Learn From Epic Failure and Slog

My most recent Dungeons and Dragons game played out as follows: The characters learned three planar portals popped up around the city of Ba-Livil, they rushed to destroy one of them, fought slaadi and a beholder-kin creature, lost a party member, and ended split between two planes of existence, the Plane of Water and the Material Plane. Sounds sort of interesting and exciting, right?


Almost always, I emerge from my weekly D&D game with a burst of energy. Recently, the exact opposite occurred: my game ended and I felt horrible, defeated, disappointed, and in a state of disarray. I began the session with hope and excitement, but as it evolved, I gradually became more and more upset with its story and execution. It ended the opposite of how it began: hopeless and dreadful.

This is bound to happen to everyone's D&D game at some point, as pointed out in this video by Matthew Colville. Our games encounter slog. We must recover and rebound from it, mightier and more confident than before.

When dreaded slog hits our game, we must ask ourselves a simple question and explore it:

Why did slog hit my game?

In my experience, three elements contribute to summoning slog.

  1. Poor State of Mind
  2. Planned Circumstance
  3. Greatest Fears
Let's explore each in this article and explain how all three can be combated to, hopefully, defeat slog when it arrives.

Poor State of Mind

The oft repeated saying "No D&D is better than bad D&D" is true. As Dungeon Masters and hosts of the game, we must know when to postpone or cancel D&D. Sometimes, we make mistakes as I did last night and run anyway, trying to push past our poor state of mind. It can lead to the slog or epic failure I experienced.

Although I was excited for my session, I was not creative or feeling well. The group was in the midst of a massacre and a mystery was set to unfold, and I knew a few planar portals were going to pop up across the city, leading to more intrigue! However, when we actually played, I found words difficult and my mind refused to improvise to the point where I was frequently stumbling over my words.

One of my worst fears, more on that later.

Meteor Swarm, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Olivier Bernard, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

Moment by moment, negativity in my mind grew and I tried to combat it. Sadly, it was fruitless. The lack of improvisation continued and annihilated my sense of pride in my world and abilities, leading to the final rounds of a combat to transform into a "he hits you, you hit him" scenario; another one of my worst fears.

If you are in a poor state of mind, do not be afraid of letting the players know and calling off the session. It's the truth: no D&D is better than bad D&D. Be up front about your poor state of mind; if the players are sensible human beings, they will understand. Allow yourself time to recover and recalibrate, you'll return all the stronger and more confident.

Planned Circumstance

Over planning may lead to poor sessions. DMs may build up a remarkable scene in their mind for weeks, only for their players to arrive at it and have it crumble beneath the grandeur the DM has built up for it. This session of slog arrived after an unplanned two week break from the campaign, which gave me plenty of time, too much time, to think about what might happen next. This is a break from the norm for me and it went disastrously, as you can tell.

The lesson is simple: both over planning and under planning may lead to terrible circumstances and slog.

Over planning might lead you force the players into a particular situation or cause you to react poorly to unexpected events. Worse, you may build up a moment in your head as I did and when the players encounter it, it might falter. Preparing the right amount, the amount you are comfortable with, is the key to avoiding this. I constructed a crafty encounter for the characters to fight: a bubbling portal, five slaadi, each unique in ability, and a second phase during which a beholder-kin called an expurgat would rise from the closed portal. It was too much preparation for me and I should've simply written "five slaadi, portal fight" and the fight would've gone better.

Eccentric Apprentice, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Campbell White, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

Across the spectrum, under planning could cause you to freeze at the table or make the players wander aimlessly, unsure of what to do or chase. I'll reiterate that you must find the perfect amount of prep for you and go for it session after session. Straying from the norm works sometimes, especially if you're feeling adventurous, but for times when you're in the wrong state of mind or are fearing something great, you want to stick to what you normally do.

Overall, stick to what you know best. Find your ideal amount of preparation and let it bolster your game.

Greatest Fears

Already unlikable sessions can slip into slog if our greatest fears become reality. Someone acts like an ass to another player, the dice absolutely annihilate any player plans, or perhaps a character dies. The latter occurred in my session with no sensible way out and it compounded on the dreadful feeling inside me.

The slog grew.

Sometimes our greatest fears are unavoidable consequences of the game we play. Player death in D&D, for example, happens. But when it is coupled with slog and multiple causes of this terrible phenomenon, it becomes nearly unbearable.

Of the three causes of slog I've outlined, this is the one you can combat the most. Try to transform your greatest fears into challenges you can overcome. Make death interesting. Change how the dice may affect player plans. Shut down an assholery pursued by the players. 

Eventually, your fears may become strong weapons you can wield at the table or even use to eliminate slog set in by other factors.

Actionable Advice

  • Slog manifests in all of our games at some point. Know it will arrive eventually.
  • Slog comes in three packages for me, and maybe you too: playing while in a poor state of mind, over planning or under planning, and when our greatest fears grow before us.
  • No D&D is better than bad D&D. Do not play if you are in a poor state of mind and be up front about this fact with the players.
  • Find the perfect amount of planning for YOU. Do not prepare more or less than you need to.
  • Fight your greatest fears so that you may wield them as weapons in the future.
  • Learn what causes slog to occur in your games and actively combat it, or know when to call a session quits and how to communicate this to the players. Slog is unique to all of us.

