5E Let's Read: Volo's Monsters

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
The Mind Whisperer has got tricks by the oodles.

Even though it's not an infiltrator in the purest sense of the word, it is capable of inconspicuous travel via snake form, and boasts a decent enough deception and stealth score to do something with that. You could easily have one set up a "Garden of Eden" situation where it tempts someone with either knowledge or power. Slowly gaining the trust of a young noble, using detect thoughts to grant them their hearts desire, and working their way into influencing the court.

Additionally, they could slither into various areas to assassinate someone, their Mind Fangs power can trigger off of the bite they deliver while polymorphed, making the first trike lethal to lesser npcs, and very painful to any PC of the appropriate levels.

And they could always serve as a leader of the local snake cult.

Another interesting tidbit: They can see through magical darkness. Though they have no way of casting darkness themselves (unless you swap something, and perhaps you should), they can be paired up with a pureblood illusionist or warlock to capitalize on it during combat. Though perhaps you should consider using Fly+ Eldritch blast. I am sure one of your PC's has used that combination at some time or another, and it would be delicious to have them on the receiving end for once.

Now for Malison's in general.
They are the priests and elite warriors of the Yaun-ti.
Warrior Malison's come in 5 different types, 3 from the MM and 2 more in Volo's chapter 2.

Type 1 (snake head) is the archer unit. By coating it's arrows in poison, it deals respectable damage with it's longbow. This is also the type of the Mind Whisperer.
Type 2 (snake arms) is the melee striker unit, it gets to bite twice (though I feel it really should have reach and various poison effects to make it interesting), dealing OK damage, but they don't have hands, so I doubt their general usefulness. I suppose it looks intimidating at least, however you could achieve similar melee prowess by giving one of the other types a Greatsword.
Type 3 (snake lower body) is another melee unit, but has a constrict attack that grapples targets while doing a smattering of damage. It also carries a longbow, just in case, but doesn't coat the arrows in poison (because it has a human head instead of a snake one). I would take them over the type 2's 90% of the time.

Types 4 and 5 share most of the same traits. They are also lower raking than the other Malison's perhaps due to the fact they are not venomous. But at least they have hands and can use weapons, so that's one thing they have over type 2's
Type 4 (snake tails) Should have a tail attack, perhaps with reach, and possibly some kind of knock prone mechanic. But they don't for some reason.
Type 5 (full body snake scales) should have extra natural armor, but again, don't for some reason.

Finally, Malison's have access to all of the Unusual Abilities that Abominations can get from chapter two, giving them a number of additional control options and body modifications to suit their role.
 

MonsterEnvy

Adventurer
Types 4 and 5 share most of the same traits. They are also lower raking than the other Malison's perhaps due to the fact they are not venomous. But at least they have hands and can use weapons, so that's one thing they have over type 2's
Type 4 (snake tails) Should have a tail attack, perhaps with reach, and possibly some kind of knock prone mechanic. But they don't for some reason.
Type 5 (full body snake scales) should have extra natural armor, but again, don't for some reason.
They are considered lesser cause they are not snakey enough. 4's have short tails they have little control over. They are not long enough or strong enough to serve as a weapon. It's a useless thing which why they considered lesser then the more snakey Malisons. Type fives are covered in snake scales. Said scales are not strong enough to serve as additional armor. So it's another useless snakey thing that is simply not snakey enough by the other Yuan Ti's standards. Pretty much a step up from the pureblood with out having the ability to pretend to be human.


The greater three malisons all have much more visible snake traits that also give them benefits. Which is why they are seen as better.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
They are considered lesser cause they are not snakey enough. 4's have short tails they have little control over. They are not long enough or strong enough to serve as a weapon. It's a useless thing which why they considered lesser then the more snakey Malisons. Type fives are covered in snake scales. Said scales are not strong enough to serve as additional armor. So it's another useless snakey thing that is simply not snakey enough by the other Yuan Ti's standards. Pretty much a step up from the pureblood with out having the ability to pretend to be human.


