5E Let's Read: Volo's Monsters

Chaosmancer

Villager
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.
I don't get how you can impress me like this every day [MENTION=53176]Leatherhead[/MENTION] this is scary and gorgeous.

Looking over the Red Fang, it is appropriate to talk a little bit about their bats.

CR1/4, fly spd 60ft, 22hp and not a lot else. They have blindsight 60 ft, which seems odd to me. As a bat the size of a horse (they are Large) they've got to have incredibly good hearing and ears the size of plates, so I think 60ft is just their "perfect pinpoint clarity" range.

Which, leads me to wanting an additional orc, a variant of the Red Fang that is a little more Ranger. Give them beast bond, and let them listen through the bat. Now, on top of providing stealth fighters, you've got incredibly good spies. Capable of swooping in with darkness, landing a good distance away, and listening to the war meetings and other interesting tidbits of your enemy.

Honestly, this gives us all we need for a truly terrifying orc army sweeping the lands, and would offer a very complex challenge for the players to unravel even as high as 11th level I would guess.
 
Giant Bats don't get flyby sadly, so they don't let the Red Fangs auto-disengage. They're basically horses with a fly speed, and not very exciting with it, so there doesn't seem a lot to say about them.


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Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Giant Bats don't get flyby sadly, so they don't let the Red Fangs auto-disengage. They're basically horses with a fly speed, and not very exciting with it, so there doesn't seem a lot to say about them.
The giant bat's don't get flyby, but if they are operating under a shroud of Darkness, they don't need it: You can only take an OA against a target that you can see.

However, if you are looking for an orcish cavalry with more beef to them, the Auroch riders that worship Bahgtru should fit the bill.
 
When Orcs turn away from their gods, and start worshipping the Demon Lords of the Abyss, Baphomet is likely to show favour by bestowing the Taranukk upon the tribe. This is a... mixed blessing, especially given how domineering the Tanarukk is.



The image in the book is of a Tanarukk standing still, waving its sword around, and screaming. It's nicely detailed and coloured, but not hugely exciting.

There are a few different ways in which a Tanarukk might arise. As mentioned above, the tribe turning away from Gruumsh and the rest of the pantheon is one; this is apparently most likely when it is on the verge of defeat, and desperate. Alternatively, a non-Orc that gains control over the tribe - such as a local human warlord, or a Giant, such as the Frost Giant Brunvild in the Frozen Castle adventure - might do the beseeching of Baphomet, but they must be careful, lest the Tanarukk prove too much for them. The Tanarukk is also capable of breeding, and it's genetic descendants will randomly emerge as other Tanarukks, which means that it is possible for one to just emerge in an otherwise normal and pious tribe.

The Tanarukk is, to be honest, completely nuts. The combination of Chaotic Evil Orcs and Chaotic Evil Demons is not one that produces a very balanced individual, and low mental stats across the board don't help either. It emerges as a CR 5 fiend, which looks mostly like an up-scaled Orc rather than a down-scaled Demon, and it is extremely simple to run. You get some Demonic resistances - Fire, Poison - and the Magic Resistance trait, as well as Orcish Aggressive. The combat routine here is a pair of attacks, which do fairly underwhelming damage to be honest; however, the Tanarukk gets a reaction to strike back at an attacker that has hit it, so it will effectively get 3 attacks a round if in melee. With a low AC of 14 and no resistances to weapon damage, the Tanarukk is relying on a decent stock of HP to keep it in the fight. Overall, this is a creature who is notable by being much simpler than the other new Orc types, and should probably be treated as a shock trooper that you can toss at the players whenever you want. They have the 'Orc' keyword under type, and so should synergize fine with other Orcs, making them excellent recipients of Clerical buffs and leadership effects.

The Tanarukk is, well, fine. It's a stronger Orc with some mild Demon flavour, who does less damage than I'd hope for - even if it gets the reaction attack, it still does only barely more than the Red Fang - and yet is probably going to attract a lot of attention when it arrives. Use one if you fancy a big bruiser for your players to fight, but don't expect it to replace a Warchief or Blade as an interesting leader.
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
I love the Tanarukk, but looking back at it I can see what you're saying about them not being terribly impressive on the battlefield (I thought they got 2 greatsword attacks), but that reaction is bonkers. And, a great terrifying moment for the players when they get struck for hitting this guy, and the ruling on this I think is clear, it reacts when you hit it, not when it takes the damage. So even on the blow that will kill it, the Tanarukk can get a last swing in.

