Monthly Archives: September 2014

5e MM: Jackalwere to Mimic

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.

5e MM: Hag through Invisible Stalker

Hags – I was curious about this one because hags are always really interesting when they show up in other monster entries. They’re tightly tied to the mythos of the fiends in a way that suggests they’re an ancient race, sort of a fiendish equivalent to the titans. This is not quite the story that their own entry tells, and while that irks me somewhat, it is offset by what the entry does.

Like the ghost, the hag is very clearly written for a scenario, and by scenario I really mean horror movie. Though the hags themselves are not terribly potent (CR 3 for the green hag, 5 for the night hag and 2 for the sea hag) they are very clearly not written as stand up fights. Their abilities are rife with illusions and disappearing tricks, and as a group (there are rules for covens) they have access to fairly substantial magical firepower, but their motives will drive a lot of indirect nastiness. They’re not going to seek out adventurers, adventurers will have to find them. And doing so won’t be pleasant.

Half Dragon – This is a template, and it basically adds immunity and breath weapon appropriate to the dragon type, as well as some minor abilities. It’s a pure mechanics, and there are two interesting tidbits to it.

First, while the sample creature is a humanoid, there’s an explicit note that the breath weapon is more potent if the base creature is larger. That makes sense (especially with the 5e logic of simply making large creatures more dangerous rather than using fiddly size rules) but also suggests some really lovely/terrible combinations. I admit I am totally struck by the idea of a half dragon aboleth as the ultimate monstrosity.

Second, the impact of adding the template on the challenge rating of the target is not documented. The example given increases a veteran (CR 3) to CR 5, which would suggest that it’s +2 to CR, but they also improved his armor and gave him more hit points, neither of which are elements granted by the template. In short, I am not entirely sure what’s going on, mechanically, and I hope the DMG will eventually shed some light on this.

Harpy – Brief note: this is probably the most naked image of a woman in the book, and it looks tragic, not skeevy. This was a nice turn and utterly appropriate, as the harpy lore is entirely mythic, full of tragedy and love and curses upon the gods. I’m not sure it has much in the way of play hooks, but it’s got a good feel, so I’m ok with that, especially since it leaves plenty of space for how to actually run a harpy encounter, including it’s charming song (which is potent, but provides lots of opportunities to get out of)

Hell Hound – The lore is basically “Evil. And fiery” so not a lot to work with that. Their tactics are self-explanatory in their statblock – pack tactics + Immunity to fire + fiery breath suggests a very unpleasant dogpile.

Helmed Horror – I always feel bad for these dudes, since they come across like low rent death knights. It’s a cooler looking, slightly smarter suit of animated armor who can fly. It’s nasty, has lots of resistances, has a tactical note that it explicitly takes advantage of its ability to fly. However, all of this, combined with magical resistance , immunity to 3 spells of the creator’s choosing and a complete lack of ranged abilities mean that basically this is a monster designed to melee the wizard.

This is not as much of a jerk move as in previous editions, but it’s still pretty harsh. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to know what you’re working with.

Hippogriff – I take back everything I said about the griffon – the hippogriff is even more boring. Horse + eagle. Done.

Hobgoblins – Another humanoid race. Historically, Hobgoblins have been “the lawful ones” which mostly means they boss around other races and are somewhat militaristic about it. This entry pretty much doubles down on that – one nice bit of color reveals that every member of hobgoblin society has a military rank – and it mostly works. It very clearly lays them out as organized adversaries willing to use other monsters as disposable shock troops, and their specific combat ability (substantial extra damage to all members of a pile-on when ganging up on someone) means they’re pretty nasty in a scrap.

However, they really skirt the monstrous line. The issue of evil humanoid races is one which can potentially be very complicated, and part of the implicit agreement of making them monsters is that they will be framed in such a way that if we really want to remove that complexity, we can. This is done by, well, making them, well, monstrous. The problem is that the hobgoblins really press the limits of that. They’re super warlike, but they’re also clearly very thoughtful about it, and have an entire culture predicated on it. I read this entry and I want them to be a nation in my world, not the occupants of my dungeons.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it suits my tastes – but if a player is looking for uncomplicated baddies, the hobgoblins may be a mismatch.