The greater three malisons all have much more visible snake traits that also give them benefits. Which is why they are seen as better.
I suppose that meshes with the lore. But it doesn't quite mesh with the CR. Also the smaller-tailed Halfbloods used to have a special attack with it, so I was going off of that.
 
Thanks for providing overviews of the basic Yuan-ti types, [MENTION=53176]Leatherhead[/MENTION] - it's a useful thing to do, and I don't want to make my posts too huge by trying to cover all that material. The variability of the Yuan-ti is kind of their unique selling point, in a lot of ways, but it is presented somewhat confusingly I think.

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The Yuan-Ti: Nightmare Speaker are the torturers of the race, who delight in feeding their fell deity the fears and nightmares of their victims.



The art in the book is really interestingly posed, with the Nightmare Speaker writhing around so much that no one part of her body is in a straight line. It’s a clever way of communicating the alien nature of a Yuan-ti, as well as suggesting the mindset of one of these.

Among the Yuan-ti, already a very cruel race, the Nightmare Speaker is the cruelest, as she offers the suffering of her victims to her god. She feels very much like the kind of person that the players meet inside a Yuan-ti settlement, the one in charge of the slave pens and whatnot, and less like one that they’ll just meet in the wild or as part of an infiltration party. Of course, she can be lurking in the sewers or the nearby swamp along with a bunch of other Yuan-ti, but the basic idea here is the same as the ‘evil doctor in charge of the patients’ from WW2 films; Armin Zola from Captain America, for example. Their purpose might be very different, but their narrative role - to be the horrible monster that the players defeat to free the captives - is the same. I’d definitely be tempted to have a whole scene revolve around this madam and her servants, with heavy use of illusions and unsettling imagery in her lair, elevating her from just another Yuan-ti, and into a very particular kind of horror. If you’ve played Arkham Asylum, and remember the Morgue level, then you’ll know what I mean.

It seems that Wizards developed a ‘Yuan-ti Warlock’ package, and the Mind Whisperer, Nightmare Speaker, and Pit Master all share it, something that I did not notice yesterday when writing about the Mind Whisperer. This package includes the standard Yuan-ti traits - speak with snakes, turn into a snake - as well: as a Paladinesque ability to add 3d10 damage to a hit, twice a day; magic resistance; spellcasting as a 6th level Warlock; two melee attacks; training in Deception and Stealth; Devil Sight to see through magical darkness; AC 14 and 71 or 88 HP. It’s a fairly complete package, to be honest, and had I noticed in advance I would probably have done all three statblocks in one post.

Anyway, let’s look more at the Nightmare Speaker. She gets an ability to Invoke Nightmare as an action, which appears to be a customised version of Phantasmal Killer, albeit one that does half as much damage and is much less debilitating, which feels a bit unfair to the Yuan-ti. The Nightmare Speaker can only do this once per rest, in other words only once, and it feels a little unduly weak compared to the spell in question, so you could just bump her up to a 7th level Warlock and give her the spell directly if you wanted to make her more impressive. Another, more interesting, approach might be to let her do it multiple times - it feels like the signature ability of this creature should be usable more than once. Speaking of the spellcasting, she gets a selection of Warlock spells that provide a lot of control and damage: eldritch blast with +3 damage and increased range, arms of hadar and hunger of hadar, witch bolt, and hold person. I can say that Hunger of Hadar is totally horrific, and a really strong way to control the battlefield, especially considering that the Nightmare Speaker - and the other two Yuan-ti Warlocks - can still see into the area. So what we have here is a caster that could get into melee, but has the spells to not need to; she can use Hold Person and Hunger of Hadar to lock characters down, before using Eldritch Blast to punish the party at range. I’ve seen a PC Warlock follow this model, and it was devastatingly effective.

Though not a Yuan-ti that the players are likely to meet very often, the Nightmare Speaker has the tools to really make an impact, especially if you play up her themes of fear and loss of control. However, her combat ability feels a little too neutered, and she seems likely to focus heavily on basic spellcasting instead, which is perhaps a sign of an overly-cautious creature design.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
No problem, it's kind of hard to talk about how monsters fit into the tribal niches without the rest of the tribe.

