16 May 2022

How to Make Earthier D&D Monsters with the Druid Class

Molding the monsters we pit against the players is one of our most important jobs as Dungeon Masters and/or Game Masters in Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop roleplaying games. Sometimes, it's a difficult task. We don't necessarily want to throw goblins at the group for the fifth time, but cannot decipher a way to incorporate funkier monsters like flail snails or slaadi into our games.

Luckily, there's an easy way to bash monsters with an easy-to-understand, well-known segment of D&D: the character classes.

In the past, we've already mashed together various monsters with the Barbarian, Bard, and Cleric class. In this article, we're combining them with the Druid class.

Monsters Inspired by Druids

Between the many special spells and class abilities specific to the Druid, there's a wealth of inspiration for us to draw from for our monsters. Most Druid abilities are related to nature, be it animals, the ground they walk on, or the elements that help them survive and, sometimes, slowly erode their lives.

Listed below are twelve abilities we can attach to monsters. These things grant our monsters a flair of the druidic, a piece of the natural. If we already have a monster in mind, we can simply roll a d12 and attach this Druid-based ability to them, imbuing them with a unique piece of earthly magic, knowledge, or skill.

  1. Unnatural Natural Weapons: The monster has some sort of unnatural natural weapon, such as claws, fangs, or talons. They may use them as weapons in combat. Imagine a fire giant with fangs, a human barbarian with claws, or a bullywug with talons.
  2. Beast Shape: The monster can transform into an animal/beast appropriate to its challenge rating and environment such as a mammoth, a frog, or an elk. Its normal form takes on an appearance similar to its most-shaped beast. Think about a halfling with slimy frog skin, a hill giant with mammoth tusks, or a green dragon with massive elk antlers.
  3. Elemental Shape: The monster can transform into an elemental appropriate to its challenge rating and environment such as a fire elemental, an earth elemental, or a steam mephit. Its normal form takes on an appearance similar to its most-shaped elemental. Auras of each element may conjure around them, such as bouts of intense heat, bursts of strong wind, rumbling in the ground below them, or a consistent steam or dripping humidity in their vicinity.
  4. Monster Shape: The monster can transform into a monster appropriate to its challenge rating and environment such as a displacer beast, an ankheg, or an umber hulk. Its normal form takes on an appearance similar to its most-shaped monster. Imagine a dwarf with umber hulk eyes, a goblin with displacer beast tentacles, or a vampire with ankheg pincers.
  5. Avatar of Air: The monster transforms into an avatar of air. It can manifest small storms of lightning and thunder, control gusts of wind, and even fly. Perhaps it can loose bolts of lightning, too! It tends to work with creatures of air, such as air elementals, aarakocra, and flying beasts like wyverns, giant eagles, and rocs.
  6. Avatar of Fire: The monster transforms into an avatar of fire. It can thrust fireballs, manipulate present fires, and is nearly immune to all forms of flame. It might be able to transform weapons into fiery versions of their normal selves. It usually works alongside fiery beasts like fire elementals, azer, and salamanders.
  7. Avatar of Earth: The monster transforms into an avatar of earth. It can spawn fissures in the ground, is unusually strong, and its skin has patches of stone, granting it extra natural armor. Perhaps it has the ability to burrow in the ground as well! It sometimes works with creatures of rock like bulletes, earth elementals, and xorns.
  8. Avatar of Water: The monster transforms into an avatar of water. It can swim extremely fast, control water at will, and freeze patches of moving and still water. It may also posess the ability to communicate with aquatic life like sharks, minnows, and walruses. Most of the time, it works with watery monsters like sahuagin, water elementals, and triton.
  9. Animal Companion: The monster has an animal companion imbued with a druidic spirit such as a bear, a wolf, a rabbit, or an eagle. If the animal companion dies, the monster may resummon the spirit as a ritual the next dawn. The monster and animal companion can communicate telepathically, and the monster can look through the animal companion's eyes.
  10. Twist Growth: The monster causes a piece of natural vegetation to grow thorns. This could cause the vegetation to become difficult terrain, damage creatures, or even poison those who prick themselves with its thorns.
  11. Beast Speech: The monster is able to easily communicate with animals and can even mimic the sounds of certain beasts such as a bear's roar, a wolf's howl, and a cat's meow. Animals naturally trust it and will easily work with it unless the monster shows them harm.
  12. Grove Keeper: The monster is deeply connected to a specific piece of land, typically a small forest, rock shrine, or shallow cave. While it is in this area, it gains a set of lair abilities that empower it and/or weaken enemies. Perhaps a Druid monster in an underwater cave can cause the current to quicken and disrupt enemies, summon a swarm of voracious fish, and briefly heat the water to a boiling point!

