Monster Analysis: Androsphinx

Thanks to @Mikandii for this art piece!

  • First Appearance: 49 A Name is Earned
  • Armor Class 17
  • Speed 40 ft, Fly 60 ft
  • Truesight 120 ft, Passive 20
  • Immune to Psychic and nonmagical physical damage
  • Immune to charmed and frightened
  • Lair and Legendary Actions
  • Suggested average, max HP: 199, 285
  • 94 damage taken before the encounter ended

“I can show you. But all great knowledge should not be given. It must be proven. It must be earned. It must be EARNED."

Sphinxes are the guardians of secrets and treasures of the gods. Neutral in disposition, sphinxes present their trials fairly to the righteous and the unrighteous alike. Their minds are shielded against those who would attempt to pry or divine a solution from them, and even those who attempt to gain insight into a sphinx’s already solid impassivity will find their insight checks at disadvantage. Even if the sphinx is defeated in combat, the treasure that it guards will remain locked away from the victors. Only by solving the posed riddle will the celestial's secret be revealed.

Osysa the gynosphinx represented the goddess of knowledge, Ioun. She confirmed to Vox Machina that her mate does not serve Ioun directly, and Kamaljiori said that “[Ioun] is beyond me.” However, the volume of Ioun symbols near and in the androsphinx’s lair points to at least his fealty to the deity of knowledge.

The Might of the Wise

After issuing the challenge of the riddle, Kamaljiori himself began assaulting the party with his magic, his physical might, and his roar.

The roar of an androsphinx carries its own power, stretching out to 500 ft, with each subsequent roar gaining more force and effects with each subsequent failed save (DC 18 Wisdom save). His first roar frightened all who failed the save. Those who were still under the fear effect and failed his second save found themselves also deaf. Had he opted to roar a third time, anyone who could still hear would take 8d10 thunder damage and be knocked prone should they fail the save (or half as much damage on a success).

The lair of a sphinx exists outside of time and space as mortals are familiar with them. Of the four possible lair actions, the two he used were the kindest available. Those who failed a DC 15 Con Save found themselves aged forward a number of years determined by a D20, reversible by a Greater Restoration spell, as we saw with Vex’ahlia and Vax’ildan. (Scanlan and Grog also fell victim to this effect, and it was confirmed in a much later Q&A that they recovered their lost years during their several-day trek back to the Westruun refugee camp.)

Kamaljiori also invoked the lair action to alter everyone’s initiative scores (much to Laura’s initial delight, then chagrin, then delight again). Lair actions he did not invoke (as they would have been counter to the intent of the challenge) were sending everyone in the lair 10 years forwards or backwards through time, and teleporting himself and seven creatures to another plane of existence (and returning some or all of the teleported creatures back with him to his lair as a bonus action).

In addition to his own turn, Kamaljiori made total use of his legendary actions each round. Initially, he used all three points to bring down a Flame Strike (one of MANY spells at his disposal). He also used two points in the third round to teleport (which Scanlan failed to counter). The rest of the rounds, he used each of his actions to deal his powerful claw attacks against those unfortunate enough to be near him (including a blow that knocked Vex unconscious). 

In addition to his own strength, the party also had to fend off the periodic appearance of psychic spiders, which apparated in long enough to attack. Those that managed to hit their target would disappear into mist, while those that missed or were not cut down by Vox Machina stuck around to be a problem for the next round.

The Riddle

Knowledge dost billow,
All realms the shore.
The sky is a window,
The water a door.

Betwixt the chaos, our order reigns.
The ones who made us refined the planes.
As ages die, their time an ember,
The four endure, the four remember.

The puzzle was clearly stated at the start of the encounter, the clues were laid out with appropriate obstacles before them, the damage taken over time increased urgency, and the solution had been tantalizingly absent for 28 episodes after Osysa mentioned her mate in passing. Combine the final tension of limited guesses, jumbled clues, and inner party drama hindering Vox Machina’s ability to solve the puzzle and stop the assault, and suddenly we have one heck of a encounter that cannot be won by literal brute force.

The clues were also aided by the puzzles required to reach the core chambers. The elemental theme followed Vox Machina throughout their journey through the temple:

  • a water-based challenge requiring Keyleth to use Control Water to guide the party through a paralyzing seaweed-infested lake to a submerged entrance;
  • a series of four columns that had to be touched by their element to open the way forward;
  • and an earth-based challenge requiring the party to flee from sand filling the column chamber.

Once Vox Machina were challenged by Kamaljiori to earn his name, they quickly discovered portals leading to different elemental planes, in keeping with the theme of The Four. Each element required a small sacrifice from each participant as the sought the letters, mostly in the form of HP. Keyleth’s Fire Elemental form showed that, with a little clever thinking, these minor sacrifices could be mitigated or reduced.

From a meta-game perspective, this puzzle was just as stimulating from the bleachers. Critters who watched live joined forces to hungrily piece whatever clues we could gather in attempts to solve the riddle. Twitch, Twitter, Reddit, and Tumblr alike set to work throwing out theories as the players worked with their own. Once the whispers started coming, the moment of revelation came shortly afterward as the puzzle shifted from “How the hell are we supposed to guess?” to “WE'VE ALMOST GOT IT!”

Vox Machina

Thanks to doodling-days for this art piece!

Grog and Vax’s initial reaction was to attack the androsphinx directly. One of Grog’s assaults put the final point of necessary strength into Craven Edge, leading to the reveal of the sword’s ultimate form (and the costs of this form shortly thereafter). Grog’s disadvantage on ability checks to get Craven to this point were painfully apparent in this encounter.

Scanlan attempted to contain the sphinx in a resilient orb, who barely evaded the effect. The gnome spent most of the battle in a supportive role, healing and using cutting words as he was able.

Vex was the first through a portal, discovering the letters KA in the Plane of Water (and taking some cold damage for her trouble). Percy shouted for someone to “look into the wind” and then shoved his head into the Plane of Earth for the letters JI (and some crushing damage). Keyleth utilized her fire elemental form to stick her head into the Plane of Fire to find the letters MAL (after confirming that she would take fire damage with her hand).

The Plane of Air proved a bit more difficult. No damage was dealt to those who jumped in, but there was no means to return to the entrance without assistance. Grog tried to use the Chain of Returning and a thrown Craven Edge to give himself a way back into the Material Plane, skewering Pike in the process. The resulting shock caused him to delay telling Vox Machina the final letters, ratcheting up the tension even further.

Once the final letters were obtained, it took Percy a full two rounds to shout several jumbled up versions of Kamajiori’s name before landing on the correct one. Upon success, both the Sphinx and his lair ceased aggression before he calmly granted them both the knowledge they sought and the second of the Vestiges.

With Mythcarver granted to the party's bard and a longer list distributed to the party (and unwittingly, to rivals listening in), the hunt for the Vestiges of Divergence began, with access to the lair disappearing with both its physical and intangible loot.