5E Let's Read: Volo's Monsters

Bitbrain

Adventurer
Having a Gazer as a familiar could make for an interesting role play experiment.
They're basically Dalek Bulldogs, which if I were ever to DM, I would emphasize.
 
Last edited:

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
The reason you can't find any Gazer pictures is because they used to be called "Eyeballs". The name may be an upgrade depending on your point of view. A side note, as we close out the beholderkin, I'm a bit disappointed there was no Eye of the Deep.


Anyway, the best use for a Gazer is the good old bait and switch.

Situation the first:
A Local Barkeep has hired your fledgling band of Adventurers to go into the basement and clear out a rat infestation. The rats have been eaten by gazers, who sound like a pack of rats. Good luck escaping the basement now! Once the PC's have cleared up the infestation, they may wish to (or may be payed to) find the source of these creatures: A Spectator who is hanging out in the basement of an old abandoned Wizards tower. The Spectator has gone quite mad over the years, due to it's summoning wizard being killed and having nobody to talk to. Now acting much like a "crazy old cat lady", the Spectator spawned these Gazers in order to keep itself company while it waits out the rest of it's contract. However, the Spectator didn't count on the Gazers needing food, and subsequently couldn't be bothered to keep tabs on them once they wandered off starving, instead opting to simply create more.

Situation the second:
A pack of Gazers have taken up residence in a old Beholder hive. Also inside the hive are a bunch of Gas Spores. The Gazers, while dumb in general, are smart enough to manipulate the Gas Spores and "speak" for them, giving the illusion that real Beholders still live there. A charade that affords the two weak creatures a rather hefty security blanket. The low level PC's either have to get a MacGuffin from the hive, or simply blunder into it, and now find themselves in a situation that seems to horribly outclass them. Will they figure out the ruse and brute force their way in and out? Or will they attempt stealth, only to later fail a check, be attacked, and find it to be not quite as lethal as they had previously assumed?
 

RotGrub

Villager
With Volo's I'm rather disappointed with the Xvart. The flavour text ignores the original fiend folio entry and their inclusion in subsequent published adventures.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for lore, I'd just rather conserve existing lore and build upon it. In the past the Xvart could reproduce (had males and females) and typically lived near coastal areas. They were often used by DMs to replace over used goblins and kobolds.

With that said, the most damning condemnation of the new lore is the link to Graz'zt. Did we really need another monster linked to him? When will this love affair with Graz'zt end?
 
The reason you can't find any Gazer pictures is because they used to be called "Eyeballs". The name may be an upgrade depending on your point of view.
Yeah... neither one is really amazing. I can't imagine why they didn't use 'Tinyholder'.

Anyway, the best use for a Gazer is the good old bait and switch.
Fun ideas, both relying on the Gazers being either more or less dangerous than the situation would suggest. I'm picturing the shadow on the wall coming towards the terrified PCs, this round, floating shape with stalks... and then something the size of a football comes around the corner, and all the tension suddenly deflates. Could be pretty good for a surprise-laugh sort of thing.

Also, a town plagued by wandering packs of feral Gazers sounds like a pretty terrible place to be. Which also makes me think that a bunch of these, following a Gauth around, could be a viable if odd encounter for a party of around level 6. I'm certainly thinking of adding them into the Waterdeep sewers myself...
 
The reason you can't find any Gazer pictures is because they used to be called "Eyeballs". The name may be an upgrade depending on your point of view. A side note, as we close out the beholderkin, I'm a bit disappointed there was no Eye of the Deep.
I was surprised at that too, given that the eye of the deep was in the original 1e MM, and they seem to be wanting to update as many classic 1e monsters as possible. And VGtM isn't lacking in other aquatic monsters, so that wasn't a reason they may have wanted to hold back on updating it as well...
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
Gazers as monsters are neat, I am worried about Gazer's as Familiars though.

Sure, imps are pretty potent as invisible scouts, but the Gazer's ability to charm an enemy to 1/2 spd and give disadvantage, that 3d6 cold ray, a 30 ft push.

A low-level caster with a Gazer familiar might end up more powerful than a DM assumes.


Touching briefly on Xvarts brought up by [MENTION=6777078]RotGrub[/MENTION], I'm unfamiliar with them before this version so I can't tell what your issue might be in general. They can still replace goblins and kobolds, the average party isn't going to realize they don't have genders (How often do we really tell the party the diversity of the enemies they fight).

