Hmm. Was just looking through the Warlock in a bit more detail and realized something I’d overlooked in the Invocations. Basically, each pact has an invocation which is so awesome that there’s pretty much no reason NOT to take it (Book of Ancient Secrets, Voice of the Chain Master and Thirsting Blade). Not a design choice I’m terribly happy with – it’d be cooler if those were baked into the pacts – but now that I’m aware of it, I may need to revise the Pact of iron to add a similarly “must have” invocation. Arguably, Unyielding Armor of the Void fills that niche, but I put that in just to allow AC to be a bit better at higher levels (and still comparable with mundane equipment).
This should be the last post about Warlocks. So far it’s been largely mechanical stuff (new patrons etc) but I want to take moment to talk about something I touched upon yesterday – choosing a patron.
The PHB provides plenty of guidance on how to choose a patron type (Arch-fey, fiend, old one) and I’ve given some thoughts on expanding that (vestiges, lords of nothing) but that’s only half the question. Once you’ve chosen a type, it’s time to think about choosing a name of your patron.
Now, you can absolutely just invent one, and work out the details with your GM. This is a great way to go about it, especially because it gives you a bit of authorship over the world – by naming your patron, you are saying “This power exists in the setting, and is almost certainly doing stuff”.
If you go this path, then I recommend that the GM ask a few specific questions to help flesh out the patron. Specifically:
- What is the patron’s name?
- What is the patron’s agenda?
- Who/what is the patron’s nemesis?
- Who/what is the patron’s tenuous ally?
The agenda gives you a sense of what the patron wants to do. Maybe it’s something as grandiose as ‘destroy the world’, but that is honestly a little bit boring. “Corrupt the Innocent” is a little bitter specific, but still very broad. “Unseat Oberon as Lord of the Fae” is a good kind of specific because it suggests plots, and it introduces some very specific ideas into the setting (that Oberon is lord of the fae, for example, and that he could be unseated).
|Agenda and Bond|
|Once a Warlock has named his patron and come up with its agenda, then the player may want to consider using the patron when he writes ups his Bond. “My patron is a Fiend and wants my help scouring the world of elves” is a pretty awesome bond|
The nemesis is important because it is likely to name another patron and, by extension, create potential enemies and rivals for the Warlock (and everyone needs enemies). It also gives the player a little more authorship about the nature of his patron and what it deals with.
The tenuous ally offers a lot of the same world building benefits of the nemesis, but offsets the enemies. This also suggests the patrons for other Warlocks, but those are more likely to be rivals or even allies.
Between the agenda, nemesis and ally, you’ll have a decent sketch of what your patron is up to and how it works in the grand scheme of things.
If you want to go a step further (as a GM or a player) then you might want to describe the patronal courts of you setting, which is to say, name and (loosely) describe the available warlock patrons. You can easily follow the guidelines in the PHB (using the named arch-fiends ad fiend patrons, for example) or draw from other sources (such as dipping into Lovecraft for your Old Ones) but you are also free to deviate from expectations to really put your mark upon the world. If you’re playing Eberron, for example, perhaps the Old Ones are the Lords of Dust (patrons of the Rakshasa). Perhaps you want to take a page from 13th age and the Icons of your setting (some or all of them) enter pacts with Warlocks.
This is a HUGELY powerful world building tool, because Patronal courts and easily turn into drivers for an entire campaign, depending upon how they integrate with the world and the other powers.
Sample Court: The Lords of Nothing
Lets say the Lords of Nothing are a Patronal Court in my game. They are composed of the Grey Tyrant, The Maw, The Sleeping Queen and the Last Trumpeter.
The Grey Tyrant Seeks the destruction of the chaotic races (Slaad especially) and is allied with the Sleeping Queen against The Maw.
The Maw waits to consume the last of the universe, and has been tainted by beings who reject the orderly procession of matter. It fathers monsters of the void, and seeks to open the walls between worlds.
The Sleeping Queen will sleep through the end of the universe and wake to the birth of the next one. She hoards the greatest treasures of this universe according to no mortal understanding, to be reborn with her. The Maw’s agenda is anthetitical to her, so in her dreams, she has allied with the Grey Tyrant.
The Last Trumpeter was one of the first beings created and will the the last to pass with our universe. He is, however, less impatient than the other lords, and seeks oblivion that comes only with the end of all things. To that end, he is indifferent to the plans of the Queen and the Maw, and willing to ally with either only to speed along the end, whatever form it may take. His willingness to support chaotic destruction puts him at odds with the Grey Tyrant.
Lots of good feedback on the Grey King, but one note that came up in discussion revealed a problem with the writeup. Most of the warlock patrons are more generalized as concepts, with the (curiously unspoken) assumption that the player will provide the name and details of the arrangement. So, if a Warlock’s patron is an archfiend, there’s an expectation that the player will identify the fiend, so there’s some implicit complexity, as the warlocks of Asmodeus may not see eye to eye with the warlocks of Orcus.
The fact that this assumption goes unspoken is actually a little bit of a hassle. If you’re already steeped in D&D lore (or Lovecraft) then you’ve probably got the resources to come up with a named patron off the top of your head. But if you’re fresh to the game then you might not even realize you should name your patron, much less have any sense of who the patron should be.
So, with that context, I declare the Grey King to be one of the Lords of Nothing, beings who exist at the end of everything. There are others – The Sleeping Queen, The Maw, The Last Trumpeter – and their agendas are virtually incomprehensible, but their interest in the unended universe gives them reason to recruit agents.
