5E Let's Read: Volo's Monsters

Chaosmancer

Villager
Yeah, the only interesting thing about dinosaurs is that they are dinosaurs.

Though, it is interesting to see a Gargantuan creature. Those are rare.
 
The gap-filling nature of the Volo’s monsters are fairly obvious: we get an animal companion-legal Dinosaur, one that you can ride into battle, a low-CR and medium sized carnivore to fight, and the herbivores to fill out the ecosystem a little.

It's funny, but when the MM came out, I read the dinosaur entry and went thought it was terribly incomplete. I thought they needed to add a sauropod, a stegosaur, one or two smaller predators (deinonychus and velociraptor would be ideal I thought), quetzalcoatlus as a bigger flying threat, and maybe a hadrosaur just for completeness. And... VGtM gave me that exact list! With dimetrodon as an added bonus!

Needless to say, I was very happy with the VGtM dinosaur entry...

The only thing missing now to create a full "Lost World" are more marine reptiles like ichthyosaurs and mosasaurs. And you can always use the dolphin stat block for an ichthyosaur...
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
One of my favorite encounters from Eberron back in the day was a group of Talenta halflings riding some Glidewings.

Glidewings are Pteranodons, but Quetzalcoatlus allow such shenanigans to be applied to a wider range of species. Most of the humanoids in fact. Hobgoblins, in particular, can make excellent use of the Flyby Dive attacks.
 
Man, the more I think about at-will Dispel Magic opens so many possibilities for Babau to lead the charge on an infiltration, or sneak up to the city walls and slowly tear apart the wards that protect it. Eventually they will roll high enough to break the spell.
There are a number of other demons (Glabrezu, Nycaloths for sure) who also have at-will Dispel Magic. It makes them tricky to Planar Bind. Still possible, but tricky.
 

MonsterEnvy

Adventurer
Going back to the Devourer for a bit. I should point out they are technically not Demons just fiends. Possibly due to being an odd fusion of Demon and Undead, but that is fairly minor.

I actually used one in a recent session. The villain for the last chunk of the game is a Necromancer servant of Orcus. Orcus has promised to teach him how to turn himself into a Lich if he can cause the deaths of 3000 intelligent creatures in Orcus' name. The Necromancer plan kicked off recently and he summoned a Devourer into Baldur's Gate. As he summoned the Devourer and they serve Orcus this will count towards the death total he needs to cause. Along the collection of lesser undead the Necromancer has created the Devourer is currently running around the city eating people and spitting out new undead who will being more people to it to increase the undead numbers.

So currently the party is going around in the city destroying the lesser undead while trying to find and stop the Devourer before it causes anymore harm.
 

Mecheon

Explorer
Quetzalcoatlus (huge bird dinosaur)
I'm sorry Charles, but these words cause me to drag myself from my lair and lay some science down. Pterosaurs were not dinosaurs. They're Pterosaurs, closely related Archosaurs, but not dinosaurs. Dinosaurs and pterosaurs are closer related than crocodiles and dinosaurs

However if you ever want to use a Quetzalcoatlus, which you should, I always highly recommend the work of pterosaur researcher Mark Witton. They're basically giraffe-sized murder storks who's food is 'Anything smaller than them', plus we have fossil evidence they traveled in flocks.
 
I'm sorry Charles, but these words cause me to drag myself from my lair and lay some science down. Pterosaurs were not dinosaurs. They're Pterosaurs, closely related Archosaurs, but not dinosaurs. Dinosaurs and pterosaurs are closer related than crocodiles and dinosaurs

However if you ever want to use a Quetzalcoatlus, which you should, I always highly recommend the work of pterosaur researcher Mark Witton. They're basically giraffe-sized murder storks who's food is 'Anything smaller than them', plus we have fossil evidence they traveled in flocks.
Since we're looking at it from a scientific standpoint, I do have to applaud the treatment of dinosaurs (and other prehistoric reptiles) in 5e, especially in comparison to previous editions. The 3e MM came out a full seven years after Jurassic Park, but read like a textbook from the '60s, if not earlier! Granted, the 5e MM isn't perfect, but it's a lot better. The only real blunder (other than unceremoniously dumping them all into under "dinosaur" entries of course), is calling Plesiosaurus a dinosaur. Compare that to Dimetrodon, which is stated to be a reptile "commonly found where dinosaurs live" (implicitly stating that it itself is not a dinosaur), or Pteranodon, which is called a reptile and not a explicitly dinosaur (this is a bit more ambiguous, but at least it's a start, which carries over to Quetzalcoatlus, which is only described in terms of being a relative of Pteranadon). Velociraptors are correctly described as feathered for the first time in D&D history that I'm aware of (although this is only implied for Deinonychus, as a "relative of Velociraptor", and ignored entirely for Tyrannosaurus). And with Brontosaurs quite possibly being a valid taxon again, they can actually use it without everyone coming down on them for not using Apatosaurus instead...

