Hello, and welcome to my new feature Irreverent Reading. I’m excited because this is a collaboration between me and my son, Xander. He’s just about 7 and he really, really, really wants me to read the 5th Edition Monster Manual aloud to him. So, we are going to go cover to cover, hitting every word and every stat block along the way. (He’s already said he wants to do Volo’s next.)
I thought it would be a unique opportunity to document this moment in Xander’s life, in our lives really, and then it occurred to me it might be fun to share our observations with you. Naturally, dear Reader, I hope you agree. The boy will bring his perspective as a kid who loves stories and gross monsters… and I’ll bring mine as a guy who has been playing since back in the day.
Please note: this will by no means be a completist effort; I’ll only chime in on the monsters we find novel, or that have something interesting, weird, or funny in their write-ups.
Perhaps most excitingly, Xander has also agreed to provide art for these segments. His first illustration, a dungeon scene with a blue Beholder awaits you below!
So, away… we… go…
Good solid write-up for a potential creature ally. It’s nice to establish right off the bat that not everything in the book is going to be a “kill it with fire” threat. But, man, that name. Way to trip Dad up right out of the gate. (Honestly, it’s probably good for kids to see adults wrestle with unknown words.) I managed to get it right in the end, but I needed to check over on D&D Beyond to be sure.
One of my son’s favorite books is called The World’s Most Terrifying Insects. Anky here would make an excellent addition. I’ve always thought of Ankhegs as a dungeon problem, but the write-up suggest otherwise. It appears that they exist in a notional space somewhere between giant trapdoor spider and dire wolf. They are supposed to be the bane of the ranger and the farmer, but your yard guy wouldn’t be happy with them either. Just think what one of these things could do to your lawn.
A wise DM might up that Perception, though. It’s clear that Ankhegs are ambush predators, and it just doesn’t feel like a Passive PER of 11 reflects the danger they pose. Hunh, I’d maybe throw in a dash of Stealth, too.
My son really likes the Banshee illo, “It’s creepy, and I like creepy!” Damn fine job WotC.
Anyway, so I’m minding my own business reading the Banshee stat block and this just jumps out and grabs me…
Wail (1/Day). The banshee releases a mournful wail, provided that she isn’t in sunlight. This wail has no effect on constructs and undead. All other creatures within 30 feet of her that can hear her must make a DC 13 Constitution saving throw. On a failure, a creature drops to 0 hit points. On a success, a creature takes 10 (3d6) psychic damage.
Now, I’ve been in the old RPG game for awhile, so I know a gigantically unbalancing possibility when I see one…
Let’s set the scene…
A Tarrasque slowly rumbles towards [Campaign City] as a Powerful Wizard and his party of sycophants look on from a high tower.
Wizard: All right men, have the Banshee cart in position by nightfall.
Sycophant: But, sir, what about all your powerful magicks?
Wizard (raising his hand): You know what the Banshee’s wail can do. That’s why we scoured the kingdom until we had 20 of them!
Sycophant: But sir, well, it seems like, uh…
Wizard: Yes… ?
Sycophant (soflty): Like, ummm… it seems like an exploit… or meta-gaming or… (trailing off)
Wizard: Do you want to kill this thing or not?
Sychophant: I guess kill this thing, but…
Wizard: But what?
Sychophant: But the Terrasque has a Legendary Ability where it can just erase failed saves three times a —
Wizard: NOW WHO’S METAGAMING!!!
I’d like to shake the hand of whoever came up with the backstory for the the Behir. Biological weapon run amok? Yeah, that’s my jam. Good on you Storm Giants of yore, didn’t know you had it in you. Also, it’s cool to have something in the underground wriggler category, like the Carrion Crawler, but that’s so much harder to deal with. Hmmm… and I’m definitely going to kitbash that Swallow ability with another monster at some point…
Despite the whole “Dragons” thing in D&D, I can never shake the feeling that the funky old Beholder is actually the emblematic monster of the franchise. Heck, look at that lovely gal right on the MM cover. As far as I know Beholders were invented from whole cloth in the early days and man, have they endured. And, of course, they’ve been elaborated on.
Xander loves them. There’s a beholder model hanging up at our local game store that he’s always been fascinated with. And check out his drawing. Of course, I’m the parent, but I think he did a great job…
Xander has also worked out a very elaborate life cycle for the Beholder that starts with snakes with baby beholder heads and ends with them eating their parents. (Paging Dr. Freud!) Maybe that would make a great post of its own.
I found myself wondering if the randomly generated eye attacks were always a thing back in the day… let me go look… okay, original Monster Manual has a numbered list, but no randomization, and wow, way crunchy hit point divisions between body parts.
Anyway, I also found myself appreciating the Death Tyrant. I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for the “and what about the undead version? Muhahaha” school of design.
Also, how about this lovely, eerie description…
On rare occasions, a beholder’s sleeping mind drifts to places beyond its normal madness, imagining a reality in which it exists beyond death. When such dreams take hold, a beholder can transform, its flesh sloughing away to leave a death tyrant behind.
Ahhhh… that’s the stuff. Also, WHAAAAAT? Nothing says eldritch wyrdness like just dreaming yourself into another different, but more horrifying, form.
Yes, more, more floating eye beasts, more, MORE!
But this I found interesting to ponder…
A spectator is a lesser beholder that is summoned from another plane of existence…
Come, come now, why so coy? These write-ups are usually soooo specific about extra-planar shenanigans, so now I’m wondering… is there a Demi-plane just for Spectator reproduction? And is it shaped like a wasp’s nest? Tiny little spectator specks at the beginning, and the business end filled with mature models ready for summoning to the Prime Material plane?
The pure grimdark mated with ecologic horror. If you want to bring that post-apocalyptic feeling to your fantasy, start with these guys.
Okay, that’s it for this time. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, ’cause there are going to be more. Lots more. Xander will make sure of that.