5E Let's Read: Volo's Monsters

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Grung Wildlings being Red is a joke about the Power Rangers. At least it seems that way, as grung traditionally have Shamans for casters, which would be a Cleric or Druid in this edition. Also no mention of their War Chiefs being Female, which is odd.

But anyway, the Grung have three things going for them:
Their Climb Speed and Amphibious nature allow them to thrive in a 3d battle.
They are more interesting that Bullywugs. Only slightly so, because the strange poison effects, but it's still better than talking to toads.
The Multiple Stat blocks make them very easy to dissect (heh) into their racial attributes. Small Size, Favor Dex and Con, Climb Speed, Poison immunity, Ampibious, Poisonus Skin, and Mesmerizing Chirr for the Orange and Gold ones. In fact, there is oddly just enough information to make a PC race

I'm thinking take those attributes, and apply them to the NPC stat blocks in the appendixes. The Martial Arts Adept (from Volo's), in particular synergizes well with their Poisonus skin. Then take the Druid for a proper spellcaster.

Thinking further upon it, totally go for the monk angle, it synergizes well with the lawful evil tree-dwelling slavers, and makes them unique compared to other tribes you would find in the jungle.
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
I'm not sure what to think about Grungs, and I think part of it is they seem to go out of their way to not be used with a lot of other creatures.

I had a really interesting thought about a black market for Grung poison, a variety of NPCs from dangerous assassins to highly skilled pranksters who want to King to be croaking during an announcement speech or a noble lady to go wallowing in the mud. However, by RAW it doesn't work because Grung poison only lasts a minute before breaking down... something I don't think we've seen with any other poisonous creature.

I think I'm going to change that and have these guys turn to a jungle tribe that is earning all sorts of gold and slaves by trading their drugs and poisons to the outside world.

They are definelty more interesting as a neutral party the PCs are trying to negotiate with than as a combat encounter, because most groups above level 4 are going to have little trouble with them, barring any incredibly dangerous drugged critters they've got lying around...

Oooh, what if a tribe of Grungs selling poisons and drugs ends up being the servants of a Green Dragon. If poison wasn't so easy for the players to counter, that could lead to some fun times.
 
​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.
Spike Growth has some really interesting potential synergies with a race that has incredible leaping and climbing abilities and stealth. You can imagine a couple of Grungs surprising you with hurled daggers and then hopping off into the trees; PCs who go in Pursuit will run at full speed into (1) up to 16d4 of magical piercing damage from Spike Growth (also, difficult terrain), and (2) a bunch of hidden Grungs who start hurling poisoned daggers at you as soon as you're stuck in the middle of the spikey growth, (3) suddenly, all the plant life in the area grows huge (Plant Growth) and it now costs 4' of movement to move one foot. But the Grungs don't care because they're hopping around over your heads.

A Grung shaman who swaps Plant Growth out for Conjure Animals will also be quite aggravating for the PCs.
 
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psychophipps

Villager
Spike Growth has some really interesting potential synergies with a race that has incredibly leaping and climbing abilities and stealth. You can imagine a couple of Grungs surprising you with hurled daggers and then hopping off into the trees; PCs who go in Pursuit will run at full speed into (1) up to 16d4 of magical piercing damage from Spike Growth (also, difficult terrain), and (2) a bunch of hidden Grungs who start hurling poisoned daggers at you as soon as you're stuck in the middle of the spikey growth, (3) suddenly, all the plant life in the area grows huge (Plant Growth) and it now costs 4' of movement to move one foot. But the Grungs don't care because they're hopping around over your heads.

A Grung shaman who swaps Plant Growth out for Conjure Animals will also be quite aggravating for the PCs.
Since I know that you're down with it, I gleefully report that I shall be borrowing this one...
 
Honestly, the grungs are the only true "miss" in the entire book for me. We've already got the frog/toad people niche adequately covered, and if we need more give us either bullywug variants or update the grippli as it's much more an iconic and classic creature than the grungs are.

Of course, that being said, the fact that the grungs are my only serious issue (I do have minor quibbles here and there, but none of those are anywhere near the scale of a "serious issue") for the entire book just goes to show how good of a book it is overall!
 
Interesting thoughts on Spike Growth and the Poison. The real killer here is that the Grung don't have much in the way of plots or allies detailed; what creatures do they work with, what are their schemes? As it stands, they seem like guys who just live their LE lives in the rainforest, and your players might be forgiven for not bothering to hunt them down.

The Bullywugs got a lot of development (or, at least, an example of use) in Hoard, which showed how they live and interact with other races, so I guess that the Grungs would really benefit from the same.
 
The Guard Drake was first printed in Hoard of the Dragon Queen, where it turns up as part of the general draconic theme of the adventure. It helps with that goal, since actual dragons would have been pretty tough opponents for the first half of the adventure! The version we get here is the same, but we get some more detail, a new picture, and the sidebar giving colour options.



