Level Up (A5E) Monsters: Winners and Losers


Continuing our series, we now move into Monsters. Which ones made the grade?

This is right now a pure read analysis, playtime may change my experience, but lets see how the items "feel" upon initial read.

Also note, not all items are listed here. I am only highlighting things that I think are especially good or notably bad. Items that are just solid are not noted. Since there are so many monsters, I am trying hard to really highlight the monsters that are solid winners and losers.

For me, since a lot of 5e monsters feels very "bag of HP", what I am really looking for our changes to monsters that invoke strong flavor, shake up combat, or just a better mechanical representation of what the monster is supposed to be.

Azer - Giving them the ranged attack they have is a nice touch, but the fire teleport is just a win. This suddenly makes Azer really engaging foes in certain terrain, it completes changes their cultural paradigm, their flavor, and their tactics in combat....and for just a small bit of change. Really neat.

Banshee - The unquiet spirit is a nice flavor touch. Ultimately I think this is a more balanced banshee who can't one shot a party, but does it in a way that actually enhances the flavor and engagement of the combat. Even though my gut says this banshee is "weaker" than the O5e one....I think it would be a more interesting fight.

Bugbear - The 05e version really does nothing to highlight this guy as a sneaky assassin, but the LU fixes that, with simple but powerful changes that actually hammer the flavor home.

Demilich - The new devour soul is very cool, and immediately sets the stakes in a CR 18 legendary battle. One of the things I love about this ability is, its basically an "autohit" and "autoheal" ability, which considering the action economy of a solo is perfect. If a solo commits themselves to a single target....that effect has to be good to make the payoff worth it....and I think this one is. Add in actual telekinesis and the cool skull teleport, and yeah this ones a winner.

Balor - Once again, for me its the fact that we have a very subtle change (Instinctive Teleport) that can completely change a battle. This one ability makes the Balor go from a silly old bag of Hitpoints, to a cunning skirmisher that can go anywhere and everywhere.

Dretch - Simply put, this creature went from a schlub to a terrifying threat with one change....literally terrifying. This to me is what makes a minion monster works, a monster that is not that scary by itself, but you just cannot ignore it because of what it can do to you when facing stronger monsters.

Glabrezu - The wish thing is cool flavor, but its really bonus action spells. This actually takes us back to old school monster darkness + devil sight tactics, and suddenly this creature is now a much more engaging threat than the O5e version.

Shadow Demon - replace Shadow is super cool, again completely changing the dynamics of a fight with this creature.

Dragons - I'm just going to put a blanket marker for Dragons. In general, I found the design of LU dragons superior, more interesting, more badass.

Faerie Noble - One of the new monsters, this one packs a lot of interesting effects in a single package. You can fun with teleports, with controls, or with changing size to navigate various terrains.

Dead Man's Fingers - Now by itself, I think this monster is actually nothing too special, because the ethereal shift doesn't super affect the combat (ethereal spores are very scary, but its just something you have to deal with like any other condition, not something you can really work around). However, combine this monster with any other, and suddenly you have a cool split screen combat, where you have an ethereal and material battle going on at the same time....that is really neat.

Cloud Giant - Another very subtle tweak that completely changes the paradigm. Now Cloud Giants are good at fighting in....clouds! And suddenly the fight takes on a new dynamic that very much fits with flavor.

Green Hag - The obligation mechanic + the hex inclusion just solidies this monster is a much cooler version over the 5e one.

Hydra - So the legendary treatment seems appropriate for the creature, but to me the real neat trick is the Toxic Secretions. That gives the hydra some area control power and takes the flavor of the monster in a cool new direction.

Jackalware - The truth aversion gives this creature a wonderful social element, allowing players who think there may be one in the area to have a fun way to "suss out the creature" with interesting questioning.

Lich - The auras add a lot of punch to the lich and lets it tailor itself well to different threats. This lich is a lot more well rounded than the O5e one.

Malcubus - First, neatly combining Incubbus and Succubus. But this is just a much cooler monster, giving them so much better ways to be influencers and spies. I also love the "invitation" mechanic.

Mimics - Mimics get a new swallow and "water aversion" traits that spice up the iconic monster, I especially like the swallow just because its a rare ability at this low CR, so its a way to introduce that fun mechanic to low level parties.

