Build a Better Monster: Skeletal Hoplite

by northernbeholder

This week’s creature is demonstrating taking advantage of two key elements of Pathfinder: Class Archetypes (that is, alternate class bonuses, typically allowing greater specialization) and Teamwork Feats (feats that must be held by two or more creatures working together).

These are two elements not always exploited by players, especially teamwork feats; it’s rare enough to get two characters filling roughly the same role, let alone class, and so typically they will eschew teamwork feats (which require them to coordinate closely) in favour of the more traditional feats that enhance only themselves.  As the GM, however, you are already having most of your creatures coordinate and work together, and so teamwork feats can greatly enhance the effectiveness of those groups – as long as they’re intelligent enough to justify it.

Skeletal Hoplite

This ancient warrior raises its shield and spear once more, advancing in formation with its brethren.

Skeletal Hoplite (CR 6)
XP 2,400
Human skeletal champion phalanx soldier 6
NE Medium Undead
Init +5; Senses darkvision 60ft; Perception +12

AC 25, touch 14, flat-footed 21 (+6 armour, +3 dex, +2 natural, +3 shield, +1 dodge); +2 shield AC when adjacent to another Skeletal Hoplite
hp 50 (8 HD; 2d8+6d10+8)
Fort +7  Ref +6  Will +5; channel resistance +4
DR 5/bludgeoning; Immune cold, undead traits

Speed 30ft
Melee mwk longspear +14/+9 (1d8+5/x3); spiked shield +12/+7 (1d6+5/x3); shortsword +12/+7 (1d6+5/19-20×2)

Str 20, Dex 16,  Con -, Int 9, Wis 10, Cha 12
Base Atk +7/+2; CMB +12; CMD 25
Feats Improved Initiative, Combat Reflexes, Shield Focus, Improved Shield Bash, Shield Wall, Shield Slam, Dodge, Weapon Focus (longspear)
Class Stand Firm, Phalanx Fighting, Ready Pike
Skills Intimidate +11, Perception +12, Stealth +4

Environment any
Organization platoon (3-12)
Treasure standard (breastplate, heavy steel spiked shield, masterwork longspear, shortsword, archaic crested helmet, other treasure)

This creature came about when my players, hovering around level 7-8, headed off to explore a ruined fortress being used as a base by local necromancers.  As befitting a fortress, I had a dungeon layout with many twisting, narrow corridors circling a large central chamber, and wanted to confront the party with creatures that could take advantage of this environment.  Wanting undead creatures that could react intelligently, take class levels, but not overly inflate CR with inherent abilities, I decided upon Skeletal Champions (Bestiary, pg 252).

Having had previous success with reach weapons, I decided to design a creature that would operate in formation to present a solid wall of AC and pikes to my melee-heavy group of player characters, while using the cramped confines of the dungeon to make flanking attempts difficult. Shield Focus and Dodge contributed to that, as did Shield Wall, a teamwork feat that grants +2 shield AC when adjacent to an ally using a heavy shield. Shield Slam and Improved Shield Bash combined to allow the hoplites to shove players away from close melee range, and Combat Relfexes ensured that a mass charge against their formation would meet with painful results.  Finally, the Phalanx Soldier archetype abilities of Phalanx Fighting and Ready Pike granted the ability to use longspear and shield simultaneously, and to brace their weapons against a charge as an immediate action.

Tactics to employ were simple; stay in formation and either advance or withdraw as necessary to keep the players within piking range.  Attempting to five-foot-step through the threatened area as presented by the pikes would first require the players to stop in the area and move again on their following turn, which allowed the hoplites to get in several free stabs and then step back, repeating the process.  Attempting to charge or move normally through the threatened area would trigger several attacks of opportunity, after which the formation would attempt to Shield Slam the players (causing damage and triggering a Bull Rush attempt) and then step back, presenting the threatened area of pikes once more.

The players, to counter this, would have to either burn through the higher-level area-of-effect spells of their sorceror and cleric, or react intelligently and find alternate routes in order to flank the formation and close in, preventing it from constantly withdrawing, forcing the skeletons to resort to shortswords, and attempting to break the group apart.  Additionally, this would allow them to take out the support units; low-level skeletal clerics that were hiding behind the hoplites and healing the formation as best they could, while also tossing the occasional debuff towards the players.  This too was incorporated into the dungeon design, and any room that contained a hoplite formation had multiple entrances to allow the party to split up and launch an assault from several angles – once they had found the right route.

As an element of psychological warfare, I also had small groups of standard Skeletal Champions (CR 2 warriors) scattered throughout the dungeon, armed with more conventional melee weapons such as short swords and scimitars but attired identically to the Hoplites, complete with spiked shields, breastplates and crested helmets.  These more low-level enemies were the first they encountered, and gave them a false impression of their new foes – one that was quickly expelled when Yveliah, the dwarven fighter, charged the formation and was skewered upon multiple longspears.  Although they nearly lost two more dragging him to safety, they quickly adapted, and left the cleric Belisarius and ranger Tydus fighting a holding action in the doorway while the rest found their way through the corridors (and another, smaller encounter) to the second doorway, opening a flank and allowing them to surround and overwhelm the hoplites after a close and bitter struggle.