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    Default Monster Manual Entry Reviews, Collected

    An attempt to collect the formal monster reviews posted in this wonderful, now year-long thread started by MrConsideration.

    UPDATE: Second thread started after first thread hit 50 page limit.

    You can find a Leaderboard in post #23.

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    Aarakocra (by MrConsideration on 2015-08-04)

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    Firstly, it took me about three tries to get that spelling correctly, and it's one of those strange names where pronunciation for your players will be all over the place. One of those names sufficiently bereft of English inspiration that I have a kind of selective dyslexia about, and will called Aarakcockra or Arkarockra without ever holding the name properly in the brain. It's not a name with the immediate resonance of an Orc. It does have a good mouth-feel though - the word 'Aarakocra' has an innate birdiness that is hard to deny.

    But it's cool! The Aarakocra, despite being a staple of the game for many editions, isn't immediately recognisable. It doesn't have a brand - which opens it up to any tinkering you want to do with it.

    Art
    Secondly, the artwork. The Aarakocra is strident, standoff-ish, which I like - very much a Neutral good creature working out your intents. I feel there's a real lack of movement, though. This image doesn't feel kinetic, or birdlike, or evoke the speed and maneuverability that its combat tactics bear out. The art is a bloke with some wings glued on - whereas I think the art should evoke more of an alien, avian, feel.

    The spear is also one of those silly fantasy spears that with a bizarre shape that would be less functional that a normal spear. I do love that it is perched on the stat--block, though.

    Purpose and Tactics
    With a 1/4 CR and humanoid bent, the Aarakocra is the lowest rung on the alternative Goblin-Orc-Hobgoblin ladder. However, as the Aarakocra are Neutral Good, and spend most of their time hanging about in the Elemental Plane of Air, it seem unlikely that your low-level party will ever bump into one without them having some alternative existence in your setting. If they're an established race on the Prime Material, they'll probably be quite well established everywhere - flight is a pretty considerable advantage other other sapient creatures and opens up area for habitation that few others can reach.

    Flight makes them interesting combatants and increases the tactics needed to defeat them. You can walk up to an Orc, stick a sword in it, and it'll die. The Aarakocra can be flying around, dive-bombing the PCs, and staying out of melee range throughout: either swooping in with their talons or throwing a javelin. A lot of good low-level control effects (Entangle, for example), wouldn't reach them. I'd make flight an interesting weakness as well though - a spell like Hold Person should see them falling from the sky!

    The ability to summon an air elemental is interesting, but all five summoners need to maintain concentration for three consecutive turns to achieve this (does the summoning fail if they are interrupted by a Ranger PC's arrow up the jacksie?). In play, I'd simply spawn any Aarakocra with an Elemental in tow if they got wind* of the PC's arrival.

    Jazz up the Aarakocra by making them one part of a band of diverse humanoids (I love the rival adventuring party shtick, and rolling up the wierdos and nutters that serve as foils to the PCs) or pairing them with something meatier: they skirmish whilst the big monster punches the PCs in the throat.

    Perhaps Aarakocra would be better served being occasional allies or quest-givers for your PCs, although the fact that by-the-book they only speak Auran (how many of your PCs pick that language up?) Perhaps they only made muster because so they can be a PC race.

    Fluff
    Rubbish. I find it really difficult to envisage how or why the creatures of Elemental Earth would invade air (don't you need to fly? Aren't the Air creatures at a huge advantage?) or why anyone would task the CR 1/4 Aarakocra with the defense of the realm over the hardier elementals detailed later. Much of the fluff is really derived from the Elemental Evil adventure path, and the idea of a sapient race acting in the same way as Elementals, or having the same priorities, baffles me. Whilst there are some nice evocative bits of language (Who are the Wind Dukes of Aaqa? The Howling Gyre?) it doesn't give you much to work with off that adventure path. If the Aarakocra are sitting on inaccessible peaks keeping an eye on pesky Elemental Evil, the PCs are fairly unlikely to stumble across them.

    They're (Every Aarakocra? All the time?) searching for some silly Rod because of bla bla bla.

    Sorry to the Aarakocra, but the major problem here is the Elemental Plane of Air is boring.
    More boring still is the Aarakocra are constantly presented as lackeys: searching for someone else's Rod of Seven Parts to fight someone else's enemies to guard someone else's borders. When are these Aarakocra going to learn to squawk 'NO!'?

    The final paragraph is handy though: the Aarakocra espouse a sort of radical-utilitarian philosophy and simply do not believe in property. Whilst I'm fairly sure this is cribbed from the garuda of Perdido Street Station, it helps make an encounter with Aarakocra more interesting - what precious belongings of the PCs might these card-carrying avians make off with for the greater good? How would your players react?

    Hooks
    The local Aarakocra make off with magic-item or maguffin in order to fight a greater threat. Do their PCs let them borrow their kit? How do they go about reclaiming it?

    Local Aarakocra, not understanding property laws, have been robbing peasants blind. However, they're also keeping the local harpies in check. How do your players disentangle this situation?

    An Aarakocra warlord has lost his wings. Can the players repair his powers of flight? (Yes, I can steal from China Mieville too).

    A general wants to hire some Aarakocra scouts for his army. What reward, when no property exists, can the players think to tempt the Aarakocra into honest work?

    Verdict: A less-interesting Kenku.


    Aboleth (by MrConsideration on 2015-08-04)

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    Another old favourite: it's a horrible Lovecraftian fish-monster that can control your mind. The Aboleth's deal is that it is that it once had a vast empire in shrouded ages before the Gods but is now reduced to squatting in dungeons - which is bizarrely common in the world of D&D. I can imagine the Ithilids and the Lizardmen and all the other primordial empire bunch queueing up for their turn to build an empire with great magical advancement that then collapses without a trace. You probably can't move for ancient ruins in the average D&D campaign.

    I do find that a hard thing to DM though: why is the scion of a world-ruling empire squatting in this dungeon in a glorified jacuzzi? However, I simultaneously find it hard to see the Aboleth as a behind-the-scenes schemer because it's so strange: it wouldn't comprehend the motivations of any humanoids underlings, and what the hell would it scheme for?

    Still, everything about the Aboleth communicates weirdness, oldness. If I used one in a combat encounter I would never say 'Aboleth' - it would just be 'this loathsome presence' or 'a tentacled shape in the water' - I think for the scariness of the Aboleth to work is has to remain alien and unknowable.

    Art
    I really like this piece. It looks slow, languorous, nonplussed. The not-quite-fins-not-quite-tentacles and green stain on the page highlight the freakiness of this beast. It's old, it's weird, and you are a strange mayfly from the surface.



    Purpose and Tactics

    It's a boss - a big, millenia-old cheese. Either lurking at the bottom of a temple which holds the maguffin, surrounded by fishy minions, or masterminding a scheme to restore the Pax Abolethia. It will definitely rule over the region in which it is resident, and direct the attacks from afar.

    (However, as a digression: I do like the idea of it just being in a pool in a dungeon by accident. It limply strokes your players, and tries desperately to win their loyalty with its telepathy. It's lonely, a thousand-year loneliness, an abyss of impossible depression that makes you wonder that such a thing still lives, sadly caressing you in this pool, prodding you with psychic fervour in a desperate attempt to connect to another living thing. This sole witness. The Last Aboleth...)

    Nevermind such sentimentality: your player characters are going to fireball the big fishy sod anyway. In terms of scrapping, the Aboleth is an interesting player. It has a number of melee attacks which have strange effects, essentially forcing enemies to become briefly aquatic - the inconvenience of this, and the fun of any Aboleth combat, will depend on the geography. How much water are you in? Are you submerged? Are you on a ship? A partially-flooded temple? Underwater, the Aboleth will have an advantage which, weirdly, it nullifies throughout the combat by making its enemies aquatic. In an environment that has both water and land, it could easily render the party stuck in the water and then move on to the land for a tactical advantage. It can then unleash it's lair actions to punish them further.

    Unless the focus it on its nasty, signature mind control. The possibility to taking control of 3(!) player characters makes the Aboleth very nasty, and the only listed solutions (travelling to a different plane, or a mile away) are unlikely to take place until after the fight. Not to mention, these can be drained for HP as a lair action, making knocking them unconscious a risky gambit - the Aboleth might just finish off their brain!

    For an Aboleth fight to work, it needs minions. Whilst aberrations or other fishies make a good fit, consider using 'enslaved' humanoid adventurers too. The regional effects give you the option of a decoy Aboleth leading a first wave whilst the real deal plots another plan of attack. I'd advise chucking in some mooks, but spell-casters too. Outside from some very specific and situational debuffs, the Aboleth doesn't have much in the way of control of statuses - adding a Priest with some spells might really increase an Aboleth's ability to control the battlefield, and some spells have great synergy with the weird water conditions it inflicts, like Create/Destroy Water, or spells that force movement.

    Fluff
    An enemy of the Gods that can never forget its hatred. Excellent - the Aboleths are hate-filled, arrogant, and the world is theirs to reclaim. This fluff gives an excellent motivation for opposing the PCs, and I imagine an Aboleth would take particular pleasure in enslaving a divine caster character. Their control of delusional characters allows you to inject some personality into their underlings too: the High Priest of the Old Ones who serves the Aboleth could be reclining at an empty table, loudly explaining to the imaginary crowd how finally Grognir One-Eye has made his way in the world as a great Cleric....counting imaginary wealth...meeting imaginary lovers. If the Aboleth is a recurring villain, the ability to consume memories gives it a unique ability to taunt the PCs, and know them innately. It may be unknowable, but you can be read - consumed - filed away and never forgotten. The only weakness for this fluff is it has so much in common with other creatures, in particular the Mind Flayers, but I think the Aboleth has far more resonance.

    Hooks

    To defeat [Big Bad], ancient knowledge is needed. It can only be found in the lost underwater library of Abythir, where an Aboleth rules as living god, assimilating all information it can....

    They say on the island of Audunfey, ship captains can be struck by a fit of madness, and dash their ships on the rocks purposefully. As sailors try to escape the wreckage, a dark shape drifts underneath, pulling some into the depths....

    A strangely-behaved man approaches the player characters, with tics and strange murmurings. They have recently come into possession of an artefact they do not understand, but it has an owner...

    The Cult of the Old Ones have ransacked the Elven Libraries. Soon, they will have everything they need to release the Old Ones, and force the world to begin anew...

    Verdict: Brilliantly weird and grotesque; will make a particular impact on newer players. A great monster.


    Angels (by MrConsideration on 2015-08-06)

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    In my personal understanding, Gary Gygax deliberately avoided including angels in the game because he was uncomfortable about players killing them. Personally, I don't like their execution very much, and I feel they don't really fit the lore of the assumed settings - if Angels are all LG who works for Chaotic Evil Gods? I also feel they're more likely to be used to police player actions than any other purpose - when players speak to an angel, they're not speaking to Pelor - they're speaking to their matronly DM who has some stern words to say about what happened to that Unicorn.

    If your party is evil, I still find the idea of getting them to fight Angels quite melodramatic. And if you win? Surely Pelor just dispatches fifty more Solars to finish the job.

    I'd much rather use Angels as detached from the Gods - perhaps undertaking a mission set centuries ago, or only have a dim recollection of a connection with the Gods - this brings them down to the level of other beings your players might encounter. I can see them being used as guardians of artifacts, for example.

    I'll cover the Angels as one entry, because they don't interest me over much and because Wizards have done the Diablo thing where the same sprite is re-used in a different colour for a higher-level foe.

    Art
    Angels are pastel-coloured bodybuilders with wings - perhaps the least interesting 'angel' imaginable. Where are the wheels covered in eyes? The faces attacked to a thousand wings? Description of Judeo-Christian Angels are really alien, and would resemble the variety of their counterparts in Hell and The Abyss. The Solar is clearly taken from the cover of a cheesey Mills and Boon novel called An Affair in the Astral Plane or Wings of Desire. These Angels are far too human, and far, far too bland.

    Purpose and Tactics
    Almost all the Angels function in the same way, with extra abilities tacked on as they become mightier. The range of CR gives you a number of options for boss-fights all the way up, and most of the Angels are pretty handy in a fight. Being able to fly is an obvious advantage in terms of mobility, and the Solar can pair that with Invisibility to be a true annoyance. Each of them has a large number of resistances which you will definitely forget to track. However, I find the tactics implied by the abilities to be not particularly angelic: surely angels would fearlessly charge in with their weapons and punish the evildoers, not skulk around invisible using control spells?

    They seem, offensively, a little limited, so if using them seriously in a combat encounter I'd pair them with something they could support: a group of paladins, for example. The Deva, in particular, seems a lot weaker than the Aboleth despite being the same CR. Maybe good guys really do finish last?

    Each Angels has a grab-bag of immunities and resistances which make them quite handy at fighting your spellcasters - especially as any battlefield with an Angel on it will be difficult to control or contain - any self-respecting Angel should be multiattacking your party's evil Wizard as much as possible to try and shutdown the party.

    All the Angels have innate spellcasting (although the Deva's is quite wimpy) and most of the spells have an Old Testament feel: Insect Plague, Flame Strike, Control Weather . This helps make Angels feel wrathful, and primordial in combat. A lot of the other spells and abilities are clearly intended to support other characters in battle: but I feel if an Angel is fighting in cahoots with your players it is going to be very hard to challenge them or make them be useful in that combat without diminishing the Angel's power. Additionally, even the weakest Angels have access to resurrection. As someone who plays in a death-is-death world, I find the idea of a DM-ex machina dropping an Angel on the party to heal their boo-boos a little annoying.

    Fluff
    The fluff specifies that angels are unyielding and can never be persuaded, which makes them pretty useless for a social encounter of any kind. Angels are never wrong, are good and true and noble and strong. I'm afraid the Angel fluff does nothing for me.
    There is information on Fallen Angels, which is far more useful: some have fallen properly and become Devils, others have sauntered vaguely downwards and now live as hermits in the Astral plane - these would make great figures to interact with - you could characterise them as eccentrics, or Astral cops who didnt-do-it-by-the-Holy-Book-but-goddamit-they-got-results. These figures have much more possibilities, and in my campaign world any angel you'd actually encounter would be one of these ex-angels.

    Hooks

    A Fallen Angel is making his home on a mountaintop on the Prime Material. A group of monks study under him, and he is wracked by guilt that he as become a leader to them - because he still doesn't know what sin made him fall. Could your players uncover where the Angel went wrong?

    An Angel guards [maguffin], and always has. He will only relinquish it to those who an prove their worthiness to defend it.

    A Fallen Angel has packed up his wings and now lives incognito in the city of [Your campaign world]. However, a group of demon-hunters are hunting him as a fallen angel. How will your players intervene?

    In an ancient tomb, your players uncover the True Name of an Angel - and the ritual required to summon it for 15 minutes to the Prime Material. Do they dare be judged? What could they achieve with this mighty ally in fifteen minutes?

    Verdict:
    Uninspiring but functional - use the stats but ignore the fluff, if you must stat up Angels at all.


    Animated Objects (by MrConsideration on 2015-08-11)

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    Animated Objects are objects that have been animated by magic, funnily enough. In most games I've seen similar things used, they've been somewhere between a monster and a trap: you tried to nick a few goldpieces from the ceremonial armour's codpiece and now it's kicking your head in. There's little in the way of implied story ('a wizard made it') and these things fit in almost any encounter or situation: dusty tombs, abandoned castles, gardens, harems, magic shops, temples...
    In older editions, there were lengthy explanations of what level a character had to be, and how much it would cost, to make similar objects themselves. To me it always seemed fairly pointless for an adventurer, but I think these could be used as guards in player-owned keeps or properties in a high-magic campaign.

    Diplomacy does not work: these creatures are inexorable in following their orders. This tends to make for tedious encounters in my view, as the PCs are only going to overcome these animated objects by destroying them: there's no room for imaginative wheeling-and-dealing or creative solutions. This is a combat encounter. Roll initiative and get on with it.

    I personally think they're useful for people who DM with children to avoid any actual violence going on, whilst letting their players enjoy some combat.

    I'll deal with the Animated Objects as one entry.

    Art
    The Animated Armour is campy yet functional. The spikes and decoration are over-the-top and a bit silly, but they'e managed to convey a menace; a motion - the Animated Armour has bowed it's head, as though to duck under a ceiling to approach: it's a hulking, impassive machine.

    The Flying Sword is a picture of a sword. It is, again, functional, but pretty hard to get excited about. It's testament to the money WOTC put into production values that this somehow merits a picture - in the old AD&D Monster Manual loads of creatures go undrawn (perhaps for the best).

    The Rug of Smothering looks quite expressive considering it's a carpet, but the expression I'm getting is more puppydog-eager-to-please than furniture of doom. I'm not sure how it could be much better though - the idea of a carpet that murders you is stupid from the outset.

    Purpose and Tactics

    The purpose of these creatures is to be killed by your PCs. There is no Gygaxian naturalism here - these beings do not eat, or drink, or breathe, so all you need to explain the existence of one is that someone, somewhere, at sometime, did not want anyone poking around in this place.

    The Animated Armour works as a low-level solo encounter, but could also be muscle and cannon-fodder for a higher-level spell-casting foe. Whilst the Wizard brings out the big guns, the Animated Armour(s) march towards your PCs and physically slow-down. For their CR, their defences are solid (although how a living suit of armour counts as 'natural armour' is beyond me) and they have a list of immunities to any status your PC might think to put on them.
    The Flying Sword is much the same, and could function as a mook for a spell-caster too.

    The Rug of Smothering has another trick up its sleeve (or is that the Cloaker?) in that it pretends to be a rug then ambushes you from beneath. Anyone being grappled by the Rug gets half the damage inflicted on it. This is a nasty ability, but fairly useless if the Rug is attacking alone - I'd put one of these Rugs in a room where a different battle is taking place and have a PC stumble on to it - giving the other characters the option of damaging it, affecting a rescue, or continuing their battle and hoping their hapless comrade escapes.

    The ability to Dispel
    these enemies, or use Antimagic to disrupt them adds another element to the combat, but with 5e's philosophy of rulings over rules I don't think I needed it explaining to me what the effect would be - if the characters thought to plop a Dispel on these guys I would simply rule it as a save-or-die effect for these creatures and congratulate my players on their creativity.

    Fluff

    The fluff for these monsters is annoyingly dungeon-y. Animated Armours and Rugs of Smothering transparently exist to occupy dungeons. The text for the Animated Armour mentions riddles and other challenges (the pragmatic player would much rather blow up a CR1 monster than be bothered with riddles, in my experience).

    As an alternative to 'made by a wizard', I like the idea that these things spontaneously generate in areas of high magic, like the Feywild or a Wizard's tower. It might actually be some kind of annoyance to the Wizard that his antique, decorative armour keeps wandering about or his carpets are getting bolshie!

    Hooks
    All the furniture in a Wizard's tower has animated. Not only that, it has unionised - it wants fair pay, time off, healthcare benefits with a reputable carpenter. The Wizard is at his wit's end when he asks the PC's aid...

    The armour of Ogrid IV has been in his family for generations. When he donned it, he was surpised to find someone had animated it - and now he wanders his castle, trapped inside, lashing out at his terrified, coronation guests, just as your players arrive...


    Ankheg (by MrConsideration on 2015-08-19)

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    The Ankheg is a pretty old beastie in D&D lore and I believe one of very few creatures without a mythological ancestor. It's a huge, acid-spitting bug with a strong hide that ambushes from the ground beneath. My only question is: does this fit a fantasy campaign? An Ankheg looks a little bit sci-fi to me, more Starship Troopers than Lord of the Rings. If your setting is a bit more gonzo the Ankheg might fit right in - but it might feel a bit self-conscious sitting beside dragons and unicorns.

    Art
    Great. It looks alien and monstrous - and it is bursting from the ground as its signature attack. There's a real sense of motion and intent - the eyes are pinned on the reader as it emerges, and the image is dominated by spikes and mandibles and teeth. It is obviously a monster, and the image communicates aggression. I like that it doesn't obviously resemble any insect, or hodge-podge of insects, that I can recognise.

    Purpose and Tactics
    Ankhegs are a great monster because they revolve around their central tactic so well - as a CR2 they're a great solo monster for your low-level party, ambushing from beneath using their burrow speed and Tremorsense. Their damage is quite hefty but their AC and HP is fairly low - presumably because your Ankheg should disappear after grappling a character, dragging itself down into the depths for another strike. It the Ankheg is a victim of focus-fire it will die very quickly - I'd bulk up the HP or the AC for an experienced or tactically gifted group.

    If used at higher levels as a group, an Ankheg's ability to assault and subsequently grapple seperated characters is extremely dangerous - isolated spellcasters would be difficult to protect. The Ankheg is of animal intelligence, however, so your players might complain about its tactical brilliance! Any nsectile monsters work well in a group with the Ankheg or other creatures would easily have a symbiotic relationship with one.

    One problem with the Ankheg is that players can ready actions if it is burrowing, and a barrage of readied ranged attacks has a fairly good chance of killing the poor thing in two or three rounds. There's nothing explicitly in the statblock to defend it from this tactic, or that rules that it ambushing from beneath actually surprises the victim, so it might need some DM fiat rulings to make it work. The fluff actually states that the burrowing is visible.

    Conventional wisdom puts the Ankheg at the fringes of civilization as an early quest - "Farmer Grimnir's cows keep disappearing!" - but I think they have a lot of other situations in which Ankhegs are effective, flavourful monsters - a burrowing threat in conventional dungeons that comes at you from the very walls, and remakes the dungeon map as it attacks, exposing new areas to exploration, releasing new monsters or uncovering treaures long sealed away. There's the possibility of baiting, or leading, the Ankheg to demolish areas, or to unleash it on other low-level threats - what Kobold nest can survive having an Ankheg running loose? Consider loosing your Ankhegs in dungeons, mines cave networks, cliffsides - anywhere that restricts movement by foot gives the tunneling bug an extra edge.

    Fluff
    It's a low-level monster. Its fluff focuses on the fact that the Ankheg is a local menace that wanders about eating cattle and the occasional unlucky traveler. Nothing is really stated about origins or purpose, so you can feel free to slot the Ankheg pretty much anywhere as a predator, and you can refluff as appropriate - is it a normal insect that has been exposed to magic and thus mutated? A creature of the desert wastes, a complete mystery as noone has lived to see one? It's up to you - you have the exoskeleton and that's all. In my personal campaign world, Ankhegs are resident in the steppes, and follow the huge herds of migratory animals - and pastoral cultures - in packs, devouring herd animals when they get the chance. The peoples of the steppes make extensive use of Ankheg armour, and will often challenge themselves to a form of counting coup where Ankhegs are tempted into an area and then repeatedly dodged, prestige being won by those ballsy enough to touch an Ankheg with their bare palm.

    As with many monsters, I think this one is largely about presentation. If you tell your players "There's an Ankheg in Farmer Grimnir's fields", they'll yawn, strap on their breast-plate and eviscerate it. If you tell your players "the village of Hosht has been terrorised for weeks - every night, animals disappear. Even from within the stables! The ground is churned and all that remains is bloody viscera and mud - as thought they were pulled down into Hell itself! They say anyone who can end the Beast of Hosht will earn his weight silver!" With an ambush monster like this, tension is everything in making a memorable encounter for your players.

    Hooks

    Ankhegs are not native to this region, yet they are starting to press in as an invasive species, muscling out local wildlife and settlers alike with their aggression. How do your players respond?

    Behind the great moving people of Khagan Qasadimih roam a pack of Ankheg of unusual size and speed. Any warrior who can slay the great bull Ankheg who leads this pack may dine with the Khagan that night as a reward for his valour.

    Your players cleared out this fortress, or dungeon, or keep. When they return, they find something has been burrowing in the depths, and believes that this is its lair now.

    Verdict: Scary and strange. A great low CR monster which you can keep using for quite a few levels.


    Azer (by MrConsideration on 2015-08-20)

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    I have to admit, every time I flicked through my Manual I have completely ignored the Azer. "A Dwarf with its head on fire? Dumb." Having read other the fluff and stat-block, they're actually really growing on me as a concept. They're able to fit into your standard cosmology easily, but I think you could also use them as replacement Dwarves entirely. They could easily play a number of roles in any campaign, and open up a low-level opponent for exploration of the outer planes or high-magic regions. As 'azer' means fire in several Turkic languages (notably Azerbaijani!) I wonder if there is a mythological inspiration for this creature?

    Art
    Excellent - the fire is well executed and I think the bronze effect is really well executed. The Azer is squat and powerful and aggressive - the facial expression is pure rage(can Azer, being made of bronze, change their expression?). This is obviously a talented artist at work!

    Purpose and Tactics
    At CR2 the Azer is a melee terror. It has a damaging aura if your PCs get close enough to hit it and it has solid defences and damage. It has the obvious immunities for it's type, too, but your PCs are unlikely to be thick enough to throw a fireball at these characters. This is an encounter that would really challenge a melee heavy party, especially if you force the combat in an enclosed area or use environmental effects (superheated steam vents, magma, stalagmites) to constrain your player's ability to maneuver. In an invasion of their mountain homes Azer would be a fearsome threat - stacking free aura damage whilst crushing enemies with their warhammers. Fire-resistance is fairly common, and Azer have little they can do against crowd-control effects, however, so a well-prepared party with caster support will flatten them. At higher levels, pairing the Azer with spellcasters - including Efreeti, who possess Azer slaves in the flavour text, will help them overcome this weakness.

    The Azer could function in your campaign in numerous ways. They could function as quest-givers, especially with their built-in rivalry with the Efreeti. They could offer services to players which require dangerous journeys to achieve: crafting magical weapons and armours for your players after a lengthy expedition and numerous favours. They could guard some treasure or maguffin your players need. Being Lawful and mercantile they seem easy enough to engage in diplomacy, so your players will have numerous means of dealing with an Azer group.

    Fluff
    Azer are constructed, and presumably construct their children, too, which makes them suitably alien, and opens them up to different versions of the same - could the Azer not construct specialist units for different purposes and in combat? A kind of family golemancy? How do they see this process? Are they expansionist - an untiring machine race that seeks to cover the world? Or are they content to perfect their craftmanship in their homes? There are numerous things that can be built out of this information - exactly how a Monster Manual entry should work!
    They have their own kingdom, which they zealously defend, but you could easily rip that out of the Elemental Plane of Fire and plonk it anywhere in their setting, possibly underground. All in all, there is just enough information to use whilst giving you enough freedom to put the Azer anywhere you like.

    The 'escaped slaves' aspect is a bit overdone, as it is an identical story to the Githzerai/yanki and the Dwarves. I think a different origin story is necessary. Maybe the very first Azer doesn't know how they came about, yet has to direct the new species as a sort of ignorant philosopher-king. Maybe he argues the Azer built themselves.

    Hooks
    Your players want to get shiny magic weapons and other magical gubbins. Only the Azer can build what they require, but they must first cross the elemental plane of fire...

    Across the planes and the Astral Sea, they come. Silent, burning machines, slaughtering all they find, strip-mining every morsel of minerals to build more of their own. Who can stop the inexorable march of the Azer?

    In the City of Brass, your players come across an Azer slave. He begs them to help him escape his torment at the hands of the Pasha.

    An Azer family want you to find a gem of singular magnificence to serve as the heart of the child they want to construct.

    Verdict: A lovely intersection of mythologically resonant and original; the Azer are very D&D.


    Banshee (by MrConsideration on 2015-08-24)

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    The Banshee is another creature with an obvious mythological basis and instant recognition. This can be great as most of the encounter writes itself in your player’s heads, but also demeaning because players instantly know how to respond.

    The Banshee seems to be best used as a quest-based monster – a random encounter with a banshee will feel cheap and lack the appropriate gravitas (especially as it has a fair chance of striking lucky and murdering an entire party in a single move – more on that later). Encountering a Banshee is a quest, and should lead to social encounters or investigations that uncover the history of the spirit.

    Art
    I really like the art for the Banshee. It looks appropriately ethereal whilst still having some kind of definition, and manages to look furious and haunted all at once. The sense of motion is also quite an achievement, as the Banshee is clearly emerging from some desolate place.

    Purpose and Tactics
    Running a Banshee tactically seems silly – it is a tormented spirit, and is probably fairly disinterested in throwing down with some grubby murderhobos. I would ensure a Banshee’s damage is always incidental, not tactical.

    In battle the Banshee takes a punt on an insta-kill move. A very unlucky party could be TPK’d by this, and said party will probably throw the dice at you if this happens. Combining this with the automatic fear ability could scatter your players long enough for death saving throws to be made and possibly failed. The chance of this is fairly low, however, and once all players have made saves, the Banshee functions as something of a tank – low hit-points are offset by a fairly massive list of immunities and resistances, pinging away at your players with a fairly weak melee attack whilst they wear it’s HP down. This will probably make for a fairly boring fight – everything is decided by the results of the Wail/Horrifying Visage combo at the outset, followed by a slog. I’ve always felt the D&D approach to ghosts to be completely absurd: you respond to hauntings by beating a ghost to death. This implies Ghosts are sufficiently alive to be ‘killed’ again, and it completely undermines the point of Ghosts – to function as a story monster. At the risk of tooting my own warhorn, I did write a blog post on exorcisms and hauntings for 5e which you could easily adapt to fighting the Banshee here. Any decent DM would make dealing with a Banshee a quest to salve whatever lead to its creation or simply banishing it somehow – not relying on your +1 swords and Magic Missile to make it even deader.

    An intelligent party who knows they’re facing a Banshee can easily nullify its main ability with a variety of spells like Heroism or Protection from Evil, which will make this fight completely trivial for a fourth-level party. There are no rules to this effect, but Silence or Deafness should presumably protect you against the Wail – both spells a fourth-level party should have easy access to. Whilst springing a Banshee on party unawares seems unfair, a prepared party should have no trouble kicking her teeth in. I also find it bizarre that if you stand 31 feet away and can still hear the Wail you are completely unharmed, yet someone stood a foot in front of you could literally keel over dead – I’d rule that the Wail affects creatures in earshot. Perhaps a tell-tale sign of a Banshee’s haunt would be that everything is dead? Birds fallen from the sky, grass turned brown and inert, herd animals lying dead without a wound on them.

    Fluff

    The origin story seems a bit vague, but there’s an obvious Gothic ancestor somewhere in there – Banshees are Elves that squandered their beauty. How exactly you squander beauty, I don’t know – maybe all attractive Elves are obligated to become supermodels in order to hold back the Banshee threat. This seems like it would cause dire economic consequences for Elvenkind, and perhaps explains why their development is so slow in comparison to humans. Banshees apparently used their beauty to ‘corrupt and control’ others, which is something straight from an MRA forum. There’s an element of the Virgin Madonna in the Banshee which I don’t really like.*

    I’d chuck out the origin story but retain other aspects – the fact the curse starts to occur in life is a brilliant quest hook. The hoarding of beautiful objects helps make the lair a distinctive environment whilst giving you an excuse to chuck a load of art object treasure in there. I’d go closer to the mythology for an origin. Perhaps the Banshee is a curse suffered by silenced women, whose rage and desire to be heard can only emerge after death. Perhaps the Banshee is a seer or prophetess whose warnings were not heeded in life. Perhaps they are scorned women whose rage could find no outlet in mortal life. In all likelihood, your players will only ever counter one Banshee so you can freely call it the Screaming Ghost of Neverwinter and treat it as a wholly unique phenomenon with a personalised origin story.

    Hooks

    An Elven Noble of some means has grown listless and apathetic to life. She has been told that should she die, she will rise as a Banshee and torment the living. Eager to avoid this fate she seeks adventurers to find a cure or means of containment….or to end her misery if all else fails.

    An art critic desires a specific lost work by an Old Master which no one has seen in a generation. Where will the trail for this masterpiece lead?

    At the river where the locals once washed their clothing there is now a region of desolation, called only The Stillness. Nothing there lives, and none who venture there return. Can your players uncover the mystery and restore The Stillness to life?



    Verdict: Great monster, too tied to D&D logic to perform well.

    *The feminist theory, not to be confused with Like a Virgin, the Madonna single from 1984, which I actually really like.


    Basilisk (by MrConsideration on 2015-08-25)

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    The Basilisk is another ancient mythological beastie, and another creature toting a nasty save-or-die effect despite a fairly low CR. The depiction here is quite removed from Pliny the Elder, where the Basilisk was a normal snake....that could kill with a glance.



    Art

    The artwork for the Basilisk takes quite a unique direction, making the beast much stockier and more hale than the usual serpentine depiction. As a monster this makes it seem more animalistic, rather than cunning. The mess of legs and huge maw make the creature distinctive image. Another great piece of monster art.

    Purpose and Tactics
    Basilisks, being of animal intelligence, are unlikely to appear as anything other than one-shot antagonists of the party in an appropriate region or locale.
    The Basilisk is a melee monster whose passive gaze ability mainly works to keep his enemies in disarray. As a solo encounter, he’s tough for low-level characters doing just that. If you opt to have him as a cohort to another powerful enemy the passive control he exerts with his gaze is extremely powerful.

    The rules for adjudicating the dreaded gaze are a little unwieldy. If any character directly looks at the Basilisk – and are within 30 feet – they need to make the save. If they declare themselves to be covering their eyes they needn’t – but this presumably imposes disadvantage on attacks akin to Blindness. To an informed party the gaze is something of a ‘fleet-in-being’; never actually being utilised but existing as a threat to keep the party stumbling around in a bizarre mix of slapstick and combat while the Basilisk chews on the softer members. For the DM using a battlemat, it creatures the conundrum of whether you rule that characters are aware of their position and the relative position of enemies and allies. Personally I’d leave them to their Three-Stooges-style antics whilst the Basilisk eats his fill, but I’m a sadist like that. Do feats like Sentinel still work if you’re covering your eyes? There is a lot to consider for the Basilisk’s Gaze, and it’d an effort to not make it seem like a cheap way of counteracting the player’s abilities.

    The difficulty of attaining a Greater Restoration at third level (Druids and Clerics get can cast it at level 9) makes risking the Constitution save extremely dangerous for your players. In many settings, my own included, high-level clerics aren’t easy to find, and the prospect of lugging your statuesque friend back to town for de-petrification isn’t appealing. If you’re using the Basilisk at a high level as part of a composite encounter petrification might be only a temporary inconvenience, even if it could still swing the battle easily enough.

    The 30ft limit, much like the Banshee, seems far too game-y, and creates the same bizarre image of someone standing 31 feet away enjoying a staring contest with the Basilisk whilst their comrade a few inches nearer is becoming a fetching lawn ornament. It also exposes a Basilisk to ranged attacks, so avoid using this creature out in the open.

    The defences of the Basilisk seem a little weak, probably to counteract the poor performance of your motley blinded players – but the damage is hefty enough from its bite attack to make it very dangerous, even at higher levels.

    Fluff
    Much Basilisk fluff focuses on their uses to humanoids. They can be domesticated and are useful for alchemists. This is all a little bland, but necessary for plot-hook generation beyond the old staple ‘the Basilisk wants to eat you and is in your way’. Their ability to devour stone is a great explanation for why their gaze exists (otherwise they’d be depriving themselves of prey with every kill) and the idea of the chewed-upon stone reforming into flesh in the digestive tract is an appropriately disgusting end of foolhardy player characters. This doesn’t seem to gel with the fact that you recognise their lair by the abundance of statues – wouldn’t the big bad Basilisk have eaten them all? Adroit players will always recognise a random mess of statues as the lair of a Basilisk (or Medusa or Gorgon) and will begin using mirrors and covering their eyes immediately. Perhaps to really screw with them you should place a mess of statues in some other monster’s lair?

    Hooks
    The Shah desires a Basilisk for his Garden of Deadly Delights. Anyone who can claim an egg for him (or claim an egg convincingly is a Basilisk egg…) will be given his pick of the Shah’s treasure.

    An amazing outsider-artist is taking the city by storm. He is infamous for incredibly lifelike depictions of the human form in stone, and the maudlin nature of his works: individuals screaming, fighting, begging, weeping. Most shockingly, the artist is blind! Can your players link his mysterious success and a series of disappearances?

    A young dragon is trying to establish himself in a region of wilderness, but many local monsters refuse to accept his sovereignty. Can you push, persuade, cajole or kill a recalcitrant Basilisk out of the region in return for a share of a dragon’s hoard?


    Verdict: Fun and appropriately disruptive – can easily be added to higher-level encounters, too. As a monster, it provokes thinking in your players.
    Last edited by odigity; 2018-09-28 at 02:06 AM.

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    Default Re: Monster Manual Entry Reviews, Collected

    Behir (by MrConsideration on 2015-08-26)

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    Much like people commented with the Banshee or the Azer, this is a monster I have never used or seen used or even heard of anyone using. Which is odd - it's a D&D creation with a lineage as least as old as the Owlbear or the Mind Flayer, without an obvious mythological forebear (well, apart from the fact that it's a slightly more naff dragon). For some reason this dragon, which only speaks Draconic and has a breath weapon, is relegated to the 'monstrosity' category instead.

    I always found 'lightning breath' to be quite difficult to visualise, so I'd refluff that as breathing out some kind of static cloud - you want to retain the rare damage type which is fairly difficult to resist.

    Art
    I like this depiction - it's lithe and wet and sinewy, and manages to look monstrous yet simultaneously plausible as a living thing. My only objection is the art could have been used to demonstrate the tactics that are alluded to in the fluff, and that its not clear that the Behir is supposed to be pretty Huge. It's tucked up in the corner (partially off the page in fact) to make room for flavour text and statblock. Surely you can fit a snake-like creature in anywhere you like?

    It does suffer from being opposite another blue reptile with loads of legs, though.


    Purpose and Tactics

    The Behir is a man-eating (and apparently troglodyte and Mind Flayer-eating - gross) monster, clearly developed with a strong emphasis on ambushing the party and swallowing a hapless PC. The Behir has solid Stealth and Perception scores, and can grapple and bite for immediately swallow one PC before fighting the other. As a tactic, it creates great drama - even if the mechanic of being swallowed isn't altogether onerous, players will immediately feel a very strong sense of peril and engagement once they're residing in a Behir's belly. It is an impressive climber and moves extremely quick - whilst the players are scaling a cliff-race or traversing a mountainside or sloshing through a murky cavern, you ambush them. If you fight the Behir an empty room, the fight will fizzle. If you fight it on a storm-wracked mountain side, it's a true monster. Use that 40ft climb speed to ambush and nab a character, then retreat through tough terrain. This terrain also lines up the characters for the Behir's breath attack, which is a line - fairly useless as an Area of Effect attack in the open fields, but brilliant when players are clinging to the cliff-face. Try to embrace the kinetic side of this monster - it climbs on the wall, the roof, biting and scratching and retreating and winding its away across territory - it never stops weaving in and out, it never just stands to trade blows. As a CR 11 threat, using these tactics will help reduce the action-economy issues normally faced by solo monsters, as the Behir lacks the luxury of lair actions and other legendary saves and other privileges that it's big brothers have.

    The Behir is also, to a degree, intelligent. With an intelligence of 7, it about matches a moronic human- but you can talk to it, and it presumably possesses desires and needs beyond eating adventurers. As an encounter, the Behir's chosen tactics don't lend themselves to having a conversation, but if your players successfully spot or anticipate a Behir, it could make a social encounter. I imagine a Behir would be easily tricked or manipulated - the fluff seems to establish them as fairly gluttonous and grasping.


    Fluff

    The fluff establishes the Behir's habitat and hunting strategies, which mesh extremely well with the statblock opposite. I think they've very simply captured the platonic ideal of Behirness with a few simple mechanics. The text here gives a great sense of how the Behir, which helps visualise this very weird creature for the DM.

    Another focus in the fluff is the rivalry between Behir and Dragons. I imagine most Dragons see Behir as hillbilly cousins due to their low intelligence, and that Behir despise those high-falutin' Dragons as putting on airs. 5e has the Behir as being made by Storm Giants to combat Dragonkind, but I'd rather simply have Dragons, Wyverns, Dragonnes, Behir and the like to be just trees on some vast taxonomic branch. I find D&D has a preponderance of races being created and subsequently abandoned, and Storm Giants don't seem up to the task - aren't they just big Vikings with a superiority complex?


    Hooks

    The Dwarves of the Roaring Mountains have always warned traders not to cross the passes when a storm is brewing - for whenever the tumult is at its worst, whole caravans disappear. One ambitious merchant wants you to investigate and solve this mystery - find what lurks in the tenebrous tempest, and stop its predation.

    The Terror in the Tempest has grown fat on Dwarf-meat and rich in stolen gold. His last wish is to find and slay a Dragon, that he might know he has lived a good and full life. Will your players lure the Terror to glory or death?

    Verdict: A good monster and dragon-alternative.


    Beholders (by MrConsideration on 2015-08-28)

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    The Beholder is one of the most iconic monsters of D&D history - a unique, if kooky, monstrosity born specifically into the fabric of D&D - in its DNA, a Beholder epitomises that weird combination of po-faced fantasy and gonzo silliness that is at the very heart of D&D. It's a big Nazi eye-ball that floats around zapping people randomly. Whats not to like?

    I'll cover the Beholders, like the Angels, as one. Again, they are fairly similar- there's the proper one, the stupid low-level one for parties who want their egos stroked by killing Baby's First beholder, and the silly undead one, because all evil monsters must have a silly undead version* with a higher CR - I'm looking at you, Alhoon, you Al-loon.


    Art

    We have a lot of options, here.

    Firstly, the cover art features a Beholder prominently. When I first ever played D&D, aged around ten, I remember looking at the original D&D Monster Manual with its eccentric use of scale and perspective and random hodge-podge of amateurish drawings and genuinely believing that the drawings had been done my friend's Dad, our DM - no-one could seriously sell something so poor quality, right?

    We have come far indeed. The scene is dramatic and intense, and emphasise the monster rather than the characters - who are both about to flee. Hey, this isn't their manual. The Beholder is starkly lit, the central eye focusing on the viewer, vicious teeth bared whilst the subsidiary eyes dart around. It's a very powerful image, and I'm sure they picked the Beholder as the poster child-eater of D&D to stress their heritage as 'the world's greatest role-playing game'.
    In the manual entry there are other depictions. One shows a single Beholder mournfully drifting over a forlorn vista with only a petrified adventurers for company. I find this strikes a real chord of loneliness, and evokes pity for the Beholder whose hate drives him into further madness. I find these sophisticated pieces much more of a boon to bringing a Beholder into my campaign story than another scene of one snarling mid-battle. The next page features a Beholder almost rubbing its hands with malevolent glee - great, but not ground breaking. Then we have the Death Tyrant (which should clearly be called a Beholich via standard Monster Manual naming conventions) which just looks silly. The Spectator says 'gleeful puppy' to me, not 'monster': but maybe blame for that belongs to Monsters Inc. All in all, some great, evocative art, and a few functional pieces.

    Purpose and Tactics.


    Beholders are bosses. They're masterminds. They're running the Thieves' Guild, the Church of Pelor, the city of Neverwinter, the World Bank, the IMF - they're the Illuminati with poor depth perception. As masterminds, you will encounter their slaves and underlings, which means at lot of levels you can make really interesting encounters featuring a Beholder AND their trio of Tiefling assassin triplets or their pet Manticore or their Ogrillon bodyguards or whatever mix of abilities will make for a really interesting fight. After you've trashed their plans and bumped off their minions, your storm into the lair, the Beholder turns around, using its Mage Hand eye stalk to caress a chaotic-evil moggie and telepathically announces that it has been expecting you, Mr Drizzt.

    The exception is the Spectator, which is a basic guard-dog monster to thoughtlessly put in almost any dungeon anywhere. Yawn.

    There's the potential of diplomacy with a Beholder, and one could make a really interesting patron or quest-giver in a grittier campaign. Perhaps the Beholder grants much-needed stability as the Godfather of the criminal underworld - if anyone topples it, there will be blood in the streets. As eccentrics, their motivations can be as varied as any; maybe the Beholder wants to gather the corpses of Beholders to remind itself of its own perfection, or gain control of a cavern from Mind Flayers or Troglodytes, or acquire items of prophetic value - any of these could lead to hooks for your PCs. In an intrigue-laden campaign, Beholders fit right in - but they're very likely to betray your inferior players. Bear in mind that they only speak Undercommon and Deep Speech by the book.

    In battle, the Beholder functions as a maelstrom of chaos and weirdness. Using its legendary actions in addition to its normal abilities can net you six random eye blasts a round, all offering some pretty brutal affects - sleep, paralysis, disintegration - to affect the party. Combining with with a huge 120ft cone anti-magic field, the Beholder is a mighty combatant when it comes o disabling characters, but its damage is not dependable. A Beholder with some minions to strike the killing blow while it knocks characters out of the combat is a much more frightening prospect, and fits its role as an overlord of slaves. The Eye Tyrant's variant, which prevents healing, seems weaker than the anti-magic cone, but allows the Eye Tyrant to zap those victims with its eye rays as well. You could easily homebrew other effects for Eye Rays as well, that might match the personality of a well-established Beholder character in your campaign.

    To maximise the power of the Beholder, you should use it in an open area - a cavernous room, or an actual cavern, to take advantage of the enormous range of the Beholder's abilities without allowing the Beholder to be cornered - its slow movement will otherwise limit the damage it can inflict. Using Levitation to boost the Beholder is bigger in 5e than previous editions of the game, as Flight spells and similar are limited by Concentration. If the fighting is taking place in ruins or atop a mountainside, Levitation massively increases he ability of the Beholder to disrupt player's strategies, and simultaneously the geography will expose the PCs to even more danger if they are debilitated by Telekinesis or other effects.


    Fluff


    The fluff discusses the strange nature of Beholders; their nigh-solipsistic xenophobia and aggression. The fact that almost every Beholder is unique is great for a Dungeon Master who wants to take on player expectations about how the creature functions: maybe this Beholder is an aquatic Beholder with gills and tentacles, maybe this other Beholder has skin like a chameleon, allowing it to blend with its surroundings, maybe this other Beholder has vestigial limbs granting it proper spell-casting. Their contempt for other Beholders is brilliant, and helps differentiate them from the normal procession of ancient fantasy Nazis like the Aboleths or the Ithilids - it is rich in character and plot hooks.

    There is also a fair amount of information in the fluff that establish that Beholders hoard things, and make their lairs in strange regions empty of life except that which they dominate. This is one of those bits in the Monster Manual which is a wink-and-a-nudge telling you that it's ok for this monster to be sitting on a pile of treasure in some random dungeon somewhere - that's what Beholders do. The fact that each dungeon is built along the Beholder's own avant-garde aesthetic means you can use whatever weird set-pieces appeal.

    There's no origin for the Beholder, which I think is brilliant. This allows you to fit them into whatever cosmology or setting you want.

    Hooks


    A Beholder king-pin is threatened by another gang which is exploding onto the scene. He wants someone to get to the root of this other gang, and whatever faction has been arming them. How will your players intervene in this struggle?

    A Beholder collector desires the wings of a sprite, the teeth of a chimera, the fingers of a great pianist, or some other arcane object to complete their collection.

    The Beholder Vagarraz esteems himself the greatest living creature. He looks always for new challengers to do battle with - can you players find him a match....or be that match themselves?

    Verdict: A fantastic monster, designed to be monstrous.

    *One thing I really like about 3.x and Pathfinder is the use of templates to create those special snowflake villains. "Yes but THIS Beholder...." shouldn't need an entry. It's when people start applying templates to player-characters (or multiple templates) that silliness creeps in. If you're a half-fiendish, half-dragon, half-celestial, half-genasi half-Orc and you're munchkin-ing requires creative abuse of fractions and Ancestry.com, I'm going to say no.


    Blights (by MrConsideration on 2015-09-04)

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    My players almost encountered some of these - which would have made it the first monster I've actually used in my campaign AND covered! However, they tactfully appeased the spirit of the wilderness by sacrificing images of the city to it - a crossbow and a book - to gain passage. Next time!

    They're interesting elemental-type creatures, which amazes me. I think it's great to have potential low-CR enemies that are more interesting than Goblins and Kobolds. They're an innovation from 4e, I think, as a sort of monster counterpart to the Warden fluff. There is an antecedent in some 3e adventures, but Blights are yet to become iconic monsters and your players are unlikely to recognise them. This is something I like - when these twisted things emerge from the night, surrounding your player's ill-advised woodland camp, they should not be recognisable - they should be horrifying and unknowable.

    The name is rubbish though. Far too generic. In my games, I'd leave them totally nameless. They are primordial nature, red in tooth and claw and branch. They don't need a name - names are for the decadent city-dwellers who must quantify and qualify and contain everything.

    Art
    Another great piece - it dominates half the page, giving room for a background. The foggy, sombre, brooding wood from which the Blights emerge creates a really enduring image of how an encounter with these baddies would go. The creatures are really realised and plant-like - and show great variety. Some are thorny, some are viney, and I especially like the Twig Blight's voodoo-fetish vibe.

    Purpose and Tactics

    They're what I like to call a bad ju-ju monster. They're a symbol that a place is bad or wrong in some way. Dependent on the tone and setting of your campaign, this can be a forest that has been corrupted by some dark magic or other actor, Mirkwood-style, or a forest that is simply hostile to the adventurers for whatever reason - in my own campaign world, there is a long-standing conflict between the spirits and beings in such places and the empire-building, resource-stripping humanoids. Their intelligence is rudimentary and most of them can't speak (Why can they speak Common but not Elvish or Druidic or whatever?) so they could probably deliver a message of some kind but are unlikely to parley. Going by the fluff, they are monstrosities not far from a form of Undead.

    They have blindsense. Attack at night. Attack in places where the forest canopy is so thick that no light can pierce it. Describe their alien senses and uncanny abilities. They're fairly weak, and the minor ones are essentially 4e minions - they blast with needles or claws until a PC slaughters them. In a long-term fight, Blights will be slaughtered. Their ability to hide themselves perfectly means they make excellent ambush monsters for a grove or other (un)natural place. The Vine Blight gets a version of the Entangle spell, which can be used to allow you mobility to target casters and other characters. After those first level scraps Blights have a lot of utility as minions of Druids, Fey, Hags or even Treants. Vine Blights will last as a supporting monster for quite a while using their Entangle ability for crowd control, but eventually the DC will be trivial for most and they will be easily snuffed out.

    I think you can also fluff these as an alternative creature to summon for a not-hippy Druid. I'm a big fan of Goblin Punch's 'You're doing Druids wrong!' post (NSFW: pretty violent imagery, swears, your boss might be a druid and be really offended with this portrayal and Wildshape into a wolf) which informs how I would use a monster like these Blights.

    Fluff
    I really like the origin story for the Blights - its got a sort of fairy-tale mythic power to it. I'd be one of many possible rumours in my campaigns if I used Blights. The ideas of blood-drinking plants has a wonderful body-horror aspect, and I love the idea of a monster who sees its enemies simply as walking fertiliser for an inevitable expansion of the wilds back into the heart of civilization. You have the option to have them be minions of Gulthias, or simply a vanguard of nature, dependent on how you would like to use them. It establishes the Blight's location as an evil area of the forest, giving ideas for means of making the battlefield more dynamic: thorned plants which cause damage if approached, vines that entangle and cause difficult terrain, evil flowers with an effect like Stench or Hypnotic Pattern.

    The idea of the movement of Blights and their ability to rapidly grow forest over farmland can make them a menace for almost any civilization, and elevate them to the possibility of a Big Bag, or at least the recurring minions of a Big Bad. If you take this approach, I'd homebrew some tougher Blights with a 'class-levels' approach that can use more Druid Spells and hit harder to ensure your combats remain fresh. Your Big Bad could be Gulthias, a unique vegetable vampire.

    Hooks


    Cartographers are baffled by a treeline that moves. Settlements that disappear. Geography that shifts with evil intent. They need a party of adventurers to uncover what force is at work.

    Your players need to recover the Antler Crown, a symbol of ancient fey royalty. It was lost in the endless forests of Utangardr. Can your players recover it?

    Your party Druid must prove himself worthy of mastering his power of life, death and rebirth. A Druid circle challenges her to overcome militant nature and reclaim the stake of Gulthias.

    There is a Vampire in the Royal Gardens. Victims have been found exsanguinated in the orchid bushes. Drained among the dahlias. Rotting among the roses. But this Vampire cannot be Turned, or Detected by the magic of the Temple, and vampire hunters are baffled. Can your players find the monster in the mulch?

    Verdict: I really like them. A highly original take on a mythic concept, and easy to adapt to almost any campaign.


    Bugbears (by MrConsideration on 2015-09-19)

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    A murky monster from the depths of medieval mythology with a completely inappropriate name (where's the bug? where's the bear?). I quite like the Bugbear as an alternative humanoid foe (or 'Orc-ternative') because it its thuggish, animalistic bent. The weird mix of stealth and brute strength is pretty appealing, and the idea of wandering through a forest at night, and turning around to see the glint of a bugbear's teeth should haunt your players. There have been attempts in the D&D blogworld and in Pathfinder bestiaries to reconnect with the mythology - giving them abilities like selective invisibility. I personally like Bugbears just the way they are, but players might be unhappy with being ambushed - if there's a group of Bugbears, a lot will depend on their initial Perception roll. I really liked their dorky Monster Manual picture from 1e as a kid, so I've always had a bit of a soft spot for the furrier end of the goblin spectrum.

    Art
    Minus points for silly unrealistic armour that doesn't cover major internal organs (heart, lungs, brain) in favour of covering extremities with spiky bracers in order to denote evil - yawn. I like their shaggy fur though, and think that part of the artwork is really well-executed. For a monster so tied to ambush tactics, it's a little disappointing to see that not expressed in the art - the Bugbear is brandishing its club and roaring. I like the way they've made the face extremely distinct, almost wolf-life, to help Bugbears grow their niche in the over-saturated goblinoid market.

    Purpose and Tactics
    You players failed their Perception rolls ad it clobbers them in the surprise round for a whopping 2d8 + 2d6 + 2 damage (6-30), which is enough to potentially drop most low-level characters in a single hit. For a CR1 creature it's very swingy - it could get lucky and drop one character and have some fun battering the others or it could fail its Stealth roll and have its teeth kicked in. Unlike most goblinoids, I think Bugbears work best as a group of Bugbears, with a chief if your party is higher level. With their big bonuses to Stealth they have a fair chance of attacking players who are resting or unaware, and a bugbear ambush falling on even higher-level players who've burned most of their resources can be very frightening, especially if you describe it right. Individually, they are much meatier than most humanoid foes in terms of their defenses so will likely put up a fight even if they haven't slit throats in the night. My major concern is just how swing-y such a combat might be - especially with low-level characters - as lucky Bugbears could easily take out a party without them getting much chance to respond, which might be an unsatisfying end to an adventurer's career and could feel unfair. As a player I've seen a single Bugbear almost TPK a party in Lost Mines of Phandelver .

    The Chief is not much different, but helps keeps Bugbears relevant with extra attacks, HP and damage. He also possesses a slew of resistances to stop you simply nullifying him whilst you take out the minions. He doesn't have much of a edge really but 'a Bugbear but more' is a perfectly valid justification for his inclusion. Bugbears can communicate and form alliances (if it'll be a mercenary for them surely it'll fight for you too?) but the fluff gives the distinct impression that they are totally unreliable thugs - which is grand for the DM but not so good for the players. I imagine Bugbear culture and mindset to be brutally unromantic and pragmatic, hence their predilection for stealthy murder and bullying of lesser nasties. For players encountering them, a alliance of convenience is possible, but they seem to be unlikely quest-givers - what do Bugbears want beyond plunder and blood?

    For some reason Bugbears also get a bonus to survival - who rolls Survival checks for a monster?


    Fluff

    A lot of this is the standard nasty-goblinoid fluff: they're a combination of drug dealer's muscle and that roommate you had who couldn't look after himself. Their primary means of interacting with the world are plunder, murder and slavery. They have their own silly little racial god (I am not a fan of these at all, and it always begs the cosmological question of whether Hruggek created Bugbears or Bugbears created Hruggek) who live in Acheron and isn't very nice. They are cowardly and cruel. Its hard to draw anything from the fluff text that is uniquely Bugbear aside from the predilection for sneaky evil over the overt evil of their hillbilly goblin cousins. Its not terribly evocative or inspired, unfortunately.

    Hooks

    Your party come across the remains of a previous group - bloodstained bedrolls and ransacked belongings do little to indicate what befell them. As they make camp for the night the question of avoiding the same fate must be addressed.

    In the midst of a dungeon, your players retreat to a side-room for a breather - those undead just keep on coming. They barricade the doors and light a fire for the night. They notice the Bugbears skulking in the darkness beyond early - but can they be bargained with, and what kind of ally would they be?

    A spate of grisly killings has paralysed the town. All the victims were bludgeoned just seconds from a tavern's warm and light or the succour of friends. Who is this murderer and how does he move like a shadow?

    In a Hobgoblin-ruled town, two Bugbears offer their services as guides and mercenaries for exploring the local wilds. Can your players sleep easy with these watchful protectors?

    Verdict: Difficult to use fairly and the execution is a little uninspired, but this remains a solid alternative to other humanoid foes.


    Bulette (by MrConsideration on 2015-09-25)

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    The Bulette's pedigree as a D&D creature is difficult to besmirch. Originally conjured by Gygax from a forgettable, plastic toy-store 'dinosaur', the Bulette has developed an identity all its own: a carnivorous, armoured, burrowing monster - the shark of terra firma. Let's bite the Bulette.

    Art
    Another artwork with a real sense of dynamism. The Bulette is leaping free from the dirt, vast mouth ready to engulf you. The colour scheme is naturalistic and the armour manages to look both reptilian and oddly shark-like at the same time. I do find the idea of this creature leaping pretty incredulous though. Its an armoured tank - how does it leap 30 feet? It seems much more like a mobile Sarlaac in its hunting tactics to me.

    Purpose and Tactics
    Three-quarters of the way down the page, in emboldened text, are the words: Wandering Monster. The Monster Manual people were nice enough to make it explicit - the Bulette is, nine times out of ten, a road-bump for the enterprising mid-level party to slaughter on the way to adventures new. Bulettes need no excuse to try and eat your players, even with superior numbers, and can be found in almost any biome where adventurers might be roaming.

    In battle, much like the Ankheg, you want the Bulette to ambush and surprise your party. You can take advantage of the Tremorsense and Darkvision to drop a Bulette on unsuspecting adventurers underground or at night to add an element of terror to your players. The Deadly Leap attack allows you to target squishy Wizards and other backliners and knock them out of combat. Although the fluff text claims Bulettes are shunned by all and sundry if you want to use one as a cohort for tougher, more civilised foes, they're great for hitting the casters and disrupting their concentration. They work well on several different kinds of terrain: underground, in the dark, they have advantages of mobility and perception: an interesting encounter might happen in a tunnel network where the burrowing of the Bulettes(s) creates new routes through the dungeon. Alternatively, in a wide open space, a Bulette's leaping could infuriate a spread-out party, especially one responding to some other situation, such as spreading out to track enemies.

    Bulette tactics are fairly simple in combat. You leap, you bite, you chew, you give your players a fleeting sense of triumph.

    Fluff
    They roam and eat. The fluff takes a stab at making Bulettes fit into a wider quest-line or campaign story. They can reemerge as a species after centuries of dormancy, which could fit a narrative in your campaign, but I personally find them fairly uninspiring as recurring villains.

    So much of the Bulette fluff is built on that wonderfully mad Gygaxian D&D-logic: like the Beholder, it exists to be a monster and to live or die by the diktats of clattering D20s. Whilst it makes it difficult to insert into campaign worlds that are low-magic or highly realistic (what could you standard Medieval community do against something like a Bulette?) it fits right into the normal kitchen-sink D&D pastiche. There's some wonderfully needless D&D moments in there: Bulettes don't like eating Elves (not at all filling) or Dwarves (too gamey) but are extremely partial to Halflings, so any Bulette you use you want to gobble the hobbit before snarfing the dwarf.

    Hooks

    A Wizard - that Wizard - want someone to help him to reclaim his breeding grounds. After years of failed experiments (squidox, dogiraffe, wolfmouse) he has finally unleashed a magical monster worthy of his dedication. The only problem is he needs at least two taken alive.

    Deserted farmsteads. An eerie quiet. Tunnels that extend for miles. What happened here? Can you players delve into the depths after the monsters that have taken the region?

    The Mines of Gamotha have made the city rich. They've tapped into deep seams of silver that seem to descend eternally below the town. But miners are baffled - there are tunnels in the depth no mortal hand has dug. They need adventurers to look into it before whatever's down there starts digging up.


    Verdict: A fun, silly-scary one-shot monster, borne of a plastic toy. The execution is decent, but there's not a awful lot to work with for the Bulette as a concept.


    Bullywug (by MrConsideration on 2015-10-02)

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    Bullywugs are a race of malevolent frogs that want to debase and humiliate you for some reason. Admittedly, it's not an great elevator pitch for a monster - and it occupies several crowded niches. D&D has a surfeit of frog monsters (a crowed neighbourhood of Kua-Toa, Slaads, Frogheemoths and other gonzo nuttiness) and primitive tribal humanoids and swamp-dwelling reptile folk (Lizardmen, trolls...). Any D&D game featuring Bullywugs has to have them edge out a bunch of other scaly possibilities. I understand that Gary Gygax's progeny invented the Bullywugs. As a Teacher and nurturer of young minds, this makes me take an instinctive dislike to Bullywugs as indulgent and a bit naff.

    Art
    The Bullywug art is an expressionless frog. I think the portly, unemotional look communicates a lot of the ideas in the fluff. Bullywugs are small-minded, grasping. despotic hoarders - the Vicky Pollard of the D&D universe. It's effective art but nothing awe-inspiring - but what can an artist do when your remit is 'a frog person'?

    Purpose and Tactics
    Bullywugs are a weak, but fairly intelligent humanoid amphibian. Their desires seem fairly simple: the acquisition of treasure and the ritual humiliation of trespassers. Whist these goals are often going to conflict with your players gallivanting around your precious hexographer map and killing all those NPCs you spent hours writing up, there is easily a role for Bullywugs as quest-givers, potential allies or a diplomatic encounter. The idea of roleplaying some grotesquely fat Bullywug big-cheese making demands of adventurers does appeal! The fluff for the their interactions is brilliant, focusing on their enormous insecurity and petty cruelty. Somehow, I find that all more believable than your standard eeeeeeevil Orcs or Goblins - the Bullywug feels like the incarnation of the banality of evil.

    Bullywug skills and abilities lead to an ambush in a swamp environment. Their hefty passive perception and stealth mean they'll ideally appear out of the murk and attack your players. In battle, they're fairly unique for low-level monsters in that they can attack twice per turn. Their damage is rubbish though, so the end result isn't much different form a singular attack. Their jumping ability gives you a lot to work with: suspend the combat on stepping-stones over a gushing river, or at the top of a waterfall, or in deep, difficult terrain swamp-muck: anything to allow Bullywugs to skirmish around the battlefield attacking squishy party members, making the combat frenetic and tense. For a more jaded group starting out with level one characters, they're a far more engaging for than goblins or kobolds.

    Fluff
    I really like their fluff. It establishes them as narcissistic and insecure, and gives a wealth of reasons you might need to interact with Bullywugs. I especially like them as enemies in a campaign with younger children - they only capture, not kill, players and NPCs - and there's a chord of silliness running through them. In my minor experience of playing with kids, they also love the Swallow Whole ability that Giant Frogs are packing and the prospect of killing a frog from inside its digestive tract fills them with glee. They are local bullies, comically inept - the Disney villains of any campaign setting. You could also easily give them leaders with spells and class levels to keep them more of a long-term threat.

    Hooks

    A petty Bullywug king wants the crown of a local lord to add to his collection. He will allow anyone who claims it for him the pick of his mound of baubles.

    A maguffin of considerable importance has disappeared en route through the swamps. How will your players wrangle its return from the Bullywugs?

    A lady Bullyuwg tires of the petty murders and endless raids of her people. She desires to see the world, and in particular to find a new place for forward-thinking Bullywugs within it...

    Verdict: Somewhere between the sublime and the absurd is a grumpy frog monster with a silly name. In the right game it works well.


    Cambion (by MrConsideration on 2015-10-10)

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    The Cambion - a Romance-language response to the English changeling - describes the offspring of a Fiend an a mortal. Considering the variety of forms in the Abyss and the Nine Hells, presumably Cambions are extremely varied. The MM gives us your their take on the sexy-tempter trope which fits in with the original mythology of the Cambion being the offspring of a succu- or incubus and a mortal. My major issue with the Cambion is it occupies a very similar niche to the Tiefling. Whilst I know many people hate Tieflings (probably because they made it to the PHB in 4e) I personally like them - is it the case that Grandad was a Devil, Mum was a Cambion but I'm a Tiefling?

    Let's go to hell.

    Art

    I'm not sure what to make of this. On one level I look at the art and simply say to myself, "Yup, there's a Devil person - with wings and horns and red skin." I'm not overwhelmingly excited by the execution of Cambions as Pit Fiends in miniature, but the execution is solid - I'd love to see a range of Cambion form different fiends, though. I've moaned before about silly fantasy armour with unnecessary spikes, but I feel it's more appropriate if you grew up in Acheron. I do like the earrings and facial expression - it communicates a kind of punk ethos - it's very "F--- you Mum I'm going to Dad's plane!". The tribal tattoo is a little too dudebro fratboy for me though - but then again, if your dad is Graz'zt you can get into any fraternity you like.


    Purpose and Tactics
    For your campaign, here is an excellent low-level Big Bad. A dissembler with the power to back it up - with Alter Self and his Charm abilities the Cambion can easily ingratiate himself into a number of organisations. As an NPC, he could infiltrate the party or a quest-giving organisation for his or her own nefarious ends. If they catch the Cambion, between Plane Shift and a 60" flight speed he should easily escape a level appropriate party to wreak havoc elsewhere. The question becomes, what does a Cambion want? Whilst the fluff establishes some of them are minions of devils and demons proper - and I would certainly have one leading a cult or rival adventurer's group hunting for maguffins and ancient lore and whatnot - I personally think a lot of them would just have human motivations, tinged by their own innate evil and the probably lackluster moral education given to them. Maybe they want to become a master thief, or great wizard, or control the spice trade or become a dread pirate or avenge their dead wife or gain the biggest library in your campaign world. If your Cambion becomes a longer-term villain, it's be very easy to beef him up by adding extra spells to his innate casting and maybe powers based on their parentage. They'll definitely need some human-y motivations, though.

    When it comes to blows, the Cambion can be quite handy in a fight. Using their flight they have excellent mobility, and their ranged attack is about as beefy as their melee - if they pull off their Fiendish Charm mid-battle they can turn a PC into a minion (forcing players to waste resources and actions attacking each other to get another saving throw). Not to mention, the Cambion is packing some pretty handy damage resistances (and fairly few level 5 parties will have magical weapons), great AC and a few minor spells. This should all help him get over the solo problem: the action economy is going to let your players kick their teeth in. Ideally, a Cambion should fight with minions against slightly higher-level players.

    Fluff

    We get the origin story, and a few explanations for why one might be working in your campaign - they're mortal agents of the Nine Hells. I love that the fluff makes a clear distinction between demon- and devil-derived Cambion s: one is raised to be party of the machinations of its parent, the other has to claw their way to a position of being anything more than meat. They focus on Graz'zt, whose progeny is the focus of the MM write up.

    Hooks

    You enter the city of Gamotha, to find the streets running with blood and barricades. The city has broken out in revolution! A fast speaking demogogue stirs the populace to revolt, and to violent pogroms against minority populations. How do your players react?

    A new faith has spread like wildfire through the city; the cult leaderfattens himself on donations, marries the wives of his parishioners, and proclaims himself the vessel of god. How do your players react?

    The Adventurer's Guild in your campaign world is ran by a polite, befuddled and quaint little man, who generously always offers to buy artefacts from a specific lost civilization for his personal 'collection'. If PCs get suspicious, he might cease to be polite, befuddled and quaint...

    Verdict:
    A great chassis for you to build engaging NPC villains.


    Carrion Crawler (by MrConsideration on 2015-10-17)

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    The Carrion Crawler is another nasty which dates back to the very first supplements of the D&D game - and as a result its ecological niche is purely in the sort of places adventurers are always poking around in - dungeons, sewers, ruins, caves and caverns. A huge, insectile monstrosity which is clearly designed to evoke revulsion and horror, as it frits around its putrefied lair.

    Art
    In a movie, you'd never see the Carrion Crawler. It'd be a skittering presence - always just around the corner, in the darkness above, in the murk below. Of course, for a monster book we need a clear depiction, and I find the Monster Manual attempt clearly communicates what is iconic about the Carrion Crawler - it's moist, yellow skin, reaching tentacles and alien eyes. If you're using a Carrion Crawler, ham up just how vile this creature really is. It's a good piece, especially considering how woeful some of the Carrion Crawler art is.

    Purpose and Tactics
    They are ambush predators for low-level dungeons, and can feasibly be added to almost any 'dungeon' environment. To really use them at their best, though, sewers or moist caverns seem the best locales: with plenty of space for them to hide and assault your players from the darkness. Due to their Spider Climb ability, you need to be thinking in 3D - the Carrion Crawler could as easily be above you as around the next corner. Despite being allegedly a scavenger, it hunts most of its prey. In combat the paralysis ability is quite limited, as it is 'Save Ends' but I'd still aim to spread around the tentacle attacks to try and deny players turns and shift the action economy further in your favour. At higher levels, a small group of Carrion Crawlers would be relying on the paralysis to keep them competitive as their damage output is pretty poor for a CR2 monster. You should also use the darkness of its lair to gain it advantage and its foes disadvantage to give it time to deal more serious damage before your players kill it. The idea that it might ambush and drag away a paralysed player can really inject tension and pace into a dungeon crawl - the Carrion Crawler makes off with the cleric through an elevated tunnel and suddenly your players are dashing in the darkness to try and rescue him.

    It would be a good boss monster for a low-level party's first quest or, for a higher-level party, a small group of them could be a low-difficulty encounter added to the lair of any other monster that could end up leaving a lot of meat behind - maybe a cult or group of bandits keep them beneath their lair and feed them victims. Your players could even make use of them - leading them towards enemies or opening a sewer hatch in a town house to unleash a Carrion Crawler on the inhabitants.

    Fluff

    The fluff is well-written and gives you a wealth on synonyms for 'gross' to liven up your own dungeon descriptions, and gives a good explanation for why the Carrion Crawler is in any specific place. The text is evocative and gives you plenty of material to invent your own ambush scenario and ensure any encounter with a Carrion Crawler is memorable and not a roadbump on the way to more satisfying dungeons inhabitants.

    Hooks

    In the sewers of a major city, an infestation of Carrion Crawlers has gotten massively out of hand. They're emerging from the sewers into the streets and dragging hapless victims back with them. Can your players clear out the sewers and find out what lead to their growth?

    A serial killer has been disposing of bodies throughout the city. Without a victim, your players cannot get the guards to arrest their perp. How is he ridding himself of their remains?

    An idea I'm working on: A battlefield as an 'open-plan' dungeon: you need to reclaim the crown of a deposed line of royalty to cement your patron's claim to the throne, but it was lost on the battlefield a century ago. Now, the battlefield is a haunted, infested mess of carrion and death - who knows what monsters lurk behind the barrows and tatter banners?

    Verdict: A solid but grotesque no-frills monster, well executed.


    Centaur (by MrConsideration on 2015-10-24)

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    The Centaur has a long track record in Greek myth and more recently in fantasy of all stripes. They're probably the result of a culture without horse-riding encountering one with horse-riding and explaining and mythologising that discrepancy as their enemy being literally part-animal. Somehow in D&D I find it hard to fit Centaurs - they're transparently another sentient race and one that would impact massively on a low-magic campaign world (equestrian culture elevated the Mongols, Huns, Persians and others to world-conquering heights - imagine a culture that could do that innately without the need for extensive grazing-lands or whatnot). For some reason Centaurs live in forests despite the fact horses don't, and the sort of fit in the same head-space as Elves or Fey - sitting about in a forest being mystical.) It constantly begs the question of why there's a half-man-half-horse creature.

    Art
    There are elements of this piece that I like: the shaggy, disheveled appearance fits the mythos for the centaur better than the usual oiled-bodybuilder-on-top-of-a-horse, and it at least suggests a sense of a culture - the distinctive hair and tattoos and adornments. Its a characterful piece, but I can't truly like it because the Centaur as a concept just doesn't appeal to me.

    Purpose and Tactics:


    On the one hand, you have the Centaur as wandering sage: a neutral good, fortune-telling NPC to handily serve as the mouthpiece of the DM and cram some exposition down their throats. One the other hand, you have the idea of the Centaur as a licentious, wild wanderer of abandon. Both can give compelling stories to player characters and numerous adventure hooks in their interactions with settled peoples. Centaur speak Elvish and Sylvan, but no Common (despite being universal wanderers) so deciphering a Centaur's prophecy might be difficult. A quest could easily revolve around an abandoned, aged Centaur's desire to tell his final prophecy to the right community or individual just as it could explore the tensions caused by raucous Centaurs moving temporarily into a settled region, trampling fences and being up all hours. The fluff gives them excellent scope fro a range of social encounters.

    For the kick-in-the-door players out there who'll happily kill one, they make for fairly interesting combat challenges. Their high passive perception makes it unlikely a stealthy approach will work, and their natural advantage is speed and skirmish tactics. Your Centaur's defenses will fold like wet cardboard before a party of level-appropriate adventurers, so take advantage of the charging damage and mobility to inflict a hefty 1d10 + 3d6 + 2d6 + 8 damage on an unfortunate victim. Then, charge out of range again, and ping players with your longbow attacks. If you focus your charges on ranged characters and spellcasters (and 50ft of movement should give you plenty of scope to do so on a large battlefield) you should confound melee combatants and pile pressure and damage of exactly those members of the party who fear it most. The Centaur has only one trick, but its a good one. At higher levels, a number of Centaurs will still be a credible threat although it might be a rocket-tag battle. The biggest weakness is that Centaurs are easily shut-down by magic like Tasha's Hideous Laughter or Grease or any control spells which will hamper them and make it easy for the party to turn their firepower on them fully.

    Fluff
    There is a rich vein of adventure hooks in this evocative passage for use in your game, yet the text is terse enough for you to easily insert your own fluff into the gaps to fit the Centaur into your world. Roaming sages can be obvious destinations for a quest - a hexcrawl that chases a Centaur band across a vast and alien landscape - just as they could give a quest themselves. Being nomadic, they will often come into contact and conflict with settled peoples - as above, those tensions give ample room for social quests where you manage relationships between communities. Another excellent hook is the idea of older Centaurs being left behind - the Centaur equivalent of being put out to pasture being essentially the opposite. This is excellent, gameable text.

    Hooks
    Beside the road your players encounter an octogenarian Centaur. Ashamed of his vulnerability and knowing he cannot make the journey himself, he asks only that your players deliver his last prophecy to the scion of an ancient line of mages, living far to the north....

    Bulug Firemane is the only known expert on *plot-relevant subject* - his sage knowledge will be needed if there is any hope of victory. However, he and his tribe of wanderers long ago drifted far into the East...

    Your players approach the village - there are trampled crops, broken bottles in the road - the villagers, exhausted and furious, demand you drive off the Centaurs whose endless partying has brought chaos to their lives.

    Verdict: A very well-executed monster - everything in the text is gameable and nothing is superfluous.
    Last edited by odigity; 2016-10-08 at 11:53 AM.

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    Chimera (by MrConsideration on 2015-10-27)

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    We continue our trip through Hellenistic myth with the Chimera. Like many monsters in the D&D canon, the Chimera has moved from being an individual creature to a whole species, which is an interpretation I feel is a little odd (are all chimera in the world specifically part lion, dragon and goat? I'd prefer to see a range of Chimera - one is part crocodile, zebra and stag, another mixes aurochs, badger and platypus....) and rather lessens the impact of the sheer weirdness of the Chimera. Long before the progenitors of our hobby were looking at crappy plastic miniatures and inventing Gelatinous Cubes and Owlbears, ancient Greeks were also assembling absurd monstrosities. In my personal campaign setting, I'm a stickler for unique monsters. I've always liked the Forgotten Beasts and Titans of the Dwarf Fortress and think the chimera works best as one of those - a hideous antideluvian accident that by sheer happenstance is still blighting the world. Before we get too mixed-up, let's check him out...

