In keeping with the theme of indigenous monsters, I wanted to talk a little bit about one of my all time favorite monsters – the stirge.
These pests work great as indigenous monsters and are an excellent addition to almost any random encounter table. Of course, in my games these guys are less of a swamp-based nuisance and more of an “any temperate” sort of monster, making them a bit more ubiquitous. It’s the sort of creature that is perfect for plaguing frontier regions and old ruins – you know, the sort of places that adventurers find themselves in on a daily basis. You can find these guys pretty much anywhere you find a hornet’s nest, and a good low-level adventure involving these critters could be as simple as clearing them out of an old barn for a local farmer.
One of my favorite things about stirges is how well they scale. Stirges can remain a relevant threat to characters for a wide range of levels without too much difficulty just by adjusting their numbers slightly. They are particularly deadly to lightly armored characters, and wizards in particular, due to their ability to largely ignore party formations and the swarming, leaching nature of their attacks. Like I said: what’s not to love?
However, one or two of these creatures are usually little more than a nuisance – the sort of thing that a hearty, non-adventuring, frontiersman sort of fellow could probably fend off or even shoo away. This ability for “normal people” to deal with a creature is an important factor to consider when you think about making a monstrous creature more common and indigenous to your world. In fact, it might take some doing, but a determined group of settlers could probably rid a newly settled area of a few stirge nests without too much difficulty. That being said though, these creatures quickly become deadly if they catch you unawares and their numbers swell from one or two to five or six, or twenty. It’s the difference between knowing where a hornet nest is – and then taking steps to remove it – or disturbing one accidentally. Only instead of bees with stingers you find yourself being swarmed by foot long mosquitoes.
I take pride in the fact that my players will check out the attic of an abandoned house to make sure it isn’t infested with stirges before they decide to camp in it for the night; it’s just one more little thing that helps make the fantastic feel like a real part of the world that the characters inhabit. And even though they curse and swear at me while their characters are rolling around on the ground being bled dry by four or five proboscis-deep bloodthirsty monsters, I can tell they love it too.