An encounter with a colossal crab and its sahuagin tamers, designed for an 8th-to-10th-level party of 4 characters with stat blocks for D&D 5E.
Hazardous coastal cliffs have protected the town of Prizewater from recent sahuagin attacks, but there are rumors that the latter have tamed a beast that can overcome this disadvantage. If they were to scale the rocks with such a monster, Prizewater would be defenseless. But why are they attacking? There is little time to find out and placate the sahuagin before the only option becomes facing them and whatever terrible creature they command.
Crushed Atop the Cliffs
The town of Prizewater has ever owed much of its safety and prosperity to the nearby Prizewater Cliffs. The dangerous, unpredictable waters are popular for smugglers whose boats can maneuver where larger vessels cannot. But many of these shady sailors underestimate the power of the currents and find themselves crushed against the rocks, their ships and cargo broken apart and swept into channels between them. What remains of them is ejected amidst the released pressure of the geysers and left on the plateau above, waiting to be scavenged by the residents of Prizewater.
This business, however legally questionable, is a lucrative source of additional gold for Prizewater that has rarely earned it much attention or aggression. That is until now. Not half a month ago, nearby sahuagin began acting especially aggressively towards the people of Prizewater and anyone else that strays along the coast. Unbeknownst to the people, the attacks seek only to reclaim what was taken from them: a ceremonial idol that was stolen by pirates, whose watery fate led to the idol falling into the hands of a scavenger and being brought to Prizewater. The idol is still in town but its unique value means that whichever merchant has it is unlikely to confess or relinquish the treasure.
For the moment, the Prizewater Cliffs have protected the town by forcing the sahuagin to approach from safer inlets where Prizewater’s lacking militia force possesses every advantage possible. But recently, a survivor of an attacked ship has spoken of a beast, commanded by the sahuagin, that cut his boat to pieces and scaled rocks without effort. If such a creature is under the sahuagin’s command, it is only a matter of time before they use it to scale Prizewater Cliffs and attack Prizewater where it is weakest. Whether the sahuagin are stopped and their beast slain, or the idol is returned to them, something must be done.
The roaring of distant waves and the salty spray of sea air greet you as the cliffs’ edge comes into sight. The sand and rocks come to an abrupt stop, dropping into an endless blue horizon. Small shrubs dot the edges of the plateau’s rocks, between which sand has collected, glittering in the light. Looking across the stone, you also notice holes descending into the cliff. Another wave crashes and, a moment later, the holes expel rushing columns of water that reach into the sky before dissipating. The cold vapor falls and is dispersed by wind, though for a moment you see small objects dropping into the sand.
The Prizewater Cliffs are locally infamous for the geysers created from the pressure of waves forcing water through tunnels in the stone. These eruptions are often inconsistent but always dangerous. They also have a habit of carrying the ravaged remains of ships, cargo, and even sailors that were thrashed against the rocks below. Whatever is swept up through the geysers then drops onto the plateau, free to be scavenged. Unfortunately, the debris also makes the geyser eruptions even more dangerous than they already were.
Erupting geysers. Each geyser shaft descends 80 feet before reaching water and between 20 and 40 feet further beneath the surface, curving out of the cliff’s face. Their walls are slick, eroded stone, requiring a successful DC 15 Strength (Athletics) check to climb.
The geysers erupt on initiative count 20 (losing initiative ties). Any creature within the space of a geyser when it erupts takes 5d6 slashing damage and must make a DC 15 Strength saving throw or be thrown 10 feet into the air above the geyser, landing 15 feet away in a random direction.
Falling into and being in the space of a geyser when it erupts is dangerous, even for the toughest adventurers. This makes it important to be fair about characters when a character can avoid some or all of the damage. If a character is thrown or falls into one of the holes, consider allowing them a Dexterity saving throw to minimize how far they fall, depending on the result of their roll. Likewise, if a character is on the edge of a geyser and can move freely, you could change their Strength saving throw to a Dexterity saving throw and allow it to halve the damage they take on a success. Use your best judgment based on the character’s position and ability to move while being sure to avoid over-complicating the mechanics, for your and your players’ sake.
Scattered treasures. The sand on the plateau is littered with coins and other small treasures that were shot out from the geysers. A character that spends ten minutes searching the sand can make a DC 12 Intelligence (Investigation) or Wisdom (Perception) check to gather an amount of gold and gems, depending on the result of their check. On a success, the character finds Xd10 gp in gold and silver coins and assorted small gems, where X is the result of their check divided by 2.
Feel free to add whatever else you want to the treasure in the sands. You might include a small magic item for a character that rolls particularly well, or even something that could kick off an entirely new story. Maybe the party finds a cryptic pirate map leading to treasures unknown?
Map & Asset Downloads
‘Crushed Atop the Cliffs‘ is designed to use a combination of our Crab Rock and Colossal Crab assets. We also have a number of other maps, packs, and even encounters that would be perfect for facing down sahuagin and their ferocious crustacean…
Sahuagin Raiding Party
A raiding party of sahuagin has scaled the cliffs with the use of new tools and their secret weapon: a colossal crab under the control of their leader. The beast could easily cut a path through Prizewater and will be a challenging fight, even for an organized adventuring group. But the party must also be wary of the sahuagin themselves, who are well prepared and raring for a fight.
