Wandering Monsters: Fiend Folio

This week's Wandering Monsters article is brought to you by the letter "F", though the word "uninspiring" would have likely delivered the same.

The firenewt is basically a slightly more physically inept lizardfolk that is resistant to fire and has the most pathetic breath weapon I have ever seen: 5-foot range, one target, 1d6 damage (half on a miss!). What else, what else...oh! They are also Neutral Evil, plundering other races for supplies. Did I mention that they eat humanoids? Still not working for you? Well try this on for size: they ride giant birds.

Unsurprisingly, none of these traits are compelling enough to make me want to use them. Firenewts just sound like somebody took lizardfolk, attached a couple of fire-traits, and then plopped them on some ostriches that also come equipped with fire-traits. Why even give them fire resistance--or such a sad, sad breath weapon--at all? Is it because they live in deserts and such? A lot of things live in dry, warm places without developing fire resistance or the ability to shoot fireballs out of their eyes.

Scotland is another matter entirely.
I would flavor them as a tribe, or maybe subspecies, of lizardfolk. They would not be universally evil, but might still regard other races like animals and hunt them for food. Their religion would center around a sun/fire deity--which might be an aspect of Pelor, or even a sun/volcano spirit--which they would offer up ritual sacrifices to in exchange for favorable weather or fortune. Some firenewts would gain blessings, which would account for situational fire resistance and thematic powers, and benevolent firenewts might impart temporary boons to parties acting against Elemental cults (this could have the added effect of making firenewt PCs more viable).

Some evil tribes (or at least misinformed ones) might team up with Elemental cults. If firenewts are not all for some reason evil, then you can even integrate tribes with conflicting ideals (like, you know, people). Not that you need Elemental cults to feature an evil tribe; after all, not every evil human serves the same evil organization. "Evil" firenewt tribes could just as easily revere a destructive fire spirit or interpretation of a sun god, or even a fiend of some sort. Of course some might just be territorial and/or desperate.

To me these things make them a lot more interesting and three-dimensional than "they are evil and eat people".

As for giant striders, the name makes me think of insects, and giant fire beetle-riding lizardfolk is not something I have seen before (plus insects work great in hot, dry environments). They might domesticate them, possibly living in tunnels with them. They could also hunt them. Why not play another angle, with firenewts being skill metalworkers (or some of them, anyway): in this scenario firenewts exploit the striders' hard work, checking tunnels for metal. If they come in conflict with them, then firenewts might slather themselves in scent glands to conceals themselves while they work.

If you had to go with birds, I would go with Dark Sun's crodlus and axe the fireballs. Maybe make a variant that has a bound fire-spirit.

Dungeons & Dragons has an extensive history of silly, stupid monsters, which is apparently sufficient criteria to keep bringing them back. Enter the flumph.

The flumph is a kind-of jellyfish-like creature that flies pretty much by farting, sprays a "foul-smelling liquid" that forces a creature to make a poison save or flee in disgust (with the added effect of causing the creature to be shunned by her companions for 1d4 hours), and can fall on creatures to impale them with acidic spikes. If you flip it over it is helpless, which has consequences that vary from DM to DM.

Some people think that the game "needs" stupid monsters. I disagree. To me the flumph is a waste of page space. I just do not get whatever the appeal might be. I mean yeah, not every denizen in the game world needs to be a viable threat, but things in an actual Monster Manual should at least be interesting and/or useful in some way. The original flumph is none of these things, not even as a flying poop/pee joke.

I could see flumphs as more animalistic creatures, floating around the skies like blooms of flying jellyfish. In this case they could be the lesser fauna from some other reality (because even other planes likely have "animal" rank critters). If you want to make them intelligent and Lawful Good (whatever that means), why not have them liberated by another deity, like Bahamut? Maybe they served a rare (or only) Lawful Good elder god. Maybe they were an order of monks that got exposed to the Far Realm?

Or maybe, just maybe, they could just have a diverse range of alignments like denizens from, oh, most every other plane out there.

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