5e MM: Basilisk through Cyclops

Further progress through the Monster Manual.

Basilisk – This one’s a pretty generic entry but funny in that the color really boils down to “yeah, you can use these guys anywhere, don’t sweat it.” While that’s not inspiring, full points for practicality. Rules for petrification are nasty, but it does take 2 saves rather than one, which is nice (especially because at CR 3, the heroes fightiing it are unlikely to have Greater Restoration on hand). Very nice touch that they take bites off statues and their guts return it to flesh for digesting (which is why their digestive juices are useful in potions of stone to flesh, and why in turn the GM may have a nice plot solution to petrified characters).

Behir – I admit, I never really noticed Behir’s until 4e where they were pretty scary non-dragons. They’ve got lightning breath and a swallow attack which is interesting. Swallowed characters are blinded and restrained, which is less nasty than it sounds, since their penalties largely overlap, and neither penalty would keep you from continuing to attack (with disadvantage) from within the creature, but the 6d6 acid damage you’re taking every round, that is probably a losing proposition if you don’t have help.

The lore is a little flat – Behir were created by giants to fight dragons, so they avoid and fight dragons. That’s fine, but I wish a few more words had been put into the implications of that and less into listing various inaccessible terrains a Behir can occupy.

Beholder – this is a big entry. Page and a half on the critters in general, then three big entries for the Beholder, the Death Tyrant (sort of a Beholder Lich) and the Spectator (a lesser beholder). As monsters they are, of course, quite terrifying. The eye rays attacks are random, and thank goodness for that, because otherwise it would be pretty much be non stop charm and disintegrate [1]all the time.

For folks who have watched the various versions of Beholder art throughout the editions may appreciate the nod which says that individual beholder appearances can vary greatly, so that every editions’ beholder art is still valid. In fact, this data point feeds strongly into the beholder’s superiority/inferiority complex (though it may make life harder for Spelljammer fans, since these beholders don’t play nicely together.

There are some wonderful notes about Beholder lairs that boil down to this: They can fly and have a disintegration ray, so they pretty much carve their lairs into whatever the hell they want, and what they usually want are lots of vertical shafts, because why would you make life easier for inferior walkers?

Unsurprisingly, Beholder’s get legendary actions, which lets them get in even MORE eye blasts. So, yeah, have fun with that.

That said, the beholder lair actions and regional effects are awesome. In the lair, eyes can just appear in walls and take a shot at you, or grow grasping tentacles. Creatures within a mile of the lair feel like they’re being watched and generally weird stuff happens. For the Death Tyrant, it’s even creepier – if you know about the Tyrant and sleep near it, it may eyeblast you through your dreams. Just nasty.

Blights – Evil plant things. This actually feels like a very unsatisfying entry. I seem to recall the lore around these things calls back to a 3e adventure (they’re sourced in a tree tainted with Vampiric blood) and the idea is that when one of these trees sprouts in a forest, it spreads its corrupting influence and animate the blights – unpleasant animated plants of a variety of sizes.

In theory, this is pretty cool, since it basically turns a forest into a low level dungeon, but in practice, it’s missing key information about the tree itself. This is disappointing because, as presented, a Gulthias Tree would be a fantastic creature to hang some regional and lair effects off of, but as is, it’s just a big blank.

Bugbears – If you’ve played any of the adventure in the starter set, you know that Bugbears are pretty nasty. There’s a little bit of cultural information about them which largely frames them as adjuncts to goblin and hobgoblin culture. And that’s fine – I don’t need a lot of depth in by Bugbears, because they largely hit stuff very hard.

Bulette – LAND SHARK!!!! Ok, honestly, the lore is not hugely exciting on this one, and if anything, I actually miss the 4e focus on “stuff that can happen in a fight” with this guy, because Bulette’s are kind of awesome to fight, but I can never say anything too unpleasant about Bulette’s.

Bullywugs – I have always suspected that it was the D&D cartoon which moved these guys from C listers to B listers, and this version is pretty much in keeping with that. They’re swamp dwellers who are giant jerks (in interesting ways) and who leverage their ability to speak to amphibians to stay aware of everything in their domain.

Bullywugs aren’t hugely exciting in their own right (and they no longer have the aura of corruption that I recall from 4e) but they are welll constructed. This entry pretty much gives you all you need to lay out how the bulk of a swamp adventure would go, starting with outlying creatures and patrols all the way into diplomacy and negotiation in the village. That’s a really well constructed entry.

Cambion The art on the Cambion does kind of emphasize the whole “Like tieflings, but more metal”, which is probably appropriate for a half-human/half-fiend. This entry is actually a lot less interesting that I’d hope – there’s a passing reference to Graz’zt as a parent of many cambions, but otherwise it’s a lot of emphasis on “They’re bad! Really, they’re bad!”. I get that may be necessary to deter some players from trying to play one, but it’s kind of a waste for a monster who is really well designed to be a low-level master villain.

Carrion Crawler Classic monster with a nasty ass picture. Lore is mostly behavioral, which is fine, though there’s some weirdness. There’s a whole chunk about how crawlers will patient follow from a distance for hours, waiting for an opportunity. Which is cool, but in the absence of a stealth skill may well be a less than great strategy.

