5E Let's Read: Volo's Monsters

Bitbrain

Adventurer
It seems to me that the Iron Shadow Hobgoblin is an excuse to let the monks in a party announce to the vanquished bad guys that "my Kung-fu is stronger than yours!".
 
One complaint that you might hear from your Cleric players is that there are not enough Celestials for them to summon. The Ki-Rin is sadly way too powerful to really help in that regard, but it is an interesting addition to the game anyway.



The art in Volo’s for the Ki-Rin is pretty odd. It’s very eye-catching, and dominates the page that it is on (thanks to lots of white space and the shiny colours) but it doesn’t impress all that much. It’s okay, don’t get me wrong, but just not my favourite by a long shot.

The Ki-Rin gets one of the longest entries in the book, at two pages, and it fills a lot of that space with a description of how they fit into the world. I know that other things in the game - Kenku, Oni, etc - are Asian themed monsters, but the Ki-Rin feels the least well integrated of any of them. Perhaps because the name is the most obviously foreign of the three? Either way, I’m not that big a fan of it. They operate as something like a cross between a Unicorn (horned horse protector of a place with magical powers) and an Angel (flying messenger spirit of a god). I’m a big fan of the Unicorn, having used them from time to time and found them a really useful NPC to be able to draw up, and the Ki-Rin being a bigger flying version isn’t really justifying itself to me. I suppose that you could have some fun stuff with the players interacting with the ‘forces of heaven’ in their plane, so Unicorns, Angels and Ki-Rin, and then probably it will stand out nicely from the other two, but when needing a symbol of Good's involvement in the fight, I think that I’d find myself reaching for a Deva every time.

They have a tendency to gather followers and use their lairs as shrines and monastic retreats. That is probably a nice place for a Hermit to have discovered his Secret, or for an Acolyte to have learned his religion, letting you use this as an in-built NPC that the players can seek out at their own pace.

This is one of the things that you’re not really meant to fight. Regardless, it has a boss profile, with Legendary Resistance, 18th-level Cleric spellcasting that focuses on healing not harming, three attacks a turn for decent if underwhelming damage, and Legendary Actions. I think that this profile is designed to fight alongside the players, healing them and not overshadowing them in the damage department. If you wanted to hurt players, then having it just fly overhead and cast Sacred Flame from maximum range is probably about as good as it’ll get.
 

Bitbrain

Adventurer
Um . . . from what I understand of Ki-Rin in Chinese folklore, they are creatures of heaven so pure and good that their feet never touch the ground, for fear of harming even the tiniest of natural life forms.

Ideally, the party would fight alongside this creature.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
The ki-rin is a rather underwhelming opponent, especially considering some of them are actually supposed to fight evil while worshiping Torm. The most devastating thing it can do is plane shift an attacker away to somewhere else in the multiverse. As a plot healer though, they can do anything you would need a healer to do. Except re-attach an arm, for some reason you have to be dead before they can fix that. Good enough to quest for, if some heavy duty clerical assistance is needed by the PC's.

If you have an evil group that needs to dispose of such a creature, keep in mind it should be guarded, typically by monks, and a few other celestial creatures. You could also consider swapping some spells out, but most of the good cleric spells involve things like summoning someone else to fight for you. Consider instead, pilfering from the Paladin's or Druid's spell list. Spiritual Weapon and Bless are also good options.

Realistically though, the ki-rin is a force multiplier in combat. The main tactic of the beast is to keep it's minions buffed and healed, while the PC's try desperately to kill it before they end up defeated themselves. The ki-rin has very formidable defensive options for this style of encounter, including Sanctuary if need be. And swapping into spells like Mass Heal and Revivify will cause the PC's to pull their hair out. Although it will be an extremely frustrating war of attrition for the PC's, it will be a memorable boss fight for sure.
 
I think it is the curse of the odd number editions that, outside of the Solar and maybe the Planetar, celestials are better support than combat. Conjure celestial is consistent with this: you aren't getting a really tough critter for a 7th level spell (and in theory you are pretty far behind, combatwise, using a 9th level spell for a CR 5 critter, although since we don't have any CR 9 elementals or fey (and not much in the way of CR 9 beasts), it is hard to compare to conjure elemental or conjure fey as a 9th level spell). Of course the celestials you get are chock full of utility/support so CC is still a really good spell. Likewise, I think they are trying to keep DM's from unintentionally making things too easy with planar ally...... I am not a big fan of conjure monster I-IX giving you 8 monsters per level (all good until you get MMII and "I wish I could summon one of them" kicks in), but at least it gave us some formidable celestials.