Until the next encounter, stay creative!

More RJD20

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out my first released supplement, Villain Backgrounds Volume I.

Provide any feedback or inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

Art In Order of Appearance

  • Power of Persuasion, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Brian Valeza, 2021 Wizards of the Coast
  • Meteor Swarm, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Olivier Bernard, 2021 Wizards of the Coast
  • Eccentric Apprentice, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Campbell White, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

Ask Loaded, Focused Questions

Everyone knows typical Dungeons & Dragons games unfold as the Dungeon Master weaves the world, and the players say what their characters want to do, asking questions and stating actions. The cycle restarts as the DM answers their questions and describes the epic failures and terrific successes caused by their actions.

While simple, asking questions is one of the easiest aspects you can improve upon as both a player and DM, leading to better games and more interesting worlds. The method of improvement is rudimentary: you must ask loaded, focused questions in your D&D games as a player and DM.

Most players do this well and ask questions constantly:

  • "Do I know the name of the Plane of Dreams?"
  • "Where is the nearest magic shop?"
  • "How deep is the chasm?"

All these questions have reason and purpose behind them. They are powerful. Players, keep asking them! They show you are present and interested in the goings on of the world.

Inspired, DMs should ask players more questions and ensure they are loaded, focused; honed more than those of players. Questions with these traits are useful tools.

Certainly as DMs, everything we say should forward or complicate the situation in the world. Every response should thicken intrigue, inspire hope, or invoke fear in the characters:

  • "Yes, you know the Plane of Dreams is called Dal Quor, but the cursed name of its nightmarish mirror also plagues your mind...Dar Zaal."
  • "The nearest shop is but ten minutes away, you should arrive before darkness falls!"
  • "The chasm's depths are endless, frightening chitters screech from below and the rotten smell of deep cattle flows into your nostrils: hook horrors and their prey."

But our own carefully crafted questions may accomplish more!

While we must know how to respond to careful questions well, we must also know how to ask better ones. What fun is it if only the players are asking questions?

Let's learn how to put them on the spot and improve our games and worlds because of it.

Use Questions to Build and Relieve Suspense

The first way to mold your questions involves the art of juggling tension and relief. This strategy is most useful while you sit back and watch your players plan something. You must learn when and how to interject in their conversations. Once you do, you will layer suspense atop the current situation and relieve that tension when necessary.

For example, the characters are planning a heist on a local interdimensional bank. As they imagine how they'll get past the front door, but forget a key aspect, such as the iron golem duo who guard the door, interject and ask:

"Ruaka, you remember twin iron golems guard the entrance to the bank. What is the plan for those?"

Some DMs would let their players forget about this key aspect of the situation even though the characters likely would not.

Instead of allowing the players to become frustrated upon their heist of the bank when two iron golems block their path, as the DM you can prop them up, remind them the golems exist, and build the suspense of the upcoming heist. If this hitch halts progress entirely, if they are too frightened to perform the heist with this added detail, you may interject again:

"Na, the last time you passed by the bank, you noted a peculiar orb-shaped amulet around the neck of its gnome guard captain. Perhaps that is the key to defeating or disabling the powerful iron golems?"

With that question, you relieve tension in the moment, providing the players with an opportunity to move the game forward and stop mulling over decision after decision. The heist will happen this session, instead of not happening at all or happening in a few session's time. All it needed was a bit of careful questioning on your part.

Use questions to build and relieve suspense. When the players stumble or are stuck, ask proper questions to help them progress or give them new ideas. These loaded, focused questions will drive the story forward and improve your time at the D&D table.

Werewolf Pack Leader, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Miranda Meeks, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

Player Character Development Through Questions

The next method you may form your questions around relates directly to the characters. Enacted at any time during the D&D session, it is simple but effective. Sometimes, the best way to develop a character is to simply ask questions about said character, in or out of game. Ask the players to elaborate on why their character does something, call out their character as an NPC, or pose table-wide questions everyone can (and should) answer about their character.

Here are six examples:

  1. Noah, why are you not actively seeking out a cure to your deathly disease?
  2. Milandra, how does your parent's connection to Bahamut impact your life?
  3. The mysterious high elf interrgator to Luna: "Why are you in Ba-Livil? Who are you? What is your purpose?"
  4. The excitable illithid novice to Jason Urso: "What is your contribution to the Neverwild Cabal?"
  5. What's your favorite drink in this part of the world?
  6. What's the most frightening battle you've been a part of?

Each question, no matter how simple, develops the characters. Ensure they are loaded and focused, with specific goals in mind when asking them. Over time, these questions will help build the characters outlooks on the world, their personalities, and much more.

Worldbuild Via Collaboration

The final method of carving careful questions helps you construct your world alongside the players. As I've discussed in previous articles and recently on the Worldcraft Club Podcast, when playing inside a world of your own design, you must remember the world also belongs to the players. While the characters peruse it, adventuring, slaying, and growing in fame and strength, they are contributing to its legends and lore just as you are!

Take this a step further and ask them questions about the world. Have humility and show you trust the players with the world in their hands. 