    Art
    There is a naturalistic bent to this which, juxtaposed with the surreal nature of the subject, makes the picture quite powerful. The Lion and Dragon heads are both brilliantly captured and alive, but the goat looks quite alarmed, as though it received an invite to become a Chimera and didn't realise quite what that entailed. As ever, the Chimera just begs questions - what do the organs look like? The skeleton? Its a great piece.

    Purpose and Tactics
    It's a big, tough, solo beastie. To get around the Action Economy issues with being a big, tough, solo beastie, and to mesh with its three heads, the Chimera gets three attacks; a bite, claw and horn-gouge. Much like a dragon proper, it also has a recharging breath weapon attack. To me, it still looks fairly easy for a party of 6th level PCs to flatten - one save-or-suck or control spell followed by a nova could see the chimera out of action in a round or two, and weak mental saves leave it quite vulnerable to that strategy. Luckily for the Chimera, its fire breath deals a hefty 7d8 damage with a fairly challenging dex save, so it should be able to position itself to burn a large section of the party, then fly to an exposed victim for the next two attacks. W

    There is some mention in the flavour text of taming a Chimera with gifts of treasure and food - a flying monster with high perception would be an amazing asset for a party notwithstanding the powerful attacks. Of course, it could easily be tamed by a rival of the PCs in much the same way....When communicating with the Chimera, you have to bear in mind that it only understands Draconic, and for some reason can't speak at all, making any negotiations tricky indeed.

    Fluff
    The fluff gives them an origin story as creations of Demogorgon, which I can get behind, and I love the idea of their heads being conflicted or antagonistic to one another - whilst this is played for laughs with Ettins, you could make it more tragic with the chimera in your campaign. They occupy vast territories and fight rival monsters for dominion, so they're always going to be coming to the attention of local adventurers. The 'typical' Chimera resembles the one on this page, which gives a nod to the idea that there are many varieties of chimera you could introduce. All in all, there's a tone of both the mythic and mundane naturalism in this text which I always find a little irritating in D&D - if I know its the monstrous creation of demons I don't need to know how it goes to the toilet. All in all, a few gameable morsels and a lot of the usual "bla bla bla this creature is extremely cruel..." waffle you always get in Monster Manuals.

    A heroic effort is made throughout to make the goat head threatening - it apparently bestows a willingness to fight to the death.
    If you say so, Monster Manual!

    Hooks
    The Goat head of the Chimera has plotted for years to be free of this existence. Whilst the idiotic lion and dragon glut themselves on innocents, the goat gleans what wisdom it can from very killing. Now it seeks adventurers not to slay the Chimera - but to separate the goat from it so that it can live a free life.

    None can stand up to the Hobgoblin Warlord Scipius, for he commands the loyalty of the dreaded Chimera. Whenever citizens gather to protests his tyranny, the beast swoops from the sky, ravenous and terrible. If one could slay his monster, perhaps the land could be freee...

    To prove yourself to the Brethren of Blades, you must venture to wilderness of Ugris and there slay the dreaded Beast of the Barrows. Some say it is a lion of prodigious size - others say a dragon - but you must end its life to be accepted into the Brotherhood.

    Verdict: A classic monster, but one that belongs here - only the advanced age of the Chimera leaves us not wanting to hurt its feelings.


    Chuul (by MrConsideration on 2015-11-05)

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    A Chuul, introduced in the Third Edition of D&D and thus a comparative newcomer to monsterhood, is ancient in-universe. Created by the Aboleths to assert their hegemony on the land, these strange creatures are somewhere between crustacean, automaton and sea-food platter, and now exist only to scuttle about trying to resurrect the glories of the Pax Abolethia.


    Art

    I sort of wonder what the brief was for the artist drawing the Chuul. Having a google over its previous incarnations, this artwork is fairly derivative - that's not necessarily a criticism. I think when you're marketing something that is weird, like the z-list abberation that the Chuul are, you have to really work to establish the form in people's minds. Ithillids and Beholders are established enough that we can mess around and make the form different and have our own riffs on them: they are suitably antifragile. So it's a big weird lobster thing, flailing its arms. The art foregrounds the claws and Ood-like mouth tentacles as its main unique selling points. I really like the legs, which don't really look like anything I've seen before in fantasy. I think it establishes Chuul well, but its not a piece of art that I find particularly evocative. It's more biology sketch than masterpiece.


    Purpose and Tactics
    The Chuul is fairly unlikely to be a social encounter, judging by its poor intelligence and the fact it only understands Deep Speech, and can't actually speak. However, I can see using the fact it has a simple, pre-programmed mission to use it. If players discover the Chuul defends a specific area or item, they could bait it into a trap, or into fighting other enemies.

    As a combatant the Chuul is something of a one-trick prawn-y. It's multi-attack gives it the option of grappling with the lobster claws and then using its Dr Zoidberg face to paralyse an opponent. Considering the low damage output (6-16) and the limitations on how many people the Chuul can immobilize, I'm fairly sure the Chuul won't be much of a threat without support from other creatures. As a group or in an Aboleth cohort, they're excellent crowd control monsters. Additionally, their ability to swim and breathe underwater can help them traverse flooded areas, sunken temples or coastal regions to ambush your players - it also has brilliant darkvision, so a particularaly memorable encounter might take place both underwater and in pitch blackness. An encounter on those lines should be more evocative of Ridley Scott's Alien than your standard D&D fare. In the dark the Chuul's innate ability to sense magic should allow it to home in on your standard party with the ease of an thaumaturgic bloodhound - and dangling the possibility of abandoning magic items to save their lives would truly horrify most players.

    Fluff
    There are aspects of this that I really like: the concept of a race of mindless, scuttling minions still following genetic commands millenia after the Aboleths have passed makes for excellent adventure material. They're active in a way few other 'ancient lost empire' races can plausibly be, and could easily emerge from a coastal region or lost temple to capture humanoids, hoard treasures and combat rivals. This gives them loads of excuses to become quest hooks for your players.

    One brilliant aspect is the idea that Chuul keep growing - whilst Large Chuul might be scrapping with your party, a long-term threat might be a Cloverfield-sized Chuul resting on the ocean floor, ready to awaken and signal the thousand year Aboleth-reich.

    Adventure Hooks
    In the Isles of Daganskuld, there has long been rumours of a sea-creature of incredible size, which drags ships into the depths with complete arbitrariness and indifference. Could your players chase down the source of this behemoth?

    An expedition has been mounted to the recently discovered ruins on the island of Svaldi. However, members of the team have gone missing, as has a rare crate of magical equipment...

    Your players arrive in a coastal village. Everyone is missing. Strange tracks abound.

    Verdict: Solid, creepy aberration for lower-level characters. Unfortunately not as iconic as Mind Flayers or Aboleths.


    Cloaker (by MrConsideration on 2015-11-13)

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    I detest this monster and have been resisting writing this up for quite some time. I'd finish my marking early - or find a great resource that would save time for planning - and think about doing another monster review update. But it's the bloody Cloaker again. An inane life-form which is purely the result of Grognard 'Gotcha' twattery and a weak joke.

    The Cloaker, like much silliness in our beloved game, lives deep in the bones of D&D logic. In 1e adventure, some smug DM or adventure writer decided to catch out his players with a piece of clothing that eats them. Someone died unfairly, and now its there, with an ecology, a big, fat, stupid lump of a concept forever associated with my otherwise sensible Game Where You Pretend To Be A Wizard Sometimes, drinking deep gulps of precious verisimilitude and converting it into gonzo silliness.

    Let's get it over.

    Art.
    A cartoony face attached to what might otherwise be quite a haunting piece. I'd the cloaker threatening (I'm being charitable) if they accentuated the biological weirdness and went pure body-horror: the manta-ray vibe reminds me of the (disappointing but imaginative) Prometheus. I'd like a cloaker with no face - simply a few strange orifices of nebulous intent on an alien body. The stupid vestigial claws and face ruin this piece.

    Purpose and Tactics.

    It pretends to be a cloak so it can eat you.

    It pretends to be a cloak so it can eat you.

    Do I really have to do this properly? Ok then - but only so as not to compromise my integrity.


    The Cloaker uses the numerous means at its disposal (Stealth, Darkvision, False Appearance, Phantasms as decoys, pretending to be a cloak) in order to make a bite attack against one of your PCs, subsequently attaching itself to their head, preventing them from breathing and seeing. Then all the other characters stand there and beat it to death with half the damage being transferred to the player who probably ends up unconscious. The combat can go no other way and will be extremely boring once the novelty of watching Ragnar the Barbarian be eaten by an accessory has worn off. This takes rather a weighty stat-block (twice the size of its much more fun ambush-predator pagemate the Chuul) to convey. Now, it's up to the DM what happens when someone casts any number of spells like Tasha's Hideous Laughter which should incapacitate the Cloaker and end your combat prematurely. I swear this almost never happens to me.

    Beyond that, the Cloaker has a wealth of other options. It's got an Intelligence of 13 - meaning by the rules of a game a Cloaker is better informed about Religion and History than your average human. It's also Wiser, and despite spending its lifetime motionless, pretending to be a single culturally-specific human garment it is considerably much more Charismatic than most people. Never mind haunting the Underdark you - a Cloaker has all the skills necessary to kill you and steal your girlfriend.It can speak two languages - Deep Speech and Undercommon - yet it communicates solely through supersonic moans. Its clearly just taking Deep Speech classes on a Tuesday night to meet girls.

    Fluff
    I am going to award points for effort here. Someone has sat down in front of blank Word documents at Wizard of the Coast HQ, watching the accusing blink, and thought of an ecology for a monster that pretends to be a cloak so it can eat you. They describe their roving behaviour in the Underdark and the fact they target weak, isolated prey, at length. The whole text has a really great naturalistic bent - I mentally read it in David Attenborough's voice - despite the sheer idiocy of the premise they're working with.
    They describe the haunting possibility of caverns where every surface is a Cloaker - a set piece I'd actually use in an Underdark campaign.


    Hooks
    It pretends to be a cloak so it can eat you.

    In a cavern adjacent to the Dwarven city of Harkellskallagrim, a number of cloakers have been gathering. Their echoing moans are heard for miles in the tunnels of the Underdark; the reverb buzz of a numberless parliament of monsters. Can you players investigate why the Cloakers chose this place, and how they can be convinced - or forced - to leave, before they turn their predations on Harkellskallagrim....

    Verdict: Still no.


    Cockatrice (by MrConsideration on 2015-11-15)

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    Moving on from the Cloaker (which is waaaaaay more popular than I ever imagined!) we return to another D&Dification of a beast from mythology. In this case, the rather pathetic Cockatrice occurs in late Medieval heraldry and art as a reference to a miniature dragon from Pliny the Elder’s seminal work A Bunch of Animals I Made Up For Laughs. The Cockatrice seems like the black sheep of the chimera family in that instead of combining apex predator and terrifying creatures of myth it is a mixture of bat, chicken and lizard – it’s more a law-suit at a KFC than a monster to challenge mighty heroes.

    I think the intention of the Cockatrice is supposed to be comical: it looks fairly innocuous then hits you with its nasty petrification ability and you must live with the shame of being bested by an uppity farm animal.

    Art
    Despite the size of the Cockatrice, it gets a huge picture which dwarfs the depictions of most beasties in the book. It’s a lovely interpretation of dusky, spiky savagery, weirdly painted on the body of a chicken – it has a great sense of motion, as though it is crowing just before throwing itself at you. A good effort which looks plausible yet fantastical.

    Purpose and Tactics
    It is completely incapable of speech and has animal intelligence, and its one instinct is to violently attack you – scrappiness is a defining characteristic of the Cockatrice, unfortunately. Your Cockatrice should immediately pounce on the biggest meathead in the party and attack, hoping to petrify them. Most players shouldn’t have too much trouble with the Con save (11) and the fact you get a additional saving throw but if the Dice Gods are cruel there’s the amusing possibility of petrifying several PCs before the Cockatrice(s) crow their last. Flight gives it great mobility to nip around targeting those weaker Con saves if you’re playing tactically, though. As their damage and to-hit bonus is extremely low, this is the Cockatrice’s one gambit in a combat. Low-level parties will have very few means of dealing with petrification (as you’ll remember for the Basilisk review) but luckily this only lasts a day. Your players will have the choice of dragging a statue with them or making camp for the day, which tends to create good stories but will be quite tedious for the unlucky player who was petrified and spent the session going to the bar on behalf of people actually playing (this happened when my group faced a Medusa, once). Its HP is pretty solid for a CR ½ monster, but it should go down in a few rounds of focused fire – a pack of Cockatrice might trouble a low-level party if you’re playing hard and fast with the CR rules. As a cohort of some other monster it’s a nice disruptive element to the combat: perhaps an Earth Genasi or Wizard has one as a pet. Alone or grouped with other Cockatrice it is likely to cause an interesting complication via petrification or die having achieved little.

    Fluff
    The fluff is quite minimalistic – whilst we have their dietary requirements (extremely useful information for a DM, that…) and their scrappy nature, there isn’t much to the fluff. There’s no notion of an origin or role in the world or relationships to any other creature or even what environment a Cockatrice might live in - all the stuff that would actually help me place the stupid thing in an adventure. Someone has taken the time to tell me it eats much the same things as an actual chicken, implying a very mundane existence for a creature that could feasibly petrify a level 20 hero of legend. Surely we must have some explanation for how or why this creature can petrify people? It doesn’t digest the stone, a la the Basilisk, so it seems to just function as an incredibly unreliable method of defence against foxes and badgers.

    Hooks


    A great crocodile has haunted the riverbank near the village, dragging man and beast alike to their doom. The Elders say the only the legendary Cockatrice will prevail against it – if someone could adventure to the Stone Plain and bring one back alive.

    A craze for living statues is sweeping the decadent nobles of Asht-Lemenc. Volunteers are trained to pose whilst being attacked by the Cockatrice to produce temporary spectacles for balls. To this end, many Noble houses have a number of Cockatrice in their aviaries – until a number were let free last night throughout the city. Now they’re causing havoc in the markets, attacking people at random…

    Verdict: Silly and fun, but I find it hard to place.


    Coautl (by MrConsideration on 2015-11-27)

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    The Coautl has always interested me - its Mesoamerican inspiration gives it a tonne of flavour but makes it hard to fit into most campaign worlds - and any setting with a distinctly Mesoamerican flavour will struggle to accommodate most other beasties that D&D is packing. The D&D interpretation of Quetzacouatl suffers from being Lawful Good, too, which doesn't give us access to all the fun bits of a Mesoamerican setting: namely tearing people's hearts out and kicking their lifeless corpses down the step pyramid.. The nerdy Coautl would really struggle to fill Quetzacoatl's shoes, if he needed such things.
    I've mentioned before in my Angel review that I always felt your Lawful Good monsters were a bunch of schoolmatronly Mary Sue do-gooders used by authoritarian DMs to push their players around, and the Coautl seems no better.

    Art

    It's a difficult concept to capture, the feathered serpent. The images that inspired the creature are all heavily stylised, but the artist has gone for quite a realistic, nuanced image with gentle shifts of tone. None of the blocky, primary colours of the original pieces. It captures a sense of grace, of lithe but threatening beauty - the weird dignity of a snake. I don’t know if I like it, per se, but its certainly a brave and accomplished piece. The wings just look too…vestigial?

    Purpose and Tactics

    It's a quest-giver. It literally exists to accomplish some lofty goal, or prophecy, or divine mandate – it lives in natural symbiosis with the. plot hook and the need to drop it in to the laps of player-characters. this role I’d ham up its surroundings – players are going to have to machete their way through an awful lots of Pulp-Conan-Jungle to get to the benevolent snake, which would be elusive and strange. It has a number of spells which are clearly intended to aid in quests, such as Scrying or Dream, as well as a number of spells that exist as quest rewards, like Greater Restoration. It can speak all languages and is Telepathic, so your players have to talk to the bloody stupid thing eventually (see my point above re: authoritarian DMs).

    But….I don’t like it as a quest-giver. Despite looking like cobra at the Rio Carnival, it is painfully vanilla to have some tedious preachy Lawful Good monster give the players a quest. I like my quest-givers to have some edge (recent culprits have included: a jumped-up mercenary who calls himself a King, a Queen of Harpies with the gift of prophecy, a corpulent hag with a retinue of goblin slaves, a Dwarf Merchant prince who probably assassinated his predecessor…). There’s no edge to the Couatl – and not just because it is a snake. Its because it has no connections to the world – no hopes or dreams or grubby, petty little ambitions – it just wants to do something really nice. Now, big daddy Quetzalcoatl had edge in spades. He literally desired sacrifices to keep the universe spinning. He’s a beastie straight out of Warhammer. The fact that Couatl speaks every language and is telepathic and has truesight and can magically become human and you can’t read it mind or emotions, nerr, nerr, nerr, just in order to be a quest-giver makes me really dislike this thing.

    If you fight it – and I secretly hope if a DM tries to inflict one on you that you do - it is a complete milquetoast. CR 4? What kind of flimsy divine guardian is this? I understand it’s basically a living feather boa.

    OK, so the Couatl fights by using a number of annoying strategies – it has a number of resistances and immunities, mighty saves and a great fly speed. It can easily avoid damage (almost as though the good people at Wizards don’t want you to kill it…) and heal itself. However, its actual offensive options are rubbish – low damage output and a gimmicky grapple. I’d give it some kind of nasty poisonous bite, so it could skirmish and pick you off one-by-one in a jungle where you can’t even see the damn thing, but that would hardly be very Lawful Good.

    Fluff
    It sits in some idiotic niche between the mythic and the utterly mundane that ruins it completely. It has loads of weird gimmicks straight from some dramatic, high-fantasy legend – it can forsee its death a century in advance, it was made by the gods – with a load of boring ecological rubbish where it seeks out a mate only if it hasn’t given anyone a quest yet. Then the controlling helicopter parent Couatl dumps its quest on youngster and promptly dies. Its is so…..silly, and there’s not much that’s gameable aside from the obvious.

    Hooks
    Deep in the jungles of Mixzapticlin, they say, a beast guards the temple. It tends the gardens, cleans the ritual rooms, and bows and honours all comers. The fact that the temple is abandoned to the jungle seems not to concern it. A group of treasure hunters will give you a cut if you tie the creature up for a few hours….or permanently.

    Deep in the jungles of Mixzapticlin, a Couatl reigns supreme over a tribe of degenerate troglodytes. Trapped in a cargo-cult mentality, he tries sacrificing every type of creature they can abduct – after all, when his civilization was great, many sacrifices were performed. If the Couatl could just find the right person to sacrifice…

    At the heart of the Emperor’s security, they say, is the one they call The Serpent. A man who seems to know the very thoughts in your head – who can speak to Ambassadors from every land – who disappears and appears like smoke whenever assassins might be near. How can The Serpent be pinned down? What secrets is he hiding?

    Verdict: Rubbish. Reskin them as the baddies from a Conan story.


    Crawling Claw (by Angel Bob on 2016-02-06)

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    I think this is a relatively new monster. It's certainly new to me, at least, as I only remember seeing it in a 4E Underdark supplement before. It's certainly not established enough to have become one of the "standard" undead that players always expect to find in the necromancer's crypt. The general idea of a malevolent, spidery hand is really cool and creepy, if done well; just look at Coraline.

    Art

    The greenish-black color of the crawling claw suggests it's been dead for some time now, and has withered and rotted from its usual skin color. That definitely makes the monster seem more alien and unnerving, although I suppose recently severed hands would be frightening in their own way. The artist has chosen to include a hint of floorboards beneath the claw, which lends a great sense of setting to the image -- you can easily imagine the claw scuttling across the floor of a tavern or mansion. The bit of bone protruding from the wrist is a nice touch; it really reminds you that this hand was once part of an actual person, which makes it considerably more disturbing.

    Purpose and Tactics

    The crawling claw can't do much besides its claw attack, which has the choice of bludgeoning or slashing damage. I suppose the idea is that the claw scratches you with its rotting nails, but I don't know where the bludgeoning damage comes from -- it can hardly punch or slap you, seeing as it's not attached to an arm. It does have Turn Immunity, which seems odd; why should a lowly crawling claw be more resistant to the Divine Light of Retribution (TM) than a full-blown skeleton or zombie?

    Truthfully, I'm more than a little disappointed in the stats. The idea of a crawling claw suggests some lovely and nasty tactics that aren't properly reflected here. For example, a grappling attack. I want to see a crawling claw that crawls up your body and closes its fingers around your neck, squeezing and choking the life from you. With a measly STR 13, though, the claw isn't likely to succeed. Another frustrating omission: Spider Climb. Crawling claws scuttling up the walls and ceiling would be a much more interesting scene than just milling about on the floor. It didn't take very long to think of these strategies, so I'm disappointed that the game developers didn't add any statistics to facilitate them.

    Fluff

    Most of this is fairly standard: it's a severed hand reanimated by necromancy. The book does specify that they are cut from murderers, and that the murderer's urge to kill lives on in the crawling claw, which gives it a sort of almost-personality. It has one simple, animalistic desire: to kill.

    The fluff says they can't be assigned to kill specific people because of their limited awareness, but I think that's rubbish. The crawling claw's whole concept screams that they're an assassin monster, a severed hand sent to slip through an open window and strangle its quarry in their sleep. Without that capacity, they're little more than guard monsters, and they won't do a very good job of that with their simple claw attack.

    One last bit of fluff that particularly intrigues me: a crawling claw can be cut from a living murderer, whose body falls into a coma while their soul transfers into the claw. This is a great way for a low-level villain to murder their targets from a distance, and/or keep an eye on the PCs. There's one caveat, which is that if the crawling claw is destroyed, the murderer dies with it. I don't care for this, since this would make it alarmingly easy for the PCs to bump off the villain without even encountering them. Rather, I'd say that if the crawling claw is destroyed, the murderer wakes up -- without a hand. Then you've got a lovely investigation on your hands (no pun intended), as the PCs scour the village for someone with a missing hand.

    Hooks

    Jimmy Longfingers is dead. He was caught and hung for his crimes two weeks ago, and his body is buried in the graveyard outside the village. But the murders haven't stopped -- people are turning up dead in their sheets, their necks bearing those signature strangle marks. The village is in a panic, and the constable is at her wit's end.

    In the depths of the dungeon, the PCs find a corpse missing both its hands and wearing a magic amulet. When they get back to town, though, odd things start happening. Messages are traced by fingers in the dirt, or on foggy panes of glass, demanding they BRING IT BACK. The townsfolk keep an eye out for suspicious figures, but they don't see anyone. And if the PCs keep ignoring the messages, people start dying...

    The PCs are accompanied on their sea voyage by an accomplished pirate captain, who lost her hand in a sword duel many years back. When the ship docks, she feels a strange, sickening presence somewhere in the port. When the PCs investigate, they find a necromancer with quite an impressive "collection"...

    Verdict

    A delightfully disturbing and unorthodox monster, but let down by uncreative statistics. Give it a strangle attack and Spider Climb, and you've got yourself a real monster.


    Cyclops (by Angel Bob on 2016-02-24)

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    With the last monster in the "C" chapter, we've returned to the Hellenistic tradition. How well has D&D captured the essence of the cyclops of legend, and what do they bring to the game?

    Art

    I'm not a huge fan of this artwork. The shading/lighting makes the cyclops' body sort of indistinct and hazy, which is especially noticeable when you look at its accessories. To be honest, the accessories really steal the show; they have a lovely prehistoric fashion sense. The cyclops itself, however, fails entirely to capture my imagination.

    Purpose and Tactics

    The cyclops is a pure brute, best used for guarding artifacts, blocking hallways, or protecting the squishier monsters. Its Huge size guarantees it has a presence on the battlefield the PCs can't ignore, and its good AC and hit points allow it to shrug off many of their attacks. Not only that, but its attack bonus is frighteningly high, and it's likely to land a few nasty blows on the fighter, which should give the players a good scare. No doubt about it: the cyclops is an excellent brute. The downside of that is, the cyclops cannot even attempt to do anything outside that role. Its poor depth perception (I love that they've included this as a trait) limits its range to 30 feet, meaning it won't have much chance to take out the annoying spellcasters that keep hitting it with fireballs.

    Fluff

    It's Polyphemus. Plain and simple.

    The fluff for the cyclops is remarkable in that there's very little material about what they do, and a whole lot of material on what they don't do. Cyclops are nonreligious, unsophisticated, and unwise -- essentially, they have very little society or culture whatsoever. (The "nonreligious" aspect is especially disappointing, considering that the cyclops of legend were favored by Poseidon.) The barebones nature of the fluff is especially apparent when compared to 4E, in which cyclops were militaristic fey who acted as servants to the fomorians. As a general rule, "soldiers of sinister unseelie fey" will always be more interesting than just "one-eyed cavemen/women".

    Hooks

    The humans and cyclops of this land have long coexisted, respecting each other's territories and properties. But now the cyclops are tearing the countryside apart, seeking revenge on "Nobody", a man who blinded one of their own. Explaining that nobody is named Nobody doesn't seem to clear up the situation. How can the PCs prevent the rampage before there is nothing left?

    The cyclops claim that they are the favored children of the sea god. When the PCs need to retrieve an artifact from the sea god's temple, the cyclops disagree. Now, in addition to navigating a treacherous water dungeon and fighting off sea monsters, the PCs must evade overwhelming attacks from the cyclops tribe.

    The PCs' archnemesis has tricked the cyclops into believing she is the sea god in human form. Now they act on her commands, razing villages and destroying artifacts in the name of their false god. Can the PCs expose her ruse to the tribe before she accomplishes her goal?

    Verdict

    Boooooooooringggggg. The cyclops fits its combat role as a brute, but that's all it is -- a brute. Either leave them out entirely, or take a cue from 4E and find a new place for them in your world.


    Darkmantle (by Jack Phoenix on 2016-02-25)

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    Darkmantle is relatively new monster, first appearing in 3e Monster Manual. It's basically Vampire Squid that evolved to fly and live in the Underdark instead of the depths of sea. It's nothing special, but it's the sort of creature I like: it's not yet another humanoid race, or some weird superinteligent monster, it feels like (super)natural part of the fantasy ecology (of course, it's predator, which brings the problem with lack of prey animals in D&D, but that's related to the fact that deers & co. usualy aren't the kind of creatures that would face adventurers in combat).

    Art
    Like the rest of the entry, the illustration is pretty bland. It shows the Darkmantle just floating in the air, lighted from somewhere above...it does not looks like it's in its normal enviroment. I think it would be better if it was shown hanging on the ceiling (like the smaller, monochrome picture in the corner of the page), or wrapped around someone's head. The triangular tips of the tentacles looks weird, and the tentacles itself would look better if they were more distinct from the "skirt". And what's up with all the eyes? All said, I prefer the 3e version more, however, the lighter brown color may work better as a camouflage, as it's more similar to how stalactites looks.

    Purpose & tactics
    Darkmantle is an ambush predator, plain and simple. It hangs on the ceiling of some cave, pretending it's a stalactite until something tasty walks nearby. Thanks to its echolocation, it can find the prey even in the dark caverns it lives in, before it can be even seen. Then it drops down, wraps itself around the target's head and try to suffocate it and eat its face. The tactic doesn't work if it doesn't have advantage, and it can't attack anyone else while it's attached...which means it's deadly against lone target, but pretty useless against groups. I'm a little surprised that it doesn't share the damage taken with the target if it's attacked while wrapped around its head, though...it would make it a little more dangerous to take out. If the ambush doesn't work, it can drop its Darkness Aura, like squid would the ink cloud, and either continue attacking the blinded targets while not being bothered itself thanks to blindsight, or escape to try again later. Otherwise, it's damage and toughness is a little weak for the creature of its CR...it's a gimmick monster that's not much of a threat outside its intended role.

    Fluff
    Fluff is very short...it explains Darkmantle's combat tactics and mentions it is common both in Underdark and Shadowfell. The comparison to bats feels weird, though: bats are very much active hunters, Darkmantle's tactic and prey is very different. The only vaguely interesting part is that some creatures train Darkmantles as guardians, but otherwise, its very boring.

    Hooks
    Darkmantle is a random encounter monster, or a sort of a living trap, not really something you would base an adventure around.

    Perhaps some alchemist or wizard is interested in the Darkmantle's ability to create Darkness aura and wants few hunted down for experimentation? It's not even much of a challenge to catch few of those things live, unless you're level 1...and maybe not even then.

    Verdict
    I like the monster, however, the whole entry feels a little redundant. With monsters like Winter Wolf being shoved with other animals, I think Darkmantle would fit right in there.


    Death Knight (by ZenBear on 2016-03-03)

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    A classic villain and antithesis to the noble Paladin, this fallen champion of good is about what you would expect. Undead, bane of all life, tortured soul, etc.

    Art

    I'm not a fan. The things that stick out most are the aforementioned torch, which serves no thematic purpose, and the goofy cylindrical helm. The only things that speak to the evil incarnation of undeath we are supposedly being presented are the obligatory red glowing eyes and the skeletal hand that seems to me to be a last minute edit when one guy realized there was no apparent evidence of the Death part of Death Knight. There ought to be more dynamism and drama. Covering the face was a missed opportunity. They should have displayed a nuanced expression showing the dichotomy of rage against the living and self-loathing at his own wretched state. Not a terrible picture objectively, it just doesn't do it for me.

    Purpose and Tactics

    High AC and a big old pile of hit points makes this a tough SOB to take down. Add in magic and turn resistance, a reaction AC boost and literal immortality gives you the makings of a perfect recurring nemesis. The turn resistance can be granted to nearby undead, but other than that there isn't much to highlight the Death Knight as a leader of undead. You should run it with some allies to even out the advantage of action economy since it doesn't get Lair Actions (or you can give it LA's from another source like the Lich), but they don't necessarily need to be undead mooks.

    Fluff

    A fallen Paladin cursed to eternity as an undead until it repents. A fine trope that kinda falls apart with the inclusion of the Oathbreaker Paladin. This is less a tragic, torturous fate and more of an ultimate reward for a life lived sadistically. Since by definition every Oathbreaker that dies will become a Death Knight, and Death Knights can never be fully destroyed until they repent or are "redeemed" by some outside force, you have the makings of a bunch of Saurons minus the One Achilles Heel.

    That being said, the fluff is fun. The story of Lord Soth is great; a little too short to give a clear understanding of how a noble Paladin could have become so overcome with lust as to have his wife murdered so he could cheat in his own bed, but compelling nonetheless. With a little more depth of detail you can really weave an engrossing tale of honor, temptation and tragedy into your campaign with an epic battle as payoff in the late game.

    Hooks

    No matter how many times they destroy it, this damn villain just keeps catching up to the group and getting in their way! How us an adventurer supposed to enjoy the spoils of grave robbing and corpse looting with a stupid, unkillable punching bag always crashing the party? It's not like there are other ways to solve a problem than violence...

    Throughout the campaign your Paladin player has been utterly careless about upholding the Oath he ostensibly swore, and now the consequences of his borderline murderhobo-ish ways have finally gotten him killed. He rolls a new character and the story rolls on, but a new threat has appeared in the world to hinder the party's goals. I wonder who that could be?

    A valiant knight once bravely descended into a cursed city to slay a great, rising darkness and prevailed at the cost of his life. Years later, the darkness is rising once more, and those few who enter the city and return alive tell of legions of undead led by a shadowy figure bearing an all too familiar sword.

    Verdict

    Predictable but well executed. Whether you build them up as the Big Bad or the Dragon (see TV Tropes), the Death Knight will serve as a reliable source of epic combat encounters with a twist; swords and spells will never end the threat, but merely delay it. Roleplay is the only way to win, and that's a refreshing change of pace.


    Demilich (by MrConsideration on 2016-03-25)

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    This undead , despite the 'demi', does not do things by half-measures. A screeching, curse-spitting monstrosity with a statblock full of nasty lair actions and area-of-effect attacks. The concept I'm not sure about (is there enough here to differentiate this from just a normal Lich? Isn't the concept of a floating head just a bit too Addams Family to evoke threat in your players?) but the statblock is mighty indeed. There is something that will always amuse me in the phrase 'Tiny Undead' though, that will always make a Demilich have something of a petulant child about it.

    Art
    I like this one. The pallid coloured tone and yellowing teeth perfectly adhere to the idea of a listless Lich who has quietly moldered away. The gemstones in the eyes give an expression of inhuman, machine intelligence; the Demilich operates somewhere between monster and object, giving it a strong J. G. Ballard vibe. Its an unsettling piece, and it helps address my main problem with this monster: the fact it is a very, very campy concept. I can only think of executions where a talking skull is played for laughs. I think it would make a great tattoo, too.

    Purpose and Tactics
    Some of the enormous potential of the Lich had been eroded: Demiliches are fundamentally not actors on a campaign stage, but somewhat more akin to a trap. Whilst a Lich might lead an army of undead, or plot from behind the scenes, a Demilich will simply wait, hungry for souls but spiritually lethargic, until your adventurers come along and see the shiny.

    To me it seem that there are two ways to play the Demilich encounter. It's a given you're deep in some large dungeon: an arcane library, trap-filled ziggurat, demiplane of crushing despair; flavour as preferred. Now, either the Demilich is on top of a shrine or throne (possibly still partially attached to a disintegrating body) and is the centrepiece of the encounter. Your players, not remembering the solemn lessons of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade rush forward into Area of Effect range and you cackle and roll initiative.

    More fun is the innocuous Demilich. "In the chest is a tapestry showing a Wizard performing a ritual, and a jeweled skull carved with runes. You value it at 800gp as a curiosity." Back at camp, when everyone dozes off....

    Tactically, the execution is rather boring and suffers from similar problems to the Banshee. Make sure your Tomb is cramped so that it can always hit with its nasty AoE attacks. The Demilich packs a assortment of nasty save-or-uh-oh effects (Howl is a nasty ability that could potentially take out a party in an instant - how do DM's rule on stuffing something in your ear or casting Deafness on yourself as a precaution? The MM is silent.) The legendary actions give it some disruptive actions, too. Combat with the Demilich seems to pan out as a race: can you knock out that milquetoast 80HP before it takes the party's souls? To slow you down the Demilich has a list or resistances, legendary and otherwise, about as long as Infinite Jest.

    Tactically, most of the fight will come down to preparedness. If a party knows what they're facing and nullifies the Howl , they'll come out ahead.* They'll also need to polish off the phylactery for good measure. (If they don't...its probably one of those art objects they flogged in a crowded city. And it only takes one soul to restore the Demilich to full Lichdom...)

    Fluff

    I like fresh riffs on immortality as much as the next man - the idea of the Lich; an archetypal horror of RPGs, slowly succumbing to ennui as the ultimate meaninglessness of eternal life, arcane study or world dominion has a lovely Gothic flavour. This is especially true because a Lich's immortality is about Will (in contrast to the Epicurean hedonism of a vampire). A Lich by sheer Neitzschean force of their will renders themselves immortal, committing some ultimate act of ruthlessness to achieve it. The irony implicit in them becoming a Demilich helps re-enforce to your players that immortality is not all it is cracked up to be; that heroism sometimes requires you to grow old and die. I had a NPC who my players never met based on a Sokushinbutsu who had a similar origin: he's chosen immortality to pursue enlightenment, and found only nihilism. My problem is I like the story....but still hate the floating-skull concept. I'd rather just have it as a sort of dormant Lich.

    The Acererak variant doesn't really fit the tone of my campaign worlds: it's very much a 1970s, acid trip, Moorcock sort of flavour, but I can see the attraction. The Soul-Trap gimmick is cheesey.

    Hooks
    A dealer in 'primitive' art has gone missing after his latest acquisition. Workers complain the museum is haunted, and that at night, the mummies moan and writhe in their jeweled sarcohphagi...

    The Magi, Kushu of the Eternal Screaming Night, was sealed in this Tomb alive, and his name struck from the histories that none might imitate his tyranny. But rumour has it the [maguffin] was counted among his many treasures and grave-goods...

    A Demilich has sunk to a low degree. He is listless and depressed. Can your players reignite his passion for armies of shambling horrors and the lamentations of his enemy's womenfolk?

    Verdict: Brilliant fluff, clumsy tactical execution, still a silly floating head.


    *Heh.
    Last edited by odigity; 2016-10-08 at 12:15 PM.

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    Default Re: Monster Manual Entry Reviews, Collected

    Demons (by MrConsideration on 2016-06-18)

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    As a point of comparison, I spilt some virtual ink on Devils here.

    Demons are in one way fascinating and in another way tedious because of the exact same predilection – they value violent destruction. They are capital-C, capital-E Chaotic Evil and as a result their primary engagement with a player character is going to involve rolling initiative and duking it out – facing a demon’s litany of resistances, whacky powers, spell-like abilities and multi-attacks. I actually find Wizards’ text on demons really evocative here, possibly because their usual hyperbolic descriptions of depravity and cruelty are the very essence of demonhood. Luckily for Wizards, I don't need an ecology, really. It's a demon. It's daily activities including killing you and eating your children. I’ll discuss my favourite aspects below.

    Capricious Elevation. Demons occupy a Hobbesian world of war-against-all. There are only underlings, overlords and rivals. This makes them intriguing (they want to conquer the OTHER Galbrezu just as much as they want to devour the hearts of your adventurers) and it adds a consistent ability for players to manipulate them if they’re smart. A Demon would love to pull off a Red Wedding-esque betrayal on their overlord if it elevates them to command. I also love the liminality and mutability of demon’s forms: that their political evolution is echoed by physical changes. Demon’s forms should be highly representative of their nature – they’re a metaphor that can punch you in the throat, Good stuff.

    Signs of Corruption.
    This is one of my favourite aspects of Demons. A mortal army – even an evil one – can only conquer you and enslave you, Contact with the demonic can change you – beloved glades become fetid wombs of rot-monsters; a conquered city a hellscape of Silent Hill-monstrosities, slaves start to warp, and become manes themselves. You can ham this up with your players and play on the body horror aspect of this, “When you stare into the Abyss….”

    In the world of The Last Day Dawned, a significant part of the steppes of the setting are overrun with Demonic Warbands. This has created a taxonomy that is warped – a nature that is wrong. A horrifying secret, as yet undiscovered, is that the 666 worlds of the Abyss are all previous Prime Material planes that Demonkind overran.

    Demonic Possession. You know I love me some possession, and you’ve read through my possession rules for 5e religiously, no doubt.

    Some parts of the Demon Fluff are a bit silly, though, like a ‘Demon Amulet’ (imaginative name) which exists to ruin the achievements of your players. If your players physically go to the Abyss and kill a demon, enduring whatever horrors you inflict on them to do so, that demon stays dead. Come on!

    As for the Demon Lords, they’re all brilliant, and memorable, fleshed-out concepts. Lolth and Orcus are such powerfully distinctive enemies that they shame the generic list of Devil big-wigs utterly. Their mythology is strong, they’re iconic and all of them have a distinct, utterly freaky feel. Even Demogorgon, who should be by all accounts an utterly ridiculous concept, pulls off his weirdness with considerable aplomb.




    Art:
    A single, excellent side-bar featuring a ruined city slowly descending in into some kind of Abyssal swamp. A single, enigmatic figure surveys the scene with a touch of dramatic flair. What I love about this piece is the way the angles and geography are all wrong – it highlights that the Abyss is a fundamentally warped place. The pallid, grey-green colouration beautifully connotes an atmosphere of despair, and the enormity of the figures surroundings tell a potent story of vulnerability.

    Verdict: Demons are classic for a reason. Wizards got them right.


    Demons — Balor (by MrConsideration on 2016-06-28)

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    The Balor is the original – the Ur-Demon. Whilst whips and chains are somewhat uninspired and only really excite Rihanna, this Balrog knock-off has a pretty noble vintage and classic feel. Initially coined so as not to get sued by the Tolkein estate when your fellowship fights one, I feel that the Balor as rather failed to establish itself as a concept in its own right in the same way other D&D homages have – even D&D Hob- Halflings have a distinctive niche.

    Art
    Normally, I’d object to huge chunks of this image – the flaming whip and lightning-sword are exactly the sort of stupid, over-the-top silliness that irks me – but when you’re a millennia-old CR19 badass it works. The fetish-gear made of skulls is enormously tacky and utterly stupid – I’ve always hated this excessive grimdark nonsense, and you’d think an 20 INT and 22 CHA beastie would have better fashion sense. I especially like the use of colour, though – those red-black fades and the white-hot inferno within give a primal sense of threat, and the intense flames on that whip put the Balrog of Morgoth to shame. There’s nothing particularly imaginative to this piece but then there’s nothing particularly imaginative about the Balor, either.

    Purpose and Tactics.

    It’s a boss for epic-level characters to fight, and unlike most end-game threats, it purely does this with melee damage. Close-quarters fighting with a Balor exposes you to its nasty multi-attacks whilst you wither in the fire-aura. It lacks any of the usual abilities of ‘boss’ monsters to do much more than fight in melee – it has a Teleport ability should you attempt to screw with the creature from range but this uses an action – making kiting it a useful strategy for the PCs, dependent on terrain (it does have an 80ft flight speed, though, so not eveyr character is going to escape clobbering range). To leverage the Balor’s strengths, players must be in close-proximity – an enclosed room or labyrinth, or trapped in the press of some Blood War battle, should force your players to contend with it. Standing toe-to-toe with the Balor and exchanging blows with the damn thing until either side dies doesn’t sound like a particularaly interesting combat encounter to me, so I’d be tempted to include elements of terrain to be utilised against it – elevated areas, traps you could lure it into teleporting into – maybe have the whole combat be aerial and three-dimensional and have terrain features be storm-clouds or fog for cover. Much of the Balor’s abilities are of the ‘nerr, nerr, nerr’ variety – that is to say, they nullify things players do. It has mighty saves and advantage on saves against all spell effects to stop anyone shutting it down with a Save-or-suck (Landing a Bestow Curse or Polymorph first should make it easier to land nasty effects on later). It has a big list of resistances and immunities. When it dies, it might just blow up the entire party with a lucky roll using its explodes-on-death-voltorb silliness. All this feels like a raised finger to the players, and funnels the combat into a straight up brawl which will come down to dice-rolls and see your casters spending their slots buffing the front-line – hardly the most scintillating D&D scrimmage I can envision in actual play.

    Fluff
    One paragraph of essentially vapid hyperbole about a Balor’s nastiness. Not particularly inspiring or gameable, although the notion of them as generals, rather than overlords, grants the possibility of interesting social encounters.

    Hooks

    The Devil Catalbraxitas has marched his legions to this desolate corner of the Abyss to hold some far-flung half-forgotten bastion of Hell for his liege-lord. Opposite him, the Balor Skunnik Toothbreaker has assembled a great warband of demonkind – easily enough to break Catalbraxitas and consume his soul. Would you heroes accept payment in souls or lucre for ending this petty warlord’s pretentions before it need come to the messiness and risk of an actual battle?

    Fire-On-The-Corpse-Of-Empires has conquered many planes for demonkind, and glutted himself on the souls of thousands. All he desires now is to see his two fellow Balor-generals disappear so the glory can all be his. In the coming battle, could you mercenaries ensure the other Balors do not survive?

    Verdict: For a creature of the Abyss, they are far too vanilla. Genre-savvy players will be unimpressed and they fail to deliver an engaging battle or story.


    Demons — Balgura (by MrConsideration on 2016-07-03)

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    The Barlgura is another demon with roots in the earliest iterations of the hobby, originating in a module from 1982 with a number of other demons. It has made an appearance in every edition since – never a particularly iconic creature like the Balor, but always present. Unlike the Balor, the Barlgura appears to be an original D&D creation and draws much more on the pulp-fantasy roots of the game rather than the poncey high-fantasy Tolkeinania. Without further monkeying around…

    Art

    It is a big orange monkey. Kudos to the artist who took ‘evil, swole Orangutan’ as his concept direction and just ran with it – the Barlgura dominates the page with its size, leaning forward, enormous fists prominent and teeth bared – a model of primate aggression. It’s a well-executed piece but nothing about it fires my imagination. I think for the Barlgura to really connote threat it needs an image that contextualises it – barely seen in some steaming Abyssal jungle or reaching from above at some unaware foe. I find the admittedly campy original illustration pretty chilling actually.


    Fluff


    Being a demon, the barlgura is also shafted with a mere blurb. There is literally nothing in this blurb that isn’t obvious from the artwork – so give me something gamable for the fluff. What locales do barlgura hunt in? Who do they get trophies from? What’s their social organisation? What do more urbanised demons think of these barely sapient primate thugs?

    Purpose and Tactics:
    They’re a strange combination of brute force and stealth. With numerous boots to ambush (Stealth +5, invisibility, disguise self, excellent movement stats) and to their ability to spot you first (Perception +5, Darkvision and for some inexplicable reason, Blindsight) these great apes will generally get the jump on your adventurers – perhaps literally from 40ft away. Once they’re ambushing, the barlgura have a riff on the barbarian’s Reckless Attack to get advantage on their three attacks, very feasibly dropping a character in a round. This is balanced by anaemic HP as the Reckless barlgura is very likely to go down quickly. This creates a brilliant and intense combat situation, especially if you use the terrain to the barlgura’s advantage. In a teeming Abyssal jungle, or wind-swept labyrinth of canyons or ruined temple complex the barlgura’s guerrilla tactics will require tactics from your PCs beyond hacking it to pieces as it escapes into the terrain, leaping over rivers of lava or climbing sheer cliff faces with any dropped PCs draped over their shoulder, King Kong-style.

    As a solo encounter, I think the barlgura would not work: after potentially ruining a caster’s day, the rest of the party will destroy it in the next combat round. Against a higher-level party a group of Barlgura s far more engaging: able to target the rear with hit-and-run attacks, cut off their retreat with Entangle, and leap away carrying their prisoners or prey.

    Hooks

    Baphomet will return the soul of a great hero if you can prove you are master of the untamed wilds. Cross the jungles of Kulkulkellatzan and emerge on the other side, or succumb to the savagery of the wilds.

    Captain Berufex of the 667th Infernal Hussars has trounced a demon warlord in open battle, giving him a taste of Hell’s steel! However, the Warlord has absconded into some wretched jungle…

    An urbane, educated Barlgura keeps his predilections towards violence in check: instead, he takes trophies from his intellectual conquests – a book-page here, a scroll there – to add to his cabinet of curiosities. He wants only one thing to complete his collection – the love of a good woman. Can you find a bride for this bookish Barlgura?

    A Barlgura Chief wishes to know how mortal races have created great civilizations whilst his people have spent millennia subsisting on stolen flesh. Can you help the king of the swingers, the jungle VIP?

    Verdict: A silly concept executed with aplomb. My players better watch the canopy…


    Demons — Chasme (by MrConsideration on 2016-07-04)

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    The Chasme is another demon that was borne from 1982’s Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, that has also been re-used in numerous iterations of D&D. Whilst I can understand the refrain of creatures which are conceptually developed and have an iconic vibe (Mind Flayers, Owlbears, Beholders…) there must have been someone in TSR or Wizards’ history who looked at this thing and admitted they could do better than ‘big demon mosquito’.


    Art


    It’s bloody awful. It’s a giant blue shiny fly with a toupee. The artwork is utterly static and does nothing to connote its speed or size of ability to ambush you. It’s just sat here. No effort has been made to make mileage out of the instinctive revulsion most people feel towards insects, and insectile bodies, either. Earlier artworks capture that either the whip-like speed or insectile horror that should define the creature. Nothing about this work fires the imagination or inspires fear.

    http://www.lomion.de/cmm/img/spc/chasme.gif

    Fluff.

    The Chasme’s blurb is a little longer than your average demon. It describes aspects of its attack pattern – a merciless drone that afflicts you with lethargy (I’d refluff it as overwhelming ennui or outright depression as that feels more Abyssal to me) and drink your blood. There’s a sort of metaphor or moral to this approach, a sort of fairy-tale logic that I quite like. The idea of them as overzealous torturers and interrogators is great: it differentiates them from our previous “roar, smash, kill” and places them in the thick of the messy world of Abyssal politics, ripe for adventure hooks.

    Purpose and Tactics

    I’ll blab about how to fight the silly demon bug once I’ve got this off my chest:

    Why is every demon telepathic? Why is there an Abyssal language when every single demon is telepathic? At what point did the Chasme learn and acquire language and for what purpose if ii can simply insert its thoughts directly into your brain without all the messiness of slopping face-bits together to make noises? Language is a clumsy tool we use to approximate thought. Why would a telepathic creature develop speech at all, especially if it doesn’t have a mouth? What would Ludwig Wittgenstein think of all this?

    Ok, enough philosophy – we must be careful when staring into the Abyss that it does not stare back at us, after all. The Chasme also works best as an ambushing attacker – the damn thing can fly hugely fast so having it emerge from some canyon or swoop down out of the maelstrom give it the mileage to get amidst your players in order to allow Drone to do its nasty. Whilst as with many save-or-die effects there’s a small chance of swinginess portending the doom of your player-characters, it seem unlikely with the legions ways to achieve advantage or rerolls in 5e. After this, it whacks an opponent with its Proboscis, doing a mighty 4d6 + 2 and then 7d6 damage, which could easily down a character. The to-hit chance is a little low, so you want to direct this at low-AC casters to take them out of the fight. It does outright kill someone who hits 0, though, and To stop the Chasme being easily shut down it has Magic Resistance.

    I think the best way to use the Chasme is to pair it with other demons – when assaulting a Demon Warlord his loyal torturer joins the fray, disrupting your lines with Drone and sniping at your caster backline with impunity thank to its fly speed. You’d need to focus fire on it to take it down as your save-or-suck spells would likely bounce off. Much like an actual fly, it would be a persistent irritance.

    Like other demons it also has a fun shopping-list of extraneous abilities. It can Spider Climb (why ever do this when you can fly?), Blindsight, Telepathy, and a really high WIS.

    Hooks:


    Eight beautiful women – drawn from races throughout the cosmos – have escaped the harem of Pulukcuk the Putrid. They beg your heroes to help them escape, for Pulukcuk’s spymaster, the droning Chasme, hunts them with a band of vagabonds….

    Cattle mutilated. Children missing. All the villagers can remember is an unholy drone, and awaking, exhausted, to see the absence of loved ones.

    Degruk the Defiler is a Chasme who has served his overlord well for millennia, growing fat on secrets and souls. Now, Degruk feels there should be a new master, if only he could find a hand to rid him of his current employer…

    Verdict: A wonky concept. Not a A-lister but a diverting back-up monster for another Demonic talent.


    Demons — Dretch (by Shining Wrath on 2016-07-15)

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    The children of the abyss, the dretch dates back to first edition. When chaotic evil people die, they spawn as a manes, and then their first "promotion" is to dretch. As such they are weak (CR 1/4) and not very interesting. Like all the demons they have telepathy, but theirs only works on creatures that speak Abyssal.

    Art
    Are those ... genitals? Ewwww. As with most of the art in this section, we have no context to compare the dretch to other beings, and no setting. The idea of stupid is conveyed pretty well.

    Purpose and Tactics.
    Cannon fodder.Their only attack of interest is a one-a-day fart. They have the standard demonic resistences and darkvision. Dretches are described as milling about in mobs and that's how to use them as a DM; throw a few in to adjust the challenge of an encounter with something more memorable.

    Fluff
    Malicious, unhappy, and dumb. Imagine spending centuries in this form, fighting and hoping to last long enough to be promoted to shadow demon or vrock.

    Hooks

    There has been activity at the old abandoned temple in the bad part of town ... and loathsome creatures have been seen peering through gaps in the walls.

    A dretch vaguely understands that it can become more powerful if it sheds enough blood - and it is willing to serve you if you will give it the chance.

    While traveling through the abyss you come upon a lone dretch - and somehow you recognize it as the incarnation of someone you owed a favor to, years ago. Can you redeem the dretch and help it escape its dreadful fate?


    Demons — Glabrezu (by MrConsideration on 2016-07-17)

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    The Glabrezu, once known as the ‘Type III Demon’, is a bizarre mix of horns, pincers and giant size. Reflecting the chimeric mix of its form are an odd assortment of abilities which make it an adaptable foe with an awful lot of pincer-y punch. I’ve fought them, but I’ve never DM’d one – the result was a near TPK! (my druid and the party barbarian escaped).

    Art
    I’m not a fan. The claws look oddly two-dimensional, almost flat, and the vestigial arms just make the whole creature somewhat ridiculous and weirdly insecure – the demonic equivalent of a comb-over. It’s roaring and brandishing its weapons like every other cretin in the ‘D’ section. It manages to be simultaneously naked (with appropriately PG Ken-doll demon crotch) whilst having enormous shoulder armour plates with silly “I’m evil, look!” spikes on them. For someone who is, according the lore, an erudite tempter in the Faustian mold, he looks stupid and animalistic. The only positive, for me, is that it strongly represents the a chaotic, anathema-to-nature vibe. It’s just a shame its an anathema to me too. I prefer the aquatic look of the Pathfinder incarnation or this effort.

    Fluff
    It’s a sort of fiendish version of a loan-shark. It pops up and seductively offers you power and dominion over all life if you sign on the dotted line – and if you’re smart enough to refuse it just shrugs and tears you to pieces. There’s a lovely demonic logic to that, and I like the idea of demons who are more than smash-and-grab. It gives you an immediate story-hook (and what that nabs genre-savvy players, too!) and is therefore good fluff.

    Purpose and Tactics

    So, you could easily play the Glabrezu as a low-level boss or commander in some form of demon cult, tempting the local notables into worshipping Mammon in order to crawl up the greasy pole. Unlike most tempters (succubi, cambions…) it has no means of doing any sort of intrigue. It can’t disguise itself or hide or lie – it just presumably sits in a cellar somewhere dispensing orders to the Cult. That’s sort of…..idiotic, but I do love the idea of the idea of your players unravelling an intense web of intrigue and skulduggery only to uncover this enormous lobster squatting somewhere in town that responds to their efforts with a simple, unimpressed “Come at me, bro.”

    In combat, this seafood platter is a total cluster****. It seems primarily designed as a boss, but I think it actually works better, like most demons, teamed up with a random grab-bag of complementary demons. It has some four attacks, which is considerable, but the damage output is somewhat weak for its level – more dangerous is its power to disrupt by grappling and then pile on the damage.
    As for its spell-casting, it has a weird mix of spells. Confusion can be enormously disruptive to a clustered group, and can generate a lot of laughs at their ineptitude and moments of dread when the party Wizard marches straight into a waiting pincer. Fly gives incredible mobility in open area, allowing it to rapidly attack vulnerable characters and restrain them. The obvious combo of grappling two characters and then soaring into the air could really worry a party, especially if they don’t have any spells prepared like Feather Fall or Fly themselves. Power Word Stun is great as a non-concentration means of taking an enemy out of the combat. Its spammable spells aren’t particularly meaty, but if you’ve used Fly and Confusion dropping a Darkness on yourself and relying on Truesight to imitate the Warlock Darkness/Devil’s Sight combo gives you ample opportunities to squash enemies with advantage. Whilst the Glabrezu is laying down some major disruption with these spells and abilities, it can rely on its own Magic Resistance to hold off the inevitable save-or-suck spell that will be aimed at the boss.

    In an enclosed area, opening with Confusion then leaning on other tricks, this creature is a threatening opponent.

    Hooks

    The only way to uncover the Secret Name of the Dread Sorcerers before he conquers all the world is to summon the demons of the Abyss who he once trafficked with. But what will be offered, granted or threatened when you traffic with such a creature?

    The villagers all looks so very tired. The larder looks empty. No animals remain in the street. They look at you helplessly as you pass. They share glances. It must be fed.

    [character] has long yearned to reclaim his birthright – the throne stolen from him before he ever drew breath. He has adventured, gathered allies, drew armies. The Glabrezu whisper that he could wear a crown easily if he would but say the words…

    Verdict: A kind of demonic Pollock – all randomness thrown at a wall that results in something great.


    Demons — Goristro (by MrConsideration on 2016-07-22)

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    The Goristo is the premier bruiser of the demonic armies: a huge minotaur which is used as siege weapon. The bull-headed Goristo originates in a Dragon magazine article and thus has a pedigree that is not quite as elevated as the other demons in the entry. But it has consistently made an appearance in almost all editions since, with little elaboration beyond its role as living siege weapons and enormous thug.

    Art
    Unlike most of the demons, I don’t have beef with this one. It has a naturalistic look which is very different from most demons , and I find the ornamentation and piercings quite evocative – especially meshed with the idea of the Goristo as some prized pet of a decadent demonic lord – somewhere between an Alsatian, the Sarlaac Pit, a battering-ram and the family car . The face has a great expression of malice and indifference. My only real criticism is , as usual with thd MM, there is no comparative sense of scale. Until I read the fluff, I assumed it was similar in size to a human. This thing is enormous: it should have a drawing that indicates the primal terror we feel as a result of a discrepancy in size.


    Fluff

    There’s less text here than the Glabrezu or Barlgura but every sentence is a pure vein of adventure hooks and inspiration, and evokes a scene – fleeing an unrelenting predator in some Abyssal labyrinth of horrifying scale, greeting some notable as he descends his palanquin, a Goristo hurling legions of men aside as it single-handedly breaches a gate – this is brilliant stuff because I can use it. An open tab on Thesaurus.com/evil is not helpful fluff – gameable uses of a creature is. For me, the Goristo looks like exactly the kind of mount some sort of Kill Six Billion Demons villain would ride upon.

    Purpose and tactics

    it’s an epic level bruiser with a mountain of hit-points, resistances and nasty attacks. It should smash through Player Characters. As I’ve said before, a static fight where players exchange blows with a ‘fighter’ monster is tedious in the extreme, so what a Goristo fight needs is a context that forces you to engage – unlike the Balor, the Goristo has no charging abilities or ranged attacks to punish creative high-level casters. But if your Goristo is smashing through the gates and trampling foot-soldiers, it forces players to get their hands dirty and engage with it. A siege setting seems the ideal scenario for a Goristo to play a role – and it could easily be the D&D-able centre-point of a large-scale battle that your party could deal with.

    Another great use of the Goristo for a high-level party is as a mount to a caster. Inside his palanquin, he has cover from ranged attacks and spells – players will need to scale or slay the Goristo to fight the true master, whilst the beast bull-headedly swats them aside and the masters blasts them with magic from above.

    The Minotaur ability Labyrinthine Recall is also tacked on to the Goristo to emphasise the connection. I think playing one as an opponent in a Labyrinth would be excellent – it slowly gains of them and they have a set time to escape before they are caught. This works even better with a party who cannot best the Goristo in open combat, as they will need to rely on puzzling through your labyrinth and its dangers to survive – a House of Leaves-inspired layer of the Abyss where mortals compete for the amusement of Demons in such a labyrinth would make an excellent one-shot adventure.


    Hooks

    Thousand-Titles-Cannot-Reveal-A-Spark-Of-My-Greatness, an enormously wealthy Efreeti, wishes to promenade around the City of Brass in a manner that will subdue rivals as an obvious assertion of his magnificence. He hears that in the Abyss, a brute of awe-inspiring vastness can be found. Bring him one – no, bring him the largest, finest specimen ever brought forth – and he will grant you whatever Wish your mayfly-mortal heart desires.

    They call it a game. No, the game – the ultimate test. Six teams enter a labyrinth – a plane-sized expanse of winding passage – a maze that moves, that breathes – the last creation of an obsessive-compulsive god – and one team leaves. Nothing about the contest is sure, other than the steady sound of hoof on brick and the promise that failure can mean only death. The crowds are waiting. The beast hungers. Are your players the greatest dungeon-delvers in all the planes?

    The city of Drakkenfeld has held back the hordes of the Abyss for weeks. A desperate struggle on the walls has kept swarms of fiends a bay. But this morning, your players awake to footsteps that shake the very foundations of the earth….

    Verdict: Like the best steak, the Goristo is bloody and rare. This is a bruiser brought alive by well-done fluff.


    Demons — Hezrou (by MrConsideration on 2016-07-26)

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    We have come once more to a monster I very strongly dislike. Perceptive readers will remember that the Cloaker pretends to be a cloak so it can eat you and my outrage at such an absurd and idiotic concept still finding room in the precious pages of the Monster Manual. Nothing about the Hezrou outrages me. I feel nothing towards the Hezrou but mild indifference, because it is perhaps the single least interesting creature in the book.

    It’s a mid-level demonic mook. It is a game concept you can kill guiltlessly, but otherwise not interact with in any way. It doesn’t fight tactically. It doesn’t plot. It has no egregious abilities or weaknesses. It does not have individual desires or will. It is simple an obstacle you resolve by rolling D20s. It’s a perverse throwback to an older age of Orcs guarding chests in 10” rooms quietly waiting for your PCs to come along and kill them.

    Art
    Awful. It’s a stocky, spiky frog-shaped mook with some reptilian features. The texture seems utterly two-dimensional, the roar nothing more than a token gesture to inject some menace into something that resembles a eighties children’s toy. About as horrifying and evocative as Ryvita.

    Fluff
    It’s fluff exists to give it a singular existence as a mook – it’s strong but weak-willed and thus serves as a mook. No culture, no ecology, not even a sense of how it fights, or an attempt to describe why fighting one would be unsettling.

    Purpose
    It fights for another, potentially actually interesting, demon. On the Hezrou’s own merits, it will not be an interesting fight.

    it has the usual Demonic resistances and magic resistances to stop it from being easily shut-down.
    Then, it frog-marches up to the nearest player and multi-attacks, dealing damage. There are no rider-effects or anything to consider, it just repeatedly does this until either it or your Player Character falls over dead, possibly from overexcitement. It has no movement abilities, and its only special ability is Stench, a gimmick shared by about half the monsters in the book.

    My advice for using one is not to. If you really must, it makes a very, very simple meatshield to insert into a fight with a more complex monster to minimise book-keeping. If you used it as a CR8 boss-fight, or had your players fight a pack of Hezrou, it will give your players lots of time to check their Facebook or play Candy Crush uninterrupted by anything more challenging than the occasional petulant die roll.

    I have literally invented more interesting opponents on the fly whilst running the game.

    Hooks

    There are no hooks. This monster has no will or existence independent of the more interesting monster it no doubt works for. If I wrote a Hook like “Your players investigate the strange appearance of the villagers of the Turgid Bogs…” I wouldn’t be using anything actually in the text – I’d be making it up as I went along, which is what everyone should do, because anyone could homebrew a better monster than this in about fifteen minutes. In previous editions and in Pathfinder there is material that makes a Hezrou somewhat interesting – but again, I paid money for this book full of monsters and the information to use them as engaging set-pieces in my game. If I wanted to google stuff on the Open Gaming License I wouldn’t have handed over £50.

    Verdict: Utterly bereft of anything interesting. Not worth its place in the Monster Manual of ‘the World’s Greatest Role-Playing Game.”


    Demons — Manes (by Professor Gnoll on 2016-07-27)

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    Alas, the pitiful mane. Little, weak, mildly repugnant, and devoid of any sort of cool factor, it's the ultimate punishment for the unrepentantly chaotic and evil- to be turned into the most pathetic of minions. And though 'Emirikol the Chaotic' would warn us not to pity the little wretches, I think it's hard not to feel a little bit sorry for the Mane. It's a pure expression of patheticness, and a reminder of what truly lies at the centre of every demon- a sad, lost little thing.

    Art
    I don't like the Mane art much, mostly because it makes the creature appear far more muscular and threatening than it really should. Had I seen this art without context, I would have assumed it was a hulking, seven foot monstrosity rather than the puny minion it is. Older art of the creature gets across the feel of the thing much more aptly; note the spindly, weak arms and legs, bulging pot belly, folds of fat dripping with a foul grease reminiscent of sweat… elements which combine to make a creature that's both pathetic and oddly menacing. The 5e effort gets the 'menace' aspect (sort of), but its thick legs and pointy claws grant the creature far too much power.

    An aspect of the art that I do like, however, are the bouts of necrosis that appear to have erupted over the Mane's body, eating away its skin. Again, good because you feel a little sorry for the monster, but are also repulsed. All in all though, far too powerful for the weakest of demons.

    Fluff
    When an evil soul dies an descends to the lower planes, it becomes one of these little blighters. They're little more than demonic foot soldiers, summoned to 'sow death and destruction' and lacking any real personality of their own. It seems odd to me that the demon closest to humanity is the one most devoid of personality and free will; surely you'd expect it to retain at least a few aspects of what it was not so long ago? But alas, the Mane a simply an aggressive little blighter that attacks any non-demon it sees.

    Also of note is that if you kill a Mane, it turns into mist and comes back a day later. This means that the things can just keep popping back up to annoy you. They also serve as food for demon lords/raw material for creating better demons, which is truly emblematic of their utterly wretched existence at the lowest rung on the infernal ladder. Generally uninteresting fluff, though I don't know what I expected from the minionest of minions.

    Purpose and Tactics
    It's cannon fodder, plain and simple. Manes will never be the focus of an encounter. They are a demonic stocking-stuffer, padding out the ranks of more interesting creatures. They're the little guys you step on to get to the bigger guys. Throw in a dozen and watch them run around and get killed. Instead of having your players roll dice for damage, you could have them roll dice for how many they kill with their attack. "Ooh! I cleaved through twelve Manes!" Unlike, say, Kobolds, Manes lack any real intelligence or self direction. This means they can't make traps, outflank, ambush, or formulate any tactic beyond 'run up and hit you'. Not the stuff of thrilling encounters. These little gribblies just swarm around the feet of other demons, and try to distract you from the important things.

    That said, there's a few aspects of their fluff which could be used for an interesting encounter. The first is their 'reform after a day' power- unless you get rid of that mist, the horde will just keep following you. Better hope you have a sacred vacuum on hand. Another interesting point is that Orcus (and potentially other demon lords) can instantly turn them into more powerful creatures, ghouls and shadows being the named examples. This could add a little spice to a showdown with a demon lord, in which the fiend continuously transforms the swarming manes into more threatening foes, requiring the removal of the horde before taking on the boss.

    Or perhaps you could work with the 'eaten to restore power' idea, and have your demon lord snatching them up to restore their HP/spell slots, again necessitating a way to deal with the horde first.

    Buuuuuut, eh. They’re a minion monster. They have no personality, no independent though, and no power. They're slow, weak, and easy to kill. Chuck a hundred of them at your players.

    Hooks
    Unfortunately for any 'Help a Mane!' plots, the Mane cannot speak or even really think with its INT of 3. But I suppose you could just change that.

    The Dread Slaughterer Azgertra was finally slain, after terrorising the land for decades. Her soul flew to the Abyss, where it was transformed into a Mane. However, the Sacred Order of the Argent Owl has deemed that this punishment is not enough- she must be found and put on trial by the Order. Can you find the one Mane in a million that contains her soul and bring it to the Order?

    As of late, Mane-slaying has become something of a fad. People compete to see how many they can kill, and great hordes of Manes are summoned into the Material Plane and promptly slain. However, they have dissolved into a great cloud of Mane Essence, which threatens to coalesce into hundreds of thousands of Manes at once, overwhelming the kingdom, or perhaps turn into something far greater and darker. Can you find a way to get rid of the cloud before the land is overwhelmed?

    A sad, lost little Mane has somehow won the favour of the terribly rich Archwizard Esmerelda. She has decided that her pet Mane is going to be the ruler of its very own layer of the Abyss, and offers a rich reward- along with a great deal of magical power- to anyone who can get it there. Can you help the little scrapper reach the top of the pile?

    Verdict: A pathetic, weak, minion monster, just as it should be.


    Demons — Marilith (by MrConsideration on 2016-08-01)

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    The Marilith is one of a few Monster Manual favourites inspired by the rich mythology of the Indian sub-continent alongside the Rakshasa and Naga. All of these are among my favourites. It has got a long pedigree that dates to the very beginning as an enigmatic ‘Type V’ Demon and has changed little through the ages. Why break a winning-formula?

    Art
    I find this depiction a little staid in comparison to the earlier depictions of the Marilith, which had a more witch-like countenance and more chaotic appearance. Here the Marilith reflects the calm, cool strategist the fluff describes. I like the expression of icy contempt on her face (perhaps I recognise it from dalliances with less serpentine femme fatales) and the sense of effortless poise. It communicates a powerful sense of self-control. I also like that they’ve desexualised it in comparison to earlier depictions: I imagine one struggles to be a badass Amazon of the Abyss with one’s boobs flopping about all over the place.

    Fluff
    They are generals of the Abyss: I think more could be made about the difficulties of their role and their distinction from most demon’s mindless destruction but it at least situates them in a place in the hierarchy and gives your players an opportunity to meet them. I love the idea of them ‘leading and uniting’ Demonic Hordes like a sort of Mongol Genghis Khan. They’re obviously the elite doers, if not rulers, of the Abyss, and must have plenty for PCs to do…

    Purpose and Tactics
    They’re fairly nasty. Their main ability is twofold: they attack seven times (2d8 +4 longsword is pretty meagre, but 6 strikes makes it pretty hefty) and a mighty tail grapple. The Marilith can react every single turn, giving it an effective 23 AC against melees attack using its Parry ability, making melee combat a fairly poor way of fighting the beast and risky at that. If you escape, then Tail can reach out and pull you back into cutting-range. Should you make a complete escape, the Marilith teleports into a midst of the party and puts a longsword through your back. Any combat you run, presumably with some demon minions as cannon fodder, should start with Madam Marilith teleporting straight into the midst of characters and unleashing hell – or unleashing the Abyss at least.

    The other abilities - Truesight, Magic Resistance, Immunities, Saving Throws as big as a First Edition monster’s cup size - make this slithering duellist extra-ordinarily difficult to shut down with magic.

    In terms of its place in your campaign, the Marilith can easily function as a quest-giver in the Abyss, or BBEG on a campaign on any other plane.

    Hooks
    Among the Kuzvukdun Steppes of the Abyss the demonic warbands had fought endlessly. Recently, however, a single Demon has begun to unite one warband after another under her rulership. End the Marilith, and the demons will return to their intercine warfare. That state of affairs would suit Archdevil Casalvaxis nicely.

    Faster-Than-Heartbeats has won her overlord’s battles in the Blood War, and against rival demons, and he now grows fat and soul-full on her victories. Storm the palace, kill the Balor, and Faster-Than-Heartbeats will hold back her troops and give you dominion over her overlord’s treasure.

    They says she’s faster than any man. She slithers on any surface. No magic can trick or deceive her. No man can strike her. She is Zamira, and she has been champion of this arena since the sun as young. Can you best her?

    Verdict: My anaconda don’t want none unless you get 7 attacks a turn, hon.


    Demons — Nalfeshne (by MrConsideration on 2016-08-05)

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    The Nalfeshnee (don’t worry, we are more than half way through the demons!) is one the beefier demons, formerly a ‘Type IV’, which also dates back to the halcyon days of Gygax and TSR. Let’s bring home the bacon…

    Art

    I can’t decide whether I like this piece. On the one hand, the vestigial wings and gynecomastia don’t exactly strike terror into their hearts of characters, but there is something wonderfully revolting about it: the skin evokes a diseased pallor and the face s suitably monstrous. To some degree, I think the fact that the Nalfeshnee is completely implausible adds to the horror.

    It’s still just sort of stood there, gesturing, though. If they borrowed some ideas from the fluff to spice up the depiction…

    Fluff
    The fluff is laden with fantastic ideas for using a Nalfeshnee in your game. I love the idea of Nalfeshnee in flight, butterfly-graceful, co-ordinating legions of demons. I love the idea of a Nalfeshnee as a sort of cannibal-gourmand. I love the of them scattering foes with their horrifying presence, and swooping down on chosen enemies. Excellent, gameable stuff.

    Purpose and Tactics
    In combat, the Nalfeshnee is fairly simple – you disrupt the party as much as you can with Horror Nimbus, swoop in on a vulnerable caster and hit them with your hefty multi-attack. If this tactics is deployed in a place where the Nalfeshnee’s (admittedly ponderous) flight speed can allow it to isolate a caster: perhaps the party and crossing a river of lava on stone platforms, of scaling the side of an Abyssal fortress or flying a Spelljammer through an acid storm. These will allow the Nalfeshnee to work its assassin-like attacks.

    It’s AC, HP and saves remain high, and it has Magic Resistance like every demon, making shutting it down extremely difficult without right killing it, and a focus-fire strategy being the best. Ensuring melee characters are in range to limit its ability to move freely will be key to shutting down the Nalfeshnee. It is an ideal mage-killer, especially as it packs 120” of Truesight and a big pile of resistances.

    In terms of allies, the Nalfeshnee would work better with some spell-casting support to allow it to do its damage: having it be summoned by a Mage could make for a nasty encounter. Failing that, some cannon fodder on the floor being telepathically directed will help the Nalfeshnee overcome the action economy.

    As a recurring NPC, a Nalfeshnee could easily be a boss-character or quest-giver for characters with a flexible morality.

    Hooks

    Grobchork has sampled elf-flesh from the Salt Elves of Aegishhjalmur. Grobchork has gorged on dwarf-meat seasoned wth the finest saffron. Grobchork has crunched Tieflings between his teeth, and spat horns and bones. Grobchork has never sated his hunger on an Air Genasi, however, and if one could procure him one for his feast….

    Druggut’s larders are filled with prisoners from a thousand planes. Could your players infiltrate his castle and save them from a grisly fate?

    The battle rages for hours: Hezrou swarm at the gates, and the defenders break and flee, in terror of what lurks in the roiling clouds above. Unless their commander is vanquished, the day will be lost…

    Verdict: An excellent and horrifying creature.
    Last edited by odigity; 2016-10-08 at 12:37 PM.

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    Default Re: Monster Manual Entry Reviews, Collected

    Demons — Quasit (by MrConsideration on 2016-08-07)

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    The Quasit will be familiar*to many veteran D&D players as it has existed since the ancient days of the First Edition Monster Manual. We again return to a monster I have actually used in a combat! Two of them assisted a homebrew Demon called The Drumpf which used mainly Wall of X spells, Enlarge and a Midas-touch like ability to Make the Abyss Great Again. Any similarities to any persons real or imagined are entirely the preserve of etc etc.

    Their function in the combat was to die to a first-round Fireball whilst still invisible. They won a participation award, I guess.

    Art

    I really like this piece. The face, whilst obviously inhuman, has the petulant, defiant expression of the bullied bottom-feeder of the Abyss. It's art has a great sense of movement - as though it is dashing, avoiding your notice, and fixing you with alien eyes. It manages to be strongly emotive yet obviously a nasty little sod: a tiny, magically empowered toddler - I'd pick a Quasit familiar on the strength of this art alone.

    Fluff

    Some space is wasted here re-iterating the stat-block: it's got claws, can transform into an animal and the like. But there's the obviously gameable function of the Quasit laid out in plain Common: they're spies and messengers. the underfoot urchins of Pandemonium. Luckily, this is a powerful archetype rich in story-seeds: from Oliver Twist to Gavroche to Locke Lamora, only with horns.

    Purpose and Tactics
    To some degree, this stat-block exists as a familiar, and has appropriate stats for subterfuge and sitting quietly under a Warlock's hat until they remember it exists.

    In a straight-up slug-match, a Quasit is going to die very, very quickly. It has weak AC and a microscopic 7HP, meaning a stray attack will remove it from play and any Area of Effect spells will finish it. If a Quasit is fighting players, it could be a very disruptive addition to a meatier demonic host using it's poisonous claws and Scare ability to disrupt the party's focus, and relying on invisibly and an impressive 40" movement speed to avoid damage. Its Resistances might allow it to survive a fairly weak attack and gives it an effective 14HP. However, as soon as anyone targets the Quasit seriously, the Quasit is going to die.