Finally.... who else is deeply associated with Graz'zt? I know Succubi, Mariliths maybe? I can't think of a lot of them. Wait, Babau are connected

Baphomet has Minotaurs and Tanuaraks definitely, possibly Goristro?

Yeenoghu has Gnolls, Luecrotta (I'm not looking up spelling), maw demons, Shoosuva.

I mean a lot of the Demon Princes are associated with groups of monsters, I'm not even going to bother trying to figure out how many are connected to Orcus.
 
With Volo's I'm rather disappointed with the Xvart. The flavour text ignores the original fiend folio entry and their inclusion in subsequent published adventures.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for lore, I'd just rather conserve existing lore and build upon it. In the past the Xvart could reproduce (had males and females) and typically lived near coastal areas. They were often used by DMs to replace over used goblins and kobolds.

With that said, the most damning condemnation of the new lore is the link to Graz'zt. Did we really need another monster linked to him? When will this love affair with Graz'zt end?
Raxivort was associated with Graz'zt long before the current edition - this was described in some Dragon Magazine articles from years back. I believe the only new info is the method in which Raxivort ascended to godhood - previously it was just a generic "stole some of Graz'zt's power"...

Sent from my VS987 using EN World mobile app
 
The Bodak is our next item of consideration, a jolly unpleasant chap.



The art in the book is pretty good, I think. The feet are oddly huge, but the colours and textures on the Bodak and its wee modesty cloak are really great, suggesting an oily sheen, and with a really unnatural quality to its misshapen face and twisted wrist. I’d definitely call this guy one of the highlights of the horror-themed monsters in the book. My only real complaint is that the face is so misshapen that it doesn’t immediately look humanoid at all; that undermines the body horror element (being turned into a monster!) somewhat.

There is not a lot of room for comedy with these guys. The Bodaks are created by Orcus - that loveable scamp - who uses them as sort of like his bishops: they go out, preach to the faithful, and relay back to him everything that they see and hear. They first came about when Orcus converted the seven Hierophants of Annihilation, which is a pretty great title, into very powerful versions of these; those seven can create Bodaks just by looking at people. However, most Bodaks are now created by a willing cultist of Orcus cutting runes into their chest and saying the naughty words. There is lots of potential here, with those seven Hierophants, and I think that they are being presented to the DM on a plate as a solid campaign hook: hunt down the seven! If it wasn’t for Orcus already getting stats in Out of the Abyss, I’d think that this was a preview of a future Undead-themed Adventure Path.

The idea of cultists of the Demon lord of undeath is the centre of potential plots for these guys, I guess. You can simply toss them into a graveyard or mausoleum as a critter to kill - which is fine, they’re pretty interesting to fight - but to drive a plot they’ll probably work best in conjunction with creepy cultists. One could serve as the transformational moment when the players realise that they’re dealing with something really big: following some murders, they find some dudes wearing robes, who they kill without much difficulty, but then in the inner sanctum of the cultist’s lair they are faced with a truly powerful undead, demonstrating that something big is afoot, and that the cultists they fought had a connection to real power. Then the players could find another branch of the cult, with a Bodak relaying the booming voice of Orcus out to them, praising their dedication - and urging their greater efforts ‘for the great night of victory to come’…

The Bodak has bits of its old personality left. It also has a soul that is (technically speaking) really busted, and thus it is really hard to resurrect them; this, in conjunction with the unwilling transformations suggested by the Hierophants of Annihilation, leads me towards a plot where an NPC of some kind gets turned into one against their will, and the players have to go through hell and back (literally) to save them.

Mechanically, the Bodak is a bit of a glass cannon. Its defences are not great, although it has plenty of resistances to keep it up. However, it has a whole bevy of abilities that really punish things for getting close to them. They’ll be pretty simple to run - use Withering Gaze on its turn to try and kill the party Wizard, for example - but they do LOADS of damage on other people’s turns depending on how they do things, between Death Gaze and Aura of Annihilation. The (high damage) gaze is handled like the Medusa gaze, and nobody will be happy if they fail the save by 5 and get put into death saving throws right away, while the Aura just straight up does 5 damage to everyone that ends their turn near it. Ouch.

These are guys that will die almost instantly if the party can shoot them for a turn or two, or cause panic and mayhem if they use their Stealth to hide and get the drop on the party. I would definitely try to use them in cramped quarters, and combine them with Wights with bows to try and force the party to move into melee. Overall, I think that the Bodak is a dangerous customer; they’ll make for an excellent early-campaign boss, with the players fighting one at say level 3 or 4, in a tough and savage fight, and then serving to let the players demonstrate their increasing power by turning up as the easily-slain minions of other, more powerful, undead.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
One of the more interesting bits about Bodaks, is how comparatively easy it is to willingly become one VS other undead.