Here are ten example questions you can ask the players about your setting, allowing them to craft it alongside you:

  1. What is the most famous dish in the Overard Expanse?
  2. Why do the elves of the Asgasa Forest despise the fey who live there?
  3. Who is the most feared warrior in this fighting pit?
  4. Where do the orcs of Emar receive their weapons from?
  5. How does Magmaphor keep escaping death?
  6. What monster roams the caverns below the Fellguard Hills?
  7. Why do the citizens of Ba-Livil hate the Kothians?
  8. Who helped build the Glittering Reef tavern and why are they still remembered?
  9. Where does Bahamut currently reside?
  10. How are the weapons crafted from living coral, oalisc, commonly found?

By asking loaded, focused questions to the players, you can construct a world collaboratively. As long as your questions are well-crafted, suited for your world, the responses should please you and add organic layers to your setting. Not only does this allow the players to build the setting too, it immerses and invests them in a setting that they might soon call their own. That is true collaboration, true D&D worldbuilding.

Going further, you may add a section of questions such as these to the setting primer provided to the players before a campaign or adventure's start, such as this one for my setting of Haltor. It's an excellent way for the players to wrap the world around their characters while concurrently adding bits and pieces to the established setting.

Hand of Vecna, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Irina Nordsol, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

Actionable Advice

  • Asking questions is one of the most powerful and easily improvable tools at the table for players and DMs.
  • Loaded, focused questions have various uses.
  • Masterfully use thoughtful questions to build and relieve suspense or tension.
  • Constantly ask provocative questions to provide greater insight on the characters and their stories.
  • Have humility and pose powerful questions to build your world collaboratively.
  • Include a set of questions with the setting primer for your campaign or adventure.

Until the next encounter, stay creative!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

Art in Order of Appearance

  • Instrument of the Bards, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Randy Gallegos, 2021 Wizards of the Coast
  • Werewolf Pack Leader, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Miranda Meeks, 2021 Wizards of the Coast
  • Hand of Vecna, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Irina Nordsol, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

The Wild Beyond the Witchlight, the 5e Dungeons and Dragons Feywild Book

2021 is D&D 5e's busiest year in awhile, with the release of five books, including its first Feywild-themed expansion and adventure, titled The Wild Beyond the Witchlight! This expansive book will join other excellent releases this year such as Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, Fizban's Treasury of Dragons, and Candlekeep Mysteries, and provide players and Dungeon Masters with a colorful addition to numerous campaigns in the form of fey and Feywild knowledge.

This article outlines what is arriving with The Wild Beyond the Witchlight, and speculates on what else might be coming inside it.

Confirmed Content for The Wild Beyond the Witchlight

  • Releases September 21, 2021
  • Primary Contributors
    • Art Director: Kate Irwin
    • Game Designer: Ari Levitch
    • Game Design Architect: Chris Perkins
    • Map Artists: Stacey Allan, Will Doyle
  • Level 1-8 Adventure Centered in the Feywild
    • This is the first adventure set entirely in the Feywild for 5e D&D.
  • Prismeer, a Domain of Delight
    • The adventure focuses around the missing archfey ruler of this Domain of Delight.
  • Poster Map of Prismeer and the Witchlight Carnival
    • There will be plenty of maps in the book, no other poster maps though.
  • Expanded Information on the Plane of Faerie, AKA the Feywild
    • Information about various domains, a few archfey, and many denizens (both native and intruders) of the Feywild.
  • The Witchlight Carnival
    • The carnival serves as a fey crossing.
    • Rife with mischievous, charming, and wild denizens.
  • Two New Races
    • Fairy - a race of tiny fey.
    • Harengon - a race of humanoid rabbits or rabbitfolk.
  • Two New Backgrounds
    • The Feylost - a background for those lost in the Feywild as a youngster.
    • The Witchlight Hand - a background for workers in the eccentric Witchlight Carnival.
  • Open-Ended Encounters
  • Classic 1980s D&D Characters
    • Warduke - an evil, strong character from the Greyhawk D&D setting.
    • Strongheart - a paladin and former friend of Warduke.
    • Kelek - an evil wizard from D&D's ancient past.
Carnival Map, Stacey Allan and Will Doyle, 2021 Wizards of the Coast


The Feywild is a splendid locale for D&D adventures, somewhere creators may let ideas flow and spectacular characters thrive. TWBTW will be the most nutty D&D 5e product yet. Especially with Chris Perkins as a writer on this project and the art seen in this video, I presume we're in for an absolutely incredible ride. 

I predict the following:

  • A slew of raucous characters, ranging from downright silly to edgy, shady, mysterious vagabonds of the fey world's twilit woods and dark glades
  • More information on the archfey, particularly the heads of the Summer Court and Gloaming Court
  • Plenty of new fey monsters, hopefully some higher challenge rating ones
  • Many new locales unique to the Feywild to inspire countless adventures
  • A couple magic items related to the Feywild, perhaps some materials unique to the plane as well
  • A host of compelling villains to draw ideas from
  • An expansion of the time travel rules currently attached to the Feywild in D&D 5e via the Dungeon Master's Guide
  • Well-crafted maps of various locations in the Feywild, done by Will Doyle and Stacey Allan
All that and more may come true, though unlikely. However, I can dream. I'm sure I'll be satisfied with whatever we get in this flashy fey book.

Displacer Beast, Kai Carpenter, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

Hover for More!

As a fan of the fey, I'll be releasing a few pieces on RJD20 about them before the Wild Beyond the Witchlight hits.

Until the next encounter, stay creative!

