5E Let's Read: Volo's Monsters

fuindordm

Villager
I agree, this is a great implementation of the nilbog concept.
[MENTION=53176]Leatherhead[/MENTION], "Why would a hobgoblin horde bother with goblins?" I can think of several rationalizations, from religious duty to the need for low-value troops to absorb the first shock of an assault, but I think the main reason is probably logistics. The goblin component is an endless supply of people to do the grunt work of the camp, and as long as you accord the goblin "specials" a small measure of respect, the rest of them will stay in line. A prideful hobgoblin warrior can't be asked to dig latrines, and a bugbear wouldn't understand the need. Goblins will get it done, with the added bonus that one will probably fall into the hole.

Cheers,
Ben
 

dave2008

Hero
Well you start with a Legendary CR26+ Gargantuan Siege Monster, make an ability that says it counts as being larger than Gargantuan for any ability that takes size into consideration, give it some mind-flayer powers and tentacle attacks, some kind of trample ability, and in this case some add in some Ice elemental powers one to blot out the sun and probably an aura of Brain-freeze or something like that.

The real trick is figuring out how the mechanics of fighting a creature that is bigger than most towns are. Stabbing it in the toe till it dies is hardly going to be immersive. Though making a separate stat block for every limb might work, that way you could disable the legs, and somehow manage to crawl up the torso, getting rid of the arms and tentacles, to finally assault the thing's brain and kill it.

Or you could just pull out a deus ex machina, that's how they offed him in the first place.
This thread has inspired me to make a stat block for him. I have already made several "colossal" monsters over at my 5e Epic Updates thread, so I have a good template. I would make him in parts similar to your suggestion Leatherhead, I have done a few that way already.
 
Goblins have numbers. The side with the most soldiers is likely to win. They may be crap soldiers, but if they're at the back of the army and help to intimidate the other side through sheer numbers, that won't matter. Plus, the downsides - Nilbogs, Bargheists - are pretty minor, in the grand scheme of things.

A Goblinoid campaign is a solid concept. You've got a lot of roleplaying potential in the relationship between the three races.
 

MechaTarrasque

Adventurer
If I was a hobgoblin warlord, I would sic the goblins on someplace I wanted to conquer in 2-3 years. Sabotage and asymmetrical warfare will keep the local militia occupied and ill-equipped to handle the iron legions. And if a few of those goblins are bright enough to note tactically useful information during this time (and pass it on to their hobgoblin overlords), all the better.

Long-term planning: it isn't just for PC's and magic item wish lists.
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
See, I have a personal beef with Goblins in 5e, and that stems almost directly from the fact that they are portrayed as sniveling, stupid, cowards.

I was so fed up with them, that before I got the 5e MM I was determined to change a few things to make them a more worthy foe. After the book came out, I got to work.

And all I had to do was max their hp, improve their armor a hair and increase their mental stats above the negatives


One "problem" with DnD is the sense of how threatening something actually is. We look at manticores and the like and think "Not nearly enough, a single one of these guys will get stompled by a party of 5, we need to up the ante"


Let's take a group of NPC soldiers though, like 5 guards. Using average stats they have 11 hp to the goblins 7, they can take another hit or two before going down, and their AC is rather similiar, with the guards having better gear. They only have a +3 to hit for 1d6+1 though, while goblins come in at +4 for 1d6+2

In a white room with no cover, it could be a close fight. However, set up an urban warfare or forest encounter, and those guards are dead.

Nimble Escape. Bonus action to hide after every attack. Bonus action disengage if the enemy is next to them. Equip a squad of goblins with bows and slightly better armor, and they will be death to your average militia. Heck, I've got players who are still terrified of the little buggers after fighting them in a warehouse full of nooks and crannies. It does depend on how hiding in combat ends up working, but if they can hide and move between cover, they are incredibly difficult to deal with. Bugbears hit harder from ambushes, but once they are out in the open, they tend to stay there. Goblins are constantly kiting and fading in and out of the fight, and their smaller size means it is easier for them to sneak around unnoticed. Add in some of their magic-using alternatives, and give them a cleric which seems obvious, and I could probably take out even a 5th level party with goblins. They are vicious.