Homunculous – Look, there’s very little of real interest to the Homunculus itself. Flight, Negligible stats, a bite that causes sleep. that’s about it. What really matters is that this little dude is telepathically bonded to its creator, offering many of the benefits of a familiar and more. However, since there’s no information on how these little things are made, for the moment, this is purely the domain of NPCs.

Hook Horror – This would be the most preposterous of monsters if I did not fondly recall the toy of the same name. Mechanically uninteresting, visually weird, these seem to largely exist to be on hand for after the party gets bored with owlbears. But they get the nostalgia pass.

Hydra – This is always a hard monster to handle. In 3e,  they had too few hit points, which were then divided among the heads, making each head super fragile. This approach skips that in two ways. First, because hydras are huge, they start with a substantial number of hit points. Second, the hit point value for chopping off a head is a flat 25+ HP in a single attack. Should you do so without using fire, then the next round it grows 2 new heads for each one lost, healing 10HP per new head. This means you can grind a Hydra down, but it’s not going to be easy.

Even better, the rules feel nicely multiheaded. It gets one attack per head, plus one reaction (for an opportunity attack) per head. One head is always awake, and the multiplicity of heads give it advantage against effects that would frighten, charm, blind etc. – things that having multiple heads seems like it would help with.

Add in a nicely epic backstory – When Tiamat defeated the god Lernaea and tore her apart, where each drop of blood fell, a Hydra was born. Mythic. Appropriately named. The sort of thing that makes each hydra feel like a significant challenge without it being necessarily unique. Plus, it’s easy to use that story to justify curious one-offs. A half-red-dragon hydra would be an impressive terror, as the addition of fire resistance to the mix would be a dangerous touch.

Intellect Devourers – This is another tactical monster – there’s some backstory, but it’s basically “Illithid are creepy, and these are their little brain buddies”. Really, the heart of this monster is in its stat block, where it will attempt to blast your brain and, if successful, will teleport into your skull, devour your mind, and pilot your body like a meat suit.

While only CR 2, these are one of the nastiest creatures I’ve seen, as they have one of the only one-shot-takedown-and-you’re-probably-dead abilities. There used to be a lot of these (think Harpies and Dryads) but the game has gotten much more liberal in how often you get to make saves against these things. Not so for the intellect devourer. It’s got a 10″ range psychic attack. Int save DC 12 or you take some damage. More critically, if you fail that save, roll 3d6 – if that equals or exceeds your intelligence, your intelligence drops to 0. Enjoy drooling on the floor.

One shot take out not bad enough? Well, now that you’re drooling, it initiates an intelligence contest with you. When it wins, it hops into your skull.  That’s basically game over for you unless your buddies beat you like a piñata, or cast the right spells fast enough.

Bottom line, this is a scary monster. Like, maybe crossing the threshold of the implicit GM/Player understanding scary. Some tables will be fine with that. For others, this is one of those monsters that will probably be made more scary by it attacking NPCs, or otherwise used very cautiously. But figure out which way your GM leans before deciding to use intelligence as your dump stat.

Invisible Stalker – Not a lot of depth to this one, but that doesn’t keep it form being scary. and invisible flier with multiattack is going to be really dangerous against any group that isn’t ready for it. What’s more, it’s explicitly got someone behind the scenes, calling the shots.

As I conclude the I’s, I admit to my disappointment in the absence of Ixitxachitl for utterly irrational reasons. Intelligent manta rays with evil magic is just the sort of gonzo thing I have been enjoying in this edition.

Economics of D&D

I am in one place today and my Monster Manual is in another, so the Hags will have to wait.

But while you are waiting, Emily has been writing some wonderful pieces on the economics of D&D, starting with a great piece on the economic impact of murder hobos,  and more recently on the significance of that pair of magical boots.   If you think that economics is too dry a topic for your table, I strongly suggest giving these a read, as they might show you otherwise.

5e MM: Many, Many G’s

200px-Galeb_duhrGaleb Duhr – This is another creature I have an unreasonable fondness for, since i remember getting a deck of monster cards when I was quite young. It included this guy, and I had no idea what it was. For the unfamiliar, it’s basically a walking boulder who can animate other rocks to fight. It’s a straightforward bruiser with the ability to call allies and a fun charge attack, but the lore suggests that it also makes for an interesting NPC – they’re neutral by nature, but are often guardians of things. There’s an interesting tidbit to them in that they’re elementals, but their native plane is the Prime Material. Curious implications there.