There are two ways I would run Tanarukks.

1) Get a lot of them. The normal stories for Tanarukks make them a singular entity within an orc tribe, but perhaps an isolated tribe is infused with Demonic power, either Baphomet having a plan and unleashing his horde of Orc Demons from the mountains or a leaking portal near their home which the players are sent to deal with. Putting 6 to 8 Tanarukks on the battlefield is going to make a party take a step back and rethink their life choices I think.

2) They are a singular leader, with the support of the tribe. Tanarukk's are not smart, but they are smart enough to see the value of wearing armor, and orcs have been shown to have a wide variety of armor available. Give them plate from the Orogs, and a magic weapon blessed by the tribe which increases their damage output. Perhaps a former Claw of Luthic is the things mother, and supports her child in combat, her abilities restored by Baphomet or perhaps as a sign that Luthic will not abandon her children as long as they continue as orcs should. That should make the Tanarukk scary enough with their higher hp and retaliation.
 
Interesting thoughts on having several of them. It also occurs to me that Tanarukks are solid entries into an Abyssal Wandering Monsters table; them plus some Goristos as a raiding band in the service of Baphomet will make a lot of sense, plus of course whatever other Demons suit the flavour of the encounter.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
The Orcish theme can be summed up with the phrase "It takes a tribe to raise an orc." Kobolds are combatants of desperation, hobgoblins are strict regiments perfect for wargaming, and Gnolls are something akin to a plague of locusts. Orcs are a clearly a Horde, with leaders upon leaders acting as stacking force multipliers.

However, the Taranukk exists outside of the proper orc tribe. Aside from what has already been suggested, while on a leash they would make a good bodyguard for a Warlock of the Fiend, or perhaps as a leader to some Minotaurs.

Anyway, the tight CR spread on the Orc Tribe places them squarely in tier 1 of play. That might not be too keen of an idea for people who want to use more of them, and here are some options to extend their functional range:

Firstly, their inherent force multiplication ramps up the danger they present, mixed squads are going to have more impact than a squad consisting of one or two units.

Secondly, they are humanoids (mostly) and that allows them to tap into the awesome power of NPC templates. Orc Lore opens up quite a bit more options than the typical fodder race, and you can always use a Half-Orc to fill in any gaps you have, like say if you really want to have a mage or warlock in the ranks.

CR 12
Warlord, functions as a legendary Blade of Ilneval, or Warchief.

CR 9
Warpriest, a bit generic, but given the proper weapon can act as a chosen one of the orcish pantheon. Functions as an Eye, or Claw easily. Even has stacking leader goodness for you.
Champion, a super beefy orc, orgrillon, half-orc, or orog.

CR 8
Blackguard, the evil paladin could serve as a higher powered Hand, it's a very effective anti-caster.
Assassin, a higher level follower of Shargaas.

CR 5
Gladiator or Master Thief depending on which part of the tribe the orc comes from.
 

The Quickling is one of the smallest creatures in the game, and gets some really fun abilities, as well as fitting into the theme that Fey Queens are not very nice.



The best thing about the art in Volo's is the fact that the Quickling is standing on a water lilly, a detail that I didn't notice until coming back to write this entry. It's a fun way of showing both the size and speed of the Quickling, while its body features both an alien looking head, an improbably thin waist, and well-developed calf muscles, all of which seem eminently appropriate.

The Quicklings were originally a race of lazy Fey, who managed to offend the Queen of Air and Darkness by repeated tardiness. I'm wondering just how many of them she summoned at once, for them to turn into an entire race of Fey thereafter. Anyway, they turned from lazy into Quicklings, but got the lifespan to match. They seem to have been not very nice before this transformation, but afterwards are definitely Up To No Good, with a Chaotic Evil alignment and a fluff description that feels the need to say 'they don't actually murder people' in bold letters.

