Thanks once again for stopping by my weekly feature, Irreverent Reading! It’s where my son and I dive deep into the D&D Monster Manual and daydream about what we find…
Xander finished 1st Grade last week. We could never have imagined back in the Fall what the end of the year would look like. Two and half months of homeschool was tough for all of us. Luckily I’ve been around teachers all my life, so I more or less knew what I needed to do. Still, oof.
I was hoping that we’d be able to really celebrate his achievement, but current events have taken a lot of wind out of those sails. It seems the eyes of the world are on America and are waiting to see if we’ll move further toward justice, or further away from it. Early returns, at least, are encouraging.
But, hey, you’ve probably come here to get away from it all, at least for a few minutes. I know I have!
So let’s talk monsters…
A lot of the write-ups this week were workmanlike, but unexceptional. I’m thinking of creatures like the Pegasus and Pixie. They’re what you’d except them to be, but no more.
Still, Xander and I found a few intriguing things to talk about…
Peryton. A flying antler bird that particularly enjoys eating humanoids? Sure, why not. It’s funny, my assumption is that monsters typically like to eat what they kill, so I’m always amused when a listing gleefully enumerates what PC races are on the menu. If you’re curious in this case, it’s elves, half-elves, and humans. (This is not uncommon. If you read back over previous posts you’ll discover that there are some very refined palates out there… I’m looking at you, Bulette.) I’d love to read, just once, that a creature just can’t get enough Tiefling, say, or Dragonborn. They must feel so left out!
It’s fun that Perytons have humanoid shaped shadows. That’s truly weird. Even the canonical material in the listing suggests that no one knows what’s really going on with them, so feel free to roll your own mythopoeia… especially if you can get some juice out of it for your campaign.
Piercer. I think it’s a huge compliment to a book crammed with illustrations to say that I got to page 252 before I found some disappointing art. And, now that I think about, I see that my beef is actually with the Art Direction. Commissioning an image where it appears as a flaccid lump misses the point… so to speak. The Piercer is the OG pointy-point killer from Point Town! Let’s see it in action! There’s an excellent old school image of a silhouetted adventurer run through with one of these vile things. I know the look of D&D needs to move on as it evolves, but some of that old school vibe wouldn’t have hurt here.
On the other hand I really dig the idea of Piercer as larval Roper. That’s badass. I started imagining a community in the Underdark that has weaponized Piercers and Ropers as a biological defense system. You could do all kinds of tricky things with that, including a defense in depth that slows down and frustrates would be attackers.
Pseudodragon. Of course Xan loves these. I think we’d get one from the pet store right now if our lease allowed it. Also, much like the Pseudodragon, Xander uses a Language of Emotions ability to get what he wants a lot of the time. Despite our best efforts, he often communicates “hunger, affection, and curiosity” without words. If you’re reading this one day X-man, use your words!
Also, the Pseudo gets some nice venom with its Sting.
… the target must succeed on a DC 11 Constitution saving throw or become poisoned for 1 hour. If the saving throw fails by 5 or more, the target falls unconscious for the same duration, or until it takes damage or another creature uses an action to shake it awake.
What catches my eye here is the lack of mealy-mouthed “repeat save every round” language. If you fail this save, you’ll be messed up for an hour. Period. It’s also cool that if you really blow that save (i.e. miss by 5 or more) you’re going to be in even more trouble. If sourcing poisons from canonical creatures is your thing, then slip your PCs some Pseudo venom. A concentrated version of this with a DC 15 or DC 20 Con Save would make one hell of a mickey.
Purple Worm. So fast, so many hit points. If your heroes haven’t run into one of these, they may be more than a little surprised by what a tough opponent the they are.
Lots of plot hooks here… a Purple Worm has riddled a hillside that contains a previously unknown gem deposit; this sets off a dangerous scramble that’s drawing in shady characters from all over the kingdom. Or the tunneling has unleashed an ancient evil. Or the hillside is above a thriving town and now the rains have started. Or, what the hell, all three. Turns out a lot of bad things can happen at once.
