5E Let's Read: Volo's Monsters

Love this series of posts; thanks for the awesome breakdowns!
No worries, glad that you're enjoying them!

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!
I like the usable items idea, and it could definitely be used for laughs or pathos, depending on how you depict the Sorcerer in relation to its draconic overlord. The Quickened spell is definitely way more interesting than Subtle spell, but would probably change its CR calculation; others would know more than me on that front. Either way, dual firebolt would be impressive and let the players work out what 'kind of caster' they were facing, something that I've noticed they like doing. The moment that an enemy uses Evasion or Action Surge, players nod knowingly. :)
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
The Scale Sorcerer fills the same role in combat as a Dragonblood sorcerer does in their party: Heavy artillery. That itself is not a problem, it's a good role for something to have in the kobold tribe. It also communicates to whatever the tribe is serving on their behalf, employing it's higher-than-the-average-kobold's charisma in order to gain favor.

However, I don't really like the way they made the Scale Sorcerer.

Don't get me wrong, Kobolds have been tied to sorcerers for some time now, and it is nice to finally see a stat block for any kind of sorcerer, but the Scale Sorcerer lacks synergy and transparency within it's mechanics.

Firstly, it should probably have some social skills to reflect the fact it's the mouthpiece of the tribe. Granted, social skills aren't exactly the most useful thing for a monster to have when dealing with a PC, but it would be nice and it would give a nice challenge to the party face in what would otherwise be a battlefield.

Secondly, it's sorcerer powers are all messed up. Subtle Spell would be totally amazing if they had access to Silence, but they don't. Instead they must rely on their virtually non-existent stealth score in order to set up some kind of ambush. But none of their spells play into using such a tactic, even Charm Person basically requires the target to know that the Scale Sorcerer is around. Likewise, only two of their spells benefit from Heightened Spell: Charm Person, and Poison Spray.Lets be real here, Charm Person isn't exactly some massive coup for the Scale Sorcerer. At best you are getting one person from the party attacking you to stop attacking you for a bit, and it's hard to make work because if you are fighting that gives the target advantage (which Heightened Spell negates).

As for what does work:
Natural Armor bonus, that's good.
Pack Tactics combines well with most of the spell selection.
Expeditious Retreat is kind of fitting for a Kobold.

Here is what I suggest changing:

Proficiencies:
Deception, Insight.
This allows the Kobold to engage in a war of words.

Metamagic options:
Twinned Spell
Quickened Spell
Throwing down multiple spells a turn is a blatantly obvious sorcerer calling card for the PC's to pick up on. More so than the default two options by a mile. Yeah, it does get a bit more dangerous than a CR 1 creature then, so throw on the Shield spell and call it an even CR2.

Speaking of swapping out spells, I would actually advise against doing it willy-nilly.

Scorching Ray combined with Pack Tactics is a very devastating combination, that isn't replicated by any other elemental spell of that level. Consider instead changing the spell's damage into the elemental type that you need. Chromatic Orb can be turned into any elemental type, and benefits from Pack Tactics, so just keep it (with one or two possible exceptions I will list below).

That said, there are some nice spell-swaps you can do.

Cantrips:
Shocking Grasp: Electric damage melee spell attack, benefits from Pack Tactics, and lets the Scale Sorcerer get away from whatever brutish PC engaged them in melee combat.
Ray of Frost: Ditto the Pack Tactics benefit, but ranged cold damage, and has a built in speed reduction, which makes it harder to get out of the pack or into cover.

Other elemental types don't get near as much synergy, due to requireing saving throws. Consider instead making a new spell for that element if you really want to hammer in an elemental theme.