A relatively weak humanoind bent on revenge could find out about the ritual, perhaps from a profane prayerbook. Then they could enact the ritual on themselves to become a death machine, leading to a plot not unlike a horror flick. The PC's have to find out who the next victims will be, only to discover that they are on the hit list themselves. The Bodak in question is a family member of one of the villains the party has brought to justice (or someone they robbed, whatever your party is into~). How will the PC's deal with an undead monster who is out for them personally? How will the Bodak, backed up by information from Orcus and his cultists, mess up the PC's lives before it finally decides to end them?
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
One of the more interesting bits about Bodaks, is how comparatively easy it is to willingly become one VS other undead.

A relatively weak humanoind bent on revenge could find out about the ritual, perhaps from a profane prayerbook. Then they could enact the ritual on themselves to become a death machine, leading to a plot not unlike a horror flick. The PC's have to find out who the next victims will be, only to discover that they are on the hit list themselves. The Bodak in question is a family member of one of the villains the party has brought to justice (or someone they robbed, whatever your party is into~). How will the PC's deal with an undead monster who is out for them personally? How will the Bodak, backed up by information from Orcus and his cultists, mess up the PC's lives before it finally decides to end them?
These guys are one of my new favorites

This was one of my 2nd or 3rd thoughts, behind Orcus sending them as punishment to the PCs for messing up his plans one too many times.

I'll agree they are a bit of a glass cannon, but my first plan with these guys isn't to have them fight a party. Instead have them walk into a village. The player come back to find people just lying dead in the streets, and when they finally track the death back to the town hall or Temple they find a Bodak, from which Orcus mocks them for their inevitable end. A single Bodak could wipe out an entire village easily, slaughtering the base commoners with just the Aura and then taking care of any of the guards with its gaze. This is one of the few monsters I have ever seen where I feel it can cause massive death and destruction on a scale of towns and villages. A few of these put against a city is a terrifying threat.

Or, a minor villain they rather handily beat before, calls out in rage to Orcus, becoming a powerful enemy.


One neat thing, Orcus can see and hear everything any Bodak sees or hears. This makes them perfect not only for killing those who annoy him, but if the Bodak sees the party, it is the exact same as Orcus having seen them himself.

Finally, I really want something tangible to figure out how to run one of these Hierophants of Annihilation, they would make a great end boss. One thing I thought of as I considered how I might stat something like that up, I've seen very few places in D&D where something this powerful has a name involving the word "Annihilation" and what earned Orcus' favor enough to preserve these 7 worshipers and raise them so high above?

What if they are the beings that created the magic that forms Sphere's of Annihilation? They never were able to get the magic to expand beyond a small sphere, but having them hold a personal Sphere with them, and then the idea that these spheres and the amulets that control them are tools of Orcus' will, meant to end all life in all planes.


This is why the Bodak is one of my favorites, so much cool story.


Sidenote, I originally saw the Bodak with that artwork posted above by [MENTION=32659]Charles Rampant[/MENTION], and it was awful. I always wondered why I had a creepy grey skinned alien in my fantasy book. The new artwork I think really captures a much different horror and makes me actually want to use these spindly, weak looking shambling beings, that kill everything around them.
 
Oh man, I'd not thought of their effect on civilians. Definitely makes these guys number one priority, if you're around non-combatants. You could also use that, and the Hierophants of Annihiliation, as the backdrop for a post-apocalypse setup. Imagine a land completely emptied of life by the Priesthood of Orcus, i.e. Bodaks,, with only the restless dead and cultists to Orcus inhabiting it; from which Dark Crusades are launched in the name of the Lord of Undeath. The players maybe are survivors, or are tasked by a nearby kingdom or religious order with penetrating the place, finding the Hierophant that sits in the shattered ruins of a once-glorious city, and bringing an end to Orcus' foul domain.

I think that's a solid enough campaign premise, all of which has spun out of that one paragraph in a Bodak's entry. Nicely done, Wizards.
 
Today we look at the Boggle, the first of many Fey in the book.



The art in Volo’s is fun. The boggle is kind of disgusting, kind of monstrous, but also kind of adorable, with a telling combination of a teddy bear and skulls behind it. Its a very characterful picture, with the bushy eyebrows and furtive movements, and it really helps to cement these guys as ambiguous wee blighters.