    As a result of this, the Quasit functions best outside of traditional roll-initiative-and-whack-each-other situations. Have the Quasit steal the maguffin and invisibly run away with it. Suddenly the players are fighting their way around some Hezrou just to chase the tricksy Quasitses - and that Magic Resistance might come in handy to spare it from any spells that shut down movement. Failing that, maybe your players need to interrogate the Quasit that has been spying on them to locate its master - meaning they have to chase it and use their wits and abilities intelligently to take the damned thing (literally) alive. An overzealous arrow just means your source of information gets a sojourn to the Abyss to gather its thoughts, leaving your players none the wiser.

    Hooks
    Every night when you make camp, a single alley-cat curls up by the fire with the party. At first it was a mascot of sorts in the Wilds; a reminder of home. Then, on the third night, you awake to no cat and a missing Orb of Ludder....

    Quzilibash has a problem. Quzilibash pulled off the heist of his life, and plucked the Resplendent Feather of Magnificence straight from the throne of the Balor Borgullith. It is worth a thousand-thousand souls, or a king's ransom. But how the hell can he find a buyer when all of Borgullith's army is seeking him out?

    Sufkilt and his network of Quasit spies have served the Marilith Viperia for millenia. They have been her eyes. They have been her ears. They have been her knife in the dark. They have been abused. They want justice! Sufkilt has gathered his Abyssal Union of Quasits to collectively bargain, but the fat-cat Nalfeshnee simply say they'll kill the Quasits and summon more if Sufkilt goes ahead withy strike action. What Sufkilt needs is a little leverage...

    A disfigured orphan has found a home in the great Temple of Pelor, and rings the bell every morning. However, he has a dark secret - a pact made over him when he was a child ties him permanently to a malicious trickster-spirit that he hides under his cloak whenever he can. When he is falsely accused of murder, can your players exonerate Quasitmodo?**

    Verdict: A fantastic monster for evasion, brilliantly captured.

    *Sorry.
    ** Even sorrier.


    Demons — Shadow Demon (by MrConsideration on 2016-08-10)

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    The stealthy Shadow Demon exists completely outside of the normal demonic hierarchy - an incorporeal horror that lacks the muscular, chimerical aesthetic of his Abyssal cronies. The name is also incongruous - why is every other demon given a name whilst the Shadow Demon simply a description? Let's shed some light on to it...

    Art
    I'm not really convinced by it. It resembles a stereotypical demonic image with a switched colour palette - and the muscle definition doesn't really mesh with a creature sporting a strength of 1. The fade-into-incorporeality isn't' executed very well - I found the wispy nature of the Banshee art a lot more convincing. The enormous horns and fangs again don't fit a creature that is understated - whose menace is in its distinct lack of presence. I much prefer the original attempt.

    Fluff
    Its origin is a kind of demonic ghost, rather than previous incarnation as yet another weapon-race. I actually really like this as an explanation and it makes them a lot easier to place or characterise - the vengeful shade archetype is even more frightening if its the spirit of something already malignant. Other than that, it resembles an undead creature; fearing sunlight and feeding off the emotions and fear of those it stalks. This is excellent stuff for characterising an encounter, but isn't borne out by the stat-block at all. We also get one of those weird, unnecessary gems: "A shadow demon does not require food, air, drink or sleep." Who cares? Are you ever going to be in a situation where a Shadow Demon is being starved to death, in game? Do any demons require food?

    Purpose and Tactics

    In combat, it's an ambush predator. 4e's monster categorisation had this kind of creature as a distinct threat: the 'lurker', and it is this role that the Shadow Demon can claim with aplomb. It rocks a +7 to Stealth and an ability to Hide as a bonus action if the area is dimly lit (you're hardly going to fight a Shadow Demon at the Rio Carnival) and it gains a solid damage bonus if attacking with advantage, ie from hiding. It's ability to move through the party, or any object, massively increases its ability to arrive and cause havoc in the surprise round by targeting a wounded or squishy character. Once it's mauling the unfortunate Wizard. however, it's going to struggle to repeat its trick without careful positioning as it will be eating a lot of opportunity attacks to flit in and out of the party. Despite resistances, that 66hp and 13AC will not allow it to move around the party too much. I actually think it's fairly weak for its CR, and I'd pop a few of them against a part of level four characters.

    As an NPC, there is no reason the telepathic Shadow Demon could not be a quest-giver or information giver: it might seek a means of returning to its form, vengeance against those who wronged it or it could have knowledge of a location it haunts. If you want to go against type, it could be a creepy (temporary) ally for a party.


    Hooks

    The city of Dunzungud is empty of all life; a haunted labryinth of cold stone. None who enter that city at night return to tell the tale. What causes this mysterious phenomenon?

    Kazkalgrad has been betrayed! A duplicitous rival demon slew him in the heat of battle, feigning to be allied to him. Drag that rival demon to Kazkalgad's pit and let the Shadow Demon feed on the betrayer, and he will give you knowledge of the weaknesses of his former masters.


    The Shade of North Corner lurks in the abandoned temples, and desires only new emotions to feed upon. When he is sated with every emotion, the will leave the denizens in peace - can your players devise a means by which the Shade could enjoy the light, refreshing taste of ennui with a pungent melancholy chaser? For dessert, a course of utter despair. As a digestive, a giddy morsel of pure happiness?

    Verdict:
    Suitably creepy and a good ambush monster, but there's great scope in the fluff for expansion.


    Demons — Vrock (by Shining Wrath on 2016-08-08)

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    Art

    We get it - it's a vulture-demon. Again, no sense of scale for how large it is. It is, in fact, size large, about 8 feet tall.

    Fluff

    Once upon a time when the multiverse was young these were demons, Type I. In 3rd edition they became the tactical nukes of the demon world. Now, they have a spore attack, which makes no sense for vultures or for their history, but there it is. The screech attack is flavorful and seems practical.

    Purpose and tactics

    Flying shock troops; close with party, rend and tear. Stunning Screech is a good way to render a group of enemies vulnerable to the rest of the demonic party. Spores is another good way to reduce the effectiveness of a crowd of enemies. These guys should dive right into the middle of the party and start trying to eliminate everyone with a low Constitution save. A pretty damn effective Mage / Rogue killer.

    Hooks
    First, goats and sheep started to disappear near the hamlet of Cheeseton. Then, children went missing. The villagers report seeing a large flying creature ...

    A nest of vrocks is visible high upon a cliff on the 271st level of the Abyss. Can the party bypass the flying nuisances on their way to smack a Glabrezu around and regain a stolen soul?

    Verdict
    Iconic. Useful. A very nice mid-level critter.


    Demons — Yochlol (by MrConsideration on 2016-08-12)

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    Quote Originally Posted by MrConsideration View Post

    The Yochlol is the 'handmaiden of Lolth', meaning apparently this powerful demon helps Lolth get dressed. In fairness, it is probably pretty difficult for Lolth to coordinate all her limbs and squeeze her abdomen into an (octadic) pair of jeans, meaning this role probably requires some serious skills. The Yochlol is a bit heap of stupid, but let's try and give her her dues.

    Art
    It's a sort of yellow ooze-tree with - maybe I'm projecting here - exaggerated female genitalia. It looks quite repulsive, but there's a sort of a pathetic quality which makes the Yochlol very difficult to fear. It doesn't look capable of much of anything except quivering repulsively and making you feel a bit guilty when you kill it. It certainly doesn't look like it could be one of Lolth's "spies, taskmasters or agents of villainy."

    Fluff

    There's another bunch of text which simply asserts bits of the stat-block, which is fairly useless to me. Most of it simply describes how Yochlol are dispatched by Lolth to her most beloved minions to do her will - a big neon sign saying "Chuck this in with the Drow as a final boss" but very little about the role of a Yochlol in Drow society - did it start life as a Drow? Are they treated like holy fools or saints or simply tools or what? There's very little to mine here.


    Purpose and Tactics


    There's this weird conceit to a lot of D&D monsters - borne of the stereotype of the basement dwelling nerd - that a good concept for a monster is a sexy lady that will eat you.* Theoretically, your sweaty-palmed neckbeard D&D players will be so enamoured of the possibility to entirely imaginary fictitious Dungeon-based congress that they will willingly put their mouth in the lion's jaw and express dismay when the Lamia or Succubus or that-other-monster-lady-who-is-a-spider eats them. This is one of those.

    It has a shapechanger ability to turn into a sexy Drow lady to trick your players before ambushing them. If your players are stupid enough to trust a solo Drow babe who is wandering the Underdark they're probably never going to reach level ten. I mean, if she isn't a Yochlol, she's still an evil, deceitful Drow who is definitely going to betray you. Curiously, changing into a weird yellow sludge, buxsome Dark Elf or an enormous spider has essentially no mechanical effect on the Yochlol's damage output, beyond shuffling a few damage types around adding some reach. So why spend an action? Lure the players in and then shockingly continue to be a sexy Drow babe whilst you slam them repetitively (no innuendo intended) and inexplicably poison them in the process. You can use Web and Dominate Person to disrupt the other party members whilst you batter them repetitively with your one silly attack. Once you're about to die, you can also shapechange inexplicably into a mist and stand inside people and hope they're poisoned. You can also mist-form and fly away if your heart is set on having a Yochlol recurring villain As a solo monster, the Yochlol is not particularly fascinating, and it is best faced with a big pile of Drow mooks, and then utilised as a controller. (Why is the Yochlol not on the double-page Drow spread?)

    As an NPC, it does have some mileage as a quest-giver or social encounter, but these may be hamstrung by its Detect Thoughts ability making traditional Drow intrigues impossible in its presence.


    Hooks


    A resolutely feminist Yochlol is disgusted that her fellow Yochlol only use their Drow form to distract prey. Isn't a fuller-figured, eight-limbed woman just as attractive? If your body shape is 'melting pile of ear-wax', aren't you equally deserving of love? Can your players show that they're equally open-minded, or assist her in her plans?

    Drow rebel Tyler Do'urden runs an illegal, faintly homoerotic duelling club in Mezzoberanzen. Should the Priestess manage to summon a Yochlol, it will scour the thoughts of all Drow for such subversive tendencies. You must disrupt the ceremony, and possibly global capitalism.

    Verict: ROFYOCHLOL.



    *In fairness to Gygax, Arneson et al, mythology is full of sexy women that will eat you, like sirens or rusalka or that woman from Species. Almost every culture seems to have some hot singles in your area whose sole pleasure is drowning people.

    (I'm popping to Madrid on Sunday, so I won't be getting started on Devils for some time. Here's a blog post about my homebrew thoughts on what a devil is though.)


    Devils — Barbed Devil (by MrConsideration on 2016-08-29)

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    Quote Originally Posted by MrConsideration View Post

    We’ve finally moved on from Demons to the vastly different terrain occupied to Devils. Our first thorny customer is the Barbed Devil, who dates back to the very first Monster Manual in a time where the world was young and Britain’s industrial sector existed. I personally much prefer the name ‘Hamatula’, and would always use it with my players – it carries more mystery than a ‘Barbed Devil’.

    Art
    I like his bitter, snarling little face and the hunched little body: I love the skittish, viper-cruel little sod that everything about this depiction implies. The artist has really managed to capture the vibe of the vengeful bottom-feeder with every aspect of it. A fundamental thorniness is implicit in every aspect of the creature. My only criticism is I can’t imagine these creature ‘resembling a tall humanoid’ or being in any-way larger than a Halfling – nothing about it connotes size. All in all, an excellent piece.

    Fluff
    A victim of the fiend-blurb. They are perfect guardsmen, yet mercenary little buggers. This allows you to stock any dungeons with a vaguely arcane or fiendish bent with one, but isn’t terribly interesting. What does a Hamatula do, considering it never gets bored? Are they masters of mindfulness meditation, do they plot ceaselessly for hours on end, do they experience slow and fast time? How does their patience impact their normal lives? No answers, but a few hooks.

    Purpose and Tactics
    He’s something of a no-frills bruiser, like a more interesting Hezrou. At CR5 he can be a low-level boss, but I think he works better paired with some other creatures, as his abilities aren’t terribly interesting in isolation. He has some solid attacks, the usual Fiendish resistances and an ability that makes him damage opponents who grapple him. My players seldom grapple anyway, and I can’t see them queueing up to play Twister with Lucifer’s pet hedgehog, so this will almost never come up. I’d personally rule it also works if the Hamatula grapples you, but technically by RAW this is not the case.

    If paired with a spellcaster, you can abuse the Darkness and Devil’s Sight combo to pretty deadly effect with his multiple attacks, and the idea of a spiny monstrosity lashing at you in impenetrable darkness is a good one. Most PC parties will easily have access to a spell to counter this tactic, though.

    Hurl Flame also carries the ability to start fires, but that seems unlikely to ever come up unless you deliberately plan for it and have the fight occur in a flammable locale.

    As a quest-giver, he’s unlikely to have the right nous in the Infernal Hierarchy to really pull strings, but there’s no reason this grasping little yuppie won’t turn his spiky coat if the right incentives are dangled.

    Hooks
    Colonumnus the Caustic, a barbed devil warrior of renown, has embarrassed himself by falling for the most beautiful Succubus in all the Hells. How can their love ever work if any congress between them carries the risk of a 1d10 climax? Can you help Colonumnus overcome his spiky nature and win love?

    Gastarii has guarded the Sepulchre of the First Sin for millennia. He knows every mote of dust in this room intimately. He’d trade all his knowledge for the chance to face a true Chess grandmaster though, as he has spent a thousand-thousand hours developing his supposedly undefeatable ‘Pandemonium Opening’.

    Kucixtis is bored. Every day he guards the same room, in the same wizard’s tower, in the same way. He’s not a Golem, you know. He has needs. Feelings. Wants. If you can show Kucixtis a good time, maybe he’ll be less than attentive to anybody sneaking past…

    Verdict: A solid, spiky monster, but nothing awe-inspiring.


    Devils — Bearded Devil (by Shining Wrath on 2016-08-30)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shining Wrath View Post

    The shock troops of hell. They like fighting and killing. They respond to any slight with violence. Are we certain these aren't demons that wandered back a few pages? These guys date back to Gary Gygax (which probably accounts for the glaive; Gygax loved his weird pole arms). They used to have a frenzy ability but that's been lost in the update.

    Art
    He looks aggressive and violent. The beard looks weird, like it's glued on. They look much more muscular than the Barbed Devil next door, but have the same strength (16).

    Purpose and Tactics
    Close combat is their game; two attacks, one with 5' range, one with 10' range. Both inflict continuing conditions; poisoned for the beard, infernal wound for the glaive. It is not clear whether or not infernal wounds dealt by different bearded devils should stack. The steadfast feature combined with their close combat prowess combined with their fluff pretty much dare you to use these guys in groups. A row of bearded devils with a spell caster or ranged attacker behind them sounds like a sweet setup. Note that they are glass cannons, though; they have half the recommended hit points for CR 3 per the DMG.

    Hooks
    Ignatz the Irritable took offense at an insult from a Bone Devil and now has to hide from SkeleFly's not inconsiderable wrath. He really misses his fellow Bearded Devils, and if the party will take care of SkeleFly, he will reveal to them the secret entrance to the boudoir of the Erinyes Eileen the Insatiable.

    Two bearded devils got in each other's faces, and now their beards are tangled! They are willing to pay handsomely if you can extricate them from this mess ...

    The cleric Morlin has devised a better potion of Cure Wounds, but the recipe requires her to sacrifice the glaive of a Bearded Devil to her god - while the bearded devil is still holding it. The druids of the Creaking Forest think that this is upsetting the Balance, and they want you to put a stop to Morlin's merciless massacring of bearded devils - and destroy the recipe for the potion, too, so this won't happen again.

    Verdict
    Weird art. Weird strategy - a glass cannon that specializes in close combat. Weird fluff - sounds more demonic than devilish. Were it not for decades of familiarity, I doubt anyone would miss these guys.


    Devils — Bone Devil (by Shining Wrath on 2016-09-04)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shining Wrath View Post

    Dating back to the 1st edition monster manual, this classic devil is described as the overseer of Hell, with a definite "kick down, kiss up" personality.

    Art
    I like it. The stance and the facial expression definitely bespeak mean. It's vaguely reminiscent of the Mother Alien from Aliens, and she was a terrifying thing to behold. As (almost) always with 5e MM art, there's nothing to provide perspective; text says he's large, he certainly looks big, but a halfling coming up to his knee would let you know.

    Purpose and Tactics
    Well, does he have the variant hooked polearm? If he does, he grapples a victim, pulls them in close, and stings them to death (~30 HP a hit and unless you save Poisoned status makes escape from the grapple less likely). Otherwise, claws and sting. Nice stack of HP - a little low for CR 9, but magic resistance, damage resistance and high AC compensate. Fast movement and flight makes him something that can chase you down.

    I can easily see the bone devil behind a line of lesser devils, letting them absorb most of the damage while the bone devil moves about grappling the weakest party members and stinging them to death. If you let him fly after grappling he can seize the wizard and fly back behind his own lines to finish the poor fellow off at his leisure - of course, at this level Dimension Door ought to be prepared.

    It is unclear if a variant bone devil who has grappled someone with the pole arm gets to make 0, 1, or 2 claw attacks - how many hands are required to keep a grip on the pole arm? I rule 1, but that's a DM ruling not RAW. It's also unclear if a party member can wield the pole arm; I say "yes", but if you aren't large you have disadvantage on attack roles as it's a big thing.

    Hooks

    Spinidog the bone devil has a problem. His minion Aaarghthax is very disrespectful - but Aaarghthax is a favorite of a greater devil. If you can teach Aarghthax a permanent lesson, Spinidog is willing to let you speak to his other minion, Baaltongue, who was once the head of the rogue's guild in Richcity and knows how to open the vault in the guild.

    Flutterdeath is ambitious. Flutterdeath wants to impress his master, Ramsores the horned devil. Ramsores wants the soul of a particular priest very badly - something about an exorcism, personal insults, and a vial of holy water flung with particular insolence. If the party can help deliver the priest's soul, Flutterdeath can tell them how to close the portal to the Nine Hells that has opened near the city of Placetokeepsafe.

    Verdict
    Well suited to their position at the top of the lesser devils. Formidable in combat, nasty in personality, and scary looking. A classic for a reason.


    Devils — Chain Devil (by arrowed on 2016-09-08)

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    Quote Originally Posted by arrowed View Post

    These guys have been around since at least 3rd edition, to my knowledge. Some of the splatbooks from back then talked about a city full of these creatures on the third layer of Hell, Minauros. The city was suspended above the swamp of the layer by chains reaching up unto the bottom of Dis (layer number 2), and was named Jangling Hiter. The Chain Devil is an embodiment of sadism, by it's description, a jailer and torturer with an instrument to either end less than arm's reach away at all times.

    Art
    OH-MY-GOSH-ITS-COMING-RIGHT-AT-ME! Dynamic. Intense. It's looking and swinging at the reader like it can't believe you're insolent enough to read it's statblock. Look closer and you can see that behind the chains, that face is not human, however the rest of it's body looks. I like this piece.

    Purpose and tactics
    This thing has standard devil equipment: devil's sight, resistance to nonsilver nonmagic weapons and cold, immunity to fire and poison, magic resistance. It's specialness is in it's actions, where it can attack twice a turn and cut and grapple and stab with each one. With a 10ft range! Unnerving mask can lock down any uppity fighter trying to hit the devil in melee.
    The Chain Devil will, I think, thrive when they're on home turf but falter elsewhere. This thing is a great controller with all it's restrictive abilities, and it practically brings it's own minions if it can use animate chains, but if a smart party can take it at range it's a sitting duck. It might team up well with spined devils to harry enemies into it's arms, or with a caster who can use darkness and/or wind wall.

    Hooks (ha-ha)
    Thershaglash has lost a prisoner, and it will pay handsomely for their return before the lower-downs find out. It can offer your PCs passage to the next layer, if they deliver it's prisoner.
    Clattering Kilt has been assigned to imprison the Baron by it's overlord, who is nurturing a profitable cult. Clattering Kilt may 'slip up' and let the Baron escape, were it's overlord's plans... adjusted. Lead Clattering Kilt's master's cult to come into conflict with another devil's operation so Clattering Kilt may have it's long-delayed revenge.
    Shargning wants beautiful, special, blades. Blades fit to adorn it's lovely chains. It even knows the perfect blacksmith for the job, but the smith in question happens to be a statue in a medusa's garden.

    Verdict
    A good low-to-mid level boss with a clear occupation to bring it into conflict with the PCs. It's design is thematic and functional. I like it.


    Devils — Erinyes (by Shining Wrath on 2016-09-09)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shining Wrath View Post

    The good-looking devils, Erinyes come in male and female forms and may be fallen angels. They are willing to be mistaken for angels if it advances their mission. The name dates back to the ancient Greeks; the Erinyes were the furies who punished oath-breakers. In D&D they started life back in first edition as lesser devils, and have been around ever since in more or less this (comely) form.

    Art
    We get the female form - surprise! She's striking a non-combat pose playing with her variant Rope of Entanglement. Pro tip: if you want to be mistaken as an angel, wear white armor, at least in 21st century American culture. I am disappointed in this particular piece.

    Purpose and tactics
    Not too much different than a mid-level fighter except for the flight and the poison. 3 attacks a turn with longsword or longbow; attacks are magical and poisonous. Can use the Rope of Entanglement to restrain a foe so they don't get away at the cost of two attacks. Given that the longbow's poison is worse than the longsword's poison, you might prefer to fight her up close anyway. At this level (CR 12) resistance to non-magical weapons is not so much of an issue. Immunity to fire and poison and Magic Resistance are significant, though. The Parry ability is a nice addition.

    The ability to fly while raining longbow death from above gives the erinyes a useful option. The Rope of Entanglement is not that useful for a walking erinyes, but a flying one can entangle a foe, fly straight up, and then release them. Note that the erinyes presumably knows how to tie one end of the rope to their armor so they can make 3 attacks a turn to anyone at the other end until they are ready to drop them.

    Hooks
    A commanding winged figure in shining armor appear to the party and exhorts them to wipe out a cult of demon worshippers. Later, the same figure gives them other missions that are progressively less clear-cut morally. For how long will the party be willing to obey the "angel"?

    The wizard Baalgone has a problem. He struck a bargain with Asmodeus, and in his opinion he outsmarted the Lord of Hell, fulfilled his end of the bargain, and is free. Asmodeus evidently has other opinions, and Baalgone is being plagued by a winged figure firing poisonous arrows, which hurt. If the party can deal with the erinyes Baalgone has plans for escape...

    Verdict
    A long ways removed from their Greek roots, these devils fall into the "pretty girl that wants to kill you" trope, albeit it can be a pretty boy. The text does nothing with the idea of them being "fierce and disciplined warriors"; do they command brigades of lesser demons? Serve as special forces? We don't know, at least from 5e MM. They are a flying good-looking fighter who uses poisoned weapons; there's a place for that, I suppose. Their ability to pass as non-fiends allows for a lot of uses. A solid, classic fiend.


    Devils — Horned Devil (by arrowed on 2016-09-10)

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    Quote Originally Posted by arrowed View Post

    Also called a Malebranche, the Horned Devil is the first of the greater devils, and the description paints it as a lazy, cowardly fiend who nonetheless has the capacity to get mad when you want them to fight your players. So it's big, it's bad, and it's a somewhat vanilla fiend. Their fluff calls them flying infantry, implying these guys come in squads, and are minions rather than masterminds.

    Art
    Satanic. Tail, horns, pitchfork, feet that are all but cloven hooves. Oh, and wings. It's abdomen looks rather flat for a being described as lazy, but it's pose does a reasonable job of conveying a slothful, thuggish personality. It's fork is glowing like it should be dealing fire damage, which would be cool (well, warm, actually) but isn't reflected in the stat block. Over all, looks fiendish in a classical way, but little else.

    Purpose and Tactics
    Besides the standard devil armoury, the Horned Devil reads like a versatile brute, with relatively high AC, flight to take on foes in 3D, a tail attack with a nasty rider and at will fire damage at range. It's multi-attack lets it dish out a lot of damage in a turn, and it's only 'weak' save is intelligence at +1. It can take a few hits, it can dole out the damage, it can deal with flying foes... but apart from that, it's almost mundane. It has two options in combat: close and pummel with fork and tail, or fly above and rain fire.
    I think the Horned Devil will best work as a bodyguard for a foe with more utility, or a random encounter in Baator. It certainly isn't a boss, even for lower level PCs.

    Hooks
    Vergalog has lost his fork. He can't be bothered to find it himself, but he says he will reward whoever finds his fork, but how will the PCs find a a fork in hell?

    Gerzanan isn't afraid to fight her rivals, because she has called up a champion from hell itself to fight for her. Unfortunately, her champion's demands are growing increasingly difficult to meet...

    The local tribe of kobolds has a new 'god', demanding treasure and sacrifice from them as usual. However this winged foe might be a bit beyond the PCs. They might have more luck informing the hells that one of their soldiers is skiving duty on the material plane.

    Verdict
    A decent side dish of a monster, but one requiring a fair bit of imagination to make an adventure out of. An excellent addition to a devilish encounter for when sheer brutality matters, with little to offer beyond that. I guess it has a place as high level cannon fodder.


    Devils — Ice Devil (by Shining Wrath on 2016-09-11)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shining Wrath View Post

    Dating back to first edition, ice devils the commanders of the infernal armies of the Nine Hells, but wish they were pit fiends; they take out their resentment at not being the top of the heap on all lesser devils. They are as ambitious as hell.

    Art
    When grasshoppers go bad, only missing the two middle limbs. Again, nothing lets you know this guy is large. Definitely ugly but not particularly fiendish.

    Purpose and tactics
    Lacking a ranged attack, but featuring a wall of ice, these fiends close with you, close you in, and hurt you a lot. Immune to cold, fire, and poison, and with magic resistance, they are durable foes. They can't fly, though, and can't keep you from flying, which by level 14 will be pretty common. Put one in a room with a low ceiling, though, and the wall of ice can shut off escape.
    The variant ice spear is very close to an at-will Slow spell; OK, it has to hit you, but with +10 to hit and two attacks a turn, that may not be difficult. Despite the fluff as commanders of infernal armies, they don't get any features to help them lead a group.

    Hooks
    Gerald the Gelid wants to move up. His supervisor, Urgoth the pit fiend, is in the way. Urgoth's latest assignment is to collect souls from chaotic evil Oathbreaker Paladins for some inscrutable purpose of Levistus. If the party can interfere with Urgoth's assignment in a particularly humiliating fashion, Gerald promises to teach them how to imbue their own weapons with the slowing magic of his spear.

    Deep within the Nine Hells a minor castle is home to a newly-raised pit fiend named Sinusta. Sinusta is besieged by a force led by the ice devil Frangelia. Unfortunately, the party is hidden within the castle, trying to avoid notice by either Sinusta or the besieging armies. Do the party try to strike a bargain with Sinusta to help raise the siege; with Frangelia to betray the castle from within; try to sneak out unnoticed; or wait?

    Verdict
    A classic monster but not extremely flavorful. The wall of ice and the spear of ice make it more than just another brawler, but not that much more.

    Variants
    Very tempting to give these guys either some more innate spell casting or some feature like an orc warlord's Battle Cry. Or both.


    Devils — Imp (by arrowed on 2016-09-18)

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    Quote Originally Posted by arrowed View Post

    Like the quasit, but more pronounceable, the imp is the devilish version of the fiendish familiar/spy archetype. A minion of stealth rather than muscle, the flufftext for it is woefully plain, and can be summed up as saying: serves evil things, lazy, shapeshifting trickster that can turn invisible. Frankly I'm surprised they didn't meld the quasit and imp into a generic in-between fiend like the succubus has become.

    Art

    Ugly, scrawny, somewhat pathetic yet still a little menacing. It's meant to be tiny, but the picture is as big as and right next to the medium-sized lemure's art, so there is no good sense of size to be had. Besides that the only real problem I have with this piece is that it's expression has plenty of malice but no conveyance of this being a lesser devil. Where's the skulking fearfulness of a creature one minor transgression away from torture? All that said it still is a picture that suits the phrase 'ugly little blighter', which is exactly what the imp should be.

    Purpose and tactics

    It can be a rat or a spider or a raven, or it can become invisible. I'm getting the feeling this creature was meant to use ambush tactics. Beyond that it has the devil package deal and a nasty little poison riding on it's sting attack. An unlucky level 1 PC can go down in a hit from this guy, but despite it's resistances it will take only a couple of hits itself. Apart from following a party round a dungeon and striking when they're distracted, this thing is a good addition to any diabolical brawl, capable of capitalising on the PC's focus on the big bad fiend to strike and slip away repeatedly. And it can fly, so if the damn wizard is raining death from above again, slap one of these mites on his back and see how long his concentration lasts.

    Hooks

    The party is being followed by a small and ragged looking rat. When they cast Speak with Animals, they learn that it is a familiar looking for it's master, somewhere in the city. Will this disguised imp hold out long enough to lure the PCs to it's nefarious master, or succumb to it's bloodlust and try to murder one of them as they sleep?

    The lowly imp Quazlagith has made a name for itself in the Hells as a champion corrupter of souls, spreading evil through not one but three different 'masters' at once. The PCs may oust the corrupt Guard Captain, defeat the Dark Thief in his lair, and disrupt the Lady's devil-summoning cult, but if Quazlagith remains unfound it's only a matter of time before it finds new pawns to manipulate.

    When they first met Snevlix, it led them to treasure. When they next crossed paths, it warned them of the deadly trap on the second floor. If they trust it this time, the outcome might not be so beneficial...

    Verdict

    A solid and longstanding member of the devil set, not really done justice in this edition. It has a decent stat block, but was cut with the same cookie cutter as the quasit. It feels like they haven't put any effort into it's conversion.


    Devils — Lemure (by Sharur on 2016-09-30)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sharur View Post

    Fun Factoid
    When I first started playing, I misheard Lemure as "lemur", and so thought the lowest denizens of the Nine Hells were small monkeys jumping about.

    Art
    Personally I like the look of the lemure. It's face looks human, wearing an appropriately wretched expression, while it's body appears to be melting away. Personally, it reminds of the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and since Lawful Evil souls that enter the Nine Hells become Lemures...

    Purpose & Tactics
    In combat, the lemure has little presence by itself. Indeed it's stat array is so bad, a PC would have to re-roll during creation.

    However, it's lack of direct ability can be an asset for use in a lower level encounter, especially to prop up a lower level devil, such as a Barbed Devil or a Bearded Devil, that the DM wishes to make more memorable or dangerous.

    For example, a Barbed Devil could use them as road blocks to try to stop the PCs from getting too close as it assails them with it's Hurl Flame ability; or they could serve to pad out a Greek-style phalanx or Roman-style maniple when combined with Bearded Devils.

    Additionally, they can be used to harrass your spellcasters. If they hit, they are unlikely to do life threatening damage, but can wear down on casters who cast adjacent to them (opportunity attack) or who have a Concentration spell up.

    But I think the Lemure's best asset comes out-of-combat: Namely, it's origins and it's hellish rejuvenation. A Lemure is either a the fate of a damned Lawful Evil soul, or a disgraced and demoted devil (which retains it's memories). Additionally, hellish rejuvenation means that lemure's are the exception to the "devil dies in the Nine Hells ceases to exist" rules, and the exception to this seems tailored to the PCs (good creature with bless or holy water).

    Hooks
    -Executed Brother: The PCs have exposed the evil plot by the King's brother to use a plague to decimate the kingdom and seize control. Unfortunately, the Lawful Stupid king executed him immediately, so now the PCs must travel to the Nine Hells to extract the information out of him.
    -Diabolic Demilich: A lich fears death above all else, so prepares itself as demilich as a last resort. Devils likewise fear annihilation, but unfortunately the best they can do is a Lemure.
    -Blackmail Material: Two archdevils are locked in social combat. A devil was unlucky enough to learn something that could be used to blackmail it's master, and was captured by the other side. To prevent it from talking, the unfortunate devil was transformed into a Lemure. Now, the archdevil wants a more...determinant solution, and the PCs are the only ones available that can give it to them.

    Verdict
    A weak and pathetic damned soul, but one that a DM can get some use out if used properly.


    Devils — Pit Fiend (by Shining Wrath on 2016-10-02)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shining Wrath View Post

    The devil before whom all other devils tremble, save for the Dukes of Hell themselves. He's big; he's bad; he's arrogant as hell; and he knows one or more (Arch)Dukes of Hell on a first-name basis. The Pit Fiend has been around since Version 1 of D&D, and has always been at the top of the devilish hierarchy (or if you prefer, the bottom of the lowerarchy).
    Spoiler: First Edition Art
    Show


    Art
    As usual, nothing tells you he's bigger than the imp and lemure on the facing page. The base of the tail looks too large to me - bigger than a thigh. The stance looks combat-ready, as does the snarl. The eyes belie the intelligence of 22; this creature looks feral, not cunning.

    Purpose and tactics
    At CR 20, this is likely either the final boss or someone met on the way to the final boss. The lowest ability score is a 14 dexterity. Proficient in the 3 important saves, with a nice set of damage resistances and immunities, and magic resistance to boot, this guy is hard to take down quickly. If he closes with you he has a 4-attack combo with a to-hit of +14 (so hits AC 20 on an 6, 75% of the time) for an average of 99 points of damage plus a recurring poison that precludes regaining hit points and adds 21 more damage per round. A fly speed of 60 means that yes, he can close with you, combined with a fear aura. If he doesn't want to close with you he's got at-will fireball (range 150', 8d6 damage).

    There's a big difference between a party prepared for a pit fiend and one not prepared. A prepared party will have access to flight, magical and / or silvered weapons, and protection against fire damage, fear, and poison. With those preparations a pit fiend can be fought on the party's terms. Lack any of the above, though, and he's got the advantage - hit and run attacks seeking to wear down the glass cannons with poison, stand off and fireball the party from a distance, nasty stuff like that. The fluff text says pit fiends have a hard time admitting they can be beaten, but with an intelligence of 22 they ought to seek to fight another day if things start going badly.

    Hooks
    The BBEG of many campaigns, pit fiends make excellent manipulators from behind the scenes, using their command of lesser devils and personal might to shape events.

    1. The party wants to reach a Duke of Hell. To reach him they must first pass his vizer, the pit fiend Baazabubba. Can the party barbarian actually defeat Baazabubba in single combat?
    2. The long-divided hobgoblins of the Dusky Mountains have united after the leader of each rival tribe is slain in single combat by someone the hobgoblins refer to only as "Him". Now the united hobgoblins are threatening to overrun the dwarven strongholds and sweep into the settled lands. Can the party pass through the hobgoblin lands and slay Him before the combined tribes march?
    3. Snarglax wants to give Duke Mammon a nice present in honor of his 66,666th year ruling over the 3rd level of Hell. The soul of a paladin sounds like just the thing. Can Snarglax's complicated scheme to get the paladin Shiny Heart to betray his friends while actually in Hell itself work?


    Verdict
    Iconic; famous; mighty; and yet, something is lacking. More spell casting options, perhaps, or legendary / lair actions? A pit fiend should not be just a bigger badder malebranche.


    Devils — Spined Devil (by arrowed on 2016-10-08)

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    The last of the devils comes complete with a cheeky little wizard-of-oz reference on a post-it on it's page. It's description and stat block read somewhat like an advanced imp, with the same 'messenger and spy' roles mentioned in the description and the same emphasis on hit and run tactics in the stat block. I don't know how much history these guys have from previous editions, but they look like good low-level adversaries.

    Art

    No scale, but that's a running theme. Besides that, it certainly looks spiny, and it has a mean little face that conveys a very unnatural sense. It's hunched position doesn't really show off it's wings or spines, but does give me images of the beggars flocking on the edges of towers like diabolical pigeons (what am I saying? All pigeons are diabolical). Not laden with detail, but good at putting across the feel of a relatively weak but still menacing devil.

    Purpose and Tactics

    As always, standard devil abilities make the spinnagon pair well with allies that can cast darkness or fireball. Beyond that they are clearly designed to harass and bother without getting bogged down in melee, with flyby and spine throwing. At challenge 2 they may well appear before parties have access to flight, which would make for a good battle where the answer isn't 'run up and hit it' but requires more tactical insight. Coupled with their resistance to nonmagical nonsilver b/p/s damage, a handful of these devil-bats could be a fearsome challenge for any low level party. At higher levels, I imagine they'd make a great swarm monster for PCs to cleave through as a fun 'look how awesome we are' encounter.

    Hooks

    Vrax the spinnagon was summoned to the material plane to carry messages between two towns separated by a gorge. However, the devil has been subtly altering the messages to steadily provoke hostility between the towns and encourage the spread of evil.

    Every winter solstice in the village of Bluesteel, a magical sleigh crosses the sky pulled by a dozen spined devils. As they pass they rain brutal fiery missiles on the defenceless villagers, but who are they carrying?

    Legends speak of bats in the mountain pass who carry off and consume travellers. Others say that mysterious figures rain fire and trigger avalanches to crush the unwary. Can anyone make the pass safe for travellers against these mysterious assailants?

    Verdict

    A solid and engaging low-level fiend, although a bit light on flavour. A good minion monster or swarm monster.
    Last edited by odigity; 2017-01-25 at 12:55 PM.

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    Dinosaurs (by Shining Wrath on 2016-10-21)

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    The most famous extinct beasts ever, with dozens of possible choices over millions of years of evolution, and WotC gives us 6. And I'm going to do them all as one entry because they aren't that dissimilar. Allosaurus, Ankylosaurus, Plesiosaurus, Pteranodon, Triceratops, and Tyrannosaurus Rex. Mostly predators. The highest CR is 8.

    Art
    We get a pair of Allosauruses pursuing a not-presented Stegosaurus with a Pteranodon flying in the background on page 79, and a Plesiosaurus pursuing fish on page 80. Ankylosaurus, Triceratops, and T-Rex don't even rate a picture. Both pictures are dynamic action scenes of pursuit by carnivores. There's some teeny-tiny cutesy dinosaurs on page 79, they look like they are only a few inches tall. The overall impression is of huge powerful predators hunting, which seems appropriate.

    Purpose and Tactics
    • Allosaurus: Fast, strong, perceptive, and size large. Special feature: Pounce, defined here as a charge + claw attack knocking targets prone unless they make a Strength save. A good creature to use in open spaces where it can spot the party from a distance and run them down - or a bunch of them, as the party fires arrows and spells into the onrushing herd. CR 2.
    • Ankylosaurs: Just a big pile of hit points with moderate (15) AC and a powerful tail attack that can knock the target prone. CR 3. A good "point defense" creature - it won't normally chase a party, but if the party has to get past it, it's tough.
    • Plesiosaurus: Swimming creature that can hold its breath for an hour. The long neck permits 10' range on attacks, so this creature can pick people off of boats. CR 2.
    • Pteranodon: Beloved of size small Beastmaster Rogues of the PHB rule set, this baby can fly and has a CR of 1/4. It has flyby, so it can attack, peck viciously, and fly away. Probably most useful in flocks.
    • Triceratops: A big pile of HP with a Trampling Charge attack - move 20', hit with a gore, knock target prone (Strength save), and then stomp on them. The gore attack is impressive even if the Triceratops can't charge. CR 5.
    • Tyrannosaurus Rex: You all know what this is. You all know what it does. It's fast, perceptive, and gets both a bite and a tail attack, just not against the same target. The bite grapples Medium and smaller creatures, so once it hits with a bite it can keep on biting that same target over and over.


    Hooks
    As written, bog-standard dinosaurs are merely beasts. They don't make plans or engage in negotiations. They all have an Int of 2. They are random encounters when travelling in certain wildernesses, or perhaps allies to some smarter creatures that have tamed them / learned how to manipulate them. They can add atmosphere to jungles and plains, and generally give a "Toto, I don't think we're on the Sword Coast any more" vibe to any region.
    However, an Awakened dinosaur is a whole 'nother ballgame. Party is trapped in the only building for miles, a crumbling fort, and the much-smarter-than-it-ought-to-be T-Rex won't let them escape. Think "Cujo" with 8 inch fangs. Or, the Awakened triceratops understands habitat loss well enough to know that the human village cannot be allowed to flourish or the grazing lands will be lost, and leads stampedes of triceratops right through town on a regular basis.

    Verdict
    The only problem with dinosaurs is that there aren't more of them. In terms of iconic movie monsters, dinosaurs are right up there with giant apes, vampires, and flesh golems whose creator Meddled In Things Man Was Not Meant To Meddle In. Maybe WotC intends to publish a dinosaur splat book, or maybe they are going to wait for some D&D playing paleontologist to write it for them. Every D&D campaign world should at least consider having a "Land That Time Forgot" area where barbarians can test their raging prowess against T-Rex. Everyone loves dinosaurs!


    Displacer Beast (by Shining Wrath on 2016-11-24)

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    The Displacer Beast dates back to first edition D&D - 1974. It was based off of a creature called the coeurl, a feline-like creature from the 1939 science fiction story "Black Destroyer" by A. E. van Vogt.

    Art
    Very cool. Sleek, black, muscular, definitely feline, and those tentacles are like lethal peacock feathers. As always, no size indication supplied, but it looks feral- and the way it is walking across the top of the stat block is a nice touch.

    Purpose and Tactics
    A good challenge for a low level party, these guys can make both the weapons people and the spell people of the party curse loudly and repeatedly. Avoidance is Evasion upgraded to all 6 abilities. Nice, and where can my character get it? No stealth, which is odd because they seem like ambush predators, but maybe they just chase prey down - it's hard to dodge when the thing you are dodging is not where it appears to be. Smart enough to use strategy - it can even figure out caravan schedules so it can attack them. This creature should flee if it is losing, nurse its wounds, and come back with friends. Which is why you chase it if you wound it, which is why the "attack and withdraw into prepared ambush" strategy ought to work.

    A pack of these guys stalking a mid-level party can keep them on their toes clear through the forest.

    Fluff
    The backstory of Unseelie Fey makes sense, as these creatures are obviously not natural. And the enmity between Displacers and Blink Dogs is also explained. The trope of "bred for a purpose, escaped, wreak havoc" is pretty common but it works for them. Definitely smart enough to serve as a shadow on the trail of the party, waiting for them to engage in combat with something else and then picking off the wizard in the back.

    Hooks
    The farmers have always lost some sheep to the creatures of the forest. Now, though, they are losing people, including children. What has moved into the forest, and can the party drive it out?

    The caravan owner hired you to guard his caravan. The displacer beasts killed him and drug his corpse into the woods. The problem is, he has the passports on him, and the party can neither go forward nor backward without them.

    Danskin the mage wants a Clock of Displacement. Therefore, he wants the intact hide of a Displacer Beast. Can you kill a DB using only bludgeoning weapons?

    Verdict
    Iconic for a reason. An unusual feature combined with a great appearance and good fluff leads to a creature used by just about every DM once in a while.


    Doppelganger (by Quixim on 2016-11-27)

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    I'm too excited about this to wait.

    The Doppelganger was first introduced in the "Greyhawk" supplement, making it a very old D&D mainstay indeed! They're in Phandelver, used as messengers from the BBEG to pretend he's going places in person while he remains safe and out of harm's way.

    Art
    Pretty good! Reminds me of the 3x Doppelganger, but a different pose. Looks a little bit gross and kind of unscrutable, and considering its neutral alignment, that fits. You don't know what it's thinking, but it sure knows what you're thinking. It has the creepy long arms that show off a sense of litheness and leanness that implies its quickness in combat, as well. You're not likely to see this form until you've already figured it out, so at that point it's a fun fight.

    Purpose and Tactics
    Doppelgangers are the garlicof low level adventures: No matter what it is, Doppelgangers will improve it. In combat, they have an excellent first-round sneak attack damage, great for once you manage to corner PCs and get their guards down. It has better deception than stealth, but its respectable +4 bonus means it has a decent chance of sneaking around if it has to. The statistic block mentions clothes and weapons and armor its wearing, so boosting up its armor class by giving it leather armor and tossing it a rapier can give it a pretty decent buff. Really, though, it's meant as a spy or a social encounter - impersonating an enemy or an ally and reading the PC's surface thoughts the whole time to glean secrets and tactics. A Doppelganger who's been doing this will be smart enough to know characters' roles - even at a decent level, the possibility of 8d6+4 damage against the wizard in the back is going to hurt quite a bit! After the initial surge, though, it doesn't really have anything going for it. 1d6 damage for two swings isn't exactly a bruiser, and it doesn't have any other tricks up its sleeve. The advantage given to the mind reading is shaky - nobody ever really rolls intimidation or persuasion against the PCs, although deception is handy. They seem pretty weak for a CR3 monster (Compare a bugbear at CR), although if they're in a straight fight they've either already lost or already won.

    They shouldn't be that hard to scale up - With a d8 hit dice and their abilities, giving them a rogue's power suite would work; giving them that and some poison will make them a bit more capable in a fight, and better suited to pulling off a proper usurpation. Then again, the biggest damage that Doppelgangers do is outside of combat; you want them to mess with the players, disrupt their plans, think they've been betrayed, and make them reluctant to trust anybody. Bonus points if you can get them to treat innocents badly just because they're convinced they're talking to a doppelganger.

    Immunity to charm is interesting, especially to keep them solid in non-combat encounters, but it's not likely that the PCs are going to burn a charm spell on one of these. However, lots of different control spells will refer to their effects as "charm", such as Hypnotic Pattern (I believe), so watch out for spell wording.

    Fluff
    Nice opening paragraph about paranoia - once you've faked out PCs with a doppelganger once or twice they'll stop trusting anybody, almost as fast as when you start putting traps on doors. The idea of them keeping a victim alive is interesting, whether they're locked in their basement to have their thoughts read as the doppelganger stares into them with its pale eyes, or if they're going about their day, not realizing that a double of them is also walking through towns as if nothing is wrong. Their solitary-to-gang mentality is neat, the idea of them having no ulterior motives except self-gain makes them both creepy AND fun; easy enough to bribe to leave people along as it is to slay them for misdeeds. The idea of them exclusively taking on male form so they don't actually have to raise any children is amusing; Doppelgangers are the ultimate deadbeat dads, unless the kids end up catching up and joining the crew!

    Hooks
    Octavio Glitterspike has never been the most humble merchant, but now the dwarf is throwing extravagant parties, lavishly spending nights out on the town, and buying up fine spices, meats, and wines. Not only that, but he's put off all of his appointments! Luriel Doestring is furious, and she hires the PCs to investigate the causes of his debauchery before she picks up her caravan and returns to the forest with the thousand bolts of silk she was bringing to trade.

    The town of Brookbridge has been getting more and more nervous. It started when Cobbler Geoffrey died; people swear they've seen him in town, just for a second, and then can't find him when they go around the corner. But now, it's been happening to more and more people, and what's more, the graves are empty. Is it a necromancer, raising the dead for their own nefarious purposes? (No, it's Doppelgangers, trying to scare off the townspeople so they can enjoy the harvest all to themselves)

    Baroness Cicily's daughter has disappeared! She was a happy child, never wanted for anything, and there were no signs of abduction! Why did she leave, where could she have gone, and how can you track someone down when they can turn into whoever they want at the blink of an eye? What's more, can you trust the calculating politician not to exploit such a powerful spy in her family to tip the city's political balance in her favor?

    Returning to town and their favorite inn, the PC's find that their tab has grown to an enormous size! Who's responsible for this, and what sort of favor do they have to do for the tavernmaster to clear their debt?

    Verdict
    It can make players too paranoid if used too much, but a solid addition to keep them guessing and throw them a few curveballs - for added fun make them kill their loved ones!


    Dracolich (by Dark Sun Gnome on 2016-12-26)

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    For every Elminster, there is a Szass Tam. Not to mention mages from ancient Netheril that refused to enter the Kingdom of the dead when Karsus committed his act of ultimate hubris. The Vrael Oro manipulate humankind from the shadows, and sometimes, those with good intentions can fall far, such as Sammaster.

    And speaking of Sammaster, lets look at his invention...

    Appearance

    The skeletal blue that serves for the artwork doesn't really look all that fearsome, and it lacks the fiery points of light in its eyes that were described in earlier editions. And unlike the depictions of the beast in 2e (which were described as generally retaining the form of the dragon pre transformation, the lore now says the appearance is always skeletal.

    Lore

    Speaking of the lore, the Dracolich shows the problem of making FR, or at least a diet version of it, the default setting for 5e, while also attempting to make a "one size fits all" monster manual, and in taking a monster so linked to a certain campaign setting. In 2 and 3.5, the Dracolich was the brainchild of the mad mage Sammaster, formerly one of Mystra's chosen, in order to forfill a prophecy that he had mistranslated as "And naught will be left save shattered thrones. But the dead dragons shall rule to world entire, and..."

    Which would have made for excellent flavour text, but while the lore goes on about cultists, there is no mention of the Cult of the Dragon, nor a sidebar about the cult inself (one of the most widespread in that setting). The regent needed for the transformation is mentioned, but missed out on are two ingredients which really should have been touched upon in the description. The first, blood of a vampire, would have made for some pretty interesting scenarios - a party having to protect a vampire from cultists, or cultists manipulating a vampire in order to have a supply of the regent for when the dragon consents to the transformation. The other ingredient that should have been mentioned is the Potion of Evil Dragon Control (which was also implied to give cultists a measure of control over the Dracolich).

    Mechanics

    In past editions, a Dracolich could control undead once every three days (there would have been no shortage of bodies thanks to the cult), and combined with increased resistance and the hybrid creatures that the cult engendered, this made the dracolich a pretty formidable opponent, even more so with a fear aura that was stronger than the base dragon with a chance of paralysis. Now, the fear aura is the same, along with the same INT and WIS scores as the base dragon, which goes against the lore stating that it is fiendishly intelligent - considering this, shouldn't it get a nice boost to either wisdom and/or intelligence to fit the description? Also gone from earlier editions is the augmented breath weapon, which is the same as the base dragon and has no extra damage. Is the +4 increase on the challenge rating really justified? I don't think so.

    Verdict

    The 5e Dracolich feels, to all intents and purposes, like a normal dragon with a few added resistances, immunities and condition immunities. Without the undead control and missing the FR lore (though hopefully that will be added if WoTC bring out a 5e Draconomicon), the 5e Dracolich is a letdown.


    Dragon, Shadow (by tsuyoshikentsu on 2016-12-27)

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    One of the most terrifying monsters of editions past, the Shadow Dragon here is not a unique planar variant but a template. How does this change this fearsome beastie--and is it for better, or for worse?

    Art

    The art doesn't give a great sense of scale (no pun intended), but that may be intentional as any size of dragon can become a shadow dragon. What's actually a little irritating, though, isn't the art itself but the entry's placement in the book--this is clearly meant to be a comparative piece, but we haven't seen the normal true dragons yet. By coming before them in the book, it undermines itself a bit.

    Purpose and Tactics

    So let's get one thing straight: in 5E, shadows at any level are absolutely horrifying.

    They deal STR damage. That means that even at level 20 a wizard basically only has 8 HP against them, and they deal 1d4 damage. I damn near wiped a fifth-level party with a group of eight shadows recently because I just didn't understand how overpowering they are in packs. And this dragon? This dragon makes them with its breath.

    Depending on the circumstances, that's bad enough for a party vs. dragon fight: even a couple of shadows, while not particularly hard to deal with per se, have to be dealt with immediately and that takes heat off the dragon. But you know what's worse? Shadows also make more shadows. Imagine the party fighting a shadow dragon in a village. The dragon breathes its 90-foot cone of necrotic shadow... at the villagers, who all instantly die. A lot of villagers fit in a 90-foot cone. That's a lot of shadows. And then those shadows start attacking the other villagers....

    Oh, by the way--this is another template that's not for evil dragons only. Tell me: how do you feel about the above scenario happening after the entire party has been hit by a silver dragon's paralyzing breath?

    If that wasn't bad enough this dragon gets Roguelike stealth and can hide as a bonus action. Sure, it has weakness to to the sun, but it also has resistance to literally almost everything when in the dark. And a monster like this should never be fought anywhere but in the dark.

    In past editions, shadow dragons usually breathed negative levels. In the right surroundings, they're just as dangerous here.

    Fluff

    In past editions, shadow dragons were... dragons from the Shadow Plane. Here, they've got a much more interesting backstory. Sure, they can be from the shadow plane--but they are also what happens to a dragon that spends too much time on the Shadow Plane. They become twisted and corrupted, and turn into basically horror movie monsters. What's even more delicious is that they don't even have to be in the Shadowfell for this to happen--the text explicitly call out ancients who sleep too near Shadowfell portals. How's that for horror movie corruption?

    As I mentioned above, metallics can fall victim to this. You want great plot hooks? Here are some ready-made ones: "Some shadow dragons attempt to lure other creatures from the mortal realm back to the Shadowfell to keep them company, at least until they tire of their guests and devour them." This works so insanely well with a lot of the metallic lore that almost every plot hook I'm going to offer is a metallic one.

    One final thought: there aren't dragons on Ravenloft. But as a huge lover of Ravenloft, if I wanted to add a dragon on Ravenloft? This would fit right in.

    Hooks

    The Dark Scourge's wings bring destruction to the countryside, with entire villages being turned into packs of undead monstrosities. Are the heroes even strong enough to take this threat on?

    Aldroax the Brass always loved talking to his guests before the Shadowfell took hold, but now he has to kidnap them from the Material Plane--and kills them when they cease to amuse him. Can the party keep this ancient force entertained long enough to find an escape and save their own lives?

    A murderer stalks the land. In her wake she leaves horrible undead monstrosities, twisted reflections of her victims. She's been seen several times--but always looks different to those who see her. The one thing linking all of her victims is that they're humanoids: she seems to have a deathly fascination with them. Who is this mysterious killer? (A silver shadow dragon!)

    The heroes are celebrated dragonslayers, able to tangle with any dragon in the land. But on their way home from their latest kill, a darkness falls over them... and then, through the clinging mist, comes the sound of beating wings...

    Verdict

    Threatening. Horrifying. A mere template? No--if you want a villain that's insidious instead of blunt, this is everything such a monster could ever be.


    Dragons — Chromatic — Introduction (by Spellbreaker26 on 2016-12-02)

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    This creature needs no introduction, so it's about time it got one:

    The iconic western-style dragon, a true classic. Their image was first outlined by the dragon from Beowulf before being codified by Smaug, but the idea of an evil serpent arises in almost every culture and religion. Every instinctual human fear rolled up into one; reptilian, fiery, and unknowable.

    Art

    The portraits for black and blue dragons stand out as particularly good, but we should probably leave that for the individual colours; I do like the effort put in to differentiate each in a way that doesn't just involve colour, with the use of different horns and spines.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Dragons are probably the single most versatile entry in the monster manual. In mechanical terms, you can have parties fighting White Wyrmlings all the way back at level two, all the way up to the ancient reds. It would even be feasible to have a 1-20 campaign with nothing but dragons as enemies, by varying types and tactics to keep the party on its toes.

    In addition, the GM has so many options with how the dragon can fight that he can give each an individual personality; perhaps a White dragon goes into close combat immediately while a blue dragon flies around using lightning breath. Despite this freedom of use, they require significantly less book-keeping than a heavy spellcaster like a lich, which might be an attraction to new GMs.

    Dragons are also very versatile in terms of larger storylines. Perhaps they are simply sitting on a hoard of gold the adventurers wish to steal; but they could also be fearsome warlords, secret plotters or even unlikely allies against a greater threat - they may be evil, but even they might balk at an eldritch abomination seeking the destruction of the world. The combination of intelligence with incredible arrogance can make for very charismatic villains.

    Fluff To them, all humanoids are just a rung on the food chain that they will forever dominate. They are not alien in the way that ithilids, for example, are; they are simply greater. Their egos are their most defining characteristic, as is repeatedly stated; each colour is simply another facet of a prism from which their huge egos may be observed. It is their greatest strength since from it they derive their limitless fighting spirit, but it also renders them unable to unite properly. A point of note is that their progenitor Tiamat can grant spell-casting but does not often choose to - perhaps a GM could innovate a dragon that had proven sufficiently loyal to earn a divine spell or two?
    There's something pitiable, though, in dragons. They hoard wealth and servants but seemingly cannot enjoy or make use of any of it. For all their attitude, their nature often condemns them to the destiny of an animal, unable to grow beyond their base desires.

    Hooks There are, as stated previously, almost limitless ways to use dragons.

    "First it was the sheep. Then it was the cows. Now it be my shepherds that have gone missing. I fear that some beast in the Gladbroker Caves is venturing out... and slowly growing."

    The dynastic politics of the kingdom of Goldshore have taken an odd turn. It is almost as if plans a century in the making are just now springing into action...

    A giant army of kobolds, gnolls and lizardmen are driving across the plains, smashing each army that they fight. For their general is the Black Dragon Narcissicar, and his lust for conquest will not be sated until all the wealth of the five kingdoms is in his clutches.

    "You are about to be executed on trumped up charges when a dragon attack inadvertently frees you" - no wait. That's too unbelievable. Who would ever play a game that started like that?

    Verdict Can we really give one? It's in the name of the game!


    Dragons — Chromatic — Black (by tsuyoshikentsu on 2016-12-15)

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    The traditional swamp dragon... but so much more.

    Art

    The art is fine--and I can certainly visually distinguish between the black's physiology and that of the other chromatics (note the swept-forward horns and lack of a talon on top of its wing, for example)--but the problem is that it doesn't really match the description. As described in the text, its face is skull-like and its flesh around it rotting; in the picture, though, it just looks like... well, a black dragon.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Well, aside from a monster that lives in a swamp and represents a challenge to high-level adventurers, this is another one of the skirmisher dragons--it loves the hit-and-run play, and its lair actions and movement types are set up to take advantage of that. An underappreciated aspect of it is its ability to breathe water: this dragon can grapple you and dive. Have fun trying to breathe swamp water.

    Fluff

    The fluff regarding black dragons themselves is depressingly lackluster. Guys, they're like evil dragons... but even more evil!

    The fluff regarding black dragon environments, however, is fantastic. It's the typical suite of swamps or ruins, but a black dragon living in a swamp turns it from Florida to freaking Dagobah. There's also a great line in there about how the pools of water in its lair are used to put victims in. To ferment. How lovely.

    Their allies are lizardfolk and kobolds. No surprises there, though it does allow for a nice "sorting algorithm of evil" effect.

    Hooks

    The town of Bleakedge has had its water supply poisoned somehow. What's turning the water bad?

    A party of adventurers was seen going into the ruins outside of town... and never again!

    An evil dragon is killing folks for funsies. Go kill it!

    It's a swamp dragon. It's evil. There's not a ton to work with here.

    Verdict

    A monster that has great atmosphere up until the point it's actually encountered.
    [/QUOTE]


    Dragons — Chromatic — Blue (by Dark Sun Gnome on 2016-12-19)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dark Sun Gnome View Post

    Okay, now its time for the most social of the Chromatics....

    Artwork

    Portrayed on top of a none too insubstantial pile of loot, this depiction has a more skeletal face than the Blues of past editions, and with eyes consisting of pinpoints, it looks pretty menacing. I also like the details around the horn which make it look like the dragon is charged with static and waiting for some unfortunate adventurer to enter the room and feel 120kV shoot up his sword arm. Out of the Chromatics, this one is my personal fave.

    Lore

    Here it details that Blue Dragons are fiercely territorial, chasing off threats and rivals from the arid lands they call home.

    The details about the hunting strategies include how the Blue Dragon is a master of attrition and has no shortage of patience, and its tactic for ambushes by leaving its horn above the desert sand and waiting for a caravan, camel or a group of adventurers to draw near.

    Its also explained briefly how the Blue Dragon is fond of intrigue - bards, mages and other agents that can influence nearby (demi)human societies are coveted by the Blue.

    Mechanics

    As far as these are concerned, the blue is little different to other chromatic dragons. But in a campaign, the role of the Blue (and one that it suits ably thanks to the lore) is one of a puppetmaster, and generally, you'll have to get through a lot of creatures that do its bidding to get to the Wyrm pulling the strings. Hell, you might not even know its the Blue with its claw on the rod.

    In a Campaign

    A great Blue Wyrm makes a great Big Bad for a campaign - a malign presence that can be used to spin webs of deception, but can also hold its own in terms of fighting battles with the sword. The Dracolich in the Monster Manual is a Blue, and in a campaign set in the Forgotten Realms, involving The Cult of the Dragon can add another layer to the intrigue (in the 1998 Cult of the Dragon handbook, each chapter started out with a recording from the libram of Malygris, an ancient wyrm who unlived to regret taking up the Cult's offer).


    Dragons — Chromatic — Green (by Quixim on 2016-12-19)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Quixim View Post

    Art

    Art is good. You get the nice side-on shot of it with the big frill and a few roots behind it to show size. Its neck has a very distinctive curve, its on its hind legs, and its wings are out. The next page has a nice atmospheric forest-shot, a nice sort of mossiness. Nothing particularly AMAZING, but people already know what dragons do, so it's ok to just show what they look like, at least that's how I feel.

    Purpose and Tactics

    In a straight up fight, a green dragon is probably the least challenge for a group of PCs. Immunity to poison is easy to find, as both monks and druids get it, and Heroes Feast can give it to a whole group - at that point, all it can do is swing at the PCs for physical damage. In fact, since its claws don't count as magical, a flesh golem would not take damage from anything that a green dragon does! However, Green Dragons do have a few rude tricks to play - first is that CON save for the breath. I'm not sure if that's actually new or not (I thought all dragon breaths were reflex in some previous editions), but either way, it means that some saucy character with evasion can't just ignore the most powerful part of a dragon. If they aren't immune, they're taking damage no matter what. Its lair actions are fun - a charm is a cute effect to keep someone from attacking it, and the wall can be great to either cause damage or break line of sight. Since they're amphibious, in a lair with lots of water pools, it can dart into one after throwing up the thorn wall and then swim either to escape or to ambush the party from a better direction. Even moreso I like the vines - strength 15 is a pretty rough save to make for most non-martials (and even plenty of them), and having speed reduced and disadvantage on all attacks makes you a great target for the dragon.

    Fluff

    The best! The best! Cunning, treacherous, using trickery and dirty play! You can always be a sneaky jerk with a Green Dragon and it works well. Have them fight the green dragon's enemies for it so the dragon can mop up survivors! Have it kill and carry off one of the adventurers, telling them that it'll return their corpse if they do what it wants, so they can get it raised! Because it leaves people alive, you can throw a strong one at a party and have it intimidate or parley with the PCs. they like to leave people alive and have them do its bidding, giving them a sense of power. There's lots that you can do to play off what the dragon wants, just as the dragon will do its best to figure out what the PLAYER wants in order to corrupt them. In both the damage sense of the word AND the social sense, everything that comes out of a Green Dragon's mouth is poison, and I quite like that. The regional effects are great too, slowing players down in a forest, letting the dragon stalk them (for an opening) and letting the small creatures spy on them. It shoudl know everything it needs to by the time they show up to face it.

    Hooks

    Venomtooth has corrupted a cult of Yuan-ti, acting as their God and having them carry out sacrifices and find treasure in its name - they've expanded their territory with her help and now are butting up against the local druidic circle.

    An underground Dwarven town is besieged as a white dragon, a black dragon, and a green dragon all dispute the base of the mountain that it's living in. Killing one dragon could make the other two join forces, and killing all three is nearly impossible! Will peace have to be made between the dragons so they'll settle down?

    The Jade Sleep is amassing its own group of intimidated and corrupted adventurers to bring it more treasure and more allies - they contact the PCs with help fighting trolls in the forest, knowing that if the PCs are of more interest to the Jade Sleep, it will grow tired enough of its old thralls that they may be able to escape.

    Verdict

    Poison is probably the easiest damage type to avoid, so in a fight they're not so hot, but they do a whole lot of fun stuff, and synergize with the other huge amount of monsters immune to poison.


    Dragons — Chromatic — Red (by MrConsideration on 2016-12-21)

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    A foe so bone-deep in the game's lore it is in the name. When we say 'dragon'; these are the dragons we mean. Imperious, furious: a crocodile's savagery carried with the regality of a tyrant. The literary bedrock we can mine is extensive: Smaug and Fáfnir exemplify this trope. Where there are heroes, there must also be The Dragon. I have some strong, unbendable principles (or prejudices) about dragons that may need to be born in mind whilst reading this review.*

    It is almost challenging to review a monster which is so integral to our conceptions of monsterdom. Here be dragons....



    Artwork

    An excellent piece; dynamic and furious. The red-gold colouring captures every sense of the vainglory and conceit which typify the beast. There's some excellent, loving attention to detail: the beady, vehement, cruel little eyes, the glowing inferno of the mouth, the grasping claws. Its stance manages to emphasise that peculiar junction of frenzy and poise.

    Behind the stat-blocks, obscured is a hint of a reddened, sweltering lair. Another great piece which I wish gained more exposure.

    Purpose and Tactics

    You gnobbled goblins, assaulted orcs, mangled Mind Flayers, battered a Behir - all to climb to this zenith, and there do battle with a monstrosity incarnate. This is it: Act Three. The final boss.

    I'll review the Ancient Red Dragon, as I rather imagine the developers brewed that up first then doled out the dragon-juice into smaller and smaller containers like Russian dolls in order to give us our other necessary stat-blocks (Toddler Dragon, Prepubescent Dragon, Tween Dragon, Mid-Life Crisis Dragon etc).

    As a final fight, this is largely about throwing the Action Economy rules out of the window. It is for lesser mortals to wait for their turn, and you have a pile of legendary and lair actions to keep you scrapping. An initial Frightful Presence will probably not disrupt the players too much (the save is difficult, but a high-level party have a a number of spells, magic items and buffs to make it trivial), but then follow up with your multi-attack. Other methods of disruption include the Volcanic Gasses Lair Action, which is potentially huge even though it is an easy save. A huge portion of this fight rests on grouping and ungrouping the players - isolating them to eat your multiattack and then targeting them with your Fire Breath to rack up damage.

    You should be conscious that your attacks have pretty huge reach (20ft for the tail - and you can do that as a Legendary as well!) so there's no reason for you to land and scrabble in the dirt when you can fight from the air and preserve your draconic dignity. More importantly, it will stop you eating a barrage of readied actions and opportunity attacks when you make your majestic sweep.

    The Red Dragons' saves and senses are brilliant, so the biggest threat posed by spellcasters will be non-save debuff spells such as Forcecage** or Ottiluke's Irresistible Dance. In terms of support, some kind of spell-caster to disrupt this: a crazed dragon-worshipping Cleric, for example. Without this, the Red Dragon will suffer from only really being able to deal direct hit-point damage with a lack of utility, and the fact that most of the damage is easily resisted.

    Much of this fight will depend on the window-dressing. Noone with any self-respect fights a Dragon in a field. People fight Dragons whilst flying through a thunderstorm, deep in the caldera of a volcano, in a firestorm in the centre of the capital city or in an ocean of blood and magma on some plane of the Abyss. Make sure the terrain is a persistent hazard and adds to the drama of the conflict.

    In terms of a campaign role, the Red Dragon is clearly a major villain. However, I don't feel it works as schemer or plotter. Your Red Dragon is a warlord, a conqueror; you have fought his armies since you were a level one Fighter with less hit-points than sense and you've built to this since the beginning.

    Fluff

    Firstly, did they need to include any? This scene tells you everything you need to know, and the archetypical dragon is so huge in the collective imagination that anyone could write some fluff for it.

    The fluff focuses on their vanity, vainglory and endless hunt for prestige: I personally love the idea that for a Dragon this toxic insecurity is almost biological, and it really cements their motivation without humanising too much.

    The author makes a strong effort to describe the Desolation around a Red Dragon's lair, which I love: populated by rogue fire-creatures, sulphurous wastes, monuments to the dragons' hubris, and miserable minions and slaves. Somewhere between Mordor and Bosch's Hell sits our Red Dragon upon its mountain-throne.

    There's some excellent detail in the physical description which really captures the imagination, and they're the kind of small detail you could definitely drop into your description of the scene to dazzle your players.

    Plot Hooks

    Aurumvorax rules all the territory west of the Titanheart Mountains; an endless expanse of magma and poisonous mists where his chattel skitter beneath his baleful eye. Unseat the tyrant of the west, take his treasure-hoard and all will know your name.

    Fraguth plundered the territories of the North for a generation, and his hoard grew immeasurable. Then he returned to the Plane of Fire to slumber on his ill-gotten riches. We would forget The Burning Wyrm were it not that he took the eight Sealing Jewels that are needed to prevent the rise of the Lich-King...

    Draguragoth grows fat and ancient in his stolen mountain, wrapped in a hoard of such tremendous enormity as to defy imagination. As he ages, he sends to the vassal kings and subjects of all lands: now, not demanding tribute, but something else. A conversation. Draguragoth believes himself to have produced in his long tyranny the perfect philosophy of rule and society, and he wishes the philosphers come hear the Dragon discourse.

    Verdict

    The concept is so strong I don't see how anyone could mess this up, but the execution is strong and overcomes the weaknesses of a solo monster in 5e. The fluff and artwork are still engaging even though we've all seen a panoply of Dragons. An excellent effort.

    * Dragons are primal terror. You do not ride them and joke with them. Noone knows dragons intimately enough to differentiate between blue and green: dragons simply are.

    Noone fights an Ancient White Dragon. They fight Kauldrvist; Shield-Taker; God-Breaker - the White Death, The Bleeding Ice, Sovereign of the White Sea, the Terror of the Aurora, The Cold Hunger, who has ruled the ice-floes since time immemorial. Your dragon needs a rep.

    I am dead-against letting players feel like big boys because they offed a Dragon that was still in nappies. You don't get to fight Dragons with training wheels. For me, the stat-blocks start at Adult.

    Dragons don't get comedy roles in my campaign. There is no relief. Their mythic status largely comes from the fact that dragons don't make jokes.

    ** Well actually no, you're too big to fit in. Back to the arcane drawing board.


    Dragons — Chromatic — White (by MasterMercury on 2016-12-14)

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    Kicking off the dragon chain, we have probably the least used of the Chromatic Dragons. Lowest in CR, Int, and color, give it up for...the white dragon!

    Art

    Animalistic, sleek, brutal. Cold eyes of a shark on a white machine of ice-cold hurt. Great sense of motion and terror. I get "chills" down my spine looking at it.

    Purpose and Tactics

    It's a versatile dragon. With a burrow, swim, and fly speed they can attack your party from any angle. Have them on a glacier, with a few holes going into the sea, and you have a terrifying hit and run scenario for any aged dragon.

    Especially if you combine it with lair actions to get freezing fog, falling ice spears, and walls separating the party.

    Likely to use hit and run tactics. Let the dragon emerge from the snow, strike, and then burrow into the snow or dive into the freezing water. How will the party cope with that?

    Fluff

    It's not the smartest dragon, but it's a great hunter and is very vengeful. Likes to freeze it's enemies, which could be a shock to your party, seeing a horde of frost giants standing ahead, not realizing that they're all frozen stiff.

    It's also very violent, attacking everything that camps near its layer. This means that White dragons are likely very large problems. If one is in the area, you know about it.

    I like how, even though it's not very intelligent, it's still smart. It can talk, and has amazing memory. This dragon, more than any other, will hold a grudge for centuries, until no one knows what it was about.

    This dragon is also more likely than others to be a lackey to others, particularly frost giants according to the text.

    Also, I love the troll on the party. They kill the dragon, and where's the loot? 30' under solid ice. Have fun digging out the ivory and fur.

    Hooks

    Bargul the White has been tormenting the town of Oceanov for longer than anyone can remember. Legend has it that something was stolen from the dragon, and Bargul won't rest until he gets it back. Can the party figure out what was stolen from the dragon, and return it safely.

    The clan of frost giants in the north have always been a problem. However, their conflict with Freren the Frostbitten has always kept them in check. However, a champion among the giants has risen, and plans on beating Freren into submission. With the forces of the north combined, could this spell doom for the world. Can the party stop the champion from claiming the Freren as his mount?

    Elsass the Frozen has slept in her cave for years. However, when she was found out by a sniveling merchant, she unleashed her power, covering the nation in snow and ice, and fled to the mountains.
    Can the party get to Elsass, and convince her to go back to sleep and just Let It Go?

    Verdict

    Not the strongest dragon, but if prepared right can be terrifying.
    A great start to this thread, and things can only get better from here.


    Dragons — Metallic — Introduction (by Shining Wrath on 2016-12-23)

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    The spawn of Bahamut, these dragons date back to the earliest days of D&D. They suffer from a bad case of the Elminsters; why do these good-aligned, massively powerful creatures not solve all the world's problems? The answer is up above: for every metallic dragon there is a nearly-equal and opposite chromatic dragon. Maybe more than one. If, as the African proverb has it, "when the elephants fight it is the grass that suffers", how much more so the battles of dragons?

    Art

    A mixed bag, IMNHO; the Brass looks almost like a statue of a dragon, the brass is quite good, and the gold gives an appearance of wisdom and an oriental feel.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Immensely powerful, long lived, natural collectors of both information and treasure, these creatures make excellent patrons and givers of quests. As shapeshifters, they provide a wonderful way to encourage players to talk first, fight second; a party that has drawn swords on a stubborn beggar only to have him become a dragon is likely to keep their swords sheathed a little longer in the future (and also, carry changes of underwear). The ability to recognize a person's bloodline by smell also allows for rich role-playing opportunity - especially for dragonborn and tieflings. "Ah, one of Murchanodach's spawn - but your human side is good stock".

    A metallic dragon that has become a foe to a kingdom or faction because of a misunderstanding poses a foe that can't be beaten easily, but can be reasoned with - again, role playing! But how does the party earn a right to be heard?

    Hooks

    The great Bronze dragon Verdigus Deepscale wants the party to investigate the war between the Montagues and Capulets, and report back whether either side deserves the aid of a dragon.

    To defeat the red dragon Bittertooth, the ancient artifact Dragonsbane must be used. But the gold dragon Aurustale owns Dragonsbane, and is understandably loathe to allow humans to take it from her hoard.

    The copper dragon Snagglesnout believes the Merchant's Guild to be up to no good - because 250 years ago a caravan guard stole a very nice emerald from Snagglesnout. Can the party convince Snagglesnout to let bygones be bygones, and also to let caravans pass through his territory?

    Verdict

    Aside from the aforementioned "why don't they kill more evildoers" problem. iconic and enjoyable.


    Lair Actions (by Shining Wrath on 2016-12-24)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shining Wrath View Post

    They all have the standard draconic Legendary Actions (which cry out to be modified at a DM's regal whim), but the Lair Actions do vary.

    • Brass: two varieties of wind. DC 15. Meh.
    • Bronze: fog, and a thunderclap. DC 15. A little more flavorful.
    • Copper: Spike Growth, and mud. DC 15. Now we're getting somewhere.
    • Gold: Effectively one round of Foresight or a mini Banishment. Still DC 15, but if you want to nullify the Banishment you must beat the dragon at a Charisma contest. Ancient golds get a modifier of +9, so good luck with that, puny mortal.
    • Silver: fog, and cold wind. Disappointing.


    Except for the gold dragons, not very interesting. These also cry out for modification.
    Last edited by odigity; 2017-01-25 at 11:34 AM.

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    Default Re: Monster Manual Entry Reviews, Collected

    Dragons — Metallic — Brass (by Forum Explorer on 2016-12-24)

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    Art

    Easily the best part of the Brass Dragon. It's long fin-like wings from a single canopy,from it's shoulder wings to the tip of it's tail. The dragon stands tall, in a regal pose, with a face that almost forms a grin. Certainly big step away from the menace and dynamic danger of the chromatic dragons, this dragon looks like it's holding court, or is showing off to an admiring guest.

    Fluff

    The 'gossip' dragon who won't shut up and won't let you leave until you talk to them. Honestly, this is the worst fluff for any of the dragons. A dragon shouldn't be a nuisance. It should either be a major threat or a major potential protector. Not the CR 20 version of a kender. However their hordes are quite interesting, since the brass dragon prefers to target intelligent weapons, and buries it's horde in various places.

