5E Let's Read: Volo's Monsters

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Domesticated Catoblepas. That's someones idea of a white elephant gift for sure.

Here is a scenario for you:

Some important official from a neighboring kingdom regards Death Cheese as a delectably irresistible treat. This causes the local nobles to task the PC's with acquiring a catoblepas from a Hag or clergy of Talona (or whichever undesirable god of disease fits your setting), and transport it over the border, into the Official's personal stable.

Complications that could arise from this task:
Finding the less-than-scrupulous individuals who own such beasts, and securing one from them.
Perhaps hiring one of these individuals to travel with you, in case you need someone to handle the beast.
Guiding a huge beast that radiates foulness and can eliminate people with but a glance through the country. Despite the best protests of the farmers, and druids, and anyone with a nose.
Crossing the border with a walking epicenter of blight, without causing an international conflict.
Safely stabling the beast, and hoping that the Official knows what they are doing with it, because you sure as heck don't at this point.
Maybe, just maybe, one of the more twisted members of the group develops a bond with the beast.


And what book is that from, if I may ask?
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
I like these things, and defintely love the imagery of a Hag keeping a herd of these to make her swamp truly unnatural.

My biggest issue is trying to figure out it's ray, how does it do that?

My best answer so far, give them a 3rd, crazy bloody eye that they can open on their forehead. That seems to be the best visual for the ability.

Also, these things have a potential "unintended consequences" hook. A hag your party takes out kept a herd of these things in the swamp, docile and content. LAter they hear of border towns being displaced because the herd of beasts is looking for thier dead caretaker and wandering around causing issues.


Also, interesting bit of DM addition: These things are so nasty when alive, what effect could a corpse have in a normally healthy grassland for instance? They cause blight in disease in animals from simply living near them, what would happen in a village where someone was raising one in secret, because an Annis Hag decided to have a child raise one from infancy
 

Sammael

Adventurer
Volo's Guide arrived a few days ago, and I am honestly really underwhelmed. It seems to me that a large portion of monster lore from previous editions was ignored, particularly those bits that are relevant to the Realms. The above-mentioned catoblepas was turned into yet another monster where it was more like a really deadly animal in editions of yore (and it was possible to domesticate it, like the Marsh Drovers of Cormyr did - hence the death cheese).

Tlincalis were reduced to brutes without any culture or civilization. Beholders now reproduce by dreaming? Seriously... no. Additionally, every other creature seems to be tied to one of the demon lords (Orcus, Yeenoghu, Graz'zt...), which I find overly simple and too game-y.

The very early 3.0 book Monsters of Faerun had much better lore, even if the math was really wonky. 3.5 monster guidebooks had more in-depth and more interesting concepts (even Libris Mortis, which was crap compared to the others). This feels like a waste of money.
 
The idea of making the party interact with Catoblepas as cattle, albeit ridiculously dangerous ones, rather than as monsters is interesting; droving them surreptitiously past towns at night, having to pay off shepherds when it escapes and death rays their sheep, etc. That would also let you have a roleplaying encounter with a Hag, rather than a combat one. Another option for that Hag encounter is, as suggested by Chaosmancer, to have the party asked to find a new Hag to replace one that they killed, since otherwise the Catoblepas will run rampant. Actually, I really like that idea!

The Death Ray I think was kept vague just like the rest of the critter, to let the DM decide. Like, if you declared that these critters only lived in the Plains of Death, that would certainly make sense for their statblocks; but not so much sense that you felt compelled to put them there, like the Bodaks, say.

The changing canon is something that Chris Perkins said on Twitter to be intentional. In short, the idea that they have to stick to something just because it was that way in the past is not an idea that they find useful, and he says that it was not an idea that existed in the past either. After all, things constantly evolve. For my part, since I've so little knowledge of the monsters in D&D from previous editions, I've loved most everything that I've seen. :)
 

Sammael

Adventurer
That's what they tried for 4E, and we all know how that ended... with 5E going back and resurrecting the majority of sacred cows they slaughtered.

