Thri-Kreen: The Mind Mantids


It’s Friday night. The Enoach group is investigating strange happenings around the Storm Temple of Talos in the rich desert town of Asudem. Sentient weapons, sacks of gold, and far more are being stolen from locations such as the Sandstone Arcanum, the Shrine of Zet, and the Eight Goldmen Bank in Asudem. Believing the source to stem from the Storm Temple, the party decides to stake outside of the great stone structure. Night falls and the many moons of Aelonis fade into view. At first, nothing happens. The air remains dry and silent, the dragonborn of the party begin to get drowsy, and the moons glow faintly in the decorated sky. Then, Rhozur, a blue dragonborn monk portrayed by Gerald Steckley, hears a slight clicking noise, followed by a high hiss. Both are nearly inaudible. Rhozur perks up and peers at the temple.

Atop the structure’s roof is the silhouette of a large being with many limbs. In two, the creature wields long, spear-like weapons, curved at their tips. It spots Rhozur and immediately ducks behind an outcropping. Too slow. What ensues is a brutal, rooftop battle between the dragonborn party and a squad of thri-kreen. The party emerges victorious, scarred and bloody, but two of the thri-kreen managed to escape, bounding from roof to roof, silent save for their hissing. In the temple below, folks can be heard rummaging about. Something is awry. The time has arrived for the party to pay the clergy of the Storm Temple of Talos - and one of the PCs former mentor - a visit.
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Thri-kreen are one of the most fascinating monsters found in Dungeons and Dragons. They can be utilized in a variety of ways, from hard-hitting, low-level enemies to modified high-level antagonists with myriad interesting abilities on and off the battlefield. They made their first appearance in my Enoach group in Session 01, and I plan on their faction, the Aphid Alliance, to be the primary antagonists throughout that campaign.

From their four-armed shenanigans to their possible to wield psionics like no other race, thri-kreen are definitely one of the most interesting monsters to muse over. This week, in a new series retroactively started and named Musing Over Monsters, we’ll be discussing the mantis warriors first hatched in 1982.

Let’s roll!

Hatching the Mantis-Folk

Although most believe thri-kreen to originate from the awesome and grim setting of Darksun, they first appeared in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in a relatively unknown product: Monster cards. Although this item did not catch on in the D&D world, the thri-kreen sure did. The monster’s next appearance was in the AD&D Monster Manual II, in which they reprised their role as the monstrous mantis-men.

Then, they showed up in second edition AD&D in the Monstrous Compendium Forgotten Realms Appendix AND the Monstrous Manual. 2E also first marked their appearance in Dark Sun, under the name ‘Athasian thri-kreen.’ In addition, they became a playable race in Player’s Option: Skills and Powers - something 5E has yet to do. There’s also a second edition book titled, Thri-Kreen of Athas, which delves into the creatures better than I ever could. I highly recommend giving it a read! Second edition was where thri-kreen first became a true creature, fully fleshed out and interesting. 'Twas the golden age of the race, truly.

3E and 4E took awhile to include thri-kreen. In 3E, they appeared in the second Monster Manual as monsters, a playable race in Savage Species and the Expanded Psionics Handbook, and again as a Dark Sun playable race in the 319th issue of Dragon Magazine. In 4E, they made a single appearance - in the THIRD Monster Manual of that edition.

Now, for the first time in D&D history, thri-kreen appeared in the first 5E Monster Manual. Unluckily, though, they’ve not become a playable character race in D&D’s latest edition. Surely and hopefully they will soon. Many speculate that Dark Sun is on the horizon, and if that’s true, then thri-kreen as player characters shall surely accompany the setting.

All About These Buggers

Thri-kreen are insectoid creatures that resemble humanoid praying mantises. They are generally known for their inclusion in Dark Sun, their connection to psionics, and the environment they live in. The normal thri-kreen stands around six feet tall is colored a dirty gold and possesses a total of SIX limbs: One pair for locomotion and the other four for wielding weapons and casting spells.

If you’re searching for great thri-kreen art, look no further than Dark Sun. This setting is the reason thri-kreen are even thought about regularly, which is a shame. In Athas, thri-kreen are prominent. They’ve dominated a large region of land and are split into clutches, packs, and nations. They’ve mastered the concept of the hunt, domesticated a variety of creatures, such as the large, wasp-like insects known as the jalath’gak. Their personalities are varied, and their PC possibilities are immense; look no further than any Dark Sun supplement for D&D.

Most thri-kreen possess the ability to wield psionic abilities. In the Monster Manual, these powers are simple and not too powerful, but with an ounce of editing and creativity, you can easily turn these powers in boons both on and off the site of battle. Perhaps they can use these powers to read the minds of others, or even control their actions. Maybe their psionic abilities are strengthened when near a particular site or creature.

Thri-kreen are nomads native to deserts and plains. They roam in packs, constantly on the hunt, a force and ideal that shapes the lives of the thri-kreen. All thri-kreens carry the mindset of the hunt, the constant need to survive...and to thrive. They spend all their lives preparing for this moment, from the second they hatch from the egg to the first time they wield a weapon. The hunt is paramount to thri-kreen. Sometimes, the hunt can evolve to mean something greater. Instead of hunting for survival, perhaps an influential thri-kreen skews the hunt to mean the hunting of artifacts and treasures in human or dwarven lands. Maybe the hunt leads a pack of thri-kreen to desperately search for an individual (a PC?). The hunt and the hunter-mind of the thri-kreen can be used in a variety of ways by the DM.

Thri-Kreen Ideas

Thri-kreen make better monsters than PCs. There. I said it. That being stated, I’d still like to discuss their uses both by the DM and the players.