The art in Volo’s is quite nice. The beasties clearly are modelled on Komodo Dragons, yet have a lot more expression in their faces than their real-world kin. In addition, some good work has been done on the texture of their scales. I like that they showed such a dramatic difference between the two breeds, and it kind of makes me wish that they’d shown the other three colours. There is a picture of a Blue Guard Drake in Hoard, which is not the same as the one pictured here; judging from Google Images they may have chosen to do a Blue again because it looks cooler than the other colours.

These fellows are made through rituals (those things again) and require a willing Dragon to succeed. Basically, this is what happens when humanoids and evil Dragons work together. I think that it is a shame they are explicitly only for Evil dragons; it is fun to imagine some of these as servants of a Silver Dragon or something. Anyway, I think that the main benefit they offer a plot is a way to have ‘dragons’ that the players can fight, without actually having them fight a Dragon, who are a monster that really benefits from being used sparingly. It is helped in this regard by the fact that the Guard Drake looks cool as hell, albeit it is a lot smaller than you’d think at Medium size. They are, basically, animals, but smart enough to do guard duty, so they are perfect as the outer encounters in a Dragon’s lair, used - like in Hoard - to give a draconic flavour. You can also have some fun ideas with these - imagine the players finding a small town in the mountains, ruled over by Kobolds riding Guard Drakes; attacking these invokes the anger of the Dragon who claims the town as part of its territory.

One interesting wrinkle is the potential for the Drake to hatch in the presence of players, and decide that one of them is its owner. Players like pets, and a powerful, cool-looking, wingless dragon is the sort of thing that might really entertain your players. It’s definitely worth arranging the option in your campaign, and letting the players get one, if you are willing to put up with the added combat complication. It would be a lot of fun, I think, to have a Guard Drake protecting the party airship or whatever.

In combat, the Guard Drake is pretty simple. It attacks twice, it moves, lives and dies about as much as you’d expect for a low level creature, and it doesn’t do much of any excitement. It is pretty emblematic of D&D’s ‘simple monster’ school of thought; there is a thread on Ogres at the moment which touches upon why some people (dis)like that. I didn’t read the thread much, but you might like to. There is, however, a sidebar that adds a couple minor rules to each colour; it gives each a new movement option (climbing, swimming, burrowing) and resistance to a relevant damage type. This is not going to make them much more complex in play, but it will let them appear authentically as descended from the dragon. It is good that they added this, since it goes a long way to making the Drake seem more draconic - its statblock looks a lot like an upscaled Dog, otherwise.
 
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Chaosmancer

Villager
It wouldn't take much to reflavor these into being Metallic Drakes as well. The only 2 sticking points is the fresh meat (I doubt they'd be much against killing a boar or something, but solely for the purpose of creating a drake is a little grey morality wise) and the fact that the drake is like a mule, and in no way under any circumstances can the drake be used to create more drakes.

A pragmatic or desperate enough Metallic dragon could feel no qualms about creating these. Perhaps to help supplement a border guard against a far more dangerous enemy.

One thing I really want to do with these things breaks all the rules, but I really want an NPC order of Beastmaster Rangers that specialize in partnering with Guard Drakes. The visual is cool, and having an opponent of the players be this ranger with a small dragon at his side would certainly be memorable. Problem is I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with it as a player option, and sometimes players get upset if the enemy can do a cool thing that they can't do.

The ritual that creates them could also be used to create other creatures, if the DM needs an excuses for Draconians, spider dragons (why not) or some horrific monstrosity, they just need to say the Dragon scales and magic enhance the forms of the creature which was used as the raw material, and just start throwing random things into the pot.


Also, I know really want to stat up Dragon Spiders... just because that is too weird not to use at some point
 

dave2008

Hero
How different are Draconians in rules? I remember that they explode on death or something, but what about in life?


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Actually they each had a different death mechanic I believe, with some turning to stone so quick your weapon would get stuck in it. In life, the are possessed by demon spirits, are always evil, and each type something unique (can't remember most of them), but otherwise not much different than a dragonborn I would think.
 
Interesting. For 5e rules, would a sidebar with the death effects, and making them Fiends for the purpose of turning and detection, do the trick? Because if so, one imagines they'll turn up sooner or later


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dave2008

Hero
Interesting. For 5e rules, would a sidebar with the death effects, and making them Fiends for the purpose of turning and detection, do the trick? Because if so, one imagines they'll turn up sooner or later


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Possibly, but it was more than that. Going from 20yr old memories of the original novels, artwork, and to lesser extent the AP: the auraks (gold dragon draconians) were magic users, the sivaks (silver dragon draconians) were big (possibly large size) fighters with great swords, one (bozak maybe>) had a more rogue like slant. So it was more than just death mechanics, at least initially.
 

flametitan

Explorer
Possibly, but it was more than that. Going from 20yr old memories of the original novels, artwork, and to lesser extent the AP: the auraks (gold dragon draconians) were magic users, the sivaks (silver dragon draconians) were big (possibly large size) fighters with great swords, one (bozak maybe>) had a more rogue like slant. So it was more than just death mechanics, at least initially.
And that can be reflected with class choice, couldn't it?
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
These fellows are made through rituals (those things again) and require a willing Dragon to succeed.
I like rituals, they are great both in gameplay use and narrative use for all those "practical" magic effects that aren't tied to combat or adventuring.