First time reading RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out my first released supplement, Villain Backgrounds Volume I.

Provide any feedback or inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

Art in Order of Appearance

All art is from the Wild Beyond the Witchlight.
  • Witchlight Owner and Jester, Robson Michel, 2021 Wizards of the Coast
  • Carnival Map, Stacey Allan and Will Doyle, 2021 Wizards of the Coast
  • Displacer Beast, Kai Carpenter, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

Fizban's Treasury of Dragons, the Next 5e Dungeons and Dragons Book

Through the sorcery of datamining, intrepid adventurers recently discovered the next fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons book: Fizban's Treasury of Dragons. Likely a spiritual successor to the Draconomicon and similar to Volo's Guide to Monsters or Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, this upcoming supplement for D&D 5e is sure to be teeming with loads of options for players and a plethora of useful chunks and inspiration for Dungeon Masters.

It looks like this book will also be one of D&D 5e's premier forays into Dragonlance, the epic fantasy setting upon the planet of Krynn. Its title highlights Fizban, the false fool and avatar of Paladine, Krynn's incarnation of Bahamut.

This article speculates about what might be buried in the hoard of Fizban's Treasury of Dragons, and will be updated with new information once we learn more about this book of dragons!

  • 16 July 2021: Added a section with all the confirmed content at the top of this article, most of it from the leaked Amazon product page (sigh, like clockwork!).
  • 16 July 2021: Added the massive hoard of information given in the D&D Beyond video on Fizban's Treasury of Dragons.
  • 17 July 2021: Added release date.

Confirmed Content for Fizban's Treasury of Dragons

  • Releases October 19, 2021
  • Two Subclasses
    • The Drakewarden Ranger Archetype
    • The Way of the Dragon Ascendant Monk Monastic Tradition
  • Expanded and New Draconic Ancestries for Dragonborn
    • Chromatic Dragonborn
    • Metallic Dragonborn
    • Gem Dragonborn
  • Additional Spell Options
  • New Feats
  • Dragonsight
    • This new concept discusses how dragons in various worlds (the Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, etc) may contact each other. It's mystical and relates to echoes of these dragons spreading from world to world.
  • Dragon-Based Adventure, Campaign, and Dungeon Creating Tools
    • Dragon Lairs, Dragon Hoards
    • Detailed Information on 20 Dragon Types
  • Presents the First World
    • The First World is supposedly a realm crafted by Tiamat and Bahamut, two of the prime dragon gods.
  • Complete Bestiary of Dragons
    • Dragon Minions
    • Gem Dragons
    • Dragon God Aspects/Avatars
    • Gem Dragons
      • Sapphire - These gem dragons enjoy working with deep gnomes, pursuing military tactics and collecting weapons of war and are not afraid of employing them.
      • Amethyst - They serve as diplomats and emissaries of peace between warring factions.
      • Crystal - These creatures are extremely friendly dragons, they despise white dragons because they lair in the same terrain as them. They also steal white dragon eggs and raise them as their own.
      • Topaz - The most aggressive type of gem dragon, they assault others on sight, are not shy in the slightest, they lair underwater and on isolated beaches.
      • Emerald - Intelligent, inquisitive, these gem dragons know much about the world, but they dislike other creatures and do all they can to stay isolated.
      • All types of gem dragons wield psionic abilities.
    • Dragon Turtles by Age
    • Great Wyrm Dragons
      • These epic versions of all the current dragons will be decked out with the mythical monster system first seen in the Mythic Oddyseys of Theros. These dragons will be significant challenges even to the most powerful characters.
  • Dozens of Beautiful New Pieces of Art
  • Backstory on Fizban the Fabulous
  • Information about the War of the Lance
Fizban's Treasury of Dragons Alternate Cover, Anato Finnstark, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

Speculation Based on Amazon Information

From the looks of the Amazon information, we will not be getting for than a set of subclasses for monks and rangers, and I think it'll only be the two playtested in 2020: the Drakewarden and the Way of the Ascendant Dragon. Although disappointing, this means the rest of the book (which is hopefully bulky) will dedicate itself to enriching draconic lore, mechanics, and uses in D&D 5e.

The newfound knowledge gives credence to similar anatomical and lore sections like in the Draconomicon of old. I'm curious about the five mystery dragons, though. There are five famous chromatics, five established metallics, and five true gem dragons, what could the final five be? Could we be exploring new chromatics like the yellow and purple dragons? Perhaps the book will dive into the lore of brown dragons and grey dragons? Or maybe FTOD will throw something new at us, unseen in prior editions, new to players old and young alike.

The tidbit about the First World is also intriguing; in many D&D worlds, dragons were the first creations to walk the Material Plane. Could this be an origin story for the Forgotten Realms, fully fleshed out? Or is it going to be a skeleton meant for homebrewers to fashion their worlds with? I suppose we'll find out more soon!

I don't believe we'll get stat blocks for Tiamat and Bahamut in FTOD anymore. Instead, we will receive information about the aspects, avatars of the gods themselves. Hopefully this provides interesting ideas for the current Tiamat stat block from Rise of Tiamat, it could definitely use bolstering.

As for the gem dragons, I expect at the very least the normal age ranges for each type: wyrmling, young, adult, and ancient. Although if WOTC follows the path of the Draconomicon, we will see additions to this range, which I am all for!