If we would like to bash together one of these Druid-based abilities with an interesting monster, roll a d20 alongside the d12. Take the result if it's compelling, otherwise reroll!

  1. Kobold
  2. Myconid
  3. Gnoll
  4. Dryad
  5. Hill giant
  6. Manticore
  7. Young green dragon
  8. Fire giant
  9. Treant
  10. Vampire
  11. Adult blue dragon
  12. Androsphinx
  13. Death knight
  14. Mind flayer
  15. Beholder
  16. Aboleth
  17. Balor
  18. Ancient black dragon
  19. Ancient gold dragon
  20. Ancient emerald dragon

Eager for a bit more customizability? Roll a d8 to give the monster a root in a Druid subclass, too! This can serve as extra inspiration for more abilities or story ideas.

  1. Circle of the Moon
  2. Circle of the Shepherd
  3. Circle of Stars
  4. Circle of Spores
  5. Circle of Dreams
  6. Circle of the Land
  7. Circle of Wildfire
  8. Circle of Blood

Monsters with Druidic Roots

We need not only mechanically enhance our monsters with Druid-based material: why not incorporate druidic backgrounds into the stories of them, too? In fact, this might be the more compelling piece of using the Druid class in our games. Druids can make for excellent villains, especially those with a good reason for pursuing their needs and desires. After all, some of the best villains have motivations the player characters can relate to, or even agree with.

Outlined below are four Druid-based backgrounds for various monsters. They can be attached to a wide variety of foes, and even act as the starting point for a grand adventure or struggle against a Druid.

  1. Local poachers begin dying at the hands of a vengeful Druid. The Druid uses a variety of tactics to lure in the poachers and eliminate them with the cunning of thorny vines and the might of their dire bear animal companion. However, after the slaughter of the dire bear's cub, the Druid aims at the local village, eager to claim the lives of the poachers' families.
  2. Guided by omens from the skies, a Circle of Stars druid sets out on a crusade against civilization with a herd of beasts. They work with no other sentient creatures, just animals, some imbued with magical abilities.
  3. Against all semblance of natural order and tradition, a mysterious, powerful, and bloodthirsty Druid weaves together an alliance of lycanthropes. An opposing Circle of the Moon Druid reaches out to the player characters in an attempt to rally against this blasphemous foe, eager to slay them before their gains are too great.
  4. When a Circle of Wildfires Druid wrests control of a cult dedicated to the apocalypse of the Material Plane, flames erupt round the world. Cities begin burning, forests turn to ash, and volcanos bellow great spouts of lava and destruction.

In Summary

Just like all of D&D's other character classes, the Druid boasts all manner of inspiration for our monsters. It gives us monsters who can wield the elements of fire, air, water, and earth with ease and might; it gives us monsters who can shift between forms, creating opportunities for deception and wild battles with wacky foes; it gives us monsters who can take on even more bestial characteristics, and even ally with all sort of animal to challenge the group at every opportunity; and it gives us a compelling character type to pit against the party, one that might be a villain with an understandable point of view.

Join me in the next article when it hits, using the Fighter as a jumping off point for a variety of new monsters for our games.

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09 May 2022

A Blackguard's Background, Meet Rilganor

In the coming weeks or months, I'll be starting to play in a new D&D campaign ran by my brother-in-law. As per usual, I decided to delve into his world, craft a character, and write some fiction for them. Outlined below is the backstory for my character, Rilganor the Blackguard, a minotaur Oathbreaker paladin.

As you read the story, remember the best practices of creating a compelling player character:

  1. Make them part of the world.
  2. Give them a reason to be there.
  3. Craft them a fatal flaw.
  4. Grant them a dangerous secret.
  5. Connect them to at least one other party member.

Death of Duty

“Every last one must be slain. See to it quickly. Our duty demands it.”

Rilganor stared on in disbelief. The Just, they called him. The Lawbringer. The Peaceseeker. He was the High Templar of the Righteous Horns for a reason, and Rilganor couldn’t deny his demand.

But he could question it.

“Why now? After all this time? Could we not give them a warning, a chance to—”

“Silence, templar.”

Deep silence pervaded the stone chamber. Moments passed by and the High Templar’s face remained as cold and unchanging as the ground. Then, a flash of darkness.

“Question our divine duty again, and lose your tongue.”

Rilganor quickly turned to avoid the High Templar’s dark gaze. Lose my tongue? He thought. Niphin’s exile, Teldrak’s imprisonment, and now this? Violence against his fellow templars? Violence against followers of a gentle god?

