Thanks for dropping by my weekly feature, Irreverent Reading! It’s where my son and I turn the Monster Manual upside down and give it good shake to see what falls out.
This week we travel through all the Nine Halls and back up to where dragons soar.
For sure my boy Xander has been listening. Somehow last week’s Demilich came up at breakfast, and I said it was cursed to be a floating head forever and he said without missing a beat, “Unless it absorbs a soul into its phylactery!” I laughed my ass off. He’s 6… I’ve been alive so much longer than him and I just learned what a phylactery was when we read about it. My friend Zach, who apparently taught himself how to read with the original Monster Manual, said he loved non-fiction as a kid, and we talked about how the MM is essentially non-fiction for fictional monsters.
In any case, my son has built a story of his own, a “meta” if you will, around our read through. “Dad, it’s like we are defeating all these monsters as we read them.”
Hey, why not!
Stick around and check out what we bested this week…
Devils. I thought I’d find this section a little dry, but my son and I noticed some unusual things… for one thing it taught my son the word “silvered.”
Barbed Devil. The narrative text says that the Barbed Devil is “lazy.” Let’s have some sympathy for this guy. He looks like the scratchy side of the velcro. Just going outside means getting snagged on god knows what. I’m guessing if you needed as much personal space as the barbed devil does, you’d be “lazy,” too.
Bearded Devil. Looking at some of the combat synergies of this devil I’m thinking his Challenge rating of 3 might be a notch too low. Thankfully his poisoned Beard effect doesn’t ruin your Saving Throws, but it’s bad enough to have disadvantaged ability checks and attack rolls if you blow that save.
This Glaive attack is the soul of gnarly… remember, he’s just Challenge 3:
Glaive. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: (1d10 + 3) slashing damage. If the target is a creature other than an undead or a construct, it must succeed on a DC 12 Constitution saving throw or lose 5 (1d10) hit points at the start of each of its turns due to an infernal wound. Each time the devil hits the wounded target with this attack, the damage dealt by the wound increases by 5 (1d10). Any creature can take an action to stanch the wound with a successful DC 12 Wisdom (Medicine) check. The wound also closes if the target receives magical healing.
This effect can snowball really quickly if you start missing those Con checks, or if everyone is too hard pressed to do Medicine/Heals. (Especially if you’re fighting multiple bearded devils!) If you’re a frontline fighter you probably aren’t in too much trouble, but anybody else could go down fast. Fear the Beard!
Erinyes. Okay, so maybe it’s a little on the nose to have our one humanoid looking Devil dressed like she’s on her way to a BDSM dungeon. Might have felt a little less like low-hanging fruit if there was a male-presenting Erinyes as well? I mean these are devils, you can justify them doing sneaky shapechanging all day long. And the Rope of Entanglement gave me a chuckle. I thought of Wonder Woman, and her creator, William Moulton Marston, who had some very interesting “proclivities” shall we say. Anyway, D&D has changed over the years, and the audience has changed with it… but the erinyes makes me suspect that the core audience is still more or less the same.
Ice Devil. My son loves insects, so this fella hit the spot. (His ice devil is the featured image for the post this week.)
Displacer Beast. Great write-up and awesome illo. Love those juicy plot hooks, too. The idea of a small pride of displacer beasts cleverly setting ambushes could give a campaign an excellent location that everyone loves to dread. Maybe there’s a good site for plunder on the other side of a jungle, but the party has to trudge in and out with displacer beasts on the prowl? I also really like the idea suggested in the book that displacer beasts can learn the timing of caravans along the trading routes. If the party is guarding the caravan do they try to outfox their feline foes by going at a different time of year, which turns the the weather into the main problem, or do they gear up and brave the gauntlet? Another cool option is a mastermind that deploys displacer beasts as a signature weapon…
Doppleganger. Back when I was running Lost of Mines of Phandelver for my group, I discovered it contained a criminally underused Doppleganger. I slipped “her” into the story as a hostage that the party rescued. Of course some of the players were instantly suspicious, but I played her as distant, shell-shocked, and in general pissed to be wandering the countryside with the PCs. One of the characters, D’lathian Darkwood, did the decent thing and tried to befriend her. She started out attempting to lead the party into the path of some monsters she knew about… but the longer we played the more it felt like she was falling for D’lathian. In the end they had a romance, and one night she revealed her true self. I tried to come up what she what she’d do in every scenario I could think of… if D’lathian rejected her, attacked her, etc., but in end he was like Whatever, I can live with this.
And that’s how a paladin and a doppleganger ended up a couple in my game. Just another great moment with my regular group.
Dracolich (Template). I love the Template concept. A simple way to create a distinctive monster without having to spill a lot of ink.
Shadow Dragon (Template). Could not help but note the brutality of the shadow dragon’s breath weapon… PCs beware! If it drops you to 0 hit points, you can forget about your fancy Death Saves. Shadow dragon breath has the usual full damage/half damage mechanic for making a save. But then there’s this. “A humanoid reduced to 0 hit points by this damage dies, and an undead shadow rises from its corpse and acts immediately after the dragon in its initiative count. The shadow is under the dragon’s control.” What a hell of a way to die. So, there you go DMs, delight and amaze your group with a whole new way to take them out!
Dragons. I’ve been playing D&D on and off for years and years and somehow I’d never stumbled over the feud between the Chromatic dragons and the Metallic dragons. All I can say in my defense is that I’ve often played in gritty low-level games, and dragons just didn’t come into it. But, yeah, I am definitely the last old school D&D player on earth to find out!
Dragon (Black). This is a great entry to wrap up the week with, because this is where I discovered how deeply Xander has been listening. (We’ll get to that in a minute.)
I love how rich this entry is. It really gives the DM not only a sense of what creatures you’ll find around a black dragon’s lair (kobolds, creepy crawlies, “evil” shambling mounds), but also their psychology and agenda. They are fundamentally cowards. They live to see great cultures fall. All great, great actionable stuff from a story-telling perspective. Also, an ancient black dragon is likely to have entire strata of cultural/magical artifacts in its hoard. Great campaign juice. Next time you need a magic MacGuffin from an ancient culture in your game? Now you know where to put it.
I mentioned earlier that once again I was impressed with Xander’s listening and retention. When we got to the black dragon’s Lair Actions, and I started reading about the darkness it can create that’s impervious to darkvision… he instantly had the perfect counter. “Dad, Dad, you should bring a Devil with you!” Ignoring the logistical problems, it was a tidy solution…
Devil’s Sight: Magical Darkness doesn’t impede the devil’s Darkvision.
And when we got down to the black dragon’s regional effects he noticed right away that he’d heard the bit about “fouled” water sources before.
Xander: “Dad, it’s like that thing back in the A section.”
Me: “You mean the Aboleth?”
And, you know what? He was right.
Our pace has slowed a bit, but that’s fine. This was always going to be a marathon. I’d rather go a little slower and have my boy enjoy the journey than drive towards some imaginary deadline.