5E Let's Read: Volo's Monsters

Bitbrain

Adventurer
Reading Volo's, I'm of the opinion that Flinds are most effective when they are not right up next to the PCs.

there should always be at least one regular gnoll between the Flind and the PCs.
She's a horde master, not a shock trooper.

EDIT
Ever since I learned that female hyenas are typically larger than the males, I've been of the opinion that all Flinds should be female.
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
Flinds epitomize the monster that should be party of a large group. Looking at the warband composition chart in the gnoll section, if the players just directly confront a band that contains a flind you're looking at

2d4+2 Fangs (average 6)
2d4+2 Hunters (Average 6)
4d4 Gnawers (Average 8)
12d6 Gnolls (Average 48)
8d6 Hyenas (Average 28)
The Flind
A shoosuva

Which is an average of almost 100 combatants. Obviously this will be broken up into sections instead of a single big fight, but a fight with just the leadership and some mooks is going to have the party outnumbered.

Then the Flind hits one guy with Paralysis. That means every attack with advantage, and auto-crits. With everything having at least 2 attacks if not more? And may the gods help them if for some reason there is a pack lord as well, who can incite rampage to get everything within 30 ft making a free reaction attack.

This is a brutal, fortuantely there is an out for a party, since most of the creatures are low cr so an AOE is going to cause massive damage, but I don't think this is an easy encounter no matter what.
 

psychophipps

Villager
Complete agreement from me with Bitbrain. The Flinds, like many of the Mook+ monsters, is best used as a kicker to the normal mobs. Just sticking a solo Flind in front of a PC party is a gross misuse of it's abilities and purpose.

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I really like what they did with flinds for 5e. I assumed we would see a CR 5 or so creature like in previous editions. But, compared to several other creatures that they significantly lowered in CR (we'll be discussing two notable examples of this later on in this thread), they really upped the flind's power to make it a really nasty encounter. This, in my opinion, was an excellent design choice...
 
I think that the entry really pushes the idea of using them as a leader, not a solo - just the Aura alone demands it, as it suddenly unlocks the power of the Rampage trait. They're powerful by themselves, and much more so when they can help the lesser Gnolls swarm the players under - not to mention the danger of having a Shoosuva turn up, with its 4d10 bite damage!

I've got a party going to the Abyss soon, and I'm very strongly considering having one of the warband compositions that [MENTION=6801228]Chaosmancer[/MENTION] mentions being the first course - they will be level 16, so shouldn't find it too hard, but one of those will keep them on their toes, prior to having Yeenoghu turn up... :D
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
A gnoll warband would present an opportunity for a few ideas I have wanted to use in combat for a while. Namely the ability for a commander to summon a virtually endless stream of "minion" monsters.

For 5e, that might work as describing the warband as a "lair" unto itself.

The Cackle of Yeenoghu:
The Cackle of Yeenoughu may only function as a warband so long as a Flind is leading it. If all Flinds in the warband are reduced to 0hp, the remaining Gnolls, and their allies, scatter from the battlefield.

Warband Actions:

On initiative count 20 (the warband loses all initiative ties) one of the following creatures is called forth from the fray for every Gnoll Pack Lord or Flind in the current encounter. Roll 1d8 :
1,2: Hyena
3: Gnoll Witherling
4,5,6: Gnoll
7,8: Gnoll Hunter

Whenever a Gnoll Pack Lord hits 0hp, roll 1d6 and add a creature from the following list to the encounter:
1,2,3: Gnoll Flesh Gnawer
4, 5: Giant Hyena
6: Maw Demon

A Gnoll Pack Lord or Flind may turn the chaos of battle to their favor. As a reaction, they may redirect any one attack targeted against them to different nearby Gnoll or Gnoll Witherling who is also in the range of the attack. This ability cannot redirect AoE attacks.

Regional Effects

You have a warband of Gnolls in your area, they like to eat everyone, I hope you can fight them off or run faster than everyone else!
 
The Gnoll entries include a good variation in CR, and the Flesh Gnawer comes in at a solid CR 1. This makes them pretty good for combat fodder for many levels - their HP and damage output keeping them at least relevant up until level 9 or so - and so you can probably expect to make heavy use of them after a while.



The Flesh Gnawer picture in Volo’s has a lot of character. Though it is very static - in essentially the same pose as the Flind and Witherling - the Gnawer has a very well done face, which is busily emoting a deranged world view to the observer. I’m also quite taken with the human hand which is jauntily stuck into the waistband, a nice snack for later.

