Thanks for dropping by for my weekly feature, Irreverent Reading. (By the time the series is done I’m hoping I’ll know how to spell Irreverent!)
This is the time in the week when we let our hair down and have some fun. It’s where my son Xander and I record some of our thoughts from our cover-to-cover read aloud of the 5E Monster Manual. (And so just we’re clear, this was very much his idea.) We don’t do every monster, just the one’s that tickle our fancy.
Based on some back of the napkin calculations, we are 10 hours into our read. If my math is right it’ll take us another 50 hours to finish. So, ten more weeks or so?
Some general observations. Xander remains motivated, providing three pieces of original art this week. Also, the repetitious nature of the reading is really driving some of that D&D vocabulary home. Bread and butter words like medium, neutral, chaotic, resistance, etc., don’t seem to pose a problem to him any more. Also, he effortlessly retrieved the words Elvish and Undercommon from way back when we read the Introduction.
It’s going great. I just hope it continues!
Okay, enough preamble, away… we… go…
Letters C & D. The letter C has a big cluster of mythological creatures: Centaur, Chimera, Cockatrice, and Cyclops. The letter D is chock full of Satanic Panic material, just every Demon and Devil you could possible imagine. Also D takes up a healthy chunk of the MM, but then of course it has All the Dragons.
On to the listings…
The idea of these guys as Hell’s middle-managers is solid. You can do a lot with that in a game. Is the Cambion you’re dealing with an up-and-comer or a sadistic drudge? Lots for the enterprising DM to do with this! (Also, admit it, the Cambion looks kinda like a Sith with a tail and wings.)
I ask Xander to read parts of the stat blocks aloud, including the stat modifiers. When we got to the Chimera’s INT mod of -4 he said without missing a beat, “That’s not very smart for a creature with three heads!” That is logic you can’t argue with. But it’s like the old saying goes… two heads are better than one, but not three. We went on to talk about what the different body functions the various creatures that make up the chimera were responsible for. I got a nice laugh when I told him that for sure the goat did all the pooping. (Know your audience, folks!)
Oh, what do we have here? Just your friendly neighborhood murder crustacean. I really like how WotC is doing some world-building across listings here. That’s smart. Now we know that the Aboleth, a mastermind creature if there ever was one (remember, they never actually die) has this capable and foul creature under its thumb.
The Aboleth/Chull relationship reminds me of the Elder Thing/Shoggoth dynamic from Lovecraft’s work. The Shoggoth eventually rebel against their masters, and that’s certainly a playbook you can steal for your game. Heck the players might even foment a chull uprising somehow. That would be a fun campaign arc, wouldn’t it?
Chulls as productive members of society gives me a good chuckle. I mean, they’d make an ideal fantasy forklift… except maybe for their breath.
(See Darkmantle below.)
I find the backstory of the Couatl very affecting. The idea of outliving your gods, and yet continuing your divinely-given mission, is almost too tragic and noble to describe. (That’s without even bringing up that they only reproduce when they realize they won’t live long enough to complete their work.)
What a great concept! They can be your greatest ally, or your most implacable foe… perhaps all in the same campaign.
We had a huge battle about the Crawling Claw listing. It ended in tears. Xander is not at an age where he can accept that some content is too much for him. It always comes down to a battle of wills… but having my own severed hand trauma just from watching THE COMMERCIAL for the Michael Caine movie The Hand, I wasn’t going to give in. Fun fact: Oliver Stone directed The Hand. And I’ve got to give it to old Ollie, if you watch the movie, you’ll go a couple of decades without putting any part of your body out of a car window. But yes, the Claw. If you look at the listing the word murderer appears exactly 73 times (I counted), so if you want to do your own read aloud have a game plan for the Claw. Think about your kid and what they can handle. I can usually dynamically dial down the horror when I’m reading, but there’s not much you can do with this…
Living Claws. If a crawling claw is animated from the severed hand of a still living murderer, the ritual binds the hand to the murderer’s soul. The disembodied hand can then return to its former limb, its undead flesh knitting to the living arm from which it was severed.
In the end we compromised on reading the Crawling Claw’s stat block. It is, thankfully, completely murderer-free.
Now wait a minute… within about a dozen pages we have two different monsters that:
2. Live in dungeons,
2. Look like something they are not, and
4. Want to hug face.
Un-oh, you know what it means when there’s one niche and two creatures!
It’s time for a Darwinian Elimination Match!!!