Fizban and Gunthar, Larry Elmore, The Art of Dragonlance Saga, TSR 1987

Player Options

Recently, Wizards of the Coast released a batch of dragon-related subclasses and races for folks to playtest. It's likely they'll all be in Fizban's Treasury of Dragons

In October 2020, Unearthed Arcana flew two draconic subclasses into D&D:

  • Way of the Ascendant Dragon, a monk Monastic Tradition
  • Drakewarden, a ranger Archetype

April 2021's Unearthed Arcana unleashed the following new or updated D&D races:

  • Chromatic Dragonborn
  • Metallic Dragonborn
  • Gem Dragonborn
  • Kobold
It also introduced three new feats:
  • Gift of the Chromatic Dragon
  • Gift of the Metallic Dragon
  • Gift of the Gem Dragon
Seven new spells arrived to D&D 5e, a few named after famous D&D dragons, such as the titular character of Fizban's Treasury of Dragons:
  • Icingdeath's Frost
  • Nathair's Mischief
  • Flame Stride
  • Raulothim's Psychic Lance
  • Summon Draconic Spirit
  • Fizban's Platinum Shield
  • Draconic Transformation

With feedback compiled on all these player options, it's likely all of them will appear in Fizban's Treasury of Dragons, alongside a variety of other playthings for us to enjoy. In particular, I'd love to see the following included for players:

  • Draconian race/ancestry
  • Winged kobold race
  • Wyrm Pact/Dragon Pact warlock, make a pact with an ultra powerful dragon
  • Path of the Dragon Slayer barbarian, similar to Skyrim's Dovahkiin, rage enhanced by dragons, gain powerful roars
  • Dragon Domain cleric, wield the divine might of dragons
  • Oath of the Dragon Keeper paladin, pledge yourself to an oath written by a dragon of old
  • Dragon Sage wizard, unlock the secrets of dragons and wield them
  • Dragon Rider feat
  • Roll tables that connect player backstories to dragons
  • Further rules for dragon companions and guidelines on raising/nurturing a wyrmling from hatching

As more ideas soar into my mind, I'll add them to these lists. Once an aspect is confirmed, it will be added to the section at the peak of this article!

DM Advice and Tools

We rarely receive early previews of DM advice and tools, but I've a decent idea of what we'll see in Fizban's Treasury of Dragons for DMs.

  • Dissection of Dragon Lore. Similar to the Draconomicon's in-depth look at all types of dragons, their biology, psychology, social structure, and beyond, surely FTOD will delve into the minutiae of what typical dragons are in D&D, as well as their grander role in the multiverse conflicts that scour its unlimited realms.
  • Dragon Roleplaying Advice. Akin to Volo's Guide to Monsters explanation of roleplaying hags, beholder, yuan-ti, lizardfolk, and other iconic D&D races, FTOD will certainly explain how to roleplay each variety of dragon, from blue and red to gold and silver. Although much of this information is briefly touched on in the Monster Manual, I expect exact demeanors to be explored, if not by variety, then by type (metallic, chromatic, gem).
  • Dragon Battle Advice. Dragons as they currently stand can be pushovers if the DM does not play them to their strengths. I suspect Wizards of the Coast knows this and will include a section or blurb on the proper ways to wield dragons in battles.
  • Dragon Roll Tables. Everyone loves roll tables. The roll tables included in FTOD will likely provide DMs ample opportunity to construct dragon NPCs on the fly, build dragon encounters or adventures in a few minutes, or craft dragon artifacts with ease. I'm confident a few random encounters tables will wyrm their way into the book, as well.
  • Example Dragon NPCs. One of my favorite sections of the old Draconomicon is the expansive chapter of example NPCs, one for each dragon type and age combination. That means there's a sample wyrmling gold dragon, an ancient green dragon, an adult red dragon, and so on. If this isn't present, I'll be somewhat upset.
  • Dragon-Based Rewards. In the form of new boons, enticing artifacts, and even the promise of grand favors or possible travel assistance, there is a decent shot FTOD will include a section, perhaps even a chapter, dedicated to possible rewards from draconic patrons or dragon hoards of all sizes.
  • Lore About Dragonlance. Since Fizban is the titular character of this book as Volo, Mordenkainen, and the Xanathar have been for previous D&D 5e supplements, perhaps the world of Krynn will be elaborated on, though I'm doubtful. I've not included a font of information about Krynn in this article because in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, I believed Greyhawk would feature prominently (Tasha being an iconic Greyhawk character). I was wrong then, and I'm confident now that we'll see only tidbits of Greyhawk with FTOD.

Honestly, my most anticipated piece of this new 5e book is an overhaul of how dragons are treated in this edition. In edition's past, dragons were frightening foes to battle and confront. They could easily wipe out an entire group if they went in unprepared or haughty. Without the proper tactics, presently a dragon can quickly die in D&D 5e. I know because I've wielded dragons poorly in the past, I know my mistakes, but I also know that WOTC can insert years of advice and observing D&D 5e games into this book of dragons. Hopefully, this will prevent others from making the same mistake as me.

When slices of DM advice and tools for Fizban's Treasury of Dragons are confirmed, they'll be located at the top of this living preview.