Anyway, back on topic:
Normal Guard drakes are kind of boring, fortunately the variant rules make them just interesting enough to be really great.

For starters, I can see Guard Drakes being used as nursemaids for newly hatched dragon Wyrmlings. Older dragons are really big, meaning they can't get into all the nooks and crannies of their caves, and often have important things to do like terrorize the countryside amassing wealth, land, and food. Guard drakes are a perfect solution for them, as guard drakes are loyal as dogs, resistant to their element, small enough to go basically everywhere, and have advanced movement capabilities so they can get into hidden hatcheries. Additionally, they can serve as formidable backup should the Wyrmlings be attacked while mom is out, and presumably will stick around for the dragons Young stage of life, giving them a much needed leg up during their most vulnerable stages of life.

Secondly, give these things to kobolds. A kobold tribe will make by far and wide the most use of such a beast. A big meaty unit in a horde of weak ones is always a nice way to shake things up. More importantly, kobolds can ride them into battle (small size working in their favor), using their advanced moment to get into advantageous positions and rain down spells, or crossbow bolts, or bizare contraptions. Or they can be loaded with alchemical bombs and told to charge the PC's in order to soften them up for the rest of the tribe. White and Blue Guard drakes may be the most useful for kobolds, as they can help dig tunnels in the middle of combat, allowing for some advanced forms of battlefield control.

Can you all tell what creature I am chomping at the bit for yet? :p
 
I rather like the race, and they are easily one of the best bits of the Dragonlance setting (a better addition to D&D than kender, for sure)
That's.... really not a high bar.

The Guard Drakes in Hoard were indeed used to guard Dragon eggs, though not ones in possession of a Dragon itself.
 

dave2008

Hero
And that can be reflected with class choice, couldn't it?
Yes, it was just that it wasn't a choice for the draconians, it was what they are, part of their species (of course they are not a true "species"). You could do it different to make them playable, it just wouldn't feel right to me personally
 
Volo’s added a couple of new Hags, rounding out the triummulieriate of Sea, Green and Night with the Annis and Bheur. Today we are looking at the Annis Hag.



The art in the book gives the impression that the Annis Hag is fairly small, simply because the image is smaller than that of the Guard Drake opposite. In fact, the Annis is Large, and only the human skulls give a clue of that. I think that this image is actually really interesting, but it is just so small that it is hard to make out the details and really appreciate it. The bundle of twigs and the random collection of stuff contained it is is a really fun element, giving a mad collector vibe.

At the moment, I’m listening to audiobooks a lot while painting some Warhammer models, and I’ve gotten onto Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett, so this creature is very appropriate to my mood. The Hag is by far the largest of their kind, and has a lot of distinctly physical attacks, in comparison to the more magical focus of the others. This is part of an overall theme which emphasises physicality, with the Hag getting Crushing Hug as an ability, and flavour text that mentions them as a matriarch for Ogres and Trolls.

Thanks to chapter one, all of the Hags are exceptionally high in the ‘plot options’ stakes, and it is safe to say that there is a lot of ways to use them. The Annis Hag gets even more options here, with the ‘Iron Tokens’ that they can give out, especially to children, and use to communicate. The basic plot that we see suggested here is as follows. There is a village, which is full of fear thanks to grisly trophies left by the Annis around the edges of the forest. A child is playing merry hell, doing evil acts, in a distinct change of character. When the players investigate, they find the token, and then try to track down the Hag. When they do so, they find her surrounded by Trolls and whatnot, for a much more brutal fight than they might have expected from a Hag. That is all good, and I like that it is laid out for the DM like this, without being overbearing.

The Annis is quite an odd duck in combat. It is big, tough, well defended, and has lots of resistances. It gets a couple of spells, but they are really not bread & butter combat ones. Instead, she focuses on melee attacks, doing either a very potent but simple multi-attack routine, or a rather terrifying Crushing Hug that will let the Hag turn someone into jam on her subsequent turns. The Hug is only a single dice roll to activate, and not that hard to escape, but notably doesn’t require the Hag to roll any dice to keep it going, so I can see it being very potent. However, the Hag has no answer to ranged attacks, really, other than rushing towards them, and I think that some kind of ‘Throw Iron Token’ ability might have been fun.

I suspect that the Annis is designed explicitly as the ‘simple Hag’, there to let the DM use a ‘witch’ without navigating a great big spell list. She is close to being boring, thanks to this simplicity, but I think that the roleplaying side of such an adventure will keep the interest levels high; the use of Trolls and Ogres I think is part of this, since they are also simple monsters, but pretty cool despite that. Definitely a victory of theme over rules. I think that in Baldur’s Gate 2, when claiming the castle, you had to fight your way into a giant bramble patch which was home to a tribe of Trolls; I’m thinking that recycling that idea with an Annis Hag at the centre would be really swell.
 

Bitbrain

Adventurer
The artwork for the Annis Hag might just be my favorite in the entire Volo's Guide. I love the weird purple-dark gray skin tone.

I'm also thinking that the Annis Hag in volo's might have been influenced just a little bit by Beowulf.
Or more accurately, Grendel's mother.
 

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