5E Let's Read: Volo's Monsters

fuindordm

Villager
If the Goblinoids are the Roman Empire, then the Orcs are the barbarian tribes.
Sounds like an interesting campaign! Take bronze-age Europe, populate it heavily with humanoid monster races taking the place of major civilizations.

Then require the PCs to be primitive human slaves.
 
The Orc Blade of Ilneval is a leader style melee combatant, and he duplicates the role and CR rating for the Orc Warchief so closely that we can regard him as essentially a variant entry for that role.



The Blade of Ilneval is described as a leader of Orcs, who has gained the ability to direct the ferocity of his comrades to achieve victory. Like the Warchief, he also gains extra damage on melee attacks as a reward from his patron deity. However, his deity is one of strategy and tactics, rather than rulership, and so these fellows are going to be subordinate to any Warchiefs around.

This is somewhat odd, for the Blade is basically an upgrade on the same combat concept. The damage output for the two entries is nearly identical - 28 DPR vs 30 DPR - and while the Warchief has more hit points, the Blade has greater AC, making that probably a wash. The real point of comparison is their leadership ability, and in this regard the Warchief is totally outshone by his subordinate; the Warchief gives advantage on attack rolls to all Orcs in 30ft, but only once a day, and for a single round, getting only half of his attacks on that round himself. Meanwhile, the Blade can let three Orcs within 120ft make another attack as a Reaction, an ability that not only recharges on a 4-6, but does not prevent the Blade from making all his attacks as normal. In other words, the Blade gets a better ability more often, and it doesn't affect his damage output. One upside to the Warchief's ability is that the two abilities stack, so you can use a Blade and a Warchief and have both active at once.

The Blade of Ilneval is a good statblock - meaty, strong attacks, a great leadership ability - but it effectively makes the Warchief look like a Warchump, and I'd want to give a boost to the latter in order to make him look more imposing as a result. After meeting this guy in a preliminary fight, I can't imagine that the players will be that impressed by the Warchief's efforts! Happily, you can convert the Champion entry in the back of the book without too much trouble I reckon, adding only the Aggressive trait and a Greataxe to make it feel Orcish, and that should serve as a solid boss fight for your Orc storyline.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
This is somewhat odd, for the Blade is basically an upgrade on the same combat concept.
I wouldn't go quite that far. While Volo's does provide a lot of monsters that are basically "Version 2.0", The War Chief and the Blade of Ilneval have significantly different roles in encounter design.

Firstly, the War Chief can hit every creature that happens to be within 6 squares of it, which is a huge range and effectively the entire battle encounter if you are fighting indoors. This means they get to boss around orcs, half orcs, humans, (half)ogres, Aurochs, and possibly a demon or two. Additionally, the Battle Cry is more effective on creatures with Multiattack, which happens to include most of the new Orcs, the other War Chiefs (Also granting advantage on it's own bonus attack, for a bit more boost), and Orogs.

Secondly, the War Chief has a better ranged attack option. It's not much if you don't need it, but when you do need it, it's so good. And they could potentially lead a ranged unit just as effectively as a melee one.


The Blade of Ilneval, on the other hand, may get to use their power up to twice, only on orcs, and it uses up reactions. Meaning the orc power player (Tanarukk) doesn't have as much opportunity to benefit from it. However, it does have quadruple the range of the Battle Cry, which gives it absurd coverage. Also, that shield really puts a crimp in the DPR (suffering from the Gnoll Problem), and their ranged attack option is rather pathetic. That isn't to say the Blade of Ilneval isn't impressive for it's weight class, but the flashiness of it's power overshadows it's practicality.

The end result:
Use the War Chief for mass-battles, or for Higher CR encounters where it's abilities grant the most benefit.
The Blade of Ilneval should be used as a leader for lower CR mostly orc squad encounters, where an OA isn't quite as likely to happen.

Or you could use them both, the lore supports it, and their abilities stack incredibly well, which is a rare thing among leader units.
 
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You said that the Blade can use the Ilneval's Command power up to twice - unless you mean how long the combat is likely to last, I'm not seeing a restriction. Also, it has quadruple the range of the Warchief ability, 30ft vs 120ft.
 