As I said above, I very much like the selection we've got for dinosaurs and other prehistoric reptiles in the MM and VGtM. I can't wait to send my players into a nasty dinosaur-infested area in some upcoming campaign! :D
 
I'm sorry Charles, but these words cause me to drag myself from my lair and lay some science down.
I'm the Latinist running games for engineers- tell me more of your science outrage. It gives me power.

However if you ever want to use a Quetzalcoatlus, which you should, I always highly recommend the work of pterosaur researcher Mark Witton. They're basically giraffe-sized murder storks who's food is 'Anything smaller than them', plus we have fossil evidence they traveled in flocks.
Murder storks is pretty cool. As I mentioned, these guys seem solid as a way to bring aerial adventures into the game, and being hunted by them definitely doesn't sound fun.
 

Mecheon

Explorer
I'm the Latinist running games for engineers- tell me more of your science outrage. It gives me power.
On the Dinosaur side of the Internet is an ever-waged war against those claiming that pterosaurs, dimetrodons and even plesiosaurs are dinosaurs. I'm sorry to bring it here :p

But yeah, if you ever have a scenario in which dinosaurs or other Mezozoic-era creatures are attacking, any problem where you need the party to be more threatened is "Okay, a giraffe sized thing has just landed from the sky, picked up a smaller dinosaur, and swallowed it whole. It is taller than a T-Rex.". Or let them ride them! Dinotopia famously had Quetzals as the flying mount of choice. And I think someone's done the work and figured that you could ride a Quetzalcoatlus

Also various bits of not completely published work propose that Brontosaurus had a neck designed specifically for battering things
 
Pretty interesting stuff, thanks for bringing it up! That blog post was a really engrossing read, considering how scientific it was, and definitely makes them seem terrifying and impressive. I've never read Dinotopia or the Lost World thing, so my main source of Dinosaur understanding is Jurassic Park and all those times the X-Men went to the Savage Land, one of which is, uh, better than the other.

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The Drow, not knowing when to leave well enough alone, return to bring us yet another dubious mixing of Elven DNA with something unpleasant. After an ‘unholy ritual’, a Drow High Priestess will give birth to a Draegloth, a half-drow, half-glabrezu fiend, which seems like a great idea to me.



The art in Volo’s is very good. The Draegloth is poised, looking both relaxed but also ready to spring into action, with the detail in its hair (fur?) and skin nicely done. The second pair of arms are just sort of hanging there, but that is a pretty common problem with drawing what is (if we’re being honest) an impractical assembly of limbs. The facial expression - bestial rage - suits the creature very nicely.

As already mentioned, these guys are the result of a ritual. The effort involved must be pretty high for the Drow to only do it with High Priestesses, and it seems fair to say that the process is risky, so they are both rare and highly prized. Once the ritual works, the Drow then begin training the beast, which has a distressing combination of intelligence and rebelliousness that makes its slavery tricky to maintain. Though the Drow will respect it, they seem to do so as an object - a slave or consort, not an equal, despite its raw power. If a Draegloth breaks free of the house, it seems implicit that they do so in order to rip and tear with freedom, not to embrace the power of good; in other words, you can use one wandering the Underdark by itself, rather than always with Drow.

This slavery means that the Draegloth will be most interesting roleplaying-wise in a game where the players can interact with a Drow city or house in more than just combat encounters. If the players meet one of these, and observe its forced servitude, they might be forced to discuss the morality of slavery in this very precise instance. The Draegloth also seems like a fun guy to depict as the DM: I’m thinking he would be an Arnie-type character, full of self-sure power and bold statements delivered bluntly. If you’ve got a Drow PC in your group, having one of these turn up at night when they are on watch and issue the commands of his house might also make for a very impressive moment.

When it comes down to combat, as I think virtually every meeting with one of these will, the Draegloth will act as basically a super-charged Drow. They get the Fey Ancestry trait, as well as the same racial spells, plus Confusion, but are likely to let any Drow allies use them instead, as his melee attacks are much more potent. They do extremely respectable damage with their claws and teeth, and are likely to hit and wound even front line characters more than once a turn. In short, they are powerful and easy to use front-line bruisers, who can distract your party while the Drow Priestess and Drow Elite Warriors are doing damage from the sidelines. Probably one of the simplest monsters in the book, albeit one of the coolest, and likely to be one that really spices up the climatic fight against the Drow in whatever story you’re running.
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
I can't help but feel these guys have some wasted potential.

Other than casting confusion or Faerie Fire from stealth and then ripping into the PCs, I don't see a lot of combat options with them. And, something big with low AC and just hitting hard does not generally pose an interesting challenge to the players.