New and Revisited Monsters

Alongside player and DM options, it's all but confirmed Fizban's Treasury of Dragons will hit with a host of new and updated dragon and dragon-related monsters.

While yes, new dragons will appear, I think old dragons will receive a makeover to ensure they're formidable foes.

Here are the monsters I believe will be/should be in the book:

  • Revamped true dragons (all chromatic and metallic), with new legendary actions and maybe even mythic actions
  • Gem dragons
    • Topaz dragon
    • Ruby dragon
    • Amethyst dragon
    • Emerald dragon
    • Sapphire dragon
    • Diamond dragon
  • Kobold variants
  • Draconian
  • Dragon rider
  • Dragon golem
  • Drake variants
  • Tiamat
  • Bahamut
  • Wyvern variants
  • Lesser dragon deities
  • Dragon-based demon prince

As monsters are confirmed, I'll add them to the group at the top.

Draconomicon Cover, Todd Lockwood, 2003 Wizards of the Coast

Hover for More!

The Draconomicon is one of my favorite books of editions past. I am ultra excited for Fizban's Treasury of Dragons to release, visit this page for all the latest updates, and know that I'll definitely review the book once it hits, elaborating and enhancing its ideas in the typical RJD20 fashion.

Until the next encounter, stay creative!

First time reading RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out my first released supplement, Villain Backgrounds Volume I.

Provide any feedback or inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

Art in Order of Appearance

  • Fizban's Treasury of Dragons Cover, 2021 Wizards of the Coast
  • Fizban's Treasury of Dragons Alternate Cover, Anato Finnstark, 2021 Wizards of the Coast
  • Fizban and Gunthar, Larry Elmore, The Art of Dragonlance Saga, 1987 TSR
  • Draconomicon Cover, Todd Lockwood, 2003 Wizards of the Coast

Last update: 17 July 2021 at 10:02 a.m.

Slaadi in Dungeons and Dragons Part 2: Batrachian Beasts From Beyond

Novel ideas for slaadi in our Dungeons and Dragons settings and games are seldom seen. The second piece done on slaadi on RJD20, this article strives to innovate a creature I dearly treasure in my own setting, providing ample opportunity for all of you to steal ideas and craft cooler slaadi for your D&D settings, one-shots, and campaigns. TSR and now Wizards of the Coast molded a firm foundation with slaadi, we must reinforce and build atop it.

Read on to darken your worlds with and add color to the multifarious monsters of chaos known as the slaadi.

Batrachian Beasts From Beyond

Horrifying outsiders often invade our D&D worlds. They pillage green earth, gather frightened prisoners, and spread corruption far and wide, slaughtering, not rankling. Planar denizens run rampant as villains in plenty of TTRPG systems: devils, demons, and elementals among countless others. One outsider entity in particular haunts far fewer D&D adventures than it should: slaadi.

Normally, slaadi are batrachian terrors who stalk the plane of chaos, Limbo, hopping from chunks of swirling stone into pits of churning tar. Their abilities are deadly and their minds alien, but their narrative presence lacks interest or depth. 

Why are slaadi rare foes? 

It is because they are relatively uninteresting villains, nothing greater than frog-like beasts from beyond who abhor order and inspire chaos. However, in our worlds, this need not be true.

Let's begin the slaadi's reinvention.

Alternative Slaadi Origins

Presently the origins of slaadi inspire boredom. 

Typical D&D canon recounts a time eons ago when Primus, the master of law on Mechanus, forged a magical gem called the Spawning Stone. With this artifact, he dared try and tame the unfettered madness and whirling soup of Limbo. Amidst the chaos he placed the Spawning Stone.

It allowed creatures of law, such as modrons and githzerai to build settlements amidst the Plane of Chaos, and build they did. The lawful denizens transformed many locales of Limbo into thriving communities, excavating valuable resources from the tumultuous terrain.

Alas, in unforeseen consequence, the geometric gem repurposed the absorbed chaos and created slaadi. Rapidly, slaadi rolled across Limbo and annihilated modron cities, githzerai enclaves, and any other semblance of civilization they could smell out.
The Slaad's Planar Portal, 2018 Michele Giorgi
Fortunately, we can radically alter their origins in our own realms, or re-flavor their current origin. Canon in our worlds as we've learned, is what we make it. Bolden these bipedal beasts with one of the following appalling origins, or mix and match them all.
  1. Spawn of the First Ones. Slaadi emerged from the pools of conception, leftover matter from the creation of the progenitor species. They are primordial accidents.
  2. Purposeful Horrors. A maddened archmage named Slag Distas permanently transformed a giant toad into a mixture of man and amphibian with an epic spell, then spewed it into the plane of chaos. Slaadi are its descendants and all of the batrachian beasts carry pieces of Slag Distas's insanity within them.
  3. From Past the Stars. Slaadi arrived from a starless void on the edge of the known universe. Alongside appeared a prophecy detailing the sun’s imminent doom. Tales from beyond this verse frequent slaadi lips, and those interested in what lies outside the verse oft converse with slaadi sages.
  4. Demonic God Born. The brackish demon lord Atod’grof birthed slaadi in the trenches of the Abyss after consuming a god of chaos. Sparked with a shred of the eaten god, the slaadi voyaged to the realm of chaos and claimed it as their birthright. Atod'grof still leads his froggish manifestations in this soupy realm, though the aleatory path of his spawn's future remains uncertain.
  5. The Law Bringer's Mistake. Primus placed the Spawning Stone into Limbo, but it was destroyed by the realm's unbounded insanity. Its explosion created slaadi. Ever since, Primus and his modrons have tried to fix the Law Bringer's massive mistake.
  6. The Law Bringer's Mad Genius. Primus purposely placed the Spawning Stone into Limbo, with the intent of it creating slaadi. The gems in their heads are part of an intricate plan to control these creatures and, eventually, enforce order across the verse. Only Primus and the highest ranked modron commanders know this truth.

