5e MM: Elementals through Fungi

Survived the long weekend, back into the MM.

Elementals – I’ve had elementals on the brain for setting reasons, so I was curious how they played out in this It’s good that I’m pre-excited, because the writeup isn’t great. There’s some generally useful information but the actual entries are more physical descriptions than play utility.

The stat blocks are a little more interesting. They come in at a solid CR 5 with flavorful abilities reflecting their elemental nature, enough to make them clearly fun to bring to a fight. They also seem like a nice illustration of the way the CR system links into setting design – at CR 5, these things are a real danger to a village, but not a setting level threat.

Elves: Drow 4 pages, half color, half stat blocks. Evil evil evil. The single most interesting bit is a throwaway line about non-drow visitors conducting business outside the walls of drow cities, since none are allowed to enter. For a brief moment, there’s a suggestion of something else at work here other than monster smashing, but it’s quickly set aside in favor of magic items (that poot out in sunlight) and spellcraft.

The rest of the description is functional – their internal politics are rife with intrigue, they’re matriarchal, they like poison and part of their loyalty to Lolth comes from the fact that she sometimes shows up to enforce it.

All in all, this feels like a waste of pages. If you actually like the drow, you’re going to be largely dependent on external material (previous editions, fiction etc) to actually bring them to life. If you’re not already a drow fan, they come across like generic bad guys with a bit of interesting color.

That said, the stat blocks are not bad. NPC drow start at CR 1/4, which is consistent with them being a playable race, and they scale reasonably. That is a bit of a relief.

I will fully cop that the drow annoy me, but that does not mean this entry had to be so dull. I would have preferred it be perhaps less complete and more play focused. As it stands, it feels like a placeholder. And, once again, I blame Drizzt. The baseline elements of the drow – exiled elves, evil goddess close at hand, poison, intrigue and underground empires[1] – could easily be crafted into something amazing and interesting if they were not locked into place by popularity.

Empyrean – Basically, this is a 15 foot tall Hercules. I mean, sure, you can look at it through other filters – there are lots of other demigods out there – but as presented, it’s basically a huge, strong as hell semi-god. At CR 23, these guys are physical powerhouses by only middling on the magic side, which basically frames them as either plot devices or apex villains.

They’re a little dull, but it’s also very clearly the kind of “monster” where every one of them has a name and personality, so a bit of blank slate might be forgivable.

That said, there are a lot of curious implications too their stat block. First, there are some interesting cosmological implication of the fact that they are categorized as “Titans” (and, in fact, i think this is intended to be the equivalent of the MMI ’Titan" entry). It is not an interpretation of Titan I have seen before – spawn of the gods rather than their precursors. Not sure it’s a change I like.

It’s also easy to get distracted by their 30 strength and constitution and fait to notice that ALL their stats are in the 20’s. I had an initial thought that one of these might make great muscle for an arch-villain, but the reality is that with a 21 Int, 22 Wis and 27 charisma, one of these is fully capable of being a mastermind.

All in all, this is an interesting addition to the GM’s aresenal.

Ettercap – Ok, the jump from CR 23 to CR 2 is a little jarring. But this is another one of the really good, rich entries. The critter itself – a humanoid spider with poison and web attacks – is an interesting combatant, enriched by useful color text. We get some guidelines on tactics, but more usefully, we get sense of what it’s like when ettercap move into an area, as well as who’s likely to come looking for help.

This is another creature (like the blights) which feels like it would benefit from something akin to the regional effects of legendary lairs, even though they’re not legendary. It’s implicit in the color, and that’s probably enough, but it feels like an opportunity squandered.

Ettin – I know I keep zeroing in on the CR as an indicator of where the monster fits in the world, but it keeps being interestingly informative, especially for brutes like the Ettin (CR4) . Again, feels right. Not a low level big bad, but a serious fight.

The Ettin entry is neither good nor bad. There’s enough color about names and reproduction to give some hooks, but also nothing that makes me think “Oh, yeah, I want to use one of these guys!”. It’s more “I need something tougher than a bugbear chief…”

Faerie Dragon – They’re cute, magical tricksters and at this point you may already be delighted or enraged, depending upon how such things have played out at your own table. I admit to a small anti-trickster bias. My experiences have skewed towards “The GM thinks he’s being clever but is being a jerk” so I approach this critter very carefully.

With that in mind, the entry is fairly innocuous. This is not a creature you’re going to fight too often (since mostly it will just get away) but there are a few nice touches, including age and spellcasting power reflected by color. This seems like a very small thing, but I look at it as a flag that lets me, as a GM, play these things with a little more range.

Flameskull – It’s a skull. And it’s ON FIRE!!!

The rest of the description is basically just a justification for why you can have a flaming skull hanging around. Blah blah bah, eternally abound undead, blah blah. And please don’t take this as critical – it’s a flaming skull. That’s awesome. I fully support some heavy backfllling to justify such a thing.

Flumph – Intelligent psionic floating jellyfish of the underdark who want to be your friend. It is hard to imagine any way that it wouldn’t be fun to play one of these as the DM.

However, I admit I snorted at the clinical terminology for one of there elements: “Prone Deficiency”, which is to say, they do poorly when flipped over. Just delightful. Someone very clearly had fun with this entry.

Fomorian – I’m always thrown because I expect these guys to be Formians (Lawful Neutral ant dudes) but, no, these are the misshapen giants. Their lore is actually pretty fun, formerly beautiful and grand dwellers among the elves, they tried to conquer the world and were defeated and cursed to forms that reflected their inner ugliness, and now thy have retreated into the Underdark in caverns that mix horror and beauty.

I like it. it’s punchy. My sole concern is the stat block. They get a great evil eye attack (including a flesh-warping curse) but are otherwise lacking in magic, which seems like a missing piece.

Fungi Gas spores, shrieker and violet fungi – basically the classics. The gas spore is a floating bubble that looks like a beholder and explodes if you attack it. Setting aside the utility of that reproduction strategy (since most things avoid beholders rather than poke them) they’ve added a nice touch that if you survive the blast, you might pick up a little bit of a beholder’s memory.

Shriekers are well known as mushroom alarm systems. The smart change is that they seem more like normal fungus now, rather than being obviously HUGE. In fact, they are indistinguishable[2] from normal fungus until they start yelling.

Violet fungi are similarly undetectable, but rather than shriek, they lash out with tentacles. Like shriekers, they are more like a trap than a creature.

  1. I do not mention “Dark skinned and evil” because that is uninteresting, and possibly the part most in need of reconsideration.  ↩

  2. That seems a high bar. I’d prefer it if a nature roll or the like might have a chance of spotting them.  ↩

2 thoughts on “5e MM: Elementals through Fungi

  1. Alex

    I never liked the ebony-black vision of drow, so in all my campaigns (since, like, forever) the drow have been white skinned, gunmetal-silver haired and with eyes that are pure black. That fitted better with my vision of dwellers of the underdark, and gave them somewhat of an elric feel to them. By white I mean pure white, like snow. (or, in fact, like the elves from Hellboy 2)


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