Level 1:
Shield: This combined with the metamagic changes should make the Scale Sorcerer a solid cr2. Also it prevents them from becoming pincushions during the first round of combat.
Absorb Elements: The other defensive reaction spell from EEPC. Unfortunately the Scale Sorcerer is a bit slim on level one spells known, so it should stick to one or the other (the one your party will have the most trouble with)
Ice Knife: From EEPC. If you want some cold damage, this one give you that, with an attack that benefits from Pack Tactics, and also does some AoE damage. Also benefits from Twinned Spell despite having an AoE component.
Catapult: From EEPC again. Deals the same damage as Chromatic Orb (except bludgeoning), also an attack roll, extreme range, can be twinned and boosted with the pack. But the real draw of this spell is the fact you can fling any one of the numerous traps or alchemical items that kobolds tend to horde in their warrens. Flasks of Oil, Alchemist Fire, Acid, bag of Caltrops, etc. All the little things allow this spell, and thus kobolds in general, really shine.
 
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We once again meet one of the Fey, as the Korred hooves it into view, his oddly powerful hair swishing around him. I kind of love these guys, but dang they are weird.



The image in Volo’s is very subdued in its palette, which is the most striking thing about it. I like the enigmatic, alien expression on the Korred’s face, and the rather strange proportions, but I’m not sure about the hair, which looks a lot like electrical wiring.

The Korred are a strange bunch. From the flavour text, we learn that they come in tribes, who like to do ceremonial dances, and which live in ‘the depths of the Material Plane’, which apparently means underground. They are also sought after by the Dwarves and others who seek wealth underground. So we get another Fey, but one that seems to live in the place where all the other Fey don’t. Interesting. Fey culture is apparently very dispersed! The Korred have a strong connection with the earth, including the ability to summon various elementals and a burrowing speed, and this connection is most interestingly expressed in how their stats change when standing on it. The flavour text also tells us two other things: that Korreds can sense anything vaguely related to stone, meaning that they can fine gems easily and secret doors made of stone are totally transparent to them, and that their hair is magical and conforms to the material used to cut it.

The ability to sense secret doors is something that I think we can work with. Imagine that the players in your game are totally stumped by a dungeon - they just cannot find the way to the treasure vault! So they leave dispirited, only to learn of a Korred that can unerringly find the door. Or perhaps one could become the bane of the banks in a city, wriggling its way into all of their treasure vault, and the players are tasked with working out what is going on. Meanwhile, the magical hair is used to justify an interestingly weird ability, and also has some story potential, as illustrated by Volo’s comment on a merchant using shears of gold. So far I’ve not mentioned the post-it notes from Elminister and Volo, since I’ve not been that impressed with them; however, I must say that I found Volo’s comment on the Korred great, if only for the phrase “from the swallow to the sitter”. I’ll have to remember that one for a combat description! I think that the Korred’s magical hair is the kind of thing that will reward a creative imagination, especially if you are keen on visually interesting descriptions: the Korred could sneak up on a player and try to strangle them in their sleep with a hair made from glass, all horrible sharp angles and whatnot.

The Korred gets a surprisingly powerful statblock, and rather unusually is more potent with its ranged attacks than in melee. There are very few ‘ranged’ monsters in the game; I can only think of Yuan-Ti Malisons as another example at the moment, but I have had a lot to drink at the time of writing. Anyway, the Korred gets a few solid tricks. It can toss rocks or swing a greatclub, both of which get a substantial damage boost when it is touching the ground. I like this, firstly because it reminds me of how Herakles once won a fight by lifting his opponent off of the ground, after being told that he was invulnerable while touching it; also, it means that the Telekinesis spell might get some solid results for being used by clever players. As I’ve mentioned, the rocks are the stronger of the two, which suits the ability of the Korred to summon elemental creatures to be the frontline for it. They also get some non-combat spells to suit their stone theme, but one odd choice in the spell list is Otto’s Irresistable Dance, which is an amazingly powerful 6th level spell, giving no save against a save-or-suck effect. Very nasty to do that with one Korred, while another one (or its summoned Galeb Duhr) takes advantage.

Finally, we get the Command Hair ability, which is a Bonus Action for the Korred; it lets them restrain (not grapple, the weaker of the two) targets nearby, again allowing them to attack the victim more easily. The hair regains hit points while the Korred is alive, which is cute; I like how you can directly attack the hair, since doing that is a nice cinematic moment for someone. The Command Hair being a Bonus is really good, I think, since it gives the Korred a solid set of actions for its turn that will enable it to work as a potent ranged attacker, shutting down attempts to close into melee.

