Irreverent Reading: D&D 5E Monster Manual from Gnolls to Grimlock – “Mean Little Fools…”

Thanks for spending some of your quarantine media consumption block to check out my weekly feature, Irreverent Reading! It’s where my son and I read every word of the Monster Manual, dreaming and opining about what we find.

As Xander does an online yoga class behind me for school, it’s starting to feel like it’s always been this way. Humans = infinitely adaptable.

It’s dawning on me that the bulk of this chronicle will probably take place under quarantine/social distancing. It’ll be our very own Journal of the Plague Year. I should revisit this with the boy some day…

In the meantime, we continue!

This week we explore the second half of the letter G, an amusing mixed bag. Some very familiar bread and butter creatures, along with monsters that you could go an entire playing career without encountering…

Gnolls. These are a big feature of my current regular game. We’ve gotten to know the doings of Yeenoghu quite well. One of our first encounters in the campaign featured a small pack of Gnolls charging us over open ground. In another adventure we defended a town against a giant thing formed from the bodies of hundreds of dead gnolls. Good times!

Mechanically they’re straightforward, but their Rampage ability has a particularly cruel use you may never have considered.
Rampage: When the gnoll reduces a creature to 0 Hit Points with a melee Attack on its turn, the gnoll can take a Bonus Action to move up to half its speed and make a bite Attack.

Here’s the nasty part… if a Gnoll takes a PC down to 0 HP, at your discretion you can attack them again with this Bonus action, pushing them even closer to death’s door. Even if you don’t do it, you might find a way to hint to a smug PC that you could… if you were that kind of person.

Goblins. Sure, Dragons are important to the D&D brand, but if the game had a mascot, it’d be the humble Goblin. I don’t have the energy for an exhaustive study, but I feel like in the last 15 or so years they’ve become more and more linked to D&D fandom. Who can’t feel at least a grudging kinship with the Goblins’ feckless striving?

A couple of things caught my eye in this listing…

There’s the narrative callout where a slave lord calls Goblins “mean little fools.” A more perfect description for a creature there never was!

And there’s an excellent description of the typical Goblin lair…
Goblins festoon their lairs with alarms to designed to signal the arrival of intruders. Those lairs are also riddled with narrow tunnels and bolt-holes that human-sized creatures can’t navigate, but which goblins can crawl through with ease, allowing them to flee or to circle around their enemies.

I’d love to set up a Goblin lair for a group of mid-level PCs like it’s an easy side quest. You know the deal… a village mayor comes to the party and asks them for help… that type of thing. It turns out the lair, which seems little more than the hole in the side of hill, is a filthy maze that just keeping going further and further under a mountain. It might be cool to reward your players with a long lost, almost mythic, location at the end of it all. It could be tons of fun to have them break through the last wall of the dirty warren to stumble across a Shangri-La hidden deep in the earth.

Golem Iron Blog full
Iron Golem in the Ruins. Artist’s Statement: “Once there was a great city. It was peaceful there until… They got engaged in a war against Iron Golems. They destroyed the city and killed out the other life forms. Now, in this once great city, you should be ready for battle around any corner, because the street is crowded with crouching and hidden Iron Golems. No one has made it out of this city. YOU MAY BE THE FIRST.”

Golem. Yes, nice variety here. Digging into the stat blocks yields a few unexpected results.

Clay Golem. This fellow has one of those sneaky powerful abilities we are always trying to ferret out in our deep diving.
Slam. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 16 (2d10 + 5) bludgeoning damage. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or have its hit point maximum reduced by an amount equal to the damage taken. The target dies if this attack reduces its hit point maximum to 0. The reduction lasts until removed by the greater restoration spell or other magic.

Nasty, nasty, nasty. 2d10 isn’t a massive attack, but there’s an added double whammy. First those HP are just gone for awhile, and check out the fine print. If your maximum HP get taken all the way to 0 you are donzo. Forget the extra padding of Death Saves.

Also, consider that the Clay Golem can turbocharge itself with Haste, and this “lesser” golem can mess you up

I think running a series of encounters with these could be enlightening. How do your players adapt to an ever decreasing pool of hit points…?

Flesh Golem. Will Xander be a horror fan? Or maybe just a fan of what we could call the grotesque? As I was trying to close the book to put him to sleep the other night, he pushes the book back open, points at the Flesh Golem with delight, and says, “Dad, Dad its head is LOPSIDED!”

He has just delighted in every gnarly image in this book.

Xander and I talked about the idea of creating a Beholder-flavored Flesh Golem, and we both dug it. You could blend the Flesh Golem with the Beholder listing and maybe add a dash of the Beholder Zombie. I think there’s no limit to what a certain kind of mage would do with some properly preserved Beholder carcasses.

Iron Golem. This put Xander in the mind of the Mechs we’ve been reading about. (It certainly inspired him enough to make the Iron Golem the subject of his art for this week.)

As far as its writeup goes, I think the Iron Golem’s Poison Breath ability is a nice surprise. Not the first thing you think when you see a giant metal guy bearing down on you.

Stone Golem. In the middle of the Stone Golem description Xander blurted out, “I know what I’d do… I’d make one in the shape of a dragon!” From the mouths of babes! They’re Stone, right, so you don’t have to go with a strictly humanoid form if you don’t really want to.

I like their Slow ability…
Slow (Recharge 5-6): The golem Targets one or more creatures it can see within 10 ft. of it. Each target must make a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw against this magic. On a failed save, a target can’t use reactions, its speed is halved, and it can’t make more than one Attack on its turn. In addition, the target can take either an action or a Bonus Action on its turn, not both. These Effects last for 1 minute. A target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.

Not only is it tough to save against, but it takes away reactions, and forces a choice between action and bonus action. Tricked out Fighter types will have some tough tactical choices to make!

Grell. Do Grell hang out with Intellect Devourers in their exclusive Exposed Brain Creature club?

I’d like to deploy these in a dungeon environment that stresses the vertical over the horizontal. (Beholder lairs are supposed to be laid out just this way.) Requiring that the PCs constantly climb and descend would give the proceedings the feeling of a true delve. Tuck in a Grell aerie somewhere off of one of those many shafts and you’ve got yourself a party.

Grick. The Grell and Grick make for a tentacular two page spread. I’m sure more than one GM has brought them to an encounter as a matched set because they’re presented together. And they rhyme thematically, too. It’s unwholesome beaks all the way down.

Even though I ran Lost Mines of Phandelver for my players, they never stumbled into the area with the Grick. Oh, well, there are always more monsters.

Grimlock. What a backstory! Cultists abandoned by the Mind Flayers they worshipped, and left to devolve into sightless Morlocks; still, they long for their unwholesome masters. That last is my favorite bit. Stood up by history, they will still drop everything to take up with any old wandering Illithid! Literal blind devotion… truly, a creature for our times.

Grimlocks aren’t tough, but they are supremely adapted to fighting in the dark. Consider running them in an environment that suppresses light… maybe a tunnel deep underground that howls with wind from an unknown source, or a cave that that’s filled most of the way up with water. (Perhaps the torch or lantern bearer has to make a Dex Save every turn to keep the light going.) Or, maybe a Grimdark shaman has learned how to create a permanent ward against light in the sacred tribal tunnels.

In any case, the Grimlock make excellent Illithid spoor, and canny players will be on their guard for something worse if they’re encountered. If they’re not getting the message, have them stumble across a bit of betentacled statuary…

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After having extra help from my wife last week, we’re back into the usual routine this week, and even starting to get ahead a little. It’s nice not to race the Tuesday deadline each week to finish these!

5 weeks of homeschooling down, and 6 still to go.

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