Gargoyle – A classic, including resistance to non-magical (or non adamantine) weapons, makes for a nasty low level (cr 2) threat that scales up as minions. The main color is kind of dull – they look like statues and are evil. Not exactly news. That said, there’s a nice sidebar about how they’re created on the elemental plane of earth as evil mockeries of (and weapons against) the Aarakocra, which is the nice start of something.

Genies -Dao, Djinni, Efreet and Marid – they’re not quite the classic 4, since originally it was just Djinn and Efreet, but the Dao and Marid filled in the rest of the elements well. These are the intelligent, powerful elementals, so I was super curious what their lore had to say.

They’re rare and haughty, which comes from “the knowledge that few creatures except gods and other genies can challenge their power”. This seems pretty bold for what are CR 11 creatures, but maybe they meant collectively. Genies are apparently created when the soul of a sentient creature melds with the appropriate elemental plane. This is rare and, importantly, leaves no trace of the original soul, so that’s another weird bit.

Genies are all slavers, which makes sense for the Dao and Efreet, but seems odd for the chaotic good djinn and even the chaotic neutral marids. Ah, and apparently there are noble genies, who I presume are tougher than CR 11, so that’s something.

The individual entries give some RP tips (apparently the Djinn are very nice slavers) but nothing exciting until you get to the Marid who not only sound delightfully self-aggrandizing, but who also have a picture that desperately makes me wish Diterlizzi had come back for it.

Ghost – This one intrigued me because the ghost is almost archetypical as a creature that I want to know how to run more than I care about specific stats. This entry did not let me down, starting with the key fact that ghosts can be any alignment and are looking to resolve unfinished business, not just running around being evilly undead. The abilities allow ghosts to be terrifying and to possess people, as well as to go ethereal. All in all, this was pretty much what I wanted (An I imagine a legendary ghost would have rather more “haunting” effects)

Ghouls – Nice bit of lore tying them to Orcus and explaining why elves are immune to their paralyzing touch. Probably just as well that ghasts are presented here too as souped up ghouls rather than a separate thing. These are a classic (they’re in one of the first examples of play I ever read) and they seem done right.

Giants – This is another lore chunk, explicitly calling out that giants are almost but not quite as old as dragons, and (as noted in the Behir entry) they warred in the past. Giants apparently have a rigid pecking order both across and within types (and the greatest hill giant is still less than the least Fire giant).

Each giant type gets a fair amount of copy, and it’s well used. It gives plenty of context to work each type (cloud, Fire, Frost, Stone, Hill and Storm) into the world. Each has a fun hook – Cloud Giants are made to be villains. Fire Giants are disciplined brutes. Frost Giants are wild brutes, too good to craft. Hill Giants are stupid bullies. Storm Giants are distant prophet kings.

Stone Giants are possibly my favorite. They’re seers and dreamers. To them, the world outside is, effectively, a dream, and they behave in accordance with this. Just a fun piece of color.

Stat wise, they run the gamut from CR 5 (Hill) to 13 (Storm), almost as if they’re perfectly designed to match middle tier progressions heroes.

Gibbering Mouther – Seriously yuck. I mean, the thing is gross and unpleasant, with a gibbering that can make you mad, but is also just makes the terrain around it doughy as it warps and infects reality. CR 2 is lower than I would have expected, but I guess it’s not particularly tough or strong, it’s just profoundly unpleasant.

So, well done.

Gith – Another fun one whose lore I was looking forward to, I found it interesting that they opted to make it one entry. It totally makes sense, and I like it a lot, since it really underscores that the Githyanki and Githzerai are divided by culture, not biology. The joined history is tidily summarized.

The Githyanki are detailed first, and there’s some nice attention to detail. That they raid worlds throughout the multiverse is nice and vivid, but practical notes like the fact that they always leave enough to rebuild (so they can reaide later) makes it feel much more dynamic and organic. The inclusion of the silver swords is a welcome touch. There’s also a nice note about their outposts in the material plane where they raise their young (because nothing ages in the Astral plane).