Cam Banks also reminded me of one of the coolest types of warlock patrons – vestiges. Unlike other categories, these are not a unified group in any way save type. They are what is left of a god after it dies, is cast down or otherwise is knocked from its place in the heavens. It might also include beings of power striving for divinity, proto-deities who can grant power in return for the sort of services that may help them ascend.
I love this idea. It’s flexible and powerful and usable in a variety of ways in a variety of settings. Some might have one or two cast out gods, some setting may be littered with the corpses of gods.
So with that in mind:
Even gods are not forever. Some of the once mighty have fallen from their places in the heavens, but can still offer power to those who seek it out. Some are ambitious powers seeking godhood, offering power in return for service. They are the dregs and prices that surround the divine, and they are collectively known as Vestiges. Some warlocks who seek vestige pacts view themselves as priests, while others take much more cynical perspective on the whole nature of gods and their relationship with their worshippers.
- Elara, Fomorian Goddess of Beauty
- Fistandantalus, Ambitious Demi-Lich
- Antarchus the Dragon King
- Sel, the Sleeper in the Moon
Vestige Expanded Spell List
The extended spell list for a vestige warlock depends upon the semi-divine nature of the patron. Each patron has a domain, identical to the domains of Clerics (see the PHB). The vestige warlock’s expanded spell list is identical to the domain spell list for that domain.
Vestige warlocks gain proficiency with Knowledge(religion).
Vestige Warlocks gain access to the Thaumatury Cantrip if it is not already known.
Starting at 6th level, when the warlock hits an enemy with a melee weapon or cantrip attack, you can expend one Warlock spell slot to deal additional psychic damage based on the slot level. It starts at 1d8 at level 1 and increases by 1d8 per slot level.
Starting at 10th level, you may wrap yourself in an aura of eldritch energy that has the trappings of the divine and provides a degree of protection. The Warlock may take an action to summon the mantle, which grants 3d6 temporary hit points.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
Dead God’s Mark
Starting at 14th level, the warlock may take an action to inscribe a symbol of the patron. This has the effect of the 7th level spell of the same name, but the warlock may use only one type of symbol, selected when this ability is gained.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.
I’m also sort of feeling like there should be some system for explicit patron boons. They ask you to do something and offer short term rewards. Easiest way to do it is as its own form of inspiration, rather like the sorcerer’s Tides of Chaos. If you have the patron’s boon, it can be turned in for an advantage, but then it’s gone until you earn it again.
Anyway, I’m not 100% sure about some of the balance of this stuff, but it feels like the right ballpark.
The Grey Tyrant
At the edge of the universe, where all things end, a grey king sits upon a grey throne in grey castle under a grey sky. He surveys the end of all things. Not mere death, but ending, and the final moment of stillness before all returns to the void. Fools think that only chaos can destroy, but the void is the perfect orderly end of all thing, where stasis and nothingness are one and the same, and it is his domain.
He does not move from this throne, for all things come to him in time, but he offers power for those who speed things along.
Grey Tyrant Expanded Spell List
|1st||Fog Cloud, Ray of Sickness|
|2nd||Gentle Repose, Ray of Enfeeblement|
|3rd||Dispel Magic, Protection from Energy|
|5th||Cloudkill, Wall of Force|
Eyes That See All Endings
Starting at first level, the Grey Tyrant gives you the ability to see the world as he does, as a place of vulnerabilities and endings. If you take an action to look up on a target through the Grey Tyrant’s eyes, it makes a Wisdom saving throw against your warlock spell save DC. If it fails, you learn the target’s vulnerabilities.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
Stroke of Ending
Starting at 6th level, your magics can turn to bring about endings. Before you roll damage for a spell that inflicts typed damage (fire, cold etc) against a target, you may use this ability to change it to any other type, so long as you know a spell that can do damage of that type.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
Stasis and the Void
Starting at 10th level, you may become as unchanging as void in order to shrug off attacks. As a reaction, you may become petrified. You keep this status until your next turn.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
Even Energy Ends
Starting at 14th level, the barrier between energy and matter fades for you, and you may shape magic with you very hands.
When you successfully save against a damaging spell, you take no damage. Instead, you create a weapon (or surround a weapon you are holding with a nimbus) of the spell’s energy. If created, it takes the form of any weapon you are proficient with. The next target struck with the weapon will take additional damage of an amount and type as if they’ve been hit by the spell itself, though no other effects convey.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
Additional Warlock Abilities
Came up with these to supplement the Grey Tyrant, so there’s overlap there, but it’s not required. The Pact of Iron was really because warlocks in demonic black armor just seems *right* to me.
Pact Boon: Pact of Iron
If you are not wearing armor, you can use your action to summon pact armor, a weightless suit of armor whose appearance is determined by its summoner, ranging from mundane black iron to fantastical configurations of smoke and glass. This armor disappears if you remove it, if you dismiss it (no action required), or if you die.
The pact armor grants an AC of 15 + Dex Modifier (max 2), weighs 0 lbs, and offers no disadvantage to stealth. The Warlock is considered proficient in it.
You can absorb the properties of one suit of magical armor into your pact armor by performing a special ritual while wearing it over the course of an hour, at which point the armor dissolves into nothingness (and cannot be returned) and your pact armor gains the magical effects of the absorbed armor. If you perform this ritual again, the original bonuses are lost.
Ender of All
Prerequisite: 12th Level
You may cast disintegrate as a level 6 arcanum
Power in Endings
You may have advantage or disadvantage on death saves, as you choose. Whenever you fail a death save, regain the use of one spell slot.
Unyielding Armor of the Void
Prerequisite: 9th Level, Pact of Iron
AC of your pact armor increases to 18
So, that was a lot of monsters.
If you want the super short version of it all, it’s a great book, which is good, since it’s more or less required to run the new D&D, which deserves running.
