5E Let's Read: Volo's Monsters

The main thing that this entry makes me wonder is what a Fire Giant with brains but not brawn would look like; some kind of a fire wizard? If we ever get an Alchemist or Artificer class then I would imagine a Fire Giant could be given abilities from it to make a pretty interesting entry.
Check out my Fire Giant Pyromancer in the elite giants thread for the answer to that - although they are sorcerers with high CHA, it would take only minimal adaptation to change them to wizards with a high INT instead.

As for fire giant combat, in that thread we discuss how dreadnoughts, pyromancers, and regular fire giants could coordinate to simply murder invasion parties (and being a lawful evil race, they would probably have plans set up to do so). Add in a fire giant duke, and things become even more difficult for a group...
 
The Frost Giants are what I think of as the archetypical giants - they have a strong viking theme, they like raiding humanoids, they come in big viking longships to cause misery, and you can in general kill them without entering morally questionable areas. The Frost Giant Everlasting One takes this theme to its logical conclusion, as we get a Frost Giant who is the strongest and most vicious of them all, mainly thanks to the corrupting influence of Vaprak, the Troll god.



The picture for the Everlasting One is pleasingly gnarly. The multitude of heads is handled pretty well, and the detail on the Giant’s equipment and arms is great and really ties into an anglo-saxon / norse aesthetic. It definitely looks deranged and mutated, something you’d not want to meet on the tundra.

The Everlasting Ones are basically the Frost Giants who, unable to rise up their might-focused Ordning alone, turn to the Troll God Vaprak, who makes them strong and regenerating. This means that the Everlasting One, given a substantial boost over their fellows by this blessing, can easily claim chieftian status over their tribe. But Vaprak is a fickle god, and his blessings can easily turn to mutation and obvious deformities, which will cause the tribe to eject the Everlasting One; it seems that worshipping Vaprak is a deeply Maug thing to do, and carries intense shame accordingly.

In Ancient Greek and Roman religious, the shame and criminality of one person could be felt to bring moral pollution to the community. The decision to drive someone out, and require them to seek atonement from the Gods by means of difficult pilgrimages and whatnot, was based on a desire to limit a community’s exposure to that pollution, and to expunge that already accrued. In other words, having a murderer in your midst was actually negative for everyone in the eyes of the gods. When I read of these Maug Frost Giants being cast out, that is what I think of; the pollution that comes upon the tribe. There is definitely some room to work with these ideas, for example with the players having to interact with a suddenly hyperactive tribe of Frost Giants who are trying to expunge their communal shame by feats of strength and warfare - a situation that can only be resolved by hunting down and eliminating the Everlasting One who started it all.

The Everlasting One can be used as a boss upgrade for a normal Frost Giant encounter, but I think that your players might be a touch confused by the fact that suddenly a Frost Giant is regenerating HP loss and growing heads and whatnot; you’d want to telegraph it somehow. They can also serve as lone encounters, or as the centre of a debased cult to Vaprak, populated by some of these, some Trolls, and some mutated Humanoids (like Grimlocks, which have a cannibalistic theme as well). I think that there is a lot of room to use them, but other than the Vaprak cult they are not going to be hugely different from a normal Frost Giant to your players, unless you really delve deep into the Maug and Mott concepts, taking a social approach to a not-very-social group of Giants.

The combat stats for the Everlasting One are brutally simple: it is an upgraded Frost Giant that can do extra damage and be resistant to enemy damage by using a barbarian Rage ability, and it can regenerate 10hp a round if not affected by Fire or Acid. That makes them quite susceptible to Remorhages, now that I think about it, but otherwise I guess those damage types are rare among winter themed monsters. Interestingly, the extra heads here seems to be the same as for the Ettin - granting advantage on certain skills and saving throws - suggesting that this trait has been made deliberately standard across the game. I don’t remember if the DMG has it listed on the big racial abilities table. The Everlasting One works exactly like a normal Frost Giant otherwise, so you won’t have any complications to worry about.

Final opinion: a solid and interesting Giant variant, but one that will benefit from being separated out from its Frost Giant fellows in some way. The strength of the Giant chassis shows here, where relatively minor changes make a very scary looking opponent indeed.
 

Bitbrain

Adventurer
What I really like about the everlasting one is how it returns the idea of the six-headed trolls from the Norse creation myth (didn't they emerge from Ymir's feet or something?) back into the ranks of the frost giants.
 