A lot of space here is devoted to explaining how slow everything looks to the Quickling, which is probably more news to anyone who has not seen The Flash or Age of Ultron. Here we learn that the Quicklings are more consistent than comic book speedsters though, preferring to remain always at superspeed. They make use of this power by annoying and pranking people, rather than cornering the market on miniature goods manufacture which would have been the logical thing to do. On the plus side, "Adventurers raid the evil and very small clockmaking factory" is probably not the most exciting module ever.

As a side effect of spending all that space on speed, the fluff description doesn't really give a good idea of what you're meant to do with the Quicklings. We don't hear anything about their society or family networks, how they interact with other Fey, or what Quicklings actually want out of life. You're on your own there, apparently; and these guys seem a lot harder to use than other Fey like Darklings or Korreds.

However, their statblock is pretty great, so let's look at that. With CR 1, the Quicklings are surprisingly low level, but look really dangerous opponents despite that. AC of 16, disadvantage for enemy attack rolls against it, due to its great speed, and the Evasion ability of a Rogue combine to make the Quickling's 10 HP tough to actually get at. This is on top of a rather grotesque 120ft of movement a turn, and huge bonuses to Stealth and Sleight of Hand, mean that we should probably be happy that they didn't give this creature Disengage as a bonus action; opportunity attacks are likely to be desperately needed by your players. Like the Nilbog, a low level group that is unlucky on the dice is likely to get ground into paste by one of these. On top of that, the Quickling does an impressive three attacks a turn, which is great for the imagery of it rapidly stabbing people, but also means that it is going to have a consistent damage output, especially with 1d4+6 damage on each hit, which gives a narrow 7-10 range of results.

The Quicklings are a race that I'd be tempted to hold off on until the characters are level 3-4, and then use in small swarms to enrage and pinprick them. They should also work well with other Fey, especially since they are well placed to pounce on anyone that gets Restrained by a Korred or Hag. However, we don't really get a lot of explanation of what story these guys go with, which is a shame.
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
With their incedibly fast movement, Quickling can make good messengers and delivery fey, as long as they are in the employ of someone who they fear enough not to mess with the packages.

I can also imagine Quicklings caught by a mad wizard for experimentation. Trapped in an iron cage, whirring around at high speeds. Perhaps the wizard hopes to learn the secrets of the high-speed world and is casting Haste on the poor things.

Also, hasted Quicklings... probably terrifying.


Here's an interesting thought, what does a quickling city or village look like? Supposedly they are fast enough to be only a blur, so you walk up to a small village, seeing only wavering blue lines of light filling the streets. Or maybe they are fast enough to be effectively invisible, and you only feel a constant breeze. The place seems abandoned, until you lay down for the night only to find all your supplies stolen by the creatures.

Also, they only live fifteen years, which means at least some Fey are actually mortal instead of spirits. I might personally change that, tie them with Slyphs, perhaps they seem to be nomads, wandering the Feywild on an inifinte series of jobs, they are fast enough that even when they are lazy (and nothing says they are not still lazy) they can get all of it done and still have time for other pursuits.

I'd definitely use them more comedically, but once combat happens, I think players will find them really aggravating to deal with.
 
Fey settlements in general are a very underdeveloped idea, except for Hags. We talked upthread about them maybe getting focused on in a future module, and that might well be the case; otherwise, I can only imagine that we'll hear a lot more about this in anything that covers the Feywild. At the moment we know less about the entirety of the Fey race's living situation than we do about Kobold offal pits... :D
 

However, their statblock is pretty great, so let's look at that. With CR 1, the Quicklings are surprisingly low level, but look really dangerous opponents despite that. AC of 16, disadvantage for enemy attack rolls against it, due to its great speed, and the Evasion ability of a Rogue combine to make the Quickling's 10 HP tough to actually get at. This is on top of a rather grotesque 120ft of movement a turn, and huge bonuses to Stealth and Sleight of Hand, mean that we should probably be happy that they didn't give this creature Disengage as a bonus action; opportunity attacks are likely to be desperately needed by your players. Like the Nilbog, a low level group that is unlucky on the dice is likely to get ground into paste by one of these. On top of that, the Quickling does an impressive three attacks a turn, which is great for the imagery of it rapidly stabbing people, but also means that it is going to have a consistent damage output, especially with 1d4+6 damage on each hit, which gives a narrow 7-10 range of results.