Slag Distas

Who might this maddened archmage who made the slaadi be in your world? Let's take a look by exploring her in my D&D setting, Eldar.

As a fan of roll tables, I'm using a variety of resources to inspire the formation of Archmage Slag Distas, including the villain tables from Villain Backgrounds Volume I, the this is my life tables from Xanathar's Guide to Everything, and, due to her aberrant origins, the beholder tables from Volo's Guide to Monsters

The results, carefully carved by my hand, form the potential creator of slaadi in your world, for in my Eldar, the slaadi's origins are far more shrouded in strata of mystery and horror. 

In Eldar, she is a pillar of corrupted aberratology: the study of aberrations, and one of the creators of a despised faction.

Born to an aasimar and human parent during a time of great strife, Slag Distas used to be called Dislaga Nexaeus. Her father a commander, her mother a priest, she never stayed in one place for long, constantly moving from battlefield to battlefield, her parents unwilling to send her away to a guarded temple or isolated academy. As a result, Slag's early memories are littered with echoes of death cries, battered corpses, and thrilling shouts of victory. Her best friends were a quintet of frogs she found in a necessary swamp stop to a distant battleground. Alongside these amphibians, the road, death, and victory were all she knew.
Aasimar Warlock, 2018 Kevin Furr
Her father's lieutenants kept her trained and safe most of her early life, but her first true friend was a high elf who joined House Nexaeus with a goal in mind. An aberrationist posing as a planarologist, the high elf named Fynir Jaslogos wove strands of aberrant thinking into the young Slag alongside her lessons on the planes of existence. Limbo was a chaotic realm of great change and greater possibility, littered with batrachian beasts. Celestia was an unchanging paradise where only the good, wealthy...fortunate...resided. Most mortals, the high elf taught, could be greatened with pieces of other creatures: the mind of an aboleth, the arms of a slaad, the all-seeing eyes of a beholder. Of all the aberrations she learned of, slaadi fascinated her the most, reminding her of her frog pets she fancied as a child on the road of destruction.

Fynir's lessons shaped Slag's psychology as she grew more and more distant from her others teachers and her parents as their war path lengthened. Eventually, prodded by the high elf, she realized her greater purpose. The aasimar abandoned her family and left with Fynir, swept up as the latest novice of the Neverwild Cabal, a secretive organization of aberrationists and other scholars. All novices encouraged to pick a particular field of study or thesis project at the outset, Slag officially chose the origins of slaadi as her premier project. She changed her name to Slag Distas. She dyed her hair the five colors of her five frogs. She immersed herself in slaadi lore for decades, trying for their inception.

And the result was madness.

Slag Distas, a prodigy deliberately discovered by Fynir, could not finish her first fascination. She scavenged hidden libraries, interviewed captured slaadi, studied the opening moments of creation, observed creatures from beyond the stars, traced the path of slaadi from world to world, and concluded nothing. Fynir pleased, Slag Distas descended into madness and blamed the institution who helped her for her failures. Alongside other novices and a few higher-ranked members, Slag staged a revolt against the Neverwild Cabal, testing the organization.

The revolters sparred the loyal members of the cabal, in their flying archive in Xoriat, in their hidden library in the Astral Plane, above the undulating seas of the Plane of Water. Rapidly, the revolt was quashed but many of the revolters lived. They retreated to distant planes and remote locales, keeping in contact, plotting their next move. Concurrently, greater powers noticed this schism, contacted Slag Distas. At the end of it all alongside a figment of pure chaos, the aasimar formed a rival faction to the Neverwild Cabal called the Entropic Enclave. Forevermore, Slag Distas would lead the battle against the aberrationists, her former mentor silently smiling and plotting in the background of the Neverwild Cabal. The motives of those who study aberrations are ever in flux and clouded in the unknown and misunderstood...

Her parent's war path long ended, Slag Distas and her batrachian companions began a crusade that would continue for centuries and further contribute to the echoes of death the aasimar heard in her stormy mind.

Chaotic Slaadi Motives

As bland as slaadi canon origins are their motives. Terror? Okay. Reproduction? Understandable. Destruction? Of course. The most defined exultation of slaadi is the systematic hunting and annihilating of modrons and other minions of Primus, canonically. 

Presently, each of these motives is simple which contributes to their intended use as horrifying monsters from a weird world. However, as is the case with many villains and sentient monsters in D&D nowadays, imbuing them with glorious or terrible purpose usually enhances our games.