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Chaosmancer

Villager
I used an everlasting one as an "unbeatable champion" for some challenges I was doing. The party barbarian went toe to toe with him and got wrecked. Which, was kind of the point (they aren't unwinnable challenges if you can beat them all easily)

Between the regen and the damage reduction these guys are incredibly tough, and they hit incredibly hard.

I like the idea of this single "man-eating" giant that devours those he deems strong enough to continue increasing his power, and taking this position of a fey court champion so he can constantly fight to prove his strength.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
The Everlasting One gives a good opportunity to inject some chaos into the middle of a Frost giant encounter. In fact, the PC's could be used to help dispose of an Everlasting one who is ruing over the tribe, giving some interesting giant-on-giant battle action. Though they would be wise to expect some treachery from their newfound "allies" as soon as the old chief is deposed.
 
The theme of gluttony is not one that appears much in the D&D monster corpus, at least as far as I know, but the Hill Giants do an admirable job of exploring that niche single-handedly. One of their methods for doing so are the Mouth of Grolantor, a starved and mad Hill Giant that serves as divine object, a demonstration of the destructive power of famine, and terrifying weapon of war.



The Mouth of Grolantor has a great picture in Volo’s. Standing in the midst of a pumpkin, uh, orchard(?!), it is furiously tossing handfuls of them into its mouth, while its chains and distended belly swing wildly. There is something really mesmerising about the pattern of colours on the belly, which is the focal point of the image: it’s tough to look away.

These guys are usually kept chained up by the tribe. They enter this parlous state after eating something that disagrees with them, and vomiting a lot; during the sickness, a ‘Priest of Grolantor’ examines the bile, which sounds a lot of fun for everyone involved. If the unfortunate Hill Giant doesn’t recover from the illness, the tribe deems it a message from Grolantor and they keep it chained up and starved. The way that they regard the Mouth as a divine object of veneration, not a person, is pretty interesting, but I think that you’d struggle to use it meaningfully in a game unless your players stop to talk to the Hill Giants, and I suspect that they rarely will.

As the Mouth is a divine object, it doesn’t get to go outside and play like the other Hill Giants. Instead it is kept chained up indoors, and only released in times of desperation or war, which I think is by far the most likely way for your players to meet one - as a line of defence in a Hill Giant Steadding like Grudd Haug. They sometimes also escape from their captivity and go on killing sprees, another possible method of introducing one - and giving the players an interesting way to meet Hill Giants who are only interested in recapturing the Mouth, not fighting them.

In combat, the Mouth is a pretty simple critter. This edition is generally pretty keen to avoid lots of bookkeeping for the DM, with powers that recharge randomly at the start of a turn, rather than in ‘1d4 rounds’. Part of that drive is the use of random tables, seen on Beholders and now here. Each turn, the DM rolls a dice, and sees what the Mouth does. The table’s main function here is to see whether the Mouth or its opponents have advantage on attacks, and it also ensures that it is hard to know whether it’ll split its attacks or focus on one individual. The damage output can be pretty heavy for that level - 9d8+15 with advantage - so you can expect the party to dislike this fellow immensely. It is immune to the Confusion spell, which is a nice touch, and it has a decent number of hit points.

I think that this guy will be a complete blast to use in melee, and I’m tempted to steal the table for other random monsters - Slaadi, for example - as it seems like it would add a lot of fun to the game.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
The Mouth of Grolantor strikes me more as a natural disaster than proper creature encounter. As such, consider pitting it against very low level characters as something to run away from. Say one comes into a small farming community set up around a local bar that adventurers are want to gather in. The Mouth starts eating stuff everywhere, then smells Ma Gannie's Famous Meat Pies being cooked in the Bar's kitchen, and then smashes a direct line to the delectable dishes. Low Level PC's being horribly outmatched by the giants voracity and brute strength must run away or find other means to subdue the creature, perhaps by drugging it or using the nearby kegs of ale to get it drunk enough to pass out.

One change I would make is having the Mouth gain hit points when it eats something, and adding eating stuff to the random action chart, or maybe as a bonus action. This thing should be chowing down like it's going out of style.
 
The Stone Giant Dreamwalker is an example of a Giant who stands outside the Ordning - an outcast - yet is respected by other Giants for its wisdom and knowledge. Mad wanderers, these Giants wander the surface world, attaching random objects to themselves, and acting as agents of chaos in the dreamworld.