All of the Yuan-ti priest-warlocks have some method of control, to emphasize their nature as the enslavers of humanity.
The Mind Whisperer has numerous ways to charm, which may lend itself into thinking you are supposed to use it as a controller first and foremost. But it's full suite of abilities lends itself to what would have been a skirmisher in 4e, including a way to gain temporary hps so that they can survive better once they take down their high value target.

The Nightmare Speaker is more along the lines of a proper controller, focused on heavy area denial, with some hard shut downs and debuffs thrown into the mix. The combination of Hex and Constrict will put all but the mightiest of front line characters on notice. Though you may wish to have her Constrict one target, then focus her attacks on another. You also have the option of letting her double-down on the ranged damage roll that warlocks are famous for, if you place multiples of them in the same combat, or find that her control options are proving ineffective against the PCs. Also, they like to hang out with the undead, because they are evil. So place a zombie that the PC's know under her loving care and watch the PC's throw chips at you for being mean. Or just add a mummy or two, to ramp up the control aspect of the encounter.

An important note is that the fluff for all of the priest-warlocks implies that they arbitrarily picked each type to go with their god. This isn't quite true. The Mind Whisperer is type 1, because that bite attack is useful for defense when you can't polymorph your gear with you, and they have hands, which are useful for opening doors. Likewise the type 3 provides even more control options for the Nightmare Speaker. The Pit Master, which we will be talking about tomorrow I presume, gets stuck with the type 2 because it had to be stuck somewhere. However, you are also free to mix and match types to the warlocks as your plot demands, which provides for some of the most customizable creatures in this book, outside of high level spell casters who only have more options as a technicality of their spell lists.
 
The penultimate entry in our series, the Yuan-Ti: Pit Master is the third of the Yuan-ti Warlocks, and one that serve as the cautious custodians of tradition.



The art in the book is very Aztec in feel, and that isn’t a bad thing! The use of turquoise paint to give the male figure’s bare chest some colour is also quite interesting, and gives it a surprisingly debauched feel. Meanwhile, the snake arms are not as detailed as they could be - they look more like ribbons than anything - and I’d have loved to see an action pose here, which demonstrated how a creature with snakes for hands actually functions.

Devotees of Merrshaulk, these guys seek to rouse their god from his slumber by sacrificing humanoids. It’s definitely the most overtly blood-and-pyramids Aztec feel that we get from the Yuan-ti, and it’s a shame that chapter one didn’t go into a little more detail on that front. The other theme for the Pit Master is that they apparently ted to lead the espionage and counter-espionage efforts of their race, so you might expect to meet them fairly often, since those are the roles in which player characters will most likely fall into the view of a Yuan-ti settlement. That is kind of all the information that we get on these guys, and it definitely feels like we could have had a bit more. Other than the obvious role for these guys as leading the infiltration ring in a human city, the Pit Masters seem most likely to be part of a civil strife among the Yuan-ti, fighting the other Warlock factions to protect traditions and rouse their god.

The idea of Merrshaulk being awoken and drowning the world in poison is a compelling one for a campaign, now that I think about it. It could definitely lend itself to an Indiana Jones style globe-trotting tale of adventure, with the players hopping from jungle to desert as they try to beat the Yuan-ti to the macguffin of awakening. It’s a fairly elemental idea - the plot is the same as virtually all Call of Cthulhu adventures - but having Yuan-ti as the bad guys might be enough to give it a distinct theme.

We covered virtually all of this profile yesterday, while discussing the Nightmare Speaker; you should look to that for the majority of the information. The unique element here is Merrshaulk’s Slumber, an action that will let it try and put five creatures to sleep. It’s a very interesting effect - working like the sleep spell, it isn’t hard to undo, but it is a bit of a problem for the party in action economy terms. In addition, you don’t get immunity to the effect if you pass, so only Elves will be able to feel happy about multiple Pit Masters spamming this effect at them. On the other hand, the saving throw is fairly easy, so you’ll likely not see the Fighter or Barbarian fail - instead the back line are vulnerable, the group who are also more likely to be Elf-blooded in the first place.