As for Nilbog (I will never be able to say that name without thinking of Worm ) don't forget about Nilbogism, anyone who wants to damage it in anyway, must succeed a Charisma check DC 12, or be charmed and instead spend their entire turn praising the creature instead. And it says damage, so that includes casting AOE spells, making attacks, throwing things at the ceiling to drop rocks on them. If you intend the creature harm, save vs groveling. That will have players tearing their hair out as well.
 

dave2008

Hero
One "problem" with DnD is the sense of how threatening something actually is. We look at manticores and the like and think "Not nearly enough, a single one of these guys will get stompled by a party of 5, we need to up the ante"


Let's take a group of NPC soldiers though, like 5 guards. Using average stats they have 11 hp to the goblins 7, they can take another hit or two before going down, and their AC is rather similiar, with the guards having better gear. They only have a +3 to hit for 1d6+1 though, while goblins come in at +4 for 1d6+2

In a white room with no cover, it could be a close fight. However, set up an urban warfare or forest encounter, and those guards are dead.
That is an interesting point. In terms of world building the goblin (or any monster) should be compared to the typical humanoid / human, not the PCs. They are much scarier from that perspective.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
This thread has inspired me to make a stat block for him. I have already made several "colossal" monsters over at my 5e Epic Updates thread, so I have a good template. I would make him in parts similar to your suggestion Leatherhead, I have done a few that way already.
Oh nifty, let me know what you come up with!
 
As for Nilbog (I will never be able to say that name without thinking of Worm ) don't forget about Nilbogism, anyone who wants to damage it in anyway, must succeed a Charisma check DC 12, or be charmed and instead spend their entire turn praising the creature instead. And it says damage, so that includes casting AOE spells, making attacks, throwing things at the ceiling to drop rocks on them. If you intend the creature harm, save vs groveling. That will have players tearing their hair out as well.
Good lord, how did I manage to overlook that feature? Clearly the Nilbog charmed me...
 
Goblins have numbers. The side with the most soldiers is likely to win. They may be crap soldiers, but if they're at the back of the army and help to intimidate the other side through sheer numbers, that won't matter. Plus, the downsides - Nilbogs, Bargheists - are pretty minor, in the grand scheme of things.

A Goblinoid campaign is a solid concept. You've got a lot of roleplaying potential in the relationship between the three races.
In 5E, goblins are fantastic soldiers. They are more accurate than hobgoblins (+4 to hit vs. +3), have Stealth Expertise and a bonus action Hide/Disengage, and they do good damage with their shortbows. Why wouldn't you want a bunch of goblin skirmishers in your army?
 
In 5E, goblins are fantastic soldiers. They are more accurate than hobgoblins (+4 to hit vs. +3), have Stealth Expertise and a bonus action Hide/Disengage, and they do good damage with their shortbows. Why wouldn't you want a bunch of goblin skirmishers in your army?
I was more envisaging a mass battle situation, where morale is the key element, and one that Goblins are famously deficient in. Hobos seem much more possessed of brass balls and a steel backbone, so would be the superior soldiers in such a context, whereas Goblins are indeed potent skirmishers.
 

MonsterEnvy

Adventurer
​ have learned to deal with the Nilbog by granting one Goblin in the warhost the position of Jester. I wonder how they ensure that the Nilbog becomes the Jester - presumably just watching for spellcasting and chaos in the ranks - but it is a sweet gig for any Goblin who gets it, Nilbog or not. Between this and the Iron Shadow stuff, we can almost imagine the interior of the command tent for the host, and it is an interestingly varied place.
You misunderstood what that means. Appointing a Jester prevents a Nilbog from appearing at all. As Hobgoblins don't want them around. More or less they find the goblin in the host they find the most distasteful and more or less give him permission to do whatever he wants without fear of reprisal. Appearntly by doing this the trickster spirit is appeased and a Nilbog won't suddenly appear in the ranks.

Also on the Iron Shadows from what they read like they would not being doing eugenics on the leadership, but are instead the secret police utterly and fanatically loyal to the Warlord. Who spy among the troops for him and eliminate any dissent against him. Along with use as spies and assassins against his other enemies.
 
Today I’m going to vary the format a little, and talk about the Orc Society that is outlined by Volo’s Guide; this will take enough time that we won’t discuss any of the individual Orc profiles in huge detail, but will instead look at how they are meant to work together, and what they tell us about Orc society in D&D. In subsequent entries we’ll then cover the six new statblocks from the book.