I don't have a problem if the change is additive, or if I find it more appealing than before. But a lot of changes I'm seeing are making monsters more bland (tlincali) or tying them to other monsters to create a forced synergy (leucrotta/gnolls).

EDIT: also, did we really need another race of frog-people next to the three already well established ones (grippli, bullywugs, sivs)? And they made them color-coded? :.-(
 
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Chaosmancer

Villager
I like Beholder's reproducing via dreams. That leads to some rather interesting places, and it opens the door. Anything a crazy deluded mind can dream up can become a version of a Beholder.

And honestly, how did they come into existence before? The only thing I can find from older editions (granted I have almost none of the materials, so it is all google searching) has mention of a Hive Mother spawning Beholders in the Far Realms... which can still be the case, if the Hive Mother is a dreaming Old One (which ties Beholders to the more Cthululian interpretations of the Far Realms)
 

flametitan

Explorer
I like Beholder's reproducing via dreams. That leads to some rather interesting places, and it opens the door. Anything a crazy deluded mind can dream up can become a version of a Beholder.

And honestly, how did they come into existence before? The only thing I can find from older editions (granted I have almost none of the materials, so it is all google searching) has mention of a Hive Mother spawning Beholders in the Far Realms... which can still be the case, if the Hive Mother is a dreaming Old One (which ties Beholders to the more Cthululian interpretations of the Far Realms)
From what I heard, it had something to do with a Beholder getting Spontaneously pregnant, barfing up a swarm of baby beholders, which then have to fight for survival.

I like reproduction by dream better, myself.
 

Sammael

Adventurer
The problem with dreaming is that it makes no sense unless beholders are made more powerful or you link them to the Far Realm (for example) more tightly. On a vanilla material plane, creating life from scratch via magic (which dreaming implies) is something that even the most powerful spellcasters can't do without years of research. OTOH, it would be possible for a beholder to summon his nightmares from another plane, but that requires a very strong connection to that other plane which beholders were never implied to have. Even aboleths, supposedly the only creatures to remember the Old Ones who created them, reproduce relatively conventionally.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
The problem with dreaming is that it makes no sense unless beholders are made more powerful or you link them to the Far Realm (for example) more tightly. On a vanilla material plane, creating life from scratch via magic (which dreaming implies) is something that even the most powerful spellcasters can't do without years of research. OTOH, it would be possible for a beholder to summon his nightmares from another plane, but that requires a very strong connection to that other plane which beholders were never implied to have. Even aboleths, supposedly the only creatures to remember the Old Ones who created them, reproduce relatively conventionally.
Well, if you are uncomfortable with using the far realm connection that seems to be threaded through aberrations in this edition. You can take comfort in the fact that beholders, would be intensely magical beings to start with. Seriously, they are giant floating eyeballs who shoot death rays and can disable all other magic by simply looking at it.
 
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The Cave Fisher has a surprisingly large description given to it, when it seems no more interesting than stalwarts like the Winter Wolf. It is kind of hard to get excited by yet another Spider in a game rather overflowing with them, but let's crack on regardless.



This image is rather gloriously over the top I feel, but does accurately show that the Cave Fisher, at Medium, is actually a surprisingly big lad, which it is hard to appreciate from the Volo's art. The image in Volo's is nice enough, but it is a bit... underwhelming? I mean, it all seems good technically, but the creature is just kind of standing there, trying to look unsettling, and I just don't find it very exciting. Sorry, artist person!

The background section for the Cave Fisher feels quite old fashioned. It reminds me of the bits that I've read from Planescape Monstrous Compendiums, where more attention was paid to a creature's habitat and ecology than to how the players might meet and interact with it. Here we learn about how they get used for pets (rather unsurprisingly), how they make good sources of liquor, food and rope, and how they like to hunt bats. They're ambush predators, and as always that means they can be met just as you fancy on the road, and can feature in plots like, "Find the lost blacksmith's boy!" and whatnot, but in general will just sort of exist in your game world.