Finally, we have some spellcasting. Again, a solid version of Eldritch Blast makes its appearance, along with an interesting mix of spells that lets the Pit Master try to control enemy combatants with command, stop enemy spellcasters or melee fighters with counterspell and hellish rebuke, and straight up flee combat with invisibility and misty step. This is another fairly mixed bag, and like the other two Warlocks I think that we should see these guys as multipurpose; their spell lists are designed to give them the flexibility to fight, flee, or infiltrate. Counterspell is usually a hilarious spell to use against PCs, especially since you don’t care about conserving spell slots while they very much do, so even if the party counterspell the counterspell, you’re still draining them of valuable spell slots.

Overall, the Pit Master is another fine but subtle statblock. The Yuan-ti warlocks all seem to have complex bags of tools, and I think that this subtle approach is deliberate by the designers, to ensure that while Orc Clerics are obvious, and Hobgoblin Wizards are blunt objects, the Yuan-ti Warlocks are a very different kettle of snakes entirely. I’m interested to see how they fare in actual play, but likely won’t get a chance until my players reach the Tomb of Diderius in Rise of Tiamat, so that’ll be a while yet.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
The Pit master is the frontliner of the warlock-priests. Using vampiric touch to keep itself alive longer in the fray, and Hellish Rebuke to make people think twice about attacking it. Unseen Servant is presumably there to mitigate the problem of not having proper hands, even though it seems the lack of them doesn't prevent spellcasting.
They get all of the options that the other warlock-priests do, which is nice, but stating that is a bit redundant now.

There isn't much left to talk about the Yaun-Ti, other than the fact they are slavers (perhaps the most insidious kind at that), and thus should never be encountered alone.
Particularly fun additions to encounters/lairs are Stone Golems for the immunites, Hydras for the big bad snake monster, Medusas for the fact that this is the one place you can put them without the PC's figuring out what they are right off the bat, Flying Snakes because they are a neat visual that will remind the players there is nowhere that is safe, and last but not least; the hordes of human cultists, from all occupations and walks of life ready to throw their lives away for questionable reasons. If you want to throw a bit of a curveball at your PC's, consider using non-standard NPC types to be the members of the cult. Druids, in particular, would make for thematic and powerful servants. Perhaps consider having an entire ship full of converts, coming back from some far-west land with a hold filled with strange artifacts. And finally, a monastery filled with monks that practice snake-style martial arts.

If there is one thing that Volo's guide is lacking for Yaun-ti coverage, it's an Ophidian-pact warlock NPC, though I suppose you could reverse engineer one of the warlock-priests into a more general NPC template.
 
The monastery idea is fun. In Princes of the Apocalypse there is a stone-themed monastery full of monks, with new statblocks covering them; it would be the work of moments to alter that for a Yuan-ti flavour. It's also a week or two's walk away from Waterdeep, which is a useful location. The leader of the cult is a medusa who was formerly a human noble, and was transformed for his vanity.


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We finish this series with the animals of the book, Aurochs, Cow, Dolphin, Swarm of Rot Grubs, who get presented together on two pages. We’ll see what there is to say about these.



We get an image of the Auroch in the book, which looks so hilariously shaggy and gnarled that it basically looks like a tree with legs. It’s got the grumpiest expression that I’ve ever seen on a cow as well, so I’d definitely avoid any field containing one of these.

So the Auroch is a divinely-created War Cow, essentially, ridden around by the Orcs who favour Baghtru. They are the same size as horses, and look like basically the best ground-pounding cavalry around - 50ft move, 38hp, and a Charge attack which can do 4d8 damage and knock someone prone. If you then ignore the question of how far apart the rider and the now-prone enemy are, this will let the Orc on top get advantage on the attack. I’d suggest that you swap out the riders themselves to suit the player group - a low level group might benefit from normal Orcs who they can easily kill, while a higher level group might be best put against Orogs.

