Monster Analysis: Fire Giant + Ember Roc + Gatekeeper Xanthas

Thanks to @BrinMataujall for the art!

We’re reaching a unique point in Matt’s campaign where the RAW stats and abilities are just not enough of a challenge for Vox Machina. Thus, we’re seeing more and more original abilities implemented in addition to augmented numbers. Part of this can be attributed to his creating new encounters for his upcoming book. We mostly attribute it to the fact that, by this point in the campaign, it’s just way more fun to add entirely new abilities to old monsters that result in entirely new challenges and encounters.

Fire Giant

  • First Appearance: 75 Where the Cards Fall
  • Encounter Appearance: 77 Clash at Daxio
  • Armor Class <21 (suggested 18)
  • Speed 30 ft
  • Immune to fire damage
  • Suggested Average, Max HP: 162, 234
  • 364 taken, 64 HDYWTDT by Vax’ildan

Vox Machina’s first direct encounter with fire giants began with the party’s foray into the City of Brass. Fire giants are masters over metalwork and warfare, with a long history of disciplined training and shrewd tactics. The fact that so many fire giants fell to the efreeti speaks to the influence that the traitorous few had in the war. Fire giants are not known for their arcane abilities, but Juuraiel appears to be the exception to this rule.

The fire giants that occupy Emon allied themselves with Thordak during the dragon’s exile into the Plane of Fire. The unnamed fire giant general from this encounter came to crush what little resistance Thordak perceived at Fort Daxio, sending in a squadron of wyverns and lizardmen to dispatch the initial troops before coming in to finish the charge at the signal of her elven scout (more on him later).

For the most part, the General herself appeared to mostly match the abilities of the standard fire giant, at least in terms of physical abilities. Instead of the textbook greatsword, her Great Maul (which is longer than Grog is tall) dealt comparable damage to the textbook greatsword. Where she differed, however, is her rechargeable Flaming Anger. Unfortunately for her (but VERY fortunate for Keyleth), the General’s single demonstration of the ability took out a wyvern by means of a Natural 1. Based on the description before the roll, we can assume that she channeled enhanced strength by flame into a single attack.

Ember Roc

  • First Encounter: 77 Clash at Daxio
  • Armor Class 14
  • Speed 120 ft (flying)
  • Immune to fire damage
  • 262 taken, 33 HDYWTDT by Grog and Pike

While rocs are common in D&D lore (as well as Arabic mythology), the ember roc is an all new creation. The Monster Manual (p260) tells us that Annam, the father of giant gods, created rocs to assist the giants in the war against dragons. With the end of the war, the majority of rocs were released into the wild. Should a fire giant acquire a series of rocs, it would make sense that they would eventually be bred to have an affinity for the same flame as their masters.

It used its rechargeable ability (Inferno) to burn anything within a specified radius. In spite of recharging after use in the second round, the ability seemed to be most effective when the ember roc was surrounded. As this was not the case for most of the battle, it instead relied primarily on its multiattack (one bite, two claws), of which Pike received the brunt. Those who were too close to it also took bonus fire damage at the start of their turns.

Gatekeeper Xanthas

  • First Appearance: 13 Escape from the Underdark
  • Encounter Appearance: 77 Clash at Daxio
  • Armor Class ≤ 15
  • Speed 30 ft
  • 6th level caster, DC 19
  • 151 damage taken, 17 killing blow by Vex'ahlia

Xanthas was a sniveling bureaucratic sycophant in the Alabaster Lyceum in the Traverse Junction of Emon before the Conclave struck, instructing the party to fill out paperwork for use of the teleportation circles. Since Thordak’s occupation, however, it seems that he chose to ally himself with the new regime, transitioning from a mere annoyance to a legitimate threat.

We know that he infiltrated the fort, used a wand to Feeblemind Allura, and managed to summon the wyvern riders once the fort’s strongest arcane threat had been removed. We can’t know how many people he killed before Vox Machina intervened (outside of the two guards they watched die), but he had been in the fray long enough to have bloodied robes. Once he was certain a portion of the fort was secure, he set off a beacon to summon the general.

Vex’s Bramble Shot successfully pinned him for the first round, but, in the second, he managed to successfully get off a Dominate Person spell on Vex in return. Despite being unable to make her fall to her death, he did manage to sink 34 damage through her into Grog as Vox Machina dealt with the physically larger threats. On his own, he also dealt some hefty damage by means of Chain Lightning and Fireball for a total of 206 damage, including 50 fire damage to temporarily KO Pike (who was saved by her Plate of the Dawnmartyr).

Outside of Vex’s initial attack, Xanthas went damage-free for the first four rounds as he darted into cover between rounds. Only with Kima’s critical intervention to knock him out in the open did Xanthas finally get the full attention he deserved.

The Battle

In addition to the battle with the three major players, the wider siege still raged around them. Half of the party had to devote a portion of their time fending off wyverns and their riders, as well as assisting the Daxio soldiers in their fight. Once Vox Machina was able to pull Xanthas’ attention away from them, the soldiers managed to pull their weight.

Keyleth shined in her primary role as crowd control, incinerating 12 lizardmen with the Spire of Conflux and ensuring that their raw numbers would not take the fort. Her tidal wave knocked over and dealt a bit of damage to both the giant and roc, forcing them to waste half a turn’s movement getting up, and allowing Grog an additional attack on the giant. In her elemental form, she also kept both the wyverns and the giant and roc’s attention divided, allowing them to be picked apart by the respective parties facing them. (It should also be noted that her elemental form protected her against the wyverns’ poison damage, a VERY useful feature!).

Scanlan’s Bigby’s Hand was responsible for a large amount of early damage against the giant, and also helped keep more soldiers to fight another day. Pike started out with the Cure Wounds, then focused damage on the Ember Roc. Vax and Grog focused most of their damage on the giant. Grog also successfully taunted the giant to focus most of her attacks on his beefy self. Even his role as the damage sponge for Vex’s dominated attacks proved invaluable, as not many other party members could have withstood her assault.

Percy set a personal record with four misfires in the course of the battle (3 with Animus, 1 with Bad News). Overall, he dealt 166 damage to enemies, and 25 damage to himself. Vex fared a little better by dealing 103 damage to the wyverns and lizardmen before the main encounter, and 61 total damage to Xanthas at the start and end of the encounter. Even relatively out of play for a large portion of the big battle, the ranged members still found a way to contribute.

Kima’s late entry may not have contributed very strongly to the battle mechanically speaking, but her appearance and righteous fury provided a much-appreciated morale boost. In addition to knocking Xanthas from his hiding spot, Kima’s critical hit (wielding the Holy Avenger Longsword that Vox Machina gave her) freed Vex from her domination, allowing the ranger to get in her last words before planting an arrow into the traitor’s face.

It should be kept in mind that all of this occurred with only a short rest after defeating a Pit Fiend. While this was by no means an easy encounter, Vox Machina still managed to maintain the upper hand by a series of (mostly) fortunate rolls and effective divide-and-conquer tactics.