Well, as you say, the two used together are going to be incredible. I just think that a 'Warchief' who is the same CR as a lieutenant statline and whose leadership ability is a once/day ability is rather underwhelming, in comparison. I'd like a CR 6 or 7 version of the Warchief now, something with just a lot more oomph. I mean, he should be a real presence in the Orcish ranks.
 

MechaTarrasque

Adventurer
It almost makes me think orcs should go back to being LE. The boss doesn't have to be more physically powerful than the subordinate, since social power > physical power, and one could almost argue that in the orc religious fundamentalism, propriety (albeit a very different kind than we think of in modern times) seems pretty important. Finally it would fit with "good orcs go to Archeron (LN with E tendencies) when they die."
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
One thing I always like about my monsters is when they do something and the players go "Oh crap, what now?"

The Blade gives us that. I play with a lot of people who have read all the books, including unfortunately Volo's in some cases, and this guy let's them know that this fight is not going to be your standard orcish brawl.

I agree the Warchief probably needs a little bit of a buff in retrospect, it just isn't terrifying enough if you want to make Orcs a big bad for an intense mid-level campagin.

Another glorious thing about the Blade's though, it is perfectly reasonable (since they are essentially the strategic priests of the Orcs) that a high-level band could be headed by more than one Blade.

An orcish mercenary company for example, who takes a contract out on the players. With two Blades of Ilneval running it, can potentially cause an entire free round of attacks from their entire band. And Orcs hit hard, so that is going to cause everyone to step back and take notice.

Also, random notice, they have an improved wisdom save, which is probably really helpful against a lot of standard caster nonsense like hold person and dominate.
 
It almost makes me think orcs should go back to being LE. The boss doesn't have to be more physically powerful than the subordinate, since social power > physical power, and one could almost argue that in the orc religious fundamentalism, propriety (albeit a very different kind than we think of in modern times) seems pretty important. Finally it would fit with "good orcs go to Archeron (LN with E tendencies) when they die."
The Acheron thing is really notable, but on reading Planescape stuff you see loads of examples where creatures go to the 'wrong' afterlife for their alignment, due to racial pantheons and the like. Most (all?) Drow go to the Abyss, regardless of their personal alignment, thanks to Lloth. Chromatic Dragons all seem to go to Ba'ator, thanks to Tiamat. Vikings go to Ysgard, regardless of whether they were CE or CG. That sort of thing. It's probably because the 'alignment determines afterlife' thing makes it hard to turn each individual plane into anything other than a random mishmash of afterlives with no themes, which is not very helpful from a story point of view. Whereas it is easy to imagine how 'Evil Dragon afterlife' can be used.

@Chaosmancer A pair of Blades of Ilneval would hugely jump the difficulty on an Orc encounter, I agree - they really make the Greataxe attacks come fast and furious! They're also the kind of guy that you can easily justify in large numbers, as you say - there is only one Warchief, but there can be plenty of officers, which is kind of what the Blades appear to be. I also think that the trio of Orcish clerics serve the same goal - you can justify several turning up over the course of an adventure by observing that they all come from different cults and whatnot.
 

MechaTarrasque

Adventurer
The Acheron thing is really notable, but on reading Planescape stuff you see loads of examples where creatures go to the 'wrong' afterlife for their alignment, due to racial pantheons and the like. Most (all?) Drow go to the Abyss, regardless of their personal alignment, thanks to Lloth. Chromatic Dragons all seem to go to Ba'ator, thanks to Tiamat. Vikings go to Ysgard, regardless of whether they were CE or CG. That sort of thing. It's probably because the 'alignment determines afterlife' thing makes it hard to turn each individual plane into anything other than a random mishmash of afterlives with no themes, which is not very helpful from a story point of view. Whereas it is easy to imagine how 'Evil Dragon afterlife' can be used.