    Purpose and Tactics

    For an evil campaign: A brass dragon makes for a good early enemy. Someone to smack the party around, but doesn't kill them, instead making them sit through bad poetry and making them tell it stories. A foe to piss off the party and challenge them to become stronger, while also making sure the party doesn't get too cocky after slaughtering a bunch of commoners or town guards.

    For a good campaign: Pretty much a quest giver or a source of information. For such a talkitive dragon, they certainly live like a hermit, out in the desert.

    Hooks

    A brass dragon philosopher has decided that even the most wretched souls can be redeemed. He's willing to give you a powerful artifact in exchange for the soul of a Lich, who he will then try and redeem and prove his philosophy correct.

    A brass dragon has become close friends with a talking sword. Lamenting that the sword in question can't experience the joys and pleasures of life, the dragon has commissioned the party with finding a way to give the sword it's own body.

    The party has found a chest of gold in the middle of the desert. After looting it they thank the gods for their luck and move on. Months later a brass dragon tracks them down wanting repayment for the stolen treasure. With interest.


    Dragons — Metallic — Bronze (by Shining Wrath on 2016-12-25)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shining Wrath View Post

    The lowest CR of the lawful good dragons, the bronze is fascinated by warfare. It is hard to imagine a more difficult combination of traits to just stick in a cave somewhere - powerful, fascinated by war, and LG aligned.

    Art

    This is the only creature I can think of off-hand where we get two pieces of separate art; the verdigris striped adult, and the mostly-metallic wyrmling. Cute little fellow! And the adult gives a real sense of coiled power.

    Purpose and Tactics

    These guys are pretty much designed for "powerful creature that might help a high-end party". If you're written yourself into a corner, plot wise, here's a creature to get you out. Anyone the party meets near a conflict (and parties do tend to be in those places) might be a disguised bronze, judging the hearts and valor of those involved. The repulsion breath is a great way to separate two groups that shouldn't be fighting, in the dragon's opinion.

    Also, the ability to polymorph into a humanoid or beast with CR less than the dragon's 22 or 15 provides interesting options; or it will once we get a few more high CR beasts.

    Hooks

    The Duchy is about to be overrun by orcs. Can the party prove to the dragon that the Duke is worthy of her assistance?
    That nice old beggar at the city gate asks the party to walk with him in the woods - and then the dragon dispenses a quest.
    The party wants to loot a shipwreck. The dragon doesn't think they should disturb it - but their need is great. Can they persuade him to allow them access?


    Dragons — Metallic — Copper (by tsuyoshikentsu on 2016-12-25)

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    Quote Originally Posted by tsuyoshikentsu View Post

    Copper dragons exist in a weird space, because they're actually quite similar to brass dragons--but where the brass is outgoing, the copper is somewhat more petty. Let's dive in.

    Art

    This is one of my favorite dragon pieces in the book. It's a dragon, being a dragon, on top of a rocky spire. It also matches up with the given description, which is nice.

    Purpose and Tactics

    As others have mentioned, most of the metallics have similar combat stats and lair action. So, what's the draw here? Out of every single dragon, this is--with one exception, which I hope to get to tonight--the one I am most scared of. The acid line is a joke, but the slowing breath? DC18 is starting to get a bit on the high side, and the penalty for failing is harsh. No reactions? No bonus actions? That's going to straight-up shut down a lot of characters--especially if you're running the mage variant and your party casters rely on counterspell.

    Fluff

    If the brass dragon is a CR20 kender, then the copper dragon is a CR20 jerk. They like practical jokes but get peeved when you don't get them; they like riddles but will grumble if you don't. Combine that with a healthy dose of paranoia in regard to people stealing their treasures, and you have Chaotic Good dragon that you'll have to massage a bit into an ally. It also does a nice job of explaining the above-mentioned Elminster problem: to actually help anyone, the copper would have to take its eyes off its horde--and besides, who likes those humorless humanoids anyway?

    This is another one where I especially love the regional effects. They can be used for very silly reasons, but done well they can be exceptionally creepy. I like that, especially for a nominally Good ally.

    Hooks

    Daedeyridex the Cunning has agreed to help save the town from the invading army... if he can be defeated in a contest of riddles.

    Malgorfelor has spent centuries sending adventurers on wild goose chases to find treasures that never existed. This time, though, he swears it's real--and it will be needed desperately to counter an as of yet unrevealed threat. Can the party trust this prankster?

    The adventurers have finally convinced Thraxicos to hand over one of his most valued treasures in order to help save the world--but is it even the real thing? Will the heroes have time to investigate while the doomsday clock is counting down, or will they have to grit their teeth and trust him?

    All the creatures of the Verdant Forest speak well of the Copper Stranger... but can he be trusted? And why is it that there's a look of desperation in these animals' eyes when they speak?

    Verdict

    A surprisingly deep dragon that can be used as an ally without overshadowing anyone.


    Dragons — Metallic — Gold (by tsuyoshikentsu on 2016-12-25)

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    Quote Originally Posted by tsuyoshikentsu View Post

    If the red dragon is the ultimate Big Bad of D&D lore, then the gold dragon is the ultimate Big Good. Paragons of virtue and law, they've been used as quest-givers for an eternity. But do they deserve their golden crown?

    Art

    I love this piece, but for different reasons than the copper's. The sails really do help set the gold apart, and its golden color really shines (hah) through here--many depictions just look sort of yellow, but here it's easy to imagine one being blinding in the sunlight.

    The reason I really love it, though, is the face. On the alien face of a dragon, the artist has managed to perfectly capture a sense of judicious wisdom and the weight of the world on the dragon's shoulders. This dragon looks kingly--perfect for a king among dragons.

    Purpose and Tactics

    I'm a little disappointed here. First off, I really wanted these guys to be colossal--it kind of weirds me out that there are things bigger than the most magestic dragons in the D&D universe. The fire breath is a little meh; the weakening breath will screw half the party and not even bother the other half--which is, coincidentally, the half that's better equipped to deal with a flying monster like this one.

    Fluff

    The gold dragon, traditionally, has been the grim and stoic hero--that doesn't change here. Again, I get a very regal sense from the description. It's also nice that they emphasize how much the gold likes to keep to itself, which helps counteract the fact that these are likely the worst offenders in the Elminster department.

    An interesting twist is the dream angle. These are clearly the dragons of dream, able to create dream realms so real that they can send an enemy to one for a short time. I'm not sure how that lines up with everything else, but it certainly gives us some hooks to work with. Oddly, between that, its natural reclusiveness, and the mists of the lair, it's also easy to imagine them as the dragons most likely to be found in the Feywild.

    Also, they eat treasure. That's... weird, but certainly inspiring.

    Hooks

    The last time anyone saw the Key of Laein--the sole artifact capable of breaching the gates of Drakor the Wicked's castle--it was in the possession of Myromanix the Great... who lairs in the Feywild. Do the adventurers dare to brave this twisted realm to find a dragon who does not want to be found?

    Two copper dragons have been squabbling over a treasure trove, and Oldhamtown is caught in the crossfire. Who could possibly mediate such a dispute--and where might they be found?

    All of your dreams lately have featured an old, kingly man with golden eyes emerging from the mists to warn you of a great evil. Who is this mysterious figure, and why has he chosen you?

    Verdict

    One of the most classic allies for ages is given the due it deserves here--and with enough twists to keep it from being boring or old.


    Dragons — Metallic — Silver (by tsuyoshikentsu on 2016-12-25)

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    Quote Originally Posted by tsuyoshikentsu View Post

    A confession: I have a serious bone to pick with one of the most popular uses of the silver dragon, so I may be coming in a little biased here. Nevertheless, I'll give it a go--after all, they're the most commonly used metallics outside golds.

    Art

    Okay, this art is objectively good--I love the pose, and the trees and mist give me a really good sense of scale. Drawing silver is a little tough, but the artist has basically come through here. It also does a good job of not looking too much like any other dragon.

    With that said, though, I can't take it seriously. Look at the ridge and the spikes, and just imagine it saying in a typical punk voice, "What's up, dudes?!"

    Purpose and Tactics

    Paralyzing. Breath. A 90-foot cone of Con DC 24 Paralyzing Breath.

    If those words don't scare you, you're not taking the threat seriously enough. This paralysis lasts for ten full rounds and completely locks down a party--and getting damaged doesn't break it. You want an encounter with the possibility of TPKs? This is it.

    Fluff

    In the past few write-ups, there's one metallic ability I've not touched on at all: polymorphing into humanoid or animal form. They can all do it, I and hate it. For decades, bad GMs have been punishing players that go off their railroad plot ort that they perceive as doing evil (aka things they don't like) with "That person turns into a dragon and eats you!" It's a cheap trick, it ruins immersion, and even when it's used well is incredibly prone to the Elminster effect.

    Silver dragons are all about that.

    It's really, really hard for me to like a dragon that just spends all its time not being a dragon. It's cool basically once, and then it's annoying. Almost this entire entry is about the silver dragon's humanoid fetish, which tells me very little about what the dragons themselves are actually like. It seems mostly set up to justify why a DM might have a character turn out to be a dragon in the first place, and does a terrible job of explaining a silver dragon qua silver dragon. It doesn't help that the lair descriptions make it sound like a cloud/snow dragon, which isn't incorporated into the rest of the writeup at all.

    Hooks

    Why are all the dragon hunters after your mentor? (Because he's secretly a dragon.)

    How does the quiet village sage know so very much about wars fought hundreds of years ago? (Also a dragon.)

    A sage expert on human civilizations of ages past lives alone on a cold mountain peak in the ruins of an ancient castle. Why is he there? How does he protect himself? (You guessed it--dragon.)

    Verdict

    As I've said: I have a strong bias against silvers because of how I've seen them used in the past. But with that said? This book puts all its chips on that use, making the silver a bit of a one-trick pony. With every other metallic able to do this equally well, that's a losing bet.


    Dragon Turtle (by MrConsideration on 2016-12-27)

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    Quote Originally Posted by MrConsideration View Post

    The Dragon Turtle is one of those peculiar creatures that has been in the game since the days of THACO and 1d4 hit points, yet I have never heard of anyone using one. This is probably primarily because aquatic campaigns, and therefore aquatic baddies, are fairly rare in most people’s gaming. Additionally, our terrible testudines is packing a pretty hefty (and potentially undeserved – more on that later) CR17, meaning it will only show up to hassle high-level parties.

    I personally adore the sea-monster trope, and the Dragon Turtle is competing with some stiff competition in the Kraken or Sea Serpent. Here be monsters…

    Art



    Allow me to share a fairly pointless niggle or pet-hate. That ship is quite clearly from the later days of the Age of Sail and resembles something from around the time of the Spanish Armada. It clearly has areas for cannon – and fairly advanced, slim cannon at that - in a game that assumes gunpowder is yet to be discovered. This is stupid and inconsistent.

    The actual artwork is a nice effort at imbuing the Dragon Turtle with some menace: its attacking an unaware ship, about to snap the rudder, and the art is designed to give the whole piece a sense of scale. There’s a shark helpfully drifting past to show you that the Dragon Turtle is bigger than a shark and nonplussed by a shark.

    My problem is that this all seems a little staid; a little formulaic. I like my seas brooding and romantic; my monstrosities thrashing and terrible. It’s a boring composition. I much prefer the original execution.

    It’s also not really giving me much ‘Dragon’ to work with. It’s just a really big turtle, and turtles hardly inspire terror.

    Purpose and Tactics

    It’s a big monster, with enough intelligence to communicate and be a tool. In your campaign, you could make it a controllable minion of a maritime big bad (essentially the plot of that Pirates of the Caribbean film with the Scottish Mind Flayer) or a major part of a naval attacking force. In this case, finding a method of destroying the Dragon Turtle (avoid fireballs, jump repeatedly on its head) could form part of your quest chain.

    It could also just turn up as you cross an ocean to attack the player’s ship. In battle, it seems more Michelangelo than monster, though. It has a big pile of hit-points and fairly high AC, and a multi-attack ability to nail your players. As mentioned with the Red Dragon, simply damage and toughness generally aren’t enough to make a fight, and the Dragon Turtle looks easy to vanquish for any vaguely prepared level 17 party. This is a party with epic spells – multiattack physical and fire damage aren’t going to cut it.

    It’s also weirdly slow. (40feet swim? What?)

    So it falls to the DM to jazz up this turtle and make it worthy of CR 17. The first way to do this is make the fight occur in water – not at sea, in the water – a Dragon Turtle should make short work with an initial multiattack of most ships, and ensure they’re taking on water. As the fight progresses, the players should be clinging to driftwood, lost barrels, ship fragments – and focussing as much on avoiding the depths as they are the Turtle. This also makes the Tail Attack’s knockback and prone abilities far more meaningful. I’d add an ability to grab party members in his jaws and subsequently drag them into the depths, so party members will be constantly struggling to combat this force of nature. As with the Red Dragon, use the Reach ability to ensure your Dragon Turtle is attacking from within the water and is outside of melee range and arguably obscured from view. Additionally, it has 120 feet of Darkvision and we’re angling for every advantage we can get, so make sure it’s a nocturnal turtle (nocturtle?).

    If you have a little more CR pennies in the bank, pairing it with a Marid or spellcaster of some kind will help enormously.

    Despite my complaints about Legendary Resistance, this creature needs it. Otherwise a single successful casting of say, Dominate Monster or Ottiluke’s Irresistible Dance ends the combat.

    Fluff

    There’s some interesting information on motivations: it covets treasure as much as a typical Dragon, and thus will drag wealthy ships beneath the waves. Additionally, they’re mercenaries or even mounts of intelligent aquatic creatures, giving you a plethora of potential plot hooks beyond the simple “We need a random encounter at sea” impulse. Some of the language here is quite beautiful, and would make for excellent in game description – especially the idea that sailors might mistake a turtle for the reflection of the moon, until….

    Plot Hooks

    The Most Serene Republic of Firtenzia has been closed out by its mightier rivals, and now its merchants are assaulted, boarded, blockaded and abused by its powerful maritime rivals. But there is rumour of a way to win back control of the seas…

    Your players, after weeks at sea, find a small island jutting from the water. After wandering on the island to search for food, they notice the movement of gentle breathing, and how far they are from land….

    Sultan Aquisul, The Most Magnificent Marid-King of the Hundred-Thousand Seas of the Plane of Water, needs a steed to pull his coral palanquin. Could your players tame Tetsuferrax, the legendary scourge of the seas?

    Verdict

    I think this has the nucleus of a good idea but is one of the most poorly executed monsters in the entire book. Use a Kraken instead.


    Drider (by tsuyoshikentsu on 2017-01-02)

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    It's a drow! It's a spider! No... it's a drider!

    Seriously, I've been playing this game for like fifteen years and I just now got that drider comes from "drow spider."

    Art

    This is probably supposed to look intimidating, but if I didn't already know that this was supposed to be roughly centsur-sized I could easily assume it was a tarantula-sized spider with a tiny little body.

    Hrrrrrm. Would you rather fight 100 spider sized drider or one drow sized drider?

    Purpose and Tactics

    Speaking of fighting (Wow! What a segue!), let's talk combat.

    Unfortunately, the basic statblock is extremely unimpressive--it's literally just a drow with spider climb and web walking. Even with a decent AC and respectable if boring attacks, this isn't going to be a challenge for a 6th-level party. You basically have to run the spellcaster variant, which gets much more interesting as a miniboss with a couple of decent save-or-sucks.

    On the other hand, I could definitely see these as good minions for a level 10ish party's encounter with a drow-flavored boss of some sort. I'd use the non-spellcaster here and have whatever the boss was add the spice, while the driders presented a simple tactical challenge.

    Fluff

    One of the really bad things about D&D's monster menagerie is the number of monsters that basically fill the exact same roles as each other. The drider is a pretty classic example: it's yet another twisted spider abomination of Lolth. That's a cool idea once or twice, but we're going to run into a bunch and frankly the others are more interesting to me.

    Hooks

    Krenroos Zaurret, the evil drow mastermind, was hard enough to kill on his own--but now Lolth has provided yim with some hideous bodyguards. Can the party find a way to beat wall-crawlers with a mage raining down spells on them?

    The party has escaped the clutches of the drider witch for now... only to round a bend in the cavern and see a swarm of tiny versions if the beast! Which will they choose to face?

    Verdict

    A cookie-cutter monster that's fine as a nameless henchman but can't really hold up an encounter on its own.


    Dryad (by MrConsideration on 2017-01-03)

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    Another creature inspired by Greek myth, the Dryad is a spirit of nymph of a tree. Such a creature can stand in for tree-spirits of many cultures (Kodama, Ghillie Dhu etc) and thus can find a place in almost any campaign.

    The Dryad is one of those funny monsters that I can never really see my party fighting – they’re more often a quest-giver or scenery that a monster. However – there is no Manual of Quest-Givers and Scenery so we must treat her as a monster!

    Art



    This is an interesting piece and quite singular in the Monster Manual because of its broadly impressionistic style. Almost all monster depictions in the book are quite realistic and detailed whilst this opts for the suggestion of femininity and the suggestion of arborealism. The facial expression is awesomely powerful (a serious condition of Resting Birch Face) and intones in the Dryad artwork a sort of nature-goddess vibe with a powerful sensuality. It is brave and I dig it a lot.

    Purpose and Tactics

    You could feasibly use the Dryad as a low-level boss monster, but I wouldn’t advise it. The Dryad is primarily a controller, and with its low CR, works best paired up with a grab-bag of beasts, Fey or elementals. The reason it doesn’t function as a solo threat is the awful damage and hitpoints – even players disrupted by Charm and Entangle will slaughter the Dryad with ease. Despite the inclusion of Shillelagh, I would avoid using the Dryad for damage at all.

    In a fight, assume your dryad is supporting a group of beasts (lets say Wolves). She can use Entangle to deny the characters an action throughout the fight. She could dispense healing in the form of Goodberry, but this seems a fairly weak option. Combining Entangle with her Charm ability to remove foes from the fight would be a strong strategy, especially as Charm does not compete with the concentration needed or Entangle. With clever positioning (aided by Tree Stride, which only counts as movement and no her Standard) you can be a constant disruptive element and expose the party to dangerous isolation, flanking attacks or charmed inactivity. Barkskin will remove your ability to concentrate Entangle, so I would avoid imagining your Dryad can ever successfully tank.

    Whilst you have impressive Magical Resistance to protect you from spells (especially Area of Effect) your Dryad will go down quickly to any sustained fire. Most level one characters with any nova ability could feasibly slay the Dryad in a single hit – and this will only be more pronounced as time continues. Use Tree Stride, the range of your magic and the difficult terrain of your forest home to keep you away from direct damage.

    Another string to her bow is her use of Stealth and the mighty Pass Without Trace. Whilst I find adjudicating stealth versus the party difficult aside from in an ambush situation, Pass Without Trace makes it extremely likely the Dryad and her allies will get the jump on your players. Pair this with a Bugbear for a pretty terrifying low CR budget encounter!

    As a quest-giver, she’s a standard hippy flower-child and will want you to protect her forest. For something a little more edgy, you could borrow themes from the more morally complex world of Princess Mononoke or draw on the idea of a Dryad being cursed to her form – perhaps she is vengeful.

    Fluff

    None of this is particularly original (Dryads are sexy woodland ladies who cavort with satyrs and unicorns) but I’m not sure how else one could riff on the forest-guardian concept without changing it too much. There’s a nascent doomed love-story plot in the fluff if your players wished they were playing Vampire: The Masquerade instead.

    Plot Hooks

    A trio of Dryads have taken their protection of the forest to absurd degrees: the kill interlopers just for fertiliser and cause the wooden huts of villagers to spout saplings and grow. They intend that their forest absorb the whole region as it did in primordial times…

    The Dryad Waiola loved a mortal man once, and was bound to her tree as punishment. This was millennia ago. Could you find his grave, or ancestors, or ashes and bring back some relic of her love that they might be joined?

    A logging syndicate has been set up by the local Baron, who desires you broker a peace with the Dryads and build a sustainable policy that allows the villagers to make a living and the forest to prosper in equal amounts…

    Fairuza the Scourge is a Dryad scorned by her sisters. She sees the beauty of nature not in the steady growth of millennia but in the sudden upsurge after a forest fire; she sees majesty not in the venerable old grizzly but in the jaws of a young wolf. Can you prevent her violent attempts to make the circle of life turn a little quicker?

    Verdict

    Solid as an oak, but not particularly exciting. For more edgy forest guardians, check out my blog post.


    Duergar (by Shining Wrath on 2017-01-03)

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    Another in a continuing series of "creatures that moved to the Underdark because they were bad", anticipating the drow, the Formorians, and so on. These guys date back to 1983 and Monster Manual II, and have always been the dwarvish equivalent of drow. And also like several other Underdark denizens, the Illithids have messed with their minds.

    Offhand question - why are drow listed under "elf", but Duergar are not listed under "dwarf"? Is it because drow are a playable subrace?

    Art

    As usual, nothing provides a sense of scale, but for once it may not be needed; that's a standard dwarf chassis right there, so you can guess he's 4' tall and 3.9' wide. I like the beard; it looks like Santa gone bad. He also appears to be wearing brass knuckles on his left hand. The eyes give a sense of madness. You can tell he's not a friendly dwarf.

    Purpose and Tactics

    About the same as dwarves. Tough, armored, favor melee over ranged combat. The once / rest size change and invisibility features allow for variety. These guys are built for ambush fighting - wait invisibly, attack from ambush with javelins, close to melee range and Enlarge. The Duergar Enlarge is better than the Enlarge/Reduce spell, as it doubles damage dice as opposed to merely adding 1d4.

    Fluff

    Grim, haunted by memories of enslavement, and occasionally tempted by Asmodeus himself, these guys are really miserable creatures. The traditional Enlarge ability is poorly explained; why can't other creatures that live in the Underdark and absorb its magical energies do so? Imagine a purple worm that can Enlarge if it feels threatened. Hmmmm .... Rubs hands together in sadistic homebrewing glee. Anyway, on with the duergar.

    Plot Hooks

    Duergar raiders took a group of humans captive to use as slaves. Unfortunately for them, they took the rich merchant's daughter and only heir, and she has hired the party to retrieve her, and spare no expense. Bribe them if you must, but the merchant would much rather they died miserable deaths for defiling her daughter with their unclean hands.

    The long anticipated war between the humans and the hobgoblins is coming, and the humans need weapons and armor! But the only merchants near enough to supply them in time are the grey dwarves dwelling beneath the human lands. Can the party negotiate a deal?

    The duergar Slapnoy visited the surface world as part of a trade mission, and ever since his dreams have been troubled with memories - of beauty, of sunlight, of an elf child's laughter. He has left his home and come to the surface. Can the party teach him the meaning of joy? He will pay well if they can.

    Verdict

    Solid but dour. Use them in the Underdark as part of the setting; they are expected. But until they get more detail, not very interesting.


    Elementals (by Spellbreaker26 on 2017-01-05)

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    I must admit I'm not familiar with the cultural heritage of elementals. I did some quick checking and apparently they come from alchemy, but were originally called Gnomes, Undine, Sylphs and Salamanders, which are totally different creatures in DnD.

    There is a reason they crop up in both tabletop and DnD a lot - they have a clear rock-paper-scissors thing going with their elements (or rock-water-fire-air thing, I guess) so they make a tactical challenge and they're also faceless and virtually mindless which makes them good goons that don't impose a moral qualms for killing them.

    Art

    Not very impressive, but there's not a lot of room to maneuver with drawing elementals so they get a pass. I like how they've got little frowny faces though. It's so cute!

    Purpose and Tactics

    Elementals are likely to be servants of whatever bigger bad can summon them. Each presents a similar tactical challenge - they get close and deal AoE damage. The only exception is Rock, which is just a slugger and seems more suited for a siege situation where the party has to defend a wall by destroying one.

    I'm kinda disappointed in their resistances - water isn't resistant to fire, for one, and neither is rock. You ever tried to set a rock on fire?

    They're all fairly tough in terms of hitpoints. Air has knockback, so using one on a windy mountain path seems like a great challenge. Fire seems like the most difficult in a conventional fight, since it can stack up damage over time and you can't just surround and hammer away at it's chunky bar of hit points. Water seems like one that would grapple two party members, then retreat back into water. Earth's burrow ability would allow it to flank opponents if they're underground by hiding in the cave walls.

    So each is most dangerous in its element, essentially. Appropriate.

    Fluff

    They're expressions of their respective element without any personality, you've heard it all before. Wizards summon them because they're less dangerous than demons and devils and so they can be used as golem stuffing.

    Plot Hooks

    The mighty keep of the Hornburger has stood for generations. Now an evil sorcerer's army is attacking, and mighty stone elementals are smashing down the walls. Your party must intervene and stop them.

    In order to claim the four crystals of light, you must first travel to the Elemental Keep and challenge four elemental guardians each in an arena corresponding to earth, air, fire, and water.

    Verdict

    If you want an element themed villain with an actual personality, go for genies. These guys are just obstacles or bodyguards at best.


    Elves: Drow (by tsuyoshikentsu on 2017-01-06)

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    In the long, storied history of Dungeons and Dragons, some monsters have gotten their time in the sun. Others have gone largely ignored. A choice few, though, have had thousands if not hundreds of thousands of words spilled on them, their culture, their allies, their enemies, their history. Dragons. Giants. Demons.

    And... the Drow.

    Whether we like it or not, these are some of D&D's most prolific villains--and some of its most annoying Mary Sues. Let's see how this edition handles them.

    Art

    A lot of drow art over the years has been incredibly campy--see the guy on 127 as an example. ("Okay... who took the last cookie?!") The main pieces, though, on 126 and spread across 128 and 129? Perfect. We know what the drow are... the white hair, the darkness, the spiders. This captures them perfectly for us... and I can only imagine how effective it is against someone seeing them for the first time. Despite my lack of love for the drow in general, this art is perfect.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Asking what the purpose of the drow is in a campaign is basically the same as asking what a human is. These aren't a few statblocks with a limited scope; if you wanted, enough drow statblocks have been produced even in this edition that you could probably run a campaign without ever using an enemy that wasn't a drow--and if you need any more, literally any humanoid statblock can be turned into a drow using the table on page 282 of the DMG. But let's have a look at the options here.

    Even the basic, no-nonsense drow is an incredibly potent threat at level one: Poisoned is no joke, the save can't be repeated, and it has what amounts to a built-in save or die. Oh, it can also light up targets with faerie fire. These are some real tough guys. The elite warrior is basically the same, except it can multiattack and parry. If you let it parry while wielding its crossbow, it's a decent low-level solo boss all on its own.

    The mage continues the trend of being horrifying with some very potent crowd-control spells, coupled with flying, invisibility, and the power to summon demons that also can be very hard to see. After all this, though, the Priestess of Lolth winds up being somewhat of a letdown--the crowd control is based with some summoning, and the flying with freedom of movement. I'd honestly rather just scale up the mage here.

    Fluff

    Pretty much exactly what you'd expect--ancient war, Lolth, darness, spiders, matriarchy, Underdark, slaving raids, noble houses. For a newcomer it does hit all the high points, though there's little here for the more experienced player. It's likely worth mentioning that drow fluff also appears in the PHB, the SCAG, and some adventure path books to boot.

    Hooks

    There's literally nothing I could say here that hasn't been suggested elsewhere. I mean, Rage of Demons is heavily drow-focused and that'll take you from level 1 all the way through to 15!

    Verdict

    I'll be honest: I'm not a big fan of the drow, and the Priestess of Lolth is about as disappointing as I expected. But by keeping the information in the MM to the simple basics and making the run of sample enemies suitably threatening, the race goes from being a cheesy stereotype of brooding loners and large-chested stripper-priests back to its roots of the terror of the dark.


    Empyrean (by MrConsideration on 2017-01-08)

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    Behold, the Mary Suest monster you could ever throw into your campaign. A walking (swimming, flying) manifestation of holier-than-thou immortality. The Empyrean is a literal demigod; beautiful, powerful and better than you. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at the Empyrean before – my eye was always drawn to the overweight-bank-manager-meets-Lolth depiction of the Ettercap rather than this blue Abercrombie and Fitch model.

    The concept of the god’s mortal descendants is in many cultures, from Hercules to Maui to Vali to Cu Chulain. Let’s see how D&D handles it…



    Art

    It’s a big, buff blue dude with a bizarre stance that doesn’t seem to work right. He’s wearing some sort of demure skirt, a pro-wrestler’s belt and knee-high boots, so the whole image is a bizarre combination of kinky and boring. The Empyrean shares a lot of conceptual and artistic space with the Deva, Planetar and other creatures featured in Monster Manual’s hunky-fireman calendar subsection. It doesn’t really inspire much in the way of excitement or interest in me, I must admit. I’d build his appearance on his progenitor’s, personally.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Obviously, this is your ultimate big bad, rocking out at CR 23 and with the caveat that should be mess up daddy will simply resurrect him anyway. Ignore the ‘75% chaotic good’ - this incarnation of celestial privilege is obviously far more exciting if he’s rebelling in some way against the parental figure (one of my villains has this exact story). As with all BBEG CR23 badasses in your campaign, your players will never know him as ‘An Empyrean’. They’ll know him as Kelthren, Thrice-Cursed Son of the God of Knowledge who betrayed him to Vecna.

    It’s essential that any Empyrean be first and foremost an NPC, with a name, backstory and relationship to their parent. Integral to that will be his relationship to his parent’s domain(s). My villain was a child of a god of seas and storms, and thus can never leave dry land. Perhaps your Empyrean is rebelling against the God of Truth, or Industry, or Wine – and is therefore lying, lazy or teetotal.

    As a result of this, I’d chuck out most of the spell list and powers for thematic alternatives, but let’s see how good the RAW Empyrean is in a scrap. As it would ruin a precious, railroading DM’s day if their pet NPC was made to look embarrassed, the Empyrean has Magic Resistance and Legendary Resistance, so you’re never going to take them out of commission that way. Ditto Illusions, as they’re packing Truesight. They can only be harmed by magic weapons, but any player crossing swords with a CR 23 has so many magical weapons they butter their toast with a Holy Avenger.

    In terms of Magic, there are some big-hitter evocation spells and some At-Will utility, which can be used to damage the party- Earthquake can be very disruptive and damaging in an urban environment, and Firestorm gives some much-needed AoE. The Empyrean’s attacks are pretty damaging but dropping one of those a turn doesn’t seem like all that much impact in a high-stakes epic-level combat. He has some excellent support options if you’re giving the Empyrean minions (you are at this point throwing the CR budget rules out of the window, no doubt) as Bolster and Trembling Strike can massively boost his side in a battle against the players, and it makes sense that the Empyrean would rule over some minions.

    Fluff

    Some aspects are interesting, for example the built-in Pathetic Fallacy, where the weather reflects his mood: excellent fluff and an excuse for you to battle in thunderstorm or hurricane. The idea of their being ‘beautiful, statuesque and self-assured’ doesn’t gel though. For me, the story an Empyrean should tell is almost Oedipal – it’s about the relationship to a father-figure (who could be overbearing and cruel and capricious – they are a god after all) and the pressure to meet familial expectations (when your brother was your age he was worshipped across the world – you’re still living in the basement of Valhalla). If anything, insecurity should define the Empyrean, and lead into their actions.

    Plot Hooks

    Kuldgirr the Wrathful rules the vast empire of the Kulgur Wastes, and plunders any town that takes his fancy. His father, men say, was the War-God Aegishjamlur himself, and he sees all the world as his dominion…

    Gruthfrith’s mother, Hedelleleid, was the Mistress of Songs, the patron god of bards, singers and beautiful things. Gruthfrith’s fingers are a blur; his voice makes a Nightingale weep, and as women lay at his feet and men bury him in gold, a thought grows in his mkind like a cancer. Why is HE not Master of Songs, Patron of Bards, Singer and Beautiful Things…?

    Vallnir’s father, Kelum, the Righteous Fire, demands endless self-sacrifice and ceaseless vigilance. As Vallnirr crosses yet another battlefield, and spends another way warring with evil and terror, despair has grown in his heart like rot. Kelum never sees him as worthy. Kelum never values his life. Should he spend his entire life earning the approval of Kelum? Or should he, for once, use his mighty gifts to benefit himself.

    Aumvorax once was the most feared pirate of the Dameshti coast. Loved by his father, The King of Storm and Spray, and his Mother, the Queen of Deluge and Deeps, he was master of all seamanship, and his ship, Favoured, grew fat with plunder. However, in one fatal storm Aurumvorax was wrecked, and washed ashore, and found himself screaming at a mother and father whose fickle favour had slipped through his fingers like so much sea-water. Cursing them, he made his Dark Pact and swore an oath to be revenged…

    Verdict

    Poorly executed, but a great seed for compelling NPCs.


    Ettercap (by Dark Sun Gnome on 2017-01-08)

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    And next, a far more down to earth creature than the previous MM entry, we have the Ettercap, a monster that has been with D&D from way back in the beginning, named after an old Yorkshire term for a spider. Ladies and Gentlemen......

    Appearance

    The ettercaps appearance has changed a lot from its beginnings in the original Fiend Folio, where it resembled a canine visaged bugbear, to a six limbed chintinous monster in the last edition, but its back to being a humanoid spider, and it looks great.

    There is a sense of cuteness in the eyes and the facial features that you get in real world spiders, and despite not having chelicera (just big ol' fangs), palps or eight legs, this monster has a real arachnid feel, especially the hands and feet with their two huge claws. One of the nicest drawn monsters in the manual for me, with just a touch of whimsy. It's a shame that there are no spiders drawn around it like in previous editions and other works, but its good non the same.

    Lore

    Ettercaps are neutral evil in this edition, and that means almost always evil. Guess spiders are still seen as something that is always associated with evil monsters, despite spiders in real life being essential to the ecosystem by keeping insect numbers down and we now know that many of them supplement their diet with plant matter. Maybe in the next Volo's Guide we will get a neutral or good alligned spider humanoid. Here's hoping.

    In the lore, its stated that they basically are spider shepards, which is adorable. And kind of goes against the lore that “ettercaps have no desire to live in harmony with nature” and a forest infested with ettercaps is infested with giant insects. Wouldn't the spiders that the ettercaps look after eat the giant insects? Though the parts about bones dangling from webs is particularly great.

    Its also stated that ettercaps are natural enemies of fey creatures, and in this case, that means “good” fey creatures. If you have a campaign where the fey are more like The Fair Folk, then ettercaps could make strange allies. It does state that fey will approch outsiders for aid on rare occasions.

    In previous editions, ettercaps had a language that consisted of chitters and shrieks. Now, they have no language, which is a shame roleplaying wise – walking though an otherwise silent woodland with only the chitters cutting through the undergrowth would have made for nice atmosphere building.

    Mechanics

    With perception, stealth and survival proficiencies, and spider climb, an ettercap is pretty stealthy and can make a great ambusher, and with their spider buddies, a group of 4-5 ettercaps can be quite a challenge. Rack up the tension in an adventure by having ettercaps creeping up on a party, draping them with webs and either carting off one of the team to feed to the younger spiders or attempt to lure them further into the dee, dank woods. With two attacks, a poison bite and no restrictions on movement over the webs these and their spidery friends weave, these make for challenging opponents from levels 5-10.

    Verdict

    A classic D&D monster with a great illustration, nice mechanics and pretty good lore, and one that is ideal for vexing your players when they delve into a gloomy woodland strand.


    Ettin (by tsuyoshikentsu on 2017-01-09)

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    To round off the Es, we have everyone's forgettable mid-tier redundant monster: the ettin!

    Art

    It's an orc-looking ogre with two heads. The execution is nice; it's just that the subject matter is not particularly thrilling.

    Purpose and Tactics

    The purpose of an ettin is "serve as a transition between ogres and hill giants on the random encounter table." The tactics of an ettin are "hit things until they stop moving." This does no special damage, has no special abilities, and has no special resistances. It might as well be a block of tofu with a multiattack.

    Fluff

    Is the orc angle new? I don't know and I don't care, because it doesn't really amount to much more than an excuse to use them with orcs or demons. Oh, and the heads hate each other, just in case you weren't sick of that schtick yet.

    Hooks

    Legends speak of a two-headed giant in a cave that guards a poorly-locked treasure chest. Can the heroes defeat this beast?

    While traveling to their next destination, the party randomly encounters a giant! With two heads!

    Verdict

    If "my time is much more valuable than this" was ever encapsulated into a monster, this is it. Please find something more interesting to do with CR4's worth of XP.


    second review (by JellyPooga on 2017-01-09)

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    To round of the E's, we have the Ettin, everyone's favourite oversized conjoined twin!

    Art

    Despite no basis for comparison, it still conveys a sense of size to me. It's a big, chunky, bearded slab of meat with big tusks and big fists. Rude, crude and ready to rumble with that one head giving the reader "The Eye", which breaks the fourth wall a little, but hey, I can live with that! Does the job of portraying a "foul, two-headed giant with the crude characteristics of an orc" for me. What more can you ask for?

    Purpose and Tactics

    It's strong, it's tough, it's got a moderately sized heap of HP and it has some interesting quirks with its Advantage on Perception and against a bunch of conditions. You can't scare it, charm it, stun it or knock it out too easily, so no easy wins with the usual tactics employed against other "dumb brutes". It doesn't hit too hard, so it's a great monster to use as a low-level Boss or a high level Mook (particularly as a sentry or guard).

    Fluff

    We've pretty much seen it all before, but it does a good job of describing a belligerent two-headed brute that's as argumentative with itself as much as anyone else. Making females dominant is an interesting spin and the mere mention of them opens up adventure ideas of "Mama Ettin and her Kids" with the potential for Dad sulking somewhere nearby.

    Not sure if the Orc/Demogorgon angle is new or not, but I like it. Planning on invading the Lower Planes any time soon? Better be prepared for Ettin; they're Orc-Plus and something other than a Demon to fight while in the Abyss. More options is good options.

    Hooks

    The Village of Little Pixley has a problem; there's a rather large two-headed giant blocking the road to the north. It's not causing much of a problem; just kind of sitting there and arguing with itself, eating the occasional cow and bellowing at anyone who approaches until they go away. No-one in the village is strong enough to drive it off and the spring caravan was due to leave yesterday. Can the budding young heroes solve the problem?

    Verdict

    Is it the most inspired creature in the book? Not really, but hey; it's a classic. Has 5ed done anything to really make it unique? Not really, but hey; it's a classic. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. It's a nice low-to-mid level brute you can throw into any adventure, whether as a vigilant (if argumentative) sentry, a rampaging hard-hitting mook or as a fun, slightly tongue-in-cheek social encounter. For what it is, it gets the job done.
    Last edited by odigity; 2018-06-05 at 05:02 PM.

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    Default Re: Monster Manual Entry Reviews, Collected

    Faerie Dragon (by JNAProductions on 2017-01-09)

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    Quote Originally Posted by JNAProductions View Post

    Let's start the Fs with something big, something massive, something Draconic!

    ...

    Oh wait, it's tiny. :P

    Art

    I like it. The branch gives a nice size comparison. showing it's really a small dragon, and the colors are beautiful.

    Purpose And Tactics

    It's got good(ish) AC, great speed (60' fly!) and... 14 HP. That's not much for CR 1 or 2. But, it comes with a bunch of great abilities!

    Superior Invisibility at-will for one, Magic Resistance for two, a good deal of spells for three, and a debilitating (but not damaging) breath attack for four.

    Overall, this thing is best used as a trickster/harasser. It CANNOT stand toe-to-toe with pretty much ANY PC and live, but with Stealth +7, Invisibility, and its breath attack... It can cause a real hassle. Best used in a trap-ridden area or with other monsters.

    The exception is Violet, who have Polymorph. That lets them turn into ANY CR 2 monster, so that makes a good threat.

    Fluff

    They're friendly trickster dragons, as well as growing new colors through their aging process. Nothing too special here, but a good cross between a metallic dragon and a fey being.

    Hooks

    People keep hearing a laughing in the forest, then everything goes black, then they wake up near the edge of the forest. It happens whenever the center is approached. Can you find out what's going on?

    (Indigo or Older) The terrain keeps changing day after day! First, it was a normal forest, like always, but then the trees moved, and now it looks like a desert! What the heck is happening?


    second review (by Dark Sun Gnome on 2017-01-09) (** incomplete **)

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    Art

    Pictured on the branch of a tree, presumably snarling at an interloper into its territory. Or at least that's how I see it, which goes a bit against the lore of it giggling – this little dragon looks more like its snarling, or if it is laughing, its a pretty malevolent laugh, not a giggle of a creature thats playing pranks.

    The dragon itself looks nice, even if the wings look more like the normal wings of dragons that just happen to be shaped like butterfly wings than actual butterfly wings. And considering its a faerie creature and a inverterate trickster, I would have liked to have seen a bit more whimsy, like with the artwork of its assumed close relative the psudodragon.

    Lore

    As in the previous editions, the Faerie Dragon is a creature that loves practical jokes and treasure. Unlike in previous editions, it hasn't been given a habitat it favours – in the past that was lush forests. It still keeps the changing colours as it gets older and more powerful (the one illustrated is 41+ years old and I can't tell if its supposed to be Indigo or Violet), and still has a sweet tooth.

    Would have been nice to have a little sidebar on how you get one of these things as a familiar.


    Flameskull (by tsuyoshikentsu on 2017-01-09)

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    HEY GUYS, ARE YOU READY TO ROCK?! WELL HERE COMES THE MOTHER-LOVING FLAMESKULL!

    Seriously, these things are metal as heck. Let's dive in.

    Art

    Skull? Check. On fire? Check. Looks like an awesome version of Ghost Rider? For sure. There's no sense of scale here, which is technically bad because this monster is actually Tiny, but I'll give it a pass because it's awesome.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Remember artillery from 4E? That's this guy. Not a lot of HP (though magic resistant), fire damage from afar, not a melee attack in sight. It also regenerates, which makes it an interesting guard beast for the front door--hits you coming in, hits you coming out.

    Flavor

    The skulls of dead wizards. There's actually quite a bit to do with that, though--see the plot hooks below. Also potential for hilarity if, oh, say, your character happens to be sharing head space with a ghost of one of the dead wizards lying around where someone's making flameskulls. (Oh, Adventure League Season 4....) The writing makes sure you know that these guys are absolutely nuts--"mad, echoing laughter"--and even gives you some ideas as to how they can become their own masters again.

    Plot Hooks

    Xivut the Powerful's friends have finally chipped in enough for a raise dead--except now his skull doesn't want to be put back! What will the party do about this conundrum?

    The heroes have defeated the evil necromancer... but now his creations are roaming the countryside, burning down everything! Can they fix what they've inadvertently broken?

    How much of Stagfalf's knowledge still remains in his head? Feel free to ask--if you don't mind dodging fireballs!

    Verdict

    Not exactly BBEG material, but still lots of opportunity for fun to be had.


    Flumph (by tsuyoshikentsu on 2017-01-10)

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    It's a big, stupid jellyfish!

    (Note: That was a Mass Effect joke.)

    I'll be honest: as someone who spent my formative D&D years mostly in 3.X, my only knowledge of flumphs is from Order of the Stick. I'm actually kind of excited to delve in and see what they're all about.

    Art

    ...You know, I can tell the artist tried. They did. But there's really no way to be loyal to the original illustration without looking insanely silly. I feel like WotC would have been better served going in more of a ethereal jellyfish direction.

    Purpose and Tactics

    They're kind of mooks, statwise, though again--poisoned is no joke. (I kind of wonder if there's a way to weaponize that radius, though.) Also, the turtle mechanic is pretty amusing. I might have to pull that on a certain Moon Druid I know. The acid tentacles could be nasty in a swarm.

    My only real question here is: why no psionic options? This is a super psionic race, but that's barely refected in their statblock.

    Fluff

    Flumph fluff (heh) is pretty clear: they're the wise ethereal monks of the Underdark, and unlike almost every other damn role in the Underdark that's actually a somewhat under-utilized space. They make great quest-givers and social information sources in a setting where the players would likely have few other allies. The telepathy is also a nice way for them to be able to justify knowing stuff low-level parties probably don't.

    Also, mind shielding plus commonly good alignment makes me want to have one be secretly evil. I'm just contrary.

    I feel like the psionic parasite angle is cool, though somewhat downplayed here. Do the psions get annoyed--especially the more selfish ones? There's that line about them not taking tok much power, but it seems like a lot of psionic baddies would hate to lose any power.

    Plot Hooks

    In order to infiltrate the mind flayer hold, the heroes need a way in. Who might know such a thing?

    Someone's been murdering flumphs! Who would hurt such a gentle and harmless creature? Could it be the kind and generous psionicist next door?

    Before he lost his mind forever, the drow accused a flumph of attacking his thoughts. An evil flumph? Is that even possible?

    Verdict

    Let's be real: the name and the art are both stupid as heck. But if yoy can get past that--maybe steal some hanar shots from Mass Effect or gomazoa pics from Magic--a decent quest-giver and Underdark resident lurks here.


    More Plot Hooks

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    (by Millstone85 on 2017-01-10)

    Quote Originally Posted by Millstone85 View Post

    Innersight is a flumph with a complicated past. They have faint memories of a life as a beholder and of another life as a tadpole, before they pulled themself together as a servant of the elder brain. Then a devastating attack of the githyanki left them all alone and directionless, until they were adopted by a nearby flumph cloister. And so they experienced another rebirth, this time as a flumph, in mind and spirit if not body. Alas, the githzerai monastery in the vicinity of which the flumphs have relocated only sees an illithid. The githzerai are willing to let flumphs live off their excess psionic energy, but not the ancestral adversary! What side will the adventurers take in this conflict among alien species? Will the flumphs have to relocate again? Can the githzerai be convinced or will they opt for violence?

    A flumph named Pastafari has come to the adventurers with quite an unusual request for such a benevolent creature. They want you to capture evil humanoids so a mindwitness can feed on their brains. In time, they say, their new ally will learn how to find nourishment like the flumphs do, but the mindwitness was famished when they found it.

    The Murderhobo Gang has decided to slaughter the punny CR 1/8 flying jellyfishes, despite all the clues that these are in fact innocent NPCs. What CR 5 monster will you throw at them in retaliation?
    (by JellyPooga on 2017-01-10)

    Quote Originally Posted by JellyPooga View Post

    People are going missing and turning up again, their memories hazy and filled with images of weird alien creatures. Others return with their personalities entirely changed. A cult has arisen; rumour has it they worship an eldritch elder being from beyond the planes. Dare anyone investigate...The Mystery of Cardinal Flumph?

    (I love the idea of a Flumph as a BBEG! )


    Fomorian (by Spellbreaker26 on 2017-01-10)

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    Inspired by the Celtic demons of the same name (though these ones have both arms and legs) these giants are terrible foes. (Terrible in the good sense, by the way.)

    Art

    Could be better, could be worse, but I like the twisted way it looks. Could have done with a bit more twist, though. I feel like it should be more "the body is physically warped" and less "bad acne". These guys are supposed to be horrifying even by the standards of trolls and other giant kin, and I don't think they got that through enough.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Compared to some uninspired giant types, this is golden. It replaces rocks with a nasty psychic fusillade that ties in to their identity as fallen creatures, and their ability to warp others can leave a serious impact on a group member for a long time. I do wish that perhaps the save was a bit more difficult for a CR8 monster given that the curse is a one-shot before recharging, however. They also make fantastic guardians for entranceways with their incredible passive perception. However, this should not hide the fact that at the core, they are indeed giants - one ranged attack, club, loads of hitpoints, and ultimately they are limited in the same way many giants are.

    Fluff

    They were once beautiful creatures cast down for attacking the fey. Not a bad motivator, but I do wish that we had examples of what creature Fomorians were before they were tainted; as it is they don't have the instant party enemy thing going on that, say, drow do, in absence of fey player characters. Their habit of creating ghastly scarecrows from dismembered foes does allow for some good taunts if they get their hands on reoccurring NPCs or even PCs. The other interesting aspect of their fluff is their disloyalty, which can make any Fomorian a weak link in a villain chain, allowing them to be pumped for information or set against their fellows without too much difficulty.

    Plot Hooks

    A group of monsters, led by a Fomorian, have attacked a town, eaten the inhabitants and are now sleeping off the aftereffects of their gruesome banquet. Can you seize the initiative and sneak up to this monstrosity before it awakes? Only while it is asleep are its tremendous powers of observation dimmed.

    Some say that Conchobar the Giant seeks to mend his ways and his body - but is he truly seeking redemption or is he merely trying to regain his magic for the purpose of conquest?

    The evil wizard Comus lies in this citadel, protected by its walls, and his servant Finn McGruel stands sentinel at the only door. Is there anyway of bypassing his watch, perhaps with a suitable bribe?


    Fungi (by tsuyoshikentsu on 2017-01-10)

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    Art

    Yyyyyyep. Those are fungi. At least they did a really good job making the gas spore look like a beholder but still a believable fungus.

    No, I am not going to mention the obvious thing about the lineart on page 138.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Weren't a lot of these traps in previous editions? Regardless, they definitely feel like it here. The gas spore basically exists to either 1) freak the party out because they think it's a beholder, or 2) blow up and infect someone with a disease. Ditto the shrieker; it's less of a monster and more of an obstacle to be avoided in a stealth encounter--a kind of fantasy security system. The violet fungus is really the only one that's a monster for combat, but it's a nasty one for first level--a couple of lucky D4 rolls and you'll take out the barbarian in a single round. I'm not sure this works well as a boss, but it certainly works as a distraction for a set of ranged enemies at low-mid level (drow?)... or as a warmup to the CR1 boss.

    Fluff

    I mean... they're fungi. There's only a paragraph of fluff specific to the violet creeper and the shrieker, along with some general comments on how fungi work (which shouldn't be too surprising to anyone who took high school biology). The shrieker is indeed called out as a subterranean alarm system, and the violet fungus turning corpses into more of itself is neat.

    I think the real winner here is the gas spore. The idea of a fungus that evolved out of magical monster corpses is actually pretty neat, and leads to some interesting ideas.

    Hooks

    The caverns under the town have been taken over by an army of beholders--and more are appearing by the day! Can the heroes do anything to stop this madness?!

    Flizumgad the Magnificent needs adventurers to capture monsters, not kill them... something to do with developing new kinds of fungus.

    The hamlet of Wellton has gone silent... but shapes have been seen crawling around in the dark, growing more numerous each night. What are these new invaders?

    Verdict

    Not exactly one to build a campaign around, but good at what they do. Like any mushrooms, best served judiciously as a side dish or as a complement to the meat of an encounter.


    Galeb Duhr (by tsuyoshikentsu on 2017-01-13)

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    Quote Originally Posted by tsuyoshikentsu View Post

    I couldn't decide between a Geodude joke and "these guys rock!", so I'll just hop right in.

    The galeb duhr have an odd pedigree: despite not making much of an impact on the game's various campaign settings, the galeb duhr have not only been in the game since AD&D1E but have actually appeared in every edition since. They're not given a lot of focus here, so let's examine what we have.

    Art

    Something about this piece just tickles my fancy. It's an earth elemental, so it's another humanoid rock guy, but the expression of sorts on its face does the trick for me. I have trouble with the scale, but at this point I've said that so many times that I feel like I don't even want to mention it any more.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Between the boulder-hiding ability, the fast downhill speed, the charge attack, and the lowish AC and HP, I'd put these guys squarely in the "ambush attacker" column. Their lack of a range attack hurts, though, leaving me not exactly sure when I'd want to use them.

    The most notable thing they can do is summon up a couple more of themselves via animating boulders. It actuallyworks well for them: since they're at their best in round one, this effectively gives them two more of it while giving the players clear tactical choices. It's very reminiscent of the treant's similar ability, which I also like.

    Fluff

    The fluff actually puts me in mind of treants as well. Elemental guardians that animate the thing they look like? Yep, sounds about right. The stone sentry angle is kind of a nice touch, and makes a little more sense to me here than in the proper Elemental entry. Also worth mentioning is that these guys are sentient, having human-level mental stats--they'd make great NPCs in an Underdark or mountainous campaign.

    Hooks

    Deep in the Underdark, the party is lost and without allies. Then the rocks begin to talk to them.

    Travelers along the Highland Road are claiming to have been robbed by "a sentient avalanche." ...What?

    The galeb duhr and the treants of Livindale Forest have always gotten along well, but something has caused a rift. Both groups are almost unfathomably ancient, having seen generations of even elves come and go. How in the world do you mediate between walking rocks and talking trees?

    Verdict

    A rock-solid addition to the NPC line-up of any cave or mountain focused campaign.


    Gargoyle (by Shining Wrath on 2017-01-23)

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    This is one of the monsters that people who have never played D&D still recognize. They show up in Disney movies (sometimes as protagonists), B-movies, a cartoon series where they got moved to New York City, and so on. Not surprisingly, they have been with D&D players since the original "White Box" set, and have appeared in every edition since then. Originally they were reptilian, not elemental, but something with this name has been showing up in every monster manual since 1974.

    Art

    I am not a fan of this picture, although it does give a sense of an earth creature, and a bestial one at that. The wings don't appear to be attached and are poorly done, the shadow doesn't show the wings, and so on.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Ambush predators anywhere that a statue might reasonably be found, especially on cathedrals or equivalents. Tough for CR 2 monsters, as at level 2 most melee types don't have magical weapons and 7 hit dice is a lot to take out with cantrips and level 1 spells. Therefore, this is not a solo monster in most campaigns; these guys appear in groups at higher levels to fill out an encounter. With flight, multiattack, and the aforementioned decent pile of HP, these guys can attack the back row of the party and keep the wizards busy.

    Fluff

    They tried to give them a background that explains their enmity for the Aarakocra and their general cruelty, but the "accidently created by an evil god" story just doesn't resonate with me. For example, it does nothing to explain why they are generally humanoid and winged.

    Hooks

    The bird-men of Al Ca Tr'z seek aid against a recent invasion by gargoyles. Who has opened a portal to the Elemental Plane of Earth, and for what purpose?
    Stoneheart, a gargoyle, got lost on the prime material plane and was captured by a roc, which kept him in its nest and chased him down every time he tried to leave. He just recently managed to escape - and his long captivity with nothing to do except think allowed even his slow thoughts to wonder if there might be a better way than cruelty and brutality. Can the party teach him of beauty and light?
    Caravans have long used the ruined castle of Durnish as a landmark and occasional emergency shelter in time of storm - but now, strange winged statues emerge from the castle and harry the caravans for miles in all directions. Who has moved into the castle?

    Conclusion

    An iconic monster given a hurried description, the gargoyle cries out for some homebrew. And, possibly, a playable race.


    Genies — Introduction (by Spellbreaker26 on 2017-01-25)

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    Elementals are faceless shapes that roam the planes. Genies, on the other hand, have oodles of character and charisma; they've got a sort of Arabian Nights aesthetic and make good mid level villains.

    Art

    Though we should save the real detail for the individual entries, the genie art succeeds at communicating each type's defining character. The Dao holds itself aloof, the Efreet is on edge, the Marid coldly calculates and the Djinni... ok, the Djinni art isn't that great, but three out of four ain't bad.

    Purpose and Tactics

    The genies can serve two main purposes: either CR11 monsters that serve as not-very-loyal lieutenants to a BBEG, or as a source of plot hooks. Their potential wish virtually guarantees chaos (no matter the circumstance) and their desire to capture servants can make them eccentric questgivers for PCs.

    Genies have similar tactics to elementals, but their larger array of skills makes them much more versatile. An earth elemental can burrow underground to flank you. A Dao can burrow underground and trap or even bury you with move earth, or can use invisibility to truly confuse the party. Imagine, them walking into a tunnel that slowly digs itself...

    A huge limitation for DMs is their limited spells. They can only pull out their real tricks once a fight, and a tenacious party will really wear them down. They need backup or a well laid plan or they're going to run out of spells fairly fast and be left with a grim slugging match that's no fun and where the party is neither doing anything interesting nor is in any real danger.

    Fluff

    They're powerful mortal souls made manifest as the elements, and more like the fey than anything else; they're tricky and capricious, and have huge egos. Compare and contrast to dragons; whereas a dragon will destroy someone to show how powerful they are, a genie will capture and enslave that person to add to their collection. Even the best of them still collect servants Count of Monte Cristo style.

    They can also be made servants themselves, but for such willful creatures this sort of debasement really chafes. Therefore, they can be made to undermine their masters, whether that be the BBEG, or a player foolish enough to try and bind one in servitude.

    Hooks

    Sahir the Firekhan has captured the party!.. and demanded that they serve dates and wine to his dinner guests. While dressed in lederhosen. Hmm. The party must find a way to form an escape plan while dealing with the Firekhan's erratic demands.

    Fatima the Stormsculpter, noble guardian of the winds, lays dormant on the Malestrom Isle. Those who summon her by collecting seven golden orbs may be granted a single wish. Your party desires this wish, but so does a deadly Ice Devil and his army of followers, and they're willing to tear apart every village on the island to get it.

    After being snubbed at an evening of awards for lute-playing, the fearsome Dao Lord Albion has seen fit to attack entire cities to express his displeasure. Can your party convince him that the true value of music is to the player, or, failing that, defeat him in open combat?

    The fearsome corsair wizard Blondebeard has plundered the Sand Coasts for many a year; but his bo'sun, the Marid Horatio the Tideshifter grows bored of his imprisonment. Can you find a way to turn him against his master and finally bring Blondebeard to justice for his crimes against civilisation and hairdressing?


    Ghost

    Quote Originally Posted by MrConsideration View Post

    I'm going to skip The Ghost because I believe everything I would say on the subject has been done before in my Banshee review and here.
    Ghouls (Ghoul, Ghast) (by MrConsideration on 2017-01-29)

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    I combined this entry because the Ghast is basically a pumped up Ghoul. I am a big fan of Ghouls, and they have an exalted pedigree both within and without the game: their origin is among the ancient Persians, who named the flesh-eating Ghoul with a word referencing a demon feared in those first cities of humankind – the points of light in the Near East amidst a vast sea of (subjective) barbarian darkness. Within the game, they date to the very first editions. My first experience of truly fearing an enemy in D&D was when I was around ten or eleven years old and a band of AD&D ghouls swarmed my party in some tight tunnels where we had been commando crawling. The fear of paralysis, of claustrophobia – the dehumanising experience of being dragged away by a predator – this was all primal terror and a gripping episode that informs my DMing decades later.

    Let’s dig deeper:

    Art

    I can’t decide what I think of this. The lithe muscular body and mutated details add some body horror and help differentiate the piece in the oversaturated zombie market. Despite that, I can’t help feel that the long tongue, hooked claws and blue pallor detract from the horror and add a touch of silliness. When describing ghouls, I amp up the body horror: vast, distended, bursting stomach; smashed fragments of jaw-bone retained as rudimentary mouth and a gore-stained torso. This just doesn’t feel adequately scary to me.



    Purpose and Tactics:

    Both creatures in battle work very similarly, and as your players level up ghouls and ghasts will transition from solo enemies or boss monsters alongside weaker undead to disposable mooks. In both role, their paralysis ability should be disruptive, but the paltry 10 Con saving throw makes it unlikely you will ever inflict serious paralysis or shut down a character. Most likely, the occasional low roll will result in the character losing a turn. To make a Ghoul combat more frightening, I generally cause anyone paralysed to fall prone and I would definitely increase the DC, or make the DC increase as more ghouls attack you to reflect a slow ‘succumbing’. After that, both monsters have a slightly more damaging bite attack to rely on. Personally, I’d have ghasts working alongside other undead strive to paralyse characters for disruption, especially concentrating casters.

    The ghast’s advantages are somewhat significant. Turning Resistance is something I really don’t agree with using – how often does your Cleric get to Turn Undead anyway? – but if your campaign is undead-heavy and the Cleric gets a lot of mileage from it, it can stop or arrest the disastrous situation of a ghoul rout which allows the party to pick off combatants one-by-one. Stench is a generic ability, but fitting here, and potentially quite disruptive. In addition to this, a probably irrelevant resistance to Necrotic and a smidgen more damage round out the ghast.

    Almost everything in the ghoulish arsenal requires close proximity to their enemies- such creatures always work best in favourable terrain or an ambush: the obvious pretending-to-be-dead-in-a-graveyard-or-battlefield is a staple ghoul encounter for a reason. The tunnel combat which frightened my prepubescent self is also a great encounter, provided you are suitably cruel and point out that characters struggle to move past each other and cannot swing their greatswords in such a situation. Ghouls are not intelligent though, so allowing players to abuse their insatiable hungers to lure them into ambush themselves can also make for a great encounter.

    Fluff

    A lot of this is very specific mythology centred on Doresain which I personally wasn’t interested in. It seemed primarily an attempt to paper over an Elf’s ghoul-touch resistance and not terribly interesting. It’s also somewhat incongruous to me that Orcus still supports Ghouls now that Doresain is best buds with Corellon (how does that work exactly?) but whatever – I make my own fluff.

    The traditional mythological ghouls-are-humans-who-committed-the-sin-of-cannibalism is far more interesting, and what I personally run with.

    Plot Hooks

    On his doomed marched back across the desert, Prince Cymbaises’ men were forced to commit a foul and odious sin: the men drew lots, and the shortest were consumed. At home, defeated, he finds himself craving once more the flesh of his fellow man, and his flesh grows cold. Now, if he were to succumb to the ghoul-curse, that would be one thing – but in every village of his kingdom a decommissioned soldier has gone home to his farmstead with the blackest hunger growing in his stomach…

    The fortress of Memmeloren was besieged by many years by the dread armies of Akullekembek. When the gates finally opened, they found the whole fortress was a nest of terrible ghouls. Horrified, Akullekembek fell, leaving behind a rocky maze of ghoul-cursed horror….

    Verdict

    A hearty feast, but not one that entirely suits my palette.
    Last edited by odigity; 2017-02-28 at 01:10 AM.

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    Default Re: Monster Manual Entry Reviews, Collected

    Giants — Cloud (by Shining Wrath on 2017-02-24)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shining Wrath View Post

    Jack in the Beanstalk, Fee Fi Fo Fum, the time has come for the fairy tale giants! These guys live on clouds, or as high up in the mountains as they can get, have more innate magic than any other giants, get keen smell (presumably for the blood of Englishmen), and despite having the same CR as Fire Giants are definitely more dangerous if played intelligently. A well placed Control Weather can ruin a party. These guys are the nobility (as noted above) who rule over humans.

    Art

    Fangs? Seriously? And little suggestion of the flashy wealth a Cloud Giant should be showing. These guys should have BLING.

    Purpose and Tactics

    These giants should not usually be encountered in a grimy dungeon (unless they are passing through); they live in a palace, they have minions, and reaching their palace is an adventure in and of itself. In combat they have moderate (12) intelligence and high (16) wisdom, so using Misty Step to get next to the squishy people is a definite possibility. Being grappled by one of these guys would be No Fun; of course, the caster had better know Dimension Door at this level. They have a dangerous rock attack, and the ability to move about the battlefield. Making the party come up a long winding trail while the giant appears out of the fog, hurls a rock, and disappears again sounds like great fun. You want to fly directly to the palace? Like I said, Control Weather can really ruin your day, and since these guys rule over their domain, you should not be surprising them without considerable effort. With Cloud Giants, getting there is half the fun! Once you corner them they are less dangerous toe-to-toe than the Fire Giants, but that should not be easy.

    Fluff

    Nobility who rule over humanoids; sometimes benignly, sometimes not. Mixed alignment with a 50/50 chance, but fond of trickery; seekers and displayers of wealth, and inveterate gamblers who bet on events outside their control, there is so much to work with here!

    Hooks

    Cumulus has placed a large bet on the outcome of a succession dispute in the kingdom of Squabble. He can't intervene directly, that would be maug; but he can certainly hire adventurers for a small fraction of his bet to tilt the odds in his favor.

    The tyrant Thunderstorm floats from place to place about her kingdom in her cloud-palace, raining (sometimes literally) destruction upon those who displease her and demanding so much tribute that the oppressed denizens must raid their neighbors to obtain enough gold. Can the party destroy this evil despot, and while they are at it, garner a kingdom's worth of loot?

    The party needs a magical item to defeat an ancient evil. And they know where one is - in the palace of Horsetail the Giant! Can they bargain with the giant to buy or borrow the magical item?

    Verdict

    Except for that awful picture, this is a wonderful addition to the DM's toolkit.


    second review (by Spellbreaker26 on 2017-02-24)

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    What Blue Dragons are to dragons, Cloud Giants are to giants. They're foppish and playful, but also capricious and unpredictable. They use the most indirect tactics of all giants, but still retain a huge amount of durability and strength.

    Art

    I like about 90% of the Cloud Giant artwork. Holding itself in a proud stance, good, and it's got clothing and jewelry instead of armour, good, now all it needs is some smug smile that's halfway between good and evil... and it nearly makes it? I think the problem is those little fangs, it really obstructs the view of the mouth. Apart from that it looks good; but the mouth is pretty important for expressing the character of proud creatures and this art just doesn't manage it.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Cloud Giants are much less durable than fire giants; they have a fair few more hitpoints but since they have such a lack of AC they come across as much more fragile; combined with their lack of fire immunity this means that cloud giants must be played a lot more cautiously.

    Thankfully, you can play these guys much more cautiously! They have access to a bevy of control spells that allow them to pick apart and dismantle parties; they can use fog cloud and control weather to obstruct their opponent's field of vision, which gives the Cloud Giants an advantage since they can work off their sense of smell. Some of their other spells like Misty Step and fly make them hugely mobile and can really mess up a party that isn't prepared. Their speed and tactics belie their size. All in all, probably the most tactically unique giant.

    In larger terms, their split between alignments lets them be used as quest-givers as well. Perhaps a Cloud Giant wants the party to acquire a particular relic or to help him indulge one of his hobbies? An evil Cloud Giant, on the other hand, will work much more indirectly than the other evil Giants, pulling strings and only getting stuck in if he has no other choice.

    Fluff

    Cloud Giants are dilettantes and fops, as much as that definition can be applied to Giants. Good or Evil, they're massively self-indulgent, each a griffon-fancier or a gourmand of some variety. With Storm Giants often aloof, they do the majority of organising of Giant society, and one gets the implication from the fluff that with the rest of the giants treating the Cloud Giants as top dog that they are increasingly resenting the Storm Giants final say. One of the most interesting little tidbits is their habit of betting on human wars and then match fixing, there is just so much potential there for stories.

    Hooks

    The Arhion League has suddenly turned their war with the Lizardfolk Free Cities around and now threaten to spread their tyranny across the entire continent. How have they suddenly been able to change the course of the entire campaign?

    Cirrus the Collector wishes to add a Waxhoof Unicorn to his private zoo, but is struggling to capture one. Perhaps if a band of adventurers were able to succeed where he failed they would be richly rewarded?

    Several Storm Giants have been assassinated, and the political stability of the Ordning is faltering. Who could possibly benefit from the fall of the Storm Giants, and would be bold enough to try and engineer it?


    Giants — Fire (by Arimm on 2017-02-23)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Arimm View Post

    They are the big, bad warlords that live under volcanoes. The Fire Giants are just as aggressive as their frosty counter parts but are much more cultured, with some of the best smiths and martial-tacticians in all of mundus. This makes them foreboding villains, using both brain and brawn as they slash, burn ,and conquer.

    Art

    This art certainly denotes character, the giant's eyes stare right at us as he holds his huge sword at the ready, prepared to crush you without a second thought.
    Despite this something is off about the proportions of the piece, his hands are almost double the size of his head and if this image is to scale with the others than the fire giant is the shortest of all the giant's which doesn't seem right.
    Overall, functional.

    Purposes and Tactics

    The Fire Giant's superior smithing abilities manifest in them having the highest AC of any giant and the second highest damaging melee attack, making them even better bruisers than most of the giants. They also, however suffer a lack of very interesting abilities other than the given fire immunity. I would definitely change some of the dice in their attacks to fire damage, describing their swords as flaming and their boulders as magma filled.
    However I think it's more interesting to focus on their strategic abilities, giving you as the DM reason to have them using unusual and unexpected tactics. In their own lairs imagine them using their fire immunity to their advantage, hiding in and emerging from lava-lakes and filling rooms with magma to melt any trespassing adventurers. And for outside their own lands they should use fire as a weapon, setting everything aflame and transforming the battlefield into a hellscape in which only they can survive.

    Fluff

    This fluff gives a lot to work with. From conquering and enslaving nations to felling whole forests to fuel their fires these guys have a way to tick off anybody. There is a small issue though as because of their large strength it's difficult not to ask "why haven't they taken over the world already?" This makes it so they almost work better as begrudging allies rather than direct enemies.

    Hooks

    A more chaotic giant than most has risen to power in the fire giant ranks, this new king has broken the Dwarf-Giant truce and begun and invasion of dwarven lands, can the party sneak into the giant stronghold, defeat this king, and reinstate the treaty?

    An ancient red dragon has awakened and the party needs the fire giant's weaponry/expertise to defeat it, can they negotiate some kind of compromise or will this go south to the magma pits?

    Elven lands are quickly being ravaged as swaths of forest are being chopped and taken to Mt.Ignon. The elves, lacking expertise in giant matters, call in adventurers to fight them off.

    Verdict

    More developed and interesting than their frost giant counterparts but still arguably under developed and wanting of tweaking. Personally I like them


    Giants — Frost (by Shining Wrath on 2017-02-20)

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    An iconic D&D monster dating back to Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl in 1978, written by Gary Gygax. The basic idea never changes; these are D&D versions of the guys Thor smacks around in a few sagas. The MM does not stat Jarls, though, nor does Volos. They are presented as low-tech; interestingly, although they dislike heat and thus rarely forge, they have no vulnerability to fire.

    Artwork

    The entire piece says "Viking". Beard, horned helmet, boots, battle axe - guy could have walked right out of a Hagar the Horrible strip. As usual, nothing tells you this is a 21 foot tall creature rather than a 7 foot tall one. The pose seems aloof and appraising; he's deciding exactly what to do, which depends on whether or not you can do anything to oppose him.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Standard brutes with the minor addition of rock throwing ability. Immunity to cold is the only interesting twist, and it's not likely to catch many PCs by surprise. Compared to their lower ordning kin, they produce considerably more damage (about 1/3 more), with marginally more HP and less AC than the Stone giants. No stealth ability, no ability to hide in ice and snow or move more quickly traversing those substances; the MM misses some obvious opportunities to make these guys more flavorful in combat.

    Fluff

    They like cold, and they raid people, so they raid out of cold places into less-cold places; the similarity to Vikings is purely intentional. Because they dislike heat, they don't forge armor, and thus have a low AC. Looking at the stats and fluff, I can easily imagine stone giants considering themselves superior to frost giants and resenting their relative position in the ordning a lot. Furthermore, I can (as stated above) imagine stone giants crafting themselves some better weapons than clubs, at which point they could probably stand toe-to-toe with the frost giants and slug it out.

    Hooks

    Yep, the frost giants are raiding into the northern villages again. Go make them stop.

    The frost giants are about to go to war against the fire giants - and they want weapons and armor. Will the PCs agree to serve as brokers, procuring armaments for the frost giants?

    The wealthy Duke Eccentricus collects strange and unusual animals for his zoo, and he wants a remorhaz. Can the PCs capture one and bring it back? Would it be easier to negotiate with the frost giants for one rather than avoid them?

    Verdict

    Iconic, but underdeveloped for 5e. Volo's adds some more fluff and an interesting variant giant, but I think we need better treatment of the frost giants. I don't own SKT; perhaps there's more in there? I DEMAND JARLS.


    Giants — Hill (by comk59 on 2017-02-13)

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    One of the very first monsters from the very first edition of D&D. Like many monsters from that era, it's not overly complicated. Giant hungry. Humans meat. Giant eat humans, giant no more hungry.

    Not to say that that's a bad thing! I have a soft spot for the less intelligent, lower CR versions of stronger creatures. (I'm looking at you, White Dragon)

    Spoiler: Spoilered, because the smallest picture I could find is still reeeally big.
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    Artwork

    It's... well, let's be honest here, it's kinda gross. But that's sort of the point I suppose. The massively engorged belly, the nonexistent chin, the gaping open grimace. It all drives home just how disgusting and ravenous this giant is. Taking a closer look at the art, the stomach actually does look a bit weird, beyond the whole "engorged beyond possibility" thing. It's just a little too round and bulbous.

    Like usual, there is nothing that gives any sense of scale to the Hill Giant, but you can still sort of tell that it's supposed to be big. I think it's the club, that sort of club is always on stuff that's big. If the pictures of the other Giants on the same page are supposed to be to scale to each other, then it's clear that the Hill Giant is the runt of the litter.

    Verdict: I'm a bit mixed on this one. On first inspection I thought that it was a good, but not special artwork that got across the disgusting nature of the Hill Giant. But looking at that massive blown-up version, I can see a few flaws to it. Overall, a good image, just don't look too closely.

    Purpose And Tactics:

    A CR5 Giant, this big boy is still the smallest of the Giants, and most likely the first one that your players will be facing. Hill Giants serve the same "Dumb Bully" archetype that Orcs do, but at higher levels. He can be encountered pretty much anywhere, a barn, a half eaten field, a mansion that has undergone some "Hill Giant Redecorating". Actually, a Hill Giant in a relatively enclosed mansion would be a rather interesting, and potentially very deadly encounter.

    There is no diplomacy with a Hill Giant, but that's not to say that there are no non-combat options. Apparently Hill Giants are astoundingly stupid, and can be fooled by several villagers standing on each others shoulders wearing a blanket. The Players should have no problem coming up with some way to frighten one off if they need to, even at lower levels.

    In combat, a Hill Giant has two moves:

    1: Hit something repeatedly with his club until it stops moving, then eat it. This is his most damaging tactic, dealing fairly substantial damage for a CR5. I pity the player that gets caught by this attack.
    2: Throw a rock at something that's too far away to hit with your smashing stick. This also deals some substantial damage, and has a surprising range that might take a player off guard. Personally though, I would have this damage be for anything the Giant throws, if only so I can have a player be almost killed by an angrily tossed cow.

    Defensively however, he leaves a lot to be desired. A very low AC means that the high HP won't last very long. Plus, it has abysmal saves, meaning that the appropriate spell at the right time is all but guaranteed to work. Still, that's a round or two of hammering that will leave the players hurting, especially if they're already low on resources. There's not much else to say. They're big, squishy, and use straightforward tactics.

    When reading their fluff, I was surprised to learn that they occasionally have a Dire Wolf companion. I never thought they had the capacity to train pets, but apparently the more clever ones do. That being said, a Dire Wolf or two could complicate the fight. You don't want that Giant hitting you with advantage. A group of Giants gets very dangerous very quickly, and I would be hesitant to add more of them unless I was very confident in my players. If you want to maximize the combat potential of a Giant, there are a few ways to do it. Have it huck stuff at the party from afar while aiming at their wizard, or be in a very enclosed space where kiting the Giant is not an option. Unfortunately, due to their limited capacity, there's not much beyond this. A few companions could work to even the score though. Lesser monstrous humanoids/giantkin that that he's bullied into helping him, or Dire Wolves could make for an interesting and dangerous fight. On their own though, your options are limited.

    Fluff

    Reading the fluff, it becomes clear that Hill Giants are monumentally stupid. Literally, there should be a monument commemorating how stupid these things are. If it wasn't for their strength and the fact that they can eat anything, up to and including mud, they would've died off a long time ago. I'm being serious, they topple trees trying to be like elves, and will force their way into cottages to live like humans. It's ridiculous.

    In a rare case of portraying a large animal realistically, these giants spend their entire time looking for stuff to eat. Apparently one can eat a whole herd of cattle and a field of grain in an afternoon, so I'm not sure how tribes are supposed to work. They aren't going to share food, that's for sure. Maybe they constantly fight over food? It's explain why a Giant would go off on his own to find a village to raid at least.