If I'm just playing them as the muscle enforcers for a drow encounter, that's fine, but if I want this thing to be the centerpiece? I think I have to take that line that "some of them go on to learn destructive magic" and begin thinking what would happen in one was a devout worshiper of Lolth or made a pact with their father's lord, something to give them more varied options than run in and smash the players.


Because, at the end of the day, with how much effort goes into making them, they should be terrifying. The drow would almost be better off just using that High Priestess to bind Demons to the Houses will instead of taking the risk of giving birth to one of these things.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Draegloth have the advantage of being immune to poison, which has some potential, as Drow are famous for using poison.

The best poisons to pair with this creature are Burnt Othur Fumes, Essence of Ether, Malice, and basically any other inhaled gas. You could also have the Half-Demon Half-Drow use contact poisons. Found either in jars and vials around the encounter, or flung into the melee from outside by the Drow. Crawler Mucus is particularly nasty.
 

MonsterEnvy

Adventurer
The ritual for a creating a Draegloth does not actully appear to be super complex. They summon a Glabrezu then they mate with it, Priestess gives birth to Draegloth.
 
The ritual for a creating a Draegloth does not actully appear to be super complex. They summon a Glabrezu then they mate with it, Priestess gives birth to Draegloth.
The pregnancy and birth are probably the complex parts, given typical Elven issues with reproduction in the first place.

I do agree that these guys are perhaps too simple, but I think that is deliberate; it allows them to be used alongside complex casters such as the Drow Priestess and not distract the DM.
 
Lovers of Elemental Evil get a set of new critters to play with today, as we look at the Fire Newts and Giant Striders. These little fellows are devotees of Imix, who appears in Princes of the Apocalypse, and they are yet another low-level humanoid threat for you to throw at the players.



There are a couple of pictures in the book, one for a Firenewt by itself, and another for a more heavily armoured version on a Giant Strider. I like the former picture, which has a nice colour palette and an endearing expression on the Fire Newt's face, but the other one is a little flat. Both do a good job of showing the proportions and size of the creatures though, so they are successful.

So the Fire Newts adhere pretty closely to the 'crazy militant church' trope, with a love of sacrificing people to Imix, taking no prisoners in time of war, and having a culture that is, in general, based around worship of a big angry fire dude. I don't think that many other D&D races go in for this kind of crazy - the Drow obsession with Lloth is more abusive in tone than this - but it feels a bit staid to me. Probably because I have gotten a lifetime supply of this trope from playing Warhammer.

More interesting to me is the ecology and 'lair' description. These guys need both heat and moisture, so they seek out hot springs, boiling mud, and the like. They delve down and dig out a home in the area, and then turn to alchemy, blacksmithing, and other crafty pursuits, despite being of low intelligence as a race. They construct sluices that carry hot liquid around the settlement, for which I am imagining boiling water constantly gushing around the corners of rooms, a bit like internal guttering. This all sounds like a basis for a visually strong dungeon, similar to some of the Fire Cultist ones from Princes of the Apocalypse, and certainly helps to differentiate them from, say, Kobolds. The entry makes no mention of whether they work with other cultists of Imix, but it is safe to say that allying these guys with other Fire-themed stuff, especially drawn from the bestiary at the end of Princes, will serve you well. There is also some really beautiful Mike Shley maps for those cult areas, which by themselves will serve you well.

So here we get three statblocks: a CR 1/2 Warrior, a CR 1 Giant Strider, and a CR 1 Warlock of Imix. I'm a big fan of how they use Warlocks to represent 'priests' of various nasty things like Krakens and Elemental spirits, and it allows you to sidestep concerns over deities being big bad guys. Note that all of these lads are immune to fire as well, which is as it should be. Anyway, let's talk about these three quickly.

The Warrior is pretty tough for his CR, I think. Decent AC and HP means that he won't be going down easy, while his (melee only) attacks are very respectable. He has a rather fun Spit Fire ability, derived from alchemy not anatomy, which is a 2d8 Fire damage (Dex 11 for half) that they can use once a fight. That seems pretty hardcore for CR 1/2, to be honest, and I can see these guys earning real respect from the players. Being a Tiefling with Fire Resistance will pay dividends against these guys!

The Giant Strider is mainly notable for the near 100% chance that one of your players will try to tame and ride one. It's essentially a two-legged horse that regains HP when hit by fire attacks (e.g. a Warrior's Spit Fire) and can do a half-sized and half-damage Fireball (with a normal Dex 12 save for half, and recharges on 5-6). Wait, now that I think about it, that really isn't very similar to a horse at all. The biggest issue I see with them is the very wonky rules for mounted combat in 5e - especially the way that mounts die instantly to AoEs at high level and oddness around the rider and mount action economy - but when ridden by equally low HP critters like the Fire Newts that shouldn't be a problem.