Racial/pantheon gods do tend to mess up the after lives and alignments (although they did tend to break up some RW pantheons into different planes--Tyr was in Celestia, Hel was in the Grey Wastes). I tend to think of that as a reason for the non-god powers on the planes to try to recruit them to their planes (like when City A or State B offers an incentive to company C to build a plant there). It might explain why the demons put up with Lolth.....

In my campaigns, gods are interested in their portfolios (Lolth cares about spreading strife, Asmodeus gets more power the more tyranny there is, ect), and it costs them energy to bring a soul into their godly realm (instead of where they would end up in the Outer Planes based on alignment), so they tend to focus on certain people. If 90% of your devoted followers are going to Mt. Celestia, and you live on the Mountain, you don't need to spend any energy on them (and they will be living good afterlives after all), you focus on Bob, your favorite paladin, to make sure he is your angel instead of an archon, or Sally, a barbarian that really pushed your faith, but never quite made it out of being CG herself....

The reason they seek worship is it is easier to move society (ies) if people are dedicated to your ideal and set up an institution to support your goals.
 
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One note - Tyr in D&D is based on the Forgotten Realms god of Justice and Chopping yer hand off to Smite Evil, not the Norse one. Who he was originally. So him being on Celestia isn't that surprising. You're right about Hel, I'd forgotten her; but then again, she gathers all of the non-battle-dead Vikings, so it still supports my point :D

You missed out a quote tag, by the way.

I always wonder about places like Acheron. If it's an Evil Outer Plane, I sort of mentally categorise it as 'high level'. But if it is basically going to be full of Orcs and Hobgoblins, say, then that would make it 'low level', or perhaps 'mid-level' if you fancy having loads of bad guys in the combats. The conclusion is very obvious, but nevertheless one that I've usually struggled to remember: that not all Outer Planes are equally dangerous, and can be level-sorted just like the Material plane.
 

MechaTarrasque

Adventurer
One note - Tyr in D&D is based on the Forgotten Realms god of Justice and Chopping yer hand off to Smite Evil, not the Norse one. Who he was originally. So him being on Celestia isn't that surprising. You're right about Hel, I'd forgotten her; but then again, she gathers all of the non-battle-dead Vikings, so it still supports my point :D

You missed out a quote tag, by the way.

I always wonder about places like Acheron. If it's an Evil Outer Plane, I sort of mentally categorise it as 'high level'. But if it is basically going to be full of Orcs and Hobgoblins, say, then that would make it 'low level', or perhaps 'mid-level' if you fancy having loads of bad guys in the combats. The conclusion is very obvious, but nevertheless one that I've usually struggled to remember: that not all Outer Planes are equally dangerous, and can be level-sorted just like the Material plane.
Sorry about the quote tag.

I think the big sell for dumping....I mean leading the PC's into Archeron is the hostile environment, not the monsters, and even then, the environments go from "not really very hostile, watch out for the goblins and orcs" to "this entire plane is one big blade barrier." Stealing an idea from 4e (that the spirits of the orcs explode when they die again) can liven it up: hey, there are some orcs, cheap xp and gold for us.....aaaa, the orc just blew up in my face. Oh dang, there are a lot of them coming over the side of the cube.....especially if you throw in "make a DC 14 dex save or be blasted off the cube"--somebody throw a rope to the paladin...again.
 
The mama bear of the Orcs, the Claw of Luthic is a really interesting statblock, and reminds me a lot of how Druids are portrayed in videogames.



In the above image, the female at the top is Luthic, while the male at the bottom is Bahgtru, apparently. The image in Volo’s is actually really good; instead of sexualising the Claw, they went for making her intimidating, with a focus on the huge rippling muscles and claws of her right hand. This is the kind of image that sends a message about the person that the players are meeting.