The sound of shifting, grinding stones drones through the white noise of the ocean. Its source looms over the cliff edge as enormous, armored legs pull an even larger crab onto the plateau, each step cracking into the cliff face and ground. With every movement, the creature’s thick shell plates scrape together like a golem formed of the ocean floor. Its right claw guards its body with a bladed pincer larger than several carts combined. The beast releases a quaking, guttural trill, and continues forward.
The sahuagin’s colossal crab was found in the depths of the nearby ocean. Tamed by the sahuagin with help from the sahuagin seabinder’s trident of fish command, the crab now acts as their secret weapon in assaulting ships and scaling the Prizewater Cliffs to attack Prizewater where it is most vulnerable. It protects its riders while using its own massive claws to easily cleave through anything or anyone in its way.
The crab is a dangerous companion to the sahuagin but the use of the trident’s dominate beast spell in its taming has left a weakness in the beast’s loyalty. Once the crab has lost over half of its maximum hit points (reduced to 58 hit points or lower), it begins to act more wildly and disobey the sahuagin seabinder’s commands. The binder must attempt Wisdom (Animal Handling) checks or use the trident to take control of the crab or risk it fleeing the battle. This magical domination can be broken by the crab taking additional damage and succeeding on its saving throw. If the binder is unable to dominate the crab, it attempts to escape and may attack anyone that tries to stop it, including its masters.
The crab’s ability to resist the sahuagin helps balance the encounter for parties who might not normally be able to take on the combined CR of the crab and raiding party. This is important due to the greater numbers of the sahuagin. You can use the crab to lower the difficulty during the encounter by controlling when and how it fights its magical restraints. If the characters are immediately overwhelmed by the raiders and look like they won’t have much chance to turn the tide or escape, consider hastening the crab’s rebellion to shift the encounter into a three-way fight. Be sure to also describe the crab’s reaction when it takes damage to hint that it is trying to resist.
If the opposite is true and the party quickly dispatch the sahuagin vanguard, you might instead have the seabinder call an earlier retreat to come back with more soldiers (see the ‘The Raiding Party’s Tactics’ section). You could even use this to turn the seabinder into a repeated rival for the party with an increasingly personal vendetta against them, who grows stronger and smarter after each confrontation!
Hunched, fish-like humanoids skulk forward carrying weapons of gnarled wood, kelp, and coral. They wear little armor, save for decorative shells, cloths, and other trophies, though their thick musculature and sharp teeth and claws appear to more than make up for it. The largest of the group wears a mantle of skulls and other bones from creatures too deep in the seas for you to recognize. It carries a shell horn in one hand and a trident, encrusted with various oceanic growth, in its other.
The raiding party consists of four sahuagin, two sahuagin raiders, and a single sahuagin seabinder. Two of the sahuagin wear harnesses tied with 15-foot ropes to a small spike driven into the center of the crab’s back. They each carry a spear and a bundle of six javelins. The sahuagin raiders each move with another sahuagin at the crab’s front, acting as a vanguard but allowing them to take cover behind its claws to protect against ranged attacks. The sahuagin seabinder rides the crab near the front of its shell and wields a trident of fish command.
The sahuagin’s Blood Frenzy ability allows them to punch well above their weight in terms of offensive power, which already strains the balance of the CR system. When creating the sahuagin raider, an even stronger melee unit, this meant that only the smallest increase could be given to their Strength score. Improving their damage output or granting them more abilities would only exaggerate their advantage. Instead, the raiders have supplemented their defense with a shield, greater Constitution, and a Second Wind, while their heightened Wisdom score grants them better judgment and planning on the battlefield.
The Raiding Party’s Tactics
In combat, the colossal crab acts as a mobile battle platform and the center of the sahuagin’s tactics. Two sahuagin and the sahuagin seabinder attack from its back, the latter also issuing commands. This allows the crab to grant them cover by moving its enormous claws between them and enemies and repositioning them by moving around the battlefield. The accompanying sahuagin raiders and their partners can receive the same cover, though their greater individual strength makes them more capable of rushing their prey. This relationship is symbiotic, as the crab’s importance to their attack means that the sahuagin also act to protect it. The raiders attack any ranged targets, spellcasters, or anything else that might be able to harm the crab and its riders. Any frontline fighters must face down the crab itself. Those atop the beast are able to aid any of their allies who need it from relative safety, avoiding any direct or close-ranged combat.
The sahuagin are furious and determined but are still intelligent. The group, particularly the leading sahuagin seabinder, will not sacrifice their lives in a losing battle. If they judge the battle to be a lost cause, the sahuagin raiders retreat to the crab’s protection and help cover their escape back over the cliff. This is most likely to happen if half or more of their units are killed and the seabinder and crab are badly injured. As long as the crab remains alive, the sahuagin are able to return with reinforcements.
Did the crab and any sahuagin escape? Unless the party plans on pursuing them, the sahuagin are likely to attack again with additional troops. This gives the characters time to find other solutions, such as recovering the idol, while also raising the stakes for if they can take another, tougher battle. A second raiding party will look to cover the weaknesses of the first. This could mean bringing additional sahuagin raiders, more of their own ranged attackers, or even extra giant crabs to swarm their opponents. Think about how they would adapt to overcome the party’s abilities and tactics in their first fight.
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