Taking a longer view, I think it’s really telling that the book I ended up comparing this to in my head was the 1e Monster Manual. Some of that was nostalgia, certainly, but the more I read, the more it felt right. More tellingly, it was a favorable comparison. Not that is was necessarily better (though it is in some ways) but that it could stand next to it with pride.
Structurally, it takes notes from the whole history of Monster Manuals. Like the 2e version, it uses full pages to make the monsters easier to process, but it does not go quite as far in terms of volume of lore, which streamlines the writing process. The art is clearly of the 3e/4e era, leaning more 4e. It is not universally great, but there are no bad pieces, and more than enough great ones to make up for it. It takes the 4e ideaof focusing on the functional component of the monster – that is, how it’s played in an encounter, and makes good use of that.
The net result strikes a good balance, albeit one that is unevenly applied throughout the book.
Broadly, monsters fell into a few categories.
Story monsters enhanced the world in interesting ways, expanding the setting and introducing elements that suggest fun ways to play. The Aarakocra were the first and probably my favorite example of this. They’re not all equally interesting, but even a dull entry that enriches the world (like Hobgoblins) can fall into this.
Encounter monsters generally had a gimmick that would make for an interesting fight scene. The Troll is far and away the best example of this, but a few dangerous creatures like the Intellect Devourer or Medusa. also fall under the auspices of this.
Adventure Monsters offered everything needed for a self-contained adventure. These fall into two categories – first are the monsters that “bring along” all the support they need, like the blights or the wraith. The second are obvious mastermind villains, like Mind Flayers or Raksasha.
Utility Monsters were like somewhat less interesting encounter monsters. They don’t necessarily have a gimmick, but they’re clearly well designed to be inserted into a number of situations. Monsters with a little fun color, like the nothic fall into this category, as do the classic filler like zombies and skeletons.
Stunt monsters would be hard to use in an actual game, and if they were used, would be huge plot points. The Tarrasque is the most obvious example of this, but really everything over CR 20 probably falls under this, as do some of the weakest monsters (such as the tiny pixies and sprites).
Everything Else tended to be kind of boring. It would include a writeup that maybe tells you a little about the creature, but it would mostly be a vague description of environment and (for the worst offenders) a physical description of the monster we’re staring at a full color picture of. A lot of these entries are just extra word count saying “They’re bad”. The Troglodyte is the freshest example of this in my mind, though pretty much every mount could be an example as well.
Now, as critical as I am of “everything else”, bear in mind that their worst crime is being boring. The stat blocks are functional, sometimes even clever, and a good GM can find ways to hook these into a setting without too much hassle. In act, a few boring monsters is a necessity for a book like this, since it clearly lays out things for the GM to hook into. Still, there are probably a few more of these than would be ideal. It’s genuinely disappointing to go from a monster that fills you with ideas and possibilities to one that basically reads “Grrr. Argh.”
One additional axis on this issue is the humanoid question. I refer to this a lot, but it boils down to this: there are a lot of humanoid races in D&D, and they do not necessarily have a lot to distinguish them. Kobolds, Gobins, Orcs, Hobgoblins and Bugbears all have a certain amount of interchangeability to them,  to say nothing of the lizard men, bullywugs, troglodytes, kuo-toa and so many more. There are so many of them that every humanoid entry needs to do two things – it needs to make the case for why it’s interesting to let these guys in the book (because lots of great monsters aren’t) and to explain how these are memorably different from other creatures who could fulfill the same role. Not every entry succeeds at this, but more do than don’t.
All in all, this makes this a very usable book. As I noted in speaking about the implied timeline of the world, there’s a lot of worldbuilding implicit in the material presented (not as much as, say, SSS’s Creature Catalog, but still a substantial amount) which helps the usability and also offers a boon to ambitious GMs.
I would also be remiss if I did not mention that it’s also just a lovely book. The 3e/4e fusion style of the PHB is still in use here, but further supplemented by marginalia notes (a technique I’m very fond of) to spice up the monster entries. They vary from flat jokes to useful insights, and offer plenty of opportunities for easter eggs.
As I said at the very outset, I’m frustrated by the lack of an index by CR, but the very interesting graph that the Escapist put together got me thinking. As is obvious, there’s a BIG spike around CR 2, and a general drop off of higher level monsters. That feels like a gap, albeit an expected one – of course the first MM skews low level, because that’s where players are right now. Presumably the inevitable MM2 will skew more towards the middle tier. But I’m not sure it’s as much of a problem as it seems.
Specifically, my feel so far in play is that the usable range of a given monster is much bigger than it used to be. I have not yet played enough high level stuff to figure out where the drop-offs are, but bounded accuracy cuts both ways, and a CR2 creature has the potential to hit even the highest level characters, so I’m very curious at which point some of them stop being dangerous. With some, like the intellect devourer, it wouldn’t surprise me if the answer is “never”.
None of which accounts for the impact of legendary creatures too, who are going to be more heavily represented at high levels. The legendary technology is fantastic, and I can’t wait to see it develop further, but I definitely cannot yet see all of its implications.
Anyway, the bottom line is that while this book is not flawless, it is never bad, consistently good, often great and occasionally fantastic. For what is ultimately a foundational book, that pretty darn good.
The Complete Review
- First Impression
- Aarakocra to Azer
- Basilisk to Cyclops
- Darkmantle to Duergar
- Elemental to Fungi
- Galeb Duhr to Grimlock
- Hags to Invisible Stalker
- Jackalwere to Mimic
- Mind Flayer to Owlbear
- Pegasus to Sphinxes
- Sprite to Zombie and Appendices
- History of the World, as inferred from the MM & PHB
This is a pretty giant read, so if you are looking for something quicker but still comprehensive, I strongly endorse these reviews.