The Claws of Luthic serve a vital role in the Orc Tribe; they are the ones that ensure it survives. When a Warchief leads all of the lads out to raid, Luthic’s clerics are the ones that ensure there will still be a tribe, whether or not they return. I am reminded of something that I read once about Late Roman defensive doctrine; they found that it was impossible to keep all of the Germanic raiders out of their territory (since there was this massive long border). So what the Romans instead did was ensure that any group which crossed the Rhine and started raiding, would be chased down and destroyed by Roman units as it tried to leave Roman territory, laden down with plunder. The impression that I always got from this was that being a Germanic raider seems like a great way to die young; Orcs must presumably be the same. The cult of Luthic also strikes me as a very powerful force, behind the scenes; Gruumsh may pick the chieftain, but Luthic’s cult are the ones who raise the next generation of warriors, and whose Orog bodyguards form one of the most concentrated groups in the tribe. If they felt that the chieftain was a nonce, they’ve probably got the ability to do something about it. And it is unlikely that the Chieftain can take a strong stance against them, for what sane Orc would agree to attack the whelping pits and the bear-mother’s clerics? Very interesting potential, there.

The Claw has a really fun statblock. It’s not long; basically all of the interesting elements are contained under Spellcasting and the Claw action. The latter is a bit of a 4e throwback; the Claw will make two melee attacks unless it is under half health, or Bloodied as 4e called it, at which point it makes four. I like this a lot. I can see why people disliked it coming up so much in 4e, but I think that a limited application of the same idea makes for a good mechanical tool to ensure that the fight has a certain feel to it. With forty five hit points, you’re probably talking about four to six solid hits from the PCs to bring down the Claw; at a guess then, you’ll see this extra attack function work for one or maybe two rounds. That makes it more dangerous, but also gives a really nice ‘bear cornered and desperate’ element to the fight.

The Spellcasting is fairly standard - a fifth level cleric equivalent, there is a mixture of healing spells (cure wounds), spells that explain how the Claw helps her tribe (Augury, create food and water), and a few solid damaging ones (Guiding Bolt is always a solid option, in my opinion). Some of the spells are a bit complex for a backup combatant, but should not be overlooked. Warding Bond is a very powerful buff spell given to an ally, albeit it makes the Claw die faster as it shares damage between the two. I can imagine a Claw using this on the tribe’s Warchief to keep him swinging longer. If the Claw has the opportunity, using Bestow Curse on a PC might be nasty - it lets you choose from the target taking more damage from the Claw’s attacks, a save-or-suck effect, disadvantage on attacks, etc. Probably one to keep in mind if the Orcs somehow get surprise on the players, for sure, and also something that you can use to effectively ‘stall for time’, if you feel that the players are struggling - it sounds terrifying, and has some potent effects, but it also takes time to do anything, so gives the players a breathing space. Finally, Bane is a spell that I’ve never noticed before, but it is actually quite nasty. It is a charisma saving throw for up to three creatures; on a fail, they subtract 1d4 from all their attack rolls and saving throws for a minute. In other words, it’s like having some Bards insult the players. With 30ft range, and the option to boost it to affect up to five characters, this might well be a surprisingly worthwhile debuff to toss out on turn one.

I was only intending on doing a short entry today, but I got a bit engrossed by the options there! The Claw of Luthic is a solid, meaty statblock that I think gives you a lot more options than you might think if your first look focused on the Claw attack. Combinining buffs for Orcs with debuffs for the players is likely to make people very unhappy, and closing to melee range and hurting the Claw is likely to be a mistake the players only make once.
 
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Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Orc lore has a firm grasp on how a chaotic culture should work. If it wasn't for divine providence, their leaders wouldn't really be able to, well, lead, regardless of their strength. And even then, the position of war chief is a deceptively delicate office, and requires several different factions groups working together, but ultimately checking each-other, lest the undercurrent of "Might = Right" causes their tribe to collapse into a bloody civil war.

Anyway, the Claw of Luthic is quite possibly the fiercest lacquerista you will ever see on the battlefield, and keeps true to the multiple orcs in leadership positions lore by also synergising well with Eyes of Gruumsh, Blades, and War Chiefs. Also, they have bears, in addition to Orogs, which gives them a wide selection of bodyguards and perhaps the most dangerous retinue in the tribe. I could even see one rearing an Owlbear, for some added punch and a darkvision enabled "animal" helper

However, they are a spellcaster, and that means it's time to see what spells are worth swapping. Specifically Augury, and Create Food and Water. While being good for RP purposes, they really don't do much when you know the tribe is going to be under siege the next day. Note that clerics have a bit of a disadvantage in the expanded spell list department when compared to druids and arcane casters, do to the fact they don't get any new spells in the splat books. However, this is an NPC, so if you are making a cult of Fire-Orcs and just have to get some of those Elemental Evil Spells, I won't tell on you.