There are some very strong depictions of Orcs in fantasy gaming, for example the fungus hooligans of Warhammer, the noble savages of Warcraft and the howling hordes of Lord of the Rings. It has not been my experience in the past that D&D Orcs had all that much to offer, being mostly faceless goons to be slaughtered, and lacking the character of their Goblin cousins (though I do not believe that the races are related at all in D&D, unlike in Warhammer). Certainly, they never made much of an impact on me in any of the computer games. With Volo’s Guide to Monsters, it seems that the designers have striven to really make the Orcs of D&D different, by providing an image of a religiously-driven culture, each individual in a tribe given a place by their relationship to the Orc pantheon. The followers of each god - from Gruumsh to Luthic to Ilneval - takes inspiration from their deity, and the tribe makes a place for them in the fabric of its society. This is described in usefully vague terms, such that we can imagine an entirely-Luthic themed group of Orcs that the players could meet, or there could be a group of Luthic worshippers inside any given Orc warband, of any size. The writeup in chapter one is super helpful for understanding what an Orc tribe does and how it functions, when it isn’t raiding Elves or whatever. There is also a stunning image of an Elf hiding from his Orc pursuers, one of the best pieces of art in the book.

Let’s quickly look at the Orc Gods:



Gruumsh - leader, war god, fights endlessly with Maglubiyet the Goblin god on the plains of Acheron, which is the one with all the cubes.
Ilneval - War, tactics
Bahgtru - War, strength

These three together are the ‘main’ gods, the ones who direct the military activities of the Orcs, and whose followers your players will encounter the most.

Luthic - Motherhood, protecting the home
Yurtrus - Illness, Death
Shargaas - Stealth, Darkness, Murder

These three are focused much more on how the tribe functions. Shargaas’ agents cull the weak members of the tribe, keeping it strong. Yurtrus’ remove the dead and dying, performing necromantic rituals to honour the victorious fallen. Luthic’s cult maintains the whelping pens, forges, and workshops of the tribe, managing both the next generation and the material of life and war.

Apart from Bahgtru, each god has dedicated statblocks for their followers. The followers of Bahgtru don’t get their own entry - but are instead simply Orcs who ride Aurochs, which helpfully answers the question of ‘what cavalry do Orcs have?’ In addition, you will find that the Monster Manual has a pair of combatants that fit into this schema - the Eye of Gruumsh, who are shamans and support casters, the Orogs, who are usually part of the cult of Luthic, and the Chieftains, who are granted their power over other Orcs by Gruumsh’s will - indeed, the text suggests that an Orc cannot lead a tribe without this blessing, as the other Orcs are just not inclined to listen to one without the God’s backing. It seems that this is not even an explicitly visible thing, but just something more subliminal, but I think you have a lot of flexibility in that regard, if you want a chieftain’s succession to be a plot point in your game.

Orc - CR 1/2, MM 246
Orc Nurtured One of Yurtrus - CR 1/2, VGtM 184
Orog - CR 2, MM 247
Orc Claw of Luthic - CR 2, VGtM 183
Orc Eye of Gruumsh - CR 2, MM 247
Orc Hand of Yurtrus - CR 2, VGtM 184
Orc Red Fang of Shargaas - CR 3, VGtM 185
Orc War Chief - CR 4, MM 246
Orc Blade of Ilneval - CR 4, VGtM 183
Tanarukk - CR 5, VGtM 186

Also note the Aurochs (CR 2, VGtM 207), which you’ll need for Bahgtru’s lads. The Tanarukk is kind of outside the normal structure, as we’ll discuss in its entry. So overall what we have here is a long and interesting list of ‘evil chaotic green people’, but one that actually has a lot of versatility. We get a ‘leader’ type in the Blade of Ilneval. The War Chief is good for slashing characters into gibbets as well as buffing his allies. The Claw of Luthic is a healing cleric with a claw strike in melee, the Hand of Yurtrus is a harming cleric with a necrotic touch, and the Eye of Gruumsh is a controlling cleric with a spear. The Orcish gods provide all of the spellcasting statblocks for the Orcs, making them the divine-spellcaster-focus race as compared to the arcane-spellcaster-focus of the Kobolds and Goblinoids. The Red Fang gives you a sneaky Orc, and the Nurtured One of Yurtrus gives you a suicide bomber. The Orc is a standard melee combatant, while the Orog is a tougher and stronger, yet still simple, option. In short, you now have a wide range of Orcs to draw on to challenge your players, before you even begin to look at things like Ettins, Giants and Giant Bats. I’m especially pleased with this for the Orcs, since their entries combine societal elements with combat statistics - a fight against Yurtrus’ followers is going to be very different from one against Ilnevals, both in location and in tactics, even if both take place inside the same lair.

We’ll pick it up with the first of the Orc entries tomorrow, as I think that this post is now long enough that we can afford to let it stand on its own.
 
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Bitbrain

Adventurer
I really enjoyed Volo's take on the Orc, especially the contrast between them and the Hobgoblins.
If the Goblinoids are the Roman Empire, then the Orcs are the barbarian tribes.