The Korred is a really interesting creature, and I do hope that a future book demonstrates their culture or an NPC version of one, since I think that they have a lot of potential. The combat abilities are strong and very cool, which combines with the story potential to make the Korred well worth using in your game.
 
A couple of korred could unleash a devastating surprise attack on a party. Have them meld into stone until the party passes by, then pop out. One uses Command Hair to entangle the fighter, another hits the rogue with Otto's irresistible dance. Next round, they both pop elementals, then spend the rest of combat flinging rocks while their elementals lay the smackdown. They can even use stone shape to set the terrain more to their advantage before the party even comes by.

Even more interesting, have a group of kobolds or evil dwarves bribe two korred to act as a flanking attack force while the kobolds or dwarves engage head-on. Just imagine the scale sorcerer providing artillery support for the above ambush.
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
Another very interesting thing is that their command hair is used on Iron Rope, made from hair they have already cut.

This implicitly seems to indicate the hair is still somewhat flexible even after being cut and transforming.

What if their rope for restraining people is made of glass, cutting and savaging the enemy while they are entangled? A Korred version of "sleepng with the fishes" where they wrap someone in their hair then cut it with stone shears, encasing the person in bands of rock, or steel.

As an NPC they need to get assistance from, what if the PCs have some rare mineral they need to make some sort of McGuffin out of, they need to convince the Korred to let them cut its hair so they can gather enough of the material.

Also, in rocky areas, with advantage they are going to be really good at hiding, and at-will commune with nature could make them incredibly capable trackers in cavern systems.

These guys are so useful in so many different ways.
 

MechaTarrasque

Adventurer
Don't get too excited by conjure elemental. Remember monsters have the same casting time as PC's, and conjure elemental takes a minute to cast. That isn't very useful when fighting PC's, but it is nice if your party has someone with conjure fey (and a 7th level spell slot) so you can conjure a korred and have him conjure an earth elemental if you know that a big fight is coming up shortly.
 
I think that Conjure Elemental thus will be a pre-cast. In other words, it is a reason to justify having the Korred hang around with some elemental mates.

There is certainly a lot of story potential with the hair turning into different things, and the Korred still being able to control it. What about a tribe of Korred that has some kind of powerful being (a Tarrasque, or whatever) chained up with their hair, using some kind of Astral Iron Clippers or whatever, but they need to keep renewing it. And then the BAD GUYS attack and kill the Korreds, weakening the bonds; the players find a wounded Korred in the hills, who begs them to help undo the damage that has been done.

A Korred could also be one of the carnival members, in place of the Snake Trick person.
 
Imagine the players having to defend a couple of korred for long enough for the korred to conjure elementals.

Like if the elementals are required to shut down a portal of some sort.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Firstly, I want to state for the record that the Korred confuses the heck out of me. Perhaps it's because of it's unfortunate placement between Kobolds and the Leucrotta. Perhaps it's because the Korred's hair has more paragraphs devoted to it than some creatures do. Perhaps it's because I stepped away from the thread for work and came back to everyone doing suggestions that I would have done.

But I'm mostly sure it's because the Korred is a small chaotic neutral ball of murder that is just begging to TPK a party for no good reason. This monster is complexity incarnate. It should not lose an even-keel fight on it's home turf. Woe to the DM who has a player summon one of these, because your plans are going to get wrecked.

Let us examine the combat cycle of the Korred, because you need to understand this absolute insanity. Say, for instance, a Korred gets mad at the PC's doing a mining operation near it's home.

The Long-con Pre-fight:
The Korred uses Commune with Nature to figure out absolutely everything it wants to know about it's potential targets. It can also gather allies should it be an option. A being that can grow gold (or whatever) out of it's head should be able to negotiate some form of payment for virtually any creature, especially the elemental or fey ones.
Using Stone shape and meld into stone, the Korred creates a battlefield of it's heart's desire. preferably in a cave below the ambush sight, so that the Korred can pull the rug out from under the targets of it's ire.
The Korred weaves several Hair-Ropes. (Note the stat block says it has at least one) I would recommend two, I guess, if you are at least trying to be fair.