Clerics don't get many good cantrips, but there is always the Sacred Flame option, if you need some kind of ranged support. Spare the Dying seems like it should be a good spell, but really it isn't worth using on NPCs most of the time.

For level one, Healing Word is my cleric pick of choice. Yes, it heals for less than Cure Wounds (only 2hp less), but it has a 60' range, and can be cast as a bonus action, which is really great for something that can make 4 melee attacks with multi-attack.

Level two features Hold person and Prayer of Healing, depending on the needs of your war band.

Level three has Mass Healing Word and Spirit Guardians. Both great for turning the tide of a battle.
 
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Chaosmancer

Villager
Honestly, I know we touched on it a little already, but I absolutely love how much attention Volo's gave to the Orc pantheon, especially for Luthic. I know older players from older editions probably were already familiar with all of them, but I only heard about Luthic when I went spelunking through Wiki's trying to find out if Gruumsh was the only Orc god.

Volo's also happily fulfills a personal set of headcanon for me, and that is that Luthic is actually the scarier and more powerful of the two, as the lore implies that Gruumsh is having troubles defeating Maglubiyet but the Goblin god might one day regret facing the wrath of Luthic and could be taken down by her.


As for her Priestesses, they are awesome, but we need to be mindful about the difficulty spikes that can occur with them. If you play a trio of them, and they all run in as brutes and start wailing on the party you have a vastly different fight than one where they had time to prepare, cast Aid on themselves, one goes in with Spirit Guardians and Spiritual Weapon, while another holds Bless over them and healing word while the third Bane's the entire part and chucks guiding bolts at them.

The first group will get crushed, the second is going to be devastating for a party.

Also interesting to note, Claws get quite a few skill proficiencies, medicine and survival stand out, and thinking on it, these would be the most likely orcs to gather materials and craft healing potions and healer's kits. At being 5th level equivalent I wouldn't feel bad giving them the Healer feat either, making them a good combat medic.

The players, struggling to take down the orcs, decide to target the female medic, thinking she'll be easy to take down and make the others drop faster. The claw takes offense, and unleashes an entire carton of whoop ass on them with Spiritual Weapon giving her 5 attacks in one round once she's bloodied.

Meanwhile the younger orcs look at each other in sympathy, because they were raised by her and knew what the party was in for.

Also the cave bears from the MM are CR 2 (they use Polar bear stats but get darkvision) and multiattack for a 1d8 and a 2d6 +mods, and the Orog's are CR 2 and make 2 great axe attacks. Weirdly, Orogs get platemail, which no other Orc really gets, potentially making them the best equipped of the warband, and driving a final nail into the idea that the Claws of Luthic and their bodyguards are probably the most powerful sect in a tribe, even without playing them brutally efficient.
 
Today we are looking at the Hand of Yurtrus and Nurtured One of Yurtrus together, because I’d like to finish this series before a new edition arrives…



The art in the book for the Nurtured One is fun, and pretty disgusting, but surprisingly standard-feeling for an image of a suicide bomber Orc. I’d have preferred an image of the Hand, to be honest, since they sound so much more menacing.

