Posted by : David Guyll November 21, 2013

My first extended underwater experience was early 3rd Edition, when I ran an all-drow campaign that found its way to the Elemental Plane of Water (do not ask). Otherwise I—like plenty of Dungeon Masters I am sure—have tinkered with it in various encounters here and there, because sometimes it is fun to break out the rules for swimming and holding your breath.

I am okay with almost everything about the merfolk flavor. Nothing really stands out, but neither is it confusing or silly: the caves, coral, coral weaponry, fish, etc all seems like standard fare and there is nothing wrong with that.

I like that the default expectation is to not have a uniform personality and culture, and while I have nothing against them forging metal weapons, especially with magical assistance, I also like the visual of them coming at you with a shark's jawbone. Has a kind of Dark Sun feel to it, if Athas was underwater.

The only problem is that I do not really think that "most people" would view merfolk as monolithic and unpredictable; the ones that they trade with would probably be forthcoming about the fact that other tribes are the ones preying on them, especially if they wanted to, you know, maintain trade. Would you keep shopping at a store if the staff randomly attacked you? They might even pay one tribe in order to keep the others away, but I could see an unscrupulous tribe tricking surface-dwellers into thinking that there is another tribe responsible for the attacks.

On the other hand the backstory for merrows is so very, very silly: a genie used a wish to give his ogre slaves fish-butts in order to impress his rivals, so they ran away, and...he feels guilty enough to let them go?

So, let me get this straight: he does not feel bad for transplanting them from their home and forcing them into servitude. He is also okay with unwillingly transforming them, not to make their lives in bondage any easier mind you, but for something as petty as impressing his rivals. It is only when they get upset at that that he feels moral conflict and decides to let them go.

I honestly think that, compared to this, just chalking them up to "a wizard did it" would be much, much more acceptable. Maybe it was a merfolk wizard, or even a wildly unpredictable merfolk wizard.

The mythological merrow is essentially a Scottish and Irish equivalent of merfolk. They wear red caps or capes that would cause them to remain on land if taken, but if returned would be compelled to return to the water. There is also mention of them being able to shed their skins in order to change their shapes. I could see this as being an alternate/optional power for merfolk, but if you had to stick with aquatic ogres why not make them the result of some kind of evil sea god or demon, a twist on wherever normal ogres come from, corrupted/cursed merfolk, or not even bother with an origin.

Given my criticism for the medusa I suspect I will catch flak for this, but come on: there has to be something more sensible than a guilty water genie slaver.

I loved how 4th Edition linked krakens to the Far Realm, which is really the only thing the new flavor is missing because I do love the Far Realm so very much. Like merfolk I only have one complaint, and that is the mental image of a kraken flopping around on a beach; I imagine it slowly dragging itself towards a coastal village, only to have the people sigh, pack up, and just walk away. If a kraken wants to punish someone on land, it should have something like the krakenbit from Kraken on tap.

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