    Normally I'd talk about their place in the Ordning, but it doesn't really matter for Hill Giants. Other Giants are bigger, so of course they're more important. That's all they need to know, and finer details are lost on them. I'm intrigued by the small piece that says that there are actually clever Hill Giants who garner favors from their superior brethren. I can only imagine what a Hill Giant could offer other giants, and what it would ask in return. A better weapon? Armor? Actually, an armored Hill Giant warlord would be pretty terrifying.

    They also work well as enforcers and bruisers. Since they equate size with power, any creature larger than them (Or who has cast an illusion to appear so) could easily command a whole tribe of Giants to do his bidding. If they're directed, they could become much more of a threat. Plus, an entire tribe of Hill Giants would be extremely dangerous, although considering how much they eat, tribes can't be that big. You can also have a Giant declare himself King of a small village. This is actually my favorite, since it's almost comical in a morbid way. I can just imagine it wearing a barrel as a crown, sitting in the town square, bellowing for more food. And, this is actually something you can throw at a lower level party, as there are myriad non-combat options (Poison food, pretend to be another Giant, etc.).

    Overall though, there's not a whole lot to work with fluffwise. They're big, dumb, and eat everything. Except for the ones who use diplomacy and train Dire Wolves, apparently. Those kind of stand out like a sore thumb. It makes me wonder if Hill Giants were always this stupid and unsophisticated.

    As a side note, the Giant Gods sidebar mentions that sometimes Giants will come to worship demons. I'd have to imagine that Hill Giants would be especially vulnerable to this. Warhammer fantasy? What's that, some sort of magic item?

    Hooks

    A creature has taken up residence in the forest outside of town! Every night, it wanders in, devouring fields, cattle, and farmers by the handful! If only there were some brave heroes to stop it! A simple, classic quest. Much like the Hill Giant itself.

    A Giant has taken declared himself king of (town name), and has taken up residence in the mayors mansion! Can the players get rid of it without destroying half the town in the process?

    During a thunderstorm, a lost Hill Giant child took shelter in a farmer's barn. What will the players do with him?

    The Hill Giant tribe to the south has never been more than a nuisance, but recently it's started ripping up whole swathes of forest and carrying the timber to a mysterious location. What, or who, has motivated these lazy creatures to organize like this?

    A horde of Giants bearing demonic scars and traits is on the move! They reduce whole villages to ash, and devour all who come before them. Can they be stopped before they reach (sacred monument/grove/idol)


    Giants — Stone (by Shining Wrath on 2017-02-18)

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    18' tall and lean by giant standards, the stone giants are athletes, artisans, and dreamers. They have the highest dexterity among giants and expertise in athletics - not proficiency, expertise. The fluff about anything that happens above ground being a dream is excellent stuff for a DM to work with. Also, one can easily imagine the giants forced to the fringes for lacking skill going bad.

    Artwork

    There's something wrong with the left temple of his head. I don't particularly care for the club or the clothes; I'd expect a stone giant to be more meticulous. The rest, though, is excellent; it gives a sense of the stern nature, the athleticism, the intense focus.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Tough for CR 7, the stone giants are proficient in the 3 common saves of Dex, Con, and Wis. The ability to catch thrown rocks is not likely to enter into most combats with PCs, unless you extend "similar object" to cover throwing hammers. Their thrown rocks have an add-on of knocking the target prone, which is unique among giants. Combined with their camouflage abilities, they are good ambushers. They are also the only giants with darkvision and their fluff says they live underground, so they are natural dungeon dwellers. A colony of stone giants would identify choke points in the approach to their village and rain stony death on anyone who came near.

    Hooks

    Granitus Shaleheart has been pushed to the fringes because she's not very athletic or artistic. She is, however, smart and vengeful. She wants to hire the party to "restore her to her rightful place" among the stone giants.

    A group of stone giants has been displaced from their home by a massive earthquake. Alone under the sky in the "dreamland", they roam about damaging property, destroying flocks, and refusing to talk to anyone - do you talk to insects in your dreams? The party needs to confront them, get their attention, and convince them that their behavior is not appropriate.

    The party desperately needs to cross under the mountain of Looming Doom, as the avalanche danger is too great in the passes. However, the only path leads through a monastery of Skoraeus Stonebones, and the stone giants believe their carvings and frescoes are sacred, not to be viewed by unbelievers. Can the party negotiate passage? Can they trust the giants, who don't trust them at all?

    Verdict

    One of the more interesting of the giants, and unlike the Hill Giant in almost every way.

    Possible variants

    The fluff says the giants encountered on the fringes are brutes compared to the rest.
    • Imagine a stone giant whose way of expressing athleticism and artistry is to train for combat to defend the village.
    • Imagine stone giants who put their stone carving skills to work devising stone weapons. The Aztecs used swords where blades of flint were embedded in wood; it seems likely that a stone giant could figure that out.
    • A stone giant wizard ....



    Giants — Storm (by Sharur on 2017-03-01)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sharur View Post

    So like it's smaller kin, the Storm Giant has been with us since the elder days of 1st edition. These long lived masters of the Ordening are solitary creatures, who take the long view of things. However, they don't fall any rule or structure, following their own conscience instead. (CG done right).

    One interesting thing is that this, the most powerful of the Giants is only on par with a Adult Dragon (CR wise at least)...maybe that's why they lost their war; a stalemate until their ancient foes grew into Ancient status and power...

    Art

    Easily my favorite of the Giants, and a contender for my favorate piece of art in the whole MM. In contrast to the general mediveal theme of most of D&D, the Storm Giant looks as though from an older age. The helmet and pauldrons look decidedly Roman, while the armor looks like Greek scale armor, rather than the conventional chain mail or full plate. The sword seems even older and less refined: "We don't need any newfangled crossguards! Also, I think the pensive expression on the Storm Giant's face is a good match for the reclusive hermit as described.

    In comparison to the other giants, a couple of things stand out. Firstly, (gasp!) there is finally something to judge its scale by: the birds around it's head. And roughly, I think they do a good job of indicating that this thing is two and half stories tall. Secondly, none of the other giants (and this is a problem I've found with most of the larger than medium creatures in the book) are depicted as being looked up at. The Fire Giant, Stone Giant, and Cloud Giant look almost as if they are looking ahead at a creature the same size as them (the Cloud giant does seem to be looking down slightly, but it feels more like he's a head taller than you, rather than more than twice one's height. The Storm Giant, to me at least, does seem like we're looking up at him, and he's not even noticing us, instead staring off into the horizon behind us.

    I also light how the Storm Giant's Lightning Strike is represented: There, but not overwhelming.

    Really, the only issue I have is that the first Google images result for the storm giant is a zoomed out version of the image in the book, and the sword is bent at a weird angle...What!?

    Purpose and Tactics

    In addition to the normal upgrade melee and rock combo off of the standard giant chassis, Storm Giants have a monster of a long range (and I mean long range, as in 500 feet) attack, that's re-chargeable and 12d8 damage to boot. Even if you can make the save, 6d8 is nothing to sneeze at, especially when it's an AoE that can easily hit your squishier party members.

    Also, a big chunk of HP and a decent AC mean that he's not going down fast. He also has immunity to thunder and lightning, and resistance to cold. Also, he has upgraded most of his saves. Really the only thing he's not stellar at are Int saves and Dex saves, which are still +2 and +3 respectively.

    Thank goodness their loners, because one of these guys could pose a massive issue if they have Giant (or non-Giant) retainers to keep foes back from them as they rained down rock and lightning upon them. It would be even worse with Multiple Storm Giants: they could wade into melee and then let loss with their lightning strikes, while being totally immune.

    Fluff

    As mentioned above, they're hermits, seers and and loners. Willing to be helpful, but won't go out of their way to help someone. Long term planners.

    Hooks

    -Knowledge Source: Lore of the ancient past is piecemeal and rare at best. How to find out that critically important information? Can the party climb the treacherous mountain of the Storm Giant Boreas to parley for the knowledge with him. Alternatively, he may be able to shed some light on current happenings, either through reading omens or noticing patterns present in the past.
    -Party Patron: En-lil the Storm Giant takes the long view of things, and acts accordingly...like gathering together a band of unlikely heroes for unknown purposes, years (and/or levels) before they are needed.
    -Scourge of the Arrogant: A giant storm, both literal and figurative, has descended upon the kingdom of Midas, after the crown prince paid a visit the the nearby Storm Giant Tuuli. Can the party figure out how the crown prince offended the Giant, and how she may be placated.
    -Undersea Gateway: The source of waterbreathing at the start of an oceanic or underwater adventure.

    Verdict

    Wonderful, but I wish it was more powerful, something that you could have as a solo end boss in a Giant themed campaign. That said Volo's might have something for us on that front, but it will come later. I'm kind of frustrated that all the Giants seem clustered around level 8.


    Gibbering Mouther (by Unoriginal on 2017-03-03)

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    Introduction

    Madness as a face. And it's been stolen by one of those things.

    Haunting the Dungeon Master's menagerie -though some would say arsenal - since the 90's, the Gibbering Mouther was a monster in the grand Lovecraftian tradition: a strange, silly-sounding, somewhat gross concept (here, a blob of flesh with a lot of eyes and mouths that speaks gibberish) held together by the hope you can make it horrific through carefully orchestrated descriptions and enough ambiguousness to let our brain fills the blanks with visceral fear.

    Not that I dislike this monster, far from it. While I never used them during my times as DM, I've always had a soft spot for those guys. The 3.X version, at least. I liked the idea of an intelligent, True Neutral aberration who, while utterly alien and more than willing to drain your blood, was still potentially one of the weirdest thing you could talk or even have a social interaction with.

    The 5e version is ... different. And for great effects.

    Art

    While previous editions' artworks had a gross, disgusting look to them, this piece, built around this double-mouth filled with angry teeth, manages something I didn't think I would one day see: make the Gibbering Mouther threatening.

    Maybe through the unity provided by the flesh-like red of its body contrasting with its random shapes and the clustering mouths and eyes, this picture provides both an impression of chaos and of some kind of perverse coherence, of believability. This thing is snarling. This thing is looking. This thing is out to eat you. And I don't know if it's due to its placement on the page, but it manages to give an impression of its size without making it look massive

    All in all, a very efficient piece.

    Purpose and Tactics

    The Gibbering Mouther strikes a good balance between being a nightmare and being too easy.

    With its powers that require three different saves to beat, even with not so high DCs, it's likely that the Mouther will be able to hinder at least some of the PCs each turn, and even hinder other PCs who try to help their comrades or who get attacked by them. Its decent HPs make up for its low AC, and its Bite attack is sure to be devastating at low level. The Bite's secondary features and the Aberrant Ground power make it so that makes surrounding, or even engaging, the Mouther in melee combatant a rather unpleasant idea.

    Problem is, the Mouther is, as befitting a mad blob of tortured flesh, pretty slow, and so it risks to be avoided and killed at range. At least it has some ways to affect the PCs at range, so a DM could play with the expectations of the party who think they're clever to stay away from the big bad monster. And its capacits to swim through water, mud and quicksand is definitively an advantage PCs and players will not expect to see, as well as making them harder to hit, for the great pleasure of anyone who ever wanted to replay the trash compactor scene from A New Hope. Beware the Mouther in a swamp or near the sea!

    As an encounter, the Gibbering Mouther is a good boss for low-level PCs who think they've seen everything after killing a few humanoids, and a few of them can serve the same function for a higher-level group. Otherwise, the Mouther can serve as support for a boss who's smart enough to plug their ears and keep their "pet" at distance.

    Fluff

    As I said before, the 5e Mouther is different. Gone is "My Buddy the Crazy Blood-Thirsty Amoeba", place for horror. The Mouther is mad, the Mouther is hungry, the Mouther will absorb you and reduce the crazed remains of your mind to a voice in its constant, insane, deadly chorus, and add your face to its collection. A pretty horrific I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, with the added horror of making you borderline unable to be brought back from the dead creating an effective one-two punch for players who learn this during the confrontation. People who thought it was goofy can wipe that smile from their faces: this is NOT something you can afford to lose to.

    Hooks

    It Takes a Village...

    The adventurers are approaching the small village of Hempwick, a quiet settlement without any story to its name, as the night fall, hoping for a meal and a bed. Sadly, the night before, a Gibbering Mouther had the same idea, and most of the villagers did not wake up...

    All the King's Horses and all the King's Men

    The Duchess Strayava calls the adventurers for help. Her husband was killed during a hunt with his brother the king, who barely escaped, as they were attacked by monsters. She begs the adventurers, and promise them a formidable sum, to bring back enough of her beloved Duke to be resurrected. But how did monsters manage to get this close to the city? How did the knights sent to solve the issue fail to bring back the Duke's body? And what are those strange sounds coming from the forest...?

    Tilios and Julios: Problem Solvers at a Reasonable Price

    Tilios and Julios, self-described mage apprentices, propose their services as guide through the swamp, despite it being reputed for the horrifying monsters inhabiting it, assuring they have a foolproof way to go through. And, for the sceptic ones, they have evidences they do the journey regularly. However, those who take them on their offer risk to discover two things: it does not matter how fast you walk as long as it's faster than the monster and one person left behind, and that a simple Hold spell make it so hard to walk faster than, say, a pair of mage apprentices.

    Sea Madness

    In the harbor, everyone talks of the ships from the south, sunken one after the other as they approached a nearby cap, since the start of last month. The shocked survivors speak of some kind of hypnotic song, whispered through the mist and wind, compelling them to do nothing as the waves pushed their ship to their doom, forced their friends to throw themselves in the water, or even made some attack the few who weren't trapped in a trance. Already, talks of Sirens or some kind of sea-folk witch are spreading, and the riches of those sunken ships would be worth a pretty penny, if the adventurers would be daring enough...

    Verdict

    A very solid monster, perfect for a flavorful encounter.


    Gith — Githyanki (by kraftcheese on 2017-03-11)

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    Quote Originally Posted by kraftcheese View Post

    Introduction

    Live from the Astral Plane, mortal enemy of Illithid and Githzerai alike, swinger of a big silver sword: it's the Githyanki!

    I've never really thought all that much about the githyanki; I think I've fought against them a few times as a player, but I've never used them in a game. Will 5e's treatment change that? Let's find out...

    Art



    Compared to the treatment of a lot of githyanki art in previous edition (i.e. this and this), this guy doesn't look too nasty; a lot less "jaundiced skin pulled over a slavering skull" and more "noble warrior in goofy armor".

    I like that the metal used for the armor looks a bit strange, almost as if it's cooled from liquid mid-swirl, but the design doesn't really look different enough from things anyone on the Prime Material Plane wears to really drive home that these folks live on the Astral Plane. I'm not big on the sword either; again, it's pretty standard fantasy stuff, not functional looking but not really a cool enough design to justify it being so massively chunky.

    I do quite like the kinda stylized, painterly look this piece has; I think this MM has struck a good balance between stylized and realistic with most of its art. The background silhouettes of the gith in motion are quite nice too, and i really would've loved to see one of them as the central image for the githyanki; gimme some movement!

    Purpose and Tactics

    So, there's two githyanki statted in the MM: the Warrior and the Knight.

    The Warrior has a pretty good AC for a guy with just a belt across his chest ("half-plate", according to the MM); a Warrior gets jump, misty step and nondetection making them pretty mobile and giving some stealth ability as well. With three castings per day of each, you've got a monster that can engage in hit and run tactics on your players. Couple that with their greatsword multiattack and you're able to dish out a scary amount of damage for a CR 3 enemy, imo. Mage hand is there to make them seem a bit more "psionic" I guess?

    The Knight is quite similar to the Warrior, but better; you've got 18 AC (I guess they actually wear a breastplate?), the addition of planeshift and telekinesis add some tricks to its bag. This ones sword attacks are more powerful than the Warrior's with a fun little wrinkle; the Knight can use its silver sword to sever your players silver cords if they're in the Astral Plane, cutting them off from their bodies in the Material Plane.

    Fluff

    Pretty pulpy; they're extradimensional invaders who love to pillage and burn, ride red dragons, hate the githzerai because they're chaotic and betrayed Gith and hate hate hate hate hate mindflayers with a passion. I didn't actually know about the dragon riding bit, but otherwise, it's all stuff I've heard before. There's some little story hooks in there too: the classic "a githyanki knight's silver sword is a part of him so he'll chase you down across the multiverse and kill you dead to get it back", a reason for the githyanki to be in your players' world (people don't age in the Astral Realm, so they have to raise their kids on the Prime Material Plane) and a little vignette about the githyanki's relationship with red dragons via Tiamat. They're always Lawful Evil so there's not a great deal of use for them beyond "evil naughty bad guys" as they stand; maybe you could add a bit of nuance to their culture beyond "evil slavers from the astral dimension", have a secret unification movement of the two people of Gith, maybe?

    Hooks

    • The tunnels leading up the the chamber stink of death; the floor and walls slicked with purple ichor. You cross the threshold, passing under a patterned arch whose carvings seem to writhe and wriggle in the half-light of your torches and before you is a scene of devastation; dozens of dead mind flayers, their bodies mutilated in creative and horrible ways, and in the middle of the cavern, an elder brain, sliced in two. Who, or what could do this to an entire clan of illithid?
    • You can't help feeling as if you're being watched. During the day, the hair on the back of your neck pricks up, and you turn to find no-one there. At night, you awaken drenched with sweat from dreams of cities floating in an endless expanse, of unspeakable acts of torture and of a gaunt, skeletal face with piercing yellow eyes. Could it have something to do with the shimmering silver sword you discovered recently?


    Verdict

    Not too bad; I don't dislike the githyanki, I just think there's more interesting sentient creatures that can fit similar roles. There's some interesting stuff you can do with them with regards to the Astral Realm and they make an ok "regimented outsider" invasion, but I wish there was a bit more about how their society operated, maybe exactly HOW they are lawful, some stuff about their rank system, etc.


    Gith — Githzerai (by Spellbreaker26 on 2017-03-24)

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    Introduction

    The other side of the Gith coin, the proud Githzerai are deadly unarmed combatants. They prefer peaceful contemplation to fighting, though they still retain the bitter grudge against mind flayers that all Gith possess. They establish small monastaries in Limbo, carving out little chunks of order in the primal chaos. They are stoic and calm, and their fighting style is considerably more defensive than the Githyanki.

    Art

    Nothing spectacular. I could have really used a more dynamic martial arts stance to be honest. Ironically the pictured guy carries a curved knife on his belt, which jars with the unarmed only fighting style in the statblock.

    Purpose and Tactics

    The Githzerai seem like they'd be better off as NPCs than as enemies like the Githyanki. Their fighting style is a bit more boring - without any real killing moves their shield ability seems more likely to just prolong the fight, a dissapointing comparison to the Githyanki's aggressive teleport and strike tactics. On the other hand, they make great background actors - their preference of preservation over aggression means that they're very suited to being the Rivendell sort of people, a shelter that the party can return to and be safe at.

    Their passivity will also help sidestep the Elminster dilemma - why aren't these guys intervening to help us? Because they prefer to stay out of combat.

    They also make a great background story for players who took the monk class.

    That being said, they still hit like a truck with all that extra psychic damage. If I had to use them as enemies, I'd use them in some sort of cliff ambush where their jump and feather fall abilities would really test the party's ability to co-ordinate.

    Fluff

    Defectors from the Githyanki, the Githzerai obey a sort of stoic philosophy that helps them deal with the constant pain and pressure they're put under. With nowhere to go, this iron discipline allowed them to find a home in the most inhospitable of places, and for me they really are the iconic lawful good creature, even over Modrons. They break the usual law of entropy, that things tend towards chaos, by defying it and forging their little homes in a place that should be anathema to them. To quoth the Dark Knight Returns, "the world only makes sense when you force it to". However, as with anything so disciplined, they can also potentially become inflexible or fanatical, and therefore can be potentially used as villains as well.

    Hooks

    A monk wishes to learn more advanced techniques; legends say of a famous training ground, deep within sacred mountains, that could help him on his quest.

    The masters of every dojo in town are being slain, one by one in single combat. Their killer pronounces any who he comes across as weak and an agent of chaos. Can your party put a stop to this mad master of martial arts?

    The mighty cleric Solomon Stran has had his hands badly damaged in a carriage accident. Perhaps if he travels the planes in search of the famous Githzerai monastery they can help him cope with his loss; and perhaps your party can help him find them!

    Verdict

    While not the easiest creature to find a use for, these psionic gurus have carved out a fairly decent niche for themselves in the DnD canon and many GMs will be able to make good use of them if the right situation occurs; however, those situations may not be very common.


    Gnolls (by Shining Wrath on 2017-03-26)

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    Introduction

    Spawn of the demon lord Yeenoghu, hyenas made humanoid, the gnolls get an entire chapter in Volo's. These are one of the most iconic monsters in the D&D universe, going back to first edition and appearing in every subsequent edition. The first edition gnoll traced back to Lord Dunsay's gnoles, and were more like troll-human crossbreeds than hyena-men, although socially like hobgoblins. With Advanced D&D, though, gnolls become the canine devotees of Yeenoghu, and have remained thus ever since. Terry Prachett found the name to be iconic enough to bring them into Discworld, although not as hyena-men.

    Art

    The strip on the left is vague; it may show the results of the passage of a gnoll warband. The actual gnoll, though, is excellent. The pose, the one damaged eye, the slaver, all combine to give a sense of bestial menace.

    Purpose and Tactics

    To kill them all, for numerous different values of "them". They roam across the land killing and eating. They don't reduce fortresses very often; instead, they pick off villages and farms. The upgraded Pack Lord and Fang of Yeenoghu don't offer much variation; bigger and stronger with more HP, but not too much in additional capabilities. With longbows and melee, though, the standard gnoll is a fairly effective warrior. The Rampage feature makes them only slightly more dangerous in battles with PCs, where it is unusual for someone to be reduced to zero HP. If a gnoll group is engaged with low level PCs, this somewhat increases the odds of Total Party Kill (Gnolltal Party Kill?), which may or may not be desirable depending on play style.

    Fluff

    You aren't supposed to make friends with gnolls. There aren't supposed to be gnoll NPCs, really, let alone PCs. These are ravening beasts, spawned of a demon and with the personality of one. They are explicitly called out as being incapable of being anything other than evil killers. Even orcs won't try to ally with gnolls; their hand is against everyone, and everyone's hand is against them.

    Hooks

    No one has come down the north-west road to Coldstone for days on end. A small patrol of light horse was sent to investigate; it did not return. Can the party determine what has happened out there?

    The hobgoblin king Urvagish the Bold has a problem. A Fang of Yeenoghu has appeared on his borders, and the gnoll population is booming. While the might of the hobgoblins is unquestioned, he will deign to pay a party of adventurers to destroy this pest.

    A cult of human worshippers of Yeenoghu has crept into the city and is prepared to open the gates to the ravaging gnolls. Can the party find the cultists in time?

    Verdict

    Not an interesting race as presented in the Monster Manual, but they aren't supposed to be interesting. They are supposed to be unambiguously evil, dangerous creatures that a party can kill without remorse, and they do an excellent job of that. Volo's adds quite a bit more flavor and some more interesting variations, especially the CR 9 Flind. From the beginning they have been low-level foes a party can cut its teeth on (you should pardon the expression), and that they remain. An excellent creature for low levels.
    Last edited by odigity; 2018-06-05 at 05:05 PM.

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    Default Re: Monster Manual Entry Reviews, Collected

    Gnome, Deep (Svirfneblin) (by INDYSTAR188 on 2017-03-27)

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    Introduction

    As Drow are to Elves and Duergar are to Dwarves, Deep Gnomes are to Gnomes. Stubborn and distrustful of outsiders, the Deep Gnomes are rarely ever seen on the surface world. A subrace of the Gnome, Svirfneblin can be just as kind-hearted and compassionate as their surface cousins. These characters play a large part in some classic D&D literature and they play a central role in the 5E module Out of the Abyss. Their first appearance in D&D appears to be the module D2 Shrine of Kuo-Toa (1978) and D3 Vault of the Drow (1978) and then the original Fiend Folio (1981). They first became a playable race in AD&D’s Unearthed Arcana (1985) and have stayed firmly on the NPC/PC side of things ever since.

    Art

    The Deep Gnome art is fairly sparse in the 5E Monster Manual; more can be seen in the aforementioned Out of the Abyss module. They are said to have grayish hued skin that resembles stone. The Deep Gnome presented is determined looking, standing defiant with a scowl on his face. He stands wide-legged with a hand on his hip, looking for all the world like he’s watching a careful negotiation, just waiting to smack somebody with that pickaxe. A portly looking fellow; he has a big, hard-looking belly and muscled arms that communicate a sense of solidness. I would have liked more art; something that also communicates their ‘gnomish’ and compassionate side but I think the picture as presented clearly shows a no-nonsense folk, not afraid to defend themselves.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Miners, scouts, tradesmen and elementalists, Deep Gnomes can be encountered in the wild Underdark or in their communities. The standard Deep Gnome presented in the MM has a bonus to stealth, a very good dark vision, a natural ability to camouflage with stone, the usual Gnome resistance to spellcasting and they have their own proclivity to naturally cast spells. Their natural ability to cast spells gives them access to Nondetection, Blur, Blindness/Deafness, and Disguise Self; not overly powerful but definitely useful. For combat purposes they have a war pick and a poisoned dart attack.

    Fluff

    The Deep Gnomes love their mines and tunnels and are very close to the Earth Elements; even having the power to summon Earth Elementals and other type of creatures (though it’s not presented in the actual stat block). It’s difficult to imagine them serving as much other than NPC’s and a safe-space in the horrors of the Underdark. Not the most iconic D&D creature, they do play a significant role in several Drizzt Do’Urden books and the aforementioned modules.

    Hooks

    During your travels through the Underdark you come across a lone Deep Gnome scout. Upon winning his trust he tells you of his people’s struggle to reclaim their home, Blingdenstone, which was lost to the Drow over a hundred years ago. Can the party muster the courage to help the Deep Gnomes retake their ancient home? (Thanks to Out of the Abyss and R.A. Salvatore for this idea).

    A band of Zhent’s approach your group in the tavern and begin to complain of a group of mean-mouthed little buggers who stole their newly acquired map. They claim the map is rightfully theirs and leads to special gems that can be used to store and unleash spells. Can you help the Zhents recover the map and claim the gems? (AKA can you really spot who the bad guys are here, despite appearances?)

    Verdict

    Deep Gnomes definitely seem like the lone non-slaver, non-evil refuge in the Underdark. Presented as dour and suspicious but kind-hearted when you earn their trust, they seem like good NPC’s for an Underdark adventure where they can serve as NPC quest givers, allies or as a compassionate place in the Underdark to recover.


    Goblins (by Shining Wrath on 2017-03-29)

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    Introduction

    As if they need one. These little monsters, along with orcs and kobolds, are included in almost every campaign that passes through level 1. They've been around since first edition days, they've appeared in every edition since then, and they are always suitable foes for that first encounter.

    Art

    I like it! It's almost too good for a goblin, actually. It ought to be dirtier and more rusty. The expression on the face, though, is pure gold. Malicious little jerk, is malicious.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Purpose? CR 1/4 mook. Tactics? Ah, now you're getting somewhere. The 5e goblin has Nimble Escape, and that lets them use their overwhelming numbers to give them a hope of victory. The 4e goblin had a shift when missed ability, but Nimble Escape is the real deal. The dread Goblin Conga Line can be used by a somewhat cheesy DM to swarm the squishy guys in the back row; it is possible to Withdraw forward, after all.

    Fluff

    One of the headings is Rat Keepers and Wolf Riders, and that's not a bad introduction to these guys. Little, nasty, aggressive when they have the advantage, run away when they don't. And there's this delightful quote:


    Hooks

    Seriously? You need me to tell you how to use goblins? OK.

    Classic #1: Someone is raiding the outlying farms and stealing sheep. Farmers report sightings of little people riding wolves.

    Classic #2: You near your very first dungeon. There's guards at the front gate. Guess what? Goblins!

    More sophisticated: You are tracking orc raiders. You discover goblins are also tracking the orcs, as goblins hate orcs. Can you make an alliance of convenience with the mean little jerks?

    Verdict

    The addition of Nimble Escape moves goblins out of the "bag of HP with weapon" category of 3rd edition and gives them a smidgen of flavor. The goblin boss, with Redirect Attack, adds more. Volo's provides more fluff and more goblins, including the justly despised Nilbog. Overall a monster so iconic that they dare not leave it out of any edition, given a good treatment in this book.


    Golems — Clay (by Arimm on 2017-03-31)

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    From the depths of jewish legend and supplements way back in first edition comes the clay golem! The perfect extremely strong servant for any temple priest, mad wizard, or modest sculptor.

    Warning: damage to golem may cause serious injury or death.

    Art

    The art here isn't particularly striking, though when the only emotions your subject can express are anger and obedience it must be a bit restrictive. It does get across size more than some other pictures however, as the golem's overly large legs and hands get across that while this being is humanoid in shape it's much more wild and elemental in nature. Its expression shows that its meant to berserking in this image but there is no sign of the damage that's meant to cause its rage, which I would have liked to get a visual of.

    Purpose

    This is a pure tank, with a dozen immunities(both damage and condition), magic resistance(though weapons have to be magical to hurt it), acid absorption(because it's clay?) and the ability to raise its AC to 16 every few rounds. All the while this golem will be dishing out damage on characters maximum hit points and, if a smart master is present, likely using its massive strength to knock down walls and throw trees.

    The main focus is it's berserk mode which comes straight from the old stories of golems and can make a battle interesting as suddenly the golem turns on it's master(or whoever happens to be nearest) wreaking havoc with its monster strength.

    Social encounters are pretty limited because it only responds to its masters voice and so unless there are multiple amulets of golem control present there's nothing your PC's can do but hit it.

    Fluff

    These are the most basic golem, and the second most finicky(apparently its less rigid physical form causes this), having a chance of entering a rage when damaged enough for the elemental spirit to start escaping, which is the easiest way you'll get a hook out of them. Despite this, many priests divinely bring these to life to do good work for their towns(or maybe imposing a religious dictatorship?). Menial labour seems to be their main purpose, as battle is always risky with these things.

    Hooks

    The golem of Serenrae's temple has gone berserk can the party halt its destructive path, and find out who managed to damage such a behemoth?

    A golem has been coming in to town once a week and taking all the lumber/stone/gems and walking off without any of the townsfolk even being able to hurt it, can the party find where it's taking these resources and why?

    Help wanted: My golem has started thinking for itself, it is now insisting to eat dinner with me despite not needing food and demanding clothes despite the fact that clothes that big would be hugely expensive, will reward anyone who can help with 500 gold and the manual of golems that started this mess
    - Stanley the Wizard

    Verdict

    This creature, though simple has a lot of potential with a good plot thread, however some of it's abilities like the acid absorption and its inexplicable vitality-draining hits make me not too eager to actually use it for a fight and instead let the party find special ways of disabling it.(like banishing the spirit within it or some such thing) Overall, interesting and mythologically classic.


    Golems — Flesh (by Spellbreaker26 on 2017-04-03)

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    Introduction

    What seperates this golem from regular undead is that it's more of a Karloff-knock-off than just a bag of bones. It's more the preserve of mad wizards than death clerics or Oathbreaker paladins, and is pretty easily made mad itself.

    Art

    On the surface the art is ok (it certainly manages to look unsettling) but I find one major flaw in it. It mostly looks like a very tall man who died with a dozen lacerations than something cobbled together from the bodies of criminals. Maybe if it was a little more mismatched and asymmetrical?

    Purpose and Tactics

    Whereas most golems can be described as "guardians" these guys swing slightly differently; bodyguards. They are too fragile (and their "material" is likely too perishable) to guard tombs or libraries for decades. Instead Necromancer wizards will likely employ one (or more if he's a big cheese) as a meatshield to keep the party away from them. Of special note is that they have a fairly low damage output - to a low level party without the requisite weapons a Flesh Golem can be employed as an implacable foe that they must (but can) escape from, though arcane casters in the party can probably nix this (fire being the most common type of damage that spells have, and a hard counter to any flesh golem).

    Of individual tactics for DMs, one that might bear fruit is for the necromancer to pack a few lightning bolt spells for when the golem is low on health and try to target both the golem and the party with them. I think that flesh golems might be one of the only undead or construct types that can be healed at all in any way so this would be a very nasty surprise for the party.

    It should be noted that as bodyguards, the Necromancer will likely be close to the golem and therefore trying to drive it berserk could counter-intuitively be less fruitful than using that tactic on a clay golem. On the other hand, if the necromancer fails then he's in for a rude awakening, a rare opportunity for little used rider effects that effect checks like the warlock's Hex to come into play.

    Fluff

    Flesh Golems are amateur hour stuff by wizard standards, jury-rigged golems created by the skint, the reckless or the just plain mad. I'm not sure if their creation is supposed to fall into cosmically evil territory like the creation of regular undead, but given that from the flavour text the bodies often have to be stolen Vesalius-style and that they are by far the most dangerous to be around the wizards who make them are not going to get on well with the local serfs.

    Hooks

    Bodies have gone missing from graves all over the Citadel Hills! What sort of madman would be desecrating these graves, and for what purpose?

    There's a bounty on the feared Necromancer Olaf, but he travels accompanied only by one (admittedly large) manservant. Surely an ambush could easily overthrow these two... or will the butler serve the party a heaping helping of fists?

    There's chaos in the town square! Some monstrosity has torn its way out of the wizard Methusalah's tower and is tearing apart every civilian in sight! Can our brave heroes evacuate the town in time or will they fall prey to the Monster of Marrowdown Road?

    Verdict

    A fairly decent backup for an arcane caster enemy; but to be frank(enstein) this monster does not have the majesty to pull off "mysterious guardian" in the way that other golems can.


    Golems — Iron (by Beleriphon on 2017-04-04)

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    Introduction

    The iron golem is the wizard version of the robot, or clockwork, guardian.

    Art

    Menacing, but not sense of scale. It looks kind of lurching and jerky like its almost about to fall over. The head though is great, the glowing eyes in particular set the piece off nicely.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Its big, it has a ton of hit points, hits like a truck, and is immune to a bunch of damage types. So the fighter better hope they brought adamantine or magic weapons. The wizard probably shouldn't use fire, and other spells still get advantage on the saves. Also you can't polymorph and iron golem into something else. And just for fun they have a poison area of effect attack, because why not? Oh, and its a pretty high save that will make wizards and other low constitution characters cry.

    Iron Golems make the best eternal guardians for those ancient sites that PCs love to explore and loot. Bonus points if the location is a furnace or forge of some kind.

    In the end the iron golem is a big metal damage sponge, so they're best used as a running interference for the party with a monster that does fire damage. Like a red dragon.

    Fluff

    Iron golems are the big daddy of golem-crafting. They're eternal, hard to kill, and they don't berserk if they get low on hit points. They are the best option to defend a wizard from other wizards,

    Hooks

    An inactive iron golem sits in the centre of Townsville. After more than a century nobody remembers how it got there or who put it there. Yesterday one of its arms moved and today its head has started tracking people that walk by. Why has it stirred now and what does it mean for Townsville?

    You found an amulet of golem command, it seems to be linked to a massive army of iron golems. You're not sure where they are or who crated them. Do you take control of the immortal army, and what happens if the wrong sort of people find out that you have the amulet?

    Verdict

    Iron golems are a classic wizard killer in D&D. They are best used as defensive mechanisms against those pesky spellcasters.


    Golems — Stone (by Shining Wrath on 2017-04-08)

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    Introduction

    Last of the four Monster Manual golems, the stone golem is a slightly bigger and tougher version of the clay golem. Most importantly, it can't go beserk.

    Art

    It's a statue! Seriously, that's all the art shows. Statue with fists clenched, is statue. But it does raise the important point that stone golems ought to have the form of their creators, or something their creators wanted to depict - dwarves would build dwarf-shaped golems, for example.

    Fluff

    The Slow ability is tied to them being made of stone. Stone golems in ancient tombs sometimes take the form of forgotten beasts - imagine being attacked by a stone golem in the shape of a T-Rex.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Like the iron golem, the stone golem stands someplace you want to protect until intruders show up. And then it punches them a lot. The Slow ability means the creators ought to put them in places where the attackers have to close with the monster. Note, though, it can only slow what it can see; it does have 120' darkvision, but magical darkness shuts that feature down. At CR 10, a party probably has ways to bypass these foes rather than fight them. Their use has to be situational.

    Hooks

    The statue in the town square stood there for centuries - until the day the goblin raiders reached the town square. The goblins are thin red paste, but the statue hasn't gone back to sleep, and it makes the residents nervous.

    A trap door opens! Sneaky Pete the thief drops into a small room with a large golem, which starts pummeling him. Can the party get Sneaky out, given that he's slowed? Or do they descend to fight the angry statue toe-to-toe?

    At the end of a short corridor stands a wooden door. The door you came in is iron. When the wooden door is opened, the iron door shuts and is bolted on the far side, and the corridor and room start filling with water. There's a stone golem, which of course doesn't have to breathe, in the room. Have fun!

    Verdict

    A classic monster, one that you can easily see a non-evil non-crazy wizard using to protect the entrance to his laboratory. I just wish it had better art. I give this version a tepid thumbs-up.


    Gorgon (by Shining Wrath on 2017-04-10)

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    Introduction

    A monster that has been with us in D&D since first edition, and has always been about the same - a poison cloud exhaling metal bull. As others have noted, the name "gorgon" meant something completely different to the Greeks; Gygax must have failed his Knowledge(History) check on this one.

    Art

    Dynamic and menacing, with a nice cloud of vapor to let you know this guy is not someone you want to be near.

    Fluff

    Aggressive creatures that attack on sight and cannot be domesticated. With an Int of 2, they can't be reasoned with, nor can they have much in the way of a personality.

    Purpose and tactics

    With AC 19, a decent pile of HP, a dangerous breath weapon, and a charge ability, these are a tough problem to solve. Since Greater Restoration is not available to 5th level characters without help from friendly high level NPCs, the possibility of character death is real. If a PC has a +2 Constitution modifier and is not proficient in Constitution saves (most aren't), they have a 50-50 chance of being affected by the breath weapon and a 25% chance of winding up a statue. Given the aforementioned toughness, gorgons are likely to get two chances at using their breath weapon. As a result of all this, they really aren't random encounter fodder at level 5, at least not the way I like to run campaigns. Roughly speaking, two breath attacks each hitting two characters with a 25% chance of petrification per character results in a 70% chance of someone dying during this encounter. On top of that, there's a good chance someone will be restrained by the breath weapon, and then be hit with the trampling charge on the next round for ~34 points of damage. Using standard HP generation, a 5th level wizard with CON=14 would have 32 HP; a D8 hit die character, 38 HP. That's another decent chance of a dead (or at least, on the ground bleeding) PC. It's a brutal 5th level encounter. This is the first monster I've reviewed where I have to consider whether or not the CR ought to be a level or two higher. A party that meets one of these needs to kill it fast and hard. They might work well as part of a higher level encounter.

    For an obvious example, stone golem + gorgon = lots of statues, one of which tries to kill you when the battle starts.

    Hooks

    According to legend, the tomb of Arcanix the Mystic contains loot! Also according to legend, the dreadful gorgon guards the only entrance to the tomb, and in fact those who have dared to creep within view of the entrance report many statues gathered around it - so many that the entrance itself is obscured from view.

    The wicked Dao Borkina Petrophage rules over Mount Custo with a granite hand; and she rides into battle atop a mechanical bull with strange powers of petrification. Can the party deal with both the elemental and her mount?

    Alas, the party has been captured by Dinoceasus the Cruel, and each member of the party must fight in the arena. What horrible creature awaits the party rogue?

    Verdict

    I've used these against a pair of level 9 characters, and one of them did become petrified; I had to arrange for a wandering group of elves to come by with a scroll of Greater Restoration. Just plain nasty. A classic monster, with a pair of special attacks that work in synergy to make this a truly tough customer. The fluff is uninspiring, though. Overall a good effort and a creature worth adding to your DM tool kit.


    Grell (by VariSami on 2017-04-12)

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    Introduction

    Originally introduced to the first edition of the game in the April/May issue of White Dwarf in 1979 and included in the original Fiend Folio, the Grell is a classic in the same vein as many other aberrations. It is a bit too weird for most to use but has entrenched itself in the tradition as a staple, being present in every edition since. It also shares a name with a certain cross-dressing, red-loving anime grim reaper which is oddly befitting.

    Art

    The way the Grell is depicted from a slightly upward perspective nicely enhances the fact that this is a flying predator meant to swoop in and drag the prey away. The way the tentacles hang in two neat lines is a bit too tidy for my taste, although it does portray them as this thing's appendages rather than just a tangled mess. There is some sense of movement in the way they hang to the side but it seems at odds with the way the Grell is facing. The integration of the beak to its brainy body is quite artfully done despite the concept bordering on silly. It would be more menacing but less unique as a brain with tentacles which melts and absorbs its prey.

    Fluff

    Unlike the Grick, the Grell is not mindless. It only has slightly above average intelligence, however. This appears to be because the standard Grell is but a measly worker in the service of the philosophers and the patriarch of a colony. They have always been described as solitary but used to have more developed colonies in at least some past editions. Plus, it seems that despite its appearance, this material is not actual brain matter but rather, a leathery membrane under which the Grell's sensory organs, digestive system, lungs, and actual alien brain all reside.

    Besides this, the Grell are described as having their psychology be defined by their place in the food chain. This includes their relations to things outside the food chain, defined as 'inedibles'. Whatever it can eat are 'edibles' and whatever can eat it are 'Great Eaters'. Since the Grell's blindsight does not distinguish much detail such as identities of individual humanoids, they can probably be assumed to mostly base their evaluations on creatures' sizes and general bodily features (and any observed behaviour - I wonder how they would describe herbivores too large to devour but identified as non-eaters of Grell - inedibles, perhaps, making the like stones to the Grell).

    Purpose and Tactics

    Surprise - it is an ambush predator. However, it is specifically a trap-like ambush predator that cannot be sneaked past. Its blindsight has a limited range beyond which the Grell is oblivious. Thus, if they patrol an area, the party can outmanoeuvre at least a limited number of them. It can also fly, making it able to pick on the squishies in the back row who should be particularly susceptible to its paralysing venom.

    The Grell does not know Common or any other more widespread languages but can technically be parlayed with. This could be useful if someone in the party has, say, Comprehend Languages or Tongues - or just speaks Grell for whatever reason. Gaining the favour of an alien monster who just wants meat and can locate all living creatures in an area could be useful.

    Hooks

    People and cattle have been going missing near the entrance to a cave believed to connect to the Underdark. One survivor tells how one moment, their friend was walking behind them in the forest but in the one moment they lost focus, their friend disappeared with nothing but some rustling of the leaves overhead. What man-eating horror could have made its way out the cave?

    A Grell has been enlisted as a guard by Mind Flayers, acting as an omniaware sentry near the only entrance. However, the illithids do not understand how not all brain aberrations live off measly brains. Some need MEAT. Fresh, squishy meat. Can the Grell be distracted with the promise of animal prey or be convinced to let the party in if they give it food?

    One night, a meteor fell from the skies. Ever since then, no one has been able to approach the crater and return to tell the tale. Rumours speak of unsightly monstrosities which arrived with the meteor (in reality, a grell spelljammer) and which "abduct" anyone who trespasses. Is there truth to these rumours and can the menace be stopped before it spreads its tentacles?

    Verdict

    I am not that big of a fan of the vanilla fluff and look but this is a good foundation for interesting variations. Floating brain with paralysing tentacles is a fairly usable trope, after all. However, there are interesting things it can do both as a combat challenge and as a non-combat challenge if you can get past the inherent weird silliness of the monster.


    Grick (by Shining Wrath on 2017-04-12)

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    Introduction

    First appearing in the 3rd edition monster manual, it's the Gricks! They live in the Underdark. They eat passerby. They look like stony snakes crossed with very lethal daisies. One of the more aberrant aberrations.

    Art

    It definitely gets the "Hey this thing is weird and dangerous" vibe going. As usual, no sense of scale. I sort-of feel the beak ought to be divided into 4 pieces rather than 2, for symmetry with the tentacles. That's probably my inner engineer getting in the way of my fantasy gaming, though.

    Fluff

    Another mindless predator for you to fight. Not much in the way of personality or tactics. They do travel in groups, but don't cooperate in the hunt. There's also the grick alpha , which is pretty much just a larger grick.

    Purpose and tactics

    Ambush predator, will ambush you. These guys blend into stone, live in a place naturally full of twisty little passages, and can climb. Imagine these 8' long beasties attacking from the ceiling in a place with a 10' ceiling, then dragging victims up into crevices. With a STR of 14 that might not work on a goliath, but they ought to be able to pull it off with elves and lighter folk.

    Hooks

    People have been disappearing in the side passages of the Mines of Gricklair. Can the party find out why?

    The underground lair of the Drow wizard Spellicus has only one obvious approach. What lurks in the shadows?

    The eccentric noble Moremoneythanbrains wants a grick alpha for his zoo. Can the party take one alive?

    Verdict

    Good monsters to keep people on their toes while traveling underground. Almost completely useless as plot hooks. They aren't smart and don't come out from underground to places where humans live. A useful monster for a dungeon ambush, though, and that's something.


    Griffon (by Shining Wrath on 2017-04-13)

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    Introduction

    Head, forelegs, and wings of a huge eagle, body of a lion, this amalgamation of two noble top-level predators has been with us since the beginning of D&D. The historical antecedents go back to the beginnings of Western Civilization, more or less, and are associated with royalty and gold.

    Art

    I don't like it. It appears as though the griffon is looking at the artist, holding a pose while asking "Is this good"? This is a creature that ought to be in motion, dynamic and fearless.

    Fluff

    They eat horses. A lot. And they can be trained as mounts, so long as you feed them enough they don't eat your neighbor's horses, or you. They aren't smart enough to have much in the way of personality or culture.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Excellent harassers of parties traveling through the wilderness. With advantage on sight checks and a fly speed of 80, they can spot the party from afar, and swoop in upon the tasty mounts. They don't have flyby attack, though; it is arguable whether or not they must land to attack. Low AC makes them something of a glass cannon. A party leading horses up a narrow mountain path would hate to run into a few of these guys.

    Hooks

    The classic hook is, of course, the party that wants griffon mounts and will take the risk of raiding their nests for eggs.

    Amos Wellbranded, rancher, has been losing stock from his horse herd, and wants it stopped.

    The Pegasus Mail provides swift communication between cities for those who don't trust magical means. But travel through the Windswept Mountains is being interfered with by griffons treating the Pegasi as delivery pizza arriving fresh at their doorstep. The Mail must go through, so the griffons must be driven away.

    Verdict

    It's OK, I guess. It's really just a bundle of HP and attacks with some flight added. It can be useful for a DM in wilderness situations, and to players as a very cool mount (probably only behind a dragon, unless your DM is crazy enough to allow a roc). I feel like it deserves something more, though.


    Grimlock (by Unoriginal on 2017-04-26)

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    Introduction

    Degenerate, hostile and so ugly even their mothers probably hate them with a passion, the Grimlock has been present in the game since AD&D, inspired by the subterranean mutants called the morlocks from Wells's The Time Machine, and are probably not going anywhere.

    I must say that I've skipped over the grimlocks in every edition I've played, have never heard anyone tell any anecdote about them in a session they've played, and I've barely ever seen them being mentioned in anything treating about D&D. I expected nothing interesting, yet, actually reading their entry in the MM, I've pleasantly surprised.

    Art

    The artworks on the pages are pretty efficient. The full-body, colored picture gives a good impression of what a Grimlock is: savage, twisted, kind of pathetic, yet still dangerous. The pose they went for manages to give a sense of life, notably with the open, seemingly screaming mouth, and the impression that the Grimlock is standing rigidly, in a kind of "come at me, bro" tentative of intimidation, standing on the point of his feet hoping to be more impressive. The non-human proportions, the lack of eyes and purplish/stony skin tone, coupled with the definitively recognizable humanoid features, give the Grimlock the twisted-by-the-Underdark look they should have, while the bald spot and the somewhat fat belly kinds of add a darkly humorous quality to the picture, a bit like a goblin-esque version of Homer Simpson was trying to murder you.

    The black and white sketch next to the color picture shows a grimlock with a more relaxed, maybe even somewhat smug expression, and it does a great job showing they're not just snarling beasts, which make the Grimlocks both more "human", so to speak, and more sinister, as it demonstrates you're not fighting mindless puppets, but beings that knowingly will make you suffer and enjoy every bit of it.

    Purpose and Tactics

    With a CR of 1/4, low AC and an handful of HPs, one could think to just slap the label "Underdark goblin" on the Grimlock, call it a day, and never use them unless they want to add a bit of variety to their low-power mooks. Yet, like many things about the Grimlock, they actually have a surprising number of interesting thing going for them.

    While their poor AC and lack of escape-based features makes them likely go down faster than even goblins, the Grimlock is both relatively stealthy, especially in rock area, and perceptive enough to make them pretty impressive in an ambush scenario (or as guards). Combined with their pretty decent attack score and the damages they can inflict, I wouldn't be surprised if a couple of them couldn't take out a whole group of adventurers in the early steps of the adventure, probably to the horror of players who expected an easy fight. Probably resulting in a few optimizers' eyes popping out of their sockets when their PCs go down to Jay Prescott Sherman from The Critic dressed up as one of the Flintsones.

    So, definitively a good way to throw a suckerpunch to people who think their shiny new characters can handle anything.

    But, of course, their most distinctive features is their Blindsight. Complete darkness, when the PCs can't produce light (or their opponents disable the lights they have), is were the Grimlocks truly shine, if you forgive me the wordplay. A fight in the dark with Grimlocks will probably be a terrifying experience even for battle-hardened PCs, unable to use most of their ranged options and in an environment their opponents master, especially if the the DM manages to convey the sense of unseen threat such a situation requires. So time to make a big, toothy smile and open the soundtrack for JAW.

    Fluff

    The Grimlock's fluff is also surprisingly interesting, for a bunch of cannibalistic mooks. While humanity in D&D has always been pretty... flexible, what with those half-human half-everything beings that continuously show up and others like the Dragonborn showing up for the first time as transformed humans (something that changed in latter lore, for the better IMO), the Grimlock is one of the only instances where that flexibility, that mutability of the humans were used against them. Grimlocks were humans, once, but Mind Flyers manipulated them, took over their society, and eventually twisted them into the blind man-eaters, endlessly roaming the Underdark for the pleasure of their masters, that we know today.

    This has the potential to be a very powerful reveal, especially if the players aren't aware of this tidbit of information. The tragic, pathetic story of the Grimlocks can really help drive it home how the world around the PCs is dangerous, what happen when there is no hero to save the situation, and how easily the humanoid species could come to an end if beings like the Illithids succeeded.

    Especially powerful if it's an Outsider, an immortal who had the time to observe the world from a distant perspective, who reveals it when the PCs are either very hateful toward the Grimlocks or are trying to show how great and worthy their species is.

    And the worst in all this is that the Grimlocks don't hate their torturers and tormentors. They hate those of the surfaces who escaped their fate. They'll never forgive, never forget, and will drag you down to their masters as soon as their

    Coupled with their abilities, the Grimlocks' backstory really give them the potential to be horrifying and memorable adversaries.

    Hooks

    From the Dark they Came

    People have been disappearing, in the city. Snatched in their beds, in the middle of the night. As panic is starting to rise, the adventurers are hired by desperate officials to find a solution. What if it's linked to that breach in the sewers, leading to those abandoned tunnels...?

    Dreams in Colia-Tael

    In the ruins of the once mighty city of Colia-Tael, the Naga Buruna needs help. An ancient weapon is about to awaken and reduce the country to dust, judging anything new since its last activation to be invaders on its masters' rightful territories. Only the last king of the city, Nordor-Zar, knows how to make the weapon harmless. Buruna proposes to send the adventurers in an oniric trance, transporting their mind far, far back in the past, as Colia-Tael lived its last moments before the Illithid achieved both their conquest and the creation of the Grimlock.

    They Say It's a Cycle, Not a Revolution:

    Illithids have started to notice an increase in reports of strong-willed, resistant to psychic powers Grimlocks. Not wanting to repeat the failures that lead to their other slave-species revolting, the Elder Brains have decided to craft a replacement for the Grimlocks, before culling the whole species. And while this would require massive manpower, they just happen to have a whole entirely disposable species to use to collect whoever will be the basis for their replacements... but who will it be?

    Verdict

    A pretty good monster, with a lot of unexpected potential.


    Hags (by tsuyoshikentsu on 2017-04-26)

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    Probably the first reaction many players would have to the hag is, of course, "A witch! A witch! May we burn her?" The idea of the creepy old crone with green face and warts is almost an undead horse trope.

    That's a shame, because hags are some of the coolest monsters in all of D&D.

    The idea of the hag coven has roots all the way back to Ancient Greece, with ties to the Fates (especially in the story of Perseus). Quite famously, a coven of what we'd call hags appears in Shakespeare's Macbeth as well--pulling strings and driving the plot. Of course, it's impossible to discuss the history of hags without mentioning Baba Yaga of Russian fame. More recently, the role of Tia Dalma in the Pirates of the Carribean franchise is quite similar to that of the traditional hag--though perhaps the most prominent cinematic example would be the Wicked Witches of the East and West.

    Art

    The green hag is depicted in a typical "I'm an evil ritualist" pose, but it's far more effective here than elsewhere. The profile really gives us a good look at the distortion of her face and the cruel expression on it; the hand thrust at us covered in blood from pulling out that heart is impossible to ignore. Conversely, the sea hag is naked and shapely... but those misporportioned limbs and that rotten seaweed hair giving us only just a hint of the monstrous face is a brilliant stroke to change it from fanservice to nightmarish.

    The only really disappointing art here is the night hag. It's serviceable, but far less effective than the other pieces--it's just a bit too generic.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Hags make great villains simply because they scale through the early parts of a campaign very well: one alone is CR3 (5 for a night hag), but once they start grouping together they get far more powerful--and the full coven can cast spells like a 12th-level wizard! They're independently threatening at earlier levels, and at mid-level they make a great "puzzle boss:" your best tactic isn't to beat them in a close-up fight, but to break the coven and reduce them to mere shadows of its power.

    With that said, the only really worrying hag in a straight up "block of tofu" fight is the sea hag: its instant death glare has a low DC, but boy howdy can it stop anyone who fails in their tracks! The rest are best used as casters or as opponents sniping from the shadows (or, in the night hag's case, in their dreams).

    Fluff

    Every other monster in this game wishes they had the awesome fluff treatment the hags get.

    The idea of their magic as deliberate blasphemy. The list of names. The procreation. Bargaining. "Helping" the beautiful. The hag code, and what happens to those stupid enough to believe it applies to non-hags. The green hag's love of tragedy. The night hag's special items. The sea hag's curse.

    Seriously, go read it. It's all fantastic.

    Hooks

    On a misty day as the party travels through the forest, three hags appear! They seemed primed to attack... until they kneel before a member of the party and address him as "Count of Barovia?"

    The party Warlock knows he made a pact with one of the fey. His magic has always reflected fey beauty in its purest form. But now, it all seems twisted and evil... and seems to come with the faintest hint of brime....

    Adriella, the most beautiful girl in the village, is about to have her 13th birthday--and her mother has just had another child, too! Won't it be a wonderful party?

    One more hook that already exists: if you don't normally look at Adventurer's League material, have a look at the Season 4 guidance for Jeny Greenteeth. I'm not sure I'll ever provide nondescript spellcasting services again!

    Verdict

    If you're looking for a tough, dice-heavy encounter, the hag probably isn't it. For almost every other purpose, I might actually start here first.


    Half-Dragon (by Sharur on 2017-05-24)

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    Introduction

    A template, first found in 3rd edition, where the idea of the D&D template originated.

    Art

    Actually, I quite like the art for the Half-Red Dragon Veteran displayed. I find the head to be more draconic than that of the dragonborn we get in the PHB, so that is a major plus to me. I also quite like the detailing on the swords and the armor.

    I would only have two complaints: firstly, as a template, I'd like to see multiple different images, and secondly, the head reminds me of the infamous Green Devil from the Tomb of Horrors, for some reason.

    Purpose & Tactics

    Out-of-game, I feel like this is a test to see how templates play in the new addition. One thing of note from different editions is that there is no set CR increase, like with Lairs and Templates in previous editions.
    In game, I feel it works best to spice up a boss or leader, or to indicate some draconic involvement in the plot.

    Tactically, the template's value is almost completely dependant on what it's placed on top of. On the veteran, its a massive boost, giving it a AoE that can out-damage its Multi-attack, and a much appreciated fire resistance. On an Assassin, the breath weapon is much more situational, as the dagger is poisoned, and the sneak attack damage is significant. On an archmage, the breath weapon is all but useless and the resistance is *meh* at that CR (Archmage has superior range and damage with both the more accessible fireball and the at-will firebolt spells).

    Also, color of dragon matters as well. A Half-blue dragon template on a Behir is useless, whereas A Half-Red dragon template is quite useful. A Half-silver dragon template on a troll is a cool (sorry) upgrade, and can be fluffed as a troll mutation from eating said dragon. A Half-gold or copper dragon troll values the protection much more highly, especially from the breath weapon for misdirection purposes: Most things in D&D (especially those that don't use spells) operate on what I some times call "Pokemon logic", i.e. the thing that attacks me with fire tends to be strong (resistant or immune) to fire, the thing that attacks me with lightning tends to be strong against lightning, etc. If a troll suddenly breaths fire at the party, they are less likely to use fire against it (and cancel the troll's regeneration).

    Something that I originally overlooked was the extra senses of darkvision and blindsight. They may or may not matter very much, depending on circumstances.

    Fluff

    Same as it has always been: "When a dragon and a non-dragon love each other very much...".

    Hooks

    1. After fighting their way into the lair of the Dragon Cultists, they confront the Cult Leader, who is more than a mere mortal.
    2. Draco the sentry is a very good guard. Woe betide those arcanists who try to pass his post while invisible.
    3. (Only works if you treat Half-dragons as NPC Dragonborn): An ancient dragon, long possessed with a preference for creatures outside of its species, is dying, and alerts its offspring to come claim their inheritance from its hoard. This includes any Dragonborn PCs or a party patron. But no one said that the hoard would be shared equally. Blood may be thicker than water, but it's not as thick as gold. Now the party must fend off assaults from those looking to eliminate the competition, and possibly, must locate the hoard to claim the inheritance.

    Verdict

    Looking at the Half-dragon in isolation, I personally find it lacking, particularly with the inclusion of Dragonborn, as they seem to step on each other's toes. However, as a template, I find it a more useful guide than the Dracolich and Shadow-dragon templates, or the Myconid spore servant for that matter.


    Harpy (by not_a_fish on 2017-06-01)

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    Introduction

    Harpies are terrifying bird women who like to steal valuables and rend adventurers limb from limb. According to Wikipedia, Harpies are creatures from Greek and Roman mythology, originally wind spirits who served the Erinyes/Furies. Although Erinyes make an appearance in the MM as devils, this connection is not mentioned in the entry. I occasionally get Harpies confused with sirens, and it seems that I'm not the only one -- this Harpy has an alluring voice, which can lead weak-willed adventurers to their doom.

    Art

    I've been impressed with the 5th Edition art team's choices to avoid cheesecake in places where they might not have in the past. Despite being nude and bearing mostly humanoid features, the harpy pictured appears suitably monstrous. The pale eyes and partially-obscured claws place this creature square in the uncanny valley, which makes sense here.

    Purpose & Tactics

    I'd expect harpies to appear in groups, or as very low level solo monsters. With the "Luring Song" ability, they might also serve as trap monsters who force characters to move toward dangerous terrain. The ability text gives targets a large number of chances to save, so without some tweaking, I feel the ability is more flavorful than dangerous.

    As flying monsters, hit and run tactics are possible, but all of the harpy's attacks are melee, so they might better serve as distractions from a larger, ground-based threat than the main event, unless the combat takes place on a cliff face or in the air.

    While they do speak Common, the Harpy presented here has an Int of 7. Complex social encounters were probably not intended.

    Fluff

    The book provides a fairly detailed fairy tale about a scorned elf maiden and describes the present-day harpies' motivations: sadism and greed. There is also a section on harpies' preference for unfair fights on difficult terrain. I like the discussion of motivations and tactics, but the origin story didn't do much for me. I did use it as inspiration for plot hook below, though.

    Hooks

    Travelers on their way through Warg Creek Pass have been going missing, along with their goods. When the party arrives to investigate, they find no tracks, but they do hear a captivating song from high above...

    To get to Adventure Island, you must first brave the Songbird Straights. No experienced sea captain will agree to this course.

    An old elf claims his daughter has been subject to a terrible curse. A minor god has transformed her into a horrible flying monster! Can the party track down his daughter and reverse the god's curse?

    Deep in the Temple of the Furies, there is rumored to be a door to the Nine Hells. As you enter the temple atrium, you hear wailing from above. Wings rustle in the rafters.

    Verdict

    I can grit my teeth and accept the decision to combine the Harpy and the Siren into one creature from an aesthetic standpoint, but I wish the luring song was a) more powerful and b) presented as an optional variant. I appreciate the effort on the fluff and the artwork, though.
    Last edited by odigity; 2018-06-05 at 05:08 PM.

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    Hell Hound (by VariSami on 2017-06-03)

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    Introduction

    A true classic monster but not one of high profile. The hell hound is quintessentially a mid-level secondary unit which acts as support for stronger foes or as a pack similar to wolves or hunting dogs (after which it is modelled, of course). The Wikipedia article mentions how in some myths, they are associated with fire but none of the examples seem to have this included. It might well be that Christian myths that absorbed the original stories attributed the hounds of hell a fiery nature or this might be an RPG convention. Notably, the myths of hellish hounds are actually represented by multiple monsters such as Barghests and Shadow Mastiffs which leaves the hell hounds proper just the baseline: they are fiendish canines which breathe fire.

    Art

    Compared to the 3.5 art, it is much more sterile but probably also represents the creature better. This version is clearly more canine and also has a nice inner glow and body structure to represent its unnatural, fiery nature. Specifically, the barrel-like chest which is almost fully continuous with the hell hound's maw shows how it is simply a furnace within superficial disguise of skin and fur. There are no innards here, only fire. The rest of its body being somewhat languished and stretched to direct one's gaze towards its glowing chest and maw emphasises the effect. Both of its left-hand paws look off, though (and not only because they are a bit too blurred). There is no reference for size but the feel of the creature is not weighty enough to seem bigger than its medium size, and its base creature disqualifies the thing being smaller (although, beware of hell chihuahuas; now 80% hate and 20% tremble). The way the picture has been made as large as humanly possible might actually work against the hell hound in this case: the picture would likely work better if it was only slightly less expansive on page.

    Purpose & Tactics

    As mentioned, the hell hound is not a solo monster. The stats, shared with other canines, reflect this through the inclusion of pack tactics which only works alongside other melee creatures but can be very dangerous when enabled. All bits which make the hell hound special are both related to its fiery nature: it deals additional fire damage with its bite, it breathes fire, and it is immune to fire. The added damage on its bite naturally makes it feel more dangerous than a wolf without any artificial inflation of the damage dice (compare this design to natural weapons in Tome of Beasts, for example). However, the more important bits are the breath weapon and fire immunity. The hell hound's breath has a low save DC and deals middling damage which seems to also hint at how this is a creature which is intended to be used in multiples: the damage from a nova of their breath weapons is not quite that likely to kill party members despite representing a real danger. Of course, the hell hound's fire immunity means that this large area effect does not hurt other hell hounds, making using it in packs easier. Similarly, allies can easily abuse their area of effect fire attacks, which are not that scarce.

    Other than that... The hell hound is a hound - it can be used for tracking, guarding (it has proficiency in perception), and hunting. It also understands Infernal and has a low non-animal intelligence, making it able to follow more complex orders than a mundane hound and to adapt its tactics to at least some degree since it is not just a simple beast.

    Fluff

    As the proficiency in Infernal and the allusion to hell (namely, the Nine Hells) in its name hint, the hell hound is linked to devils, with which it shares its immunity to fire. However, it is described as a more commonplace monster in the Lower Planes in general, as well as the eternal battlefields of Acheron. The fluff provided in the Monster Manual continues to focus on the hell hound as a creature of fire, mentioning fire giants as potential owners and quite literally spending half its description on how feeding stokes its flames while death makes it immolate. The rest is spent detailing how this is a creature of pure evil and cannot escape its killer nature. It is noteworthy that the hell hound (like its devil masters) is lawful evil. As such, it is likely to remain loyal to its duty instead of indulging in distractions and it might even make a deal to not attack someone in exchange for a change at using them to hunt greater prey.

    Hooks

    The doors of Hell are open and fell creatures are pouring out! Acting as scouts and advance forces, packs of hell hounds are attacking settlements and patrolling the forests, setting fire to wherever they go.

    As the party approaches the infernal mansion of the pit fiend, Karthus II, the Blazing Eye of Bel, they must avoid the hell hounds positioned to guard the area and its key locations in small groups. If any are alerted to the party's presence, their howl will have the nearest patrols and a group of devils join the fray.

    The tyrannical fire giants have been raising a brood of hell hounds and are using nearby villagers as game to feed and train their new hunting dogs. Unless the party unroots and kills every hell hound used for breeding, deep inside the giants' fortress, they will only mildly waste the giants' resources by killing a single group of hell hounds and their giant handler.

    Verdict

    I think the hell hound has surprising tactical depth given its relatively simple stats in 5e. It being a canine gives it a clear niche which is supported surprisingly well by the fact that it is intelligent enough to understand verbal commands and lawful in alignment. Overall, though, their role is not to stand out. They provide additional challenge alongside either more powerful solo monsters or as a complement to a unit of appropriate humanoid enemies. The fact that they are as generic as they are helps them fit as pets to a wide variety of enemies, from devils to mundane evil legions.


    Helmed Horror (by Arimm on 2017-06-19)

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    Intro

    The Helmed Horror is a relatively old monster from 2nd edition where they were CR 8, and while their CR has been halved in this edition they are still fearsome opponents for any lower level party and likely to still be troublesome to mid level parties not prepared for their high defenses.

    Art

    The art here shows a helmed horror in quite menacing and detailed armor. I especially like how the eyes on the shoulder-mask glow from the ethereal energy of the Horror within. The pose doesn't show mush character other than "hello I'm here to kill you" but that's fine as constructs don't tend to have much character.
    The bonus sketch art at the bottom shows a Horror wielding a mace as apposed to a sword, I guess to show that it is pretty easy to give these whatever weapon you want them to have.(In previous editions they had both a sword and a crossbow)

    Purpose & Tactics

    I would not want to fight these things, with an armor class of 20 while their shield is up, resistances to pretty much everything but magic and adamantine weapons, and immunities to three spells of their creators choice these things are walking no wait flying tanks. Thankfully their damage isn't that high for their level. Their traits would likely lead me to use them in one the following ways;

    1. Put it up against a party that is unlikely to be able to kill (due to being to low level or not having magic items) it in a large mansion/castle in which the Horror will be able to chase them relentlessly while the party tries to come up with a way to immobilize or otherwise stop it.

    2. Due to its 60 feet sight that it is blind past you could use it as a stealth section in a dungeon against a really low level party that it would likely kill, or have a whole area full of them where one alerts all the others if it spots an intruder Phantom Hourglass style. If run well this could be really fun and nerve-wracking.

    3. As a boss for a low level construct/wizard dungeon. Their tactical skill in battle but lack of self preservation could make for an interesting enough battle itself, given an environment that the party can make use of.

    Fluff

    They are just kinda upgraded animated armors when you get down to it and the fluff here doesn't add much besides that fact. They are more intelligent and take the makers intent into account so finding loopholes in their logic is far less likely here.
    I would likely rewrite the fluff for my own purposes, saying that they are the souls of warriors so loyal that they lingered to continue their task. This would also better explain their tactical skill and capability to fly.

    Hooks

    As you enter the next dust-covered room you see menacing suits of armor lining the walls. Suddenly (insert number here) of them begins to glow as thick red aether fills the suit(s). This/These is/are the knight(s) of Jothrim, ancient king of this realm, and now it/they attack!

    The wizard who lives in the old castle hasn't been seen for a few days, and when we went in there we saw a horrifying red ghost flying in the darkness brandishing a sword! Will you brave adventurers please go investigate?

    The parties wizard wishes to create some animated armor, but role badly enough and a wandering spirit may interrupt the ritual,inhabit the armor and attack!

    Verdict

    While a bit dry in fluff, the Helmed Horror's formidable abilities and easy re-fluffing make it a fine candidate for encounters. I probably wouldn't center a quest on them however.


    Hippogriff (by Sharur on 2017-07-03)

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    Intro

    So, the Hippogriff. Another half-bird, half-terrestrial creature from ancient myth, similar to the Griffin. Actually, that comparison is going to come up a lot, to the point that the 4E Monster Manual actually displayed hippogriffs as a sub-type of griffins. Younger D&D players may have first come accross this creature in Harry Potter, for better or worse.

    Art

    The art for the hippogriff takes up more than half a page, room that I personally find would have better spent with more lore, which is skimpy. I think that the longer one looks at the art, the worse I find it. The back half looks like a passable galloping horse (although I can't shake the feeling that I've seen it somewhere before, as a whole horse). The crest on its head looks ridiculous to me, the talons' posistioning remind me of an image of an eagle swooping down to catch a fish in a lake from my 7th grade biology textbook, and the wings look completely off. The far wing looks fine (attached to the center of mass, in an "airplane wing" formation) whereas the near wing looks to far forward(attached to the front leg almost) and nearly perpendicular to the other one.

    Basically, the art feels like someone got a picture of a horse, and then (badly) photoshopped a bird-of-prey on top. The only good thing for me in the image is the watercolor background; I can see the indistinct greyness as either clouds or distant mountains.

    One possibly good thing about the art, though, there is possibly a point of size reverence for once. A Hippogriff is large, like a horse. If we assume it's horse-like hindquarters to be of a similar to their apparent source, it gives us a good idea of what dimensions the hippogriff should have.

    Purpose & Tactics

    This seems like a Griffin knock-off. Slightly worse stats, -1 comparatively to hit and AC, an almost identical Multi-attack that does an average of 1 damage less on the beak attack, the same bonus to Perception, there's not a whole lot of differentiation between the members of the "Griff" clan, but there are:

    1) HP: As expected for something with similar defense and attacks as its CR better, the Hippogriff has only an average of 19 HP, a fraction of the Griffin's 59. This is particularly important because both of these large fliers lack the Fly-by Attack feature, so neither is going to be doing strafing runs, but the Griffin can speed in outside of most attack ranges (save for notably bows), and set itself down for a few rounds of combat. Most level 1 frontliners can two-shot the Hippogriff.
    2) Speed: Compared to the Griffin, the Hippogriff trades 20ft of flight speed for 10ft of Ground Speed, so it has to get even closer. The ground speed it gets in return is probably never going to come up, unless you built a Death Star Trench Run scenario.
    3) Vision: The Hippogriff does not get the Darkvision of the Griffin, so it's going to be daytime only threat. Maybe if you kill a hippogriff on the plains during the day (and level up to 2, with 5E's very small XP requirement at level 1) and take the meat with you, you'll get harassed by Griffins that evening.

    I honestly feel that WotC missed a chance to do something tactically interesting with these creatures, both in general, and to differentiate between Griffin and Hippogriff. I understand that this is harder with lower CR creatures, but still, couldn't they give it the CR1/2 Warhorse's Trampling Charge or something (and if they required the charge to be on the ground, that would be a chance to use the increased ground speed).

    Fluff

    One theme that runs through what little fluff there is personal loyalty, to their life partner, to their eggs, and to their riders. Another thing is that these omnivorous (half-horse remember) creatures are on everyone else's dinner menu, even the Griffon's. Grrr. Underdog senses, tingling!

    Hooks

    1) Friend or Foe?: The injured party sees a dark shape in the sky as they search for shelter on the plains is it a hostile orc on a griffin or a friendly Sky Knight on their Hippogriff mount?

    2) The Rich Fool is Too Good for a Regular Mount: The party has contracted to guard and protect the self-centered progeny of the local power broker; if the party fail, not only are they out of a job, but said power broker will take their heads. It has been a easy job, until now, when the protectee has gotten it into their head that a normal horse isn't good enough; they want a hippogriff. Now, the party has to capture one, and teach the child how to ride it.

    3) Execution or Jailbreak, or, Stealing from Ms. Rowling: Well, the previous adventure has gone poorly, and the kid got hurt (possibly due to their own arrogance), and demanded that the creature be killed. Now the party must face a choice, leave the beast to its fate(or maybe even carry it out themselves), or rescue and release the creature. Riding off into the sunset is optional.

    4) Fey Patron's Dues, or, "Raleigh, the Red Beaked Hippogriff": The party's Warlock has a fey patron with a "request": find and capture (taming not necessary), a hippogriff with a red beak to lead the Archfey's sled team. Hurry up, the spring equinox is approaching fast, and without a team of hippogriffs, how is the archfey supposed to reward the good childern their promised fruits (and eat the bad ones)?

    5) Poor Bill, or You Know Your Party are Inventive Murderhobos If: Dragons, Chimeras, and Griffins all prey upon Hippogriffs. If a party is hunting or being hunted by such a beast, they can use a hippogriff (tamed or otherwise restrained) as either bait or a distraction. (Or if your party are less evil, the party druid can wildshape into a hippogriff to lure out such a foe)

    6) Sovereign Glue Works, Part I or, "You're a Horrible Druid and This is Why you were kicked from your Circle": What little lore there is about Griffons stresses their bonds of loyalty; Normal glue is made from horses. So where does the supreme bonding agent Sovereign Glue come from? Gus the Glue-maker thinks it comes from hippogriffs, and hires the party to hunt some for him.

    7) Sovereign Glue Works, Part II or, "A Lesson in Features of the Medieval Economy": The local lord is upset. Someone has been circumventing her monopoly on Sovereign Glue, and she hires the party to discover who it is. Bonus points: this comes after the previous hook, and the answer is the party themselves.

    8) Witherwings, Scourge of the Plains, or "Inspired by Mythossanta": Mythossanta brought up the possibility of putting class levels on a monster; Personally, I think its better to either add on a feat instead, or custom create a monster to encompass "class" features (the Hobgoblin Iron Shadow, in Volo's Guide is a good example of this). Nevertheless, if I were to add class features to the Hippogriff, I would add Barbarian. The speed increase can apply both to land and fly speed, the damage reduction of rage (and d12 hit die) can bolster the relative lack of HP, and at higher levels the Brutal Critical feature takes advantage of the d10 damage die on the beak attack.

    Verdict

    A bit superfluous with the presence of the Griffin. Nothing wrong with it per say, but it doesn't add anything to the mix. If you got rid of the griffin, this could fill most (but not quite all) of its roles.


    Hobgoblins (by DerKommissar on 2017-09-14)

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    Intro

    The three main Goblinoids are the Goblin, the Hobgoblin and the Bugbear. The goblin is a small, fast breeding nuissance, which nevertheless can be dangerous: with their bonus action disengange/dash and a good ranged attack they are a threat to everyone - but most of the time manageable due to their disorganisation. The Bugbear in contrary is the stronger, way sneakier, older Brother, but more of a loner. Still you dont want him to be your enemy. The Hobgoblins on the other hand are as strong as the bugbears, but can come in numbers as the goblins. And they are intelligent. And organized.

    Art

    The MM does not depict the different ranks, but only the Captain (I think it is the Captain, as the others have shields in their descriptions. On the other hand I think that he is wielding a longsword, not a greatsword. So its hard to tell...)

    I don't like the art so much, as he looks more like a marvel comic villain, than from a 'medival setting'. Also the perspective is a bit off: the angle from down below makes him seem taller than medium. He is wearing a japanese style armor which looks okay, but why no helmet? First thing a soldier like the hobgoblin would put on is a helmet. The belt buckle is weird. Also the face doesen't do it for me. Im sorry, but I just don't like the picture so much, I rather imagine them looking like the LoTR Armored Uruk hai.