Another thing I really liked was how Volo's describes Orc society as being a subtle and covert matriarchy, which is in contrast with the overt matriarchy of the Drow.
Yeah, the Orc war chief is probably a guy, but he's really just a short-term power. The true long-term stabilizing force among the orcs are the priestesses of Luthic and their Orog bodyguards.
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
I had already rewritten orcs to a degree for my homebrew world, since I (in general) stopped using Half-orcs back in 4e and just made them straight up orcs.

I like what I have, but making them a more neutral, allied race instead of a screaming horde does mean that a lot of things get left behind. Still, I really appreciate what was done in Volo's to make them different from just "Big, strong, dumb savages" and instead make them a very devout and war-like society.

And some of these guys can act as a big surprise for the players, who are expecting more of the great axe wielding marauders and instead run into cavalry and spellcasters.
 

Jer

Adventurer
I wonder if Volo's was written by a Master of Magic fan, or if there is a common source from early AD&D.
Baghtru has been around since first edition. A quick check of the Googles tells me that he was created by Roger Moore (no, not that one) in Dragon Magazine #62 and then was later written up in Unearthed Arcana. Both of those would predate Master of Magic by a decade plus.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Don't forget Half-Orcs, they count as members of the Orc Tribe. And unlike full-blooded Orcs, they can take any NPC template easily. Berserkers are the one that springs to mind, but really anything can be used with them, due to their lack of an INT penalty.

And because the Orcs are having a Bye-Day, that gives me time to talk about chapter two. Specifically why Half-Orcs are really out of place when compared to their parents.

Most of the half-orc traits are self-explanatory. They get a smattering of what orcs get, including some beefy stats, darkvision and Menacing. The human side makes the half-orc smarter, but really that's as far as the blood of man is willing to carry the half-orc.

Now here is where it gets to be a bit of a head scratcher. Somehow or another, the half-orc manages to trade a speed bonus for an ability that lets them shrug off a deathblow, and turn Powerful Build into improved critical damage dice. This is a bit of a stretch imo. There is nothing in the lore to suggest that a half-orc is either hardier, or more violent than a normal orc (Orogs, on the other hand, would find such abilities to fit like a glove).

What I would really like to see is a series of half-orc variants, much like the variants that the half-elf got in the SCAG. To represent all these new orcish progenitors that we have to pick from.

Also, orc subraces, that would be keen. I could totally see an orc with claws, or an orc with a cleric cantrip as a racial trait.
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
Personally I see it like Human/Sayain children from DBZ. The two together make a greater whole.

And that can make a bit of sense in terms of the "flame of life" type description. Humans are brilliant, "burning the candle at both ends" individuals who live as much in 50 years as other races live in a hundred. Orcs also have a violent flame, a flame of war and battle that consumes them. The two mixed together give you something stronger, more resilient and more deadly as a result.

Also, I just really like those stats
 
Now here is where it gets to be a bit of a head scratcher. Somehow or another, the half-orc manages to trade a speed bonus for an ability that lets them shrug off a deathblow, and turn Powerful Build into improved critical damage dice. This is a bit of a stretch imo. There is nothing in the lore to suggest that a half-orc is either hardier, or more violent than a normal orc (Orogs, on the other hand, would find such abilities to fit like a glove).
I found this a really interesting point. You're totally right - the abilities of the two races are widely divergent of each other, even more so than Human (+1 to everything, free skills) and Half-Elf (two +1s, free skills, other stuff). However, I suspect that when it comes to Half Orc and Orc as PC races, they wanted them to be pretty different - otherwise it would be really easy to write an Orc race that was flat out superior to the Half-Orc, or vice versa. By going for a fairly divergent approach, they make it more likely that the two are a meaningful choice. Just a thought.

Also [MENTION=6801228]Chaosmancer[/MENTION]'s point has merit - that the combination of the two makes for a very powerful and unique whole. I'd certainly suggest that Half-Orcs are way more mechanically interesting than Half-Elves, despite the latter representing a solid 25% of all epic fantasy protagonists in fiction.

What I would really like to see is a series of half-orc variants, much like the variants that the half-elf got in the SCAG. To represent all these new orcish progenitors that we have to pick from.
That seems cool, but I can only imagine it is fairly low down on the list. What might achieve the same end but a little easier is a set of Orc-only Cleric spells to allow a player to mimic one of the NPC statblocks. Something to let you grow claws or do necrotic damage. Though I suppose you could argue that domains should cover it; is there a design space for 'Orc Domain', and by extension 'Elf Domain'?
 

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