Notably, the crawler only gets one tentacle attack per round, which is (as I recall) substantially less dangerous than past versions who could get a lot of attacks.

Centaur – The image is pretty badass, but I admit my first thought was “That looks like a World of Warcraft centaur!” and I’m not sure what I think of that. There’s some cultural lore here (they’re largely nomadic, and those that aren’t are largely those who couldn’t keep up) but I admit it’s not super exciting.

Chimera – Lore attributes their origin to Demogorgon, which is why they’re just evil evil evil (as it emphasizes). Combat-wise, these are interesting because they get lots of attacks, but lore-wise it’s a miss. Emphasizing the creatures conflicted nature would be interesting if they had any ability to communicate or if there were any way for that to come up in play.

Chuul – In the first major callback in the book, Chull are unpleasant looking servitors of the ancient Aboleth empire. They’re fairly nasty in an encounter, but much more interesting in the contexts they can be found in. Since they’re immortal and loyal, they serve a similar role to constructs and undead, endlessly guarding places and things that mattered in times long forgotten. If you encounter a Chuul, it is almost certainly part of a larger story.

CloakerThis is one of those really very D&D monsters. Looks like a leather cloak when dormant, looks like a fangy flying manta ray when it’s trying to eat your face. And it’s nasty – this is a CR 8 monster. it has a moan that causes fear, it can generate mirror images of itself, and it latches onto enemies to eat them (and transfer damage to them).

Basically, it makes no goddamned sense at all. But it’s wonderfully, D&D.

Cockatrice – This may be the shortest entry in the book (though the art is great). Basically, these things would be largely harmless ugly chickens if they didn’t a) have a poisonous bite that will turn the target to stone and b) mindlessly attack anything presenting even the smallest threat. They’re not terribly tough (but with 27 hit points, they aren’t getting one-shotted) so I fully expect them to be more fun as an almost environmental hazard than true stand-up fights.

Couatl – Lawful good feathered serpents, pretty powerful and useful plot-wise for the fact that most have been given some manner of divine task, possibly generation ago. Interesting and fun and at CR 4, they are a good way to introduce an epic feel at lower levels,

Crawling Claw – And undead hand that crawls around and tries to kill people. It is CR 0 – with 2 hit points and negligible damage, this is not a monster that is going to do well in a stand up fight. In fact, it has no stealth skill either, so basically, it exists for purely plot reasons. And the plot reasons are fun – it’s full of vivid stuff like the fact that one made from a living murdered hand will re-attach – but it’s largely useful as a plot driver.

Cyclops– at CR 6, these make good intermediate muscle since they don’t do much but hit hard. And that’s just as well – their entry is pretty dull and is mostly full of reasons to not give much of a crap about cyclops unless some bigger bad is using them as minion.


Yeah, not ready to get to the D’s quite yet.


  1. Thankfully, it’s a non-jerky form of disintegrate. Save or take 10d8 damage. If that damage kills you, you’re turned to powder. It’s actually less lethal than the death ray, which does 10d10 (and if it takes you to 0, you die, no death saves). In fact, the more useful application of disintegration is to destroy objects, which get no save. This raises the interesting question of whether the GM is supposed to pick the beholder’s targets before or after rolling effects.  ↩

9 thoughts on “5e MM: Basilisk through Cyclops

  1. Paul (@princejvstin)

    Bullywugs – I have always suspected that it was the D&D cartoon which moved these guys from C listers to B listers, and this version is pretty much in keeping with that.

    I never really wanted to use them–until I saw them in the cartoon. Then I put them in a temple adventure, a really nasty encounter.

    Reply
  2. Bill

    The Beholders in Spelljammer also had the “doesn’t work well with others” thing. It was just that the SJ ones were clannish. These guys over here who look exactly like me with the forest green scales are fine but THOSE guys over there with the lime green scales are mutant abominations that must be purged from this plane as well as several other planes.

    They were kind of like the New Who Daleks like that.

    Reply
      1. Evil Midnight Lurker

        (replying a month late, but what the heck — ) actually, Spelljammer was where this interpretation of beholders first showed up! The idea of individual beholders rejecting ALL others for ever more minor differences came after the feuding spacefaring beholder clans.

        Reply
  3. silverwizard

    I am really loving the concept of Regional or Lair effects around low CR monsters that you mention seems to come off of Blights. Something to plant and corrupt an area. Would also work with other monsters and other terrains. It would also be good to have something that isn’t the “boss monster” cause the effect – so the Black Dragon might be the big problem, but the swamp will be corrupt until you deal with the Blights as well.

    Reply
  4. Staffan Johansson

    The thing about beholders hating each other’s guts won’t cause any of us old Spelljammer fans any trouble, since that’s been the Spelljammer default since the beginning. Basically, each beholder considers itself the pinnacle of beholderosity, the identical members of its own “clan” are horribly deformed but tolerable, and other clans are abominations that need to be destroyed on sight. That’s a blessing, because it keeps the clans fighting one another instead of turning their considerable might on everyone else.

    Speaking of beholders, doesn’t the MM have the Gauth? In 3.5 and 4e they made rather nice low-level versions of beholders for those of us who want to give mid-level PCs a taste of awesome.

    Reply
    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      It does not, but it does include the Spectator, which serve a similar niche. 4 eyestalks, overall less powerful.

      Reply

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