    Purpose and Tactics

    The Hobgoblins have excellent AC, Martial Advantage pushes their damage up by quite a bit and they have a ranged option. Plus they work in groups and the fluff says they are riding worgs. All in all they are quite strong for their CR*. I was quite pleased to see, that their mechanics meet the fluff and it fits well together. Each the captain and warlord are building on the basic hobgoblin in a well rounded way.
    All in all I think the Hobgoblins are a very nice monster if you want to challenge your party, but be carefull: Their actual CR is a bit higher, they synergize well amongst each other (virtually bumping the CR) and they are intelligent. See them as the 'ruling class' amongst goblins.

    Fluff

    The Hobgoblin from the saga is some kind of small house spirit, who aids people while they are asleep. It seems the D&D Hobgoblin only has the name in common, so I'd say we skip the Real-World comparison.

    In D&D the hobgoblin was there since first edition. I like to imagine them as kind of a mixture of the organization, equipment and martial spirit of the roman legions and the equally dangerous but hard to keep in bounds renaissance mercenaries. An invasion of hobgobns is not a disorganised 'wave' as a goblin swarm or a gnoll raid that put a 30 years war over the countryside, but it is an actual organized, well-trained army invading. But their intelligence might make it possible to reason/negotiate with them and get your town spared or make them march against a common enemy. Or make trade agreements. Because in contrast to other monster hordes: They have a greater goal, a motivation to invade you, not just the standard 'the world has to become an evil place' motivation. In my campaign I use them as a fraction among others (humans, dwarfs, elves, orcs, etc.)**.

    Hooks

    During the long war against some greater evil, Humen and Hobgoblins fought side by side. Still today men (in contrary to other humanoids) maintain a good relationship with them. There even is a huge hobgoblin outpost in the kingdom of Yourcampaign. This has the benefit to shield the human lands from the goblin hords of Mount Krzach. Long time has past since the war and the hobgoblins want to withdraw their forces into their mainland, where they need anyone they can get to fight another enemy. Can the heroes manage to keep the kingdom from being swarmed by goblin hords?

    The heroes encounter a disgraced band of Hobgoblins who seek an honorable death in battle to join Maglubiyet in his eternal feast. Can the heroes convince the hobgoblins to fight an enemy of theirs instead or do they have to fight them in an almost sportive setting?

    The heroes are visited by a hobgoblin in disguise, offering a huge reward if they betray the City of Yourcampgain and help an hobgoblin army to conquer the city. They are (credibly) granted immunity for the time after the city has fallen by the hobgoblins. What will their decision be?

    The city of Yourcampaign is under siege by hobgoblins. Spies tell that they are preparing the ultimate weapon to finally bust the gates of the city. In desperation the city council decides that an archwizard weaves the appearance of the heroes into hobgoblins and enables them to speak goblin fluently. Can the heroes stop the fall of the city?

    Verdict

    The Hobgoblin is an interesting creature. It can be used as an adversary, an ally, or just as a challenging random encounter. Goblinoids with their diversity are in general a quite versatile class of creatures.

    *If anybody cares, their proper CR is between 0,5 an 1, so they are stronger than their stated CR would let you think, unlike e.g. the ogre, which is mechanically 'over-CRed'.

    **5e did mostly away with alignment and all the discussions it spawned at various play tables/internets. I think it is a good oportunity to not see all 'evil creatures' as inherently evil, (i.e.: stupid evil), but to maybe leave some perspective: e.g. they are seen as cruel by their enemies but they themselves would call it rational. Why not give monsters a motivation beyond "to see the world burn". I found the input on good aligned chromatic dragons very interesting btw :)


    Homunculus (by Unoriginal on 2017-09-16)

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    Introduction

    Ah, to create life... A power which rarely seems to give any good result in fiction when attempted by mortals, all thing considered. Maybe as a constant reminder of the hubris of wanting to equal the gods. D&D is no stranger to this trope, what with various weird monsters like the Owlbears often being described as the results of mad wizards' works.

    The Homunculus, coming from the lore of alchemy (with a name meaning "little man"), is a partial and mostly benign exemple of this. Present in the game since AD&D at least as a small and weak construct created to be their spies and limited servants, the Homunculi occupy a niche, but well established role.

    Art

    Starting strong with a pretty nice artwork, the Homunculus manages to be weird, non-human looking yet very expressive. The design manages to capture the idea of a creature that is not quite natural, but built by someone who has an informed idea of how different natural elements work and who managed to put them together. While there is no true indicator of scale, I find that the artist managed to give the impression of a small being thanks to the proportions and pose of the creature.

    As for the feelings it convey, the pictures manages to carry very well the impression of a weak, puny being who needs to be careful yet is still determined in pursuing its observation, as its master ordered.

    All in all, a very fine illustration for a creature that wouldn't be out of place in a Spiderwick book or a Del Toro movie like Hellboy.

    Purpose and Tactics

    One thing is certain: the purpose of the Homunculus is *not* combat. With its fully deserved Challenge of 0, low HPs and far from extraordinary AC, the construct would be lucky to last one round of combat if anyone decides to attack it. Not to mention it lacks the Flyby of an Owl familiar or the invisibility of a Quasit to use the Help action to assist their master in combat without taking too much risks. As for their attack, Bite, it deals a pitiful damage (yes, damage, singular), and its poison (the Homunculus is probably poisoned due to the mandrake used in its creation), while having an interesting effect, is easy to resist.

    However, that is not to say that the Homunculus is useless, as its true purpose is to give a boost to the caster it is bound to.

    Sharing senses with its creator, the Homunculus can serve as the go-to spy for mages à la Saruman's crows, not to mention how they essentially grant their creators darkvision and allow them to surprise their opponents by giving the caster unusual lines of sights, especially interesting in an environment where those are limited by obstacles like trees or rocks.

    Furthermore, and something that should not be ignored, is that their also grant their creator a kind-of-resistance to charm effect. Since the Homunculus is still able to think independently, and is immune to being charmed, it is perfectly capable to warn its master if their mind is being manipulated, and even charmed, it'd take a very poor caster to ignore their Homunculus's warnings that something is fishy.

    Finally, the Homunculus being immune to poison, its creator can use it to handle dangerous substances, which might even come handy in combat, and I could totally see a Wizard put something valuable in a very toxic hiding spot as they know their construct can recover it without troubles.

    Fluff

    While short, the Homunculus entry is perfectly functional, covering their creation, their main jobs, and the bonds they have with their creators, and adds a few nice details like mandrake root being involved in their creation ritual.

    Still, one should not forget that the Homunculuses are still sapient beings on their own, and nothing is stopping them from having personalities and quirks very different from the ones of its creators. A DM could have fun pairing a grumpy workaholic Wizard with a lazy, laid-back Homunculus, a prime-and-proper, haughty Warlock with a crass and disheveled Homunculus, or a carefree Sorcerer, rebellous scion of a noble family, with a butler-esque distinguished gentleman contruct.

    Hooks

    Dead Men Tell Snow Tales

    As the PCs are waiting for a snowstorm to pass in an inn, an Homunculus carrying an urgent message arrives and give it to them. Its master, the Sorcerer Aniko, has discovered this snowstorm is not a natural phenomenon, but has been captured by the ones responsible. Are you a bad enough dude to save the Sorcerer?

    I Spy with my Little Eye...

    Unknowingly of all, the Wizard Doran Solace has taken over the town of Marchtrees, using magic to disguise himself as the mayor. As the PCs approach, the Wizard's Homunculus is keeping an eye on them...

    Busby's Friendly Games and Wonderous Competitor-Driven Challenges Extravaganza!

    The Homunculus Busby, having some free time while its master is in vacation, decides to have some fun and organize a small competition where all passerbies are invited, the adventurers included. Race through the forest, game of chess, horseshoes contest, boxing! If one of the contestants can beat all of its challenges, Busby will give them one or two valuable potions from its master's reserve.

    Verdict: A strange UFO of a monster for sure, but certainly far from a bad one.


    Hook Horror (by ScathachOfSkye on 2017-09-18)

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    Intro

    The Hook Horror is one of those strange DnD monsters that are a mixture of two or more mundane creatures and large portion of sheer absurdity. For the Hook Horror, it is part vulture, part beetle, with the addition of several other features such as giant hooks for arms, echolocation, and a very rudimentary form of society. It is one of the long line of creatures that live in caves and the Underdark with the purpose of attacking your players.

    Art

    The Monster Manual provides us with a full body picture of a Hook Horror posturing in what seems to be an aggressive stance. There is no real sense of scale to tell us that this is a Large sized creature as opposed to being about the size of a normal bird. The positioning of many of the spines that cover its body seem odd, as they seem to be concentrated in the spots that would be most cumbersome for its motion and those on its face almost look like cat's whiskers rather than spines. Similarly, something about its musculature seems off, although the definition on them does help portray its high Strength score. The coloration of this piece does work in its favor, I especially like how its eyes seem pale and underdeveloped, portraying its limited 10ft of darkvision.

    Two small sketches of the Hook Horror show it from different angles. The top one provides a close up of its face that is actually relatively broad, more similar to an eagle's than a vulture. The bottom picture shows off the large beetle exoskeleton that provides the Hook Horror's natural armor. Overall, the art seems a little off, but does do a good job of depicting some of the aspects of the stat block.

    Purpose and Tactics

    The Hook Horror in combat primarily serves as a simple melee monster of moderate difficulty that your players can encounter either alone or in small packs. Its hit points are below par for its CR, but its moderate AC can help alleviate this somewhat. The monster's fluff calls out it acting as an ambush hunter, but its Stealth modifier is +0, making it unsuited for the task other than its ability to climb up cave walls using its climbing speed. On the other hand, the Hook Horrors own +3 Perception boosted with likely advantage from Keen Hearing and Blindsight makes it difficult for players to get the jump on it and would make it work well as a guardian for the lair of some sort of boss monster.

    Once combat is initiated, the Hook Horror provides a very simple threat as its only means of fighting is making two attacks with its namesake hooks. These attacks do a standard amount of damage for a CR 3 creature and have no riders. By itself, a Hook Horror likely will not provide a particularly interesting opponent. It does have a weakness that can be exploited as the Hook Horror cannot use its Blindsight when deafened, potentially crippling its ability to deal with ranged threats.

    Fluff

    An omnivore that will eat anything or anyone that happens to wander into its territory. Hook Horror's actually have their own language made by hitting its hooks against hard surfaces. This can provide a little bit of suspense as players will likely hear the echoing strikes that a Hook Horror uses to communicate to others of its kind before they see the creature itself. These monsters live in small clans ruled by an alpha female, meaning that it is perfectly reasonable for encounters with several Hook Horrors to occur.

    Hooks

    Get it, he has hooks for arms. Alright, now that the obvious pun is out of the way we can continue.

    The PCs are wandering through the Underdark when the more perceptive members of the party hear what sounds like a rock falling ahead. Several more of these noises at various distances can be heard getting closer before they suddenly stop. Unknown to the players, a Hook Horror pack has located the players and set up an ambush just around the next corner.

    The party needs to acquire a magic item within the drow city's vaults, but its interior is guarded by a clan of Hook Horrors and magical darkness fills many of the twisting tunnels within. Can they figure out a strategy for sneaking through undetected or will they try to fight an opponent head on that can "see" perfectly fine despite the darkness?

    The players discover a small clan of Hook Horrors that seems to have made efforts to become more like humanoid races, using their languages and technology. When they approach the clan, they are not immediately attacked, but instead the leader of the pack attempts to communicate with them, what will they do?

    Verdict

    The Hook Horror fills a purpose as one the the weird creatures to challenge the PCs for an enjoyable encounter or two, but it lacks the depth required to be especially memorable or the focus of a longer adventure.


    Hydra (by DerKommissar on 2017-09-19)

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    Intro

    The Hydra is a classic Monster, both in D&D since First Edition and in the European Mythology. Its a safe bet that most people know the Name and the basic facts: Multiple Heads, if you sever one, two will regrow, except when you scorch the stumps with Fire. So lets have a closer look how the concept is implemented in 5e.

    Art

    I think the Art is well done! All the heads seem to have a different Agenda, some of them are busy roaring, others lurk suspiciously. The Body is massive and credible and more like a Dragon than a Lizard. All in all it has a sense of scale and one can imagine that it is a huge creature. Also I like the way that it seems to be moving forward in a slow, menacing way.

    Nitpick: The picture shows a seven headed Hydra while the Text/Statblock talks about a five headed one. The only possibility for a seven headed hydra is that a five headed one had two heads severed and thus four heads regrew for a total of seven. I think that the regrown heads would share a neck, so one neck that splits in two and has two separate heads. I think it would have been nice if they'd have incorporated that, as I imagine it looking more alien.

    Fluff

    As the Hydra is more or less a direct transfer from the Greek original (in contrary to lets say the Gorgon), I think its worth it having a look at the traditional Hydra first. Especially as she is the daughter of Typhon and Echidna and thus sister to the Cerberos, the Nemeain Lion, the Sphynx (!) and the Chimera (!), i.e. to multiple D&D Creatures or Creature Concepts used in D&D. I put the geneology in spoilers, so you can skip to the Hydra Part if you want to.

    Spoiler: Parents
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    Typhon (father): He was born to revenge the deaths of the Titans/Gigants during the Titanomachy, the War of the Titans/Giants against the gods, which the Titans lost. Typhon was a Giant with a hundred Dragon-/Snakeheads and is the father of the warm and dangerous winds (Persian: Tufân, possible origin of Taifun). When he climbed Mt. Olympos he was so terrifying that the Gods fled in hiding. Zeus battled him once, but Typhon grappled him and cut all tendons out of his body, leaving him immobilized, but Hermes managed to steel them back and heal him. Zeus and Typhon battled again and Typhon was loosing, so he fled to Sicily where Zeus buried him under a giant rock, now known as the Etna. As Typhon is still in rage, the Mt. Etna is errupting in Fire and Lava.

    Echidna (mother): She is a giant creature, half beautiful woman, half snake and seen as "The Mother of Monsters". Not much more to it, but as stated: She bred quite a handfull of the most iconic Monsters - some later authors added more and more children, including the Gorgons.

    So those to gave birth to the Hydra, making it a Monster that could only be killed by Herakles himself and even then not without aid.


    As one of his deeds Herakles had to kill the Hydra. First he drew her out of her cave by shooting burning arrows. When she came out he smashed her heads with his mighty club, but where one was destroyed, two would grow anew. Herakles called Ioalaus to his aid, and Ioalaus would scorch the neck stumps so that they could not regrow. The last Head was immortal, as long as the others were there, so when there was only one left the immortal head could be severed and burried under a huge rock. Afterwards Herakles split the body in two and poisoned his arrow heads in the blood (later used to kill e.g. the Stymphalian Birds). As he was aided by Iolaos, the labor of killing the hydra was not seeing as been fullfilled.

    The D&D Fluff is more about the creature itself: Tiamat battled the Dragon Laerna (in the greek myth Laerna is the name of the swamps the hydra lives in) and the blood spilled on the earth formed the Hydras. I couldnt find any reference to Laerna being an 'official' Dragon God, so I think they just took the name and made up the story. It would have been nice to learn like one sentence more about Laerna: Was he/she good or evil? Why does the anger cause the Hydra to be hungry?

    The implication of the Hydra being caused by the blood drops is, that they maybe don't reproduce, but are so to speak already there, but who knows. Maybe you get two hydras if you split them in the middle ;)

    The Hydra is one of those personification of mindless hunger (comparable to the hill giants): It eats everything (though we dont know if its only carnivorous) and then moves on to again eat everything. Its not a bad starting point for a monster, but also a bit standard.

    With a monster like the hydra its not hard to meet mechanics and fluff, so its well done, the only thing I think is not done well is, that the hydra lost the standard regeneration/fast healing property, which is one of THE attributes of the Hydra. But more to that in the next section.

    Pupose and Tactics

    Compared to D&D 3.5 the 5e Hydra has a much higher CR (and there are no more variants like Cyro-/Pyro-Hydra), and indeed I think mechanically the Hydra is dangerous, but really dependant on the environment.

    Her AC and HP are normal for her CR but the hydra has only animal-like intelligence. The reactive heads trait with 5 heads and reach means that it is difficult to escape her (but that depends on the interpretation of the reactive trait), so once you start the melee you have to stick to it, and she hits pretty hard, especially when she manages to somehow get advantage. She also has advantage against many standard disabling magical effects (blind, charm, frighten, stun). So in Melee the hydra is quite tough. But as she is rather slow, stupid and has no ranged option you can kill her basically on level one if you meet her in an open spaces and bring enough arrows, as she will be as fast as you and has no regeneration. Just dont do more than 24 dmg per round and she will be down within 7 rounds.

    So lets have a look at the regrowing heads. I think the designers messed up here: If you bring the Hydra down to 0 its dead, but for each 25 damage per round you do, you sever one head. If you do fire damage in the same round, you are golden, but if you don't for each severed head two regrow and the hydra heals 10 HP per regrown head. The idea is nice as it enforces Teamwork, but the mechanic is wacky: If you are not able to do fire damage, then all you have to do is do 24 damage per round and she will be dead in 7 rounds without any new head. Do 25 damage and she gains one additional attack and will heal 20 HP, so you effectively did only 5 Damage and gave her an extra attack.

    Hypothetical Example:
    24 damage per round => dead in 7 rounds, she has 5 attacks per round
    25 damage per round => dead in 30 rounds; she has 5 + #rounds attacks (max 35).
    So yeah, thats weird. What happens if she gets 13 damage and decides to bite herself for 12,5 damage to heal 20 HP and grow an extra attack? What happens to the heads after the fight? Maybe it would have been better to stick with a classic regeneration.

    Also the Hydra depends hugely on the environment: in open space she can be ridiculously easy, in caves she will be quite tough.

    Depending on what kind of Hydra you want to have in your game and how dangerous she should be you could easily implement some small changes, which drastically increase the CR. [Please note that the CR calculations are approximations]:

    Spoiler: Pimp my Hydra
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    - Add Regeneration of up to 6HP/Round. [CR neutral]

    - Each Extra Head could raise the Max HP by 10, so that a Hydra with more heads could have higher base HP (so a 7 headed Hydra would have 192 HP). [~ CR + 1/4 per extra head after the fifth]

    - Return to the 'greek' Hydra so that she is basically invulnerable till all but one heads are severed. 1 head severed per 25 damage/round. So she can't be killed directly, but only by lowering the number of heads. [CR should be a bit higher but hard to say how much]

    - Giving her Proficiency/Expertise in Athletics (which is CR neutral) she would be really dangerous when using the shove action and then attacking with Advantage. [effective CR should be around 9 then]

    - Giving her the Sentinel Feat (Lockdown, always provoking AoOs) and/or the Polearm Master Feat (AoO when entering reach) would really up her offensive CR, as she could make use of her 5+ Attacks of Opportunity [Definately higher CR, but depends on the party, the reading of the feats, etc., so can't really do the math here]

    - The greek Mythology talks about her dangerous poisonous breath, so it would be fitting to give each head a breath weapon. If you e.g. do the following: Poison Breath, line/cone, DC16, recharge on 6. [maybe ~+2 CR per 2d6 damage].


    Hooks

    The PCs killed the Hydra and are celebrated Heroes. Just to bad, that the hydra was a guardian installed by the gods, to protect EvilMcGuffin. Can the Heroes prevent that it falls into the wrong hands?

    [More sticking to the greek mythology vibe] The Hydra is a child of the chaotic-neutral god Ssshaslak, god of gorging and everlasting hunger, patron to snakes and crocodiles (and other animals who eat in large chunks). After the heroes killed his favored being he swears revenge to them. Are the heroes able to appease the god by e.g. honoring the slayn Hydra?

    The Blood of a Hydra is one of the most poisonous substances known. It is said, that no creature is fully immune to it and that - if you survive - contact with it can leave you horribly disfigured and warped. It is a highly sought after ressource for experimentation. Some people say it can be used to produce the ultimate cure for many sicknesses, possibly one of the ways to eternal life. Others say it is so strong, that it might even weaken or slay beast like the Tarrasque or Devils and Angels. What will it be used for and at what costs? And what will happen if the heroes get tainted by it?

    A Circle of crazy Mages want to cross-bread dragons and hydras, but it seems that an intelligent, flying dragon with 5+ heads, each breathing fire or poisonous gas is the last thing the world needs. Will the heroes be able to stop the making of King Hydrorah (as the wizards call it)? Or will its use be justified if its the only thing able to stop the Tarrasque from Destroying Waterdeep?

    Lizardmen managed to somewhat tame Hydras for Battle. Now they want to have suited bardings, but only the firegiants of Mt. Doom are able to make those. As the Lizardmen are not exactly on the best terms with the Giants they seek the PCs for help.

    The narrow channel of Yourcampaign is by far the quickest way for a trade route, but it is haunted by two mutated Hydras, which have 20ft. long necks and terrorise passing ships. The gains by using this route make up for the losses, but that can't go on forever, as the Hydras seem to grew a lot quicker when they feast on human flesh.

    A Magic User has awakened a Hydra, but only one of its heads is concious and on the verge of madness with the other heads being gluteonous beast: It either seeks to awaken the other heads or that the sentinent head should be severed to get relief. Until then it is torn between following its nature and gorging itself, self loathing and pity, hot hatred for the world and especially magic users, remorse and regret. What will the heroes do about this wrecked creature?

    Verdict

    As for Melee brutes the Hydra is a good one, and as such it poses a good challenge for different party levels: open landscapes with bows and horses should kill her off quickly een on low levels, caves and close quarters makes her very dangerous, especially if you add pools of water it can hide in. But in any case I definatelly recommend to add a regeneration of 6 HP/Round [which shoouldn't change the CR].
    Last edited by odigity; 2018-06-05 at 05:09 PM.

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    Default Re: Monster Manual Entry Reviews, Collected

    Intellect Devourer (by ScathachOfSkye on 2017-09-24)

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    Intro

    This strange little creature is one of the Mind Flayer's various creations and, despite its low CR of 2, is one of the most terrifying enemies in the Monster Manual. The Intellect Devourer can potentially apply an indefinite duration stun on any creature of Intelligence 18 or lower. If it does so, on the next round it has a high chance of instantly killing that creature.

    Art

    One of the stranger looking pieces in the Monster Manual (and that is saying something), the Intellect Devourer is a humanoid brain with four short clawed legs. The brain does offer some sense of scale to its Tiny size, although the legs diminish this somewhat. The brain itself also doesn't look quite like a human brain in shape and color, which hurts the piece as it could be more disturbing in appearance if it looked closer to an actual brain. The legs don't quite seem to fit with its body and have an almost cartoonish appearance to them. Overall the art doesn't do a particularly great job of making the creature look as alien or creepy as a creation of the Mind Flayers should be.

    Purpose and Tactics

    The Intellect Devourer functions as an ambush predator, using its ability detect any creature with at least 3 Intelligence within 300ft to track its prey and then sneaking up on them with its +4 Stealth. If it surprises someone, isolated individuals in particular, it can use a multiattack consisting of a weak claw attack and the Devour Intellect action. Devour Intellect forces a relatively low Intelligence save that, on a failure, deals a small amount of psychic damage and can potentially reduce the target's Intelligence to 0. Any creature with an Intelligence of 0 is considered stunned until they have at least 1 INT. Against more intelligent characters, this ability will likely have no effect, but against anyone with low or dumped Intelligence they have about a 50 percent chance of this ability causing them to have 0 INT.

    If they are alone with the Intellect Devourer, they then miss a turn due to the stunned condition and are targetted by Body Thief, forcing an Intelligence contest between the character's -5 modifier and the Devourer's +1 modifier. If the Intellect Devourer wins, the character's brain is destroyed (killing them), gains all their knowledge, and now controls their body. The only way the entry mentions the character's brain being restored is via the Wish spell. When it has surprise, which it has the tools to acquire, the Intellect Devourer can potentially kill even 20th level player characters in two rounds with the player's only hope being a lucky roll. Therefore, these creatures should be used with great caution and not used as early as their CR 2 would suggest.

    If an Intellect Devourer is caught, however, its low AC and HP will likely result in it being killed quickly despite its resistance to nonmagical weapon damage. So if your players are grouped up and alert to potential dangers, the Intellect Devourer will at worst cause one player to be reduced to 0 Intelligence, which still carries a high cost, requiring a Greater Restoration spell to return their Intelligence to normal.

    The Intellect Devourer can be a threat against players of all levels and is especially nasty against low level parties as they lack the tools to help someone that has their INT reduced to 0. A DM that uses these things has a high chance of killing a party member unless the party plays in a very safe manner. So they should be used with care and are probably not one of the monsters to use if you are an inexperienced DM.

    Fluff

    The fluff of the Intellect Devourer is short, but actually provides a lot of useful ideas within. They are created by Mind Flayers in a ritual performed upon their thralls. They are then used to take over other creatures and lure potential prey to their Mind Flayer masters. The fluff actually mentions many tactics that make good use of its stat block and provide some interesting potential adventure hooks, making it the best part of this entry.

    Hooks

    Turan, the owner of the local tavern and a friend of the party, has asked the players to venture into the caves beneath the town to find a rare item for him, offering a handsome reward. Perhaps one of the players was perceptive enough to notice of few odd quirks about his behavior or perhaps they will fall straight into the Mind Flayer ambush that awaits them.

    One of the PCs ventures off alone into part of the that dungeon the party is exploring. Unbeknownst to the party, an Intellect Devourer has senses their presence is waiting for an opportunity to strike.

    During a previous battle with Mind Flayers, one of the party's allies was captured and turned into a thrall. The party discovers that the Illithid plan on conducting a dark ritual tomorrow that will turn their ally into an Intellect Devourer, will the players be able to stop this ritual in time to save their friend?

    Verdict

    The Intellect Devourer has an interesting design in both its fluff and stats, but can easily become a threat that players will have a hard time dealing with and should be used with caution.


    Invisible Stalker (by Unoriginal on 2017-09-27)

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    Introduction

    Malevolent or simply hostile invisible creatures have been present in fiction for a very long time, from Platon's Ring of Gyges to the Predator movie, passing through Lovecraft's description of Abdul Alhazred's death. The inherent danger and paranoida-inducing creepiness of being unable to see your aggressor, not to mention the images conjured by one's mind when facing the unseen, provokes an instinctual, primal fear, and this take on the concept by D&D shows how something very simple can be effective.

    Stalking adventurers since 1974, the Invisible Stalker is a creature whose name summarize its whole: it creeps around and attack people while being totally invisible.

    Art

    The Invisible Stalker has always posed a dilemma when it came time to draw it: how do you portray something whose defining characteristic is to be invisible? Some of the previous editions went for the "empty picture" version, others for the "empty room" one, and others for the "faint outline to show the creature's presence" approach.

    5e, for it parts, went for a "spectral yet clearly visible, colored-but-translucent creature" approach, which is puzzling for obvious reasons. On one hand, the Stalker is very visible and bigger than its medium side implies, and rather than using the attack described in its statblock, the bludgeoning slam, it seems to grappling and cutting its victim. be On the other hand, the artworks aren't bad, showing a human in armor being killed by a clearly dangerous spirit, with the floating objects making a nod to the creature's wind-and-air nature, forming a fairly dynamic picture that demonstrates the "lethal menace" creed of the Stalker.

    Purpose and Tactics

    With its low AC mitigated by invisibility, its decent but not amazing slam attacks, and its appreciable but not impressive amount of HPs and Resistances (as well as some interesting Immunities), the Invisible Stalker would be a fairly average CR 6 combatant, in a straight fight.

    But why would they give their preys a straight fight?

    The Stalker's true strength is to use its impressive Stealth to hide and attack their surprised opponents, and maybe use the disadvantage their foes have due to invisibility to disengage and dodge the enemy's AoO.

    If in a team with others, the Stalker can also be an efficient helper.

    Thanks to their decent stats, the Stalker can have some success grappling or shoving the adventurers with the less STR in the group.

    Their proficiency in Stealth makes the Stalkers effective infiltrators and spies, but it also makes them very interesting guards when coupled with their proficiency in Perception, as they can detect approaching intruders while staying discreet themselves. Finally, their Faultless Tracker trait makes them good jailers for specific prisoners and good hunters, aided by not needing to sleep, breath or eat.

    Fluff

    Much like the being itself, the Invisible Stalker's fluff is simple but effective.

    The Stalker is an air elemental spirit summoned with a purpose, and while it hates being compelled like that, it *will* accomplish its task. Unless it manages to twist the instructions given to it, as the Stalker might be a summoned spirit, but it's a *spiteful* summoned spirit.

    All in all, the text manage to give some personality, or at least an identity, to the monster, which adds some flavor to an otherwise hard to notice.

    Hooks

    Fright by Night, Fray by Day

    A strange threat is terrorizing the city, launching devastating attacks on various districts during the night. None of the survivors were able to describe the violent but stealthy aggressor, but there is mentions of objects and people being projected by some unseen force, like by magic. Fear among the population and the tension with the city's mages increase each day, not to mention the various factions and noble houses blaming each other, and the adventurers must show result quick if they want to avoid riots, or simply be used as scapegoats by an irate mob.

    He Who Sows The Wind

    The wizard Antorius has summoned an Invisible Stalker to deal with one of his rivals. Unfortunately, he left a big loophole in his instructions, which allows the Stalker to target not only his rival, but any mage the Stalker wants, and it very much desire to punish Antorius for its binding, harassing him whenever he tries to rest and making him unable to recover the spells needed to deal with the elemental for good. The wizard, desperate and exhausted, turns to the adventurers to protect him long enough for him to have a proper rest.

    A Revenge Unnoticed

    A foe of the adventurers, who escaped their first encounter, has sent an Invisible Stalker (or several) to kill them. Or at least, keep them busy while said foe is conducting another scheme...

    Verdict

    A pretty decent monster who serves its purpose well, without making too much sparks.


    Jackalwere (by Unoriginal on 2017-10-02)

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    Introduction

    Present in the game since the first Monster Manual of 1977, the Jackalwere is a creature whose impact on the game could be summarized, as far as I can see, by this analogy: "always the bridesmaid, never the bride".

    Not enjoying outside-of-D&D fame like the classical Werewolves, Golems and other Orcs, not iconic like the Beholder, the Mind Flayer or the Drider, and not silly but memorable like the Flumph or the Flail Snail, the Jackalwere occupie the far from pleasant spot of being a (mostly) original monster with a long history, yet one that almost no one uses, and even less give center stage.

    Art

    The artworkd manages to convey the feel of the fluff pretty well, showing a disheveled, gaunt, rag-wearing jackal-man who tries to appears threatening, raised on their legs and showing their teeth and drooling mouth like a feral beast, making a nod to their demonic origins, despite their turned head and their body language, in particular their ears and shifting arm position, betraying that they've sensed danger and would rather be somewhere else than facing it. The perspectives are not bad, and I feel the artist did succeed in making the being looks around human size thanks to the posture and the body's proportions, despite the lack of reference. A nice detail in the eyes, which while small, are almost entirely yellow, with a light spot, giving them a bit of an "oracular eyes" effect and suggesting their sleep-causing gaze.

    Not a bad piece at all, even if it could have been interesting to see the scimitar the statblock indicates they use as weapon.

    Purpose and Tactics

    On one hand, the Jackalwere enjoys complete immunity from non-magic, non-silvered weapons, which seems pretty harsh given their CR. On the other, their low AC, low HPs, and their pretty unimpressive physical attacks make clear why they need those immunities to survive against adventurers.

    However, it is not to say that they are helpless in a fight. They Pack Tactics ability can make them pretty dangerous when they have allies, and their Sleep Gaze does pack a pretty decent punch, especially if they manage to isolate the enemies who aren't very resistant against it form their group. The save DC is still low, though.

    Coupling this with their skill bonuses and their capacity to shapeshift, as well as their keen senses and their speed, and you have a monster who is quite suited to serve as guard, spy, infiltrator, liar, or combat grunt for a tougher boss... which is exactly what they are supposed to be.

    Fluff

    One of the many monsters of 5e created by demons, in this particular case the Demon Lord Graz'zt, and servants of the Lamia, the Jackalwere, despite the name and their weakness to silver, are quite distinct from the Lycanthropes. The fluff is pretty good, revealing the being's origin in a nice way, then describing their typical behavior in a manner that makes finding ways to use them in an adventure both easy and interesting, and also ties with their statblock very well.

    A pretty nice detail, which really helps flesh out the creature in my opinon, is how the entry describes the Jackalwere as being in physical pain whenever they have to tell the truth.

    A good fluff bit for a monster that's often glossed over, and one in which a DM could find the seeds of many an adventure.

    Hooks

    My Brand New Best Friend

    When one of the PCs called for a familiar, a strange jackal showed up. It seems smart, knows how to make itself useful and obey instructions, and enjoy being affectionate with its master. Strangely enough, a few weeks after this, the enemies of the group seems to be able to find them and get ready for them as soon as they enter the region. Maybe the group is under the scrutiny of a divination spell, cursed, or followed by an homunculus?

    Not Me This Time

    As the adventurers try to sell some jewelry or minor magic item, the merchant tell them that if they come back tonight, he can introduce them to an enthusiastic buyer who has no problem paying far more than what the merchant could offer them. If they agree and come back to the shop, long after it closed, they are introduced to a very slim man in clothes obviously meant for, and clearly used a lot in, the desert. He is interested in what the PCs want to sell, and will indeed give them a good prize, but before the deal is concluded, the merchant, who went to a different room to prepare tea, start screaming, before being silenced and only the sound of him falling can be heard. He has been murdered, most likely by a burglar who panicked. When the guardsmen arrives, they immediately try to arrest the PCs and the man, in reality a Jackalwere, who keeps pleading his innocence in a manner that's clearly painful to him. The Jackalwere is ready to pay the PCs a lot if they help him escape alive from this town.

    The Champion

    Arriving in a tavern, the PCs see an enthusiastic crowd gathering around the fighting pit at the center. The main attraction of the night is "Adamantine" Scarm, champion of bare-handed fighting for all the competitions in the region, known for his nimbleness but even more so for his incredible endurance, often managing a come-back victory after finding a second wind late in the rounds, even when his opponent wailed punches after punches on him, which earned him many nicknames like "Diamond Jaw" or "Adamantine". Adamantine Scarm is getting very rich, very famous, and according to rumors, has started to invest in some very lucrative businesses.

    In reality, Scarm is just an ordinary Jackalwere who got the idea of using his species's supernatural immunity to regular hits to become a fighting champion. He is not strong nor tough, although he did pick up a few tricks after so many fights, but he is pretty good at faking, like all Jackalwere, and his tactics consist mostly in tanking everything his foe throws at him thanks to his immunity, pretend to get winded and injured while keeping on the fight, and endure until his opponent is too exhausted by their efforts and too hurt by his punches to continue.

    Verdict

    Strangely enough, a pretty nice entry, with interesting potential, for a monster that will likely keep being forgotten and not used.


    Kenku (by Dark Sun Gnome on 2017-10-05)

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    Introduction

    The first appearance of the Kenku was in the Fiend Folio of 1981, as hawk-headed humanoids that bare a pretty close resemblance to the current portrayal of the Aarokocra, and who lived in close proximity of humans. The Tengu, Crow headed humanoids from Japanese mythology that inspired the Kenku, appeared in the Monstrous Compendium-Kara Tur, and came in two types - the Crow Headed Tengu, which had wings, and the humanoid Tengu, which had either blue or red skin, humanoid faces, and long noses.

    Then in 3.5 in the Monster Manual III, the Kenku had quite the makeover. Gone were the wings, the telepathy, innate magical abilities and the bestowal of treasure onto adventurers that crumbles within a day. Now the kenku were wingless, resembled humanoid crows, usually Neutral Evil (as opposed to plain neutral) and a whole new set of lore was introduced, expanded upon with the Ecology of the Kenku in Dragon #329 (Straight after an article on Pazuzu, who became the patron of their race.

    Now in 5th edition, the Kenku have made it into the first Monster Manual. They also made it as a player race in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, but that is a story for another time.

    So, let's look at the MM 5th edition Kenku!

    Art

    The artwork for the pre 3.5 kenku resembled the current Aarakocra, but in this edition, the Kenku is a wingless humanoid crow, and the artwork looks really good, with more muscular legs and feet than in the 3.5 portrayal, with the glint in the kenku's eye giving it some real character. It's pictured holding a knife in one hand and a number of gold coins, in a pose that suggests that its showing off to its mates or saying “why dontcha come take it back?”. All in all, a pretty solid rendition that looks a lot more down to business than the artwork in the MMIII for 3.5.

    Lore

    The first line of the description states that Kenku are driven by greed, but a lot of the details offered in the description imply that shame drives these fellows. For 5e, the lore is that kenku were stripped of their wings for stealing the secret of speech, and as a result, they were condemned to beg forever, and flying is no something they yearn for, demonstrated by how they carry out executions. It does lead into how the creatures can mimic any sound, and put it to use in talking and also for the role Kenku will likely play in a campaign.

    For the execution method, it does state that they like to throw their victims off of high places, in a reminder of the flight that was stripped from them. In a campaign, this could give the game away, if the kenku choose an obvious place to dispose of their victims and leave a landing site with a number of bodies. But then again, finding, much less apprehending them, is another matter entirely.

    Mechanics

    The lore suggests that the kenku are not going to be a monster that is found in the wilderness atop a snow-covered peak - this is a creature that you are going to find in the city and along trade roads, moving from town to town and mark to mark. And with the Ambusher and the Mimicry Trait,combined with a +5 to stealth, these are creatures that are adept at setting up ambushes and getting the jump on enemies. A sound there, draw the marks down down a dark alley, and get the jump on them.

    The Mimicry trait also means that its pretty head to get information from these guys, considering that they develop their own codes, and its noted that its almost nonsensical, which could make reconnaissance missions pretty hard, depending on the DM, and almost as hard when these guys had telepathy in 2nd edition. As a 1/4CR creature, these are creatures that are going to be best used as a gang that uses deception and suprise to take down enemies (though the loss of the Great Ally trait from 3.5 makes them less potent when working as a team) or their talents in forgeries to implicate PCs.

    Hooks

    On the borders of a kingdom with tense relations with the republic that the players call home, an important diplomat has been turned away from the border and sent back due to his papers, and it soon becomes clear that he is not who he says he is. How deep does the deception go?

    The head of a guild has been murdered, and all the evidence points to the head of a rival guild. But the accused protests his innocence, and claims that he heard some strange noises from a back alley that night, and that the evidence was planted. The accused believes it to be an Will the players be able to prove his innocence?

    Verdict

    It took five editions, but they made it. And if you are playing a campaign in the city where there is, then the kenku are a fun addition to any urban campaign if played right (especially with the talent for mimicry), and a welcome addition to the Monster Manual.


    Kobolds (by Requilac on 2017-10-14)

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    Introduction

    The incarnation of evil itself in a snack sized, reptilian package. You know them, you probably hate them (I know I do), kobolds! The creatures that crawled out of the nightmares you never realized you had.

    Art

    The art itself is over-all a decent representation of them. It misses some important facets of Kobold personality though. There is nothing there that really shows that they worship dragons, horde treasure, make traps or gather in swarms. I think it is an accurate representation of what they would physically look like at first glance though. They appear diminutive, starving and pathetic, overall a figure that should generate a sense of pity more than anything else. It's weird how muscly the model looks though considering that Kobolds have 7 strength and 9 constitution. But their facial features make them seem cruel and insidious, ruining your likelihood of feeling any sympathy for them. It is also interesting to note that they are carrying the exact weapons which are in their stat block. WotC could have done a better job on the art, and I personally think a background should have been added in, but over-all it's not that bad. I might just be acting overly critical.

    Purpose and Tactics

    More or less, Kobolds are the perfect example of a mook. With 5 HP, an AC of 12 and 4 DPR they are helpless alone, and as stated in their fluff, they rely on their numbers to overcome opponents. Pack tactics is a good reflection of this behavior. Kobolds are pretty simple beasts and their main possible strategy is just to gang up on their opponents and attempt to overwhelm them. They may have some extra kobolds in the back slinging stones or an Urd (winged Kobold) hovering up above and dropping rocks, but besides that their is little room for tactical variation. Outside of combat they could always implement traps, but in truth, they are no better at setting traps than the average lackie. Kobolds don't get a special feature or any proficiencies in their stat block which reflects their trap making ability and they have 8 intelligence and 7 wisdom. Ironically, making a Tucker's Kobold would actually be better left to a different monster.

    Fluff

    Kobolds are not really that unique flavor wise. They are basically just servants to dragons, there is not much else to them. It is a role that could be filled by many other monsters or just plain humans. When they are not serving dragons they are swarming over subterranean areas in search of treasure to create hoards. It is frequently stated that Kobolds are pathetic and pitiful beasts who cannot survive on their own so they must rely on each-other to have any hope of success. They apparently also try to make up for their physical weakness by creating traps, though their stat-block does not really support that statement.

    Urds

    Some Kobolds can receive attention from Tiamat and be gifted with wings (or it could be some kind of genetic mutation but the Kobolds like to believe that they are important so let's go with the former). Their favored strategy is hiding on ledges and chucking rocks down at targets below them. Other kobolds though are so pitiful that they only feel jealousy towards an Urd. There are just not many high points to living in Kobold society is there?

    Hooks

    The great dragon Smaug Smog has noticed some adventurers entering into his/her/its (dragons are confusing) lair but feels that its might is not necessary to take out them. Instead, Smog sends a troop of kobolds to seek out and gang up on the incoming threat.

    As the party turns around a corner they fail to notice a troop of Kobolds hiding among the rocks, awaiting their chance to amass more treasure to their hoard. An Urd carefully lifts up a rock while standing on a high ledge above and several Kobolds load their slings, seeking to use the element of surprise to defeat their foes.

    A group of adventurers are crawling through a low tunnel when a pack of Kobolds charge at them, unhindered by the low roof because of their short stature. They are able to fully stand up while their opponents must stay prone, and the kobolds are not hesitant to use this to their advantage.

    Verdict

    Over-all Kobolds a fairly basic mook with little to distinguish them from other monsters. Despite the rumors of the infamous Tucker's Kobolds, the MM Kobolds were not built for such feats and cannot fill this niche as effectively as other monsters. I don't really see how implementing Kobolds adds anything more to a story than using Orcs, Goblin, Ogres or just classic humans. At the end of the day though, these vicious little critter are one of the most iconic creatures in the D&D world.


    Kraken (by Unoriginal on 2017-10-31)

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    Introduction

    In D&D like in real life, the oceanic depths, far below the waves, often hide horrors and wonders.

    The Kraken, without a doubt, belongs to the first category, although it certainly claws its way into the second one by sheer might alone.

    Art

    The Kraken artwork is more than impressive. Not only the presence of the two sharks give an immediate sense of scale, and reveals how utterly humongous the Kraken is, the creature's design deserves mention. The brownish-red aquatic thing, with traits of mollusc, crustacean, sharks and deep sea fish, looks utterly alien and primal, a true titan of the dawn of time, yet despite its monstrous look, its fins looking like grotesque, misshapen hands and the gaze its eyes seems to address to the viewer make the being give a look way too human to be comfortable. You can immediately see this leviathan has a vicious, sharp intelligence and the malevolence to use it against all who dare displease it.

    Purpose and Tactics

    The Kraken is a boss monster, plain and simple. Its massive scores in both physical and mental stats and very high hit points establish it as a threat from the get go.

    Then you have its devastating attacks, which in the case of its tentacles can inflict several damaging blows and leave the victime grappled, before throwing them away with Fling if the Kraken desires so (making it particularly difficult for melee combatant to stay on contact if they want to), and in the case of its Bite can simply shallow the grappled creatures, for massive damages and restraints (although it is theoretically possible to escape the beast's guts). And that's not even counting its capacity to make rain bolts of lightnings on the fools who challenge it.

    To add to this, the Legendary actions allows the Kraken to attack even more, and or to release a poisonous ink cloud that'd make it very difficult for opponents to navigate the combat area, completing the Kraken's arsenal of damaging yet terrain-controlling abilities.

    And, cherry on top, the Lair actions of the Kraken make it even more dangerous, in particular how it can make all beings within 60ft of it vulnerable to electricity, or simply electrify everyone within 120ft. And because bad news is never alone for long, the Regional effects of the Kraken guarantee it can get some elemental or animal minions to provide support, if ever needed.

    As a matter of fact, the Kraken has a lot of options for various strategies and tactics, and given its intelligence and wisdom the DM should not be afraid to explore different possibilities. Not to mention how one Kraken alone is powerful enough to wipe out cities and all their inhabitants.

    But perhaps the most terrifying capacity of the Kraken is that it can live outside of water if it wants to. NO ONE is safe from a Kraken one day showing up and destroying everything. I can imagine the terror of the PCs when they realize that, and I advise DMs to use that fact for full, pants-soiling effects when they can afford it.

    Fluff

    The Kraken's fluff is pretty nice, this edition. They were tools of the gods, and some of them have near-god-like powers, they broke out of their servitude and focused on their one true passion instead: to ruin all things that exist. They're ancients, they're smart, they have cults and extraplanar allies, and they have caused the losses of communities and civilisations in the past. And they can go anywhere from the darkest ocean to way into the land to accomplish their vicious goals.

    Hooks

    Sea No Evil

    Three days in a row, a doomsayer has come to the city's main square, and has preached the submission to a great sea deity everyone in the city should pledge, or face annihilation. Each time, the doomsayer have been laughed off, as the city is kilometers away from the closest sea, and the fourth day the authorities arrested them.

    Now, on the night of the fifth day, as the adventurers are enjoying a warm spot in a tavern, even with a storm is blowing outside, the inhabitants are not worried. It's not some madcaps that will scare them off, right? Yet they will soon see they have good reasons to be worried, as an huge shape is moving in the darkness, slowly approaching the town...

    The Dungeon and the Dragon

    Tiamat, Goddess and Queen of all evil Dragon, might be a liiiiitle peeved. A Kraken did not only dare to defile one of her secret shrine, destroying it, it has also stolen a golden statue of Tiamat herself which, while harmless on its own, is the final piece of the Kraken's ritual to unleash untold devastation on a cataclysmic scale. Worse, the aquatic apostat has warded its fortress with a powerful magic that prevents dragons from approaching.

    Yet, Tiamat is far from stupid, and she knows just the thing to go in evil schemers' dungeons and ruin their plans: adventurers (perhaps even those who previously hindered the Queen of Dragons). And soon, the PCs are approached by a mysterious quest giver, who tell them of the Kraken's ploy...

    Whatever Happened to Cape Crusader?

    The PCs are traveling toward Cape Crusader, where one can find a town in which they have one business or another. When they arrive to the location, they see nothing but ruins and water. What happened here? And how is it related to the cultists who comes out at night for their congregation?

    Verdict

    A masterpiece of a monster, in more ways than one.


    Kua-Toa (by Dark Sun Gnome on 2017-11-05)

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    Introduction

    The debut of the Kuo - Toa was in the Shrine of the Kuo Toa and the Vault of the Drow, and over time, they have become more like the Deep Ones of H.P Lovecraft. They made their main manual debut in the original Fiend Folio, and then in the Monstrous Compendium Volume 2. Since then, they have always been in the first Monster Manual for new editions.

    Just one of many piscine races, in the Underdark, the Kuo Toa have been somewhat overshadowed by the drow (and to a lesser extent), the duegar, as the underdark bad guys.

    Art

    In the first page, we see a depiction of a number of Kuo-Toa engaging in what could be construed as a a ritual to get in contact with their (imaginary) gods, and even in the distance, you can see the insanity of the fellow calling out to its lobster headed master.

    The picture of the standard Kuo-Toa is of a member of the fish people wearing a tabard, with no weapons or a shield, which is a bit disappointing, but the artwork more than makes up for it, with this depiction having a full fish head with two barbels, and the artwork also manages to convey the sense that these creatures don’t exactly have it all together.

    The illustration of the Archpriest has more barbels and a representation of their crazed diety on a staff, and it looks great. The sneer and the glassy eye give real personality to the creature, and show the fanatical furor and the insanity that your average spiritual leader of the Kuo-Toa presumably has.

    The picture of the whip has a head that has more than a hint of the depiction in the original Fiend Folio, and has a look almost as evocative as the Archpriest, and the more than a hint of madness that is the hat of the Kuo-Toa in 5e.

    Lore

    The lore is similar to that of the previous editions, a race that once roamed the surface of the world then was forced into the sunless realms. And like many of the other races of the Underdark, the Kuo-Toa were driven insane by the yoke of the Mindflayers.

    In previous lore, their Matron Goddess, Blibdoolpoolp was apparently driven mad by the insanity of the Kuo-Toa. Now she is just a figment of the imagination of the Kuo Toa, and was inspired by an old human statue, apparently. A flavour quote by Sabal Mizrym of Menzoberranzan (presumably a Drow) shows that there definition of insanity is worshiping a figment of their imagination. Of course, the Drow worship an insane deity that forces them to expand a good chunk of their energy into fighting each other rather than using that energy to fight the monstrous races of the Underdark and actually surviving in the depths, so go figure. And rather than being allies with the Drow (as was the case in 3.5 Forgotten Realms lore), we now have the two races as enemies since the first encounter, way, way back. As well as female statues with the head of a crayfish, we are told that the Kuo-Toa also often worship aboleths, and have a blind spot when it comes to how the horrors pull their strings, another very welcome development.

    In previous editions, most Kuo-Toa were neutral, with the theocracy pushing down on them and forcing them to worship an insane goddess, and its a similar story in the 5th edition, with the archpriest and the Monitors (described in a Variant box) enforcing the faith in other (usually terrified) Kuo Toa.

    The description also states that most of the kuo-toa weaponry is designed to capture, rather than kill, but there isn’t any lore that really goes into detail about what the Kuo-Toa do with their captives, though the lore regarding the Aboleth gives us some idea. There is also no lore regarding just why the Kuo-Toa can see into the Ethereal plane either.

    Mechanics

    The Kuo-Toa in this edition have no immunity to poison nor paralysis, and nor have they resistance to electrical attacks. But they still have the slippery trait and their otherworldly perception.

    With such a high passive perception and the ability to see into the ethereal plane, these are foes that players are going to have to be pretty sharp to sneak past, and with the sticky shields and the net of the standard Kuo-Toa, a group of 4-5 Kuo-Toa along with an Archpriest and a Whip can prove quite tricky for a level 6-10 party, especially if the party are fighting the creatures in the bowels of the earth. The pincer staff with a 10ft reach of the whip combined with the sacred flame cantrip can be a real bane for those unlucky enough to be caught.

    Considering where these guys dwell, its unlikely that they will be low-level foes. If the Kuo-Toa are goons for a Aboleth, then they would be ideal as the defenders of its inner sanctum, along with any enslaved creatures.

    Verdict

    With the new, revised lore with imaginary gods and worship of horrors beyond time, as well as some great artwork, the Kuo-Toa are a worthy addition to any campaign set in the Underdark and make for challenging opponents.


    Lamia (by ShikomeKidoMi on 2017-11-09)

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    Introduction

    Another singular monster become a race, as a poster previously mentioned, Lamia is the name of beautiful queen in Greek mythology who was cursed to become a child-eating demon. There's not much description in the early myths but some writers mentioned her crawling and pretty soon she was popularly depicted as a snake demon. Some writers said her eyes were blind or were always fixed open. A few said they were removable. Sometimes she was associated with witchcraft and/or vampirism. The source of the curse, was, of course, jealous Hera. She's always cursing people in Greek myth, largely because Zeus can't keep it in his pants. And Lamia was one of his mistresses.

    In Dungeons and Dragons, Lamia are usually half beautiful woman, half lion, which doesn't line up that well as I'm pretty sure all her beauty was supposed to be gone (Hera wouldn't let her keep it). That said, we do have a number of snake people, from medusa to lamia to yuan-ti to nagas and the snake features are not a core part of the myth, so it's a nice change of pace to use a different predatory animal. Of course, the child-eating is a central part and I don't see that in the fluff, but I'll talk more about that in the fluff section.

    Art

    The lamia in the picture is dressed in finery as befits a fallen queen or a monster who styles herself one. She looks less fierce than some previous editions and more like she's about to lecture someone while using a dagger as a prop to point to a chalkboard. That said, there's a more ferocious image faintly outlined behind her, which captures the monster's duality well. Lamia in D&D take on the trappings of civilization, but they're rapacious beasts at heart and I think the art largely works. The only oddity is that she's wearing something that could almost be taken for a saddle by her dagger sheathe. I'm going to guess it's meant to be some kind of armor for her lion body.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Lamias are slavers and wanna-be queens of small evil enclaves. They work as bosses for other monsters, like jackalweres. They make a good leader monster when you don't want to use something too powerful. They fight by sending minions at the opposition, resorting to physical combat when that looks unlikely to work, allowing them to soften foes up with their Intoxicating Touch before finishing the fight with one of their mind-affecting powers. The latter is their one truly unique ability. In previous editions it did Wisdom damage, here it provides disadvantage on Wisdom saves and checks. Either way, unlike their Innate spells, they can spam Intoxicating Touch at will, which means incautious foes may see themselves compelled by a Suggestion or Geas. Lamia also have Mirror Image, which lets them stay alive long enough to have a chance to see this multi-round strategy pay dividends.

    However, they don't have particularly good saving throws or any ranged attacks beyond their mind-affecting powers, so a party that doesn't have terrible Wisdom saving throws and engages at distance is going to tear a Lamia to pieces. As an intelligent monster (Int 14), I'd expect it to know that and not engage archers in the open. Lamia also have Scrying as a spell-like ability, which gives them an excuse to have knowledge of most things the DM wants them to know about, including abilities the PCs have displayed against other monsters in the area, though they mostly use it to find slaves and treasure for their minions to grab.

    Fluff

    So, instead of a woman tormented by a divine curse, warped into a monster that eats children to replace the emptiness of the children she's lost, these Lamia are just evil. They like to set themselves up as rulers of petty queendoms, often in isolated ruins. Which is actually not that bad for a monster background. Rather than a curse, their form is a blessing from Grazz't which falls in line with his tendency towards mind-magic and illusion. Especially since 5th edition seems to want to tie the Demon Lords more deeply into the setting, with multiple monsters gaining that origin. And for once, there's a pretty decent justification for most of these monsters to be female- Grazz't likes the ladies.

    The text says they like to corrupt and seduce (which seems difficult since they only have access to illusionary disguise magic, not shape-changing, and that big lion body is going to get noticed sooner or later). Now the original Lamia was cursed because she was Zeus' mistress, but I sincerely doubt anyone believes she had to seduce him as Zeus was known to spend a lot of time seducing mortal women. They also eat any thralls that don't live up to their standards, so I suppose there is some devouring of human flesh going on, but it's not children like in the original myth. Dungeons and Dragons already has enough god-cursed monsters that they didn't need another. But if it doesn't really look like Lamia, act like Lamia, or share the background of Lamia, why not just make a fully original monster? Then you could save Lamia for a horror setting, because a cursed mother who's now a monster that eats children is pretty much made for something like Ravenloft, especially if she's blind, crawling, and calling out for her lost offspring.

    Hooks

    A dark force has united scattered bandit gangs who now threaten the entire area. The PCs have to track them down and deal with their monstrous leader.

    An NPC the PCs care about was last seen heading out of town in the company of a beautiful woman who was careful to keep her distance from everyone else. Now the players have to find him and free him from a Lamia's enchantment while he's willing to fight them to the death for her.

    The PCs need information from some old ruins and find them inhabited by a Lamia and her thralls. The engravings on the ruins are too weathered to read, but the ageless monster remembers them when they were fresh. Can they negotiate with her? What horrible things will she ask in return?

    Verdict

    I actually like the idea of lion people setting themselves up as royalty over lesser monsters and raiding traders and small settlements, plus the Intoxicating Touch is a nifty power, but I rather wish they weren't called Lamia, since that's completely unrelated, and honestly wastes a nicely horrific monster background. The new link to Grazz't works well, especially since Lamia are explicitly immortal which gives an extra reason to view the transformation as a reward.
    Last edited by odigity; 2017-12-07 at 11:13 AM.

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    Lich (by DerKommissar on 2017-11-12)

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    Next up is one of the classic D&D Villains: The Lich. It has no roots in common mythology* and could be considered an original D&D creature. It fits in almost every campaign as an individualized, unique villain.

    *As Spamotron pointed out: Koschei the Deathless might be an inspiration. Extra Points to Koschei for the method of hiding his phylactery: A needle inside an egg, inside a duck, inside a rabbit, locked in a crystal chest and buried under an oak on an island – talk about paranoid ;)

    Introduction

    Liches are an archetype of the big bad evil guy: An already powerful wizard making a faustian pact for moarpowar, leaving behind anything human in the process. They are very intelligent and resourceful, but they still lust for more might and see every other being either as means or as hindrance to that goal. The heroes of your campaign could be both. So let’s have a closer look.

    Art

    The art is quite okay and fits the description of the Lich. I like that he is striking an aggressive pose as if casting an evil spell or cursing someone. The approach of a Lich with withered skin rather than fully skeletal is well done. It somehow reminds me of the classic Nosferatu. I think that the depicted Lich is meant to be Szass Tam, hence the red robes which look almost like a ribcage. The only odd thing about the picture is the long fingers.
    [On a small side-rant: Why does it always have to be a male Human Lich. Why not a female Halfling Lich for once?]

    Fluff

    Liches are great wizards, searching to become immortal. Their only desire is power, everything else is not important. In order to become a Lich you need to find a higher being as a patron to which in turn you have to be a kind of serf. For the ritual you need a phylactery (a vessel with silver linings inside to keep the soul in the mortal realm) and drink a potion of transformation (mixed of poison and the blood of a sentient being you sacrificed). At the end of the ritual the Wizard dies as the soul is transferred to the phylactery and becomes a Lich.
    The Lich has to feed souls to the phylactery otherwise the Lich might decay and turn into a Demi Lich*. If the Lich is destroyed it forms a new (?) body within days next to the phylactery. The only way to kill it permanently is to destroy the phylactery by special, individual means. A Lich likes to reside in its lair and tends to not leave it. Those lairs are very dangerous, full of magic items and undead/construct/demonic minions. In its lair the Lich is the most dangerous.

    In the fluff text many things are left undefined and I think this is really a theme to the Lich: It is not a representative of a type of creature, but rather always a unique individual. Its life before, its ritual, its lair, the means to destroy it etc. should be customized.There is no “standard” Lich.

    *So a Demi Lich is just a messy Lich? Instead of the pinnacle of Lichdom? That doesn’t really match the description of the Demi Lich in the same book…


    Purpose and Tactics

    The Lich has a long, complicated creature entry. Interestingly enough a Lich should have a CR of 16.5 according to the building rules. I interpret this huge difference of 4.5 in that way, that the authors actually wanted to “save some space” for customization, magic items, minions, etc. etc.
    [Edit: As Waar pointed out correctly the CR calculation was off, so it should be around 18 actually]

    But for now the vanilla Lich:

    The traits of being a Lich (all Liches have those)
    In raw numbers the Lich is not very impressive, but it has True Sight, good passive perception, two good saves, multiple resistances/immunities (why not immunity to necrotic?), genius-level intellect and can’t be killed directly. Still, its defensive CR is pitiful with low HP and low AC. In direct melee it goes down really fast against a mid-/high-level party.The paralyzing touch is a mighty melee attack and should not be underestimated (remember: further attacks against a paralyzed opponent are auto-critical hits). The option to shoot 3 rays of frost out-damages disrupt life in most situations. Frightening Gaze is a good “either it works or it doesn’t do anything” ability.

    The spellcasting abilities (here Liches might differ)
    Oddly enough the Lich is a rather pathetic high level caster, as it has less spells prepared than a 18th level wizard, no spellmastery and no arcane tradition. That doesn’t make any sense at all. The spellselection itself is okay, but not overwhelming. Mirror Image should be a default first defensive action. Ray of Frost comes with a nice debuff and can be used as a legendary action and outperforms the lower level damaging spells. Fireball is often better than the higher level blight. Dimension Door is good for a quick escape, so save one slot for that. Scrying is out of combat and should not be on the list IMO. Disintegrate is the big gun and can be used up to 4 times using higher slots. Power word stun can be a nice Debuff and Planeshift a formidable save or die (though: touch range).

    Disclaimer: The following paragraph is just my thoughts on the Liches spellcasting and does not reflect the Monster Manual. But just consider that - as it is now - a level 18 Wizard would actually loose spellcasting ability by turning into a Lich.

    Spoiler: Alternate Spellcasting
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    The fluff says it keeps its former spellcasting abilities and it has the spell imprisonment in its fluff, but not on the spell list, so it makes perfect sense to assume that the MM has a “standard Lich array”. As a former Wizard aLich can change its prepared spells and further I’d assume it to know every wizard spell in existence, just because it’s a FREAKIN LICH.

    Some suggestions for Spells
    Cantrips: Blade Ward (used as a legendary action every round => Resistance to magical weapons)
    1st: longstrider (no concentration!);
    3rd: Fly
    4th: Banishment (nasty), Greater Invisibility
    5th: Wall of Force (divide & conquer)
    6th: A contingent Spell
    7th: Simulacrum (according to sageadvise the simulacrum could take lair actions)
    9th: Foresight (very nice) Time Stop (good first action); Gate, Wish,… go crazy

    In addition I’d consider one or more of the following changes:

    => AddWizard traits: tradition (necromantic fits); spell mastery (shield and invisibility are strong candidates).*

    => Add More Spellslots

    => Intelligence greater than 20 even the Kraken has 22 (and is therefore the 2nd most intelligent creature after the Solar btw.)

    I think none of this should significantly increase the CR.

    *[I think it’s a bit of a shame they forgot about that, as e.g. the Archmage seems to be a lvl 18 Wizard with the Spell Resistance Feature of the Abjuration Tradition, and their Fluff explicitly states Lichdom as a goal for evil Archmages.]


    Lair Actions
    A Lich in its lair should be treated +1 CR according to the MM. It can gain a random spell slot every other round of level 8 or lower. I think this means that out of combat a Lich in its lair has infinite level 8 or lower spells slots. The second option is to only take half damage AND transfer the other half to a target. The third is quite a massive amount of AoE damage. All three actions seem pretty good depending on the situation: I would default to alternate the damage blast with the spell regain and use the protective option only when they PCs close in.

    In general a Lich is not a good Solo Monster stat- and fluffwise. They are genius-level masterminds with tons of minions (undead, constructs, demons, hirelings, …) and it should be a rare occasion to meet one face-to-face. Also they have access to the rarest magic items (just be aware, that the PCs will loot them off the corpse, so a bit of care is advised). A Liches knowledge is vast, they scheme and don‘t care about time or other resources necessary to reach their goals.The Lich should always be played a nasty as possible by the DM, as it has high intellect and resources t and absolutely no morality or sense of fairness. Let the lich surrender to the party fighter only to touch him for a plane shift to the negative energy plane. Power Word kill the Wizard. If it comes to the point where the heroes have a direct confrontation with a Lich, it will fight to kill.

    Spoiler: Bonus-Round: Detailed Lich Tactics from Flamestrike on ENWorld
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    In a thread on ENWorld the user Flamestrike posted a „Minor Lich“ which is a CR 10 Creature and can only cast up to lvl 6 Spells. He had an ample tactics discussion which might be interesting to read. Please do note that a “Full” Lich could cast higher spells etc. and that AFAIK there are some minor rules mistakes in there. But he plays the Lich in a nasty way, so see this as an inspiration. Credits and Thanks to Flamestrike!

    Taken from ENWorld (http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthr...Their-CR/page3), formatted and edited for typos.
    “Equipment: Bracers of defense, 4 potions of greater healing
    __________________________________________________ __
    Tactics: The Lich has several alarm spells rigged in its dungeon lair, plus a rat familiar (whom the Lich observes the party through its senses, paying particular notice of any clerics, paladins and mages) and undead minions observing the one entrance to the chamber where it is located, making surprise all but impossible. It is unlikely the PCs distinguish the rat from any others they have seen in the dungeon.

    Once alerted to the PCs it casts mirror image a round or two prior to combat starting. On its first action it splits the party with Wall of force. It seeks to isolate the party spell caster (recognizing them as a threat) from the rest of the party (specifically clerics and paladins). Its first legendary action it uses blade ward (granting it resistance to all S/B/P damage till the end of its next turn). It then uses Frightening gaze on the leading creature trapped in the wall of force.

    On its second turn it uses misty step (or dimension door) to teleport behind the party and in a position where it can target the now isolated spellcaster. It uses paralyzing touch (being unable to cast another spell on its turn due to casting misty step as a bonus action) as its action, (repeating it if necessary as its first legendary action) and then spams repeated firebolt or ray of frost cantrips as its remaining legendary actions (trying to provoke an unparalyzed target into using shield, thus preventing the target from using counterspell when the Liches turn next comes around). It uses counter spell itself to counter any dangerous spell directed at it from its target.

    Remember if the target is paralyzed, the Liches attacks are automatically critical hits (6d10 damage) as its within 5' of the target.

    On turn 3, the Lich hits the target with a disintegrate spell (DC 16 Dex save negates) if the target is not paralayzed. If the target attempts to counterspell this, the Lich counters this counterspell. If the target is paralyzed, the Lich simply continues to destroy the target with more paralyzing touches, rays of frost or firebolts (remember, these are critical hits if they land) saving its more dangerous spells for other PCs (preferring to save its 6th level slot for a third wall of force). It is wary of using disintegrate unless desperate as its main goal is to loot the PCs of their magic items.

    Once the target is at 0HP the Lich continues to hit the target with ranged attacks until it fails 3 death saves. As it does so it taunts the other PCs who are stranded on the rear of the wall of force who forced to watch helplessly as this happens. It then loots the dead PC corpse (make sure you laugh evilly as you do so).

    On its next turn it retreats 100' away into the darkness (it is unlikely that any PCs can see it 100' away, but the Lich has true sight 120') drinks its potions of healing if necessary, casts blade ward as a legendary action and then casts wall of force again (breaking its concentration on the first wall), isolating a second PC, and repeats this process.

    (It backs off into the darkness, heals and protects itself with blade ward as it realizes PCs with readied actions who can see the Lich might anticipate this move and attack the Lich during the brief instant the first wall drops and the second one appears).

    The Lich is also fond of repeatedly using its frightening gaze through the wall at helpless PCs trapped inside it.

    If sorely pressed (the Lich only attacks as it wants the PCs gear, if they seriously challenge it, it leaves at once) it uses dimension door to teleport to a special isolated 'panic room' it had constructed underground 300' away (isolated by over 200' of solid rock, it was dug out of the dungeon with the aid of ethereal creatures, who the Lich then destroyed). It is in this room that it stores its loot, its spellbook and its phylactery. The room contains several potions of greater healing and three scrolls of dimension door. It is located 400' away (through solid rock again) from an underground river that leads to the surface (allowing the Lich to dimension door out of this room and to the river - seeing as it doesn’t need to breathe, the Lich then uses the river to escape to the outside by walking along the bottom of it).

    The panic room is protected by an alarm spell that is triggered if a non-undead creature enters it (a difficult proposition at best). It is also lined with lead, warding it against divination magic.

    After fleeing the dungeon, it hires competent spies (and its familiar) to steal bits of hair or minor personal effects from the PCs (for use with scrying) and keeps tabs on the PCs. It then (via several lackies and stooges) arranges for the PCs to be hired for a supposedly easy task (engineered by the Lich) that leads them into a dungeon (designed by the Lich) full of death traps and super deadly encounters (the Lich is not present in the dungeon). Several assassins wait outside the dungeon to kill the weary PCs on their exit.

    If the Lich forms the view that a PC might be willing to betray the others, it sends agents to strike a deal with that PC for him to kill the others in exchange for a legendary magic item of the PCs choice (plus his pick of his companions gear) and a pardon from the Lich.”


    Hooks

    The Lich is a perfect example where you can avoid PC vs. NPC and build it up as NPC vs. NPC: While the lvl 20 Heroes Party might be perfectly able to deal with a Lich, they are the mighty 0.00001% of the population. Leaving 99.9999…% of your worlds’ population being weaker than the Lich, even combined. So maybe in your world your high-levels don’t have much to fear from a Lich – but the world does. It can put quite some pressure on the Player characters if it’s not their lives at stakes but the lives of 10.000 peasants.

    The Phylactery of a certain Lich cannot be destroyed by normal magic or brute force, but only by three odd things: The first sunlight of spring, the cry of a newborn and the feather of a Phoenix. Can the heroes obtain those curious items?

    After 870 years of study an eons old Lich reappears in the Kingdom of Yourcampaign. His vast magical knowledge enables him to cast long lost magic [D&D 3.5?]. He appears to be working on a very powerful ritual, that could release what some might call an ‘epic spell’. Can the PCs stop him in time?

    A mighty magic item in the possession of the heroes is in reality a Liches’ phylactery. Are the heroes able to figure out why said Lich is harassing them?

    An Ancient Red Dragon lusts for the vast treasures of a powerfull Lich. Their escalating conflict is an increasing danger to the realm, as broad landscapes are destroyed. Only the heroes are powerfull enough to deal with this threat, but how?

    A Lich is in control of a portal to the nine hells and uses it as a source of power. A Pitfiend knows about this and is trying to destroy its Phylactery to bring a permanent end to the Lich and release the hellish hordes to the material plane. The Lich is striking a deal with the heroes to stop the demons in order to save the world.

    A shady individual offers a quest to the heroes. He works for an unknown third party who is interested in a certain magic item and wants to remain anonymous. The promised reward is very high with the option of further employments. Can the heroes figure out who really is behind all this? [Spoiler: A Lich ;)]

    A legendary Magic Item can only be activated by a willing, good aligned creature. Can the Lich strike a deal with the heroes?

    A Lich has imprisoned the son of the king in its phylactery. The heroes have 24 hours to free him.

    Verdict

    The Lich remains one of the BBEGs of this edition and I think it is overall a very interesting creature. In former editions the Lich used to be a template and IMO it made sense that way, but it is really easy in this edition to costumize creatures.


    Lizardfolk (by Unoriginal on 2017-11-18)

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    Introduction

    Lizardfolk are one of the many reptilian sapient species of the D&D world. Present since 1975 as brawn-over-brains water-dweller combatants, originialy known as Lizardmen, those beings are the "dignified" heirs of various reptile-men found in different pulp fantasy stories.

    Art

    This artwork is far from the worse in the book. It depicts the creature implied by the statblock and the fluff fairly well, showing a lizard-looking humanoid (or maybe an humanoid-looking lizard) with proportions fitting that kind of creature, equipped with unsophisticated but efficient gears, and in a pose that manages to convey the impression the Lizardfolk just moved and turned their head in reaction to something on their left side. The eyes and the open mouth in particular manages to make the picture seems life-like, and the colored fin on their head is a welcome break in the sea of brown and green the rest of the pic is (along with a few spots on the throat). On the other hand, as an illustration of a perfectly generic Lizardfolk, one could say the being doesn't really show any hint of personality. Which might have been on purpose, but that element is still missing.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Lizardfolk are not smart. This need to be said. The "standard" Lizardfolk is barely smarter than an Ogre, and their leaders are just around what is considered "average joe" level for humanoids. As a result, even if they know how to use the terrain to their advantage, they're not likely to pull off complexe plans or strategies.

    The "standard" Lizardfolk is a good mook, adapted for the kind of territories you're likely to encounter them. Their Multiattack can make them a thorn in the flank for low-level PCs (due to it making them pack a decent punch), as can their skill bonuses and their capacity to hold breath for a long while if they're in a swamp or the like, and a couple could maybe even be used as a boss for level 1 PCs. They can also damage enemies at range with their javelins. Other than that, their relatively low AC and HPs make them a threat that's easy to deal with if you're careful and don't just stand there getting hit. Their Spiked Shield in particular can be a surprise for players who think they've seen every kind of weapons once they've read the PHB. All in all, they're good minions for anyone whose job is related to reptiles or swamps, even for the PCs if they manage to hire them, and they make for a decent random encounter or minor antagonists when crossing their territory is required.

    The Lizardfolk Shaman, on the other hand, is a good opportunity to remind players and PCs alike that no matter the kind of power they wield, others in the world wield it too. As a "druid", the Shaman can conjure hostile reptiles (EDIT: the Shaman's apparent ace-in-the-hole, their efficiency is limited in practice but they can be deadly in the right circumstances if used to harass enemies while the Shaman is staying away and safe), restrain enemies, attack them with damaging cantrips, control the environment, and make using metal equipment dangerous. While far from a strong magic user, the Shaman is a good way to introduce the PCs to fighting enemy casters and what they should expect from it. EDIT:The Shaman can also shapeshift into a crocodile, which allow them to apply the Restrained condition on one enemy they grapple with their Bite attack. It can be deadly if the croco-Shaman then drag the grappled adventurer underwater, or in a group of enemy who can benefit from the advantage granted to them when attacking the Restrained foe. Still, the DC to break out is relatively easy and the Shaman can hardly afford being in melee for long.

    Indeed, the Shaman's low AC and barely-above-mook HPs make them pretty squishy (EDIT: and, coupled with relatively low CON, also make them pretty unlikely to succeed at Concentration), especially given their CR of 2. In other words, the Shaman has the same strengths and weaknesses of the regular Lizardfolk: if they can control the environment with their abilities and skills, they can make notable opponents, but they're definitively not able to take as well as they dish. Could make a fun mid-boss,an efficient leader of mooks (as their spells can help in this endeavor), or as I said as a tutorial on what enemy spellcasters will be like.

    Still on the subject of bosses, the Lizard King/Queen is made to be one. With still a relatively low AC and HPs on the low side for their CR of 4, the Lizard monarch is still a cookie tough enough to lord over the other Lizardfolk. Their Saving Throws and immunity to the frightened condition make them a bit resistant to PCs' tricks, and their Skewer ability both let them deal serious damage and make them tougher tanks to the temporary HPs they get from it. Well-used, the King/Queen can be an interesting opponent.

    In general, all the Lizardfolks work best using their common abilities to their advantage: ambushing enemies with Stealth, with assistance from the Shaman's spell or not, and using their swim speed and Hold Breath ability to turn water into a deadly trump card, either attack at distance while the adventurers struggle to close the gap or harassing them up close with multiattacks.

    Fluff

    The Lizardfolk's lore is like one could expect: they're near-emotionless, amoral xenophobes who will kill you and eat you in a grand feast if you bother them in their swamps, probably avoiding being evil because they generally don't go out of their way to attack others or harass nearby settlements which haven't wronged them. Sometime they allies with other humanoids and come to value such alliances. Some of them have magic, and some of them are more powerful due to the influence of an evil god, which makes them good bosses to fight. An interesting point in this edition is that the Lizardfolk are dragon-worshipers, like the kobolds, and they speak Draconic.

    The fluff is far from bad, but with little surprise (aside from the dragon worship). The Lizardfolk lore ends up being like the Lizardfolk themselves: perfectly serviceable for their purpose, but isolated, self-contained, and without much room for what is not practical.

    Hooks

    Under the Sea

    A Triton comes to see the adventurers, and explain his conundrum: his teacher desires access to an underwater temple that was once built by Air-worshipers, but the ancient enchantments forbid anyone who is capable of breathing underwater from entering (even if it is thanks to magic). The Triton asks the adventurers to find a Lizardfolk capable of holding their breath long enough to get in the temple and stop the enchantment.

    A Midsummer's Swamp Dream

    Encountered near the road, a group of Pixies invite the PCs to a Faerie Court, which will be held in a nearby swamp, as soon as they are done with the preparations. However, as the sun sets and the Pixies get to work to create a truly magical atmosphere for the festivities, it becomes obvious the area they're working in is the territory of a tribe of Lizardfolk, who are not ones to shy away from attacking and eating the intruders. It's time for the adventurers to fight for their lives and, more important, for avoiding to piss off the powerful Feys who will show up in due time.

