I haven't heard much about the use of giant beetles. Of course there is the beloved fire beetle, that bioluminescent torch substitute found in many a low-level dungeon. I'm sure other people have used giant rhinocerous beetles as substitute mounts as well.
There are six varieties in the monster manual, and two more in the MMII
- Bombadier Beetle-a 2hd menace with a dangerous cloud of stunning and deafening acid and respectable numbers appearing. They would certainly make short work of any party that clustered tightly together.
- Boring Beetle- They are notable for actually having treasure, cultivating mold and fungi, and rumored to have a communal hive mind intelligence on par with a human brain.
- Fire Beetle- They have glowing glands behind the eyes and on the butt, they're basically armored orcs threat wise, they may be the first monster encountered for low level parties that signifies hey monster parts might be handy.
- Rhinocerous Beetle- Boasting 12hd and 2 attacks of 3d6 and 2d8, these giant beetles are straightforward jungle monsters.
- Stag Beetle- At a mere 7hd, packs of these creatures are pretty similar statwise to harder-hitting, more sociable tigers.
- Water Beetle- hitting for 3d6, these 4hd critters serve all your needs, if your needs are 'I desperately want the players to fight a giant water beetle'
- Death Watch Beetle-Basically just a banshee scream stapled onto a not-very-dangerous (for 9hd, that is) beetle that does the death ticking from stealth. This smacks of the sort of save-or-die stuff that gives save-or-die such a bad rep, honestly. I'd like it more if it had something mythic going on, like 'these beetles are the hounds of Time that sally forth to count down the hours, and to fall on Time's sword at the end of the day, returning the hours of the day to their source and their master' Lord Dunsany style
- Slicer Beetle- Not as ridiculously tough and hard hitting as some of the other beetles, it nevertheless can chop off limbs on a 19-20. I like maiming over killing, and they come with a bonus mini-table on what wearing only one Boot of Levitation or one Gauntlet of Ogre Power will do, as their lair is decently likely to have magic gloves and boots bitten off and carried away by the beetle.
What's really interesting is that, even for the lowly fire beetle, 'nothing actually eaten by giant beetles can be revived in any manner short of a wish.' To be fair, the real reason nobody got revived after they were eaten by fire beetles is because they were level one nobodies, but normally 'can only be revived by a wish' is reserved for stuff like soul destroying undead and so on. It is utterly hilarious to me to imagine some advertisement for a high temple filled with mighty priests who can turn back death itself!*
*Does not apply if you were eaten by beetles
Or for some undying monster to be all 'aww hell naw is that a beetle, nope, I'm out'
Sunset Realm Beetles
Yuba worships/fears the Beetle's Moon, which is a moon too lazy to fly that is instead rolled around by Great Scvabhat, a scarab the size of a mountain that is revered as a goddess. Several historic cities have been crushed by the Beetle's Moon, but the moon has not been seen since the age of the 4th sun Riikhus. However, the 5th sun is not as bright, and Yuba is now back in the moonlands, and Great Scvabhat is prophesied to return someday and do battle with the Jackal God.
Giant beetles (usually of the smaller varieties) are popular in the Beast Islands as trainable beasts. They are strong, single-minded, and a good middle ground when it comes to being both intimidating and aesthetically pleasing, familiar to most but strange enough that it's easy to stay a little detached if they perish in battle.
Most giant beetles of the Daylands are of the Fire Beetle variety, and the dwarf-tunnels of the Mountains of Mercia are positively infested with the things, and are more popular than dogs as pets in the deep fortresses.
The exotically cosmopolitan city state of Oroboro boasts a great many exotic beetles due to its proximity to the Isle of Ebeth, and actually has the greatest academy for insect studies in the world. Their local subspecies of firebeetle can glow with the white light of their own souls, or hide in their own shadows as emitted darkness, are very popular both in the arena and as exports to the Beast Islands. Subspecies that eat wood and cultivate mold, and swimmers can be found beyond the Royal Gate of Oroboro, but adventurers who delve deep beyond the demon-infested gate typically are on specific missions from the Iron and Jewel-Crowned king rather than animal trapping missions. A little north, the Insect Tribes ride huge rhinoceros beetles that occasionally serve as war beasts when tensions between them and Oroboro rise too high, and smaller beetles act as war dogs.