- Escapist – Source of the aforementioned graph.
- Critical Hits – Includes a link to the appendix the MM should have had, list of monsters by CR
- My review of the 5e PHB
- My review of the 5e Starter Set and basic rules
So, thank you all for wading through this. I enjoyed it a lot, but the big lesson is that I am NEVER EVER doing a monster-by-monster review again. It’s just too long!
- Which I feel is further built upon in 13th Age. I’ll talk about that when I give it a (much shorter) review. ↩
- This suggestion may offend the hardcore nerd, who (like myself) can cite hit die differences from memory, but descriptively and functionally they have a lot of overlap, and a new player is going to have every reason to think they all run together unless they are given a reason to think otherwise. ↩
- In theory, undead would have the same problem, since only a nerd distinguishes between them meaningfully. However, they have classically had a certain progression of power/danger, starting with skeletons and working up to vampires and liches. This provided some implicit differentiation. Humanoids, on the other hand, are largely clustered in the 1/8 to 1/2 range of CRs (2 for the ogre equivalents) so there’s no progression. ↩
- This may sound like a bit of a condemnation, but I admit I’m less excited about a MM2 than I am about whatever products expand player options. This is partly because I did not leave the book feeling a lot was missing, but it’s also partly because I genuinely expect the best and most interesting monster design to show up in adventures. ↩
Sprite – Ok, I’ll cop to it. I’m going to mix these guys up with pixies basically all the time. They look more like Tinkerbell than the pixie are, honestly. That said, aside from an ability to read emotional state (which seems almost entirely unpoetic) they’re just flying harassers.
Stirge – In an odd turn, this is only a half page entry, though the picture is pretty gross. This is a classic monster, so the only real curiosity is how they handle the drain. Simple answer: Keeps doing damage after it hits, until it’s bloated and flies away.
Succubus/Incubus – Super curious entry. It’s not a demon, and the incubus is the more cheesecake of the two. In fact, apparently, they are basically freely able to swap between succubus and incubus form, which is doubly awesome. They’re lieutenants to a variety of infernal baddies, though at CR 4, they’re no pushovers. They’ve got a powerful charm and their kiss is an energy drain attack, but they’re obviously more dangerous outside of the battlefield.
Tarrasque – This is basically a stunt entry. The tarrasque largely exists to establish the upper bounds of monster capability, and at CR 30, it performs admirably. Obviously, the thing is terrifying, with every trio we’ve seen so far. Legendary resistance (it can make 3 saves), legendary actions, swallow, big pile of immunities and, of course, gigantic damage output. All of which is awesome.
Thri-Kreen – another monster I was first exposed to on monster cards, I’ve always had a fondness for these insect-men. They do need to face “the humanoid question”, but being insects is a solid initial schtick, and the other elements which make them fit Dark Sun so well (exotic weapons and some psionics) round it out well.
Treant – I admit, I immediately checked the CR (9) to see if these things are the holy terrors I imagine them to be. Answer seems to be “almost”. Interesting lore in that they are all trees that have awakened, rather than a species in their own right. Curious implications to that.
Troglodyte – Or, as we know them, “Those humanoids who smell really bad”. Because yep, that’s still their combat schtick. In fact, it’s basically the only thing of any real note about them.
Troll – This entry is delightful. Yes, a big chunk of it is predictable, they’re big, they regenerate, sometimes you get crazy troll freaks whose regeneration has gone crazy (sadly, no stats for those) but these all pale besides the awesomeness of the “Loathsome Limbs” sidebar. Basically, if you do more than 15 points of slashing damage to a troll, you lop off a random limb. But, it being a troll, it will keep fighting. Basically, after all of these editions, they have explicitly put in the rules you need to run the scene from Three Hearts and Three Lions which defined the D&D troll. I profoundly raise a glass to this entry.
Umber Hulk – They’ve kept the insectoid look of recent editions, but otherwise this is the familiar monster – a burrowing bruiser who causes confusion if you look in its eyes. There’s some note about averting your eyes, but no real explanation what that means mechanically, though I would presume disadvantage.
Unicorn – Historically, this was one of the most boring critters out there. A magic horse that could teleport once a day, it was hard to take them too seriously. This perspective has been revised, and the Unicorn is now laid out as a hard core protector of the wilderness, with solid multiattack and spell casting abilities to supplement their healignand teleportation. More importantly, they’re now legendary creatures, which means legendary actions and regional effects. And the unicorn’s regional effects are great in a way that the good dragons kind of teased – they’re all things that make the forest a better, safer place. While mechanically interesting, the really cool thing is how much narrative weight the give to the presence of a unicorn in a forest. Beautifully done.
Vampires – In much the same way they have made Unicorns hew closer to their lore as potent magical beings, they have similarly tuned up the vampire (who did not need as much of a makeover). They’re still dangerous (CR 13), enough so that they’re pretty clearly laid out in the Dracula/Strahd school of design, with legendary actions, lairs, regional effects and so on (Strahd actually gets his own sidebar). This is a big V villain. And for all your lesser needs, Vampire spawn are a “mere” CR 5. Definitely a useful package.
Water Weird – Another very dungeoney monster, they’re interesting insofar as they tend neutral, but will tilt towards the water they inhabit (something which can make purify food and drink very situationally potent). They’re colorful – watery snakes, bound to guard sources of water – but there’s very little depth to them.
That said, there’s one interesting visual to these – they look a lot like larval Salamanders. In my head, this suggests some plane of water equivalent critters.