Now that we’re onto the Fey, I thought that I’d mention my biggest bugbear (heh) with Volo’s: it has loads of Fey in it, but basically no description of their society or rulers. About the only real clues you get are snippets scattered throughout this chapter and the Hag entry in chapter one. It is irksome to me that they couldn’t have provided a page for this purpose - or considered dedicating part of chapter 1 to an overview of the Fey and their culture, in place of one of the races there. Anyway, let’s move on to the Boggle itself.

These little fellas are a lot of fun, but I suspect that they’ll not see a lot of use. Mischevous little blighters - essentially gremlins - who get formed when an intelligent creature feels lonely, they have a lot to recommend them as roleplaying encounters; chaotic but not evil means that you can use them in a number of ways. Having one turn against its evil master and approach the party for help eliminating him, with it speeding around the place disabling traps and whatnot, could be good fun. Equally, they could be happily serving someone that the party speaks to - say, a Warlock of an Archfey - and provide some interesting roleplaying in that situation.

I can see these guys being a viable antagonist, but probably only for very low level games; if your campaign starts with the players as children all living in the same castle and growing up together, for example. In that kind of situation, then a recurring Boggle might be a good addition, especially if the players have a lot of freedom to deal with it as they see fit, which allows for a roleplaying moment of showing their characters’ basic natures. Otherwise, I think that you could definitely use them in alliance with other Fey - one or two might make a surprisingly substantial change to a combat against a Hag, for example. I get the impression from Volo’s that the Fey will make much better opponents for low level parties in general, considering their fairly low CR across the board.

As to their combat stats, they are basically incapable of doing any real harm to a party. However, their abilities try very hard to depict them as annoying and disruptive, with the ability to squeeze and pop around the place, and excrete oil to get away from people. This matches their inclination to mischief, rather than murder. Otherwise, they are perhaps the most complex CR 1/8th monster in the game, but still not very complex for all that.

Final analysis: use them to amuse and entertain your players, not put them in fear for their characters’ lives.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
So do you think an upcoming adventure path is going to be riddled with fay? WotC love to drop hints like that.

Dimensional Rift is an intriguing ability. It says only the Boggle can use it, but they can shove anything into it. I could imagine a few scenarios where the Boggle grapples a creature (thanks to Sticky Oil) and shoves them though the rift to dispose of them. Or alternatively it could heard the PC's into a pit, set up with it's Oil Puddles to keep them there, and then push a large object through a rift that exits over their heads.

Though, this creature strikes me more like a plot device than a proper combat encounter. The Boggle could be used to take something from the PC's, maybe even frame them for a crime. Or the Boggle could be used as a potential ally rather than an enemy. If a PC was thrown into a prison, for instance, a Boggle could spawn after an amount of time to give the character a potential avenue of escape.
 

Bitbrain

Adventurer
I can easily see the Bodak as a sort-of "got what you wanted, but didn't want what you got".
A group of necromancers appeal to Orcus for lichdom, but he instead bestows upon them bodakdom.
It would make for a true "save or die" dungeon, where the players are all saying to each other "don't roll low on the save. Whatever you do, don't roll low."

Boggle Oil . . . I can easily see a situation where an opportunistic boggle is selling this stuff on the black market.
The lord mayor's daughter wants his head on a platter, having realized she's been had by a fey snake-oil salesman.
she bought the stuff thinking it would cure acne, only for her skin to break out in hives.

maybe the boggle is hiding out in the same dungeon as the bodaks, and is using his dimension-door-esque ability to harass the players by opening the rift and shoving fresh boggle oil out of it and onto them, right when they encounter their first Bodak . . .

wow, I think I just created my first adventure hook.:cool:
 
Last edited:
So do you think an upcoming adventure path is going to be riddled with fay? WotC love to drop hints like that.
Absolutely. As I'll mention tomorrow, Hags turn up friggin' everywhere in this book, and I am now certain that we're going to get a Fey-themed adventure at some point. The Feywild is one of D&D's less described places, but has a huge amount of storytelling potential thanks to its 'fantastical mirror of the real world' angle. That would also allow them to shunt off all of the Feywild setting description and Fey culture (the Queens, Court politics, etc) into one place. Otherwise I don't know why you'd put so many Fey into this book, but so little explanation for how they work together and what they, as a culture, represent vis-a-vis the player characters. For example: Dragons are clearly explained as greedy evil or good monsters to kill or talk to, Demons are for big smashing fights against EVIL, Hobgoblins are there to be a civilised race of Nazis, Yuan-Ti are for subversive alien manipulators, and so on. The Fey sit rather undeveloped amongst all of this.