Player Characters

At the moment, there’s not a playable version of thri-kreen available. Thus, if you want to play as a mantidfolk, you must design it yourself! Unless you think up a reason for your character to NOT utilize all four of their arms, though, I think that most DMs will not be okay with a playable thri-kreen. If you’re able to play a thri-kreen in your game, here are a few PC ideas to kickstart your imagination:
  1. Thrown out from thri-kreen society at a young age due to your inability to communicate psionically, you thrived in the harsh wilderness of the desert. Somehow, you managed to learn how to hunt native beasts and interact with townsfolk for supplies. Over time, you developed a strange friendship with one of these people, who’s gone as far as to welcome you into their home during the night. However, they’ve not shown up to your previous two scheduled meetings, and you’ve been too afraid to seek them our in their home.
  2. You were taken from your roaming tribe over a decade ago to serve under a wealthy aristocrat. She took a liking to your race over a long period of observation and decided she wanted one under her direct supervision. Honestly, you’re nothing more than a glorified worker and bodyguard, but you’ve lived a healthy and rich life thus far. However, you’re growing tired of serving her every whim, and seek a new life outside her bindings.
  3. You are a thri-kreen who was polymorphed into a human by a terrible wizard or trap. Without your former powers (limbs and psionics), you must leave the desert wilds to find civilization and a way to reverse this curse.

Dungeon Masters

Thri-kreen are weak monsters in the Monster Manual, but you can easily transform them into formidable foes or interesting antagonists with a few tweaks or cool ideas. Here’s a few for you DMs out there:
  1. Thri-kreen have been attacking settlements across the desert, lead by a weapon master. This thri-kreen wields a battleaxe of flame, a scimitar of acid, a warhammer of stunning, and a spear of poison. It amassed these valuable artifacts over years of traveling across the desert, and has grown weary of living in the wilds; it seeks a home, a shelter in lands already civilized by other races. To spruce up this thri-kreen, give it four attacks a round, increased hit points, as well as two action surges. It’ll make a formidable foe for your PCs!
  2. A more-civilized guild of thri-kreen are being lead by a hardened mystic named Sternycha. He is old, emotionally cracked, and lustful for revenge. Instead of using melee weapons, he uses psionic powers to break the minds of his foes and thrust venom-tipped daggers. Sternycha is lanky, but arches his insectoid back and relies on a bone cane to walk. He personifies his race in all aspects: He’s old, angry, and crippled. On his being, he carries an amber ring of sand-walking, two healing potions, a sand-colored robe, four daggers tipped with scorpion venom, a scroll of invisibility, and a scarab preserved in a ruby: the symbol of his guild. To strengthen Sternycha, give his psionic attacks area of effect capabilities, allow him to mind control a PC once per long rest, and increase his armor class and hit points to a reasonable level for the party he's combating. 

Thri-Kreen in Aelonis

Thri-kreen exist in my homegrown world of Aelonis as a remnant race. Once, they were prominent and large stretches of land were under their sway. Aph was the name of their empire. This empire controlled a huge swath of Enoach, a desert region splattered with rocky plateaus and grand canyons. Their leaders had mastered psionics, communing with the mysterious force known as ki, and preserving their dead in pseudo-living conditions. Aph’s primary enemies were the formians (antfolk) and yuan-ti (snakefolk). The formians held the subterranean lands below the desert, and the yuan-ti ruled the various cavern systems nearby rivers and canyons. Yet, neither of these were the downfall of the thri-kreen. In fact, each of these powerful civilizations was annihilated by the same force: Elemental chaos.

In a cataclysmic event, a cabal of sand giant seers living in the center of the desert accidentally or purposefully (it’s debated) awakened an elemental primordial that caused an eruption from the Elemental Chaos to envelop Enoach. The ensuing chaos collapsed all of the civilizations presiding over the desert and saw the rise of four, elemental domains: Ogremocha, Yanis, Aqor, and Imixia, each controlled by an elemental entity released from the primordial. This was thousands of years ago; the thri-kreen have never forgotten.

Nowadays, most thri-kreen roam the desert in small packs, rummaging for food, valuables, and a true home. For those unsatisfied with this existence, there is the Aphid Alliance, a great thieves’ guild based in the port city of Lairo. The members of this organization seek to topple each of the elemental domains and reinstate the empire of Aph. Over time, they’ve acquired wealth, magic, and power throughout Enoach. Some of the Aphid Alliance have even remastered the psionic abilities unlocked by their ancestors. To accomplish their massive goal, the thri-kreen have resorted to allying themselves with their ancient enemies - an alliance that will surely not last if they succeed.

Creating an interesting and short history for a specific monster in your world is something I’d recommend doing, especially if you’ll be using them a lot in a campaign or adventure. The time it takes is minimal and the amount of plot hooks and character that comes from a brief history is immense.

In Summary

Thri-kreen are badass monsters capable of becoming interesting characters portrayed by both PCs and DMs. They have a long history in D&D and deserve to be utilized in more campaigns. Remember:
  1. The thri-kreen first appeared in the second set of Monster Cards for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons as insectoid warriors that looked like a humanoid praying mantis. Their golden age was second edition, where they were fully fleshed out as a monster and people.
  2. These humanoid mantids have strong ties to Dark Sun, psionics, and deserts.
  3. Thri-kreen player characters can be interesting, but these creatures make spectacular, uneasy allies or intelligent antagonists.
  4. Creating a short history for a specific creature or race personal for your world or setting can give you and your players tons to work with.
If you'd like to check out a few more Musing Over Monsters articles, such as one on elves, a little diddy of halflings and gnomes, or a 'quick' lesson on the gith, look no further than rjd20.com!

We’re returning to Legendary Lessons next week and discussing the role of reality in our favorite fantasy roleplaying game…

Until next time, fare thee well!
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