In combat, these guys do reasonable damage with have two attacks a round, and they're as hard to kill than some monsters we've seen with almost double their CR. However, the real star of the show here is the Adhesive Filament, which is actually a surprisingly strong control mechanism (clunky wording, I can't think of the right term at the moment). Like most sticky web or whatever abilities, you're looking to do a weapon attack or a strength check to get out; however, this time around you'll have disadvantage, and your weapon might, amusingly, get stuck. Combined with the ability to reel in someone stuck in a web (60' range) and then smack them for a bonus, this is pretty potent stuff. By themselves, I don't know if I'd be that excited by them, even so; but combining that kind of control effect with Hobgoblin wizards or other humanoid foes, and I think you've got a solid combat option to check the hubris of your party.

Final verdict: stick these fellas onto your Underdark Random Encounters table, and contemplate adding them to Drow hunting parties.
 
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Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
There are only so many ways you can turn monsters into cattle. And you can use every part of the cave fisher making it an "ideal" livestock for your cave.

However, a slightly more novel way of employing these creatures would be to make them beast of burden. Their ability to to climb anywhere is obvious, but they can be potentially trained to become a sort of living elevator. Using their filament, each one can lift 200lbs up to 60 feet in a very short period of time. Using a few in tandem could accomplish some interesting feats of architecture and industry. Or at least position a very heavy rock over the PC's heads for a more dangerous ambush.

Sorry, sometimes you've got to reach really far to think outside the box.
 
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Bitbrain

Adventurer
I'll never forget the first time my Dad threw the cave fisher at me.
Before we joined the current group we play with now, my dad and I decided to playtest pathfinder.

It was a homebrew campaign (strongly influenced by the Dark Sun setting, although there were a few jungles thrown in for a little ecosystem variety) and I was tasked with destroying this abandoned spaceship.
the idea was that the fuel from the sublight engines was leaking out and polluting the local water supply, while energy from the hyperdrive was creating an antimagic field that extended for miles in every direction.
My team of PCs (Rune cleric, Fighter, Ranger, and Aberrant Sorcerer) enter the ship through a hole in the shuttle bay door, and were immediately set upon by Clockwork Soldiers and Mutant Grippli.
Halfway through the fight, my Ranger hears this shrieking sound, and two cave fishers that were hanging from the ceiling the whole time fire their webstrands at my fighter.

It was a really cool moment, and has forever shaped my impression of the cave fisher.
IMO, Cave Fishers should never be the primary threat of an encounter. Instead, they should be used to harass the players when the players are already in combat with something else.
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
The problem with dreaming is that it makes no sense unless beholders are made more powerful or you link them to the Far Realm (for example) more tightly. On a vanilla material plane, creating life from scratch via magic (which dreaming implies) is something that even the most powerful spellcasters can't do without years of research. OTOH, it would be possible for a beholder to summon his nightmares from another plane, but that requires a very strong connection to that other plane which beholders were never implied to have. Even aboleths, supposedly the only creatures to remember the Old Ones who created them, reproduce relatively conventionally.
Beholders were never implied to have a heavy connection to the Far Realms?

I thought all the Aberrations had at least some connection the Far Realms? This… is weird to me. Where did they come from then? Were they somehow supposed to be native to the Material Plane?


Cave Fisher

I love the connection these things have to Dwarves, the idea of Dwarves drinking monster blood as alcohol is simply amazing.

However, I do wish they had done more with this flammable blood of theirs. I feel like something dramatic should happen if one of these is hit by a Fireball, something which could be turned into a hobgoblin trap, where they have adventurers trapped in an area with Cave Fishers, and then catch the room on fire causing massive problems for the players.