So here we have the members of Yurtrus’ cult within the Orc tribe. This god is revered for his stewardship over death and disease, and the Orcs identify him as having white hands and being totally silent. The Hand, his priests, emulate these qualities by wearing gloves made of elf skin and casting the Silence spell, though somewhat oddly they do not have stealth scores. However, they pull out their tongues, to show their devotion to Yurtrus, and serve a vital role in the tribe as the guardians of the liminal space between living and dead. They live on the fringes of the tribe - nobody wants to be reminded of death too much - and work closely with the priestesses of Luthic, in a nice circle of life kind of way. For storylines, we can interpret this as meaning that they carry great sway when they exert political pressure, but do so only rarely. There is a really nice thing that I just realised as well, about the Orc priests; they’re all focused around body parts, which demonstrates the essentially primitive nature of belief. The Orcs need to identify their gods in relation to their own bodies, unlike the more abstract symbols of most human and elven gods. They also sacrifice body parts - the tongue of a Hand of Yurtrus, the eye of an Eye of Gruumsh, even the hands of the Claws of Luthic, who give them over to giant claws - as a powerful but somewhat crude debasement before the power of divinity. It isn’t just the Orcs that do this, to be fair; some Paladins of Tyr in the Forgotten Realms cut a hand off, to symbolise their devotion to the god, for example Harkas Kormallis of Waterdeep. However, I believe that Tyr is one of the more primal of the human gods, thanks to his Norse origin.

The Nurtured One, meanwhile, is kind of similar to the Mouth of Grolanthor; it is an ill member of the Orc tribe that is unleashed on the enemies, albeit this time it is as a suicide bomber. That’s pretty grim, and I think the first instance of that design idea in 5e? They are very similar to Nurgle worshippers from Warhammer, being individuals who were struck down by plague, yet neither died or recovered, and who use their plague to attack the tribe’s enemies. I think that there was an order of knights in the Crusades who did the same thing. Anyway, these guys are unlikely to play any major part in a tribe’s internal politics, other than as a malevolent presence that the Hands can unleash. They’ll make good surprise additions to any Orc combat however, and will certainly be a change of pace, even as they continue the Orc theme of being dangerous up close.

Let’s quickly cover the Nurtured One’s stats before we look at the Hand. It’s a brutally simple monster; it can do a melee attack, but won’t, as what it mainly does is use the Orc Aggressive trait to rush forward and explode. With 30hp, I think that it is really tough for CR 1/2, and your players are unlikely to be happy with the exp to blood ratio for it! Interesting to note that the poison explosion prevents HP being regained while the creature is poisoned, a potentially lethal trick if the explosion puts someone onto death saving throws, and you choose to keep the poison effect active while at 0 HP. What to say about these guys? Use them if you fancy a change of pace from greataxe attacks, want to gross out the players, and want to let Dwarves shine, as their resistance to poison pays off.

Meanwhile, the Hand is sadly kind of disappointing, statblock wise. It is the same CR as the Claw of Luthic, but much less dangerous to my inexpert eye; with a third less HP, lower AC, less damage in melee, and counting as only a 4th level Cleric, the Hand is really lagging behind the Claw in almost every way. As I mentioned above, they have Silence but not the ability to Stealth, so you cannot pair them with the Red Fangs as an ambush. The spells that it has are all very thematic, but other than Bane, Inflict Wounds and Blindness Deafness I don’t see many of them being particularly useful in combat. Now, you can of course change the spell list on an NPC, but I think that the whole point of an NPC cleric statblock is so that you don’t have to choose spells; they should have the right selection already for their theme, purpose, and CR. The Hand’s best bet, I think, is to cast Silence on the party to cause trouble for the casters, and then advance to melee using the aggressive trait and use Inflict Wounds at level 2 for 4d10 badtouch damage. That is, to be fair, quite nasty sounding, so maybe this guy is actually more dangerous than he seems at first glance. Remember that the Hand doesn't need to use verbal components, thanks to his removed tongue, so Silence has no effect on him.

Though I was ready to poop all over the Hand, I’ve actually become quite impressed at that combat option, and I especially like that it makes this guy very different from the Claw - she wants to debuff then go wild with claw attacks, while the Hand wants to disrupt spellcasting and then do melee spell attacks. This is good, since it means that you can have the players fight the clerics of each god, and have the fights actually be different; another reason why I don’t like changing NPC spell lists, since it is very easy to give all NPCs the same spells, thus making them too similar. Either way, a statblock that rewards careful reading of the spell list - and which could have really done with a line saying ‘here is how to use this creature to most interesting effect’, so that you didn’t have to scrutinise it in this much detail.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Clerics have a long and sorted history in D&D regarding what they should do. As the Third Class made, they served as a kind of "patch" to the existing rules. In fact, you should probably read the oral accounting of how clerics came into being here. Which basically says that Clerics existed to hunt the vampires that were running around ruining the game at the time. Why am I bringing this up? Firstly, because it's funny. And secondly because there is another role that clerics have besides hunting undead and healing: Being the Anti-Caster. Clerics have long had access to spells that hose other casters over, such as Silence.