Wight – Ok, this is one of those cases where the art is kind of badass. The classic image of the hunched over figure is replaced by an armed and armored badass undead warrior, and the color supports that. These are warriors of undeath. And one mice touch – they have a life drain attack, but they also have more mundane attacks with weapons, so a fight with them is not just a touchiest.
Will o’ Wisp – Another super situational monster, I mostly go into this entry curious if it will be anything but a one trick pony. The answer? Not really. Well, ok, they have effectively a super coup de grace which is nasty, but otherwise they remain killer balls of light.
Wraith – If wights are soldiers, Wraiths are lieutenants, and I like that framing for them, since sit allows for smart undead villains at low levels. At CR5, a wraith makes a good background villain early on, limited only by the fact that their agendas are largely limited to “hate everything”. But with their ability to create specters, a single wraith is a great way to populate a dungeon and create a larger threat.
Wyvern – When you want something like a dragon that is not a dragon, the go with the time-tested brand; Wyvern! A little bit less necessary in modern play (they made more sense when dragons were less smoothly graded) but they make for a fun, tough fight, albeit on that is not as dangerous as, say, a manticore because despite their ability to fly, all their attacks are melee range, so flight is unlikely to be a real signature of a wyvern fight.
Xorn – Fun to say, fun to play! This entry could have been a pretty dull gimmick monster – they glide through earth and stone and are tough brawlers – but the color added a wonderful touch. Xorn can sense treasure, and that’s historically drawn them to adventurers, which in the past has meant “Jump out of a wall and try to eat some gold”. But as written, they;’re described as “beggars and thieves” and I am utterly delighted at the prospect of playing his huge, multi-armed, gigantically mawed terror as kind of furtively approaching the party petulantly whining to be fed and then attacking later in a sulk if it doesn’t get what it wants. This is a really small thing, but it enriches the monster in a way a surprise roll never will.
Yeti – Ok, I was not expecting this one. It’s basically an environmental hazard of the mountains. Regular Yeti are CR 3, Abominable yeti are CR 9, so there’s a bit of pre-structured minions and boss to it, but in and of themselves they’re only so interesting. The strong environmental tie can probably be used to make them interesting (a snowstorm, low visibility, survival scenario could work well for example) but the entry doesn’t offer a lot of help for this.
Yuan-Ti – We’ve gotten the occasional mention of these guys (though fewer than the illithids) but they are clearly poised to occupy a specific villainous role of the ancient corrupt race which allows all the horribly racists stuff form a Howard or Lovecraft story only with actual monsters, not “swarthy” people. I guess that’s a good thing, but I’m not exactly the best judge.
That said, there’s plenty of less squicky stuff to tap into in using the Yuan Ti – in part of their forsaking of humanity, they embraced a philosophy of detachment of emotion and (by extension) the self-delusion of purely rational thought. Which is to say, the Yuan-Ti are basically the magic world stand in for internet jerks, and used that way, they may be kind of awesome. In my head, the kind of broken common is now translating into forum post language, and it fits so well that it may be hard to keep Yuan Ti out of my game. LOL.
(Also, the fact that Yuan Ti are only worshiping their gods – who get a cool sidebar – until they can figure out how to eat them? Kind of awesome).
We get 3 stat blocks. The Abomination – full on snake men – are the main bad guys, at CR 7, they’ve got spells, shape changing and magic resistance align with a fair amount of physical whupass. Beneat them are the Malison, humanoids with snake parts. There are three different kinds (same general stats, different actions) and I infer from the stat blocks that they are snake heads, snake arms and snake torso. I suspect I could clarify this by checking a previous MM, but I don’t actually care a lot. The last, the pureblood, are the most human looking and least powerful (cr 1) but are powerful enough that I’m not sure I’d use them as mooks.
Once again, we have a clear hierarchy of monsters that makes encounter construction easy enough, and they’re richly developed enough to answer the “why these humanoids?” question so they’re definitely useful. One oddity – I seem to recall that at least some past versions had more of a tie with aberrations (these don’t) but that may just be my faulty memory.
Yugoloths – because once upon a time, someone went “Demons are chaotic evil, devils are lawful evil, wen need some neutral evil fiends!” and then gave them a terrible name (albeit one that was less terrible when talking about Tanar’ri and Baatezu). Their color is great (created by Asmodeus and a circle of hags, there are books out there with all their names, but there’re lost) and they serve a nice niche as evil mercenaries, but it’s not like there was a shortage of fiends that needed addressing, so these guys end up feeling a little generically evil. The ultraloths in particular are, while scary on paper, really dull. It hurts me a bit to say this, but in the absence of a Blood War, I’m not sure these guys bring a lot to the table. I mean, they’re useful monsters, as they’re all quite nasty, but they don’t add much.
Zombies – I was not expecting much front he lore for this one nor did I get it. Instead, I got exactly the utility undead that I expected, including scaled up version for undead ogres. The unexpected surprise at th bottom of the box is the zombie beholder. It’s CR 5, about a third of its eyestalks still work, and I can’t wait to use it.
That’s it for the actual monster entries, but the books ’s not done yet. Appendix A: Miscellaneous Creatures is full of stat blocks with either no or very little explanatory text. It most is composed of beasts, both regular and giant, and as such it is basically the reference included to make playing a druid a reasonable option, especially since the CR’s range from 0 to 7, making sure the druid always has options. It also includes oddities like awakened plants and animals with a single gimmick (like phase spreaders, giant fire beetles, death dogs, Worgs and blink dogs). There’s not a lot of art in this appendix, but those particular creatures are among those who get art (as do quippers, which I guess are sort of piraña). It also includes things like swarm and barding rules as sidebars. All in all, a high utility chapter.
