Legends & Lore: Monsters and the World

Last week Mearls talked about their approach to planes, specifically mentioning that the relationship between Ravenloft and the Shadowfell is still up in the air. Personally I am still advocating a cosmological toolbox, that way everyone gets what they want without there needing to be any assumptions or "correct" layout. Just saying, why stop at giving Dungeons Masters the tools they need to build just one world?

Though it sounds like a topic more appropriate for a Wandering Monsters article, this week we get to see their current approach to 
monsters, which follows four goals:

  • Invalidate as little of the monster's past as possible. 
  • The creature should have a place. 
  • Make the monster as complex and deep as it "needs" to be; not every monster needs an elaborate backstory or flavor content. 
  • Monsters should not just be things to fight.
The first point concerns me because I am worried that "as little as possible" translates to "keep it as-is because that is how it was before". There is a huge opportunity here to start from scratch, clean things up, tie some of it together, give a long though as to whether some monsters can be presented better than they have before, or if they even need to be in the game at all.

Take the nagpa for instance: why does their curse give them a magical staff and spell-like abilities? Would it not make more sense to curse them so that they can no longer use magic, or simply unable to learn more? Why were the gith originally a race of universally evil humans, and why did the mind flayers--despite possessing by default insanely high Intelligence and Wisdom scores--not notice what was going on?

The second point I mostly agree with. On one hand I think that monsters should have a place in the world, especially ones that we are paying for. On the other hand gods, wizards, curses, the Far Realm, and more could be responsible for the creation of one or more random critters that have no true place in the world, but I think that they could let us handle "a wizard did it" monsters. Well, maybe a random table.

Now the third point I really agree with, but I think that virtually none of the monsters in Next are there, yet. Another thing is that while the example purple worm might not need a complex back story, it should have more interesting mechanics than just hitting things and having lots of hit points, especially if it is intended to be encountered alone.

Check out the differences between 3rd and 4th Edition's purple worms (especially the Monster Vault revamp); the former can bite and grab, and if you are still stuck there when it goes again it can try to swallow you, while the latter can take multiple actions (making it more of a threat to a party), still take some actions while stun-locked, swallow on the same action, spit you out at an ally, and attack as a reaction (allowing it to hit up to three characters at a time).

I also agree with the fourth point, but think that ultimately what monsters are used for is up to the Dungeon Master. It would be nice to see monsters that have specific effects on the Interaction and Exploration pillars, so that, for example, a purple worm encountered underground might cause a tunnel collapse (causing you to become lost), frighten off enemies, or even be tricked into tunneling an entrance into a sealed dungeon.

I like that they are using the Monster Vault for a guideline, as I think it is one of the best monster supplements ever written. I am a bit wary of their goal to make basic stats not so dependent on story, especially if it results in things like 3rd Edition elves enjoying demonstrating their prowess with swords and bows, but end up just being on par with anyone with a warrior level, or being allegedly adept at magic despite having absolutely no mechanical benefits to back it up.

The example flavor for the ettercap has a strong-if-predictable start: they get along well with spiders, live in forests, and can shoot webbing. The bit about them capturing pixies so that they can sell to hags is interesting, if not something I can see everyone subscribing to (especially if they live in forests without pixies or hags). Still it only eats up a couple sentences and is pretty harmless.

As for the bullet point on transforming into araneas after eating enough faeries? I really dig that, though it also makes me think of alternate ettercaps that transform from eating the flesh of other things, like dragons and demons. Kind of like how 4th Edition minotaurs can transform from eating specific hearts. The downside is the implication that all araneas come from ettercaps, and why they can cast shocking grasp and magic missile from eating pixies of all things; illusions and charms would make more sense (and also be good for luring prey into their traps).

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