Yeah, the Hand of Yurtrus is an amazing anti-caster trump card of the Orc tribe. All of it's spells and abilities are geared up for this purpose. Well, except a few of the cantrips that is. And it's helper minions, the Nurtured Ones, are perfect for helping them out in this task.

Silence and Blindness/Deafness are hardcore anti-caster stop buttons. A particularly unobservant caster might not even realize that they are in a zone of silence until after they try to cast a spell. Blindness/Deafness does not require concentration, targets Con (something the back line and squishy mages tend to lack), and gives anyone attacking the poor blind target advantage on attacks, which is super keen when you want to kill them fast. Inflict Wounds gets even better once you realize it's a Spell Attack, and has a +4 to hit instead of the normal +3 the Hand uses normally. It's the tactic the Kobold Scale Sorcerer wishes it could pull off.

The Nurtured Ones exist to be shock troopers in the most pure sense of the term. They Aggressively run past the front line, using an action to dash for an awesome 90' (I think, the wording is weird) of movement in the first round if they must, eating any OA's so that the Hand or other units can slip by without drawing them, and have just enough HP to live though the suicide rush. After they get on top of the back line, you have 4 options:
  1. They claw targets until they die (exploding is a free action!) Adding a bit of damage for the long haul.
  2. They kill themselves immediately, which can force a retreat. (not the best option imo)
  3. They grapple the casters or ranged back line units, keeping them inside the zone of Silence for as long as possible, or tied up so that other units can get to them. This tactic is very scary to fight against, for obvious reasons.
  4. They wait until one of the PC's goes down, and then immediately kill themselves. Their damage will cause a death saving throw failure, and the poison will prevent them from being healed back up to 1 hp. An incredibly brutal tactic as Charles noted.

All told, the worshipers of Yurtus are an excellent addition to the orc tribe, shoring up a few of their most glaring weaknesses.
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
Well, what more is there to add. Between Charles and Leatherhead it is well covered.

A few things at least :p

- By not having Verbal Components, Hands are very good at casting from hiding. They don't have an easy time hiding in the first place, but it is very difficult to use their casting against them

-They deal necrotic damage. It is relatively weak which is disappointing, but when fighting enemies that often have resistance to bludgeoning, slashing and piercing, necrotic damage is a good alternative, and gives the right visual cues to be scary.
 
The last of the ‘normal’ Orcs, the Red Fang of Shargaas is the rogue of the race. The champions among the outcast followers of Shargaas, they are surprisingly potent assassin-style enemies, and have some really cool abilities to offer.



The Red Fang gets a really awesome image in the book - it shows an Orc riding a Giant Bat, as it climbs up a stone tower. The Red Fang has just about the smuggest expression that I’ve ever seen on an Orc’s face, as the Giant Bat peers into an open doorway. It’s a wonderful image, with beautiful composition and the lighting of the scene using the moon and an off-screen torch, giving it just the hint of a time and place. It feels very real, and is the kind of image that I’d love to show to the players and say, “As you look out of your window at night, troubled by nightmares, you see this…”

The god Shargaas is the edgelord of the Orc Pantheon, being responsible for darkness, murder, and xenophobia. The Orcs themselves seem to look down on Shargaas, or at least his followers, and so his cult is relegated to the deep, dark places away from the tribal centre. In the map on page 91, Shargaas’ followers have the largest area of any of the cultic groups, but they also share that space with prisoners, the offal pits, and their bat rookery (should that be a battery?). So we can imagine that the common or garden variety Orc only comes in contact with the followers of Shargaas when doing something demeaning or unpleasant, such as guarding the back entrance, going to the offal pits, or monitoring prisoners. Luthic, by contrast, gets a well-lit and centrally located den which adjoins the Chieftain’s cave. However, among the followers of Shargaas there are a few that are more competent and dangerous than the rest; Shargaas gathers the unfit and the outcast to him, and some are capable of being trained in his ways. The result is the Red Fangs, who get some jolly interesting powers as we’ll discuss below.

