“Retriever” is neither a famous name nor a name that strikes fear into the heart. It’s not a name like hydra, dragon, mind flayer, or purple worm.
Nevertheless, these enormous mechanical spiders (technically large, taking up a 10-foot square on the classic battle map) are powerful, resistant to a slew of damage types and conditions, and perfectly designed for retrieving people.
Honestly, “retrievers” is a lackluster name for giant mechanical bounty-hunting spiders. Did I mention they can do magic?
These constructs are not an encounter for the faint of heart or low in level. With a challenge rating of 14, only high-level parties have a good shot of defeating these creatures, though if the party was never meant to win, these steel spiders can be a good, intimidating option.
If you’re interested in spinning a tale with these false spiders, this article has all the information you need.
This metallic spider is potent as one can see from its stats below.
- STR 22 (+6), DEX 16 (+3), CON 20 (+5), INT 3 (-4), WIS 11 (+0), CHA 4 (-3)
- AC: 19 (natural armor)
- Hit points: 20d10+100 (210 avg)
- Speed: 40 ft., climb 40 ft.
- Saving Throws: DEX +8, CON +10, WIS +5
- Skills: Stealth (+8), Perception (+5)
- Senses: Blindsight 30 ft., darkvision 60 ft.
- Damage Immunities: Necrotic, poison, psychic, nonmagical or non-adamantine bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage
- Condition Immunities: Charmed, exhaustion, frightened, paralyzed, poisoned
- Languages: Understands Abyssal, Elvish, and Undercommon but cannot speak
- Challenge Rating: 14
Retriever Abilities and Actions
In addition to these general statistics, a retriever also has several powerful abilities and combat actions.
Retrievers are Faultless Trackers. If given a specific creature or object to track or even a general type of creature or object, then the retriever knows the direction and distance to its new quarry as long as it’s on the same plane of existence as it is. There can be only one quarry for a retriever at a time, but retrievers always know the location of their master.
Retrievers are also Innate Spellcasters, capable of casting two spells at will three times a day each without the need for material components. Retrievers can cast Plane Shift, targeting only themselves and one incapacitated creature (considered willing for the spell), as well as Web. The save DC for Web is 13, and it uses Wisdom to cast spells.
In combat, a retriever’s Multiattack allows it to make two Foreleg attacks and use either its Force Beam or, if available, its Paralyzing Beam.
A retriever’s Foreleg is a melee weapon attack with +11 to hit, 10-feet of reach, and a single target. It does 2d8+6 (avg 15) slashing damage.
The creature’s Force Beam allows the retriever to target a single creature within 60 ft, forcing a DC 16 Dexterity save on punishment of 5d10 (27 avg) force damage. On a successful save, the target still takes half damage.
Finally, the retriever’s Paralyzing Beam also targets a single creature within 60feet. However, it paralyzes its target for 1 minute, unless the target succeeds at a DC 18 Constitution saving throw, with no effect on a success. The creature can repeat the save at the end of each of its turns, overcoming the paralysis on a success.
If the paralyzed creature is Medium or smaller, the retriever can pick it up as part of the retriever’s move, and it can walk and climb with the creature it’s carrying at full speed.
Weirdly, the official rules don’t specify whether the retriever can carry more than one creature without penalty. However, I would recommend not allowing the retriever to carry more than one medium creature or two small creatures at a time without penalty. Remember that the retriever can still only Plane Shift one other incapacitated creature.
Notably, the Paralyzing Beam must be recharged. Once a retriever uses this ability, it cannot do so again unless, at the start of its turn, it rolls a 5 or a 6 on a d6.
Retrievers have been around in some form since 1st edition, so their lore can be a little complex. I’ll, of course, cover the highlights here, but if you want to run these constructs and don’t find the lore to your liking, remember that reflavoring the retrievers is always an option.
Retrievers are mechanical constructs — not just metallic but wholly artificial. They were created by the drow. In D&D 5e, they were used specifically for capturing Abyssal demons for the drow to use in eldritch rituals, but they were so effective at this that they are now used for a variety of purposes.
The retrievers are almost always found in the service of the drow, who are paranoid that the constructs might be used against them. Nevertheless, in some rare cases, a party might come across retrievers directed by a master or masters unknown. Drow are hesitant to the extreme to sell or trade a retriever away to non-drow, but someone clever enough to rewire the constructs and strong enough to capture one might steal a retriever for themselves.
However, players who desire a retriever for themselves should beware, for the constructs hold within themselves the spirit of a bebilith. Bebiliths, powerful and strange spider demons, are a significant magical threat on their own. The spirit of these demons has been infused into the metal and magic of the retriever, so trying to mess with the construct’s construction could be dangerous for players.
Retrievers are not intelligent creatures, but they do make use of stealth tactics and target priority. Their intelligence, or lack of it, is not the same as an animal’s. Instead, it is the intelligence of a machine and of programming, the intelligence given to a construct by a creator, and of course, the cruel instincts given to the retriever by the spirit of the bebilith it is infused with.
This means that a retrieve is capable of using advanced tactics, though it is likely to repeat the same methods in the same situation.
Before we look at how a retriever uses its abilities, we should take a look at a retriever’s goals.
A retriever is not an agent of random chaos. While the bebilith spirit within can drive it to cruelty, this is not why it ventures beyond the lands of the drow. Instead, it is meant to retrieve some creature or object, and it will focus on that goal single-mindedly.