***Mummy Lord: The mummy lord has the nefarious honor of being "the most lame" monster in O5e to me, having used it multiple times, always to incredibly disappointing results. A5e gave them a major durability bump which was sorely needed. I also like the shift from fire vulnerability to ongoing fire damage. That is still fun and flavorful, while preventing the ML from just getting gack in one round. Though the monster remains mostly the same as O5e, frankly the durability boost alone was enough for this monster to get on the list, that's how low the bar was!

Ogre Mage (Oni): The read scroll power is a nice touch here, because it is both a way to give the monster so utility and power, but also a good excuse to leave the party a nice bit of treasure when they win, that's just a really nice little touch. The "flawed magic resistance" is also a cool concept, giving the creature a new defensive property but at the same time disrupting its other one.

Peryton - A normally simple monster, one I frankly hadn't even heard of before. But in looking at it, the super gore power really gives some crazy threat to these creatures, making them scary even at higher levels. That with the false divinity flavor instantly gave me some awesome ideas to use these creatures in a game.

Rakshasa - So I was annoyed at the removal of the "special vulnerability", in general I like this design a lot better. LU removed some of the super defenses of the Rakshasa while giving them cooler schemer abilities and easier use of their magic. This creature feels much more engaging.

Tarrasque - Simply put, O5e doesn't have a tarrasque, this is the real Mr T.

Xorn - The new steal ability totally shakes up combat with a Xorn, leading to a much more interesting engagement than before.


Solar - I like the new deafening command, I really do. But on the whole, the loss of the slaying longbow and dancing sword is a long held flavor mechanic of the solar....that's a major flavor loss. Mechanically it also removes the only long ranged option the Solar had. While this Solar brings the pain up close, it has no great answer for major ranged assaults.

Bullette - Though there is more engaging mechanics here, I really don't like the flavor of Hard Carapace. The "land shark" lies down and tries to protect itself like a helpless little turtle?.....that doesn't feel right. This is a burrowing tanky death machine, not a timid turtle. Also the mechanics of this ability don't fit the flavor. The bulette is prone with eyes closed, shouldn't everyone have advantage against it (thereby negating the AC bonus in the first place)?

Drider - The basic drider just feels like a shuffling of abilities, but loses the save bonuses and spell casting abilities (those are moved over to a variant). The result is a creature is just more plain and less interesting the original one.

Forgotten God - Having gotten to try this one in combat, I get the flavor of the random spellcasting but it can be a struggle in combat, which for a legendary creature can be a death sentence. Beyond that. Its got a few tricks but it doesn't bring anything that really feels legendary to me.

Ghoul/Ghast - What makes Ghouls scary, especially in large numbers, is the continuous ongoing threat of paralysis. A party, no matter how high a level, can ignore that with one unlucky save, they are suddenly taking a bunch of extra damage from a swarm of ghouls. This means that even after several rounds, ghouls remain a very scary threat. The LU version completely removes that, as after one successful save the paralysis part of the ghouls is just removed from the character for ALL ghouls in the fight. This removes all of the interesting tension of the ghoul, I would rank this one of the worst changes in LU monster design.

Khalkos - A neat attempt to on an "alternate mind flayer", but ultimate the mechanics of this thing don't hold up to its "scourge of worlds" flavor. These things apparently can take on entire worlds and gods.....and they just don't seem to have the juice for that.

Kraken - For a creature "whose power threatens the gods", the creature is surprisingly plain. A creature of this kind of CR and legendary status should be world shaking....and this thing is just a brute without even any big ranged options.

Oozes - Nothing wrong with the LU oozes, but they are basically the same as 5e, and considering how good oozes are as dungeon threats I was hoping to see some more of them, especially higher CR ones.

Shadow - This is probably a better balanced monster for its CR frankly, but at the end of the day, shadows are about draining strength, that's what makes them super scary, even at higher levels. This shadow is a pussy cat in comparison. I think this was a perfect time to use the new fatigue mechanics, but a missed oppurtunity.
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad


Khalkos - A neat attempt to on an "alternate mind flayer", but ultimate the mechanics of this thing don't hold up to its "scourge of worlds" flavor. These things apparently can take on entire worlds and gods.....and they just don't seem to have the juice for that.
They have discrete numbers, MoH sets up a nice example of dominos that could easily have exploded exponentially go beyond a recoverable point before the players even got to take their first action :D

An Advertisement