Appendix B: Nonplayer Characters gives us stats for human (or humanoid) opposition ranging from Cultists (CR 1/8) to Gladiators (CR 5) to Archmages (cr 18). it includes notes that you can swap in different races, range spells and basically tweak these guys, but they provide a baseline to work with.
I am, I admit, not 100% sure how I feel about this section. It’s useful no question – there’s a lot of utility in being able to just pull people out of a hat and put them to use. But it’s very 4e in its handling of NPCs, and its one of those areas where the lack of scaling guidelines really shines through. I am hopeful that the DMG provides some guidance in this regard, and we end up with a hybrid system that has quick and dirty npcs (like these) as well as a way to flesh them out without making full PC character sheets for them. But time will tell.
That said, I cannot close without a mention of the index. Content-wise, it’s solid and functional, but the two pages contain my absolute favorite art of the entire book. Some of it, especially the last image of the book, is outright hilarious.
Note 1: I’ll finish up the monsters. This is just a bit of a sidetrack
Note 2: The eras are totally me taking poetic license to keep things from just being one big list.
- Time of no gods. Aboleths rule the world. Presumed origin of other aberrant species.
- Gods rise. They war against the ancient horrors, using weapons like the Kraken.
- Gods win. Things sort out into less abberant kind of reality. Presumably the inner and outer planes shuffle into order, including the creation of numerous celestial and infernal races and creatures.
- Asmodeus and his circle of hags create Books of Keeping (and the Yugoloths)
- Primus casts a stone into Limbo. It becomes the Slaadi birthing stone.
- Creation of the Couatals and the loss of their god.
- Birth of Dragons signal the end of this era.
- Giants are created
- Dinosaurs roam
- Vaati empire spreads across many worlds. Falls in conflict with the Queen of Chaos.
- Now unknown humanoid races populate the world. May have been early humans, dwarves etc, or may have been other races entirely. Known or suggested races include Fomorians, precursor Gith, precursor Grimlocks, Kuo-Toa
- An unknown humanoid race breeds Quaggoths. Psychic potential suggests they may have been of use against the Mind Flayers.
- Naga created as a servitor race by unknown masters.
- Divine conflict leads to creation of Hydras.
- Fomorian empire rises, then falls. Fomorians flee to underdark.
- Mind Flayer empire spreads, enslaving early humanoids. First Grimlocks created. Gith Rebellion (and subsequent schism) signals the beginning of the end for the Illithid.
- Efreet and Azer construct City of Brass. Efreet attempt to enslave Azer (unsuccessfully)
- Dragons and Giants go to war. Numerous monstrous weapons born of this conflict, including Behirs and Rocs.
- Creation of Elves ends the era
- Elven expansion drive Quaggoth underground
- Elven civil war drives Drow underground
- Harpies emerge.
- Emergence of young races (humans, Halflings, goblinoids, orcs, maybe dwarves) ends the era.
- Tiefling empire rises, then falls to fiendish corruption
- Vecna ascends to godhood. Acererak does not.
- Arcane tinkering births monstrosities like the Bulette and Owlbear. Fiendish intervention adds more delights, like the Chimera, Merrow, Gnolls and Ettin.
- Fall of the Yuan-Ti
- Rise and fall of Gulthias
- Whoever built pyramids
- This term is largely elven propaganda. Evidence indicates that humans were around as far back as the illithid empire (some became Grimlocks) and other races may be similarly ancient. ↩
Pegasus – Oh boy, a mount. Excepting the fact that Pegasi are explicitly celestial in nature, this seems pretty bland.
Peryton – This is one of those crazy creatures out of folklore whose schtick (sometimes it has the shadow of a man) is creepier in the telling than in the actual encounter. The lore entry nicely updates the mythology and gives a bit of monstrous motivation, but it’s ultimately more interesting from a tactical perspective, as the statblock is full of aerial effects.
Piercer – These dudes are ugly. And they’re a classic gimmick monster, dropping from the ceiling on unexpecting foes. They’re pretty much one-and-done, since when they miss, they don’t have much else they can do. Its presence is a little weird, since I thought the darkmantle had effectively replaced them in the dungeon ecology, but I guess you can’t have too much death from above.
Pixie – Basically, tinkerbell. Fragile and small, they have enough magical power to be dangerous opponents – anything that can fly and stay invisible is a real hassle. As written, they’re more designed to be an active annoyance (something compounded by the fact that they don’t speak common) and some GMs will love this, others will probably just shrug and move along.
Pseudodragon – This entry is basically the familiar pipe dream. Telepathy, magic resistance (which confers to its partner) and a poisonous sting. Which is fine, but there it is.
Purple Worm – Another classic – Shai-halud of the underdark. They’re huge and tough, and can swallow folks whole, all while carving out new caverns and generally keeping the ecosystem moving.
Quaggoth – Basically these are the yeti of the underdark. Big, animal-ish humanoids and sometime brute squad for the drow, with the occasional psionic member of the tribe. They have some interesting history and ancient enmity with the elves which is at the root of their history (drove them underground, allied them with the Drow).
Rakshasa – Functionally, they have a lot in common with the Oni – smart, magically capable, shapeshifters and illusionists but generally tough. Specifically, the rakshasa, have more of an extraplanar vibe to them, compounded by the fact that when they die, they just come back in the 9 hells, albeit weeks or months later (at which point, a plane shift gets them back).
In 1e, the way to kill one of these was with a blessed crossbow bolt, and they were basically immune to all other non-magical damage. They’ve kept the immunity, but they found a new and interesting way to represent the weakness.
Remorhazes – Another largely tactical monster. The young ones (CR 5) and the adults (CR 11) are structured similarly (burrowing and dangerous heat) though the older ones are also capable of swallowing.