Finally, the Warlock is fairly simple to run: he gets always-on Mage Armour, he can see through the Darkness spell, he casts Fire Bolt normally with the option for 2 castings of various fire spells (Burning Hands,Flaming Sphere,Hellish Rebuke,Scorching Ray) that have various ranges and effects. For a 'Fire warlock', that is actually a pretty well-rounded selection. He is pretty much exactly what you'd want and expect a low-level 'Fire' caster to be, I think, and it will be very easy to steal this statblock for a human Shaman of the Flames or whatever - especially as you can use swarms of them if needed, since they are only CR 1. This low CR means that Fire Newts have no high level entry, unlike say a Goblin Boss or an Orc Warlord; I'd recommend, again, going to Princes of the Apocalypse for that need: in addition to CR 4 Fire Priests and the like, there is Vanifer, the Prophet of Fire, who should be easy to convert into a Fire Newt, and her CR 9 statblock is engaging and high enough level to serve as a fine BBEG.

Overall: though their theme is slightly tired, these guys bring fun statblocks, interesting lairs, and a lot of synergy with opponents found in Princes, meaning that you'll probably find a use for them long after Goblins cease to challenge your players.
 

Bitbrain

Adventurer
I love the idea of Fire Newts. I can totally see a red dragon's territory crawling with both these guys and a number of Salamanders.
 

werecorpse

Explorer
Re the Devourer and its imprison soul do you have any idea or thoughts what happens if the prisoner is healed, or regenerates etc back up to positive hit points. Would they be restrained? Could they break out? Or if while unconscious can they be rescued in any way (grappled out of the ribcage, dimension doored out). It seems a little boring if the only thing you can do is kill the Devourer.
 
Re the Devourer and its imprison soul do you have any idea or thoughts what happens if the prisoner is healed, or regenerates etc back up to positive hit points. Would they be restrained? Could they break out? Or if while unconscious can they be rescued in any way (grappled out of the ribcage, dimension doored out). It seems a little boring if the only thing you can do is kill the Devourer.
That's left very vague. As I mentioned in the post, it seems like you cannot interact with them, but definitely the DM is free to take it whichever way you wanted. It just seems to me that letting Healing Word deactivate the central ability of a CR 13 critter is a little underwhelming.
 
Reading that... encounter I totally don't want to steal because.... yeah, I love it, I'm evil, I'll admit it.

Anyways, reading that and looking back over Imprison Soul, these guys are at their most devastating when they have civilians around.

Every soul they imprison and spit back up heals them, gives them back their aoe and gives them an extra action on their turn.

Which tells me that in a crowded area it would look like this, regurgitate a creature for a new enemy, heal 25 hp, double claw (66 average damage if both hit), soul rend (44 or more damage to everything depending on how many dying are littered about), get a new creature so you can repeat next turn.
Actually it's even worse than that, because the extra action could itself be a multi-attack with Soul Rend instead of just a Soul Rend.

So, every round after the first it does this:

Action: Multi-attack, two 8d6+5 claw attacks and a Soul Rend for 8d10+10 (or more). Soul Rend kills the creature currently in its rib cage, recharging Soul Rend and healing it for 25 HP, and giving it an Extra Action for next round.
Bonus action: discharge a zombie.
Extra Action: Multi-attack, two more claw attacks, and Imprison another soul. (Or another Soul Rend.)

Total: 32d6+8d10+30 (186) HP of potential damage. (32d6+16d10+30 (230) if it does two Soul Rends.)

I see two potential difficulties with the Devourer though:

(1) Its special abilities don't work on anything except humanoids. A Moon Druid can conjure a bunch of wolves to rip it to shreds, and they are completely immune to its Soul Rend. Kind of weird.

(2) More importantly, its abilities are gimmicky and not well-telegraphed. It's fun for us to speculate about these combos on the Internet, but all a player is going to see is a monster which somehow makes four huge attacks per turn and does two huge AoEs on top. They don't have any way of knowing that Soul Rend, for example, has a slow recharge rate, because they never witness the slow recharge rate, only the instant recharge.

From a game design perspective, as a DM intending to have some fun with the skeletal meat-wagon combo, you'd probably want to work out a way to present enough information to the players so they can make an informed choice about whether or not to kill the helpless guys in the corpse-wagon: maybe they read stories about previous encounters with Devourers, make a History or Arcana check, or watch in horror as an elite squad of NPCs get shredded by the Devourer and its corpse-wagon.

If you don't telegraph its abilities, then all that happens is that the players fight a really tough monster with loads of HP that likes to spit out zombies. No moral dilemma there.
 

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