As for the Isle of Ebeth itself, the beetles there have grown more bipedal and intelligent due to feasting on the flesh of the self-sacrificing dragon god Ebetheron, whose bones are the island. Though the cult of Ebeth among humans is one of charity and giving, the insect cult views the gift of Ebetheron's corpse as one that was meant only for those who need it for sustenance, meaning that the humans who view dragon-god bones as a commodity rather than a food source are nothing but greedy thieves. To humans, the beetlefolk seem a united and jealously possessive force on the island, but this is incorrect. Beetles are not eusocial insects like ants, and each decides their own rules to follow. Some attract smaller beetles as disciples, others walk their chosen paths alone. There are other insect-people on Ebeth (a hive of hyperintelligent brainwasp sorceresses are the chief foes of the beetlefolk) but the beetlefolk stand out to humans due to their adoption of blades, at first scavenged from adventurers, later forged by the beetles themselves to support various styles of 4-armed combat.
Saves, xp required, etc As fighter assuming the techniques are used, otherwise as whatever class they are. They make for better thieves than you might expect given their bulk on account of them being able to pose as barrels in low-light scenarios.
- May not wear armor besides shields, but they get +1 AC per level as they molt into thicker and harder shells.
- Four arms that have limited mobility and grasping finesse compared to a human. Each additional arm used on a separate weapon or shield incurs a -1 penalty to hit on all attacks, in addition to usual dual-wielding penalties.
- May fly short distances (10 ft per level), though this is quite noisy and tiring- each flight costs 1hp and alerts nearby beings/incurs a wandering monster check.
- Equally fast scuttling on all fours as they are on two legs, but are too heavy to climb walls or ropes (unless a thief) and commonly carry modular pole ladders in rough terrain. They are very inflexible and large and must take an entire round of nothing else to pass through a human sized door.
- Poor sight and hearing make them 3-in-6 likely to be surprised, and they cannot effectively use any form of ranged combat.
- Beetlefolk start with a simple code like 'I Feed the Hungry' or 'Duel Erry Day' that they follow, and can revise a code every even level, and must add a new code every odd level. These codes do not have moral reasoning or even emotion behind them, at least initially, and a session where the beetlefolk can both follow their code and engage in a discussion about their code and actions should give a small experience boost- like 100xp, or a 10% bonus, both to themselves and all who discussed it with them. Choosing not to follow a code results in no xp for the session. These codes are necessary to keep their divinely granted intellect- without this self-imposed mental discipline and self reflection, arbitrary as they seem, they revert to beasts that care only for food, and molt into an entirely beetle like form and become an NPC if their code is irrelevant and/or ignored for too long.
Beetlefolk codes apply only to their own conduct, not as prescriptive dictums addressed to 'society.' Their codes should always be framed as 'I Feed The Hungry,' not 'The hungry should be fed.' The codes are not an attempt to create behavioral standards for a greater good, or even necessarily a reflection of the beetles outlook on life. This can be very strange for humans, but perhaps enlightening for those who take the time to engage with the topic when, as a random example, a beetle decides to feed a hungry monster before slaying it. Was that act pointless? Kindness? Betrayal? What does your answer reveal about yourself?
Beetle Style Secret Techniques
Gained on even levels, either moving down from Four Sword or up from Zero Sword. Typical Secret Fighter Techniques can be learned as well, though in that case, whoever teaches them the technique will pick their next Code. Beetle techniques are not particularly subtle or complex and have more to do with physiology than training.
Stance of Four Swords- Equip four short, straight, slashing swords or daggers, used mainly for backhanded slashes and parrying. Though less flexible than modern human swordplay, the simple minded assault and multiple parries make it an effective style against soft targets, provided the beetle can wait for their foes to come to them (this stance is a stationary one). When using 4 sword style, 4 attacks, using an unmodified d20 roll and dealing an unmodified d6 damage on hit, can be made against frontal targets.
Pincer Two Swords- Wield two greatswords, ideally sharpened on an interior curve, used either in 'horn' style, with each pair of arms on each side gripping the sword to attack and defend each flank in a stationary stance, preventing flanking and allowing 2 attacks per round without dual-wielding or arm penalties (assuming the beetle has an enemy at each flank anyway), or hold the swords crossed and frontal in 'pincer' style, with them held crossways to assault someone in front of the beetle with a nigh-unblockable simultaneous assault high and low, left and right. Shields and similar parry attempts are useless in defending against Pincer Sword.
Lone Sword- A long, straight sword with a single cutting edge, the size of a pike. Only a four armed and large being such as a beetlefolk could wield such a weapon. The Lone Sword deals d20 damage, but takes an entire round to hoist back into attack position after each ponderous swing. Alternately, it may attack for d12 and not require a recovery round.
Half Shell- Shields provide no penalty to attack, and can defend the beetlefolk from the flanks as well as the front.
Zero Sword- Beetlefolk techniques may be made unarmed, each claw serving either as a shield or a d6 weapon, the beetle's wing-casings being used for d10 Pincer Swords, and their horn being used in brief fly-and-dive attacks for One Horn.