The Quicklings are a race that I'd be tempted to hold off on until the characters are level 3-4, and then use in small swarms to enrage and pinprick them. They should also work well with other Fey, especially since they are well placed to pounce on anyone that gets Restrained by a Korred or Hag. However, we don't really get a lot of explanation of what story these guys go with, which is a shame.
In a discussion in a recent thread on quicklings, I determined that the CR for them in VGtM is completely wrong - with the stat block they have, they are actually CR 3, just based on the main stats alone, and before you factor in their speed and evasion abilities. If you run them as determined to kill a group, a single one would absolutely massacre a 1st level party on its own, especially if it got surprise, which wouldn't be too hard. It could just pick them off one by one, going for the most isolated, doing huge amounts of damage (in comparison to a typical 1st level character's usual hit points) each round and likely dropping them, and then run out of movement range each time. Even if they got into a situation where an opportunity attack were possible against them, with their evasion, they have a good chance of not being hit. Despite their deceptively now hit points, these guys would be 1st level party killers.

Now, against 3rd to 5th level parties or so, I'm all for them being used as foes! I'm an old fan of quicklings since 1st edition days, and was very happy to see them in VgTM (they topped my list of monsters I wanted to see). I just wouldn't use them against parties their putative CR says they should be used against...
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
quick and the kermit.jpg

Anyway~

Although they can be found naturally, Quicklings are typically in the employ of a Hag (Annis hags in particular can cause pockets of them to appear as a regional effect). Though any Druid or Warlock able to cast 6th level spells can summon one for some high speed chaos. But perhaps the best NPC caster to use them would be a Lore Bard.

How to cause Mischief:

Firstly, by far and large the most aggravating thing you can do to the PC's is take their gear. Which Quicklings are primed and ready to do. However, this is nowhere near the most mischief you can cause.

Quicklings enjoy a high Sleight of Hand score, which can be used to plant evidence on the PC's. What kind of evidence you ask? Well all of the evidence:

  • Stolen goods used to frame persons for thievery.
  • Contraband and poisons, to imply smuggling or assassination attempts.
  • Forged documents, used to instigate political strife.
  • (Un)Holy symbols of a god or goddess related to disease in a town plagued by sickness.
  • Tokens of love from persons of questionable repute, intended to destabilize relationships.
  • Strange Fetishes, used to let the PC's know they are still being watched, and scare any NPC who happens to see them.

While any of these are good enough hooks on their own, with a mid CR Bard backing up the claims of wrongdoing, they will become the new "truth" of the world. How quick will the PC's crumble when the world turns it's back on them and declares them the villains?
 
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MonsterEnvy

Adventurer
In a discussion in a recent thread on quicklings, I determined that the CR for them in VGtM is completely wrong - with the stat block they have, they are actually CR 3, just based on the main stats alone, and before you factor in their speed and evasion abilities. If you run them as determined to kill a group, a single one would absolutely massacre a 1st level party on its own, especially if it got surprise, which wouldn't be too hard. It could just pick them off one by one, going for the most isolated, doing huge amounts of damage (in comparison to a typical 1st level character's usual hit points) each round and likely dropping them, and then run out of movement range each time. Even if they got into a situation where an opportunity attack were possible against them, with their evasion, they have a good chance of not being hit. Despite their deceptively now hit points, these guys would be 1st level party killers.

Now, against 3rd to 5th level parties or so, I'm all for them being used as foes! I'm an old fan of quicklings since 1st edition days, and was very happy to see them in VgTM (they topped my list of monsters I wanted to see). I just wouldn't use them against parties their putative CR says they should be used against...
Despite you saying they should be CR 3. The fact is they only have 10 hp. If someone gets lucky and hits them they are probably going to go down. Because of this low hp I can't see them being ranked above CR 1.
 
