Jackalwere – Another monster whose fight-winning power (sleep gaze) has been made less all or nothing, shifting the emphasis onto deception and backstabbing. This is a case where the lore actually makes them a little less interesting – created by Grazzt as servitors for Lamias is perfectly functional, but it’s not quite the grand Diablo-Esque sort of origin I’d have expected. What’s easy to overlook is that despite their very low CR (1/2) they are immune to non-magical (or non-silver) weapons. They’re weak enough that spellcasters should be able to tear them up while the fighters deal with jackal allies, but that’s a potent enough immunity that it should be used to tune encounters.
Kenku – The Kenku could probably be a playable race, but their means of communication (they can mimic any noise they’ve heard, and their communication is just clips of other people’s sounds) means that they would probably be insanely annoying at the table. Tactically, their mimicry (and some ambush) is their main gimmick, but their lore is wonderfully colorful, painting a picture of a people whose tragedy lost them the git of flight. Their punishments include things like wearing heavy mock wings or execution by fall from a great height. It is hard to read this entry and not want to slot them into the world.
Kobolds – Another humanoid race, and while I give them a similar pass to Goblins, their schtick as the littlest ones is somethign of a classic. The kobold is the wimpiest of opponents, made dangerous only in large numbers (and their tactical shctick – gaining advantage when ganging up – supports this). That said, they kind of added some nice bits to the lore, largely related to their tie to dragons. That the oldest kobolds (~100 years old) are called Great Wyrms seems so apt, and the fact that some few of them grow wings really underscores the idea of the tiniest creatures aspiring to be dragons (something made all the more potent by their proximity to the Kenku). There’s even a great cosmic hook related to the God of the Kobolds, a minion of Tiamat who was tricked by Carl Glittergold (god of the gnomes) and is now stuck somewhere. These guys could have been a throwaway, but are actually well done.
Kraken – Oh, heck yes. Ancient living weapons of the gods who have cast off their shackles and retreated to the depths, save when they rise up to go up rivers, wander about on land and generally crush everything in their path. Lair and legendary actions make it even more terrifying, but the regional actions are the most intriguing, including the ability to control weather in its vicinity, something that is used to elicit sacrifice or even worship from locals (a fact compounded by the Kraken’s control of sea life and swarms of elementals in the vicinity). I especially love this because it makes it easy to make a kraken a known part of the geography of a world, with well established rules for how to appease it. And more, it allows for the Kraken to do horrible things to those who do not appease it without it ever rising.
At CR 23, this is a big deal, and this entry feels suitably epic. This is a great entry and a welcome addition to the game.
Kuo-Toa – Setting aside the fact that I need to not think “Murlocs” when I look at them, these guys answer the “why these humanoids?” question quite handily. To my mind “They are so bugthumping nuts that they regularly invent utterly equally nutty gods, and are so fervent in their belief as to draw power from that”. That’s messed up. It is also the best explanation for Blibdoolpoolp I have ever heard. They have some other fun gimmicks, like sticky shields, entrapping weapons and powerful spellcasting leaders, and all in all should play pretty uniquely.
Lamia – We had some note about these in the Jackalwere entry, and this pads that out nicely, providing a sketch for a decently motivated villain who uses illusions to maintain a false palace and uses its powers to charm and geas to surround itself with wiling minions. There’s a bit about using geas to make slaves fight makes it feel a little bit like a star trek villain.
Two interesting notes for this classic villain. First, the touch is much less devastating than 1e (where it drained wisdom), instead it intoxicates the victim and gives a disadvantage to wisdom rolls. Second, the art clearly indicates the possibility of male Lamias, which is neat.
Lich – One of the classic villains of the game, the Lich weighs in at CR 21, with 9th level spells, so this is a serious threat. There’s some nice treatment of what exactly is involved in becoming a lich (enough to clearly hang some plots around, if one were so inclined). There’s only so much guidance for the, but that seems apt since they are otherwise fairly unique creatures. Appropriately, they have legendary and lair actions (though curiously, no regional effect) which are quite badass.
Lizardfolk – Notably not “lizard men”, a small but well-considered change. Their reptile nature is part of their answer to “why these humanoids?” – they’re semi-aquatic and sometimes worship or work for dragons – but the larger part is in their alignment. They are profoundly neutral. While territorial and vicious in conflict, this is born of a sort of cold-blooded pragmatism. The upshot is that they’re equally useful as enemies, allies, foils or supporting characters.
Lycanthropes – This is such a throwback to 1e, in that a certain type of player (like, say, 13 year old me) is going to look at it and try to figure out how to convince a werebear or weretiger to bite my character. It basically grantssuperpowers (immunity to normal weapons and possibly a stat bump) with no mechanical downside (assuming my alignment already suits). If you’re used to 3e or similar (where this might cost virtual levels) then that may seem like an abuse, and it may be a bit of one, but it’s not quite so daunting as it looks. There’s plenty of non-weapon damage to be had and a single remove curse will end this particular ride, so there are plenty of checks.
The actual lycanthropes are the classics (Bear, Boar, Rat, Tiger, Wolf) and the Rats remain the most interesting of the lot (they’re the only lawful ones, and they organize like thieve’s guilds) while the bears (neutral good) and Tigers (Neutral) are possible NPCs. Wolves and boars are straight up brutes.
One nice touch is that they explicitly call out the possibility of someone fighting their lycanthropy. Not a lot of mechanical support for it, but since it’s such a staple of the stories, I’m happy they give it explicit space.
Magmin – Imagine a crazed pyromaniac halfling made of magma in a thin stone shell that burns with a touch and explodes when it dies. That probably either sounds like a pain in the ass (If you’re a player) or a ton of fun (if you’re the DM).
Manticore – Fliers with some range capability, they’re tactically fun, but the main thing they have going for them is that their art is really freaking scary looking.
Medusa – This is one of those classic monsters whose schtick (the stone gaze) is the main thing that comes to mind, and it would be easy to just lean on that, but they took the time to flesh out the lore in such a way to underscore the medusai as tragic figures. The stone gaze itself is nasty but (as has been the trend) not an insta-kill. Also, notably, it’s not an attack per se, so much as a passive ongoing effect, which simplifies things considerably.
Mephits – Little pseudo-elemental imps who fly about, make trouble, summon more of their ilk and ultimately, explode. These elements (dust, ice, magma, mud, smoke and steam) seem odd at first glance, but they do a nice job of quietly explaining the elemental pairings without getting into metaphysics, which is very nicely done.
Merfolk – Not a lot here, since they’re basically people in the water.
Merrow – Mostly interesting due to their proximity to Merfolk, these are basically the “bad” merfolk,corrupted by Demogorgon.
Mimic – Another really striking picture, these are exactly the creature we love to hate. Sticky, shapeshifting, pseudopods and giant teeth, they’re just as nasty as you remember.