    Long Live the Queen

    For weeks, the Lizard Queen Ar-Gozzir has terrorized everyone who has taken the only road through the swamps to the south, as she has been challenging each traveler who has taken it to a fight to the death, either a wrestling match or a weapon-vs-weapon melee match, and had her troops slaughter those who refused. She has constructed an enormous altar to her own glory with the remains of her victims. The secret of her success (that of course, the PCs will not know)? One of her parents was a water demon, and as a result she regenerates from the wounds, inflicted to her, even lethal ones, as long as she is in contact with a body of water. Can the adventurers defeat the Queen?

    Verdict

    A decent monster who has found its niche and is occupying it well. One might wonder if they're not too comfortable in their usual comfort zone, at the cost of trying something risky for a better payoff. Still a solid entry.


    Lycanthrope (by the_brazenburn on 2017-11-20)

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    Introduction

    A history-heavy creature, the lycanthrope is a staple of horror, and for good reason. A mix of beast and man, with a bite that will turn you into one of its kind and that is immune to non-silvered weapons, these monsters have been around and kicking since the early editions of D&D.

    Art

    The art is very good in this edition. I like the werewolf, though I think the proportions seem a little off. It does a good job of showing off its bestial nature with the fanged grimace, and the black fur all over the body definitely adds something. I just wish it was pictured with the spear mentioned in its stat block, but overall, it’ll do fine. The werebear is much more benevolent. The art makes it look friendly, in a “get off my land or I’ll kill you” kind of way. More of a kind of reclusive hermit than a flesh-eating monster. The wererat seems small, even though there’s no sense of scale, but the art does a reasonable job of showing its evil cunning. Then there’s the weretiger, pictured in much the same way as the werebear. A noble hunter, but don’t get on its bad side. The one problem I’ve got with the weretiger is that it is pictured in its hybrid form, which this creature is supposed to avoid using.

    Statistics

    Hmmm, is this supposed to be scary? The damages are just a little low, but they get Multiattack, and the lycanthropy on the bite attack is definitely dangerous. The low AC detracts from the (usually) average hit points, but the big draw here is the resistances. All lycanthropes are immune to all weapons that aren’t silvered, which are probably too expensive for 3rd level characters (the recommended CR for a werewolf). This results in very difficult fights for most low-level parties, which might have to flee or lose a player or two. Unfortunately, at higher levels, the lycans aren’t strong enough to make even average mooks, since the players will have magic or silver weapons at their disposal.

    Fluff

    The fluff here is pretty predictable. Half-human beasts who can turn into animals. No surprises there. The werewolves hunt in packs, and often attract mundane or dire wolves. Same goes for the wererats, who often have giant rats with them. Fine, but I wish this was reflected in the stat block with Pack Tactics. The werebears and weretigers mostly live alone. I’m not sure about the boars, but at a guess I’d have them leading groups of bandits or raiders in the hinterlands.

    Hooks

    People have gone missing from the Yushudhafnownbetr Road, and there is a strange prevalence of wolves in the area. Will the PCs hunt down the culprits, or will they become the next victims of the Black Moon pack?

    Duke Completefool has need of a brave party of adventurers to slay the Direboar of the Wylderwood. Little does he know that the Direboar is serviced by a pack of vicious wereboars.

    A trusted ally of the PCs has been acting strangely ever since he returned from the forest with that awful bite mark on his arm. The player go to find out what’s wrong with him, but unfortunately it’s a full moon…

    Verdict

    Easily recognizable mid-level mooks, but too dependent on their resistances to be more than situational.


    Magmin (by Unoriginal on 2017-11-24)

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    Introduction

    What is small and like setting things on fire nearly as much as your average murderhobo? An halfling murderhobo. But a bit less pyromaniac is the Magmin, present in the D&D since 1981 every time the DM wants something both low level, on fire, and not dying from the fire.

    Notable, the Magmin made an appearance in the second D&D movie, in an rather accurate portrayal of the lil' bugger.

    Art

    A pretty good artwork. The artist managed to capture the "impish spirit/lump of magma who likes to spew fire" look very well, and the judicious use of the page's space as well as the elemental's posture manages to make it look small, yet not harmless. The magmin's expression manages to make it look a bit dangerous, yet more happy than evil, kind of like a jack'o lantern.

    Purpose and Tactics

    The Magmin isn't the strongest monster out there, yet it has some nice things going for it. While its attack bonus is not incredibly high, it can deal decent damage for a low-level monster, with the added bonus of dealing continuous damages due to the ignition unless the creature takes an action to deal with the fire, and while its AC isn't high (though far from horrible for its CR) and its HP pretty low, its Death Burst can be a nasty surprise for the less agile member of the group, who already risk to have been damaged in such an encounter. Add to this its resistances, which are not that easy to bypass at low level, and

    The deadliest warrior? Far from it. But still more of a threat than what could be expected at first glance.

    Against beginner PCs or those who think they've seen everything because they've beat up three goblins and two bandits, a Magmin can be used as a tutorial fight to show them not everything will be that easy and that opponents have capacities one must take into account. At higher level, if used as an obstacle, the Magmin is best treated like a more dangerous, mobile square-of-the-battlegrid-that-is-on-fire that deals more than the regular 1d6 damages.

    Two nice tricks could be to have several of them either disguise themselves as lamps before plunging the area in darkness by extinguishing their flames, forcing the PCs to adapt once they're stuck in the middle of their elemental enemies, or to hide in the darkness and reveal themselves, as well as hidden traps or tricks, once the PCs have progressed in the room enough.

    Another purpose the Magmin could serve is to drive hom the point for players how dangerous monsters are for the average people. A Magmin, for a Commoner, is terrifying opponent who can burn them to death in an instant with little they can do to harm it before that, no matter how small and easy-to-beat they may seem to adventurers.

    As a NPC, however, the Magmin has more potential. While, ironically enough, not the brightest torch in the shop, the Magmin has the Wisdom and Charisma as your humanoid average joe, and is only slightly below average in Intelligence. Which, interestingly enough, makes them far smarter than most PCs and players would expect (and it could translate in combat as them being able to pull out decent plans and tactics)=. Much like the Invisible Stalker, if one happens to be able to communicate with them, the Magmins could reveal to have more depths than just being summoned lighters. In particular, they could have interest in the Material Plane despite their fire-based mindset, or simply be aware of how civilisation works due to hanging around/in the City of Brass or other Plane of Fire settlements. Avoiding just making them "small annoying creature number #413", like many would be tempted to do, would be a nice way for DMs to spice potential interactions

    Fluff

    The Magmins' lore is short but functional, and describes a lot of who they are in a concise, interesting way. They're summoned beings of fire, and they like to set things ablaze. While not the most inspiring, it's more than enough to make an entertaining encounter out of them.

    Hooks

    The Bard's Prisoners

    In an exotic tent found in a traveler's camp, the adventurers see a Magmin and a Magma Mephit locked up in a bone and ivory cage. If they approaches, the two fire beings try to communicate with them in an heavily accented and approximative Common mixed with their native languages, as they've been trying to learn. As it turns out, Ganau, the Magmin, and Urlash, the Mephit, have been given to a bard named Samon, the tent's owner, by a caster as reward for a favor Samon did him. Since then, the bard has been using them as attractions, making them show off their pyrotechnics and capacities, but mostly making them fight either each other or various animals in combat pits all around the country, sometime even humanoids feeling bold enough to try. This has gotten the bard a lot of gold, but the two elementals can't stand this life anymore, especially because they might die from it. They beg the adventurers to free them, Urlash even proposing to pay them with some obsidian it managed to create thanks to its power and hide (it would only be worth an handful of gp at most, but it's quite literally everything the two prisoners have).

    Horsing Around

    After years of being an horrible person to everyone lower than him on the totem pole, including being abusive toward his family, treating his employees worse than manure, and using his relative fortune to bully anyone who tried to oppose him, Pad the Stabble Master has finally went and pissed off more than he could chew: after being odious with a mysterious stranger, Pard was cursed. Now, any time he tries to leave his stabbles, he is pursued by some kind of horrible fiery imp, who burns anything he carries and as many clothes as possible before the man can escape, and vanishing in a puff of smoke once Pad enters the stabbles. More and more irate, the colossal jerk is willing to hire adventurers to have his problem deal with, promising a nice salary. Too bad Pad has never really been one to keep his promises...

    A Very Magmin Equinox

    As the night fall on the day of the autumn equinox, the PCs notice a strange light on the top of a hill, where one can see menhirs and other stone monoliths. If they approaches, they see a group of Magmins merrily playing some games with fire, eating charcoal and wooden branches, dancing, and making music by hitting stones and metal boxes with metal rods, or by hitting the stones or the rods together, blowing horns, letting out bursts of flames of various intensity, or blowing air and fire in what appears to be glass flutes. As they see the adventurers approaching, the Magmins waves at them in a friendly, inviting way, and the few of them who speak Common welcome them. They say it is a tradition they have for the Celebration of Hua, date on which a portal to the Plane of Fire open all night long, and would be more than happy to share with friendly travelers. They would be particularly pleased if the adventurers shared dance, music or stories with them. As the daw draws near, one of those who speak Common will tell the tale of the Lord of the Sun, who often travels in the Plane of Fire on his golden chariot, and of how he tried to court Obscurity, leading to him facing many colorful trials and beings in his attempts. This is the story that is behind the celebration.

    Verdict

    A nice monster, with its own personality and enough particularity to make it an interesting encounter.


    Manticore (by Unoriginal on 2017-12-05)

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    Introduction

    A monster from Persia, probably mostly remembered for its encounter with Alexander the Great, the Manticore is one of the weird composite beings of which old myths have the secret: an humanoid head with fangs, a lion's body, a scorpion's tail, and sometime wings and spikes. A strangely memorable appearance for a creature so obscure. 5e's version is slightly different, however.

    Art

    While the artwork is not the best nor the one that look the most like a living being, it still manage to present the danger and the weirdness of the Manticore. The pose is somewhat awkward: it could work for a Manticore suddenly taking a defensive stance, but it doesn't look like there is much weight on its front limb. Otherwise, the Manticore's body language manages to carry the very feline "try to make itself look bigger to intimidate" tactic pretty well, especially with the wings raised and the tail twisted to up the threatening impression, and a simple look at the Manticore's eyes immediately give the impression this being is intelligent and hostile. While the ranges of teeth are nicely done, the mouth itself is kind of weirdly drawn, though it could be intentional or simply due to the angle.

    Purpose and Tactics

    What set them aside from other flying beasts or the predatory animals they seem to be is, aside from the fact they're sapient beings capable as smart as your typical Lizardfolk (and so are able to use tactics and the like), is that the Manticore does have a ranged weapon in the form of its tail spikes, and this can make all the difference. It can also surprise players who are convinced they're about to fight yet another melee-only beast.

    The fluff section describes the typical Manticore tactics as: 1) if against an inferior opponent, throw one volley of spikes, then land and attack, and 2) if against a superior opponent in an open space, stay flying at a distance and harass them with the spikes. Simple an efficient, those could be all what the Manticore needs, but there more possibilities that shouldn't be ignored: the Manticore picking up rocks, tree trunks, bee/wasp/ant hive or the like between its paws to drop on the enemies, it digging deep holes and hiding them to trap who fall into without having wings, it damaging trees or rock formations to make them fall on the PCs, or it harassing people to coral them toward hazardous environment or the like are all valid options, and in my opinion an interesting way to spice up an encounter.

    Also note the Manticores will hunt in group if the prize is worth it.

    With its flight, its potentially nasty Multiattacks, its ranged attacks, and the tactics they can use, the Manticore is a nice, well-rounded opponent, well-adjusted for its CR of 3. Several Manticores all attacking higher-level PCs could be a memorable fight, as well, and the same can be said of Manticores fighting alongside beings like orcs, hobgoblins, giants and the like. Its AC and HPs, while still decent, do make it a bit squishy for a group, though.

    As a social encounter, the Manticore isn't without interest either. While malevolent, Manticores can speak and are only slightly dumber than the bottom of the humanoid average, and the MM does mention they are sometime open to negotiate with someone if they this can benefit them more than just killing and eating this person. A Manticore could give hints for the PCs' quests, info on the land, introduce them to some of the beings it deals with periodically, or just side quests like "deal with the evil cult that's making my food flee the area" or other things of the same register.

    Fluff

    The Manticore's fluff is pretty nice. It details its typical battle tactics, the way it hunts and interact with others, be they other Manticores, allies, enemies, rivals or dragons (Manticores having a very Shadowrun approach toward dragons), making the entry ripe with plot hooks and potential adventures. All in all, a nice piece of lore, if nothing ground-breaking, which help the 5e Manticore distinguish itself.

    Hooks

    Not Me This Time

    A Manticore has been captured by the soldiers of a nearby military camp, where the PCs currently are following a lead to find evil cultists in the region, and is going to be killed soon. Yet, it pretends it is not the one who massacred those it is accused to have done, blaming the cultists the PCs are searching for. The Manticore is ready to tell where the real perpetrators are, and what it knows about them, as long as someone stay in its cage with it while others are checking if the Manticore say the truth, as guarantee to make sure it won't get killed anyway even if it speak no falsehood. The camp's leader turns to the PCs, asking if one of them would take the risk since it's related to their current adventure...

    The Champion

    During a festival, a large man dressed only in a loincloth and fur boots, covered by scars and still in decent shape despite his age (most noticeable thanks to his white hair and large beard, and the fat accumulating on what were sculptural muscles when he was younger) calls himself Brutus the Tall and boasts of his might and combat prowesses. To prove it, he shows the audience the cage of a "savage, rage-filled beast", which gnarls, roars and shake the heavy cages in all directions, and open the door, freeing the Manticore inside. After a somewhat brief but spectacular fight where Brutus overpower the Manticore, it is dragged back to its cage, the audience cheering and throwing coins at the display. In reality, Brutus and the Manticore are working together to put a crowd-pleasing show, both having realized fighting and scavenging in the wild all their lives for little was just not worth it, especially once old age make it more difficult. But how will the PCs react to a monster being released like that, and if they find out about the backstage deal...?

    The Wizard's Apprentice

    As the PCs are exploring a little-known area, Sand-dweller the Manticore lands near them and ask to speak with them. Sand-dweller, who is smarter than most of its kind (meaning it is in the humanoid average, maybe in the upper limits), has decided to become a Wizard, as it seeks knowledge and power that would set it above its current station in life. Having heard of the feats of the party's wizard, it has decided it wanted to become their apprentice. Sand-dweller is willing to pay for its tuition in any way that it doesn't consider abusive, be it by helping the adventurers in their job, performing tasks for them, or by giving the Wizard treasure it has gathered

    Verdict

    A pretty good monster which can leave a great impression if used like its entry suggest, or by pushing a bit further.
    Last edited by odigity; 2017-12-07 at 11:16 AM.

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    Medusa (by Unoriginal on 2017-12-07)

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    Introduction

    Named after the most famous of the three Gorgons from Greek Mythology, the Medusa is a persistent figure in D&D's monster menagerie, and their iconic petrifying gaze has made adventurers paranoid about the presence of statues for decades.

    Art

    An amazing artwork, perhaps one of the best in the book. Between the expression, pose and bearing of the Medusa, which would fit an empress, her clothes and jewelry, which give an impression of justified grandeur, of femme fatale chic, and of mourning of a past glory, and her sculptural, attractive yet inhuman appearance, this drawing manages to perfectly capture the fluff and the ethos of the creature. I actually thought the Medusa depicted was wearing a beautiful steel mask to hide her face at first, when I looked at a downsized version of the picture, only to realize she really was that attractive once I've seen a larger version. My only small regret for this picture is that the hair-snakes aren't emphasized much, being a bit discreet, but it does fit with the way the Medusa is depicted this edition. Still, a 10/10.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Due to its iconic nature, it's likely the first thing one would check about any Medusa statblock, in any version of the game, is if its gaze attack is up to snuff. For the 5e version, the gaze itself is pretty nice, as the DC is just decently difficult enough, the effects are incredibly dangerous and the PCs won't get immune to it if they succeed it once like some other monster powers. It's just as powerful as something so iconic need to be, while still being fair in the chances the adventurers have to avoid it, notably with the possibility to advert their gazes, which add a tactic consideration to the fight.

    But while the Medusas are mostly known for their petrifying gaze, it's far from the only good thing about them.

    With their decent, if not exceptional AC and HPs, the Medusa is durable enough to show off its capacities. But their true strength, in conventional combat, is that they hit like a brick. Being a surprisingly decently skilled weapon user (though not having the highest to-hit bonus), the Medusa disposes of a longbow with poisoned arrows, great to keep the heroes at long range, and of a shortshort her snake hair, which allows her to deliver the hurt to those who managed to get close enough and avoid the cursed glare, with the Multiattack making those options purely and simply nasty for low-level PCs, and still reasonably dangerous at higher level as it compensate for the less-than-average hit chances.

    Add to this their fairly decent stats and their nice selection of skill proficiencies, and you have a great, well-rounded encounter with someone who's good at fooling and at not getting others get the drop on them, be it in a fight or a conversation.

    In combat, the Medusa should do everything they can to keep the PCs away as long as they're able to, using their stealth and their intimate knowledge of their environment. Traps and secret passages to give the Medusa access to the PCs without them being able to retaliate should abound in a Medusa's lair, as would other ways of controlling the environment (crowded spaces, walls that move, etc). And when the time of the melee arrives, players will probably be surprise by the combination of having to avoid looking, getting restrained in case of failure, and the close combat prowess of their serpentine adversary.

    It should be observed that the Medusa is not very good against magic, however, even if it would be hard for a caster to target them with their more direct spells. Still, beware of AoE and the like.

    Add a few minions who can keep the adventurers at bay, and the Medusa becomes far more dangerous, with the capacity to be a competent leader and even more of an harassing, ranged menace. Add beefy minions who don't have to worry about the Medusa's gaze too much, like golems, and the encounter can become a massacre even for mid-high PCs.

    Outside of combat, the Medusa can be a pretty nice social encounter. As a former Very Important Person, and as an immortal being, there is a lot of things PC could want to learn from a Medusa, be it the past of the BBEG or the location of a lost city. And as a being who wanted others to admire and worship them now reduced to living in isolation, the Medusa has reasons to want to discuss even with a bunch of tomb-robbers who are probably after her treasures, which could open the dialogue between them and the adventurers.

    Something that could be very interesting both for fighting and social encounters would be to pair the Medusa with Boggles from the Volo's, which are born from the isolation and abandonment felt by sapient beings. Both their fluff and their capacities (in particular the Boggle's oil combined with the Medusa's gaze, and the Dimensional Rift combined with the Medusa's lair) work well together, and it's an uncommon pairing that would be fresh and fun to explore.

    Fluff

    While the Greek Myths Medusa was either born a monster or cursed into one for being raped/having sex without the person in charge of her approving (the Greeks didn't distinguish between the two, the woman's own consent was not what they concerned themselves with) in the temple of Athena, the 5e's Medusa present a new take on the monster, adding a bit of Narcisse, a bit of Cassandra and a bit of Midas in the mix.

    Medusas are humanoids -male or female- who went to magical entities and asked for the boon of eternal youth and the admiration of their peers. Yet, after a time living as demigods, they end up turning into petrifying, reptilian monsters and force them to live in isolation. They keep the attractiveness and immortality, though, but cannot enjoy it as much as before due to risking to petrify themselves if they indulge in looking at themselves.

    Hooks

    Evicted!

    The Medusa Ana-Zora, former Orc Queen, has lived for centuries, millennia even. And for millennia, she has explored, conquered, restored and kept maintained the Great Labyrinth that runs below the capital city, which was built here to contain the ancient evil at the heart of the Labyrinth. And now, some kind of upstart villain in black robes would pretend to evict her? No, ten times no, it won't be tolerated. Now, to see if the traveling sellswords of this era are still so easy to convince to risk their lives for some gold and a few promises...

    The Archbishop's Problem

    At first glance, people could think Bertrand of Olmer is an happy man. And he certainly has many reasons to enjoy life: he is one of the best rhetoric masters of his church, has reached the rank of Archbishop fairly quickly thanks to his charisma and devotion, has not one wrinkle despite being past 50, and, while he's not a Cleric, is often considered one of the best servant of his god in the country. Yet, Bertrand is getting nervous. Hearing of the PCs' feats, he meet with them, and explain his problem: when he was young and foolish, stumbling on a dare into an old cave where an altar had been built, he freed the Efreeti that was contained there. The genie granted him two wishes, and Bertand wished for eternal youth and a great charisma, which he got. Now, though, Betrand is not a fool anymore, and he knows a price will have to be payed soon. He asks the PCs to accompany him on a pilgrimage, where he might fight a solution to his problem, or at least another Wish...

    Success's Scales

    Ekaterina, a Wizard and adventurer the PCs have had several friendly encounter with, has come back from an expedition a week ago. Yet no one has seen her since, holed in her tower as she is. If visited, Ekaterina will reveal the truth: touching an antique copper jar in a crumbling ruin, she released an old curse, and has been turned into a Medusa... and she loves it! While she's always considered herself plain and without interest, she considers her new form to be incredibly attractive, and the perks of the snake hair and the immortality are simply wonderful! She just needs to deal with that little "risk turning others and herself into stone by accident" business, and she'll have everything she could want. And it would help her a lot if the PCs helped her gather some ingredients for her anti-petrification magic item...

    Verdict

    A beyond excellent take on an iconic monster.


    Mephits (by Unoriginal on 2017-12-10)

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    Introduction

    The Mephits, small impish beings of combined elements, have an interesting start to their story. They first appeared in a 1979 issue of White Dwarf (a magazine which, a bit more than two decades later, will be one of the main reasons as to why I started playing RPGs), where they had the name of "imps". They then got their current name in the first Fiend Folio, and various strange variations (like the glass or ooze Mephit) started popping up over the years.

    Art

    The Mephits' illustrations are rather good. Their faces do convey the mischievous pettiness their fluff implies, with their smiles/rictuses and small eyes deep in their skulls, and each of them do give the impression they're made of their elemental subtances, from the Ice Mephit's well-made translucent, crystaline aspect to the Smoke and Steam ones' gaseous forms, passing through the viscose, semi-liquid, dripping impression given by the appearances of the Lava and Mud Mephits. They also look small, thanks to their posture and bodily proportions (although one could argue they might look too small, since Mephits aren't Tiny, but Small like Gnomes or Halflings). My only minor complain is that they're all very similar in appearance and pose, aside from their elemental makeups (which could have been the goal, but I'd have liked something a bit more personalized, like one laughing and pointing, another being angry, and a third looking with incomprehension on its face). Good artworks but, like most things in this entry, could have been pushed further for a better result.

    Purpose and Tactics

    The Mephits are basically your first supernatural rogue types. The main tactics they would use is laying in ambush using their Stealth and look, harasing the PCs by flying around and use their Breaths and/or innate spells to hurt and hinder the heroes (rince and repeat as much as possible, retreat otherwise), with some melee only when desperate (at least, against tough opponents). And when they die, their Death Burst can hurt or hinder the PCs one final time. Using them to illustrate the even apparently weak opponents can give tough fights, and that weird beings have weird powers, would be a good fit for them. Otherwise, they make for somewhat decent scouts, especially the Smoke Mephit.

    Now, the Mephit kinds of rise the question: what is a threat? A Mephit doesn't seem like they're going to be much of a threat even for low-level PCs, with their low AC compensated somewhat by decent HPs. But with some luck (or bad luck from their foes), the Mephits can be dangerous, especially in large numbers, where one of their power got to hit once. Their spells and breaths can be quite potent if they do hit, which would be a turning point in a battle. And one has to put things in perspective how much creatures are a threat to the normal, non-adventuring folks: for Commoners, Mephits are monsters capable of killing you with one hit and who risk to take a guard's life even after getting killed.

    Having the Mephits be in groups of varied elemental natures, or having them serve as support for other creatures, would be a good way to use the Mephits.

    But if you want to make them significantly stronger, give them shields and/or other armors. The main weakness of the Mephit is its low AC, and a Lava Mephit proudly wearing and obsidian helmet and plastron, or the Dust Mephit carrying a corroded, antique bronze it looted from a tomb, would make them somewhat more durable, both in battle and in people's memories.

    Fluff

    The fluff is nice, but spartan. It barely has the room to describe the Mephits' personalities and their nature.

    We migth expect and extended look at the Mephits in the book on Planes, WotC is likely cooking, but I wouldn't bet on that.

    Hooks

    Smoke on the Water, Fire in the Sky

    A dimensional rift opened by a careless spellcaster is causing troubles: Lava and Smoke Mephits are pooring out of it, and fighting for conquering the other's lands, the Lava Mephits having claimed the sky while the Smoke ones have claimed the surface of a lake, both trying to set up bases in their respective area (mostly by stealing fishers' cabines or building houses in soon-to-be-burned trees. How will the PCs handle this situation?

    Mist and Mirror

    The so-called Queen of Steam has contacted the PCs, asking them to retrieve a legendary magic mirror in a dungeon, being even willing to pay in advance a part of the PCs' reward. But is the mirror even real, when so many doubt it? Was the dungeon set up by the Mephits to trick the PCs? And what does the Queen want the mirror for?

    A Dubious Guide is a Guide Indeed

    As they search for the remains of an ancient necropolis where a Mummy Lord might be heading to to replenish their army, the PCs can only find a Dust Mephit called Ocresea as a guide. It's not going to be a pleasant trip...

    Verdict

    A nice monster, but with its full potential who really would have benefited from going further, or at least deeper with its concepts.


    Merfolk (by QuickLyRaiNbow on 2017-12-11)

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    Introduction

    Merfolk are the humans of under the sea, the default humanoid creature when you need something familiar instead of a weird fish-thing. They're back in the main Monster Manual for 5E after being left out of 4E's.

    Merfolk are as iconic within the broader culture as any creature in the Monster Manual. Religious depictions of fish-human hybrids go back to at least 1000 BC, and may stretch further back than that. Legends about merfolk or similar creatures are found across the Middle East and Europe, and in Japan, the Caribbean, China, Brazil, the Philippines, Nigeria, Polynesia and Cameroon. While sometimes friendly or docile, they're frequently malign tricksters who lure people to watery graves.

    Merfolk have been depowered somewhat in 5th Edition compared to 3.5. They're slightly faster on land but slower in the water, and they've lost their tridents and crossbows. Fortunately for those who encounter them, merfolk have also lost their inbuilt penchant for mischief.

    Art

    3rd Edition merfolk art is watercolor Waterhouse, with a pretty, only slightly exotic young lady cradling and caressing a handsome male sailor who may or may not be dead. 5th Edition takes a more contemporary direction. The classical form is retained, though the tail is longer and more heavily finned than usual. Gone are the bizarrely star-shaped nipples; what we get is a blue-skinned creature with a bunch of fins, including a headdress reminiscent of some of the Warcraft naga. This version also wears clothes, including a skirt of sorts around the waist, which is unusual. The torso and face are very humanoid, but the flattened nose, extensive fins and long, webbed fingers with an extra joint keep the merfolk from looking too prosaic. The merfolk here has metal jewelry and working buckles, which is unusual for reasons explained in the fluff section.

    Overall, less Ariel, more Rajis Fyashe. It's a good change.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Merfolk probably aren't there to be antagonists for PCs. Their default civilization is small hunting-gathering tribes, but also sometimes those tribes coalesce into dynastic kingdoms that last centuries. It doesn't make a great deal of sense, but it doesn't have to; merfolk will fill the same role in an aquatic campaign as random elves and dwarves and humans do in a typical above-water campaign. Of course, the relative paucity of undersea antagonists means that your PCs will probably fight some merfolk with class levels at some point.

    Merfolk need those levels to pose any real threat. At CR 1/8, they're not a challenge. Merfolk run by the book have improvised spears and no combat advantages other than 40' swim speed. They can throw the spears, but don't have natural weapons to fall back on. Against a party that can move around in the water, their best tactics are to keep their distance as best they can, throw spears and retreat to salvage more (though they don't have any special ability to do this). Attacking in swarms is pretty much their only hope without being leveled up. Fortunately, as underwater humans, there's no reason not to bulk them up if needed.

    In an above-ground campaign, merfolk will appear rarely as a possible source of information.

    Fluff

    In 3rd Edition, merfolk liked sunning themselves, being pretty and playing tricks on people. Fortunately there's a bit more to them in 5th. Unfortunately, there's not much more.

    By default, merfolk are practically Neolithic and lack a written language or ways to shape materials for crafting. That means they mostly dwell in natural spaces or ruins. They have a preference for shallow water and haven't got any special ability to see in the dark, suggesting that they're diurnal. In addition to hunting and gathering, they have some basic agriculture and cultivate schools of fish and seabed farms. They also cultivate bioluminscents like jellyfish for light. And they're as ubiquitous in livable space under the water as surface races are above it.

    Frankly, what this screams to me is market inefficiency. Merfolk have access to all sorts of cool underwater stuff – the contents of shipwrecks, pearls, exotic fish, curiosities from the ruins. What they don't have are basic tools. While binding treaties might be difficult without writing, one would expect there are some trades to be made, especially since merfolk speak Common by default. And lacking writing would presumably spur a vigorous oral tradition, so merfolk might still possess legends about the Elder Times that the rest of us have forgotten. Still, though, there's limited utility here for a DM looking to run a conventional campaign.

    Hooks

    Ships are disappearing in the Ocean of Tears, and the Sisters of Erollisi are concerned. And merfolk are crowding close to the shores of the island...

    Trade-Prince Gallywyx is in a tough spot. He's got a speculative streak and his last few bets haven't worked out well. The palace guards are starting to grumble, and he's feeling a tremor in his throne. He's at his wit's end. There better be some truth in those old stories about pearls the size of eggs...

    Usually when the sailors see the mer-people, they're flashing past underwater or shaking their spears. No one's ever seen one this... this old before. And what's this about a cycle?

    Verdict

    How useful you find the merfolk depends entirely on your campaign setting. It's possible to go decades as a DM or player, I think, without ever encountering them. But in an aquatic campaign, I think they're probably essential. There's enough here to use and enough left unsaid to make them fit in your game. Ultimately though they're going to be limited by their environment.


    Merrow (by QuickLyRaiNbow on 2017-12-11)

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    Introduction

    If merfolk are underwater humans, merrow are underwater ogres; in fact, that's what they were in previous editions. While that's no longer the case, they haven't gotten any more civilized. Merfolk generally represent the good parts of mermaid legends. Merrow represent the other side, though they aren't the temptresses or tricksters of legends.

    The word is probably derived from Irish, though there's not a lot of consensus on precisely how.

    Art

    Presumably the merrow we're shown is male, and it's close enough in appearance to the female merfolk that they could be the same species if the obvious savagery were toned down a bit. Strip away the six-inch claws and teeth reminiscent of some sort of anglerfish and this could be your visual guide to male merfolk, who aren't depicted nearly as often as the females. That said, those teeth and claws are kind of central to the merrow. The creature is heavily muscled and stocky, and its numerous fins are more jagged and tattered than its more elegant cousin. The eyes glare out of a vaguely draconic head and the mouth is surrounded by feelers.

    Like the merfolk, the features of the creature seem inspired by Warcraft; in this case, by the naga royal guard or myrmidons. Still, the art is good, it fits the creature and serves as a guide to the males of the other species.

    Purpose and Tactics

    They're antagonists. They don't speak Common, though they can speak, and they don't really have motivations beyond being mean to things. Again, they're probably limited to aquatic adventures.

    Unlike merfolk, merrow are reasonable combatants, clocking in at a respectableish CR 2. Their AC isn't high, but they have a decent blob of hit points, a couple of attacks and a way to threaten creatures out of the water: harpoon attacks that can pull creatures up to 20' with a strength check. In most circumstances, the pull won't be life-threatening, but a character getting pulled off the deck of the ship into the water could be in serious trouble. Still, restricting the movement of foes is always powerful, and the merrow aren't completely stupid so there's reason to expect some tactics out of them. Class levels could be added to beef them up if necessary. Warlock would be thematically appropriate, though they've only got 9 Cha as published.

    Fluff

    Once upon a time a tribe of merfolk found an idol and started worshiping it and it turned out to belong to Demogorgon and then they did blood sacrifices and opened a gate and went to live in the Abyss and then Demogorgon sends them back to be jerks in the ocean when he feels like it. But also they seem to have pseudo-civilizations in caves filled with treasure; anchoring rotting corpses with kelp around the borders of their territory provides a macabre touch. It's not very practical, though, as stuff gets eaten pretty fast underwater.

    I don't find this interesting, especially since they can't seem to make up their mind where the things actually live. But it doesn't really matter as their only purpose is to be sea-*****, kind of like gnolls. If I were interested in using them for anything else, I'd rewrite everything.

    Hooks

    Long ago, merfolk were transformed into a bestial race of bloodthirsty creatures. Today, they roam the coasts, flooding out of the underwater gateway to the Abyss, and nothing in the Timorous Deeps are safe. Perhaps, if the idol that originally transformed these monsters were found, the transformation could be undone. It's academic, however; the idol was lost long ago, either in the ocean or in the Abyss itself...

    Verdict

    Merrow are basically here to be the wandering monsters that you save the merfolk from in an aquatic adventure. Savage murder-machines isn't really fluff that's good for much else. Still, their connection to Demogorgon means they might have a part to play in a high to epic level adventure.


    Mimic (by Unoriginal on 2018-01-16)

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    Introduction

    One of the few monsters originating from D&D that has managed to claim an iconic status, appearing in many games and fantasy works, the mimic's success is due to its concept being at the image of the creature itself: simple, yet adaptable and still more than able to surprise.

    Art

    Illustrating a creature whose main characteristic is to look like something else is always a dilemma. The artist decided to solve it for the 5e Mimic by portraying it in its half-transformed "combat form", combining the man-made, wood-and-metal look of the chest with organic elements emerging from it, giving the impression the Mimic choose them for intimidation factor: many eyes, tons of large pointy teeth, small bony bumps on the top, and vivid blue-purple flesh, a large part forming a pseudopode-tongue. This cohabitation manages to give the impression of an alien being who is adept at tricking others and is trying to appear menacing. Yet the expression doesn't seem to carry malevolence, which fit the 5e's take on the Mimic.

    Purpose and Tactics

    With its low AC, even for a CR 2 being, the Mimic is most likely to get hit a lot. Thankfully, its decently large amount of HPs will give it a few rounds to face the PCs, when it comes to hit. Nevertheless, the one true tactic of the Mimic is to use its nice Stealth bonus and False Appearance ability to surprise her opponents, and either slam one with its pseudopod or bite them.

    The Mimic deals a good amount of damage, and it can choose between dealing more damage with the bite or to initiate its grapple with its Adhesive capacity by using the pseudopod, which while having a relatively low DC, give people a disadvantage when attempting to escape AND an advantage on attacks against said grabbed people.

    Notably, there is no limit of how many people can be grabbed like this.

    As a result, it's main tactic will be to wait patiently for the enemies to get into range, grab one with the pseudopod when surprised, then bite them on the next turn unless the non-grabbed people prove to be threatening enough to warrant an attack rather than attempting to finish off the Mimic's captured prey. As a being with (usually) predatory intelligence only and little reason to fight to the death, the Mimic will likely try to kill one creature ASAP and then escape, especially if confronting a group, hoping they'll leave the corpse behind. As a result, it will probably attack what looks the most fragile in the group for its intellect, be it a pet, an unprotected-looking humanoid, or just a small one

    Outside of combat, unless it's one of the smarter, speaking one, the Mimic is more limited in its interaction. It could still be employed as guard or taught to take a certain appearance, however. If it's one of the speaking kind, then the Mimic can be a nice break from the hostile encounters in the dungeon, potentially trading useful items with the PCs (justifying the "shop in the middle of the dungeon" trope), as it's naturally able to hide from the monsters in charge and can easily snatch items left without anyone to look at, or simply loot the corpses of what it kills.

    Fluff

    The Mimic's fluff is not very developed, but it fits its statblock. It mostly explains in-context its abilities and the habits we can expect it to have from them. The blurb about some Mimics being smarter and capable of speech does add a lot more possibilities to the monster, however.

    Hooks

    Night at the Opera

    The Maestro, a Mimic possessing great singing skills, is one of the most popular member of the entertainment circle of the city. Yet, someone has been sending death threat to the Opera's directors, declaring that the next time the Maestro will be on stage will be the last. As a result, an offer of work for bodyguards is made, just as the PCs are nearby...

    The Haunted Mansion on the Hill

    Rodolpho, a rich collector of various items, thinks his mansion is haunted: several nights back to back, him and his servants have heard strange noises in the walls and in the corridors, items left in one place are found elsewhere, sometime covered in slimy residues or partially melted, and food and drinks disappear without a trace. It's gotten to the point no one accepts to live here until those strange occurences are dealt with. While actually the work of a Mimic that had been purchased and put in the house while it pretended to be a work of art, everyone is certain this is the signs of an Undead presence. Ain't the PCs afraid of no ghost?

    Match on the Bridge

    As they want to cross a bridge over a large river, the PCs are suddenly in the presence of what appears to be a bronze statue. It tells them to make an offering in food on the altar next to the bridge, or else they need to defeat it in a one-to-one wrestling match. If they win, they can cross. If they lose, the statue will take all their eatable goods to serve as "offering". The statue claims the bridge is enchanted to curse whoever cross it without doing either of those tasks, and point to itself as proof some powerful magic is at work here.

    Verdict

    A great take on a classic, but with little risk taken.


    Mind Flayers (by ShikomeKidoMi on 2018-01-19)

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    Introduction

    One of the game's iconic creatures, Mind Flayers (or Illithids) have a long history with the game. They date back to a newsletter from 1974 and were in the original white box Dungeons and Dragons in 1975. Inspired by Lovecraft, Mind Flayers are a case of taking elements from something else and making it your own, as while they share the basic appearance and some of the mental powers of Cthulhu, they've become their own separate creatures with a complex mythology that would fit in Lovecraft but isn't really related to anything of his. Their appearance, literal brain eating, and psychic powers are a memorable mix. Mind Flayers are popular enough that I remember being amazed to fight knockoffs of them in Final Fantasy 1. Also, they have the rare advantage of having both a memorable descriptive name (mind flayer) and a pretty good sounding proper one (illithid), allowing players to use whichever they feel most fitting, which isn't always the case for monsters in D&D.

    Art

    It's not bad, the Mind Flayer is wearing fairly standard 'evil fantasy wizard robes' in a style that's long been associated with them and his purple skin seems to glisten moistly. The requisite four facial tentacles are well-done. The face might be a little too human though, with the placement and proportions of the eyes and the ridge that is reminiscent of a nose. I think I'd have liked it better if it had large, bulging, cephalopoid eyes but I'm sure there are other people who find the human features make it more creepy. Although he has one hand raised, it looks a bit less menacing and more like he's waving at someone. My main issue with the piece is that, despite the creature's appearance it doesn't come off as all that threatening.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Mind-Flayers alone or in small groups are master-mind monsters for mid-level campaigns. Their diet lets you play up the horror elements if you wish. Only high level characters can deal directly with their colonies and the stronger monsters associated with them. Even the 'weakest' of their created minions, the Intellect Devourer, punches way above it's supposed weight class. Like said Devourer, the Mind Flayer is a squishy monster with deadly powers. For comparison, the CR 7 Mind Flayer has less hit points than the CR 3 Minotaur. They do not get into punch-ups with their enemies. That's what they have slaves for.

    Instead, they use minions as a wall while positioning themselves to catch as many enemies as possible in a Mind Blast. Then they grab stunned opponents and tear their brains out with their mouth-tentacles, killing their targets. Extract Brain isn't an instant-kill ability anymore but it still does serious damage. Once per day they can cast Dominate Monster, which is another great way to soften up the party, by sending their physically oriented members to kill the rest (and a Mind Flayer is easily intelligent enough to target the effect at someone other than an obvious spell-caster).

    Illithids also have Levitate, so they don't have to sit there and eat melee attacks if they don't want to, unless your melee characters can fly. A Mind Flayer in it's lair will probably have the terrain set up so there's a spot they where can use Levitate to escape pursuit by ground bound creatures (such as an escape tunnel set high up in a wall, with a pair of grips they can use to pull themselves into it).

    If it's desperate or very confident, one might resort to tentacle grappling an unstunned opponent, hoping to pull of a stun, but that involves moving up to enemies who can attack them and it's not their forte.

    Mind Flayers can also use Detect Thoughts but that's more of a non-combat effect, since they probably won't be concentrating on it often enough to protect themselves from ambush. It's thematically appropriate for the psychic squid and does make it even easier for them to plan around their opponent's actions. It makes them dangerous negotiators and conspirators, for example.

    While spell-casters may be more likely to have good saves against a Mind Flayer's powers and to be able to hurt them if they Levitate, Mind Flayers do have Magic Resistance, which helps.

    Then there's the variants like the Mind Flayer Arcanist, which is more dangerous yet. While theoretically only 1 CR higher, it has access to Blur and Invisibility for defense/stealth, Lightning Bolt for non-mental attack offense, and Wall of Force for battle field control. I imagine that can be a bear to fight, popping out of invisibility on a hard to reach ledge that it got up on with Levitation, launching a Mind Blast, casting Wall of Force to split up the party, etc. At least these guys are outcasts and unlikely to be found palling around with a bunch of normal Mind Flayers for backup.

    Fluff

    Unlike most monsters in the 5th edition Monster Manual, the Mind Flayers have actually devoted some space to their fluff, an entire page worth. It's only a fraction of what's been released on them over their long history, but it hits a lot of the highlights-- Social, psychic predators that live in underground cities ruled by Elder Brains of vast telepathic power who once ruled large empires but now simply rule scattered colonies. Unfortunately, it did cut out their origins and the nature of the Elder Brain, which are the kinds of details that help make a monster memorable. Lots of monsters are heirs to fallen empires, few happen to come from the dying future where they rule the universe and have fled back in time to escape it's end or to throw the brains of their dead members into special preservative pools that fuse them into a hive-consciousness.

    Hooks

    Braaains

    Someone is stealing fresh corpses from the city undertaker's. The local coroners are acting strange. Expecting undead, the players stumble onto something different that still craves fresh brains: A rogue mindflayer, outcast from it's colony, trying to feed subtly, backed by mind controlled humans.

    The Slaving Ring

    After tracking down some raiders who traffic in human captives, the players defeat them in their lair. However, before the PCs can enjoy the fruits of this victory, the customers arrive-- A group of Mind Flayers and minions, an envoy from a nearby colony. Injured from the previous battles, can the players find a way to escape or even triumph? Can they pull off clever tactics like splitting their enemies up by pretending to be the slavers they've come to negotiate with. If they do survive, should they try to hunt down where the Mind Flayers came from and find a way to end this threat once and for all or is it beyond them? And who was really the monsters here, the Illithids or the people selling to them?

    Verdict

    Not a bad write up of a great monster, but it could have used a few more details instead of keeping things vague. Probably the desire was to make it easy to plop them into any campaign but the lack of specificity lessens their memorability.


    Minotaur (by the_brazenburn on 2017-12-20)

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    Introduction

    The minotaur is a creature, half-man and half-bull, that has captured the minds of fantasy writers and gamers since the days of Ancient Greece. Although the origin and nature of these beasts has changed over the years, the basic theme stays the same: huge, tough men (the MM flavor text references breeding, implying that there are also female specimens of the species, but I’ve never heard of anybody using one) with the heads and legs of bulls. Not too smart, but as strong as a (permit the pun) ox. Oh, and they eat human flesh. Let’s take a look at these strange and hideous monsters.

    Art

    Oddly enough, the art on this page reminds me more of the tragic minotaur from the original myths than the new, Gygax-approved, horrible demonic beast. I don’t love a lot of things from 3.5, but I honestly thought that their depiction of the minotaur worked better to portray their savagery. With that said, however, there’s nothing wrong with the actual art on the page, and something about the melancholy, noble expression on its face makes me want to roll up a neutral good minotaur NPC somewhere, somehow.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Minotaurs. Oooh, these look fun. Relatively low AC, but hit points through the roof, and they have some serious damages. The result of these would appear to be tanky, especially when combined with their low Int score, but they also have a great speed and decent action economy, typically signs of a hit-and-run skirmisher. What does that leave us with? A monster that sneaks around, hoping to catch you off guard, but doesn’t run from combat in a hurry. Take an average thug, give him horns and incredible strength, and send him to charge down enemies when they least expect it. That’s no bull.

    Fluff

    This edition varies considerably from the original myths, in which the minotaur is painted as the victim of a truly disgusting affair between bull and man due to a god’s wrath. A victim of circumstance, shall we say. That minotaur always seemed sad to me, more of a tragic figure than a true villain. D&D sets to get rid of that trope entirely, replacing it with a story of a group of evil cultists who were driven mad and transformed into monsters by a ritual to Baphomet, Demon Prince of Savagery, gone horribly wrong. The newly created minotaurs have all the nasty aspects of the cultists they once were, but without a scrap of their former humanity. I've got no sympathy for these devils.

    Hooks

    Ritual Gone Wrong

    The players have been hired to clear out a mansion full of demonic cultists, but when they enter they find an abandoned pentacle and an ominously hoof-shaped impression in the floor nearby. Where could the cultists themselves be, though?

    Maze of Shadows

    A mysterious sinkhole has opened underneath the town of Insig’nif’icant. Down below it is a strange maze carved into the rock itself, with some strangely malign presence lurking within. Do the players dare to venture into the lair of the mighty minotaurs?

    Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover

    As the town the players are residing in comes under siege by gnolls, a mysteriously hulking stranger wearing an oddly shaped black hood chases them all away. When the players go to thank him, they find out that he is a rare good-aligned minotaur, a race they know to be unequivocally evil. Can the party set aside their differences long enough to finish off the returning gnoll war band?

    Verdict

    A much-maligned, hidden gem within the world of D&D. This guy could be so much more than he is made out to be, but is hardly ineffective at the bruiser role he plays at the moment.
    Last edited by odigity; 2018-06-05 at 05:35 PM.

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    Modrons (by S_A_M I AM on 2018-01-23)

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    Introduction

    Exemplars in Dungeons and Dragons are frequently difficult to effectively depict in game. Not because their existence is deeply integrated into parts of the lore and underlying narrative logic that often does not come up within normal play or because the specifics of their character is strange and unique enough that most people will look at the same creature and come away with a noticeably different interpretation of its core ideas.

    Rather: It stems from how tightly an Examplar is tied into the narrative of the game. Often being framed as a cosmic force while behaving in ways that are explicitly terrestrial. Different forms of game narrative and mechanics in conflict thanks to the necessity of prioritising player engagement and the ability of the players to effectively engage with the story.

    But that has more to do with the utility of a Modron without the weight of expectation being visted upon them. What a Modron IS in a form of metatext has very little to do with what a Modron is FOR at any given table. It’s part of the beauty of the medium we all so enjoy.

    An Exemplar is the personification of conceptual forces within the playspace of Dungeons and Dragons. A Modron is the physical, often spiritual, incarnation of lawful neutrality a way of framing the deterministic nature of reality as something that is pliant to both your will as a dungeon master and the will of the players.

    A LOT of baggage there.

    Art

    Actually quite interesting and a perfect illustration of my earlier point. Modrons are portrayed here with a clockpunk/ mechanical aesthetic, something that seems to favour a stern, personality-less arbiter of emotion but these things are both emotive and adorable. The single faceted Mondron is slightly timid and ready to either spring into action or run away, the double segmented modron is goofy and approachable and the three faced modron is stern and overbearing and c.

    They'd fit right into a Terry Gilliam adaptation of an L Frank Baum book or perhaps Alice in Wonderland.

    It doesn't wholly gel with what is intuitive to me about their lore of law but I genuinely love this approach. A lot of exposition is done here to compensate for what is, frankly, a less than cohesive approach to these creatures as a ”culture” and it helps inform the DM who will be performing as the modron that the players should expect both a uniform experience with any given modron of the same type and something well meaning, incompetent and eternally paitent, even while it boils at the sheer ineffability of your chaotic souls .

    Straight up: More efficent and satisfying work is done through their visuals than the entire rest of the monster entry... Despite that it contradicts potential readings of the text.

    Purpose and Tactics

    I feel that if the DM is using the modrons as a random monster or as a sudden, ambush threat, they're missing the best possible application for them as a tool in play. A modrons of a certain complexity will always behave in a uniform, predictable way once you understand how that kind of modron reacts to certain stimuli. They will always patrol the same route around any place they are attempting to defend. There are high priority targets built into their fluff that will always hamper their behaviour and they are always going to invest a minimum freezable number of warriors to any kind of task meaning that combat scales very well across a number of different encounters. (CR 1/8 to CR 2)

    The modrons are the best monster I have ever seen at encouraging the players to use stealth incursions/ assassinations, guerrilla tactics and traps against a larger or an entrenched force because the modron fluff rewards research and planning.

    Unfortunately that means that there is something of an impitus for the DM to do more than throw a properly balanced squad against the players or just litter them through a randomly generated dungeon. You need fortifications, maps and a hierarchy of needs for the "officer" modrons to follow that frankly, just isn't in the book as of yet.

    Also of note: Though it isn't addressed in their mechanics, a modron of a certain rank will immediately be replaced by promoting a modron of a lower rank upon death and so on, and so on, while a zero rank modron is produced back in their home plane, keeping the number of modrons constant.

    This is a great mechanic for real "knock down, drag out, all in knuckle biting" fights because it could be used to justify a whole squad buff upon the death of stronger combatants or if you happen to be nearby the magical assembly line for some reason; a never-ending wave of tiny bastards to supplement the whoever the boss happens to be or, alternatively, use it to justify trial by combat and wave/ tank tactics by massed modron armies where they always send in the strongest, smartest fighter available first rather than the little ones because a general costs less to replace than a drone. (A neat inversion of standard tactical doctrine too.)

    My assessment? Don't use it at all outside of those very specific circumstances. Particularly if the players are attempting to cripple the modrons group functionality by taking out entire ranks of their chain of command. Let them have their wins and use it to justify having SOME of the appropriate ranked modrons for what you've been planning to happen later.

    And no matter what "ruleset" you choose for them to follow? Introduce it early and be consistant, otherwise it could be a real killer.

    Fluff

    Modrons are unemotive and explicitly creatively sterile until you reach a fairly high rank, they're almost always passive actors, locked away within the plane of Mechanus (which is unelaborated on within the current literature, unfortunately) for centuries at a time until some kind of internal trigger is reached at the culmination of every 17th cycle of their grand, clockwork world and the bulk of them are sent scouting out into the outer planes to research... Something.

    They have as part of their magical remit that they are reducing the amount of chaos within the universe which could mean more or less, anything. From purging sentient life for being "untidy" or reversing the process of entropy to attempting to destroy or perhaps, absorb (the adorable clockwork Borg) chaotically tinged planar entities. It remains unelaborated on.

    Modrons can apparently break from their "coding" in a similar way to how The Succubus Paladin can, where they become the antithesis of everything that a modron is or perhaps, rarely, an entirely distinct person in their own right. Even to the point of engaging in violence or... Breaking rules... Except we have no mention of a "cultural" apathy towards violence or any mention as to how either a normal or an abnormal modron is expected to behave except for some kind of non-specific adherence to "Law" as a grand ideal and the marching orders for their armies. Armies that are maintained despite an apparent loathing of violence...

    You may be noticing a pattern here.

    What I do find most interesting is that modrons experience a kind of asymmetrical information state/ power dynamic within their own society: A 1 can talk to a 2 and a 2 can talk to a 3 but that 3 cannot talk to a 1. Their own minds are so single minded that they cannot intuit even the most basic kind of social cues. Which would also be a fun as heck way to frame a modron/ player relationship except, again: The modrons are not people.

    Frankly: The internal contradictions within their own framing make the simple and underwritten fluff that we have presented before us at the moment unsatisfying.

    Hook

    A lot of this requires elaboration on my behalf thanks to what is currently underwritten fluff but this is what we've got.

    Law is not Right

    Modrons are, by their very nature, lawful. To the extent that they adhere themselves instinctual to the letter of the law of the lands that they pass through while executing their Great Modron March. They will never jaywalk. They will never litter, to the point that they will sweep up and properly dispose of their own corpses after a battle. They are plastic to every law of the land so long as it does not countermand their remit and it comes from a legitimate form of authority.

    Which implies they can be drafted.

    As one of the grand, fibonachi spirals of The Great Modron March passes through the outer planes and into the lands of a minor elemental lord (probably a djinn), a very carefully worded law is passed; placing every modron within their lands under the command of a general of the lords armies for the duration of their fact finding mission. Giving the lord a sudden massive and temporary boost to their effective military might which is being used to further crack down their dissidents or use the spiral of the modron army as staging grounds for expansionist war.

    Or maybe it's a good thing? Maybe the lord in question has been able to use the modron as a boost to their defence against a war of agression or the equivalent of some fantasy Doctrine of Human Rights compels the modron to fight against oppressive systems of power within every kingdom that has been a signatory to it but still mistreats their people. Lots of potential behind any ideologically driven, free floating army.

    The Empty Halls of Mechanus

    "I was five when The Modrons last deigned to leave their fortress. When those little clicking bastards finally step away from whatever useless bull**** they do when they're not prodding and researching and treating all of reality like we're a particularly interesting monkey in a cage.

    This time I would like to believe I can do something about it.

    Boys: The Vaults of Mechanus lie unguarded. The treasure of a thousand lifetimes stand there, the power to counter The Raven Queens call, to cease ageing and the degradation of tools. Nothing changing. Ever. No sickness. No hunger. No suffering.

    I know it subverts the way the universe is "supposed" to be. How things are "supposed" to run. We are mortal. We were built to **** and rot and die and then, if we've been good we sit in a magic castle as some gods pet.

    I don't care.

    We are people. We matter and nothing else will until we've sunk a blade into Primus's heartless, clanking chests and seen what spills out of."


    I never claimed to be a good writer but it's a speech that I have some fondness for because it could be given by either the villain or whoever is attempting to empower and fund the PC's.

    The Spawning of Clockwork Salmon

    A predictable appearance of infinitely respawning magical robots should probably be something that's kind of a big deal, right? Modron gears, when torn from the body of a still living (and carefully maintained) are the perfect magical components for the creation of golems. Their dust is prised as an aphrodisiac to Rakasha. Modron metal is prized among many evil cultures for its lightness, its flexibility and how readily spells can be layered into it if the still alive clockwork munchkin is imprisoned within the work.

    The Azer, Quom, The Drow, Demons and Devils and a thousand other creatures; monsters and people alike create mining style boom towns along the spirals of The Great Modron March with surprisingly little conflict, waiting for the bounty of living mechanical prey to march themselves into their traps and nets. Just the same as they always have.

    Verdict

    I was not expecting this when I started reading about them but I somewhat adore the Modron. There are problems here, mostly to do with a half baked execution but the way their flavour gels so perfectly with a series of slightly offbeat mechanical and creative decisions that I think it would require a lot of future content for them to actually make me dislike their goofy little eyes.

    When I will use them in future? I would like to make one major alteration to their fluff: Every modron of the same number has the same personality, as opposed to the void of characterisation that they've been saddled with thus far.


    Mummies (by the_brazenburn on 2018-01-24)

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    Introduction

    The mummy a classic undead, suitable for all kinds of dungeon crawls. Among the strongest of the minor undead, it comes in two forms: the ordinary, garden variety mummy, and the more powerful mummy lord, which gets access to Spellcasting and Legendary Actions. Although usually encountered in their traditional Egyptian form, they can be any kind of corpse that has been naturally or unnaturally preserved.

    Stats and Tactics

    So, the mummy. At first glance, these appear to be simple undead brutes, kind of like a more powerful zombie. (Interestingly, zombies get a full 30 foot speed, while mummies are restricted to 20 feet.) This assumption is correct, with one slight alteration. A mummy’s multiattack includes a slam and a Dreadful Glare. Since mummies are weak to fire, we can assume that they will use this against wizards, sorcerers, and warlocks, who are the most likely to deal fire damage. They will not target druids or clerics, since they are more likely to have high Wisdom and succeed on the save. Otherwise, they’ll use it to keep heavy melee fighters away from them. Either way, their slams will be put to best use against skirmishers or arcane casters, who are likely to have low Con and thus be better targets for the mummy rot effect. Mummy lords will be less likely to fear spellcasters, since they have Magic Resistance. Since their legendary actions affect anybody close to them, they will run into melee, use Spiritual Weapon against one opponent, then slam another. They can then hit their foes with their legendary actions, catching as many as possible due to their close proximity. Mummies’ slow speeds mean that they are put to best use in small, enclosed spaces, such as a pyramid or buried tomb.

    Fluff

    I have to say, the fluff here is disappointing. It offers very little about the reasons for a mummy to exist, apart from some sort of preservation ritual with few details on the deities involved. On the one hand, this means that you could feasibly put a mummy anywhere. On the other hand, it forces you to either make up lore, or use a mummy as a generic tomb guard. I wish there was some sort of real explanation, like bodaks and ghouls got with Orcus and Doresain, and vampires have with Strahd.

    Art
    The art here is quite detailed, and it certainly represents the mummy’s undead, shambling nature. The slit in the bandages to represent its mouth is historically inaccurate, but easily forgivable due to the excellent effect it presents with the eyes still covered. All the gold amulets stuck in the bandages are just begging to be stolen by some rogue, though. I would really have liked to get a picture of the mummy lord, but I guess you can’t have everything. Even if they did give one, it would probably be just a more blinged-up version of the same mummy.

    Hooks

    The players are traveling to the town of MacGuffin, but to get there they must pass through the infamous peat bog of MacGherkin, the site of a bloody massacre. Little do they know that those killed during the battle remain still, preserved by the bog into mummies who slay all who enter.

    The great crystal treasure of the kings is buried in a pyramid, but legend tells of a curse that will fall upon those who steal from it. Will the players brave the mummified guards, or will the curse transform them into undead guardians of the treasure?

    Thieves have stolen from the tomb of Pharaoh Anketanemon, and unwittingly have unleashed the legendary mummy lord made from the pharaoh’s remains. The adventurers must defeat Anketanemon, or all the world crumble into sand under his wrath!

    Verdict

    An excellent monster for stocking the halls of a dungeon crawl, but lacking in fluff.


    Myconids (by Sharur on 2018-02-09)

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    Introduction

    A monster from the very beginnings of D&D, seemingly spawned from Gygax’s fungal friendliness, the Myconids have never before made it to the initial monster manual. After featuring in Out of the Abyss, time will tell if these fungi will continue to spread into more games, or if their time in the limelight will activate their sunlight sickness(…sorry).

    Art

    First, let me get this out of the way, FINALLY, A SENSE OF SCALE. The Myconid Sprout, Adult and Soveriegn are all displayed together, in their respective Small, Medium and Large Glory(Although I have to admit I didn’t see the Sprout at first, due to its lower position). The Small Spout comes up to the waist of the Medium Adult, whom the Large Sovereign towers head and shoulders over. I quite like the structure of the Sprout’s mushroom head, with its displayed chambers. I also like the Sovereign’s face, which gives me a Darth Vader respirator vibe, and I love the “Ironman” look to the sovereign’s spore-spewing hand. I just wish the latter was a more accurate representation of the Sovereign’s actual combat ability.

    Fluff

    The Myconids basically come across as fungal hippies. All they want to do is sit together and share consciousness via inhaled psychoactive plants. One interesting thing is that they are described as belonging to circles of ~20 individuals, which are large groups in D&D terms.

    Purpose

    Mostly, I think, to be a refuge in the Underdark, a civilized presence that won’t enslave you, drive you mad, or murder you in your sleep. Personally, I would also import them into the deep woods, so that lower level parties can encounter them, unless you are playing Out of the Abyss or a similar setup, starting in the Underdark.

    Tactics

    General

    Two things about every Myconid fight: 1) the myconids should vastly outnumber the party (see fluff of circle sizes, even if most of those are sprouts), and the lighting should be dim light at most, and preferably in utter darkness. The myconids greatest weakness is a lack of ranged options; home brewing an increase of range to their spore attacks would buff them tremendously. Also, party composition can really matter against myconids: A party of elven rouges is going to have a much worse time than a party of dwarves fighters, especially if the latter have Heavy Armor Master, blocking the death by a thousand cuts tactics of the Myconids.

    Sprouts

    Slow, weak, and not very good at hitting. Prime targets for AOE spells like burning hands and GWM bonus cleaves. However, the bounded accuracy system shows its hand here. Even with only a +1 to hit, the sprouts have a 10% chance of hitting AC 20, and getting full plate shouldn’t be easy for a level 1 party. The Sprouts only have a few things going for them. Firstly, they hit relatively hard for their size and CR0. 2d4-1 isn’t nothing. Secondly, as Small creatures, they block space, so they can be used as semi-moble difficult terrain, affecting a creature’s movement. And if you don’t disengage, you can draw a lot of opportunity attacks. They can also make failing a Pacifiying Spores attack very punishing, even if it only lasts for one turn, by granting advantage to every attack.Finally, they can flank for advantage, both of themselves and other myconids.

    Adults

    Still easy to hit, but having twice the average hit points of a hobgoblin, adults are the mainstays of a Myconid combat. Their Pacifying Spores are not horrible to resist, but have a devastating effect and will work about 25-50% of the time. And their 4d4 fists are nothing to sneeze at, unless they are jamming spores up your nose. The biggest issues with the Adults is that they have to chose between spores and fists.

    Sovereigns

    Sovereigns don’t have to choose, they can do both via multiattack. Better still, they have a two new spore types (one combat, one not), and unlimited usage of their combat spores. A pity that sovereigns don’t get large reach to go with their large size. Given the cool “ironman” claw, I wish they could use their spores at greater range. Another disappointment is that the second spores seems useless. It has the same save with the same DC, and a worse effect. Poisoned < Stunned, and is more widely resisted. Now, if Hallucinating Spores had different save to attack, particularly the seldom tested and often dumped mental stat of Intelligence, as befitting it’s illusionary nature, it would be a different story entirely.

    Spore servant

    The variety of Myconids. While these spore animated husks lose most of their traits they keep their attacks. So a animated wolf could still trip opponents with their attack. I wish there were greater selection, especially in the Underdark. If humanoids, magical beasts and monstrosities could be included, it would make the myconids much more potent, but potentially overpowered. Imagine a spore-animated roper…shudder. On the other hand, a spore animated archer would finally give the myconids some ranged options. Also, I find it weird that while the rest of the myconids have dark vision, the spore servants have.

    Hooks

    Safety in the Underdark

    Traveling through the Underdark, the party stumbles upon a Myconid circle. Here they can take a short or long rest in relative safety, a rare respite in this dark and dangerous place.

    Disciples of the Trippy-Hippy

    The party has need of the wisdom, knowledge or power of the ArchDruid Tai’Dai. Unfortunately, Tai’Dai has retreated to the confines of cave filled with Myconids, and started to meld with them. Can the party manage to communicate with Tai’Dai?

    Rescuing Rachel

    Rachel, the blacksmith’s daughter, has for weeks been talking about her mysterious friends in the shadows of the forest. Now she’s run away from home. Can the party finder her, and bring her back? Bonus idea: Rachel’s friends are the Myconids, who will not allow the party to take Rachel away by force. The Myconids are deep in the forest, so the lighting is mostly dim, with a few patches of bright light in the canopy. If it comes to blows, it won’t be a normal fight as the lighting can change from square to square.

    Peace in a Pot

    Barabbas the Barbarian has contracted lycanthropy, and now his rage combines with his curse, turning him into a unstoppable berserk killing machine for days at a time, unable to tell friend from foe in his rage. Can the party find something to calm him down…or someone?

    Fungi, Fungi, Fungi Save the Fungi!

    Firedo the Fire Giant is trying to forge an exotic cuisine, from the age of myth: a pizza! The party has already secured a dire boar, elven wayfarer flour, and blight’s blood (tomato sauce) for his use, and are delivering their consignment of owlbear-milk cheese, when a shrieking starts in their minds, begging them for help. What do the party do?

    Verdict

    Overall, this is a classic, but not overused or cliche, monster family that is useful to the DM to provide refuge in inhospitable places, namely the Underdark, and to have peaceful social encounters in dungeons. I like that it can be used to demonstrate the power that numbers can have in 5E.


    Nagas (by Spellbreaker26 on 2018-02-15)

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    Introduction

    Once the stewards of a long-lost race of wizards, with the passing of their masters the immortal Naga have more or less taken residence in the halls full of spellbooks and magic items that they formerly guarded.

    Art

    Serviceable, but nothing stands out, aside from the effort made to make their faces look like a cross between human and snake.

    Fluff

    Naga are basically Kenku if Kenku outlived their masters before getting fired. They love magic, and sit on giant heaps of spellbooks and magic items and seek out more, both the noble Guardian Naga and the evil Spirit Naga. They rule the territory they formerly patrolled as fiefdoms and bow to no others, something which probably brings them into conflict with nearby mortal kingdoms. In addition, they have a long standing grudge with the Yuan-ti over the title of top snek, which is why the Yuan-ti have gone to great lengths to find a way to counter the Naga's greatest asset - their immortality.

    Guardian Naga are largely peaceful and will only attack trespassers after giving due warning, and run their little estates like a kindly king. Spirit Naga prefer to use their large array of charm spells to take prisioners to eat alive and rule their domains like douchebags. Those differences aside, the two types are honestly not that different lore wise. They both like knowledge and go to lengths to get it, and then stockpile it in their ruins to guard. There is a third kind, the Bone Naga, who are basically Naga cursed by the Yuan-ti to reincarnate improperly and they become much weaker undead Naga in service of the Yuan-ti.

    The most notable feature of Naga - and the aspect of them that most immediately stands out - is that they can't be killed by normal means. To quote a certain Necron, "Being immortal is not the same thing as being invincible, but it's close enough." They have no need for sustainance either.

    Tactics

    All three varieties of Naga are primarily spellcasters, just with reasonably chunky hit points and a really nasty close combat option in a pinch. Bone Naga are best used as magical backup for Yuan-ti, and come in two varieties - former Guardian Naga and former Spirit Naga. Both are debuffers, with the latter also having direct damage potential.

    Spirit Naga are excellent for when you want to have a mad wizard villain guarding tomes of ancient lore and don't want to rely on something generic like just... a wizard. Their spells are also more about subversion than direct assault, which can make for a more interesting encounter than a brute force mage. Another possible use for them is as a mad wizard attempting to steal tomes of ancient lore, perhaps by mustering an army of thralls.

    Guardian Naga make excellent questgiver NPCs, as they often have good rewards but also large needs (such as promising magical items in return from fetching a scroll from a dangerous ruin). They also have a spell selection that's very tuned for roleplaying rather than direct combat, with lots of cleric spells like geas and clairvoyance.

    However, the standout ability of Guardian and Spirit Naga (and what really gets them that high CR) is definitely their Rejuvenation ability, which gets them back up and running within a week unless wished against. There are potentially a few ways around this, depending on whether you rule them as creating a different body when they return - for example, throwing a Naga into a volcano: do they return within the lava and burn to death again? Even taking that into account, trapping a Naga underground or chaining them up and throwing them underwater will put them out of commission for long periods, since they cannot starve or drown due to not needing food, water, air, or sleep. This is pretty important, since players who antagonise or kill a Naga and then steal valuable tomes or items may be faced with a stalker who does not seem to stop its pursuit no matter how many times they kill it, and very few parties will have the opportunity of using wish.

    One potentially interesting idea is a forced alliance of the party and the Yuan-ti, since the latter do have access to the ritual to prevent the reincarnation and could remove a potential pain in the neck from the party... but perhaps at the risk of sharp stabbing pains in the back.

    Hooks

    A Yuan-ti army strikes the fair city of Plainholt, their assualt spearheaded by several deadly Bone Naga who rip defenders to shreds with spells. Can the party thwart these skeletal strangers or will they throttle freedom in Plainholt forever?

    The wizard university at Longspire has had its entire faculty slaightered by Spirit Naga Vermouth the Intoxicating so that its sacred texts may be plundered. Can your party intervene? And even if they succeed, will they be able to cope with... The Grudge of the Naga?

    Your party has come across the ancient ruins of Ibrrim, ruled by the Guardian Naga Hisk the Thrice-Shed. He succours you in his estate and offers a tempting, but dangerous deal; a mighty bounty of magic items in return from seizing the Grimore of Greyhand from that old conjurer's bony fingers!


    Nightmare (by Unoriginal on 2018-03-01)

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    Introduction

    Mount of Evil and monster voted most likely to improve an Heavy Metal album cover, the Nightmare is a simple concept with a cool result: an hellish horse. Notable for being the mount of Venger in the old D&D cartoon, where one of them is depicted as fast if not faster as a WWII-era plane.

    Yes, the D&D cartoon was awesome.

    Art

    The art is pretty nice, managing to give an impression of power and movement while also showing the twisted, fiendish and fiery nature of the horse. One can deplore a somewhat weird perspective effect with the front legs, and the "empty eye socket" look can give the ensemble a somewht goofy blend. However, the shape of the eyeholes combined with the lipless, toothy anti-smile the Nightmare is sporting manage to give it a somewhat melancholic or saddened impression, which fits the fluff.

    Purpose and Tactics

    As one can expect, the Nightmare's main purpose is as mount. Its very high ground speed and even higher flying speed makes it a vehicle of choice for any baddies who wants an opportunity for hits-and-runs, fast travel, and opportunities to flee, and its capacity to grant resistance against fire will be useful for quite a few riders. Add this to the power of shifting to the Ethereal Plane with three other beings (which is also an elegant solution to let them flee), and you have a very good addition to any encounter with a bad guy who benefits from the increased mobility.

    One has to forget about being subtle while riding one, though, given its look and the light it projects, unless one uses illusions

    However, the Nightmare is also a pretty decent combatant on its own. Its AC is nothing to write home about, but it has a decent handful of HPs, can hit like a freight train, and its mental stats don't make it particularly vulnerable or resistant to spells (and the immunity to fire doesn't hurt either). Given their speed and their powers, Nightmares faced in combats will likely escape if things don't go their way, if they can afford it.

    Several Nightmares, mounted or not, will be very dangerous.

    For social encounters, the Nightmare is a sapient being who can not talk, but understand several languages. Given that they often have no loyalty to the one they serve, a Nightmare could help the PCs take down its "master" in exchange for a bigger paycheck, or if they think the PCs will treat them better.

    It can be a very interesting situation for the DM, having to RP an intelligent creature trying to communicate with the PCs without the use of word, especially if they arrived in the bad guys' stable and the Nightmare tries to make them understand important things. Or it could write it on the ground, of course.

    Fluff

    Nightmares are the mounts of bad guys, they can be summoned but don't hold loyalty to their summoners unless fed a suitable sacrifice, and they are Pegasuses who were tortured and twisted in an evil ritual into their current form.

    It's a nice fluff, covering all the needed info and suggesting many more. The ritual part is suitably creepy, and a good reminder that D&D bad guys are *not* just people in funny outfits. But it's also pretty short, and might not be flashy enough to give a reason for people to stop ignoring the Nightmare

    Hooks

    And the Horse You Rode On

    As the PCs arrives at a jousting tournament, the Duke's nephew reveals his new mount: a large horse, blacker than ebony, with eyes and manes of fire. While some are worried, the nephew is persuaded his new companion will help him win the competition, and the glory and honor granted to the victor will be his. While he is correct on this, who could have given him such a gift...?

    Behind Each Knight, a Great Horse?

    A mysterious black knight, terrorizing the night with their flaming horse, has been taking control of the various bandit and smuggler groups of the area, and is amassing power and riches fast, notably with their lightning-fast horse-back ambushes. The PCs are sent to investigate who this sinister individual could be. Little do they know the knight is actually an Animated Armor and the true mastermind is the Nightmare who carries it, using a magic ring to communicate and maintain the impression the Armor is the one in charge.

    A Fiend in Need, Still a Fiend Indeed?

    Baron the Pegasus was the mount of a Paladin. He fought with his rider against Evil, to save the innocents.

    But who fight, may lose. And Baron fought a lot.

    Captured, his rider slain, Baron was maimed and twisted, his wings ripped off in an odious ritual. He barely survived. His captors, as soon as he had a tiny bit of freedom to exploit, didn't.

    Now, having become an evil, menacing Fiend, Baron simply seek help, confort, to think about what to do now, and a safe place to cope with those horrors. And from what he remembers, the adventurers who had befriended his rider a few weeks before should be very close now...

    Verdict

    A very solid monster, who still could have beneficied from being made to stand out better.


    Nothic (by Unoriginal on 2018-03-08)

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    Introduction

    In fiction, magic often comes with a price. The Nothic is D&D 5e's response to this particular trope.

    Art

    Gaze upon the eye of madness. The Nothic's picture is a well-done piece: its face, mostly occupied by a giant eye above a skull-like mouth, gives a strong expression of manic excitement more than outright malevolence, while its dynamic posture is in-between threatening and being ready to flee in a moment notice. The inhuman look of the Nothic is offset by the gigantic eye, allowing a certain empathy for this alien being. It may not be the most epic of this book's artwork, but it fits the fluff perfectly.

    Purpose and Tactics

    At first glance, the Nothic is not the best warrior. It has decent HPs and AC, but its multiattack isn't that impressive for a CR 2 and its Rotting Gaze only affect one enemy, at a range that most beings can cover in one turn, with a not-that-high DC and not causing much damage. Still, while nothing exceptional, the Nothic got all the basics covered in a pretty nice fashion: a bit of range, a bit of a way to avoid getting drown by action economy, a bit of resilience, etc.

    With this alone, the Nothic would be an interesting boss for 1rst-2nd lvl characters, or a solid help for another boss at higher level. But the Nothic has more to offer.

    The Nothic's Keen Sight, 120ft of truesight and Perception proficiency allows it to be a good spotter and tracker, especially against the sneaky types that like the dark corners. Gloomstalkers that are too confident in the underground lands might find themselves in deep troubles when a Nothic shows up(pun intended). Furthermore, the Nothic is plenty decent at Dex(Stealth) checks, which let them get away with what allow them to be a big threat: observing. Their Insight and Arcane proficiencies are a good way for one of them to gather info on the party and their powers while hiding, especially when coupled with their Weird Insight capacity, which would give the Nothic the opportunity to go report to their boss/sell those info to someone else. When Nothic are involved, expect enemies to know your tricks. Even if you're just fighting the Nothic, it might know one or two things about you to use to its advantage.

    This give the Nothic a pretty nice flavor.

    For non-hostile interactions, the Nothic can make a great knowledge broker, especially for info on people and monsters, esoteric knowledge, and layout of areas. Their fluff specifically note they interact with others in such a way, especially when magic items are involved. Nothics have little reasons to attack adventurers unless they think it'd benefit them more than spying on them or interacting with them directly, but Nothics aren't very rational people either.

    In any case, this monster can be a good surprise for PCs who expect a being looking like they do to be dumb and animal-like.

    To spice the encounter, giving it weapons, remains of its former equipment or magic items it gathered is a fitting manner to make a Nothic more memorable.

    Fluff

    Nothics are what happen when spellcasters try to dig too deep in the knowledge Vecna messed with. Mad, with nearly nothing left of their former identities, possessing rare capacities, and roaming places of learning and magic in search for a solution to their state they know to be wrong, the Nothic is a monster that has tragic elements, combining the figure of the seeker of forbidden knowledge with the scholar fallen from their ivory tower, silly elements offsetting this, a behavior that suits their statblock, ties with the world's lore, and a naturally implemented source of plot hooks. All in all, a pretty nice, complete fluff.

    Hooks

    The Experiment

    The local ruler's mage has announced they'll publicaly recreate an experiment they have seen a few weeks ago, performed by a(n) (in)famous travelling lecturer. They have promised it'll blow the mind of the audience, but will their own survive?