The long and the short of that is that the ki-rin is consistent with celestials in 5e, and that is probably how things will be until we get a Planescape AP (and maybe even then). The murderhoboes wandering around the Upper Planes are pretty safe until they run into a monstrosity (like a sphinx or naga), a good dragon, or worse yet said monstrosity/dragon hanging out with a celestial that can support them (somebody zap the unicorn before he heals the sphinx again).

{For the record, 2e had tougher celestials because they needed something to fill in Planescape, and in 4e, the angels were trying to kill you right along with the devils and demons.}
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
I'll agree Ki-Rin aren't big combat creatures, unless you start swapping spells. Essentially though, they are an 18th level cleric, so any cleric spell tricks you can think of this thing can pull off. It just needs to know what's coming.

One cool way to use them would be to deal with a terrible disease. Something magical and nearly impossible to cure. Let's say the Queen has been inflicted with a deadly disease that will kill her, and the only cure is to eat the fruit of a fairy tree that grows by a moonlit waterfall in the mountains. The journey would take too long, and the disease will claim her, but Curses and Diseases are suppressed within a Ki-Rin's lair. If you can get her there, she can be maintained until the cure is found.

On a combat level, that ability is amazing as well, I just realized. Any evil party trying to track and kill a Ki-Rin has all their curses, disease spells, and poison spells neutralized. Which could be bad news for certain types of parties.
 
I do believe that the CR for the ki-rin is a bit low at CR 12; the 3e version was CR 18. As a powerful paragon for the forces of good, I think it should have been at least CR 15 or so. Granted, I'm not so annoyed by this as by two other lower-than-expected CRs that will come later in the book...

Going back to the hobgoblins a bit, I do love what 5e has done by giving us a good amount variants for the common low-level humanoids (other than the poor goblins, who seem a bit left out on this subject). It definitely makes planning encounters/campaigns revolving around such creatures both fun and interesting. My only quibble with hobgoblins is that the flavor text in both the MM and VGtM makes me wonder where all the great hobgoblin military dictatorships are at. We do have a few scattered around various settings (in Eberron, and along the Slave Coast in Greyhawk to a point), but one would expect there to be a lot more threatening civilized lands in many settings given how they are portrayed. I know that I've come up with some really interesting homebrew ideas concerning hobgoblin lands...
 
The Kobolds are a bit of a weird race to me - the game seems to alternate wildly between treating them as comedy fodder and wanting you to respect them as dangerous low-level foes. Volo’s gives some space in chapter one to them, which focuses on explaining how their society functions, and how they view outsiders and Dragons, but which also has mainly humorous images, which I think shows this schizophrenic view at work. This is on top of text that tries to make you feel sorry for them, while not really explaining their Evil status. Meanwhile, we get three new profiles here, the first of which is the Kobold Dragonshield.



Standing in front of a dragon egg, and furiously gesturing with its spear, the art in the book is good. The stance seems oddly splayed, but otherwise I like it, especially with the no-frills quality of the Kobold’s equipment, which combines simple leather armour with a shield made from a Dragon’s scale.

So the Dragonshield is normally a Kobold that is promoted - and given magical power - by a Dragon to guard its eggs. However, sometimes they are born with the abilities from birth, meaning that you can use them just as upgrades to the Kobolds. These guys, like all Kobolds, are cowards deep down, and they combine that with a sensation that they don’t deserve their elevated position in the tribe. From this potent mix, the Dragonshields can summon the courage to die a good death, helping the tribe survive.

The Dragonshield has a great statblock. With a good amount of HP and two attacks a turn, they’ll represent as viable members of the combat, on top of typical Kobold Sunlight Sensitivity and Pack Tactics. On top of this, they get resistance to a relevant Draconic damage type, and the highlight of their profile, Heart of the Dragon. This ability allows the Dragonshield to roll against fear or paralysis on itself at the start of its turn, and if successful then it can strip that condition from all nearby Kobolds and let them attack with advantage. That is a really fun ability, the sort of thing that combines the flavour text with some simple but effective rules to be a memorable addition to the combat. I don’t know how often it’ll come up, but when it does then you’ll probably have a guy that provokes respect in the players.