Other than that, this monster is more interesting as a non-combatant background element, like [MENTION=53176]Leatherhead[/MENTION] did (which I find amazing and will be stealing for the Dwarven city of Harth in my homebrew world).

I could also see nets made of Cave Fisher filament, sticking to everything and being incredibly hard to get free of. Very convenient for those Drow that want to take prisoners instead of corpses or those Hobgoblins that want to slaughter helpless people instead of those who can fight back.



Fire Giant Dreadnought

So, I finally got around to reading these guys. They are respectably tough things for a PC team to encounter. They get 2 shield attacks a turn, dealing 4d6+8 bludgeoning, 2d6 fire, and 2d6 piercing on a hit. 8d6+8 per hit hurts.

But then I read their special move, and I was curious how people interpret it. I’m going to try and post it directly:

“Shield Charge. The giant moves up to 30 feet in a straight line
and can move through the space of any creature smaller than
Huge. The first time it enters a creature's space during this
move, it makes a fireshield attack against that creature. If the
attack hits, the target must also succeed on a DC 21 Strength
saving throw or be pushed ahead of the giant for the rest of
this move. If a creature fails the save by 5 or more, it is also
knocked prone and takes 18 (3d6 + 8) bludgeoning damage, or
29 (6d6 + 8) bludgeoning damage if it was already prone.”

So, it says the 1st time it enters the space, but if they fail the save and are pushed ahead of the giant, does the giant get to attack them again as it moves? I don’t think so, as that could end up being 6 attacks against a single creature, potentially dealing 48d6+48 damage, which seems way too big even for a CR 14 creature.

Laying it all out this way, that 1st time it enters line is supposed to prevent multiple attacks correct?
 

Sammael

Adventurer
Aberrations as a term were made up in 3.0 and then expanded in later product, tying some of them to the Far Realm (which was never before the case). The turning point was probably Eberron Campaign Setting which implied all aberrations had something to do with Xoriat, a plane similar to the Far Realm.

For instance, Mind Flayers were never meant to be in any way connected to the Far Realm, they are simply a very advanced race from the future who flee to the past to avoid the destruction of their civilization. Many other aberrations are a result of wizardly experiments (chuuls, for example), or breeding/mutation programs (cloakers).

As for beholders, here's some of their origin from 3.5 Lords of Madness:

Beholders are the best known of the godspawned aberrations. The cryptic being known as the Great Mother has no place in any other pantheon, but from the moment it first entered the multiverse, it began to seed its progeny, the multifarious race of beholders, throughout the world. Every beholder that exists is merely a reflection of the Great Mother’s will and instinct to replicate itself.
It can be easily said that their dreaming comes from the primal will of Great Mother and manifests itself in physical pregnancy (once in a lifetime), with each beholder trying to produce spawn that are ever-closer to the image of their creator... and failing. This doesn't require me to see beholders as beings attuned to magic on an epic level (if anything, their antimagic abilities were always said to impede them in magical research in past editions - beholder mages even had to put their central eyes out), or require them to have a strong tie with the Far Realm (an oversimplification of all aberrations).

EDIT: I suppose it can be interpreted that dreaming actually draws upon Great Mother's divine power and so on, so I may be overly picky. It just feels too arbitrary to me for a physical creature (and not an outsider) to be able to create progeny out of thin air.
 
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A few points about beholder reproduction, both previously and in VGtM:

Volo, of course, is an unreliable narrator.

It's probably unlikely that anyone has truly seen a beholder reproduce, either in the wild (so to say) or in what would pass for laboratory conditions (although that does make for some amusing images).

So, all the putative inhabitants of a D&D world would have to go on is hearsay, conjecture, unprovable theories, or (at the most) the word of beholders themselves - who may either lie for their own purposes, or may not actually know themselves. If they do indeed dream other beholders into existence, how would they know? The beholder offspring would either escape while they are sleeping, or the parent beholder would wake up confused to see another beholder in their lair, resulting in an immediate fight not conducive to remembering what one was dreaming about previously.

