Monster Analysis: Trickfoot Curse

Thanks to @BrinMataujall for this art piece!

  • First Appearance: 96 Family Matters
  • Armor Class: Unknown
  • Unknown to Hit
  • Immune to Unseen Damage
  • 413 damage dealt, total HP unknown

The Trickfoot family name has a long and checkered past. In the words of Ogden Trickfoot:

"Over four centuries ago, when our kin still occupied the city of Witterbach, up in the Cliffkeep Mountains, long before our bloodline took the name Trickfoot, there was a wily rock gnome called O.G. Pipemender. Now, O.G. grew jealous of his brother, Lons, and his business’ success and his marriage, apparently. So, seeking a means of balancing their standing, bringing Lons down a peg or two, O.G. plotted to undermine, shame his brother, and destroy his life. Now, he was successful in this plot, at least from what I’ve gleaned. Lons was ruined, but not before it was revealed to Lons that O.G. himself was the culprit.

Now, cornered and fearing for his life, O.G. lashed out and slew his brother. He fled Witterbach and wandered the mountains for weeks, scavenging to survive. On a full moon, he was visited by a vision of what is believed to be the Lawbearer, Erathis herself. At least, an aspect of her, at the very least. Now, this grave injustice he had committed did not go unnoticed by the Lawbearer and it required punishment. And a curse was set within the very blood of O.G. himself. One that lay dormant from generation to generation, unless those carrying the seed fell to extreme selfishness and wanton destruction of others.

Now, we Trickfoots may not have the best reputation, but what we do, we do it to survive. And we hurt no other in the process. Those that wander too far into the dark call up this curse and the shades within them slowly hollow them out, leaving a ravenous, selfish beast of a gnome."

The shadowy entity demonstrated the ability to attack all enemies in melee with it in a single action, striking out at Grog, Trinket, Percy, Doty, and Vax. Unlike past encounters, the Trickfoot Curse Monster was immune to ranged physical and spell attacks. Despite its demonic-like presence, Divine Smite dealt no extra damage. Keyleth creatively used Moonbeam to force the monster to reveal its true self if it was a shapeshifter, but to no avail. Its strange immunity to damage dealt by some party members and not others at certain times and not others provided a wrinkle as they sought to determine the cause of this discrepancy mid-combat...

The Encounter

Thanks to @artsyneurotic for this art piece!

Okay, by now you probably know the creature’s true form. Here’re the real stats on a Major Illusion:

  • First Appearance: 74 Path of Brass
  • Armor Class: 1 (Nat1s included)
  • -20 to hit (Nat20s included)
  • Immune to damage
  • No HP
    • 413 appeared to hit
    • 455 total damage to the air

Being an illusion, it neither dealt nor took damage of any kind. Mercer obscured the being’s absence by describing the characters “swiping through a cloud” and “disturbing the mists.” Even though they literally felt nothing, Ogden’s mental commands to the illusion to respond fed the adventurer’s continued drive to finish this unknown, elusive spirit they were told was after their cleric. Even the attacks that hit but did not receive a response only added to the mystery, forcing the party to re-evaluate their attacks before figuring out that the being’s inability to hit coincided with the instances it should have been hit before.

Ogden's insistence that the curse only targeted the greedy makes much more sense after his rant that Pike didn't send enough riches. Potentially, this was part of a ruse to get her to give even more away to combat the accusation that she was greedy, although Vox Machina’s assurance that Pike was already a very generous individual likely obscured Ogden’s attempted “lesson.” In the end, the Trickfoots lost JB and Ogden’s Staff of Major Illusion, but still walked away with Pike’s purse... and a promise to be killed on sight if Pike or Whitestone ever saw them again.

Designing the encounter

This fight gets significantly more fun when we take a seat in the DM’s chair. Before we can even get to a fight like this in the first place where the player characters spend a full round blasting every possible ability at their disposal before even attempting to question the creature’s existence, it’s vitally important to set the stage.

  • No one had Understand Language or Tongues to check Ogden’s spoken ruse (and Ogden stayed out of the Hallowed circle in case Pike chose Tongues).
  • Despite being on their guard, the party’s insight checks were directed at the wrong intentions. Even if it’s the right intentions, a high roll can pick up on a series of clues, red herrings included.
  • Everyone was willing to sacrifice everything for one party member who, despite her initial skepticism, was ready to see the good in everyone.
  • The DM made every action and dice roll appear to have equal worth and importance. A strong poker face didn’t hurt, but we can see Matt write down numbers and mutter dice rolls to himself as if he was actually attempting to do math in his head. Even when Vex decided it was time to attempt an investigation check on the feeble “creature,” Matt’s demeanor gave this option the same gravity as any of the previous actions. He didn’t tell them it was a good decision to look; they could certainly try.
  • The encounter was turned into a puzzle, and forced a party that is used to dealing and receiving mass amounts of damage to reconsider the effectiveness of their strategy. Despite key clues such as Doty's Natural 1 appearing to have affected the creature, these tidbits were buried under red herrings the party was already looking for, such as Doty's positioning when the attack took place.

Ultimately, the DM has a lot of control by using both the players' understanding of the game and their understanding of how the DM usually operates against them. Additionally, the DM can always use their natural cognitive biases against them (illusory correlation for what is and isn't working, self-serving bias on successful attacks, optimism bias for being The All-Powerful Protagonists, etc). And we won't pretend not to have fallen victim to hindsight bias. ;)