Minutes before the fight:
The Korred summons a Galeb Dur.
The Galeb Dur sits on a shelf, and gets ready with two boulders nearby. Ideally the cave is shaped like a bowl for maximum rolling. And it will be because the Korred dictates it to be so.

The Ambush:
The Korred pulls causes the floor below some of the PCs to fall by removing a keystone from an arch or something. Ideally, not all of the PC's fall down, as this is a divide and conquer tactic.
The Galeb Dur Animates some Rocks.

Round One:
Korred causes a second cave in, which puts a bunch of rocks between members of the party, and uses one of it's Hair steel cable things to tie up one of the less agile members of the party that is on the working side of the cave in. Then the Korred moves up to the top of a stone pillar with 3/4ths cover in the cave (one of several), thanks to the 8 hour duration of Meld with Stone.
The Galeb Dur and it's Rock buddies Roll into the PC who is tied up by the metal hair. (This is the most inadvertently 80's sentence I have said this century.)

Round Two:
Korred Throws Rocks at the PC's, getting bonus damage for being on the ground, even if the ground is technically elevated. Uses another Bonus Action to get it's other rope of hair to hopefully tie up another member of the party.
Galeb Dur and the Boulder Brothers roll over the PC's some more.

Subsequent Rounds:
The Korred keeps using it's hair to tie up people, throws more rocks and ducks behind cover, melding to another stone-tower-pillar-snipers nest should it's current perch become uninhabitable.
The Galeb Dur will roll around until it either dies or gets unsummoned due to the Korred getting shot in the head (which is not likely due to several factors). The Korred will then use Otto's Irresistible Dance on a one of the PC's and continue throwing rocks down from sniper nests.

Endgame
If things go incredibly sour for the Korred, it just burrows away. Otherwise, rocks fall, everyone dies.

And that's a fight that features only the Korred and it's abilities.
 
I finally managed to track the mythological origin of korred down, and it explains everything about their design in Volo's.

Korred are British dwarf-trolls.
 
We get a blast from the past today, as the Leucrotta reminds us of the glory days of the Gnoll entries. We first discussed these guys in the context of the Gnoll warbands when we covered the Maw Demon and Shoosuva, so you might want to look back at that post to see how they fit into the wider Gnoll shenanigans.



The Leucrotta art in Volo’s is not the most attractive image in the world, but then the Leucrotta is not the most attractive animal in the world. It is a little plain though, and reminds me of the fairly simple art of second edition.

This is a surprisingly complex beast, for a horse-sized Gnoll companion. They are masters of torture, much more capable than the Gnolls of prolonging the misery before death, and they are a sort of entertainment for the Gnolls in this function. In addition, the Leucrotta are smarter than the Gnolls, and seem to operate as a ‘power behind the throne’ in what we might charitably describe as Gnoll society, advising the leaders of a given group. The Leucrottas are actually peers of Gnolls, being formed at the same time and the same way - Yeenoghu’s rampages and Hyenas - so I think that the two races are much closer in temperament and alliance than, say, Man and Horse. Yet the Leucrotta have another facet, namely their Mimicry ability - like Kenku, they are masters of imitating the noises of others, and even have deer-shaped hooves, which can be a big surprise for someone in your party who is using the survival skill to find their dinner. This makes the Leucrotta a solid option for an encounter while traveling, I think, since you can initially frame it as a ‘slice of life’ moment - showing the Ranger doing his thing - but rapidly develop it into a dangerous combat encounter.

The Leucrotta have some interesting abilities, and I think that we can frame them as Gnoll Rogues, albeit Large sized. They can run into combat, make a Bite and a Hooves attack, and then use Kicking Retreat to use the Disengage action as a bonus action, which is pretty potent on 50ft movement. This combines with a fairly low AC and fairly high HP to make them a solid option, probably a lot more interesting when used in pairs to harrass and annoy the players. They have the Rampage trait, so combine very nicely with Gnolls such as the Pack Lord or Flind, especially when you note that their Bite attack (which the Flind triggers) has triple critical damage, a subtle but fun little trait.