The image for the Dreamwalker in Volo’s is not very good, unfortunately. The pose and general stance of the Dreamwalker is rather confused, and the limbs seem to have an odd proportion. There isn’t much sense of scale or place, and the objects embedded in the skin just look odd. Unfortunately, I’d say that this is the least interesting of the Giant pictures in the book.

With the Dreamwalker, we have a good opportunity for the players to meet a Stone Giant without descending into the Underdark, and to let you play with the idea of a mad wanderer who doesn’t care for consequences but who possesses great knowledge of geography. That could be a lot of fun as a recurring NPC, someone that they meet early on in the adventure and who can offer nuggets of information about the plot of your campaign - but wrapped up in nonsense. A Dreamwalker would also be an excellent method for you to give the players a way to approach the local Giants in a non-confrontational manner. However, the Dreamwalker doesn’t really work in combination with other Stone Giants that well - since she lives where they do not.

The Dreamwalker statblock is very light on knowledge - low Int and Wis, no Skills worth mentioning - despite the flavour text suggesting that they are respected by other Stone Giants for their insight. I’d definitely add a bunch of appropriate skills to the statblock, at least in your mind, if using one as a recurring NPC. Remember that Stone Giants live the best part of a millennium, plenty of time to learn plot-convenient skills!

The Dreamwalker has basically one big trick in combat: it charms those nearby, then uses an action on its turn to petrify a charmed individual and attach them to its skin. I’ve found Charm to be very underwhelming as a monster power - a Paladin of Devotion just shuts it down instantly - so don’t be surprised if this doesn’t work at all. Otherwise, you’ve got a basic Giant chassis - two club attacks, one rock toss, lots of hit points, etc.


Sent from my iPhone using EN World mobile app
 

Bitbrain

Adventurer
As soon as I saw the artwork for the dreamwalker, I had the idea that the unusual body proportions were because that is how the dreamwalkers are perceived by the other stone Giants, due to living above ground for too long.

in essence, the other stone Giants regard dreamwalkers as being aberrant, ​and so it physically becomes such.
 
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Chaosmancer

Villager
I'm okay with the charm aspect of it being easy enough for a prepared party to counter because the rest of it is brutal.

DC 17 con save makes it one of the hardest to resist petrification effects in the game, while giving only a single saving throw makes it one of the deadliest. Combine that with the fact that the charm effect is automatic in an aura means the fight can quickly spiral out of control for a party that is ill-prepared to face a Dreamwalker.


It could be interesting by the way, to have a Dreamwalker who is using this petrification and ability to fuse objects to their body to make themselves a walking piece of artistic expression. Grafting and creating entire scenes onto their limbs or back. And the only way to remove any of those people or items is by killing the giant itself, who is respectably tough in their own right, and may have garnered a following of creatures who are in awe of it's artistic expression, or simply are beasts following it along for free food as the giant demolishes a town in search of more material for it's project.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
I can see a bunch of groupies following a Dreamwalker around like a celebrity of sorts. Maybe the PC's have to bring home a wayward son who has fallen for the giant's charm before the Dreamwalker decides to make him into a body modification. Or alternatively, the Dreamwalker has some kind of mystic sword or whatever stuck in it's skin that the PC's need for whatever reason.

That said, I am a bit disappointed that the giant's body modifications have no practical effect. It would be interesting to see one of these with a working ballista or harpoon gun attached to their arm.
 
One of the more impressive sequences in the Fellowship of the Ring is the failed attempt to cross the Misty Mountains by way of Caradhras, with the malevolent will of the mountain driving back the Fellowship. We today look at the Storm Giant Quintessent, who will let you recreate that struggle.



I really like the art for the Quintessent. The armour is really cool looking and well detailed, the green fabric is both interesting and appropriately covering (rather than sexy, as so often the case with fabrics in fantasy art) and the pose conveys understated power. This is art that I’d happily steal for a court wizard, and it more than adequately conveys the dignity and worth of these beings.

The most powerful and solitary of the Giant variants, the Quintessent is a Storm Giant who refuses to go the way of all flesh, and who use their connection to the elements to become a kind of elemental force, dispersing their life essence into a thunderstorm, a mountain blizzard, or an oceanic vortex. They can reverse the transformation temporarily, allowing them to communicate with your party, or just try and obliterate them. As part of their high CR and status as powerful nature spirits of a kind, the Quintessent gets both Lair Actions and Regional Effects, which both emphasise elemental and weather magic.

