Irreverent Reading: D&D 5E Monster Manual from Dragon (Turtle) to Ettin – The Drow Problem

Thanks for dropping by my weekly feature, Irreverent Reading! It’s where my son and I absorb every word of the Monster Manual, opining and dreaming about what we find…

This was week two of homeschooling and the Bay Area quarantine. Very thankful at this point that we were one of the first places to shut everything down. I’m happy to report that if anything, folks around here are taking it on themselves to do all the things. People politely give way on the sidewalks and in general our community is figuring out how to do this. There’s a Thai place that we like, and they seem to be really giving safety and sanitation their all. None of this is perfect, but it gives me a good feeling.

The boy is holding up well. His reading skills are on the uptick, and I think he loves the responsibility of looking after the Chromebook the school is letting him borrow. (I know that not every district can do this, so I’m doubly thankful.)

In any case, Dear Reader, I hope this finds you safe and sane.

Okay, let’s have some fun!

This week we finally made it through the Ds. If you’ve got your MM on hand, notice what a beast that chapter is! I’m convinced that the Drow are filed under E for Elves because the D section is already too damn long… Anyway, after the Demons, Devils, and Dragons it’s been fun to get some variety back in the listings. Good stuff!

Dragon (Turtle). Xander, like many players before him, is fascinated with the idea of a character acquiring a monster egg, specifically one from this beast. I think he has in mind building a ship on its back so that you end up with a sort of fantasy submarine… one with a 15d6 breath weapon as a main gun…

Wait, there’s your scenario right there, Dear Reader! Just have some pirates weaponize one of these by building an airtight habitat on its back. How? You know, MAGIC! The PCs end up chasing this dreadnought all around the ocean Sink the Bismarck! style, doing everything they can to take it down.

Let me know if someone has written that already… I’d probably buy it. Anyway, I dig it… one of my more OSR ideas.

Drider. Wow, these are some tough SOBs, way tougher than I remember. How tough? 123 hit points tough. Add in some serious stealth and balanced attack options, and you’ve got a nice combat monster to take on higher level characters. Fighting a pack of these would be no joke. None of their attacks impress, but they get three whacks at you per round. Throw in a possible ambush, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a tough encounter.

Driders are also a candidate for my signature Make a Creature More Psychologically Complicated move. They’re meant to be mindless drones, stripped of their will by Lolth. We read that they are “driven by madness,” etc., but what else can they be?

It’s easy to imagine them loathing Lolth for what she’s done to them. Maybe there’s an organized Drider resistance cell that’s hitting Lolth temples… talk about making an Underdark-delving party’s life more interesting! Maybe the PCs stumble into this situation and don’t really know what to do. Maaaaybe the Drider leader proposes they join forces to take out some really big targets. It would be sort of like teaming up with a group of Centaurs, but way creepier.

Dryad. I love, love, love the illustration. It’s an elegant blend of abstract and figurative. Wouldn’t at all mind seeing a full RPG product done in this style. Hats off to you, artist buried in the Credits block. Best in Show.

Elementals. No real surprises here, beyond that their special attacks recharge on a very forgiving 4 through 6. It makes sense, though; you want to see Elementals doing their Elemental stuff.

earth elemental small
An Earth Element Comes to Life. From Xander: “When a creature of great power wakes up there must be a very special ceremony, and it is either a ceremony of great good or great evil depending on the creature. In this case, volcanoes erupt…”

Elves: Drow. For sure the Drow would be in the D section if it weren’t so absurdly long already. Also, the E section is only 10 pages long as it is, with 4 pages taken up with Drow-ness.

I’ll admit it; I’ve got complicated feelings about the Drow! Back when I was kid I didn’t really think about the fact that the Drow, the dark race, were also the baddest of the bad, the evilest of the evil. But now that we’re all in the 21st Century, the idea of a dark-skinned bad “race” is not for me. Thankfully this is not emphasized in the text in this incarnation of the Monster Manual, however the art still features “dark purple” skin.

When I run Drow, I use they idea that their skin has almost no pigment at all because of the generations they’ve lived underground. (Picture the weird translucent quality jellyfish have.) For my money, it makes them even creepier. In any case, I’m just more comfortable presenting them this way. As an added bonus it means that if I run Drow at a table with People of Color, I can still look them in the eye.

Empyrean. Don’t quite get these guys. They feel like a solution looking for a problem. (Perhaps there’s an adventure out there that uses these?)

Ettercap. As I might have mentioned before, Xander is a fan of horrifying insects, so he was delighted by the spider-thing that is the Ettercap. I tried to skirt the rather macabre Web Garrote variant, but he just wasn’t having it. He cackled at the idea. Watch out folks, we may have a Killer DM on our hands. I always find the creature as environmental hazard angle evocative, so I’m a fan of the Ettercap, too. Something nasty to flesh out that spider-infested forest in your sandbox game.

Ettin. Before we even started reading the listing Xander said, “Oh!, I bet the heads argue all time.” So, he’s either picked the idea up from a story, or it’s just embedded in the human psyche that two heads are not necessarily better than one.

As Douglas Adams taught us, two heads bickering with each other is just comedy gold. (For a more obscure take on this idea check out How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989) with a killer performance by Richard E. Grant.) I’m not a big fan of going right for the laughs in D&D, but I do run my games with humor. Seems like I should consider getting an Ettin or two to the table.

Also, their suggested use as a stiffener for Orcish forces is good, especially if the PCs are used to wading through Orc tribes with ease. A half a dozen Ettins thrown into the mix might slow their roll.


Xander’s reading continues to take off. There were spells, so many spells, in the Drow listing, so we took some long side trips into the Player’s Handbook to read them. For the first time he read a couple of the spells to me all the way through, the short listings for Misty Step and Greater Invisibility.

Now that he’s willing to do a little heavy lifting reading-wise, I think going back to grade-appropriate work feels much easier to him.

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