So, when it comes to beholder reproduction, my opinion is that any of theories proposed so far may be correct, or all of them may be wrong. And if you don't like certain of the theories, then for any of the reasons listed above, it is perfectly fine to ignore it...
 
It's tough to reply to all of the interesting thoughts in this thread while keeping to the monster a day format! A couple potted comments before we move on:

I think that the Fire Dreadnought only does the one attack on a person hit by the shields. The intent seems to be that you take one attack from the Giant when it enters your space, and are then either pushed to one side or pushed to the end of the move, and maybe also take the extra damage if you fail the save badly.

I've always known Beholders as aberrations. I like the idea of them dreaming either other into existence - it's pretty unique, and really ties in with how powerful and mad they are. It also helps explain the weird variety of them, without having to get into evolution or whatever.

Anyway, ​we now reach the first 'racial' entry, the Chitines, and I have decided that we'll cover both varieties at the same time. What we'll do with the rather plump Orc, Gnoll, and Yuan-Ti entries, I don't know.



I feel the need to assure you that the art in Volo's is a lot more menacing than this! The Chitine makes the most of the multiple arms, taking an imposing posture that highlights how alien these are, while the Choldrith ends up looking like basically just another spider but with a dagger-holding pair of hands at the front. I much prefer the Chitine art to the Choldrith, possibly because the former is a much more dynamic picture.

This is my first time meeting these guys. There are two types of Chitine: the critter itself, and the mamma Choldrith, which is Medium in relation to the Small Chitines. They come in at a reasonably standard CR 1/2 and CR 3 respectively, and I wouldn't be amazingly surprised if a future book expanded these options a touch. They were created by the Drow, but are actually not a slave race. After being brought into being by merging spiders and captured Elves, they broke free - thanks to Lloth being amusingly jealous about the whole thing - and now exist separately, though some colonies are controlled by Drow regardless. I have to say, it really sums up the Drow that they felt 'Spider elves' was a useful end product for magical experiments.

The Chitines, who rather oddly took their collective name from the weaker of their two races, seem a bit superfluous to me. I mean, they kind of cover the same ground that Drow do - pointy-eared evil underground people who like spiders - and being MOAR SPIDER isn't a particularly interesting direction to go, in my opinion. You can use them in a 'smart animals' way, but that niche is already pretty easy to fill. Doubtless people are going to swarm me, exclaiming how important and cool these guys are, but I'm not really seeing it.

I can think of two reasonably interesting ways to use these guys. One, have the party asked to enter one of their hives to retrieve something, letting you really amp up the spider climbing and webs with a hellishly 3d environment. That is probably their unique selling point, as intelligent spiders who can create something that is recognisably a settlement but also is completely alien in a way that Drow pointy purple buildings are not. The second interesting thing is to set up a war between a hive of them and a nearby Drow (or whatever) city, and then see whether the players can bring themselves to trust Lloth's favoured spiderkin over their opponents. Being so weird and unsettling, it'll really let you test the party's resolve if you make the Chitine's the superior choice of ally.

Let's talk about their combat tactics. The Chitines are pretty simple. They get Elven Fey Ancestry, a Spider's Web Sense and Web Walking, and Underdark-standard Sunlight Sensitivity. That is all reactive stuff, rather than actions that they take. They themselves cannot spin web fast enough to do it in combat, but they can make use of it if it was already there. Their only actual combat action is to stab with daggers three times, which will probably give them a consistent (if low) damage output.

The Choldrith is a bit more involved. They get a web action (which is not very hard to escape from, even for CR 3) and only the one dagger attack. In return, they get spellcasting, with some solid Cleric spells to spice things up; Hold Person is the highlight here, and will let those three Chitine dagger thrusts suddenly become very exciting. [1] Confusingly, they are listed as wearing 'studded leather armour', which their picture does not support.

