power reference chart; use the powers as they're listed there.

You'll notice that the warrior is fairly dependent on having friends around to be effective. Since D&D is a group game and the party is quite competent - much more so than, say, a civilian mining crew (*cough* Alien) - so I took more of an Aliens approach for these stat blocks, expecting a party to fight multiple xenomorphs at once.

To reinforce the idea of a swarm and to make these guys scarier in large numbers, the warrior and soldier (see below) have powers that let them do stuff when an allied xenomorph dies. I kind of stole those powers off the giant ants from Monster Manual 2, but those things do a surprisingly good job of representing the xenomorphs all on their own in a pinch. Of course they're missing some key stuff - adaptation, acid blood - but they're decent enough.

The xenomorphs are very dangerous for melee fighters because of their acid blood. When you kill a xenomorph you get sprayed, and that's bad. The ongoing acid damage will trigger the warrior's bonus damage on its bite attack, so you definitely don't want the fighter to be surrounded when he takes one down.

But of course, if I'm using Aliens more than Alien as my inspiration for these stat blocks, there's something missing so far, isn't there? I've got the whole life cycle represented here, except for the one who's laying the eggs. Fear not - I couldn't write up stat blocks for these monsters without doing one for the queen.

Like the others, the queen's stat block is built with numbers in mind. Ideally this stat block is used as a final boss in a xenomorph hive, with plenty of fodder around - drones which she summons on her own, and soldiers to protect her (both stat blocks below). The queen buffs her children, keeping the lower-level ones relevant to a level 10 encounter (or potentially even a level or two higher).

The queen isn't terribly formidable on her own, having only two fairly basic attacks. Tail Swipe is a minor, so she has a decent damage output, but nothing spectacular. The queen is at her best when surrounded by allies, because of the Queen's Frenzy power - when a friendly xenomorph is killed, she gets to attack as a free action. And with her Hiss power allowing her to summon drone minions (see below), if the party isn't careful, she can make tail attacks constantly.

And for a little more damage output, the queen of course still has acidic blood. The queen's acid blood works a little differently from the other ones - since she has many more hit points the blood should be relevant for longer, but in that case it should deal less damage. With that in mind, it triggers every time she takes damage from an attack, but doesn't deal ongoing damage. Even without dealing ongoing, melee attackers are in extreme danger next to the queen - if a party of 5 focuses their attacks, the fighter could be taking 25 acid damage per turn, which will take him down real quick.

In terms of actually using these stat blocks in a game, you can introduce the xenomorphs at a low level, since the facehugger is pretty low. I don't know if I'd actually use the facehugger on a player character, since the final effect of the disease is pretty nasty, especially at low levels. Personally I'd use it on an ally or someone in a nearby village or something. Then when the chestburster emerges you can have the party hunt it down and discover the xenomorph lair - maybe the ruins of a crashed spaceship, or perhaps they're native to your world.

I really love the scene in Aliens where the squad of ultimate badasses gets completely destroyed by the aliens, so I'd run something like that. Send the party in with a large militia group to deal with the alien threat, and have them all killed or run off by an ambush, and now the party is on their own. Take the party through the lair, showing them captured villagers strung up for the facehuggers, and for the big ending they find the queen laying eggs. It should be fairly obvious that killing the queen means no more eggs, so the party can eliminate the threat.

I wouldn't use the xenomorphs for much more than a surprise one-shot, unless you want to do a sci-fi game. Since they're not intelligent, there's not a whole lot you can do with them - which is actually the problem the franchise has had since Aliens. But anyway, these would make a really fun and crazy surprise, if your group doesn't mind the reference popping into a fantasy game.

Here are a few more stat blocks that I didn't have much space for in the article, because I wanted there to be text and not just images. The drones are the minions summoned by the queen; the soldiers defend the queen and should be used in conjunction with her; and the powers reference is the text for the racial powers in monster stat form.
Xenomorph powers
Xenomorph drone
Xenomorph soldier


  1. Nice, but a few comments:

    * Characters technically always know they're infected by a disease, especially if they were conscious when the facehugger stuffed something down their throat. (Rules Compendium pg 90). As such, the disease second stage should have some additional penalty (modern interpretations mention feeling something squirm inside or sapping energy - perhaps -2 to endurance checks.)
    * Xenomorph Warror has something that negates a curse - 4e doesn't technically use curses as a normal attack. If you meant something like Warlock's Curse, said Warlock could just put it back on without issue.

    1. I'm fine with the character knowing they have an alien inside them, mostly because the tools to safely remove it are not present in a low-tech fantasy world (or at least not accessible until higher levels).

      I do indeed mean Warlock's Curse. I know the warlock can put it back; a fighter or paladin can also easily re-mark. The point is to potentially avoid a little damage and to waste actions re-applying, especially when you consider that every warrior in the fight gets to clear marks/curses at the same time.