In a discussion in a recent thread on quicklings, I determined that the CR for them in VGtM is completely wrong - with the stat block they have, they are actually CR 3, just based on the main stats alone, and before you factor in their speed and evasion abilities.
What thread was that? I've been trying to link other relevant posts as we go, for future reference. :)
 
Despite you saying they should be CR 3. The fact is they only have 10 hp. If someone gets lucky and hits them they are probably going to go down. Because of this low hp I can't see them being ranked above CR 1.
With their AC, movement rate, and evasion, what's the likelihood of that happening though for a 1st level character? Even a ranged attack will be hard to connect, as it should be able to move into cover after attacking in a typical forest. Yes it may go down in one hit, but in all probability, its taken down at least 1 or 2 of the party before that point, if not a TPK.

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One of the few Fey in this book that I had heard of before, the Redcap is a loveable little murderer.



The image in the book is simple but evocative. At first glance the Redcap just looks like a gnome, but then the eye is drawn to the claws, the heavy iron boots, and the face twisted in evil. It’s a solid effort, full of character and easy on the eyes.

The Fey seem divided into ‘true’ races, like the Darklings, which appear to breed and have a culture, and the ‘summoned’ races, like the Meenlock, who come into being in response to great evil and then act as predators for a time. The Redcap falls solidly into the latter camp; when murder is committed near a crossing to the Feywild, or in the Feywild itself, then ‘one or more’ little red mushrooms appear. Come the next moonshine, they will pop up as little gnomes, fully equipped and ready to slay. There are a few intriguing elements to this account of their spawning, if you will. The Redcaps have a connection to the individual whose murderous acts brought them about; they tend to either slay that person, or work for them, provided that they can provide new victims. This makes for a really interesting idea - if the players find a young boy, say, being chased by Redcaps, does that make him a victim - or a suspect? You can also justify any number of Redcaps appearing in your adventure, as the description is vague, and so these guys can serve as the BBEG’s muscle in a Fey themed adventure, while the Korreds and Quicklings and whatnot serve other roles in the story. Hags, for example, have 2d4+2 Redcaps listed as ‘brute’ minions.

Redcaps can serve as ‘things to meet in the Feywild’, of course - a group of them with nearly-dry hats will cheerfully attack any group of players, especially since once the blood in their hat dries fully then the Redcap will vanish. However, they also let you use them as a murder mystery element; if the players know that Murder Most Foul was done on the moor two days ago, and furthermore saw the Redcap mushrooms, will they choose to let them ‘bloom’ in order to follow the Redcap and see who it seeks out? Between this and all the other Fey creatures, you can probably get a surprisingly robust sandbox campaign by just stuffing all their inbuilt plots into a single small town and its environs.

The Redcap is CR 3 and has a very straightforward statblock, although it uses a fair number of words to indicate how it works. The Iron Boots and Outsize Strength entries basically just clarify that it is small sized, can’t hide, and gets to use a whopping great sickle. That sickle - that wicked sickle - lets it attack three times a turn, doing only slightly more damage than the CR 1 Quickling (see above for commentary on how odd the Quickling’s CR is). It also gets a very fun Ironbound Pursuit ability, which as an action lets the Redcap move up to its speed and boot someone in the shins - forcing a dex save or take 3d10+4 damage and go prone. The save DC isn’t that hard, but Dex is also often quite a difficult save for the frontline characters - Paladins are all born with Dex 8, it seems - and so this might work surprisingly well. It’s a nasty trick especially in groups, as it then lets another Redcap slice and dice the character on the ground with advantage. Otherwise, the Redcap has, you know, armour and hit points and darkvision and whatnot. It’s a pretty simple statblock, with the Ironbound Pursuit being their distinguishing feature.

I’m quite fond of these guys. They will serve admirably as the bread & butter of a Fey themed adventure, being simple but dangerous brutes, and they are easy to integrate into a plot.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Upthread I mentioned that I was working on a Statblock for Sparkules, the Strongest Gnome in the World. I will be cribbing heavily from the Redcap to make that work.


Also of note: The Redcap has one of the few instances of using a non-standard weapon, and non-standard weapon die for attacks. The Wicked Sickle is deals 2d4 damage inherently, and is not modified by any ability that the Redcap has (Contrast with the Blade of Ilneval's Foe Smiter of Ilneval ability.) I think I am going to make that available in my games as a standard martial one handed weapon to provide an alternative to the longsword.
 

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