I also agree with you and [MENTION=6863864]Bitbrain[/MENTION] that the Boggles seem more like plot devices than combat encounters. Good to turn up, set the tone for an adventure, do some narration, then leave; I'm basically thinking of Dobby the House Elf.
 

RotGrub

Villager
oh I need to say this.

Thanks for the Rot Grub Swarm WotC! I've already seen a few triggered gamers upset about its return. :)
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
oh I need to say this.

Thanks for the Rot Grub Swarm WotC! I've already seen a few triggered gamers upset about its return. :)
That artwork from my Dad's old AD&D book has given me nightmares for years... brrrr.


As for Boggles, one thing I would love to do to some players is have them dealing with a Hag, standing on her creaky wooden floor, which has lots of holes in it, and her Boggle servant is gluing all their feet to the floor and heavy objects beneath the floor. So, when they go to lunge forward to stop her, they can't move.

Trolling players is so much fun
 
Finally.... who else is deeply associated with Graz'zt? I know Succubi, Mariliths maybe? I can't think of a lot of them. Wait, Babau are connected
Lamias & Jackalweres in the MM. Also, to a lesser extent, Graz'zt is associated with Cambions & Succubi/Incubi.
 
It is my distinct pleasure today to discuss the Catoblepas, which is a solid contender for ‘fugliest thing in all of D&D’ - and that’s saying something for a game with Leucrotta, demons, and PHB Halflings in it.



The Catoblepas is really trying its utmost to make you feel unhappy in your eyes; I quote, “this conglomeration of bloated buffalo, dinosaur, warthog, and hippopotamus parts has few redeeming qualities.” Splendid. The art in Volo’s is pretty great: the Catoblepas has this… scratchy quality, implying all kinds of nasty flies and mosquitoes in its shaggy fur, even as its grumpy face sends a clear message of malevolent intent. It really does look like the ugliest and most disgruntled creature in the world.

On a side note, I came across a mention to these guys in my Planescape reading this week: specifically, Imel’s Happy Tongue restaurant in Sigil will sell you cheese made from these things’ milk. Sounds delicious.



The background for the Catoblepas is surprisingly vague in terms of their origin. Perhaps the gods of disease [1] created them to mark their influence; otherwise they appear to be natural. They eat, poop, and recreate as normal. It does, however, smell like the inside of a Otyugh’s stomach, and their mere presence makes their habitats (marshland, swamp, etc) even more unpleasant than normal. So it remains fairly ambiguous on the question of whether they are natural beasts or hellspawn of some kind. There is mention also that ‘sinister folklore’ has arisen about the Catoblepas, making them a harbinger of death or doom. Could be an interesting way to foreshadow their appearance in your game.

Probably the highlight of the background here is that sometimes Warlocks, dark knights, and other unsavoury types actually ride them as mounts. That is pretty hilarious, to be honest, as well as fairly concerning; tough to de-mount someone who is riding something as powerful as these! I’m not sure that players will take the mental image very seriously though, so I wouldn’t try to introduce that idea unless you’re happy for the players to laugh at the rider. On a similar note, Hags (who get mentioned a lot in this book, especially considering that I don’t think they’ve turned up at all in the modules) like to keep them as pets, and drink their milk. Let’s try not to picture a Hag milking a Catoblepas, m’kay? Otherwise, these things seem likely to be met either randomly in the wild or as part of someone’s mad menagerie, like their cousins in hateful fugly anger the Owlbears. Definitely worth sticking them onto your random encounter charts!

In combat, the Catoblepas is actually pretty nasty. It is easy to hit, like all of the animals, and mainly relies on a combination of its stink (a ten foot poison-condition aura, basically) and a lovetap from its tail to see off its enemies. However, that lovetap doesn’t just do (pretty considerable!) damage, it also imparts the Stunned condition, which is actually really rare for a monster to do, and a downright nasty trick to boot. It only gets one attack a turn though, so be prepared for it to miss all of its attacks and for you to then feel sad. The upside here is that the Catoblepas has a Death Ray, always an encouraging thing to see in a monster’s entry; this is basically a disintegrate spell, doing 8d8 damage, or even 16d8 for those who really fluff the save, and the ‘dead if reduced to 0’ element in full effect. Use that turn one and you can expect the players to form a lifelong hatred for this beastie. Maybe they won’t laugh so hard when the bad guy rides one into battle after that…

[1] In the Forgotten Realms, that'd be Talona, who is the dedicated disease deity.
 

Advertisement

Top