Piercer, I hardly even knew her

Let’s talk about a classic D&D monster: the piercer.  For those who don’t know (c’mon, go get your monster manual out), this is a monster that basically looks like a stalactite and hangs out waiting for its unwary victim to walk underneath it and then drops down to impale the poor sap.  I had one of these show up in the AD&D game I ran last HelgaCon, but it made only a very brief appearance.  The thing missed its target, who happened to be standing on a ledge above a massive chasm, and thus disappeared into the blackness below never to be seen again.

Now let’s get one thing straight, I actually rather like this bizarre monster.  Players never think to look up, and you can only throw so many giant geckos and giant spiders at a party.  However, I have a logistical problem with the thing.  Basically, the question is, what happens on round 2?  Whether the thing hits or misses on its surprise attack, what happens next?  Does it continue to attack?  If it missed, what form does that attack take?  If not, what happens to it?  Does it just lie there and take a beating?

Anyone have any experience with these things, any good stories to share or advice on how to run them?

8 thoughts on “Piercer, I hardly even knew her

  1. I also love monsters that drop from above. The versions of stalactite-resembling monsters I use, though, can “unwrap” to reveal an octopus-like body to attack or run away with. See the 3.5 Darkmantle (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/monsters/darkmantle.htm click on the “eye” logo to see a picture). Osric’s Executioner’s Hood (p. 273) and Lurker Above (p. 282) don’t strictly state that they mimic stalactites, but I run them that way.

  2. Well, maybe the “piercer” refers to the sound it makes as well as it’s “I’m a stalactite AHA FOOLED YOU!” attack. Maybe they’re cave roof dwelling shriekers. Maybe they only drop off if player attack them trying to still the noise. Or maybe the sonic attack is stronger when they’re down on the ground, their cone shaped body becoming like a natural bullhorn.

    You could also change them so that they never actually leave the ceiling by:

    A: Maybe they secrete a detachable shell that can be “reeled in” by webbing or a ligament or something. It’d have the extra horror for the players and benefit for it if it could drag an impaled victim up into the darkness of the cave.

    B: Maybe they don’t actually drop any part of themselves, but instead scuttle around the cieling gnawing or burning thru with acid on natural stalactites, which it then drops as projectiles on victims below.

    Or, maybe instead of being solitary they’re a really freaky type of hive insect, and the drop stabbers, like a honey bee, are meant to die defending the colony.

  3. I think of them as being like barnacles. So, yeah, if they miss, they just “lie there and take it” (with their movement of 1″ in AD&D terms), as it were, as they try to move, snail-like, up the wall back to the ceiling. Note that they appear in groups of 3-18, so there will be a number of them attacking.

  4. I do like the idea of these being a hive-like creature, and their attacks being a defense mechanism to defend the hive. It does mesh with Faoladh’s point of their appearing in large numbers, which actually meshes with other modules I’ve read that include them. The adventure I’m thinking of (Into the Forgotten Realms), is probably unusual including just a single beast.

    Of course, you have to admit that that is a deviation from their Monster Manual description, which says “when a living creature passes beneath their position above they will drop upon it in order to kill and devour it.” Clearly their attack by this description is their means of hunting, not a defense mechanism.

    I suppose one might interpret this as sort of a piranha-like creature swarming their victim in the assumption that each piercer will likely get a bite and the creature will be devoured in whole by the shear numbers they face. I still wonder though about the individual piercer. Once it’s on the ground, does it have to climb back up to the ceiling to make a second attack? Or does it have some kind of bite that it can use on anyone foolish enough to stay within biting range?

  5. I’m not familiar with the stats but it feels like they really count on the ‘ambush’ technique to succeed.

    That being established, I think that with them in colonies they probably succeed pretty regularly, 3-18 dropping on a group of adventurers is pretty devastating.

    Any attacks on the ground, which I assume that they have some sharp, pointy or scratchy bits, should be pretty weak but liable to take a finger/hand off.

    They’re definitely a ‘themed’ creature and making them really nasty while on the ground seems a bit counter to their specialized evolution.

  6. Yeah, my reading has always been that after the drop they’re effectively done. The number appearing, high damage, and hellacious surprise chance are really hardcore. So as a one-shot device I think they’re bad enough.

    The WOTC D&D Alumni column (not sure who wrote it) briefly touches on this: “Of course, while piercers made for effective traps, the ones that fell and missed their prey were all too easily avoided… as hinted by R&D’s Jesse Decker [in 3E], their evolutionary line melded with lurkers above to become darkmantles — holding onto dungeon ceilings in the guise of stalactites with camouflaging powers to match the surrounding stone. Now able to fly, a fallen darkmantle is far from helpless, as opposed to their piercer ancestors. A subtle mention of this appears in the description: ‘Scholars believe the darkmantle has recently evolved from a similar but far less capable subterranean predator.'”


  7. You need to consider the full life cycle, natural history of such a monster. Consider this a part of the reproductive process, how might it work?
    Perhaps, the successful life cycle is that the successful monster quickly assimilates nutrients from the victim, and becomes a large swarm of flying stone bats, or insects, or carnivorous cave crickets or cockroaches/trilobytes. There’s your multi-stage attack. Perhaps if he even wounds you, he is able to reproduce using the blood you spill.

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