Interestingly, the Orcs treat the Aurochs as honored warriors, and do not eat them. I’ve got an amusing image in my mind of lowly Orcs (of Shargaas, perhaps) regarding the Aurochs with jealousy, an idea that might be worth pursuing if you do an Orc campaign at any time.

Next up is a Cow, which, well, it’s a cow. Judging from the damage on their gore, I should pay them more respect than I normally do! I guess that this profile might be useful if your party goes to fantasy-Spain and gets into a bullfight? Much more interesting is the variants. We get an Ox, which can carry a lot and is good as a method to ignore the encumberance rules. The Rothe lives in the Underdark, is medium sized, and communicate with dancing lights. That’s quite fun, and I can see it being a way to surprise and worry the party, when they hear hundreds of footsteps approaching, with flashing lights proceeding them, only to realise that it is just ambulatory lunch. At least, until the Drow guards make their move… Finally, we get the Stench Kow, which is pretty amusing: a Cow from the Lower Planes with resistance to fire, cold and poison. I guess that makes sense, and certainly Planescape made it clear that the planar inhabitants still needed food. They get a stinky ability that reminds me of the Catoblepas, and you could use the two types together.

Next up we get the Dolphin, which I can only imagine was put here because they realised that Storm Giants need pets as much as Triton player characters need rides. On the subject, I’m hoping that one of the upcoming adventures has a long underwater segment, since that could be a lot of fun.

Finally, we have the Swarm of Rot Grubs, which are maggots; just like D&D needs mega cows, it also needs mega maggots, apparently. These get mechanics that are basically the same as the Spawn of Kyuss, but in a CR 1/2 format, so this looks like a good way to add some horror to an undead section of your campaign - Skeletons don’t really have much body horror to provoke, while having maggots burrow into your skin and try to gnaw on your heart most decidedly does. At CR 1/2 it is easy enough to add them to even tier one adventures, while they are quick enough to run that adding a bunch to tier two combats in undead dungeons isn’t going to slow things down too much. A solid entry, not that exciting but serving a definite niche, albeit one that the Spawn of Kyuss also fulfills at a higher CR.

With that, we reach THE END. I’m not going to cover the NPC statblocks - both because they seem self-evident, and also because, to be honest, I don’t want to. Thank you for reading this far, and I hope that the discussion here between myself and others - with thanks to [MENTION=53176]Leatherhead[/MENTION] [MENTION=6777078]RotGrub[/MENTION] [MENTION=6801228]Chaosmancer[/MENTION] [MENTION=6801226]MechaTarrasque[/MENTION] [MENTION=5435]fuindordm[/MENTION] [MENTION=83242]dave2008[/MENTION] [MENTION=6787650]Hemlock[/MENTION] [MENTION=6863864]Bitbrain[/MENTION] [MENTION=6867728]ArchfiendBobbie[/MENTION] and anyone else I’ve forgotten - helps you to use this fine book to improve your campaign. The first post now has hyperlinks to all the monsters covered in the series, so hopefully this can serve as a useful resource in the future, unless the forum falls over and explodes again or something.

So long, and thanks for all the crits.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Animals are animals. And well, there isn't much that can be said about them, which is kind of ending on a low note.

The selection of cattle here can be useful for an artificer (the new UA class) to pick as a template for there mechanical servant. While not the most impressive for combat, they do sport several unique abilities.

Stench kows, in particular, could be used as part of a plot. Perhaps an unscrupulous farmer made a deal with an imp or other low ranking fiend, asking for a way to sabotage competing farms. Instead of simply making the cows sick or killing them, the imp gave the farmer a potion which mutated the heard, and now the town has to deal with the kows. Bonus points if they have mad kow disease.

Dolphins aren't too good for most things to ride, but they can make for a decent animal companion if you are in a sea based campaign.