Revenant – A plot monster – the actual revenant itself is just a fairly tough undead who will NEVER STOP COMING. You may encounter one as part of another plot, where you may be helping it or trying to figure out how to stop it, which makes it pretty useful in a number of ways.
Roc – Nice backstory – the Rocs were created by the gods of the giants to give an airborne weapon against giants. They’ve gone their own way since then, but that tie gives things a nice bit of flavor. Beyond that, they’re flying brutes – lots of HP, lots of damage.
Roper – I actually really dig that they decided that these guys are what piercers grow up to be. Beyond that, they’re mostly gross and tactically fun – the tentacles and giant mouth make it easy to see how the fight would go.
Rust Monster – The true terror of the dungeon! Hit points? Health? Disease? None of those are nearly as frightening as losing gear. The mechanic is actually similar to what we saw with some oozes (weapon takes –1 when it hits, when it goes to –5 it’s destroyed) but this incarnation is actually much kinder than some in the past, as it only effects nonmagical gear. This is probably appropriate, since it’s a little more apt to have it be a low-level menace than the kind of thing that makes 20th level fighters cower (and, yes, flashing back to the cartoon in the 1e DMG).
Sahuagin – These are the real bad guys of the sea, which is what makes the Merrows seem a bit redundant (though I suppose they’re ogre-equivalent). Evil shark people are always a welcome addition to the mix, and their bits of lore (like their worship of the shark god) and the occaisional mutant who can pass as an aquatic elf.
Really, the only weird thing about this entry is that it hinges on the war between the Sahuagin and the Aquatic Elves as a big setting element, and this is the first time we’ve heard any mention of aquatic elves (and no mention of merfolk and merrow). It’s a bit of a shame. A lot of the monster entries have a story woven behind them that makes for a bigger sense of the world. The Sahuagin hint at that, but it feels like the pieces aren’t all in place.
Salamanders – Like the galeb duhr and the invisible stalker, this is one of the more colored elemental. And speaking of tying things together, the salamander’s origin ties back to the story of the Azer and the City of Brass. They come int two form – CR 1 first snakes, and CR 5 full salamanders, with humanoid torsos atop the trunk of a snake.
Satyr – This is a curious one – the actual satyr has little in the way of magic on its own. It is only in a sidebar that the Satyr’s pipes are mentioned, though they have all the magic that one might expect.
Scarecrow – Low level construct with horrific overtones. Honestly, the art conveys more than the text for this one. Practically, it’s a bit hard to use it’s ability to hide, motionless, except against NPCs. When the GM mentions that there’s a scarecrow, that kind of shows her hand.
Shadow – Fun, low level undead with a strength drain, I think my favorite part is that as they are created, the target’s shadow darkens and breaks free when it dies. Most delightfully, if the target is resurrected, the shadow is still running around out there, and knows that it’s “parent” is back. I admit, this kind of makes me totally willing to kill a PC with a shadow just t set up that dynamic.
Shambling Mound – This is a classic made much more interesting by its color text. It’s a huge, tough, slow moving “plant”, a danger which is easily avoided is you’re aware of it (and have room to run) but which has a profound impact on the local ecosystem.
Shield Guardian – Basically, this is canned muscle for a spellcaster – if you control the amulet, you control a CR7 brute with heavy armor, regeneration, a bit of magic and some protection capability.
Skeletons – lovely pluralized entry, with the baseline (CR 1/4), the big one (CR2) and the warhorse (CR 1/2). No real surprises, but a solidly useful entry.
Slaadi Another planescape favorite, there’s a wonderful bit of extra lore here, as the Spawning Stone of the Slaad was apparently created by Primus (lord of the Modrons) and cast into the chaos of Limbo, with the Slaadi as an (apparently) unexpected side effect of the process.
The slaad themselves are classics – Red, Blue, Green, Gray and Death. They’re all terrifying, though their challenge range is lower than I’d have expected (capping at 10 for the Death Slaad). And, of course, their ability to infect humanoids to create new Slaad creates an extra layer of creepy factor.
Specter – This one took an unexpected turn. Classically, specters are one of the nastiest forms of undead, just a step below vampires, largely because their energy drain (2 levels!) was so terrifying. This version is much less terrifying – it still has life drain (damage that reduces max HP rather than levels) but it’s a CR 1 creature that is more noteworthy for being a flying, incorporeal horror. In fact, there’s a whole sidebar on a poltergeist variant which is always invisible and adds telekinetic effects
For all that this is a step away from tradition, it feels like a good step. This is much more of a horror monster than the usual “grey guy with grabby hands” and it seems like it would be much more fun to run.
Sphinxes – 2 kinds of sphinxes (androsphinxes at CR 17 and Gynosphinxes at CR 11). Notably, none of them are “the one with boobs” for those flashing back to the MM 1. They’re basically created by gods, which gives them an interesting bit of extra backstory – they’re powerful enough to suggest a private relationship with that deity.
Their personal badassness is pronounced, but it’s their lair actions really shine. They allow the sphinx to mess with time, and shift conversations into wacky demiplanes, so the whole “move the talk onto a giant chessboard” is now mechanically supported.
Mind Flayer – Like the Hags, the Mind Flayers show up in lots of other entries. They are the big bad behind a lot of terrible things, and while there’s only one stat block (one and a half, really) it’s a solid CR 7 enemy with some handy tricks – magic resistance, mind blast and, of course, brain eating. The lore is flavorful enough in its own right, but it’s really just part of the larger tapestry woven throughout the book. All in all, quite satisfying.