Sent from my iPhone using EN World mobile app
 

Mecheon

Explorer
I've always been a bit disappointed in Celestials for D&D. They've always not really lived up to their potential. Now, if we got something like good ol' 82 White Chain Born in Emptiness Returns to Subdue Evil or 6 Juggernaut Star Scours the Universe from Kill Six Billion Demons, I'd probably be more happy with them

But, well, Juggernaut Star is an angel who rides a skeletal motorbike with wheels that are worryingly similar to Biblical depictions of angels, and basically incredibly amazingly metal

The Kirin is a thing, the problem is, well, its original myth was that it would never step on the ground, or that it could stand upon a single blade of grass which doesn't really work in terms of being a D&D critter too much. Honestly I would have played up the wind and flight parts rather than the celestial parts, but, well, that's D&D

Aren't kobolds a bit more doggish in this version, art-wise? Its interesting to see them mix a bit between the dominant 3e and 4e lizard types, and the older 1e and 2e dog ones.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
The evil of the Kobold is that of selfish and petty revenge. They live by a bully or be bullied "might makes me the boss" set of rules, and because they are so weak this philosophy often puts them at the bottom of their hierarchies. While they are at the bottom, they like the drag as many things down with them, which isn't much mind you, but misery loves company. It might seem very minor, but remember, kobolds are one of the few monsters that are actually weaker than a human. Something that puts them in a rather unique design space when most monsters, animals, and humanoids can outpace a human easily.

As for the Kobold Dragonshield: One of these guys riding a Guard Drake would make for a memorable boss fight for starting characters. The two monsters by themselves are just barely interesting, but the two of them combined into one unit gives the both of them lots of options. If they share a resistance, they can exploit it by flooding the encounter area with the energy type. The Guard Drakes's advanced mobility options combined with the ranged attacks of the Dragonshield allow the duo to pepper the party from a vast array of angles in order to often them up. Then they can move in for the kill against the softer back line targets, where both of the creatures attacks (and the Dragonshield's pack tactics) can be brought to bear. Which should be enough to take out anyone who isn't a raging barbarian. And don't forget to add in a bunch of lesser kobolds scampering about, throwing in their attacks while the PC's are distracted, then running away when they are confronted.

Alternatively, this guy can be used as a vanguard in a fight, distracting the PC's for a round or two while the rest of the kobolds use ranged attacks with advantage against the party. It's a suicide mission, but it will dramatically up the threat of the rest of the tribe for those few seconds it stays up.
 
Last edited:

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Aren't kobolds a bit more doggish in this version, art-wise? Its interesting to see them mix a bit between the dominant 3e and 4e lizard types, and the older 1e and 2e dog ones.
Yes! They have a doglike nose in this edition. Prior to 3rd edition, they were actually more like a rat than a dog.

Anyway, here is some art I got from the Dragon+ app. I love the junkyard-warrior theme they have going now, it's way better than the loincloth look.
 

Attachments

After being disappointed by the lack of kobold variants in the MM, the ones we got in VGtM were exactly what were needed. The next homebrew game I run will start with a kobold cave filled with these variants...

Sent from my VS987 using EN World mobile app
 

psychophipps

Villager
I see kobolds as a kind of D&D Viet Cong. They look like nothing to worry about, make the PCs run through a Funhouse of Pain, and hit suddenly when the PCs are distracted by traps only to fade away when counterattacked.

Sent from my XT1254 using EN World mobile app
 
Last edited:
Oddly for a race with low Intelligence, the Kobolds have a theme of being clever at making traps and inventions. The Kobold Inventor is a weaponised version of this tendency, being a guy who tosses random crap into the combat throughout. He’s a lot of fun, and I think will be a popular guy for DMs everywhere.



The Kobold Inventor has a really madcap picture. The fellow is laden down with so much random stuff that it is hard to see how he gets through any tunnels, and he also has one of the best Kobold pictures for seeing what their face looks like, with the lizard profile but dog nose. The Kobold himself has a clenched fist and a look of determination, but it might just be that he wants to sit down and is contemplating how much effort that will take.