The Flesh Gnawers get a flavour text so short that it barely counts as present. They are more feral than other Gnolls, they don’t bother with ranged weapons, and they can run fast to finish off enemies. The Gnoll section in chapter one says essentially the same thing - they lurk around at the start of battle, and then rush from wounded warrior to wounded warrior as though ‘shot from a bow’. In other words, you should use these guys as generic dudes for the players to kill in the game, they do not have hidden reserves of roleplaying potential for you to tap.

As I mentioned above, the Gnawer comes in at a useful CR 1. You can pretty much use these guys for the whole of tiers 1 & 2, to varying degrees of merit, and they should at least do something. Be aware, however, that your Cleric player will really start emphasising Spirit Guardians after a while if you lean on them in every combat. That isn’t bad - the spell is effectively a class feature, and letting a player get use out of it is no bad thing - but be warned that you’ll need to mix in ranged dudes as well. Not to worry though - the next statblock is the Hunter, who has the ranged options covered.

This statblock is pretty standard for CR 1. You get 22 hp, medium AC, and stats hovering around the 10 on average. They get the Rampage trait of all Gnolls, and they get three melee attacks for normal damage. The only really unique thing here is the Sudden Rush ability, whereby the Gnawer can move up to 120ft [Correction: 90ft.] a round and not provoke opportunity attacks. That sounds like a great way to have the Gnawers materialise in melee with the party backline, even if the Gnawers cannot attack afterwards, and in general means that you can put real pressure on the party to kill the Gnawers before they bring down the party squishies. It also makes them very effective at running away from fights that they are losing, so you could contemplate some kind of an ambush, with these guys drawing the players into a killzone with some Hunters or whatnot. Either way, this incredible movement is clearly the central mechanic of the Gnawer, and I imagine that most parties will really grow to hate these guys for that exact reason.
 
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Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Flesh Gnawers purpose in combat is not to maintain formations or be fodder, but to punish weak targets. Basically a Flind or Shoovusa inflicts paralysis on a target, and these guys rush in to take advantage of it. This also makes them the best gnoll to use in a group of non-gnolls, because they have to potential to capitalize on any target who has been weakened, grappled, or knocked down.
 
Remember that it takes their whole turn to reposition however, and my maths above was wrong - they can only move 60ft in one go. Thus they can run from one place to another, but they cannot do so and also attack the same turn.
 
Of the Gnolls, the Hunter is the ranged option. Effectively the rangers of the warbands, they provide some dedicated archery for you to use, and conveniently are the same CR as the basic Gnoll, making it easy to swap them out for each other as required for your party makeup.



The Hunter doesn’t get a picture in chapter three.

So the Hunters are described as the stealthy killers of the warband, picking off enemies before the main force arrives. To this end, they are very good at crippling shots with their barbed arrowheads, hobbling enemies for easy killing later. They also carry horns that make a keening wail, alerting other Gnolls; that sounds like a very evocative image to sketch in your game, as your players try to avoid getting ground into paste by a hundreds-strong force of Gnolls heading their way.

The Gnoll is CR 1/2, and really simple as a result. They are almost as tough as the Flesh Gnawer, and have some basic melee capabilities - which are actually not that far behind the Gnawers, to be fair - but the real reason to use these guys is their Longbow attacks. Doing solid damage, with two shots out to a long range, they can also reduce the enemy speed by 10ft for a round. It appears to stack as well - unless it falls afoul of a ‘no duplicate sources’ rule or something - so enough Hunters shooting can completely ground a group to a halt. This effect doesn’t have a save either, so it can really ensure angst in the party. Even if it doesn’t stack, this will allow you to isolate individual party members - especially one of the 25ft move races - and force them to either Dash to keep together or risk other Gnolls surrounding the crippled heroes. That seems pretty nasty, and combines very nicely with some of the other Gnolls - especially the Gnawers - who could bring down a Gnome Wizard with impunity and then get to use their Rampage ability to keep engaged.

Not much to say about these guys, other than to note how interestingly potent that Longbow shot is, and the fact that WotC seem move confident about bringing in ‘complex’ abilities on simple critters. The Hunters are cool, and should really spice up your combats, especially those that start with a large gap between the two sides.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Gnolls and Gnoll Hunters are a bit of an interesting contrast. It really shows how bizarre some of the monster math can get when you calculate a CR. Or more likely, how the wotc dev team has adapted to how the people are playing the game.