He’d paused too long, heard the squeak of the High Templar’s armor and the echo of his hoof on the stone floor. The tip of a sword tapped his neck.

“Thinking? Thinking!?” The High Templar paused, his voice calmed. “Of what? You dare think of betraying your duty, the commands of your High Templar? Others have done so and been dealt with, but you’ve not learned it seems. Perhaps a greater punishment is a needed. A greater example made. A pity, the others, templars with less potential have followed their duty in recent weeks, but you? Unable to accept what our oath—”

An unseeable wave blasted through the chamber, knocked Rilganor and the High Templar off their hooves, and cracked the stone beneath them, destroyed the copper chalice on the nearby altar. Heat accompanied the blast and Rilganor’s heart grew warm briefly. Then, the High Templar rushed past him.

Bellows sounded from the temple’s antechamber, alongside the readying of weapons. Rilganor attempted to get up, but couldn’t; some force rendered him incapable. He laid prone on the cold stone. Then, the High Templar’s voice, layered with unusual hatred and fear:

“Arzmoah, oh holy bringer of justice, so you’ve finally arrived. Witness what I twisted!” A mighty roar ringed to Rilganor’s ears, followed by the deafening sound of battle. Steel on steel. Spine-chilling cries. Hissing flames. Then, the sickening smell of burnt flesh and fur. Finally, silence and a growing heat.

Soon, a creature of radiant beauty and wickedness floated above Rilganor, its golden armor spattered with fresh blood, its eyes mere orbs of silver. It lifted a gloved finger on its left-hand, said:

“Rise.” Unwillingly, Rilganor stood. “Come.” The creature turned and moved to the antechamber. Rilganor followed, unable to control himself, close his eyes.

Carnage laid before him. Templars sliced in two; templars unrecognizably seared; the High Templar in the room’s center, impaled on a massive spear of pure light—convulsing quietly. With a flick of his gold-covered hand, the floating creature forced the High Templar’s mouth and eyes agape. Black, stained light spewed forth, took shape. A great fiend formed before Rilganor and the radiant creature, skin warted and poison-green. Chained light encircled the fiend, allowed minimal movement. It cackled.

“Arzmoah, so you’ve discovered me! But at what cost? Dozens?” The fiend motioned a clawed hand around the bloody chamber. “Hundreds? Thousands?” Both arms swept into the air and the fiend cackled again. “Does your divine code permit such atrocities to capture the foul?” It contorted its mouth, squeezed out a biting whisper. “Arzmoah, oh we’re the same. Just…different—”

“The uncorrupted walks free, the corrupted pay, and the corruptor repents.” The radiant creature interrupted.

Still unable to move, Rilganor struggled and his mind darkened. The corrupted pay? With their lives? He gazed around again at the carnage: heads removed from bodies, silhouettes scorched into stone. This…this creature. This is what we pay tribute to, give our lives to, and it repays us with…with no mercy?

The fiend still cackling, the celestial grabbed its chain of light, turned to Rilganor. 

“Free.” 

With that word, Rilganor collapsed to the ground, eyes unable to look away from the scene before him. He tried to rise, to bellow at the celestial and demand true justice, to help save his fellow templars, but before he could take any action, the celestial spoke a phrase of pure serenity and disappeared with the fiend.

Rilganor froze, heard the harsh cold wind outside, smelled the radiant death around him, felt the heat leave the temple…

And knew he could not upkeep his oath.

*** Three decades later ***

Home, the name I give to the land who gave me nothing but blood and cold enough to freeze it. 

Doesn’t matter, I’m back, back home after all these years. Three, right? No, no, no, three decades! That’s right, and if the last few months here’ve been any indication, the White Wastes are still giving out the same old stuff: blood and ice.

Good. I need it.

But that’s not all I’m searching for. 

They’re both here, or that’s what some smart folk in Avalone told me. Both somewhere here, hopefully in Kragloft or the land around it. With my luck though? They’re probably out in the Suiski Peaks or worse: roaming with the Bellows again. The Bellows. Why didn’t that damned fiend Marog go after all of them instead? Why the Righteous Horns?

Ugh, doesn’t matter. I’m—we’re all that’s left. They know something. And I need to know it too, before everything here gets too complicated. Again, just my luck: I arrive from the south and it comes with me. Lucky me. Hrff—lucky everyone here. The White Wastes could surely use some help from the southron realms.

Well, I think I’ll go watch the performing-wizard again. She was impressive. Tiny, but impressive. Maybe she’ll draw in some folk who can help me find Niphin and Teldrak.

Wouldn’t want to bash another innocent head in.

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