    A (Magic) Dagger in the Night

    Silveus Tarnaca, renowed wielder of the Dagger of Transformation, has been kidnapped in his room in one of he most select inns in the region. Is one of his enemies the culprit? Is that linked to this letter requesting him to meet with some mysterious stranger, which he refused to do? And who would have known where to find him?

    For a Fistful of Knowledge

    Spyco-Raz, Nothic knowledge broker, approches the PCs. It offers them very valuable information on their enemies in exchange for a service: help it approach the general of a devil-worshiping city long enough for it to gather the intel it desires. But how much trust are the adventurers willing to put in Spyco-Raz?

    Verdict

    A pretty solid monster with a distinctive identity and plenty of reasons to show up in the PCs's path. Its unusual traits might get it overlooked if one searches for something more classical, however, but it does what it does awesomely.


    Ogres (by Unoriginal on 2018-03-11)

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    Introduction

    One of D&D's classic monsters and the typical super-strong yet low-level opponent, the Ogre has a defined place in the game, and occupies it well. 5e pairs them up from the get-go with their half-humanoid offsprings, the Half-Ogre.

    Art

    The Ogre's artwork leave me torn. On one hand, it captures the sense of danger and size of the creature with a very great design, making them both fat and muscular as befitting such powerful gluttons, the rest of their anatomy manages to give the impression of a being that is similar yet far from humankind (the mouth in particular illustrating their voracious disposition and less-than-wholesome diet), and their expression showcases their threatening anger while their somewhat vacant eyes do the same with their lack of great intellect, all while the whole gives a look and an identity strong enough to distinguish them from other monsters such as the goblinoids or the orcs.

    On the other hand, it completely fails at portraying the Ogre as wearing the hide armor the statblock mentions, making them look more like a Pulp Magazine idea of a caveman than a combatant who still has enough brains to know how to protect themselves. Particularly jarring since it's one of the few 5e artworks with that issue.

    The Half-Ogre's work is pretty good too. It presents an interesting mix of humanoid and Ogre features, and its anatomy, equipment and expressions do tell everything the statblock reveals: the Half-Ogre is a bit smarter and more sophisticated than the Ogre, yet a bit less powerful too. The one depicted still doesn't wear an armor, though.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Often on this forum, people will say that Ogres, and 5e monsters by extension, are nothing but boring bags of HPs.

    Needless to say, I disagree. The Ogre is a very well-built monster. While its low AC makes it likely the PCs will hit, the Ogre's high HPs more than make up for it, their low DEX and mental stats allow the squishier members of the group to still affect them in various ways, their more than respectable damages and attack bonus let them stay relevant at any Tier of the game without issue (though in different roles), and while they don't have any special capacity, they still have access to devastating ranged attacks with their javelins and a relatively fast speed, as well as access to all the combat moves such as shoves and grapples that any combatant can use, which gives them a good panel of tricks they can draw from, which is likely to surprise players who expect Ogres to be slow, boring enemies who just rush and hit over and over.

    Ogres are not smart, but they're still smart enough to use some battle tactics, traps, and the like. The way they are built make them both good bosses against low level PCs and nice goons against higher-level ones.

    While I have the impression they are very overlooked by the 5e community, the Half-Ogre is a great monster too. They hit pretty hard and with a nice to-hit bonus (only slightly less than the Ogre), have plenty of HPs for their CR (if nearly half what an Ogre has), and their DEX and mental stats are decent. Them being Large still let them enjoy the double damage dices of their weapons, and their versatile battleaxe let them use tactics a bit more varied than the Ogre's greatclub.

    This let me segway into something that I find often ignored, as I find the Ogre and Half-Ogre good example: how much changing the equipment of a monster can change the feel of an encounter, and the encoutner itself, significantly.

    Ogres are strong, and Large, but have low DEX. Giving them a weapon other than the Greatclub, a different armor, and/or a shield helps improve their efficiency, but it also make them more varied opponents. Don't be afraid to do so: an Ogre using a whip, still doing enough average damage to bisect a guard at a looooong reach, one dual-wielding a giant warhammer and a longsword they stole to a knight that looks more like a shortsword in their hand, or one using the door of a barn and a plundered scythe as a weapon could be very memorable, to say nothing of one wearing one of the oft-ignored armor like scale mail or ring mail.

    For non-combat interactions, the Ogre still offers plenty of opportunity. As their fluff says, they are dumb, short-tempered, and generally malevolent, but you can still talk to them, trade with them, and even get to work for you. Half-Ogres are less generally malevolent, and meeting one in a "civilized" community might be a nice way to remind the PCs that there's actually other people with their own stories in this world, not only adventurers. Both the Ogre and the Half-Ogre speak Giant and Common, which is convenient. An Ogre having to play translator between the PCs and Giants has the potential to be pretty funny.

    Fluff

    The Ogre's fluff is pretty well-done, showing everything about their in-game role in a very organic and logical manner. They get angry easily, eat people, are lazy, don't have much in the way of community and things they build, and wander around in solo or in group, to pillage and take what interest them, be it food or trinkets (giving ample opportunities for the DM to make them show up as antagonists) but it's still possible to discuss with them and play on their greed and other vices.

    The Half-Ogre's fluff mostly concentrate on who their other parents can be. In the case of a male Ogre and an human female, it is noted that the mother has good chances of dying from it, but other compatible species (or human male and a female Ogre) don't seem to have this problem.

    The fluff works pretty nicely, and help support their place in the game as well as fitting their statblocks nicely.

    Hooks

    The Booze of Bewderk

    Walking in a plain, the adventurers meet Bewderk, an Ogre who's busying himself maintaining a fire under a gigantic pot. He tells them he's a booze-maker, but he's in big trouble because he doesn't have enough ingredients for his brew, but he ccannot leave to go gather more due to the fire threatening to die out. If the PCs help, the Ogre is happy to give them a couple of waterskins of the Booze of Bewderk, which work as an health potion except for the fact one needs to drink twice the normal quantity to benefit from the effects.

    The Bridge of Stories

    The PCs arrives to a bridge they need to cross. Problem: an heavily armored Ogre is guarding it for their Giant overlords, and they're only letting the persons who give them an item of interest, which for this Ogre would be something tied to a story the character tell them -the most grand and the most absurd the better.

    Wedding Vows, Wedding Woes

    The young lord Yonir of Archway, in charge of the town since his parents died tragically a few years ago, had disappeared for a few weeks after being separated from the group various local lords had formed to get rid of Nanny Broutille, a Green Hag. Upon his return, he announced his upcoming wedding to a certain Irka. The thing is: Irka is an Ogresse. According to the lord, he fell in love with her when she saved him from bandits lead by an infamous elven outlaw, Greensky, after an ambush from them cut him off from the expedition force against Broutille. The adventurers are hired to discover what is really happening: is it really Lord Yonir? Has he been enchanted by the Hag? Or was it a ploy and he was fooled? And is Irka a threat? To complicate the matter, Yonir (privately) declares that Irka is pregnant with his child...

    Verdict

    In my opinion, two great examples of how solid 5e design can be, and two great monsters.
    Last edited by odigity; 2018-06-05 at 05:58 PM.

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    Oni (by DerKommissar on 2018-04-04)

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    Introduction

    The Oni is another type of Ogre, but this time it’s a magical one. It is heavily inspired by Japanese mythology, to the point that earlier versions were even called “Japanese Ogre”. They appear in D&D since the first edition, though in earlier editions they used to be called Ogre Mages.

    Art

    The Art is okay I guess, but I expected something more Samurai and less Hobo. It’s another one of those pictures where there is no Equipment depicted (Glaive and Chain Shirt) – earlier Editions had nicer Pictures IMO, but this one works okay if you want to stress the Boogey Man aspect more.

    Fluff

    Oni are distant relatives to the Ogres, but they are far more powerful. During daytime they use their ability to change shape to turn into humanoids, but at night you might see their true hideous form. They use this ability to befriend those they like to eat later: People, especially babies. They are interested in Might and Magic, so sometimes they seek other creatures like Hags or Wizards to work together, as e.g. it seems they cannot make magic items on their own, but get them as reward for their service.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Mechanically the Oni successfully one-ups the ogre and even the lower tier giants by quite a bit:

    They hit hard, have moderate AC and Hit Points, so they can stand their ground in Melee. Invisibility and the ability to fly gives them plenty of mobility and that combined with their 10ft. reach lets them kite the party with devastating effect if they have no means to fly themselves. Throw in the 10 HP Regeneration and you get an A+ low CR Attrition fighter, which can fly down to an enemy, attack two times and then fly up again without provoking AoO (if the party has no reach weapon themselves). If he gets hit, he can just regenerate for some time. The 60ft. Cone of cold is brutal and has high chances to hit the whole party and Darkness can be used to shut down spell casters (the Oni itself is hindered by it as well). Attacking at night should top this tactic off. Gaseous Form could be used to enter houses through cracks or key holes. Charm and Sleep seems to be more for style than for combat to me.

    So all in all it’s a CR appropriate creature, but should not be underestimated as it has quite some tricks up its sleeves. Also it has 4 Saves it gets a bonus to, including the “big three” Dexterity, Constitution and Wisdom.

    The description says nothing about minions or that they are found in groups and I think that fits the Oni. So except for one teaming up with other complementary creature I guess they are rather encountered alone.

    Hooks

    An Oni fell in love with an Annis Hag and wants to woe her and move with her to another area. The Annis Hag turns him down and does not head his call, which doesnt help both their bad tempers. Are the heroes able to help him further his romantic endeavor, so the two can move to a different place and stop tormenting the local villagers?

    An old man, who can seemingly only walk supported by his glaive, stops the heroes in the middle of a forest and begs them to follow him to catch some bandits who robbed him. On the way deeper inside the forest he is very curious about the magical items in the possession of the heroes, especially how they work and how to activate them.

    The heroes come to a small hamlet. All the townfolks are missing and there are signs of battle, but no corpses to be found. The only survivor is a small child, who tells them that bandits raided the village and left no one alive, but he could hide successfully. He asks the heroes if they could escort him to another town, or maybe even an orphanage.

    Verdict

    A very versatile creature, that should fit easily in many campaigns and is able to stand its ground against a broad range of Parties, though maybe fluffwise a bit bland. Would have appreciated it if it was a bit closer to the mythological orginal (more samurai with a kanabō), but all in all I really like this incarnation of the oni.


    Oozes (by DerKommissar on 2018-05-15)

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    Introduction

    Oozes are one of those creature types that are super unrealistic but in a fantasy way plausible if you suspend enough disbelief. And they are fun! They exist in D&D since the first edition and are relatively genuine (except maybe “The Blob”). They are classical Monsters for Dungeons and dungeon-like environments, especially as this is one of the few biomeres which would not get dissolved immediately by them. And so they live their lives away from light and warmth, being half-trap and half-creature.

    Art

    The Art is okay, but not overwhelming. It’s nice that two of the pictures are action shots. Maybe the Black Pudding could use some acidic fumes, to see that the Orc is getting dissolved and not strangled. The last two pictures are a bit boring, but hey, what do expect from oozes ;)

    Purpose and Tactics

    Oozes are quite similar mechanicwise, though there are some irregularities. All of them are unaligned, have low AC, are slow, have blindsight (otherwise blind), an abysmal passive Perception, immunity against a huge load of conditions and bad Dex, Int, Wis and Cha (and super sucky saves). Most of them are Large (except the grey ooze), can climb and squeeze amorphously (except the gelantious cube and the grey ooze can only climb normal surfaces for whatever reason).

    All of them make good trap creatures, but bad ‚anything else‘-Creatures and if you are not able to outrun them, you will be in trouble, as they tend to do a lot of damage (bad) and destroy your equipment (really bad!).

    Black Pudding

    The strongest of the Oozes. They have a damage shield and hit like a truck (especially when they crit). In addition they dissolve non-magic metal, so if you hit them or they hit you, your weapon/armor will melt very quickly. This is one of the few abilities that can actually cripple PCs beyond the encounter and depending on the setting, loosing a half/fullplate might hurt a lot. Also be careful: Fighting with a slashing weapon will not only damage you and your weapon, but split the pudding in two separate creatures, each hitting as hard as the original pudding. This makes them more susceptible for AoE spells (except acid, lighting and cold ones, so…yeah), but you can have up to 8 puddings this way which each have 24dmg/round output. At CR4 that can get out of hand quickly. One of those monsters clearly not meant to be fought head on… Oh and they have spider climb so they can double as a kind of an AoE Piercer dropping from the ceiling (thought there are no rules for that). Black Puddings are nasty!

    Gelantious Cube

    This is the Popstar of the Oozes: Famous, very weird and quite the one-trick pony. For some reason it’s incredibly hard to see them even in plain sight (reminds me of some glass doors), which is kinda ridiculous if you think about it. It can pummel you with its pseudopod, but only for acid damage, you don’t take any physical damage. It has only one trick: Its trademark Engulf, which is a tradition thing, but the rules are complicated, as they don’t really match with this Edition of D&D. I thought about summing up the mechanics here, but there are so many ifs and buts with this ability and in the end it’s so unclear to me how e.g. engulfing multiple creatures work, that it’s not worth the bother. Anyways, the Gelantious Cube in the end is just its engulf ability and despite its fame: I think it’s one of the most implausible creatures in D&D Land.

    Gray Ooze

    Basically a weaker Version of the black pudding without the split.The dissolving of weapons and armor is brutal at that level, plus they also hit quite hard. Also it can climb, though not spider climb (for whatever reason). There is a psychic variant which gets a weak cantrip-like ranged attack and they gain a bit of intelligence.The Gray Ooze is at its CR quite a dangerous critter if you get cornered.

    Ochre Jelly

    Another weaker Black Pudding, though it inherited the split ability instead of the strong acid. This one only dissolves flesh, which makes it kinda odd, as it still keeps the acid damage while attacking. So it does have the ability to dissolve anything dissolveable, but only if it hits it with the pseudopod? But well, the oozes ooze of rule of cool and have such incoherent stats, that I guess it doesen’t matter ;)

    Fluff

    Oozes react to Movement and warmth and dissolve anything they can get their pseudopods on – literally, as their fluff states what they can and cannot dissolve, their pseudopods yet deal acid damage to everything regardless. Also: Why do e.g. gelantious cubes dissolve “living matter” but not bones? Are skeletons thus immune to gelantious cubes? Also if you get attacked by an ooze according to the fluff you die a painfull slow death, though I guess that if you are engulfed by a being that can dissolve 1 Foot of solid steel in 36 Seconds (resp. deal 24d6 acid damage in that amount of time) it would be over really really quick. As for most of the weird races, it was either a wizard, a mindflayer or a demon who created it – this time it was a demon.

    Oozes are so prone to be used as traps, that even the monsters in D&D land lure them and use them as traps, even though a sentinent, acidic trap that can ooze through mere cracks does not seem like the best thing to have in your dungeon. But as the fluff states: They can be contained with fires, so just change the torches to keep them out every hour and you are fine.

    The individual fluff is quite brief: While the Black Pudding is hard to spot in dark surroundings, the Gelantious Cube is hard to see at all and uses the same paths through a dungeon over and over. The Gray Ooze description was heavily inspired by stoner Jim Morrison Lyrics, as it is “stone turned to liquid by chaos. When it moves, it slithers like a liquid snake, rising to strike.” That’s really trippy, even by D&D Standards, but what do you expect by intelligent psychic yellow oozes that can split in several beings…? Ochre Jelly are hunters, pursuing their prey. Thats about it.

    Hooks

    The Hills have Ooze

    In a remote town people report seeing weird black oozes crawling out of cracks of the hills not far away. Rumors go about an “Oozemaster”, who employs magical secrets from before the time to split, feed and control oozes. Do the heroes dare to investigate those caverns?

    Nine Out of Ten

    The heroes walk through a hallway and fall in a hidden pit… where a gelantious cube awaits them! (Sorry, couldn’t resist).

    Weird Scenes Inside the Goldmine

    More and more miners from a local mine are gone missing. The curious thing is there are no bodies to be found. Only a crazed old booze hound keeps on babbling about “liquid slithering stone snakes shaped by the chaos itself” and that they “hurt in the head without touching”. What will the heroes do with these informations?

    The Flesh Eaters

    A Merchant sends the heroes out to capture alive ochre jelly for him, as he plans to put them in containers and sell them as ammunition for siege catapults. How will the heroes approach this task?

    Verdict

    A classic monster and a dungeon staple, though more trap than creature. I think they are mechanically solid and easy to use, except for the gelantious cube, which seems to be a ‘heritage Monster’ using mechanics which are not really implemented anymore in 5e – but hey, D&D without Gelantious Cubes in the MM is not D&D. All in all just suspend your disbelief, ignore the implications of the mechanics and have fun terrifying your party with equipment eating slime creatures!


    Orcs (by deathbymange on 2015-10-27)

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    Ah the mighty orc, the powerful barbarians of D&D. The cousins of the Elves and sworn enemies. Worshipers of Grummsh One-Eye, who I'm still confused about if he's an elven God as well, like Lolth, or if he's a completely different God. Are Orcs Giant-beefy Elves, are they cousins? Nephews? Uncles? The Orcs were told by their god to take any land that they can find, because when the world was started, everything was already taken and they had nowhere to live.

    Am I the only one who feels a lot more of a Jewish feel for the Orcs than a Mongol feel? a Nomadic tribe of people, who worship a barbaric god and have no home to call their own? Not to go too deep into Religion here, but that feels very Jewish. True they're a LOT more warlike than the Jews, but that's just because their God is THAT much more bloodthirsty.

    the Orcs also have a very Halfling feel to them. Both are nomadic who can never stay in one place, which makes the idea of a the two races getting along actually an interesting idea. Halflings don't really have "property" that the Orcs can steal or pillage, and the Orcs don't exactly have stuff to "trade", so aside from some skirmishes, the two races feel almost like they'd get along during peaceful times.

    Art

    While the Orcs are described as Piggish, they are a lot more human-looking than the past. In the past they'd have wide, frog-like mouths with big nostrils like a boar. But now? Long, flat, stone-like faces with big tusks and noses. They also have noticeably greyish or blueish skin, as opposed to the brown and sometimes greenish skin colours. This makes them less disgusting and horrifying, and more Ape-like.

    Thoughts

    Orcs are conquerers and barbarians, but surprisingly, also have a very inclusive lifestyle, very unlike my previous Jewish-comparison. Ogres, Trolls, Half-Orcs and Orogs (which are just Half-Orcs Half-Ogres anyway). They're even willing to serve as flunkies to Evil Giants (I assume the Evil part is just for the situations mostly likely. I'm sure some Neutral Giants would be fine employing Orcs as well). This means variety in combat. Maybe have a bunch of Orcs with a troll in the mix? Or maybe throw some Ogres in the mix also?

    Orcs focus on slaughter and conquest, so they won't bother with mercy or enslaving people, but they will employ competent tactics, so watch out. They come equiped with a Javelin and a Greataxe, meaning they can fight mid-close range. If it were up to me? I'd employ a Bull's Horn tactical approach with them. a surdy wall of Orcs or Orogs in the front. Maybe a Troll in there as well. Send Half-Orcs and Orcs out as flanks to strike from both sides, but keep some Ogres in the back as Reserves in case things get too hairy.

    But remember, Orcs don't just travel in large armies. They send scouting parties to go conquest first and bring back tributes, the party with the best tribute leads the army to where they were to finish conquesting the entire area. So make sure to kill every single Orc that comes there, or else they might return with an entire army, eager to destroy this dangerous foe.

    Remember, not all Half-Orcs are Half-Human. Orcs can also Breed with Dwarves, which can be really interesting, especially since both Orcs and Dwarves are known for using Greataxes.

    Also remember, that while Orcs hate Elves, not all Elves are loved by the rest. Try fitting the Drow among them. Do the Orcs hate the Drow as much as the other Elves? If so, maybe a war between Drow and Dwarves is coming, and the Orcs have agreed to fight them. the Orcs might be given a Drow stronghold as reward for helping. Who knows, maybe the Orcs will start conquesting in the Underdark, which is perfectly fine by the surface world people. Perhaps this might make the Orcs less enemies and more neutral parties.

    Or perhaps the Orcs like the Drow, seeing them as birds of a feather. In this situation, perhaps you might find some Drow doing the tactics and strategy for the Orcs, or perhaps a war between Elves and Orcs has started and the Drow have decided to stand by the Orcs?

    Also, don't skirt on those Eye of Grummsh Orcs either. Those guys are effectively War Clerics.

    Oh, also remember that Giants like to enslave Goliaths as laborers, so maybe have an Orc slaver who goes about capturing Goliaths for his Giant cohorts?

    Verdict

    Still an awesome race and I definitely look forward to using them later on.


    Otyugh (by DerKommissar on 2018-05-22)

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    Introduction

    A strange name for an even stranger creature! These living garbage disposals appear in D&D since 1st Edition, roughly the same year, as the creature from the garbage compressor scene in Star Wars IV – would be curious if they were inspired by each other. So let’s have a look at the Otyugh.

    Art

    I really like the Otyugh art, as it captures their very alien nature and gives a sense of scale. You can clearly see its three legs and has an extra “sensory tentacle”. Maybe it’s only my impression, but the way the maw is drawn it reminds me of a hungry, but somehow merry little dog waiting to be fed.

    Fluff

    Otyugh are omnivores with a hang for rotting things. They live in places like sewers and swamps where they can find enough to feed and sometimes they are even cultivated to work as garbage disposals / guardians, so it wouldn’t be unusual to meet one a dungeon (there is a good example e.g. in Baldurs Gate 2 where one is used exactly in that manner). They are not evil but driven by a great gluttony, so if they have enough trash to gorge themselves, they’ll get lazy. But if they don’t have enough to eat they will start hunting, i.e. trying to lure creatures to them with their limited telephatic ability.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Otyughs make good surprise encounter, either in damp swampy pits, in sewers, graveyards, or dungeons, where they lure their victims close by pretending to be something else and when close enough ambush them.

    Mechanically the Otyugh is a Bruiser with a limited form of battlefield control:

    They can take some punishment, are intelligent enough to plan and can dish out quite some damage with their 3 attacks routine. The bite has a disease effect and to avoid it a rather high Con Save. If you fail you instantly get the rather nasty poisoned condition and if the disease is not cured you get weaker every day till you are dead. The tentacle attacks grapple/restrain for free and it can grapple up to 2 creatures with them. Finally grappled creatures failing another Con Save take extra damage and are stunned.

    So if things go bad, the otyugh could bite a PC and inflict the poisoned condition, then attack it with a tentacle and grapple (which he would have disadvantage to escape) and thus stack poisoned, grappled, restrained, stunned and diseased in one turn, dishing out hefty damage in the process. This attack routine can quickly become a a vicious circle and if a squishier character (e.g. wizard) would become trapped in this stun-lock, the only thing that could save them is to kill the otyugh fast enough.

    I think their design is sound and easy to use. I really like that its more than just a ‘Hit-Hit-Miss’ Mechanic, but that it has some interesting rider effects, which make a more tactical approach a necessity.

    Hooks

    For many years a city just dumped its trash in their Absurdely Spacious Sewers™. Few people knew that Otyughs live there getting rid of the waste. It’s a secret the city council wants to be well kept, as the citizens would freak out. Lastly the Otyugh population grew and so the heroes get the mission to clear their numbers without the public to know.

    The graveyard of a small town near a swamp seems to be haunted, as there are strange feeding noises coming from one of the larger crypts. It seemed a clear case of necrophagic undead, so the local cleric plus apprentice was send in to turn those. As they never made it out again the graveyard was sealed and the town seeks adventurers brave enough to clear things up.

    While exploring a dungeon the party stumbles into a pit trap with slowly closing walls that threaten to crush them in a few turns. The pit is rather large and filled with all kinds of trash. As if the situation was no bad enough a tentacle with three eyes appears from the murky waters and seems to be sniffing for a scent…

    Verdict

    A classic and a very solid monster that has a solid combat routine, a defined habitat and an alien enough appearance to surprise your PCs and leave them guessing what they are going to fight after hearing the description. Not an everyday monster, but definitely a fun one, that has it’s uses.


    Owlbear (by the_brazenburn on 2018-05-24)

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    Introduction

    Half owl, half bear, all nasty. The owlbear is one of the most feared creatures in D&D, and for good reason. It's a ferocious beast that can maul the average 1st-level player in just a few rounds, and is apparently somewhat common in the forests of some worlds. Owlbears are iconic creatures in the D&D game, even though they are original creations.

    Art

    The art is pretty good in this edition. I could have gone for a few more pictures, but it looks very vicious and alive. My main complaint are the pose that the owlbear is in. It looks more like a pouncing position like a cat would take. This does not suit a bear.

    Tactics

    The owlbear has high stats in STR, DEX, and CON, but its highest is strength. It's a straight-out brute fighter that won't give up, no matter what. It gets a Multiattack with two claw and one beak attack, which it seems likely to employ against a single opponent. Keep in mind that this damage can easily kill a character of third or fourth level, so use owlbears sparingly and don't send them in groups.

    Fluff

    Owbear fluff is essentially the same as in previous editions: a monster created by an insane wizard. Yawn.

    Hooks

    Mad Morty's Mansion

    A group of adventurers have been hired by the insane wizard Mad Morty to clear out his mansion, which has been infested by a breeding pair of owlbears. Morty won't say where they came from.

    A Day at the Races

    A clan of hobgoblins has captured a few owlbears and is planning to race them. They want to know if the players want any gambling action, and they've got a plan to ensure their victory.

    I had to deal with this one. It didn't go well for the DM.

    While inside a mega-dungeon, the party comes across a cage filled with children. On the other side of the room is a pedestal with insert powerful magic item here on it. Written on the pedestal is a warning that if the item is taken, a hungry owlbear will be released into the cage. What will the players do?

    Verdict

    An old standby that can be used in all sorts of situations.


    Pegasus (by QuickLyRaiNbow on 2018-05-26)

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    Introduction

    Originally, Pegasus was a singular character. The offspring of Poseidon and Medusa (yeah, that one), Pegasus sprang from Medusa's head when she was defeated by Perseus. Pegasus served as Bellerophon's mount during his battle with the Chimera, and after that tragic hero's downfall ascended to Mount Olympus and served as the bearer of Zeus's thunderbolts. In a Dungeons and Dragons context, pegasi are winged white horses of high moral character.

    Art

    It's a horse
    with wings
    and muscles
    and an expression of steely determination
    and it's pure white

    All the essential elements are here. It's a good picture but one that takes few risks or liberties.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Most adventuring parties are good-ish, and a pegasus is unlikely to be an adversary for those characters. It has a fly speed but no ranged options, and it hasn't got Flyby Attack or a similar ability. At CR 2 it's quite vulnerable to being shot out of the sky. The most likely use for a pegasus in a campaign is as a taxi with a conscience. They're smart and highly moral, and can be used to keep your party's more impulsive desires in check. The most likely way to find one in your game is through the find greater steed spell.

    As an adversary, the most notable things about them are the 90' fly speed and their high Perception and passive Perception scores. They're reasonably difficult guard dogs for an appropriate good-aligned settlement. As combat encounters, they have low AC (though fairly high HP) and can't really use their fly speed in combat. Use them to ferry around archers, spellcasters or other foes with ranged attacks.

    Fluff

    There's not a lot of fluff to work with here, and it's quite similar to other versions. They're graceful sky-horses who live on the wing, they're shy and only serve those they wish to, and they're linked to the planes of good and nature and are associated with elves. As a change from 3.5, pegasi bear live young rather than eggs.

    Verdict

    They're very good mounts, and they don't really have a way to communicate - pegasi understand like six languages but can't speak or have telepathy. That means they're probably just going to show up as mounts for good-aligned spellcasters.


    Peryton (by Dark Sun Gnome on 2018-05-28)

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    Introduction

    The Peryton was described in the Jorge Luis Borges tome Book of Imaginary Beings, and was first detailed for Dungeons and Dragons in the 82nd edition of Dragon Magazine, then making its first appearance in a guide in the Monstrous Compendium Forgotten Realms Appendix 2. In the 3rd edition, it was a monster that was confined to Toril with its writeup in the Monsters of Faerun, and for the 4th, it got a write up in the Monster Vault 2 - threats to the Nentir Vale. Now in 5th edition, its made the big leagues and is now part of the A list.

    Artwork

    Like the depictions in previous editions, the peryton here is a beast with the head of a stag and the body, wings and legs of a bird of prey. Unlike in previous editions of the game, in this artwork, the antlers are swept back, which considering this is a monster that likes to dive bomb its victims and uses a bite attack, makes sense. The pose is that of a beast with its wings spread and about to tear into its victims with its claws, and the look on its face suggests the peryton is going to relish that experience. Unfortunately, the artwork doesn’t include the creatures shadow, but it’s still a very nice illustration of the monster.

    Fluff

    Its that old chestnut again, the created by a curse or by magical experimentation origin story, or an alternative tale (which is the one told by bards), a woman cut the heart out of her husbands younger lover and fed it to him in an attempt to win his heart for all time. It succeeded until she was found guilty and taken to the gallows, where carrion birds feasted on her corpse and transformed into the first perytons.

    Like in previous editions, the peryton lairs in the mountains and needs to consume a humanoid heart in order to reproduce, but there is nothing about taking its victim back to the nest and keeping it until the time comes, which does reduce the possibilities in combat or rescue missions. Now, it attacks until its prey is dead or it has been driven off.

    Purpose and Tactics

    With its dive attack and not provoking attacks of opportunity, along with its resistance to weapons, the peryton makes a tough opponent for low level parties, who probably won’t have access to magical weapons. Its keen senses mean that the creature can trail the party for quite a distance before getting the jump on them, and the terrain the peryton is found in can also add to the challenge. The peryton can no longer tear the heart out of a bound or paralyzed opponent, but it is still a taxing monster for a low level party.

    Hooks

    In the Seamist mountains, a noble reports that his son has gone missing, and that rumours of a large bird that cast a shadow in the shape of a man have been seen in eastern Avanil. Can the party discover the truth and recover the lost noble?

    Reports reach Suzail that there have been a number of bodies discovered on the slopes of the southern Stormhorns that seem to have had their hearts torn from their bodies. The party is tasked to investigate by a Cormyrean Lord.

    Verdict

    A classic monster from Jorge Luis Borges makes it to the D&D Monster big time with very good artwork and new mechanics, a worthy entry to the Monster Manual.


    Pixie (by Droodicus on 2018-06-12)

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    Originating from celtic folklore they are generally considered benign and mischevious, pranksters who can sometimes be coaxed into helping with domestic chores. They are believed to live in barrows and stone circles on the moors and participate in outdoor celebrations where they dance or wrestle. They fight with fairies and sprites.

    Artwork

    It looks like a green child with butterfly wings and a vaguely woodland themed outfit. Seems to tick all the boxes one thinks of when they say pixie. The lack of any other details makes it hard to determine her size and she looks more like the size of a child than a foot high creature. It would've been pretty nifty to see a dragonfly winged pixie as it would present more of an unnatural feel than the typical butterfly wings.

    Lore

    Fey who array themselves as prince and princesses they are as curious as cats but as shy as deer. They are rarely seen for fear of being attacked or captured but will test out those it's sees as potential friends by playing tricks and pranks and seeing how those it tests react. They are opposed to violence and would sooner flee than get into a physical altercation. When they fly while visible pixie dust sprinkles in their wake. A tiny pinch of the dust has great magical properties so they are often sought out by mages.

    Mechanics

    They are a low cr 1 hp fey who are clearly not designed to stand up to front line combat they lack any Form of innate damage dealing capability. Their superior invisibility and spellcasting abilities are the meat of their profile, an interesting array of crowd control and annoyance would make them interesting S support for a team of stronger fey. Only speaking sylvan is a bit of a downer as it could shut down a lot of non combat interaction.

    Plot Hooks

    You stumble upon a magical Grove and decide to camp, the night is full of curious mishaps and strange occurences. In the morning a tiny fey presents itself begging for help. It's family has stumbled into the material plane and they are being hunted by a tribe of savage sprites. Do you help them find a way back to the fey wild or turn the tables and go sprite stabbing?

    Mad Macallister the Mage was experimenting with pixie dust now his tower has flown off and is somewhere out in the countryside hopelessly confused, stop it before it destroys anymore small towns.

    A druid has been conjuring pixies and using them to polymorph squirrels into bears and giving them the power of flight. Nobody anywhere near the forest is safe from rabid flying bears but given the stealthy nature of the parties involved how do you stop her.


    Pseudodragon (by DerKommissar on 2018-06-29)

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    Introduction

    The Pseudodragon is one of the lesser dragons of D&D and exists at least from 3rd Edition onwards. They are sympathetic little beasts, which lack the breath weapon of their bigger cousins, but are otherwise miniature versions of the 'real' dragons. They are characterized mainly by being superb familiars though.

    Art

    The picture might be my favorite piece in this monster manual: The dragon itself looks very good, animalistic, yet a bit majestic but playful. There is a sense of scale with the mouse, the book and the candle and we even get some lighting. Also we finally get a depiction of a creature in action, as I assume the dragon is hunting the mouse. But there is more to it: I imagine that the scenery might be in a library, which would transport three things. 1) The dragon is living with human(oids), 2) proves itself useful killing pests which tend to destroy books and 3) actually has some 'normal' behavior and diet outside of a D&D adventure context. A final bonus point for the book the dragon is on, as it is actually sitting on a monster manual ;)

    Purpose and Tactics

    For its size the Pseudodragon packs quite a punch: It makes two attacks, each one could kill a commoner by itself. The sting transfers the poisoned condition and per exception rule even knocks you out. Defensively it's rather fragile with a low AC and 7 HP, so 1-2 arrows could put an end to it. It's quite fast and has an okay perception score, but as it rolls most of those checks with advantage it becomes much better. Magic resistance is always nice to have.

    Its 'main purpose' though seems to be being a very good familiar. It shares its good perception with its "Master" within a large distance and even conveys its magic resistance, which is fantastic! Furthermore it is not limited to becoming a wizards companion, but it could be a familiar to everyone.

    Fluff

    They are rather seclusive creatures, but they can be won over to become a familiar. They far surpass the abilities of the familiars you get by the find familiar spell.

    [Rant] I never really liked this spell: It's a first level conjuration which summons a celestial/fey/fiendish spirit, which takes the form of an animal, which always obeys you and even has its own pocket dimension. Sounds like quite some magic for a first level spell.

    Why not just have it a transformation spell and let it work like that: Wizard chooses/befriends ordinary animal and casts the spell to make a magic bond. Like the stereotypical witch from the fairy tales. No more immortal fiendish spirit crab, that you can summon for 10gp and 1 hour of your time, but an actual living being, that bonds with you. [/Rant]

    So basically a pseudodragon familiar is more or less exactly that. It brings far greater benefits than the spell-familiar, but if it's dead, it's dead and you don't have total control over it. Me like!

    A bit of a downer is, that we only learn about their attitude towards other beings (seclusive, can be a familiar), but nothing about their ecology. Why no breath weapon? Why the poison? Are they rare? Which places do they tend to live if not together with humanoids? So besides the social stuff there is not much known about them. And the name is deceiving, as they are actually real dragons.

    On a side note: Why do they have to always be neutral good? They are not celestial/fiendish and they have an average human intellect, so I see no good reason that they have a default alignment. But the idea that intelligent race have to have a specific alignment by default seems old-fashioned and kind a boring to me in general.

    Hooks

    The heroes encounter the sad pseudodragon Grisu. He had a dispute about a nerd topic with a wizard, who is its former friend and companion. They disagreed so strongly that the wizard sent Grisu away and summoned an emotionless spiritual familiar. Grisus heart is broken. Can the heroes help him to reunite with the Wizard?

    Bob the Archivar desperately looks for a Pseudodragon to befriend, as he read in a book that they make good companions for someone working in a library and he tends to be rather lonely in his job. Unfortunately nobody really knows where they can be found naturally. Are the Heroes able to help him in his quest?

    While on their way to defeat a wizard the party encounters a funny little dragon. The little bugger seems to be very trustful and poses no harm to them, so they decide to keep it in their company. Recently though it seems that all of their plans are foiled and the Wizard is always one step ahead of them...

    Verdict

    A refreshing creature: not necessarily an antagonist to the Players, but can be used for many roles, like companion, quest giver, messenger, comic relief, companion to an antagonist, etc.


    Purple Worm (by Requilac on 2018-07-08)

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    “But see, amid the mimic rout,
    A crawling shape intrude!
    A blood-red thing that writhes from out
    The scenic solitude!
    It writhes!—it writhes!—with mortal pangs
    The mimes become its food,
    And seraphs sob at vermin fangs
    In human gore imbued.
    Out—out are the lights—out all!
    And, over each quivering form,
    The curtain, a funeral pall,...
    That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”
    And its hero, the Conqueror Worm.”
    -Edgar Allen Poe, The Conqueror Worm
    -Volothamp Geddarm, giving a group of murderhobos the description of a Purple Worm they are getting paid to slay.


    This gargantuan (somewhat ironic) monstrosity is another monster as old as D&D itself, first showing up in the basic set of OD&D and present in all editions thereafter. The idea of a giant man eating worm isn’t specific to D&D at all though and can be found throughout countless pieces of literature, both ancient and contemporary. From the sophisticated works of Bram Stoker’s “The Lair of the White Worm” and Lovecraft’s Dholes mentioned in “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” and “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”, to the pop culture staples of the Sand Worms from “Dune” and Graboids from “Tremors”, you would be hard pressed to find a fantasy or sci-fi franchise which didn’t have a creature like that of a Purple Worm mentioned at least once. For some reason gargantuan, murderous worms which burrow from beneath the earth to consume people hounts the conscious of humankind. Somehow. Maybe Frued has a couple choice words on this subject?

    Art

    As to be expected from art depicting a worm, it’s not really the most complex piece of art to look at. It’s purple segmented body looks gnarled and tough, giving testament to its incredibly high natural armor bonus. Three rows of spikes streak down its body, making it seem a little bit more menacing and even slightly reminiscent of demons. Its gaping maw reveals its pinecone shaped teeth, which look unusually small in comparison to its body, but I guess the worm can’t maul its prey too badly before it consumes it so that may make more sense. Beyond its teeth you can see that its body is mostly hollow and it likes like a winding tunnel within, which also makes a decent amount of sense because it is also a popular trope for adventurers to walk into an oddly squishy tunnel and then realize too late that is actually a living creature. Its maw kind of reminds me of the mouth of a hookworm when under a microscope.

    But what I find the most interesting part of this image is that you can actually see it emerging from the ground and coiling into a striking pose. I have no idea how a creature with a hydrostatic skeleton is pulling that off, so its probably got a spine somewhere. The worm’s pose definitely seems closer to that of an angry snake’s than a worm though, which may or may not be intentional on WotC’s part. Regardless though the open dirt beneath it does give us some insight as to its intended fighting style.

    Overall the art is unoriginal, bland and mostly featureless, but by standards of depicting a worm it is great, there is only so much you can do.

    Purpose and Tactics

    Unfortunately the purple worm doesn’t get many special features so its tactics are limited. The only passive feature it gets actually is Tunneler, which is sort of irrelevant because if I was using one I would have just let it burrow through rocks anyway. Another more useful feature is its Bite attack which can swallow targets, which is great but not crucial to it so that it may perform its most effective strategy. But what really establishes its combat strategy is its relatively high (though in my opinion not as high as it should be) burrow speed.

    Its best strategy is the one you will see similar creatures in pop culture perform a lot. It would be best for the purple worm to burrow up under a group of adventurers and pop on land (I would only have it 5 ft out of the ground for reasons I will explain later), and quickly let off a bite and sting. If the worm surprises its prey, this is going to be even deadlier. If I wanted them to be dangerous I would probably have the worm focus on one target, preferably the weakest one, by stinging first and then swallowing its prey., but some DMs may believe it is more befitting for the Purple Worm with its 1 intelligence to split up its two attacks against two different targets and choose randomly. Regardless of how the attack is done, after its attack is made it should probably crawl back down its hole until it is 10 ft. below the surface and then it should make another horizontal tunnel beneath the players. The reason I wouldn’t have the worm come anymore than 5 ft. above the surface when it attacks is so that it can make a longer horizontal tunnel. This of course would make it vulnerable to opportunity attacks, but while underground it would be immune to full round attacks (more on that later) so it is better in the long run. Upon its next turn the worm should repeat this strategy, preferably using that horizontal tunnel it made to move underground quicker (the worm’s walking speed is higher than its burrowing speed so walking along that horizontal tunnel would give it more time to move). If you wanted to be really evil as a DM you could have it predig multiple horizontal tunnels before it strikes.

    What are all these tunnels for you may ask? It is simple; to provide protection. The first time the worm makes a horizontal tunnel it will not be of much use because its body would still be in the vertical tunnel it used to burrow upwards (it only has a burrow speed of 30 ft. after all, and it would at least take 10 to breach the surface than another 15 to get 10 ft below the surface), but on recurring turns afterwards it it could easily use its walking speed to slither along the horizontal tunnel(s), pop up and attack, then retreat fully back into the horizontal tunnel. There it would be protected from melee attacks and most ranged attacks, unless a PC decided to jump down into the 30 ft. deep pit (as a gargantuan creature the purple worm occupies a 20 by 20 ft. square so if it is 10 ft. under the ground it leaves a 30 ft. deep hole) and take 3d6 damage. If the purple worm was coming from its original hole though then the bottom could be much deeper, cutting off the chance of a PC getting close enough to hit it as long as the worm is in its horizontal tunnel. Of course a PC could try to climb down into the horizontal tunnel without falling down the pit; but that would probably take an action and failure to do so could be disastrous.

    If the players simply wait around the incredibly deep hole for the Purple Worm to surface it is going to get bloody on their part really quickly. The PCs could always ready actions yes, but extra attack doesn’t apply to attacks made with reactions, so that sets them behind. Of course this does make the worm vulnerable to spells, and considering that is has horrible saving throws using dex or a mental statistic, spells are very dangerous to it. And without any condition immunities, this thing is easily incapacitated by spells too. Watch out for that.

    Another fun but inefficient tactic you could use is that you could have the worm drop from the ceiling onto the players and attack then burrow under. It would then burrow a loop so that it makes its way back to the ceiling and drops again repeating this pattern. It is horribly inefficient due to how slow it functions and the amount of falling damage the worm will take, but it would be pretty awesome to see this in action.

    Fluff

    As to be expected from a giant carnivorous worm, its flavor description is pretty weak. You can assume most of its fluff just by looking at the picture really. Its main method of transportation is burrowing, which it uses to track and devour any living thing which will fit in its mouth. Everyone, including the evil denizens of the underdark, hate it. You can find gemstones in its body, so there is an explanation as to why you would get loot from killing the beast.
    There are also two other things that I found interesting. Firsly, it is attracted to noise, especially that of battle, and it has a habit of interrupting pitched fights. This is definitely suggesting how it can surprise players, and it even can be used as a Deus Ex Machina if the party is face to face with a TPK. Second, some creatures use the holes which the purple worm digs as transportation tunnels. That could definitely be something interesting to implement as a DM.

    Hooks

    Karmic Retribution

    The party is locked into combat with a group of vicious Duergar. After a tough slog they finally bring ruin to most of the Duergar, and they begin to loot the corpses with much ecstacy, showing no empathy for the dwarves they have slain. But something has heard this fight. Something hungry, deep below the earth, which has discovered new prey…

    I Don’t Think It is Giant Bees

    The party has received an odd request from the local mine. The miners have discovered a network of tunnels and soon after miners have been disappearing. What could be the cause of this…?

    Earth Tremblings

    As the party is travelling to a new town, they realize something strange. Perched on a tree, still hanging on to it desperately, is the corpse of a humanoid with a bow and arrow in their hand. It appears as if the humanoid has died from dehydration because it was too afraid to step down from the tree. What could he/she been so afraid of?

    Verdict

    It’s not really that interesting to me, but regardless the Purple Worm has dug its way into the human conscious and become a memorable figure in fantasy and sci-fi. If you play it right though then it could fun, but not more so than most monsters.
    Last edited by odigity; 2018-09-28 at 01:19 AM.

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    Quaggoth (by DerKommissar on 2018-07-16)

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    Introduction

    The Quaggoth have been with us since 1st Edition and have differing background stories over the editions. They range from “older than the Drow”, to “created by the Drow” to the most recent version in 5e: They once were surface dwellers, who (seemingly) p*ssed off the Elves enough to go all-out genocidal on them and as a result, driving them off to the Underdark, were they became what they are now: Intelligent underdarkian Murder-Bear-Monkeys.

    Art

    The Art is pretty solid. You don’t wanna meet one of those in the dark. Compared to older editions they’ve gone more monkey (with weird hind legs) than bear, but that’s okay for me. Somehow it reminds me of an evil version of beast from the Marvel universe.

    Mechanics

    Quaggoths are brutes, who emphasize offense over defense. Their wounded fury makes them dangerous, as it ups their AB by ~+5 and the damage by 7 per hit. Also the critical hit chance increases, as they roll 2d20 due to advantage and a crit with 5d6+3 is nothing to sneeze at!

    Besides that their ability to climb and their 120ft. darkvision makes them good ambushers.

    In high numbers they can be dangerous to even a higher level party. An interesting tactic would be to utilize Attacks of Opportunities to get hurt enough that it pushes them over the edge and they start their fury. For once such a suicidal technique would even match the fluff. Their psionic variant, the Thonot, can be a serious threat, as heat metal cast on armor is quite damaging and the mirror image is a good combination with wounded fury.

    Fluff

    The Quaggoths were once simple nocturnal arboreal hunters. The Elves didn’t like them (for reasons which are not explained) and tried to wipe them out, but they escaped to the Underdark. There they turned into cannibalistic albino brutes (still neutral though), which adapted to the new environment with poison immunity and better darkvision. Their hatred for the elves makes them good troops for the Drow, and some Drow families have legions (i.e. thousands) of them, taking them to the surface to slaughter those elves. Well done there elves! Some of them turn psionic by the shere psionic energy of the Underdark.

    All in all not the most exciting backstory, not because it makes the Elves seem like the bad guys, but because there is no obvious reason for that. But all in all it works for me.

    Hooks

    The heroes come to an elven trade post, which has been completely and savagely destroyed. No one was left alive, but all valuables are still there. While trying to find out what happened there, the elven sage they asked seems to have more information about the attackers and their reasons than he wants to pass on…

    Traveling the Underdark the heroes encounter a tormented creature. It’s frightened and does not attack, but tries to communicate. The creature knows only few words of common, but the heroes learn, that a rather small drow outpost is torturing dozens of Quaggoth into submission, to send them to the surface to wreak havoc. Can the heroes save those poor creatures before they are turned into weapons?

    The heroes get captured by a large tribe of Quaggoth and are at the brink of being turned into dinner. But their Shaman, an old and blind Thonot, recognizes them as the ones Foretold by the prophecy™, who will lead the Quaggoth to victory against a group of Drow/Druergar/Troglodytes/… they are at war with for ages. Can the heroes lead them to victory?

    Verdict

    Before reviewing them I didn’t even know that they existed, but after doing so I have to admit: I really like those guys, something about them makes them stir my imagination. My guess is, that they combine a bit of everything: In some ways they remind me of creatures like ghouls, but they are still animal like. They are intelligent, but not too much and last but not least they represent a shameful aspect of elven past. Plus they are rather unique mechanically despite being easy to use brutes.


    Rakshasa (by QuickLyRaiNbow on 2018-07-20)

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    Slay me once, shame on you. Slay me twice, shame on me. -Rakshasa maxim

    Rakshasa are another of the OG creatures of Dungeons and Dragons, appearing for the first time in The Strategic Review #5, published in late 1975 for OD&D. Rakshasa continued to be a staple creature with multiple variations and appearances in AD&D 1E, AD&D 2E, 3.0, 3.5, 4E and now 5E. They're humanoid tigers with funky backwards hands.

    Rakshasa, like many of the iconic fantasy game creatures, are based in real mythology. Rather than Greek, Nordic or Celtic myth, though, rakshasa originate in Hindu myths from India as shapechanging demons banished from heaven to earth, where they dwell in cemeteries, eat people and render cattle unable to give milk. As shapechangers, they have a variety of appearances, but often take the forms of monstrous men with animal features or beautiful women - one such female rakshasa was killed during an attempted assassination of the infant Krishna; she offered him a poisoned breast to suckle and he literally drank her to death.


    Ravana, ten-headed king of the rakshasa

    From 3.5 to 5E, rakshasa have received a fairly major power boost. They're much more potent casters, have twice as much health and a significantly higher challenge rating to boot. There's a lot more information here; the 3.5 description was literally "they are evil" then three sentences about their funky hands then "they're human-sized". Not a high point in that edition.

    Art



    It's fine. It's a fat tiger dressed like a prosperous merchant using his funky hands to smoke a pipe. I actually quite like this, as it reinforces rakshasa as behind-the-scenes figures and manipulators rather than generic adversaries to be overcome in combat. The third edition art kept more of the mythological ties to cemeteries and evenings with its washed-out blue skull piles, but this is more suggestive of the creature's place in most games.

    Purpose and Tactics

    It's summed up pretty well in the first sentence of the entry: "The rakshasa employs delicacy and misdirection in its pursuit of domination over others." This is a villain in your campaign who manipulates the players, keeps them off-balance, sends them chasing figments, then uses its magic to escape when bearded in its lair. The creature exists to accumulate power and eat humanoids, but nicely with a knife and fork and good table manners.

    To accomplish those goals, it sports a couple nifty powers. It's got quite high Deception and Insight, immunity to nonmagical attacks, a fairly hefty magic immunity (sucks to be you, most warlocks!) and some scary magic, the highlights of which are suggestion and dominate person. It's also got all the good misdirection spells like major image and invisibility, as well as plane shift if things get hairy. Their claw attacks carry an annoying but not insurmountable or combat-related curse, as well. It's also not unlikely that a rakshasa, as a major power center in an evil organization, would have layers of minions, magical defenses and traps, and would probably possess some magic items to use in its own defense, so what's listed in the stat block isn't exhaustive.

    Fluff

    The fluff here hits on three major points. First, though their true form is the backwards-handed-tiger-man above, they're unlikely to ever be seen in that form, and prefer to appear as rich, powerful and influential community figures. Second, they originate in the Nine Hells and can escape that place whenever they wish, unlike most devils, and do so to serve as the BBEG in a campaign, basically. Third, they can only truly die within the Nine Hells, but a rakshasa killed on the Material Plane will suffer a long, painful reincarnation process and in its next life will seek revenge on its killers and their kin.

    Basically: you might not see it for what it is, what it is is altogether evil, and your troubles are only beginning if you kill one. They're lawful, though, so you might be able to bargain with one.

    Verdict

    A rakshasa is kind of a hard creature to use because they'll always come back from the dead in the Nine Hells. This is good, because you'll have a recurring villain. It's bad because it takes months or years, and they'll visit vengeance upon the hero's family or associates. Since they can only be killed in the Nine Hells, most parties won't be able to kill them permanently.

    That said, for a party willing to beat its Big Bad through negotiation and capable of doing so, they make fantastic villains in an intrigue-oriented campaign. They're appropriate in nearly any circumstance requiring a shadowy figure behind the scenes, from murder mystery/investigation games to stealth/thieves' guild games to heists. And because of their shapechanging, they're great for the big reveal where the players learn they've been working for the BBEG by accident the whole time.

    A pity so much of their fluff is taken up with "and they have CRAZY HANDS!". They might be taken more seriously otherwise.


    Remorhazes (by Shining Wrath on 2018-07-27)

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    Introduction

    A very old monster, dating back to the second edition of Dragon magazine, the Remorhaz has appeared in every edition. Dungeon magazine even featured an undead version. The young Remorhaz is new. I recall, vaguely, a creature like this in one of Howard's Conan stories. It has wing like fins but can't fly.

    Art

    The sense of "Creepy Insect-thing" is very well conveyed, and for once you get a sense of size; it looks big, and mean. I rate this good-but-not-great.

    Mechanics

    Hit points are a little low for its level, but it has the somewhat unusual combination of immunity to both cold and fire. A single attack means that it is a little low on damage output, but the swallow effect compensates for that. What makes the Remorhaz interesting is the burrow speed; this is an ambush predator, and ought to achieve surprise fairly often. Once it has swallowed someone, it can burrow beneath the surface and digest; it's a INT 4 creature, it's not interested in treasure.

    Fluff

    They live in cold places where they can use their ability to burrow through snow and ice to ambush large prey. They have ability to not emanate as much heat so they don't give themselves away by melting their cover. Frost giants like to capture the eggs, or the young, and train them as watch dogs.

    Hooks

    People have been disappearing on the trade routes south from the isolated villages of the icy north. Can the party find the culprit?

    A frost giant jarl wants a Young Remorhaz as a birthday present for his daughter, and he's willing to pay quite well.

    Verdict

    It's a smaller, hotter version of the purple worm, moved to the ice and snow. If a party is traveling through cold climes, this is a superb encounter to liven things up. The young are useful additions to a frost giant lair, filling approximately the role of hell hounds for fire giants.


    Revenant (by Castiel1 on 2018-08-17)

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    Introduction

    Crawling forth from an unjust grave, the revenant seeks revenge on the ones that have slain it. Similar to the ghost in that it has unfinished business, the revenant is fully corporal and has only one piece of business that it wishes to fulfil: it wishes to slay the ones that have slain it. The revenant starts it's pursuit out in it's original body; if that body is destroyed, then the revenant flies forth to animate a new corpse. No matter how many times the revenant is destroyed, it will always return, and it's target will always recognise it no matter what body the revenant takes.

    While most undead can spend decades plotting and planning while their dead body does not age, the revenant has but one year to complete it's task; if it fails before its time is up, its soul fades to the afterlife.

    Art

    The artwork shows a human with skin so pale that it goes beyond deathly, and eyes that made of sickly white. This creature is quite clearly dead, but its hair shows that it is still animate. It is quite clearly attacking a person, presumably his target. The attack does seem quite odd; while the stat block says that the revenant uses fists, he appears to be strangling his target, and with one hand too. Fortunately, the piece does have a nice background to it; traces of blood red mist and a small section of city show that it was once a person, but it is now bent on murder.

    Purpose and Tactics

    The revenant can be used as both friend and foe. As a foe, it can be used to show a particularly murder-hobo party the consequences of their actions; however, since it can only be permanently killed by wish spell, running out the clock, or by killing the PC that the revenant has sworn vengeance against, it's fairly difficult to beat. Nor can you run away, as it can track its enemy across the planes, with no magic being able to obscure its gaze. It can also be used as the ultimate recurring villain, although you'll need to keep on increasing its challenge rating if you want to to stay effective at the higher levels.

    As a friend, it can be used as a mutual enemy against the villain, and the revenant can share first-hand stories about the villain's cruelty. Since the revenant was CR'ed for a battle against the party, not with one, it's up to you to figure out when a revenant can appear without being to weak or to powerful in comparison to the party.

    The revenant has a fairly simple multiattack for two fists with a to-hit that's fairly average and damage that isn't anything to call home about. However, against it's sworn enemy, it gets plus 4d6 damage on each attack, meaning that it can hit like a truck when it comes to its final goal. Additionally, it can use vengeful glare in place against multiattack, which on a failed wisdom save has a short paralysis and a frightened effect that lasts for one minute. The paralysis ends after a round or after the revenant deals damage to it, and the frightened effect has a repeat save and the end of every turn, with disadvantage if the revenant is within sight. When it comes to defence, an AC 13 isn't much, but over one hundred hit points a troll-level regeneration, coupled with a 24-hour rejuvenation that doesn't require a phylactery, means that it's a tough one to kill.

    Fluff

    There are two basic types of undead in folklore. There are the ones that crave the death of mortals, and the ones with unfinished business. While D&D is quite diverse with undead, most undead can be grouped into one of these two groups. The fluff of the revenant, that being that it wishes to avenge its own murder, is one that is probably as old as undead but has stood that test of time. The fluff is built in with fairly obvious plot hooks that can be used to weave an adventure with the revenant either being a pro- or an- agonist. Of course, that fact that one can crawl its way back into the world just because s/he is really angry does make me wonder what kind of afterlife the death-deities are running.

    Hooks

    The heroic party of adventurers have just foil the villain's plans and slain the lieutenant. However, the lieutenant isn't done with life yet, and has sworn to become their greatest recurring villain nemesis.

    What's that? You're party's been getting a bit murder-hobo lately? Show them the consequence of their actions by taking the most innocent of their victims and turning them into an undead, horribly scarred monstrosity.

    A pale-faced humanoid claims to have information on a horrific villain. During meetings with the humanoid, a stench of decay haunts the air, and the humanoid's skin is deathly cold.

    Verdict

    An old classic, but still a good one. Doesn't have much -if any- recent literature about it, so you're free to tell any story you wish without being called a copycat.


    Roc (by VoxRationis on 2018-08-18)

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    Quote Originally Posted by VoxRationis View Post

    Overview

    The roc is a creature originally from Arabian folklore. Both in this source and in D&D, it has a certain simplicity: it is a particularly large eagle that acts like an eagle would if it were large enough to do so, eating elephants and the like. Some might consider such simplicity to be boring, but I like it; it's acceptable as a creature that exists in an ecosystem and can be worked into a setting in many ways.

    Art

    Simply put, I am not fond of the art for the roc in this book. There is a visible attempt to make it look like something other than a particularly large eagle, but since that's what a roc is, the attempt is unnecessary. The common issue of lack of provided scale works doubly here, because a roc's chief characteristic is being enormous; the 3.5 illustration of it carrying off a whale or dolphin worked well for that purpose, by contrast. The beak is too weakly curved, making it look more like a raven. The feathers are poorly formed and spiky, bristling in a disorganized mass that is both inelegant and deleterious to aerodynamic efficiency. A flying creature this large does not need to accept any handicaps in its struggle against gravity. Taking away one of its toes seems unnecessary; four works just fine for every eagle on the planet.

    Provided Lore

    The descriptive text in the Monster Manual in this edition attempts to make the roc more interesting by giving it a specific origin and purpose within the world, as an engineered weapon of war in the ancient fights between giants and dragons. While "relic of an ancient conflict" is generally a good explanation for a lot of things in D&D settings, I find this somewhat inappropriate for two reasons: first, as noted above, the roc is not particularly hard to accept, as, being a large eagle in physical conditions which can apparently support draconic flight, it can fit in wherever there is appropriate prey for a particularly large eagle and therefore needs no explanation, as a creature with a strange and eclectic set of mismatched features and abilities (such as the behir) might; second, the roc is not a particularly good match for a dragon, as it lacks elemental resistances, means of attaining cover from breath weapons, or any form of ranged attack.
    Spoiler: A tangential assessment of rocs' tactical considerations against dragons follows
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    With a fair but not stellar AC of 15, it will be hit more often than not by even wyrmling (red) dragons, and its impressive HP pool of 200-some will be eaten away fairly quickly by breath attacks; its Dexterity save is higher than one would expect of a living Stratofortress, but is still not enough to consistently save against comparatively CR'd dragons' breath weapons. Its superior speed will prevent infinite kiting by draconic opponents, but against dragons with frightful presence, it might find itself obliged to stay at a distance anyway, as its Wisdom save, though benefiting from proficiency, is still low enough that successful saves will be a rare treat rather than a consistent tactical asset. Whether the roc would have been effective in the primeval conflict between giants and dragons would have most likely depended on the cost of raising and training one, which is somewhat difficult to assess, but a red dragon can grow to young age and give the roc a run for its money in as little as 6 years, and is much smaller, which suggests a lower maintenance cost. The roc is of more value in transporting key giant champions, leaders, and spellcasters, as the roc's speed advantage and ability to carry a giant of any sort would have been of strategic merit. A general atop a roc could move from place to place quickly and without fear of interception; conversely, a roc-mounted storm giant, hurling 500' lightning bolts, would be devastatingly effective against most dragons.
    I'd argue that there's plenty of room for the roc to simply be a natural creature in a setting.

    Relations to Players

    Against players, the roc serves as a strong reminder to prepare for certain stock contingencies; PCs without some means of avoiding falling damage will be heavily punished by the roc, regardless of their hit point total or how effective their sneak attacks might be. DMs should be reminded that the roc is usually interested in much larger prey and will not be hunting the PCs themselves; this may give the players a little time to react and avoid being picked up and dropped from 500 feet, which should be considered to be the primary attack form of a roc. The beak and talons do respectable damage, but the real damage comes from being dropped. The basic tactic of "swoop, grab, speed away, drop" is probably as complicated as can be expected from a bird with 3 Intelligence, but it's all that it really needs. It is notable that its talons are only valid against one target at a time, but they do restrain as well as grapple their target. Strangely, as far as I can tell, this will have minimal effect on the party wizard.

    Its Armor Class is all right, but probably not high enough to avoid most of the damage coming from a party; the roc's primary defense is its HP pool and speed. It has proficiency in four saves, and its Strength score is high enough that its lack of proficiency is unlikely to mean it fails a save. A low Intelligence save, with no proficiency to make up for it, means that the roc is vulnerable to illusions; canny players should exploit this to goad the roc into attacking (and crucially, remaining) in an area that is not tactically viable for it, or at least to attack something other than the party caster.

    Quests

    Obviously, as a natural or naturalistic predator, the roc is suitable as a random encounter, attacking the PCs' mounts (though the text quite reasonably notes that the roc has no interest in small or fast-moving targets) or even their vehicle, if their watercraft is on the small side and looks appetizing enough from a distance. It can also be the target of quests along the lines of "bring me X body part of Y creature." (In past editions, the roc's eyes were listed as a material component for Scrying, but it would appear that the fantasy IUCN has pressured the wizard community into finding alternatives.) The roc is also suitable for the classic "this monster has been attacking my livestock" quest, though the nature of the beast demands a different scale; instead of some poor farmer complaining about his lost sheep, the player characters would be contacted by a monarch complaining of his elephants being attacked. After all, a creature of such size as the roc could not be bothered to pick off a sheep; it might not even cover the energetic cost of taking off again.

    • It would appear that Itiriax the Itinerant, the Wandering Wyrm, has fallen. Unused to heeding the silhouettes of birds, the juvenile dragon was ambushed in flight by a roc while flying past the town of al-Mina', and the whole town watched from their rooftops as his lifeless body was carried away to its aerie. Now there is much talk about the portable yet valuable hoard the dragon was carrying with him.
    • Thurisaz, the storm giant, believes he has rediscovered the roc-taming methods of the ancient giant empire. To test them, he requires a live roc egg. As the eggs are, quite improbably, the size of a man or larger, transporting one while keeping it alive will likely prove difficult, to say nothing of the process of taking it from its parent in the first place.
    • A great king has summoned adventurers to hunt down the creature that preys upon his elephant herds. Investigation reveals that a roc has been hunting the elephants. As they near the roc's nest, however, they are contacted by druids, who explain that the roc is something called a "keystone species" and that it is a necessary and critical part of the environment, which cannot simply be killed out of convenience. Do the players fight a druid circle and then a roc, or do they risk the wrath of the king who sent them?



    Roper (by ImSAMazing;23309972 on 2018-08-20)

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    Quote Originally Posted by ImSAMazing View Post

    Introduction

    The roper is a stalagmite/stalactite with tentacles, threatening the lifes of innocent adventurers. As described by the Monster Manual, they are 'an evolved, mature form of piercer'.

    The Roper has been known to the D&D Multiverse since the original D&D game came out, and it has featured in every edition since.

    Art

    The drawing of the roper is incredible, if a bit comical. It shows the roper opening his mouth and waving its tentacles around, apparently in some kind of combat. His 'body' blends in perfectly with the stones on the ground, showing that if it weren't moving, it would be just another rock.

    Purpose and Tactics

    The Roper is, to be put it simple, an ambusher in some kind of cave-setting. It has the False Appearance feature, allowing it to look like an ordinary stalagmite/stalactite if it doesn't move, and thus makes a perfect ambush monster. It's combat tactics are simple: attack with its tentacles grappling as many as possible, then Reel them in, and then finish the grappled with its bite. I could imagine a dragon living in a cave would put one or two ropers down somewhere, as to make any who try to enter its lair to either die or become paranoid for life.

    It is too bad that its tentacles don't deal any damage, but it makes up for that (partially) by not just grappling its targets, but also restraining them.

    It also has a climbing speed, allowing it to find the perfect spot to ambush any who risk walking below that 'stalagmite'.

    Fluff

    The background of the Roper is not described in detail, but the fluff describes the sounds a Roper makes while in combat very well. This brings the monster to life quite well, but I'd have loved it if they wrote more about how they evolved from piercers...

    The fluff about his devouring of gems and valuable stones is very interesting, allowing a mad wizard to use it as a hidden storage, or to reward the type of adventurer that cuts open any monster killed. Apparently alchemists can use the content of its stomach for some potions, which can be used for a nice plot-hook.

    Hooks

    Obelix the obelisk-keeper was working as hard as always, when he was suddenly attacked out of nowhere. He is in the hospital and has put a reward of three custom-sculpted obelisks for those who find out and stop what attacked him. He suggest to start in his obelisk-storage, but it's filled with dozens of them...

    Uki the Blue Dragon is a lot wiser than his kin (according to him), and just in case he is ever defeated, he has captured a (few) Roper(s) and fed him(them) his most valuable items. Eventually Uki was killed by a group of adventurers, but the hoard was almost empty. The word has gotten out and everyone is searching for its hoard. But which stalagmite contains the loot?

    Verdict

    Overall, I like the monster as a mid-level ambush monster, but they can be used in a higher-level fight too: apparently those pillars holding up the palace were not made from stone...

    I would have preferred a little more fluff than only half a column, but the monster itself can be dropped in any cave and can provide a memorable experience when the Rogue finally finds actual loot in the stomache of yet another cut-open monster...


    Rust Monster (by VoxRationis on 2018-08-23)

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    Quote Originally Posted by VoxRationis View Post

    Concept

    The rust monster is a D&D classic and perhaps one of the more hated foes to be found in a dungeon, perhaps classically ranking below creatures will level drain, depending on whether your party had access to magic that fixes level drain. Now that level drain is no longer an issue, the rust monster is a holdover from days where encounters could leave PCs hurting for ages, even after the encounter was over, XP was awarded, and the dungeon was cleared.

    The rust monster is a strange enough beast that its ecology should be discussed. Physiologically, it's not wholly outside the realm of real-world possibility, oddly enough. The oxidation of carbon is used for chemical energy in most organisms in an elaborate process that in the end boils down to using cellular machinery as a pathway for electrons in the redox reaction by separating the reactants. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that iron could be used in a similar way. (You'd want to conduct such a process at the point of oxidation, rather than eating the rust, though. I'd rewrite the mouth to be generally unrelated to its digestion, perhaps a holdover from its more conventional ancestors, and have the digestion take place wholly at the antennae.) The issue is not physiological but evolutionary; metallic iron is not common enough natively that it would make sense for a large organism to evolve such a radical change to its cellular machinery. This suggests that it is an unnatural creature, something intentionally created and engineered, most likely as a response to or attack on an iron-using civilization. Moreover, depending on the rust monster's specific energetic needs, it may be very difficult getting enough iron to sustain a population, or even a lone individual. Perhaps a life cycle could be developed, one involving long periods of dormancy or an extended carbon-oxidizing larval stage that only metamorphoses to the rust monster stage when in the presence of significant amounts of iron. If such a life cycle is not written, then significant world-building changes are needed. Perhaps the world is spiraling from a period of great industry, with vast amounts of available iron, and swarms of rust monsters roam from city to city, a plague that has toppled the world to the quasi-medieval state associated with D&D (or quite likely further than that, since the Middle Ages weren't exactly known for skimping on the ferrous metals). Perhaps the rust monsters are part of an iron cycle, parallel to the carbon cycle, and there are primary producers somewhere that turn rust into pure iron as a form of energy fixation and storage.

    None of these points are brought up in the Monster Manual, sadly. Instead, the section mostly focuses on how they interact with adventurers in the confines of the Underdark or a dungeon. The section, like previous editions' rust monster MM entries, stresses that the rust monster is one of the few things in a dungeon that does not want to eat or enslave you; it wants one thing, and your flesh is not it. This is refreshing, even if the loss of equipment is infuriating.

    Art

    The primary picture here does a good job of depicting a creature in a naturalistic pose; the one issue I have with it is that its tail seems rather longer and more sinuous than it does in the black-and-white secondary drawing. There are no objects or environment for scale, but the thickness of the legs suggests a certain weight, and the rust monster is a very familiar Medium anyway, so I don't think that's a significant issue.

    Against Players

    The rust monster is a classic D&D gimmicky dungeon inhabitant. It has one major trait or attack form you need to worry about and adapt to and is fairly straightforward beyond that. Its bite is not trivial at low levels, but it's clearly of secondary importance; its AC is fair, with low-level PCs missing it a significant minority of the time. Its HP total is not spectacular (it'll probably survive a few rounds against low-level parties unless it's subjected to significant concentrated fire, but it definitely won't out-tank the party), its saving throws are mediocre or worse, and it has no immunities or resistances. The combat solution is simple, assuming your party knows what this does and why it's dangerous: keep it away from your iron-using party members while spellcasters pound away at it. How difficult that is depends rather on your party. If the one primary spellcaster in the group is an illusionist with no attack spells, you may be in trouble (image spells will be of little good, given its iron-scenting ability). If you're playing a Mesoamerican campaign, bully for you. Try to take it alive and keep it around for when your DM breaks out the not-Cortez. The rust monster is a terrifyingly effective supporting monster for how "cheap" it is in terms of CR. Supporting a more powerful, more dangerous combatant with one or two of these will force the party to devote critical spells (possibly even spell slots) to try to burn through them; if they can't or won't do this, the party melee combatants will be neutered when fighting the primary threat. Of course, the description notes that combat is not always the way with rust monsters; appeasement, or at least distraction, with small amounts of iron (your bag of caltrops, for instance) will occupy the rust monster's attention, allowing escape or at least a temporary reprieve while you focus on the more important threat. Still, the potential for permanent damage to or loss of critical and hard-won magical items may well be a harsher sting than any form of attack monsters have. The rust monster is therefore perhaps more appropriate for a particular paradigm of game, one in which strategic resource management over time is a key aspect of play; it plays poorly with the idea of steady improvement in material resources to meet a like increase in challenge.

    Quests

    • No sooner had the smelters set up shop than the camp was suddenly set upon by a tide of rust monsters, seemingly from nowhere. Someone needs to put a stop to this sourceless menace.
    • The refugees from the city of Ussardai, bearing the last remnants of their once-great material culture, are being all-too-quickly stalked by the swarms of iron-hungry arthropods that have been multiplying and feasting on Ussardai's iron skeleton. Someone needs to find a way to divert or stop the oncoming advance, or the fiendish weapons of the Great War will have claimed a whole civilization.
    • The ironwood trees of the elven forests are preyed upon by a peculiar kind of large insect-like creature with the ability to turn iron into rust, just as the trees can turn rust into iron. This is part of the natural order, and the elves accept this. However, this particular copse of trees is important to the House of Naethys, and the recent incursion of iron-eaters should be persuaded to return to their own habitat.



    Sahuagin (by VoxRationis on 2018-08-26)

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    Art

    This is what I would consider a fairly poor showing of the art in the Monster Manual. The figures look sort of goofy, and the all-bright green color scheme is questionable for several reasons: firstly, it adds to the goofiness of the rest of the picture; secondly, it doesn't fit with their description as dwellers of deep ocean trenches (a concept I will be critiquing more later). One would expect something darker, and quite possibly counter-shaded. The sahuagin baron picture has fallen into the trap of making a four-armed humanoid by sticking an extra thorax' worth of anatomy on top of an already-complete torso with arms, making the body look far too long; his clenched fist and general snarl looks melodramatic and difficult to take seriously. The regular sahuagin has a spear that looks cobbled-together and poorly-designed, such that it would be difficult to throw, and for some reason has a fringe with tassels on his kilt. I sort of question why a fish-person even has a kilt in the first place, and I definitely question the use of tassels, which would drift about in an unsightly mess underwater. Perhaps this one thinks he's blending in with the surface dwellers. Not pictured is the sahuagin priestess, which is unfortunate. It would be nice to see a sahuagin female, even if it's just to confirm a lack of sexual dimorphism, and I'm interested in seeing what ceremonial or sacerdotal garb looks like in their culture. I'd much rather have included the priestess than the baron.

    Lore

    There's a fair amount to discuss about sahuagin lore, so I'm going to address it in three parts: their relation to aquatic elves; their general society and relation to the ocean, including their habitat; and their relation to sharks and the shark god Sekolah.

    On Sahuagin Relations, Society, and Habitat

    Sahuagin are introduced as the scourge of the seas, fearsome "sea devils" that mercilessly slaughter the inhabitants of coastal villages and tirelessly assault aquatic elf communities, treating all other creatures as "blood sport." (This kind of attitude incidentally seems a bit suicidal in D&D when most of your population is CR 1/2 and your champions top out at CR 5—featherweights on the scale of the Monster Manual.) Unfortunately, they are also introduced as dwellers in the very deepest ocean trenches, and this is questionable for several reasons. Their bright green coloration is unusual, to say the least, for benthic organisms, which are usually red, black, or white. Their long, humanoid limbs are clearly adapted for life on land and should make swimming comparatively inefficient. Moreover, their amphibious trait is fairly long-lasting; four hours out of the water is pretty significant for any aquatic creature. Their habit of raiding coastal settlements is nonsensical for deep-water dwellers, simply because of the distance they'd have to travel to get to the water's surface. Only a few Pacific islands are really close enough to deep trenches that their shores would be convenient targets for anything living in the deeps. I think the sahuagin make far more sense as inhabitants of estuaries, mangrove swamps, and coastal shelves.

    Little is provided on sahuagin society in this book. They're listed as "lawful evil," but we aren't told what laws, formal or informal, they follow. Having a physiology based on feeding frenzies and a political system dominated by the most effective melee combatants doesn't scream "lawful," and calling the rulers "barons" doesn't really help on that point. What about daily life, outlook, or custom makes them lawful? Do they actually fear, or at least have cultural taboos, about the loss of control from their frenzies? We do know that rulership is held by martially-capable males and females attain status through becoming spellcasting priestesses, which is fairly typical of evil humanoids in D&D. We are told that the four-armed mutant males are the ones on top. There are many questions that this raises, none of which are answered explicitly. Is this ingrained in their culture? Is it the case that one can't even be a candidate for baron without four arms, or is it just that the four arms are just enough of an advantage in personal combat that regular males rarely get to achieve rulership? Is there a formal dueling system for attaining rulership, or do the barons just tear apart anyone who contradicts them until everyone submits? How common are these mutants (is there more than one per community), and how predictable is the mutation? Can females be born with four arms? Does that afford them any kind of status, given that their role isn't that of melee combatant?

    The malenti (who will be discussed more later) also raise questions about sahuagin society. How does a society contend with having its members born as perfect copies of their most hated enemies? Obviously, they are eventually sent to infiltrate aquatic elf communities, but what kind of home life would they have had before that point? How much loyalty could they be expected to have to a society that hates everyone who looks like them?

    On Sharks and Sekolah

    The sahuagin worship Sekolah, the god of sharks, who gives them the ability to communicate with and control his totem animal. Strangely, the lore in the text is a rare example of underplaying the effectiveness of the abilities of the subject of the lore; the sahuagin are described as having to train sharks in order to command them, but the stat block makes no such distinction, giving them the ability to telepathically command any sharks.

    Unfortunately, the sahuagin, considering their shark-based culture and religion, are not particularly shark-like. Their fins, mouth, and teeth all resemble those of teleost fish rather than those of sharks, which is a most embarrassing oversight. I'd be tempted, in a more comical campaign, to have that be due to an actual error in the creation of the sahuagin, one which earns the perennial disfavor of their god (a sort of original sin for their race).

    On Their War With The Elves

    One key issue with the lore provided for the sahuagin is that a significant portion of it is dedicated to their long-running feud with the aquatic elves, who did not make it