The Githzerai lore is nothing new to old nerds, but it provides a nice excuse to elaborate a little on the nature of limbo (the outer plane of roiling chaos that the githzerai exercise their will upon) Unfortunately, it’s a bit static – the image of the fortress-monasteries in the wilds of the chaos is a vivid one, but there’s not much reason to seek them out, though this is slightly addressed by the note that sometimes a githzerai will start a monastery on the prime material plane to spread their teachings. Githzerai parties hunting illithid are also a potential point of overlap.

Two stat blocks for each – a Githyanki warrior and knight, and a Githzerai Monk and Zerth. They have innate spellcasting noted as psionics. The Githyanki knight has a silver sword which, on a crit, can sever the silver cord, as it should.

Gnolls – I was curious about this one. D&D has a lot of evil humanoids, mostly out of tradition and to provide variety in the occupants of 20 by 20 rooms. Given that, how do you make them stand out? 4e addressed this by giving each race a tactical gimmick that made their fights feel different. 5e can’t lean on that, so in this brave new world, can you make gnolls interesting? Well, kind of.

In an interesting turn, apparently yeenoghu created them in his image, rather than the other way around. But the upshot of this is that they’re basically crazed, mad and evil all the time. They are basically the Reavers from Firefly.  As I think about it, they’d be kind of cooler if it were framed that way in the text, and form this point on, that is probably how I’ll use them.

The real saving grace is the Gnoll Fang of Yeenoghu, the most badass of gnolls, blessed by Yeenoghu. In addition to being tough (CR 4) they have abilities which can drastically increase the local gnoll population, making them a load bearing boss of sorts. That’s a good hook, one I can work with.

Gnome, Deep (Svirfneblin) – So, I get why the Dueregar got skipped over as race option – the enlarge ability is a bit potent – but these guys are pretty much by the numbers – a little bit of cultural lore, a little bit of spellcasting, poisoned weapons, that’s about it. I suspect the only reason they were left out of the PHB was space (and to keep the dueregar from feeling bad). It does occur to me that the fact that almost every underdark race uses poison meshes curiously with the Dwarven ability to shrug off poison.  Filing that away.

Goblins – Technically, I could ask the same questions about goblins that I do about gnolls, but I consider goblins essential, so I don’t. The lore is what you would expect – they’re goblins – but there’s a very nice touch about the Goblins dreading the prospect of being called up by their god in death. Stat block is pretty simple (their gimmick is the ability to disenage) but that’s pretty much what you would expect.

Golems – Golems are in interesting challenge as an entry – because they’re constructed, they have a certain amount of plot value for their creation in addition to their combat value. The creation part gets kind of short shrift since it’s punted to the Manual of Golems in the DMG. That leaves the actual fighty bits, and they’re pretty darn solid for that. Flesh golems weigh in at CR 5, Clay at 9, stone at 10 and Iron at 16. All of them rare resistant to non-magic weapons have a host of immunities. They’re a great example of why I like the new resistance rules – it makes the creatures tough as heck, but it totally doesn’t jam up players. [1]

Edit: they’re actually an example of assumptions biting me in the ass. I’m so used to seeing resistance in that spot on the statblock that it didn’t register that it actually said immunity.  So I like the resistance rules very much, but golems are NOT an example of it. They are, in fact, terrifying and will totally jam up a party without magic. 


Gorgon – This is a purely tactical beast. CR 5, petrifying breath, charge attack, thick armor. Nothing hugely interesting, but functional.

Grell – Floating brains with beaks and paralyzing tentacles. They’re ambushers, and thankfully they back they up with an actual stealth score and enough intelligence to make them tactical fighters.

Grick – These guys are nasty. They’re CR 2, but they have damage resistance to non-magic weapons as well as stealth and multiattack. There’s one in Phandelver, and that made me pretty nervous. The grick alpha is nastier (CR 7) but at that point its resistances are a bit less potent (because the party is likely armed to deal with it).

Griffon – Really, the most interesting thing about the Griffon’s entry is how invested they are in eating horses. Nothing wrong with it. Just kind of there.

Grimlock – Possibly an even less necessary humanoid than the gnoll, their main gimmick is their ability to operate in complete darkness. They’re made a bit more interesting by their lore (former cannibal cultists, worshiping Illithids) but the net result is basically to give Mind Flayer’s creepy minions. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Whew. That was a lot more Gs than I expected.

  1. I would be remiss if I did not point out Lilian Cohen-Moore’s piece on golems in this context.  ↩

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.  ↩