In this corner, the Cloaker! When not moving it looks like a raggedly old garment AND it can create illusory duplicates of itself–and in this corner the Darkmantle, able to camouflage itself as a stalactite AND capable of spewing out magical darkness! Let’s Get Ready to ROOOOOOOLLLLL those dice!
Here’s an interesting entity just full of plot potential. Most undead are just part of a gibbering hoard, or in charge of a gibbering hoard. (Okay, okay, the Death Knight is, in fact, capable of rallying a hoard of their own, but hear me out.) If you tease apart what the narrative material about the Death Knight says you’ll come to some very interesting conclusions. Check this out:
Immortal Until Redeemed. A death Knight can arise anew even after it has been destroyed. Only when it atones for a life of wickedness or finds redemption can it finally escape its undead purgatory and truly perish. [Emphasis mine.]
That’s what they call in the business a plot hook. I can’t think of another undead that can make legitimate moral choices. Most undead don’t seem to exist outside of their impulses. But you can’t atone for something if you can’t decide to make up for your mistakes. So somewhere deep within in the Death Knight lurks a tortured soul.
Imagine a Death Knight cornering your players and then begging for their help. Imagine you run the kind of game where the players cautiously agree. If everything goes well they discover the Death Knight’s dark secret, grudgingly give him respect and maybe even a sort of friendship… only to see him die when he finally atones. I’m not telling you how to run your game, but tell me you don’t want some of that juicy drama?
I give Xan as much of the reading as he can shoulder based on his mood and energy. And I love it when he wrestles with hard words. He pronounced this Dim’mich at first like you might pronounce Sam’mich for sandwich. 🙂
When I offered up that the illustration looked like an aftermarket shifter nob for a cool 1950s jalopy, he said he thought it would be funny if a Demilich dressed up and pretended to be a Death Tyrant. Can you imagine the reveal: “Muhahaha, you thought I was one undead floating eye thing… and I was the OTHER undead floating head thing THE WHOLE TIME!!!”
Holy jebus, there are Demons here aplenty in all their reeking, gibbering glory. I’ll just touch on some of our favorites. I’m pretty sure Xander wants to be a Quasit when he grows up. What’s not to like? They’re like Gremlins on steroids. Not a ton of hit points, but just a laundry list of fun abilities: shapechanging, scare, and invisibility. Just a good old-fashioned boogie man, really. I could imagine a well-trained Dretch as a pet. They seem like a cross between a dog and a gorilla, except the part where they fart out noxious green gas once a day. Although, come to think of it, our cat does that sometimes. Oh, this is something I’ve been wondering about… why does the Barlgura , which looks like a giant ape, have Disguise Self? With Disguise self: “You can’t change your body type, so you must adopt a form that has the same basic arrangement of limbs.” Add to that the spell’s limitation of only being able to add or substract a foot in height, and what on earth are you left to turn into??? “No one will notice me, now I just look the biggest gorilla in the history of the world. Muahahaha!” I guess a Barlgura could disguise itself as an Ogre, but that’s a lot like Xander’s idea for the Demilich above.
Bonus Creature: Bulette
Oh, man, how did I skip the Bulette last post?!? I have to say I prefer the first edition illustration. But the thing I really want to point our is their (imagine me saying this in the French way) penchant for halfling flesh. The MM doesn’t leave any gray area here:
A Bulette loves halfling meat the most, and it is never happier than when chasing plump halflings across an open field.
I’ll admit it, this is some bizarre specificity I can get behind. It’s got me imagining a really “woke” kingdom where everyone is aware of the special plight of the halfling.
Let’s set the scene…
In the King’s court the seneschal steps forward with the day’s proclamations under his arm. He unfurls the scroll, one dagged sleeve practically dragging the floor, he clears his throat and begins reading in a powerful baritone…
“Here ye, here ye, by order of his Royal Highness let it be known that if a Bulette is sighted in a neighboring domain, or within the lands of his highness, all halflings are hereby ordered to report to the nearest dock or port for immediate removal onto a body of water with a depth of no less than 25 fathoms. All the wealth, possessions, lands, and assigns of any halfling so removed will be maintained under penalty of death until such time as the threat has passed, and said halfling is able to take possession of the heretofore mentioned property again. Thus sayeth our Royal Highness!”
That’s it for this week. Next week we’ll jump right into Devils. Will we make it all the way to Dragons, though? Stay tuned and find out!