One notable thing about Rot grubs, they are weaponized by the kobolds, which means anyone could potential use such a tactic. And presumably they are a bit more manageable than the Kyuss worms, because they don't zombify their hosts in order to infect more people.
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
With that, we reach THE END. I’m not going to cover the NPC statblocks - both because they seem self-evident, and also because, to be honest, I don’t want to. Thank you for reading this far, and I hope that the discussion here between myself and others - with thanks to [MENTION=53176]Leatherhead[/MENTION] [MENTION=6777078]RotGrub[/MENTION] [MENTION=6801228]Chaosmancer[/MENTION] [MENTION=6801226]MechaTarrasque[/MENTION] [MENTION=5435]fuindordm[/MENTION] [MENTION=83242]dave2008[/MENTION] [MENTION=6787650]Hemlock[/MENTION] [MENTION=6863864]Bitbrain[/MENTION] [MENTION=6867728]ArchfiendBobbie[/MENTION] and anyone else I’ve forgotten - helps you to use this fine book to improve your campaign. The first post now has hyperlinks to all the monsters covered in the series, so hopefully this can serve as a useful resource in the future, unless the forum falls over and explodes again or something.

So long, and thanks for all the crits.
Thank you for your hard work and dedication. Posting a new entry every day for a couple of months had to have been taxing. I've enjoyed our conversations and ideas and I hope to steal from this thread prodigiously in the future ;)
 

Nebulous

Adventurer
The last of the Kobold entries, the Kobold Scale Sorcerer is another interesting entry, despite my slight apathy towards the race as a whole.



The Scale Sorceror gets a really odd image. At first glance, you’d think that it was a type of Winged Kobold, but upon a closer look the wings are made of canvas and wood; there is no mention of them in its statblock, which rather raises the question of why the image has them. I mean, it certainly makes sense for a Kobold Sorcerer to get wings, but it doesn’t actually have wings, and showing this image to your players will immediately raise questions about them. Combine this with a rather odd pose - it is standing facing to the left, but looking at the viewer - and I’m sadly not a fan of this artwork.

The Scale Sorcerers are kind of the spiritual leaders of their race. Since Kobolds have so few clerics - their god being imprisoned by the trolling of the Gnomish one - they have to rely on the Sorcerers to fill the role. In addition, if the tribe is associated with a Dragon, then this fellow will be the intermediary between the two, giving it the rather difficult job of relaying information to the Dragon - both good and bad… In both of these roles, the Sorcerer could easily function as a roleplaying encounter for the PCs, someone that they meet and talk to, perhaps before fighting breaks out, or perhaps instead of fighting. It might be very interesting to have the players need information from a tribe of Kobolds, and so be inclined to seek them out and communicate with the Scale Sorcerer leading them, which would let you use this race in a very different manner than normally seen.

The Scale Sorcerer is rather low level for the concept - a magically empowered leader of the tribe - and this is probably the biggest problem with their statblock. We get another perfectly good spellcaster statblock, this time at CR 1, with some potent spells such as Chromatic Orb, Charm Person and Scorching Ray, and we even get a Sorcery Points ability that sounds at first like it would be very interesting. However, since they are so low level, the Scale Sorcerer doesn’t actually get any interesting command abilities, nor do the sorcery points seem to add up to much of anything. It gets three points, and can spend one to drop the verbal and somatic components of a spell, or all three to give one person disadvantage against one spell. The latter effect is interesting, until you consider that only two of its spells even have saving throws, and neither one is particularly important. Meanwhile, the only usage of the former ability that I can think of at the moment is to use it with Charm Person to infiltrate a human settlement, which is fun enough I guess, but not really something that needs to be included in the profile for a primarily combat opponent.

Overall, I’d say that the Scale Sorcerer is disappointing, and that my disappointment stems from them just being too weak to be that interesting. My uncharitable side thinks of them as a spellcaster leader that cannot lead, and only barely cast. However, thinking about it a bit more, the Scale Sorcerer is probably designed specifically as an entry that serves as the boss of a party’s very first dungeon, like the Bugbear at the start of Lost Mine of Phandelver, and so my above complaints really won’t matter since he’ll be appropriately scary for a party of level one characters.
Good points. I personally use some winged kobold minis for the scale sorcerer, so mine DO fly. What would be a good spell to swap out so that the disadvantage from the spell points would be most devastating? They are weak, yes, but I think that was the point. Used creatively they can still be intimidating.
 

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