Gnolls are in the srd, Basically they have:
15 ac (Hide and shield)
22 hp (5d8)
+2/+1/+0/-2/+0/-2 stat mods (and thus saves)
Darkvision 60', perception 10
Language Gnoll
CR 1/2
Rampage (bonus action to move and bite)
Pick one of the following to use per turn:
Bite +4/1d4+2
Spear +4/1d6+2
Longbow +3/1d8+1

Now, without getting too descriptive, imagine a stat block almost exactly like that but with a few changes:
Most notable, -2 ac
The exact same hp, but calculated differently due to having a better stat spread and less hd.
A way better stat spread, resulting in much better saving throws, even the weak ones are better.
The Same CR.
As a result of having better stats, and also some skill proficiency, the hunter has skill bonuses in areas relating to being a sneaky scout. As opposed to the bog standard gnoll, who doesn't do anything other than stab with a spear.

Ditto rampage, cause it's a gnoll.
Speaking of spears, take all of those attacks up there, and then you can make two of them per round, for reasons. Also you get to two-hand the spear because this guy isn't using a shield, bumping that damage die up. Also also, you get to deal more damage with the longbow, because of stats, and for no additional cost, the longbow reduces the targets speed. A speed reduction that stacks both with iteself, and with any other hunter that is shooting the poor sod who is trying to run away, mind you.

So basically, the Hunter is trading in two AC for much better non-ac defenses, extra attacks, more damaging attacks, more interesting attacks outside of their damage, and skills that are useful in the exploration pillar of play.

If you are a DM, I wouldn't blame you for blacking out the normal Gnoll stat block and just using hunters as the basic Gnoll 2.0, especially if you are in tier 2 of level progression.
 
So basically, the Hunter is trading in two AC for much better non-ac defenses, extra attacks, more damaging attacks, more interesting attacks outside of their damage, and skills that are useful in the exploration pillar of play.
And it's not much of a tradeoff, since the normal gnoll loses two points of AC anyway when firing a longbow. (Hide + Dex = 13; the other +2 is from a shield.)
 
Remember that it takes their whole turn to reposition however, and my maths above was wrong - they can only move 60ft in one go. Thus they can run from one place to another, but they cannot do so and also attack the same turn.
They move 90' actually. Sudden Rush increases their speed by 60', not to 60'. 30' + 60' = 90'.
 
We end our tour of the Gnolls with the Witherling, the somewhat odd undead variant.



In the book image, the Witherling is standing in the exact same pose as the other Gnolls, only this time he has no skin. Since Gnolls have a pretty interesting skull - though, rather oddly, he still has ears - the image works for me, but only just. It definitely feels like the imagination ran dry for this group of monster images.

So it seems that Gnolls enjoyment of flesh eating extends to each other. Rather than being properly decadent about it and taking that as a euphemism, they instead actually kill their comrades, and then conduct dubious rituals to Yeenoghu to bring back the consumed Gnolls as undead. These then follow the warband around, killing but not eating their victims, meaning more food but fewer mouths to feed. It all seems like a subconscious population control measure. Probably the most interesting thought here is what other rituals Yeenoghu might have taught the Gnolls.

The Witherling is definitely not a plot-driving threat, though it is perhaps good as an initial threat for level one characters. This guy is basically presented as chaff to be sprinkled into fights with Gnolls. Its combat stats are extremely unexciting, as is normal for CR 1/4, but he does have the interesting Vengeful Strike rule, meaning that it can use a reaction to make a melee attack, if a Gnoll nearby dies. That’s a nice wrinkle to add to a fight - not so powerful as to make your players complain, but definitely something that’ll make them think. This, along with the Hunter’s crippling shots, gives the DM some options for spicing up combats without needing to bring in house rules or spellcasters.

With this, we end the Gnolls, and won’t be mentioning them again until the Leucrotta, I think. Just as well, since I’m pretty bored of talking about them!
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
Witherlings are an odd beast to me.

Other than the crawling hand, I think witherlings might actually be the weakest form of undead in the game. *Double checks books*

Okay, I guess that isn't quite true as Skeletons are a lot weaker than I remember them being. Still, I imagined Witherlings to be a rather significant threat and then was a little let down by the stat block.

As for Gnolls as a whole, I'm very glad there are so many different types. It is harder to run 3-5 different types of gnolls as a DM, but it makes for a much more dynamic and interesting encounter if you can mix in these different groups.