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Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
The Leucrotta is, a bit out of place all things considered, but I will get to that later.

They are a skirmisher type enemy, much like the Flesh Gnawer. Make good use of their mobility in order to exploit weakened targets the same way. Also, they can be ridden into battle by a medium or smaller member of the warband. This would seem like the best use for them, granting a Flind, Pact Lord, Fang of Yeenoghu, or Cultist leader their advanced movement. Or perhaps dragging along their own Ghoul in the hopes of paralyzing something to torture. An alternative is using them to set up an ambush, mimicking some humanoid victim in the hopes of luring more victims to them. Presumably identifying what racial voice to use based on smell. They are a monstrosity, a rather unique creature type in a Gnoll horde, which could be useful for foiling some wards. And they certainly have the brains for such work.

Oh, and if you can, make sure they taunt the PC's in combat somehow, mimicking a loved-ones voice should do the trick.

Now, as for why I think they are odd:

They are effectively the "face" of the Gnoll Horde. Yes, that's right, a foul-smelling, oozing, sadistic, ugly, deer-badger-hyena, is the member of the Gnoll horde you are most likely to talk to. And perhaps the only one who won't eat you on sight.

Additionally, they are primed for being in a position of leadership, due to outsmarting the majority of the warband. Unfortunately, they are still dumber than the average commoner, and have had a bit of a brain drain compared to previous editions.

Their Rampage is based on it's Hooves. Everything else, and I do mean everything, uses their bite.

They appear to be designed to hit and run. Despite being beefier than any Gnoll that isn't a Flind. In fact, that's a different MO than nearly everything in the Gnoll Warband.

They suffer from bonus action scarcity. Rampage and Kicking Retreat can't be used in the same round. Granted, they are both movement options of a kind, but really it's kind of a bummer you can't do both. An even bigger bummer is that they can't benefit from a Flind's Aura and disengage.
 

dave2008

Adventurer
They are effectively the "face" of the Gnoll Horde. Yes, that's right, a foul-smelling, oozing, sadistic, ugly, deer-badger-hyena, is the member of the Gnoll horde you are most likely to talk to. And perhaps the only one who won't eat you on sight.
.
That's sounds perfect to me. I can't imagine a better ambassador of a gnoll warband than your description.
 
I like most things about the leucrotta except for one main thing - the art. It has always been portrayed as, and is even described in the accompanying text in this book, as having a head like a badger. That head is nothing like any badger in existence. It's certainly not even close to the common American or European badgers (which has the art in previous editions based their heads on); at best, you might say it very, very vaguely resembles a honey badger, but... no, it really doesn't even resemble one of those either. The body isn't all that well done either - previous editions had it resemble a deer (carrying on from the legs, which the artist actually got right here), and VGtM says it resembles a hyena, but again here, it doesn't really resemble either.

Rant over. :D
 

dave2008

Adventurer
I like most things about the leucrotta except for one main thing - the art. It has always been portrayed as, and is even described in the accompanying text in this book, as having a head like a badger. That head is nothing like any badger in existence. It's certainly not even close to the common American or European badgers (which has the art in previous editions based their heads on); at best, you might say it very, very vaguely resembles a honey badger, but... no, it really doesn't even resemble one of those either. The body isn't all that well done either - previous editions had it resemble a deer (carrying on from the legs, which the artist actually got right here), and VGtM says it resembles a hyena, but again here, it doesn't really resemble either.

Rant over. :D
I agree, it also looks surprising similar to the Yeth hound on pg 201. At least the head does.
 

MechaTarrasque

Adventurer
I agree, it also looks surprising similar to the Yeth hound on pg 201. At least the head does.
Now I have this yeth hound/leucrotta hybrid in my head (and a picture of Yenghou calling up some fey lord complaining "do you know what your hound did to my leucrotta? She is a pure bread....")
 
Here is the original 1e Monster Manual illustration of the leucrotta:





I always thought the illustration of leucrottas from the 3e Monsters of Faerun captured them the best though:


 

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