The Kobolds don’t have access to advanced metallurgy or really good materials in general, so the Inventors are canny at creating wierd weapons from natural things like animals and slimes, as well as stuff stolen from other races. They might not last long - thanks to the crappy components, no doubt - but while they do they are ’surprisingly effective’. I think that you might get some mileage out of the idea of helping one of these guys get access to actually good components, especially if one of the characters in your group is a Kobold; that could then lead to the Inventor becoming a recurring quest-giver, who is forever asking for bizarre and improbable things for his next invention.

The Inventor has probably the most extreme disparity between CR and statblock size in the game, with over a whole column of text devoted to explaining all of the shenanigans that he can get up to. The majority of it looks about how you’d expect - Pack Tactics and Sunlight Sensitivity, plus the usual weapon options. However, the real meat here is the Weapon Invention rule, which is done out as a random roll like Beholders, a technique that I’m quite pleased with; it directs the DM to either pick or roll. I like that, since by numbering it the entry can save you time during the encounter - no need to read and scrutinise the entire entry every turn, just roll the dice and see what happens.

The individual options range from the simple - toss acid - to the bizarre - unleashing Skunks and Centipedes upon the enemy. A lot of them are liable to backfire upon the Inventor, which is exactly as it should be, and I think that many of them are definitely eye-catching. You’ll want to have some other stats on hand - you might have swarms of centipedes, rot grubs or wasps appear - but otherwise I think that most of these attack options are relatively easy to resolve.

So yeah, the Kobold Inventor. He’s fun, he’s low CR but likely to be sufficiently entertaining that you can toss him into a higher level encounter and still amuse your players, and he is likely to become the defining combat encounter for Kobolds in your campaign once he is used.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Kobold Inventors are really fun, one small change I would make is changing the range on their inventions from 5/20 to 10/30. Mostly so that they don't have to suffer from having to use a ranged attack in melee combat. Another small change I would make is letting them use their Scorpion on a Stick invention as a normal melee weapon, that thing is great.

Additionally, inventors can serve several purposes in combat:

Firstly, they are complex and interesting highlights in a fight with what are otherwise extremely simple swarm-fighters.

Secondly, they they can serve to illustrate combatants of desperation, stage-two kobolds to deploy after the warren knows that they are under siege by a significantly more powerful threat (such as the PC's). As a result, they conscript the entire tribe for total warfare, equipping them with anything and everything that could be potentially useful.

Thirdly, you could strip out their list of "inventions" for other humanoids in similar situations to use.

Speaking of their inventions, here are a few ideas I came up with after looking at their list.

Skin of Soapy Water: The Kobold flings a water skin filled with alchemically altered water. Ranged weapon attack, +4 to hit 5/20 range. Hit: A target coated in this water must make a DC 10 Dexterity check at the start of all their turns or drop any item they are holding. Miss: A puddle of soapy water covers a randomly determined 5' square of floor within 5' of the target. This area counts as difficult terrain, and any character moving though the space must make a DC 10 dexterity saving throw or fall prone. The water evaporates after 1 minute, or a character can spend an action to use a piece of unwet cloth to dry themselves or the area off.

Jar of Sticky Honey: The Kobold flings a jar filled with alchemically altered honey. Ranged weapon attack, +4 to hit 5/20 range. Hit: The target is coated in extremely sticky honey. The target requires an action to drop whatever they are holding, or free themselves from any item they touched in order to use. Additionally, the target has disadvantage on any escape checks they make to free themselves of a grapple. While they are coated in this honey, the character will be the preferred target of enemy beasts. Unless it puts the beast in undue danger, or the beast is instructed otherwise by a handler, the beast will alter their tactics to attack the character, and have advantage on all attacks against them. They honey dries out after 1 minute, or a character can spend an action to use a piece of wet cloth to clean themselves off.

Music Box: The kobold throws a small box into space within 20' of it, which then plays a hideously loud noise. All creatures within 10' of the box must make a DC 9 constitution save or be deafened for 1 minute.

Trained Weasel: The kobold releases a weasel into an unoccupied space within 5' of it. The weasel has normal stats for a creature of it's type, with the exception of being trained in Slight of Hand (+5 bonus). On it's turn, the weasel attempts to steal a small object from one of the kobold's enemies, and return the item to the kobold who released it. The weasel runs away from the battlefield after it has successfully stolen one item, or if the kobold who released it is no longer part of the battle, either from death or by running away.