I think that the Quintessent is best used like a Sphinx: someone important and scary for the players to meet, discuss the plot with, and then leave alone. The Quintessent is the kind of being that you can include on your regional map in the form of an icon - the “Everhowling Blizzard of the Mountains” - and include in your writing as a powerful but neutral entity in the events of your game. Alternatively, you can have the Quintessent serve as the Caradhras of your campaign, serving as an elemental obstacle for the players to meet and overcome in both the Exploration and Combat pillars of the game, before they can continue to the next stage in the story.

In combat, the Quintessent is a formidable opponent. Blessed with a good number of hit points and a fairly comprehensive set of resistances - though, as usual, a Paladin or Fighter with a magical weapon will do real damage - the Quintessent can also boast some of the heaviest attack options in Volo’s. It can either form a sword out of lightning, which will do very hefty damage on each of its two swings, or it can toss a pair of javelins, made of pure wind. This latter attack requires no roll to hit, which I’m sure will please nobody in your party. Of course, with a +14 to hit, I don’t imagine that the Quintessent will miss very often with the Sword either. In addition, the Quintessent has Truesight - good for shutting down high level Rogues - and an impressively high set of saves. If that wasn’t enough, she also comes equipped with a set of Legendary Actions, which includes a battlefield control effect (good for pushing people off of ledges in its mountainous lair, perhaps), a direct damage spell, and the ability to turn back into a storm. This latter effect means that it cannot be targeted by any effect, but there is no mention made of regenerating damage, so it is very cool, but unlikely to save a Quintessent that is losing a fight.

Overall, I’m a huge fan of the Quintessent, and I’m likely to add one to my future games as a not-quite benevolent NPC who the party can meet early on, before they realise that actually she is partly to blame for the evils that they face. Combined with some elemental creatures - Ice Toad, Crag Cats, cultists from Princes of the Apocalypse, I think that the Quintessent will be able to provide interesting challenges in all three pillars of the game, and be a very compelling presence in your campaign.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
The Quintessent can be used anywhere weather is particularly important, so everywhere basically. From a tropical island to desert plains.

I think the most interesting thing you can do with a Quintessent is have the PC's save one, or help create one. They are Chaotic Good after all, and in the proper location can be a source of precious water necessary to sustain life. A "normal" Storm Giant naturalist, perhaps a ranger of some kind, needs help from the PC's to become a Quintessent in order to provide her forest with rainwater after some kind of tragic curse dried out the skies. It could be set up as a bittersweet send off to a long time ally. And how much it backfires is entirely up to the maliciousness of the DM. Heck, the Quintessent may last for centuries only to be undone/corrupted later, and have a new adventuring group rise up and restore/destroy it. In a rare example of a creature that can span multiple campaigns in the same world.
 
I like your ideas on the players helping a Giant actually become one. That's neat, and would be a really fun element to do in your world towards the end of a campaign, since, as you say, it becomes a recurring NPC that you can endlessly reuse in future campaigns in the same setting. I've noticed that players quite enjoy meeting people that they met in a previous campaign - it's the kind of little cameo that works so well for Marvel films, for example. Plus the high level nature of the Quintessent makes it great for an NPC that the players will be wary of, while its essentially fixed location means that you don't have to explain why it doesn't just solve the quest itself.

I was very tempted to use this image from The Mummy, to highlight the potential for other settings:

 
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Today we look at the Girallon, which belongs to the Owlbear school of ‘weird combination animals’; it is an enlarged Gorilla with four arms, claws, and fangs. Because as we all know, when you look at a Gorilla what you think is that it needs to be more menacing.



The art in the book has a real sense of momentum; the Girallon is hurtling forward, most of its many limbs flying backwards as it does so. It really emphasises how intimidating one of these would be, with its fangs and claws, even as it keeps the essentially ludicrous body shape.

The text for the Girallon makes it clear that, no matter how cool the image would be, a half-ton (and Large sized) creature is not going to be able to climb the average tree. Instead, these guys prefer cities, especially ruined ones in the jungle, where they slope and clamber around with ease. That sounds pretty awesome, and gives these guys almost their own encounter location. There is, as always, the mystery behind the creation of such an obviously unnatural creature; their predilection for living in cities certainly adds to this, and you could certainly spin such an idea out into a full story. It reminds me of the mentions of the Gulthias trees in the Monster Manual entry for Blights, a clue that was later made use of in Curse of Strahd.

You can also meet these guys serving as trained animal guards for other races; Yuan-Ti and a city’s Thieves Guild are both mentioned, both ideas that are pretty appealing. I can also imagine meeting one of these in a Waterdhavian mansion’s garden, as an attempt to break in comes afoul of this hefty guardian. As a result, you can use these guys as minions for pretty much anyone that could have access to a large enough market.