Minotaur – Another CR 3 brute, and at first glance it seems pretty straightforward with charge and berserker attacks, but the lore takes an entertaining turn when talking about the origins of minotaurs in mystery cults (which in turn provide a potential source for labyrinths) which offers some fantastic opportunities for minotaurs as plot drivers and as random brutes.
Modrons – I know some people might go “huh”, but for a planescape fan, this entry inspires a happy little dance, as evinced by my dancing which you quite thankfully cannot see. I am utterly incapable of viewing this entry in any kind of real critical fashion because its presence delights me so, right down to it’s art, which is not quite Diterlizzi, but clearly bears the marks of inspiration. We get statblocks for the first five modrons (monodrone, duodrone, tridrone, quadrone, pentadrone) ranging from CR 1/8 to CR 2 (Though the pentadrone seems a rather nasty CR 2, with 5 attacks and paralyzing gas) and enough color and lore to give guidance for how to play them and strongly implies the rest of their structure, right up to Primus.
Mummies – There’s some nice material regarding the source of mummies, with the important note that there is always a creator (because mummy status is explicitly a curse) and often some manner of trigger that causes it to rise. Like so many of the better monsters, the mummy has a built in story that makes it a plot waiting to happen much more than a creature sitting in a room waiting to fight.
The baseline mummy is CR3 with a fear-inspiring gaze attack and a rotting touch. Mechanically, if you blow the save, you reduce your HP maximum by 3d6 every 24 hours, and you can’t heal. Super nasty, and a good reason to have remove curse on hand. This is the mummy you’re going to find in a generic adventure encounter.
The Mummy Lord is closer to something from a horror movie. CR 15, with legendary and lair actions as well as regional effects which include a curse on anyone taking something from the mummy’s tomb. It’s easy to see this as the villain for an entire campaign region.
Myconid – I’m pretty sure there are people who feel about myconids (mushroom men) the same way I feel about modrons, so I wish them well of it. They’re a nice addition to the underdark (along with the flumphs, offering some good guys) full of mental communion and hallucination-filled dreams. They’re also pretty creepy, since their minions basically include pseudo-zombies animated by fungal spores.
Naga It’s almost a throwaway line, but the origin story of the naga (servants of an ancient race who view themselves as the natural heirs). The good (Guardian) and evil (Spirit) naga are magically potent (CR 10 and 8 respectively). They’re also pretty much immortal, coming back after a few days from anything short of a wish.
This tidbit is what makes the Bone Naga (undead naga, CR 4) more interesting. Basically, the Yuan Ti got sick of the Naga constantly coming back, and so came up with a ritual to break the cycle, creating undead Naga. All in all, these guys make for fun, smart opposition.
Nightmare – Another mount, not hugely interesting, since Nightmares are usually just adjuncts to the real bad guy. That said, the color surrounding their creation (the torture and sacrifice of a pegasus) is nicely vivid.
Nothic – I guess these guys came from the miniatures game, as I admit I did not recognize them when they showed up in Phandelver. That said, the lore for these guys is fun – Vecna effectively left traps on his own ascent to godhood, and wizards who follow in his path occasionally encounter them and are reduced to these monstrosities. They still pursue arcane knowledge, albeit in a twisted, semi-incoherent way. It’s a good story, and it gives a nice justification for these things to show up in interesting places.
Ogres – Ah, the classics. At CR 2, these guys are just brutes, but that’s exactly what they’re supposed to be. Nothing too exciting in their lore, but they don’t really need it. The entry also includes Half-Ogres (Ogrillion) which, I admit, serve rather less purpose. “Like ogres, but less so” is not much of a pitch. In other fiction, they’re a bit more interesting, emphasizing that they’re smarter opposition, but there’s none of this in the entry.
Oni – AKA Ogre Magi, these guys have always been nasties, and all of that translates appropriately into this stat block – shapeshifting, regeneration, gaseous form, cone of cold. The lore is flavorful, but mostly just feed into the means of playing these guys (which is to say, emphasizing that they’re pretty terrifying)
Oozes – Black pudding, gelatinous cubes, gray ooze and ochre jelly all fall under this entry. Black pudding are still the nastiest, but functionally they are quite similar in their play (climbing walls, attacking with pseudopods) with some specific things like weapon destruction. Gelatinous cubes play a little bit differently, as they still focus on moving and engulfing, but that is also well supported (though I admit, it feels like the cube was really the perfectly expressed 4e monster.)
Orcs – When we talk about classic humanoid monsters, the orc is pretty much the baseline, and this entry is decently in line with that. It draws a broad enough picture to give orcs a little social context and a mythos which pits them against the other races (and also justifies halfbreeds). Stat blocks are given for a classic orc, an orc warchief, an Eye of Gruumsh (blessed by the chief god of the ord) and the Orog, who is sort of an orc-plus (CR 2).
The Orog may seem like a weird addition, but it’ll be familiar to fans of Birthright – the Orogs were the orc replacement in that setting. Explicitly, Birthright humanoids were very clearly nations, and the Orog ranged in power, allowing them to fill gaps that would otherwise be filled by a wider range of humanoid races. The net result felt a lot more coherent, and the presence of the Orog makes it a little more possible to spin the Orc entry in that direction.
Otyugh – This entry is a lot more boring than I expected. Tentacles, telepathy, general badness, that seems like the it should be really unpleasant, but it just comes across as kind of meh.
Owlbear – The owlbear suffers unfairly from comparison to the 13th Age owlbear, who explicitly includes rules for ripping off arms and running off to eat them. Not that this owlbear is bad – it’s just a tough comparison. And it makes a decent effort – the lore is fun. especially regarding the challenges in training owlbears. The reference to rural communities having owlbear races is utterly delightful.
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.