Quick Drying Goop: The kobold flings a jar filled with with a strange brown liquid. Ranged weapon attack, +4 to hit 5/20 range. Hit: The target becomes restrained for 1 minute. A character restrained by this may attempt a DC 10 strength check to free themselves.

You can also add Ball Bearings, Caltrops, Hunting Traps, and various poisons to their list of weapons, if you are so inclined.
 
Last edited:
There is certainly scope to change the Inventor's list up, just like the variant Hag Coven spell lists in chapter one. In particular, the Inventor makes a great template for a more powerful version, like a mad Dwarven Tinkerer that unleashes all kinds of crazy things on the players using Legendary Actions...
 

psychophipps

Villager
Oh yeah, the Inventors are going to be tons o' giggles...Thanks for the great add-ons, Leatherhead!
My game I'm starting on Sunday is a reskinned Sunless Citadel set in a jungle with Kobolds and Grungs instead of Goblins/Hobgoblins. My basic Grungs will have blowguns and I'm swapping a 1/2 CR option like a basic Hobgoblin for MORE GRUNGS!

Sent from my XT1254 using EN World mobile app
 
The last of the Kobold entries, the Kobold Scale Sorcerer is another interesting entry, despite my slight apathy towards the race as a whole.



The Scale Sorceror gets a really odd image. At first glance, you’d think that it was a type of Winged Kobold, but upon a closer look the wings are made of canvas and wood; there is no mention of them in its statblock, which rather raises the question of why the image has them. I mean, it certainly makes sense for a Kobold Sorcerer to get wings, but it doesn’t actually have wings, and showing this image to your players will immediately raise questions about them. Combine this with a rather odd pose - it is standing facing to the left, but looking at the viewer - and I’m sadly not a fan of this artwork.

The Scale Sorcerers are kind of the spiritual leaders of their race. Since Kobolds have so few clerics - their god being imprisoned by the trolling of the Gnomish one - they have to rely on the Sorcerers to fill the role. In addition, if the tribe is associated with a Dragon, then this fellow will be the intermediary between the two, giving it the rather difficult job of relaying information to the Dragon - both good and bad… In both of these roles, the Sorcerer could easily function as a roleplaying encounter for the PCs, someone that they meet and talk to, perhaps before fighting breaks out, or perhaps instead of fighting. It might be very interesting to have the players need information from a tribe of Kobolds, and so be inclined to seek them out and communicate with the Scale Sorcerer leading them, which would let you use this race in a very different manner than normally seen.

The Scale Sorcerer is rather low level for the concept - a magically empowered leader of the tribe - and this is probably the biggest problem with their statblock. We get another perfectly good spellcaster statblock, this time at CR 1, with some potent spells such as Chromatic Orb, Charm Person and Scorching Ray, and we even get a Sorcery Points ability that sounds at first like it would be very interesting. However, since they are so low level, the Scale Sorcerer doesn’t actually get any interesting command abilities, nor do the sorcery points seem to add up to much of anything. It gets three points, and can spend one to drop the verbal and somatic components of a spell, or all three to give one person disadvantage against one spell. The latter effect is interesting, until you consider that only two of its spells even have saving throws, and neither one is particularly important. Meanwhile, the only usage of the former ability that I can think of at the moment is to use it with Charm Person to infiltrate a human settlement, which is fun enough I guess, but not really something that needs to be included in the profile for a primarily combat opponent.

Overall, I’d say that the Scale Sorcerer is disappointing, and that my disappointment stems from them just being too weak to be that interesting. My uncharitable side thinks of them as a spellcaster leader that cannot lead, and only barely cast. However, thinking about it a bit more, the Scale Sorcerer is probably designed specifically as an entry that serves as the boss of a party’s very first dungeon, like the Bugbear at the start of Lost Mine of Phandelver, and so my above complaints really won’t matter since he’ll be appropriately scary for a party of level one characters.
 

DeBasilisk42

Villager
Love this series of posts; thanks for the awesome breakdowns!

I actually really like the scale sorcerer with two small changes. When I ran him as a mini boss for a small level group I gave him quickened spell instead of subtle spell and treated the wings as a consumable item (made by the kobolds inventor) that gives the wearer a flight speed of 30ft for 1 round as a bonus action, like the cultists from RoT had. After one use it falls apart.

I had two other un worn wing sets stashed in the sorcerers room and the party halfling ranger took them for herself!
 

Advertisement

Top