Still need a Gnoll caster, because someone has to be doing these dark rituals and calling upon demonic powers like we keep hearing about, but other than that the Gnolls have a large and comprehensive series of creatures to call upon.
 

Nistar

Villager
One last thing about the Banderhobb - I googled it, and found this blog post by 'Steve' which discusses how he came up with it. Apparently this Steve worked on the 5e MM and DMG as well, but I'm failing to establish his last name from the blog.
It would appear that he may be Steve Winter, one of the designers listed in the book. Sorry if you've already gotten your answer had mine handy and decided to look.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Oh man, even Witherlings deal more damage than the MM Gnoll, that's got to sting.
Anyway, uses for the Witherling include: Beefing up an encounter with a Pack Lord, Flesh Gnawer or Fang of Yeenoghu for low level parties. Most Gnolls don't do so well on their own, and Witherlings can logistically fit everywhere do to the fact they don't have to eat or sleep.

As for who performs the rituals? I would assume it's the Fang of Yeenough, they already have some kind of ritualistic power to turn Hyenas into Gnolls, pilling on the other rituals gives them some spice compared to their new contemporaries.

Now I would like to take a bit of time to talk about what other things you can find in a gnoll warband, for those of you who still need something else.

Hyenas: Well obviously, but it is worth noting that Hyenas have a 4 month gestation period, no dedicated mating season, reach maturity after 2 years. And most importantly, a Fang of Yeenoghu can press gang these beasts into a proper Gnoll over the span of a meal. A few cackles of Hyenas attached to a War Band over the course of a year or two will lead to an explosive growth in the Gnoll population.
*Barlgura: Big Demon Gorillas with telepathy, some minor spellcasting, and the ability to jump around the battlefield. Good for toppling a well fortified wall or gate with a rare bit of subterfuge.
Dretch: A small stinky Demon. Low CR, useful if you just want some demons around for reasons but don't want to commit to anything bigger or more important.
Ghouls: Undead flesh eaters with paralysis touch. An excellent partner for a pack of Flesh Gnawers.
*Hezerou: A Bigger Smellier Demon. High CR and Lots of Resistances including magic. Great if you plan on the warband fighting some casters.
Manes: The weakest of demon-like things. Basically there to show what happens to a soul that goes to the Abyss, but you could use them as a large mass of minion flesh between the PC's and a key target.
Trolls: They are bit sacks of HP that regenerate, good for roadblock. And if you want some complexity and levity you can also use the Loathsome Limbs Variant.
*: These Demons can also summon more Demons if they need backup, or if you are just being nasty.

Additionally, you can add cultist of any humanoid type, though Orcs and Humans are the most likely. Just remember they have to act like a Gnoll (including cannibalism) to fit in, or else they will be consumed.
Cult Fanatics add some lower level spellcasting options.
Warlock of the Fiend (in Volo's Guide no less) Is a much more potent spellcaster, and can serve as an alternate leader for a warband, a much more dangerous type of leader who can think and eat at the same time.
Champions and Warlords (Volo's again) fit the bill for extremely powerful warriors who happen to throw their chips in with Yeenough, and are also likely to be tactical leaders.
 
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Plus you can give those NPC statblocks the Rampage trait, and call them Gnolls.

I agree that the variety of types is really good for Gnolls - easy to build encounters with complex tactics for the players, but without too much complexity for the DM to actually run.


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In general, it seems that people were pretty happy with the contents of Volo’s Guide to Monsters. One exception, however, is the humble (and obscure) Grungs, who earned some ire. It is noteworthy that they made it in over somewhat better known critters like the Phaerimm. The designers apparently all had some ‘personal choices’ for the contents, and the Grungs were picked as an one, so we cannot blame their inclusion on anything more than one man’s madness; but now that we have them, let’s see what we can do with them.



The Grungs get another fairly static image - three standing side by side, pointing and posing in different directions - but I quite like it. There is a sticky quality to their skin, and the markings are pretty interesting. They do remind me of 90s computer games, though; stuff like Lemmings, Settlers, and that weird one with the aliens living in the space ship that you had to guide through life.