How about this one? A Drow approaches the PCs asking for their help because a Purple Worm is literally undermining their community in the Underdark. If the PCs refuse, a few days later a huge sinkhole appears, perhaps right in the middle of their town. If they agree, they go down only to discover that they were approached by someone without the authority to do so… a cool complication right at the beginning of your story arc! Do they stay and help anyway, or back out because things seem too complicated? If they refuse, we’re right back to the idea of the giant sinkhole. And if they help… what happens if the Purple Worm has revealed a vein of purest Mithral. What, oh what, will their skittish Drow hosts do then?
Quaggoth. I have a soft spot for this thing. It looks like a Yeti, but more pissed off.
Something I haven’t talked about in these posts is how much fun it can be when your players don’t know exactly what they are facing. The Quaggoth is ideal for this because it’s just the sort of oddball creature your players might never have heard of, and it’s got a weird morphology. It’s bipedal, but has only 4 toes, and looks like it it might switch between upright walking and running on all fours. Oh, yeah, and it turns out the Quaggoth is considered a humanoid. Plenty of confusing clues for your Ranger or Druid!
Here’s how I’d bring it on stage…
Some sheep go missing from the edge of town. One local farmer says it’s a dire wolf, another swears she saw a bear at the edge of the fields. Then maybe a traveling merchant brings in his driver, saying he was mauled by a Yeti. (Claims to have seen them once in the mountains.) The farmers get permission from the mayor to put out poisoned meat up in the hills above town. A couple of wolves die, but a lot of the bait simply gets eaten. There are those weird tracks again, but no corpse. (This invokes the Quaggoth’s slightly random Poison Immunity ability.)
You can see where I’m going. The movie Jaws is really the template here, right? Some of the farmers are like, “Oh, just wolves.” And then one of them gets turned into shredded beef. So, by this point the PCs should be distinctly uneasy about what in the hell is going on. The old coot in the local tavern starts raving about the Devil that’s supposed to have ravaged the town when he was just a little boy. (Insert colorfully disturbing stories here.)
Of course, as we turn the corner on the third act, our heroes realize they have to go into a hole in the ground to get this thing… but they still don’t know what it is, because that’s how horror works.
Yeah. I really like that! Given the Quaggoth’s relatively low Challenge Rating I think this would make a great first scenario for young adventurers… or even a funnel where the townsfolk take up their shovels and hoes to rid themselves of the Devil once and for all.
Remorhazes. Xander is always down for another insectoid monster. Not too surprised that he chose this for his image this week. I like that they’re a creature of the ice and snow. If you can’t get your campaign onto a high glacier or into arctic climes, don’t despair. There’s always a long dead collector with an abandoned menagerie in the desert, or a nutty wizard that’s turned a dungeon into an arctic environment for their experiments.
I’m all for throwing a creature in that counterpoints the “theme” of the local geography.
Revenant. Oh, yeah, The Revenant is this week’s story jackpot. As we were reading about this Xander said, “If you’re lucky, your character can become a Revenant!” Not sure how to unpack that. Maybe he means if you’re going to have a character die, then at least it might get turned into an unstoppable badass revenge monster.
It would be neat to conceive of a group Revenants as a double-crossed adventuring party back from the grave to murder their betrayers. Could make a really fun Con scenario! Backstab everyone in the first 15 minutes and then give them the Revenant version of their character. Sure it’s a bait and switch… but people might not mind a switch if they get something even cooler than what they were hoping for.
Roc. Almost neater than the Roc, which is by the way so much bigger than I remember (Garangtuan!), is the pleasure you’ll have in slowly bringing it on stage. By the time your heroes find a whale skeleton above the treeline, they’ll be quaking in their boots if you’ve done your job right.
It’s been a hard couple of weeks to be an American. If you’re experiencing this from another country “unrest” doesn’t even begin to describe it. It’s the kind of upheaval you see once or twice in a lifetime.
Like a lot of people working on games or other creative pursuits, I’ve struggled to find meaning in these posts. There’s a temptation to put everything aside right now, but that would mean sacrificing something that helps me connect with my son.
I wish you could have seen him the other night; he was giggling with excitement as we read the Sahuagin listing. I don’t want to lose that part of our lives, and I fear if I stop doing the blog, that’ll be it. The sadness will have won.