The cult of Shargaas is an odd one, for it combines the unfit and dishonourable Orcs of the tribe with a duty to cull the young that cannot serve as proper Orcs. This feels like a delicate line, since the ‘depraved and twisted creatures’ that follow Shargaas resemble those that they slay, and indeed it appears that many of their number were brought into the cult as a result of being found unworthy in the first place. The cult’s role in this duty, and indeed the cult itself, seems taboo; they exist within the tribe, but the Orcs don’t like to look upon them. That suits the cult fine though, since they like the dark places of the stronghold.

The Red Fang is a much sturdier combatant that you might expect, but I think that they needed the high CR to get all their abilities on line. If you wanted the ‘normal’ members of the cult, I’d be tempted to have them be normal Orcs that used shortswords and handaxes single handed, without shields, and didn’t use their Aggressive trait; that would probably feel ‘weak’ and ‘unOrcy’ enough to do the trick, even without other mechanical alterations. The Red Fang is the most powerful Orc statblock after the Blade and the Warchief, and are dispatched by the Chieftains for the purpose of weakening their opponents, although Gruumsh looks down on this sort of thing. Your players are likely to encounter them before hitting the tribe’s stronghold, but after they have slain many Orcs ‘in the field’, and attracted the attention of the Warchief. With decent AC, HP and high melee damage, the Red Fang could be run as a melee combatant no problem. However, there are more interesting options in this statblock. They get the Darkness and super-darkvision combination of a Warlock, the Cunning Action of a Rogue, and the first-round-murder abilities of the Assassin, as well as a decent stealth score. These guys are likely to be a really big problem for your group, if you are the kind of DM who likes ambushes and whatnot. They also work extremely well together, able to take advantage of each other’s Darkness to toss darts with advantage while making it very hard for the party to catch up. If, like me, you struggle to take advantage of this kind of clever abiilty, then the Red Fang is pretty sturdy for a rogue-type enemy, and can still catch attention for creating magical darkness and then swinging around two Scimitar attacks for 3d6+3 each.

One last note about these guys - you’ll want to first decide what your take on the Darkness spell is. It can be read a few different ways - characteristically for 5e, they leave it up to the DM to decide precisely how it impacts the game - and you can bet that the players will want to know exactly how it works once these guys turn up!
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Imagine if you will, you are on guard duty and you are the night watch. Nothing to report save for a few drunks that need to be put under custody till they sober up enough to not hurt themselves on the way home. As the night goes on, the lamps on the streets and hanging in your hand provide the only light and warmth you will get for hours yet.

The night grows darker more sinister. You rarely get to see the stars due to the lights of the city, but you could have sworn that it wasn't supposed to be the new moon until next week.
Your partner collapses, at first you think he may have been a little premature with the booze he confiscated from one of the "guests" in the drunk tank. You are horrified to discover you are wrong: Two darts protrude from his neck.

No alleys are near this part of the street, and all the windows are shut... That means the rooftops? You look up, nothing, not even the moon. Then it emerges, a flash of steel seemingly materializing from the air itself, followed by an arm and a set of angry tusks.

The Red Fang can cast darkness on some bauble, put it around the neck of a giant bat, and become an amazing unit that not even the hobgoblins have an answer for: A stealth multi-role fighter. (A type of military aircraft, for those who want to google it) Presumably, the only thing keeping orcs from overrunning the place seems to be their culture of melee-centric brute force, which is fortunate for everyone else in the setting and helps with the status-quo. But dang, I want to see an orc go all Genghis Khan. The amount of synergy they have between their leaders and extensive range of coverage that their support units provide is crazy compared to any of the other tribes we have seen up till now.

And also, I think the "normal" Shargaas cult member Charles described is remarkably similar to the Bandit NPC.
 

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