The Grung entry puts a lot of effort into keeping these guys distinct from Bullywugs and Kua-Toa, their nearest rivals for squishy amphibian evil humanoids. With the arrival of the Grungs and Fire Newts, that is a surprisingly competitive niche. Anyway, the Grungs are a caste-based society, with them being born into one of several roles in the tribe, and they usually stick there; interestingly, however, they can advance up the ranks if they are sufficiently impressive, through ‘herbal tonics and ritual magic’, which I am choosing to interpret as a mixture between homeopathic medicine and the Plasmids from Bioshock. This is one of those details that might be tough to make use of - your players won’t likely care about the colours of their enemies that much, nor social mobility issues - but if your storyline allows for dialogue between the group and the Grungs, it might come out as a very compelling element. I’ve found that players can take a real shine to talkative and amusing members of even the most repellent races, and cheerfully sponsor them, so you might find that your group latch onto the idea of their favourite Grung NPC becoming a higher caste through their intermediation.

The Grung are based on frogs - as opposed to the toads that Bullywugs take after - and this means that they don’t have a tongue theme but instead a poison one. I guess that sounds right? I’ll be honest with you guys - I’m a city boy, this animal stuff is all pretty esoteric to me. I do have vague memories of David Attenborough talking about rainforest poisonous frogs, so I’m willing to believe Wizards on this issue. Amazingly, the Monster Manual actually has separate statblocks for ‘Giant Frog’ and ‘Giant Toad’, so the Grungs do have an appropriate pet, albeit one that is pretty weak at CR 1/4. On the subject of pets, we also learn that Grungs are dutiful in their adherence to the Lawful Evil Race Guidelines and keep slaves, using their toxins to keep them lethargic. That titbit - and the fact that it takes powerful magic to restore a slave’s mind if this has gone on too long - seems like a solid plot hook.

The Grungs live in rainforests and tropical jungles, not a terrain that has been explored in the adventures thus far [1], so the arrival of the Grungs (as well as the Girallon and Yuan-Ti variants) would seem to suggest that they are giving DMs and their writers the tools to do so. I don’t know if I want to say we’ll definitely get a jungle adventure just because these guys are here, but a chapter in an AP would definitely not surprise me.

There are three statblocks given for the Grungs - Grung, Grung Elite Warrior, and Grung Wildling. That matches up with the castes, but not very nicely - we are told to use Grung for green, blue and purple castes, Grung Elite Warrior for the top castes of orange and gold, and Grung Wildling for the priestly red caste. I feel that there is definitely some room to expand these out a bit, but likely we’ll only get one more (a named NPC gold caste member) if a tribe turns up in an adventure. All three statblocks include poison damage in their attacks and can inflict poisoned condition through grappling. In other words, Dwarven characters will love these guys. They can also breathe underwater and jump really far, neither of which are what I’d call powerful abilities. The Grung is CR 1/4, and about as unexciting as you’d think. They’re only equipped with daggers in the statblock, which I think are distinctly un-jungly weapons - a blowpipe would have been my choice. The Elite Warrior is CR 2, a pretty hefty upgrade, but their statblock doesn’t really justify it at first glance. Their hit points and AC seem average; they make only the one weapon attack, and that for the same damage as the basic Grung. The saving grace is their Mesmerizing Chirr ability, a name which pleases me greatly, and which can inflict the stunned condition. Likely they lost the second attack due to how potent this could be - there is no immunity if you pass, so they can absolutely spam this until the party is crippled. You should definitely use this to shut down the front line of the party, and allow the weaker Grungs to make their mark. Finally, the Wildling is a CR 1 spellcaster - specified as a 9th level Ranger, oddly - and it can toss out some aiding spells like Cure Wounds, Spike Growth and Plant Growth. In combination with their skills - Survival, Stealth, Perception - these guys should be used less like High Priests and more like Patrol Leaders. Disappointingly, that leaves us with no ‘Boss Profile’ for the Grungs, and they don’t strike me as guys that will remain very interesting for a wide range of levels.

Finally, we get a Poisons table, which expands the Poisoned condition to have additional effects, depending on the caste of the Grung. It’s really fun, with stuff like ‘you are frightened of your allies’ and ‘you must immerse yourself in mud or water, and will take your action to do so’. I’d absolutely use this, as it gives a lot more combat character to the Grungs in my opinion.

What do I think of them? They are fun, but I think that we just don’t get enough - information, images, allies and leaders, whatever - to satisfy me. Perhaps I've just been spoiled by the extensive description given in Volo's and the APs to other groups, but these guys feel like they are half of an idea.

[1] Though, to be fair, ‘Mountains’, ‘Islands’ and ‘Arctic’ are the same. Mainly green fields in the adventures so far!
 

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