In combat, the Girallon is a fairly standard and simple beast. It will climb about easily, has stealth and perception (though not intimidation, oddly) as trained skills, and gets the same Aggressive trait as Orcs. It also swings five times in melee, which is pretty impressive, so he’ll be good for ensuring that some damage gets through your bad dice on the night. Their simplicity is good for a minion beast - it means that your Boss Monster wizard in the back can have your undivided attention - but does mean that you’ll get quickly tired if you plan to run a whole ruined city full of these guys at the party.
 

Bitbrain

Adventurer
I really like the Girallon. Visually, they remind me of the "White Apes" from the film John Carter of Mars.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Trained animals, proficient in stealth, with huge strength and exceptional climbing ability?

These things are going into the Carnival, that's for sure. In tent, they can perform in the same capacity as a bear, maybe with the added bonus of doing an impressive juggling act.
 

psychophipps

Villager
Trained animals, proficient in stealth, with huge strength and exceptional climbing ability?

These things are going into the Carnival, that's for sure. In tent, they can perform in the same capacity as a bear, maybe with the added bonus of doing an impressive juggling act.
I would add Athletics as a skill (the flavor text says they can climb and jump really well) for some grapple followed by claw/bite attacks with advantage fun. Juggling PC heads would certainly be an attention-grabbing trick...
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
I think if I have them in the jungle, I may add a rock throwing ability to them as well. Monkeys and gorillas are fairly well known for their projectiles, and it makes sense that if encountered in a pack the big dominant males would charge the party while the others pelt them with objects from a distance.

Thinking of the apes in Tarzan when they are driving off the Jaguar. Kerchak goes in, but the others hold back and let the leader be the biggest most intimidating thing.
 
We begin the Gnoll section today on its most powerful member, the Flind. This is a boss monster, the natural leader of a band of Gnolls, and his entry is short but impressive.



The Flind in the book is standing in a static pose, but his flailheads are in motion and have black smoke trailing from them; the overall effect draws your attention to the skullheads of the flail and to the red facepaint on the Flind’s face. The image is overall pretty good, but move motion would have helped; it reminds me a lot of those concept art renders you see for computer game characters.

The Flind gets a very short flavour text for such a powerful creature, but then the Gnoll section in chapter one is doing the real lifting here. However, even with that, the Flind is still a brutally simple beast: he turns up to lead a warband, he likes eating humanoids, and he will try and grow his warband and eat everything he comes across. I already did a description of the Gnoll warband back in the Maw Demon and Shoosuva entry, so we won’t reinvent the wheel by going over it again here.

The Flind is a tough cookie. His defenses are not that impressive, to be honest, and he won’t last forever against your group. However, he has two real tricks to draw on. The first is his Aura of Blood Thirst, which lets creatures with the Rampage trait within 10ft do Bite attacks as a Bonus. That is a solid boost in DPS for those creatures - especially the Maw Demon and Shoosuva which have very powerful Bite attacks - and gives you a reason to bunch the Gnolls up, which will please the Wizard in your party. Secondly, the Flind attacks with a three-headed Flail, each head having an interesting effect. Madness inflicts something akin to the Confused condition, which will be fun if it causes your players to attack each other. Pain does a whole load of Psychic damage, which is simple but fun. Paralysis does what it says on the tin, and as always that condition is a horrible one to be hit with.

I really like the monster design here, with the Flind getting a good ‘leadership aura’, as well as a trio of fun and powerful attacks that don’t require a lot of effort to use - not much bookkeeping, no need to look up spell effects - but which ensure that a ‘hit things in melee’ monster actually has something more compelling than just damage output going for it. I think that this guy will definitely feel like a Boss Monster when the players meet him, even if I personally would be tempted to boost his HP by 50 to keep him in the fight a little longer.

The most powerful creature in a Gnoll storyline, with the possible exception of Yeenoghu, the Flind should be an imposing presence, and I think that his statline broadly backs that up. He’ll rip through low level characters like tissue, and his aura will make nearby members of the warband even nastier than they normally are, so I think that an early meeting with him will leave quite the impression on your party. However, he isn’t quite tough enough to suit the Boss Monster role, I think - he’ll go down too fast, like Strahd in Curse of Strahd commonly does - so be prepared to increase his HP to avoid an anti-climatic ending to the fight.
 

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