Because retrievers are Faultless Trackers, their ideal mission involves traveling to the desired creature or object, picking it up, and returning. Of course, you don’t send a retriever if you aren’t expecting resistance.
That’s why all retrievers have access to Plane Shift. Once a retriever has physically grabbed the creature or object it has been sent to retrieve, it is very likely to simply Plane Shift away, putting it entirely out of the reach of any resistance.
A retriever’s sole goal is to acquire its target, though sometimes that may involve defeating its enemies. Once it has done so, the construct will flee by any means necessary.
A retriever’s general strategy will revolve around these goals.
For a retriever, with its natural skills tending toward stealth, speed, and mobility, ambush is the way to go. Ambush allows the retriever a surprise round, making it much easier for the retriever to grab its target and flee.
If the retriever has been sent to grab an object that is unattended, the retriever can likely grab the object and flee (probably via Plane Shift). If the object is held, or the retriever is after a creature, a surprise round grants the retriever the opportunity to attack, possibly drop any guards, paralyze its target, and scoop them up. Admittedly, that does not leave an action for Plane Shifting out, but it is an excellent start.
However, this general ambush strategy might change if the retriever detects powerful resistance, like the party with their powerful magical weapons and deadly spells. The players are capable of fighting off the retriever, which means the retriever has to actually face them or at least tie them up.
An excellent first move in a combat encounter, whether or not the retriever gets its surprise round, is strategically casting Web.
Web fills a 20-foot cube with webs, though the retriever’s cast of the spell has a relatively low save DC. The spell is most useful for separating the party from the retriever’s target or walling off potential exits.
For example, if a room has one door and one window, a retriever might burst through the window (a large window to fit the construct) and start combat off by layering the exit door in webbing to prevent the retriever’s prey from fleeing.
Remember that the retriever always knows the direction and distance to its quarry, so if the construct realizes it might fail to overcome resistance, it may decide to retreat until it can return later. The constructs are not bound to fight to the death — just to never give up until they have successfully retrieved their quarry.
Fighting off a retriever is a complex affair and one that the party has little chance to prepare for. Usually, the first time the party will encounter the retriever is after it has already picked its moment, appeared in their midst, and suddenly tried to kidnap someone or steal something.
Should you have an opportunity to prepare, however, there are a few tactics that can greatly increase your odds against the construct. For example, should you succeed in driving off a retriever and deny it its quarry, you can be sure it will return.
The key to facing a retriever is knowing what it desires. Knowing what the retriever desires will make its actions somewhat predictable and allow you to potentially direct the retriever into traps or disadvantageous positions.
Beware of incorrectly guessing what the retriever desires! If the party guards a person when the retriever was only ever after an object, you might find your carefully laid plans fall apart.
Remember that a retriever has some intelligence, but much of its actions are closer to programming than a mind. Retrievers are not adaptable or great at analyzing illusions, making deceptive tactics and illusions extremely effective. Making a situation seem like a different situation will be useful, like making an area appear unguarded.
However, should the retriever successfully retrieve its quarry, the party’s goal will shift. Now the challenge is preventing the creature from getting away. For this, I recommend either:
- Dimensional Shackles (a Rare wondrous item)
- Forcecage (a 7th level Evocation spell)
The shackles can be placed on a creature that has been incapacitated, which is best accomplished by stunning the retriever. The retriever’s condition immunities make other approaches more difficult. Once attached, the shackle cannot be removed except by a DC 30 Strength check (which the retriever cannot make) or by the choice of the creature who attached the shackles. The shackles prevent extra-dimensional movement of all kinds, though beware that the retriever can still escape on its many legs.
Forcecage is a high-level spell but is extremely effective as it imprisons the retriever both physically and extra-dimensionally. A Charisma save can allow the retriever to escape via Plane Shift, but a retriever’s Charisma is so low that the likelihood of success is small.
Trying to prevent a retriever from escaping is less than desirable, however, since if the retriever manages to slip away there is little that can be done to track the retriever down.
The key to fighting a retriever is to prevent it from grabbing its quarry, to confuse it, to make it unsure of what you’re trying to accomplish or what the world around it is really like, and to prevent it from escaping before you destroy it entirely since it will always come back.
Retrievers pose a powerful challenge to the party. They are an obstacle that cannot be ignored. Drive off a wolf pack, and it is unlikely you will ever have to deal with them again. Drive off a retriever, and it will return. Moreover, if you have not correctly determined what the retriever’s target is, your party may be horribly blindsided by a retriever that grabs what the party failed to defend.
Adding to the conceptual difficulty of a retriever is their combat difficulty. The creatures have a lot of hit points, condition and damage immunities, excellent mobility, and powerful senses. Their ability to Plane Shift gives them an excellent method of fleeing (with or without their quarry), and their ability to cast Web allows for crowd control that can be critical when outnumbered.
On top of all of that, retrievers do not act alone. They have a master.
Their challenge, combined with what their mission implies (that someone, somewhere wants somebody or something), makes retrievers an excellent construct to include in your campaign.
High-level players can be tricky to challenge without simply adding hit points to a creature, and the tactics of a retriever can make the party think more tactically than they otherwise would. Plus, the plot hook of a mysterious party trying to kidnap someone is impossible to resist.
If you can overlook the somewhat lackluster name, retrievers are an excellent way to challenge the players and motivate them with the mystery of the retriever’s master.
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