Having been probably excessively hostile to these guys, I'll grudgingly admit that they have solid story potential, will probably come up a fair bit for Underdark campaigns, and have a distinctive combat style. Fine, whatever; if my party goes for Out of the Abyss, I'll toss these guys and some Cave Fisher pets in as a side plot. But I won't like it.

[1] Hold Person imposes the Paralyzed condition, which I think is the one where melee attackers get advantage to hit and every hit is a critical. Having a Fighter get Held and then stabbed by two Chitines for up to 12d4 + 12 will really send a strong message to the party.
 
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Sammael

Adventurer
Chitines, to me, were always a foil for the drow - creatures that party expects to work for the drow but who betray them and aid the PCs ("enemy of my enemy"). I never really saw much use for them beyond that, or beyond a more open conflict between them and the drow which the PCs can use to their advantage (see Ched Nassad and Yathchol).
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
Yeah, there really isn't much interesting about these guys that I can see.

Best I could think of is a colony that was a little closer to the surface, in a cave system. A low-level party thinking they are entering a spider's nest would be unpleasantly surprised by a Choldrith cleric and some Chitines. Having them ambush from above is a solid tactic, maybe if you wanted a more militaristic fight exchange their daggers for shortswords.

The Chitine picture indicates they should have poison, but they don't. Maybe add some giant spider venom?



Looking back, since we've passed the Beholderkin, but didn't really talk about the prime Beholder, I want to address something.

I really love the variant eye rays, especially new choices for their central eye.I've never enjoyed anti-magic and I seriously want to run a beholder with a persistent Mirage Arcane or that Stun effect. Those seem so much more dynamic than taking away any magic the party might be using. Definitely something I'm glad they added in.
 

Croesus

Villager
Fire Giant Dreadnought

So, I finally got around to reading these guys. They are respectably tough things for a PC team to encounter. They get 2 shield attacks a turn, dealing 4d6+8 bludgeoning, 2d6 fire, and 2d6 piercing on a hit. 8d6+8 per hit hurts.

But then I read their special move, and I was curious how people interpret it. I’m going to try and post it directly:

“Shield Charge. The giant moves up to 30 feet in a straight line
and can move through the space of any creature smaller than
Huge. The first time it enters a creature's space during this
move, it makes a fireshield attack against that creature. If the
attack hits, the target must also succeed on a DC 21 Strength
saving throw or be pushed ahead of the giant for the rest of
this move. If a creature fails the save by 5 or more, it is also
knocked prone and takes 18 (3d6 + 8) bludgeoning damage, or
29 (6d6 + 8) bludgeoning damage if it was already prone.”

So, it says the 1st time it enters the space, but if they fail the save and are pushed ahead of the giant, does the giant get to attack them again as it moves? I don’t think so, as that could end up being 6 attacks against a single creature, potentially dealing 48d6+48 damage, which seems way too big even for a CR 14 creature.

Laying it all out this way, that 1st time it enters line is supposed to prevent multiple attacks correct?
My reading: The FGD has three options for actions: 1) Multiattack (2 fireshield attacks), 2) Rock, 3) Shield Charge.

Under Shield Charge, it says the FGD performs one fireshield attack against the first creature in its path.
-If the attack hits, the target takes damage from a fireshield attack and must make a STR save.
-If the save succeeds, the target is pushed aside (remaining in its original space).
-If the save fails by less than 4, the creature remains upright, but is pushed to the space just beyond where the FGD stops, i.e., they are not in the same space at the end of the move. This means the FGD might knock a creature off a ledge, if the FGD stops at the edge.
-If the save fails by 5 or more, the creature is knocked to the ground and takes additional bludgeoning damage from being trampled. It ends up in the space beyond where the FGD stops.
--This bludgeoning damage is increased if the target was already prone before it failed the save.

So using a Shield Charge, the FGD only gets one attack roll, and only at the first creature it attempts to overrun. That creature can take additional damage if it fails the STR save.
 

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