Like a tadpole undergoes metamorphosis and becomes a frog, slaadi motivations must change from inducing chaos to more varied goals. In the previous section, we altered and upgraded slaadi origins, the same can be done for their motives.
Limbo, Manual of the Planes, 2008 Wizards of the Coast
Here are six ideas for interesting slaadi motives.
  1. Scouring for Divinity. The vessel for the first slaad god lurks in a mortal body. Slaadi scour the world for it, spawning hundreds of their kind in the process. Roiling rumors say the slaad who spawn's the deity will become its avatar and most powerful servant.
  2. Raid to Survive. Resources grow scarce in the realm of chaos. Slaadi invade mortal lands not for blood or chaos, but survival. After eons of chaos and terror incited by slaadi, mortals find this hard to fathom.
  3. Refugee Crisis. Deadly horrors chase slaadi from their soupy world. They seek refuge in a world other than their own. The batrachian beasts hop from realm to realm, from the Plane of Fire and the Nine Hells of Baator to the Seven Heavens of Mount Celestia and the Elemental Chaos.
  4. Humble Prescience. Slaadi prophets foresee the destruction of their world and the mortal one. The batrachian beings need a new home outside this verse and are willing to ally with others to find it. Elf astrologists forecast the same fate of the verse and fight to welcome the slaadi to their realm.
  5. Destructive Variants. The arrival of a new breed of slaadi...from a different timeline...shatters the balance of already-chaotic slaadi society. Its leaders wish to destroy the latest evolution, but many have fled to the mortal world and rapidly spread. Prescient slaadi think the only one who can help them is Primus.
  6. Allies of Necessity. A powerful devil duke captures and enslaves a clutch of slaadi. They will do anything to be free of his sinister command. Yet the devil has no intentions of allowing them freedom, keen on meshing their peculiar powers with the precision and axioms of the infernal legions.

Do any of these motivations stand above the rest? Let me know in the comments below.

Variant Slaadi Abilities

Deepened with original geneses and unique motivations, our slaadi are more interesting foes to build a story around. 

Instead of chaotic creatures accidentally created by Primus who only yearn for madness and reproduction, they might be travelers from beyond the stars who arrived in your verse as harbingers of doom. 

Or they might be purposeful creations of Primus he wishes to one day wield as perplexing weapons of law, though many have been captured by a devil duke and presently become more and more infernal by the minute.

What if we went a step further and enhanced them with variant abilities? Most slaadi already possess unique abilities, from the blue slaad's Chaos Phage to the red slaad's Tadpole Injection, both inflicted via their Claw attacks, yet more abilities are never frowned upon.

The following abilities may be added to any type of slaadi your characters encounter, from the ones encountered in the Monster Manual (red, blue, green, grey, death) to the many types from old editions (black, gold, et cetera), some found in this prior article.
All Slaadi, Monster Manual, 2008 Wizards of the Coast
See the six abilities below. When your characters encounter a slaad, roll a d6. The slaad gains the ability attached to the number you rolled. Certain formidable slaad may boast two of these abilities.
  1. Tongue Wrap. As an action, the slaad’s sticky tongue is immense and can be used to Grapple a target. When a target is Grappled (escape DC 13) this way, they are Restrained and take 1d4 acid damage at the beginning of their turn.
  2. Force Chaos. With chaos energy, the slaad can radically alter the appearance of creatures, objects, and the environment around it. The slaad can cast the spells disguise self and polymorph at will, the former has unlimited uses, the latter has three per day. Both are actions.
  3. Void Leap. As an action, the slaad can teleport up to 60’ away in a burst of chaotic magic. If the slaad teleports to an occupied space, the creature in the space must make a DC 13 Dexterity saving throw. On a failure, they take 2d6 force damage.
  4. Metamorphosis. As a bonus action, the slaad can evolve to grow twice its size, gain a tail, a set of wings, and another clawed arm. All the slaad's damage rolls gain an extra damage die, it gains advantage on all Dexterity saving throws, a flying speed of 30 feet, and another claw attack. This form lasts for 1 minute and can be used once per day. Every time the slaad uses Metamorphosis, there is a 5% chance it stays in this form until it dies. Roll this result as the transformation is about to end.
  5. Slime Spit. As an action, the slaad spits a ball of gooey slime that slows and corrodes its target. The target must make a DC 14 Dexterity saving throw. On a failure, the slime wraps around their body. Their movement speed is halved and they take 3d4 points of acid damage at the beginning of their turns. The target may use an action to remove the slime from their body.
  6. Chaotic Croak. Immediately when the slaad reaches half life (is Bloodied), it lets out a great croak, drawing 1d4 other slaadi from the realm of chaos to its side. You may choose the type of slaadi summoned.
Gray, Red, and Green Slaadi, Monster Manual, 2003 Wizards of the Coast
Armed with these variant abilities, your slaadi are sure to threaten any party they face. Try them out and let me know what you think of them in the comments below.

A Slaad Villain: Scurtalag the Revived

It is fast-becoming tradition to include a villain in almost every article on RJD20. Further building upon this little legacy, meet Scurtalag the Revived, written in the style of the Yum DM's MAP (Motivation, Appearance, Personality) method, a depiction of NPC's that requires its own article.

Scurtalag the Revived (Slaad Male Chaotic Neutral; Motivation: Survival, Appearance: Abominable, Personality: Driven) is a permanently metamorphosed slaad whose close-knit clutch scattered after losing a battle against a plane-shifting dragon. 

Alongside six other slaadi, he walks the mortal world polymorphed into a human, desperately seeking a new home and a chance to avenge his slain batrachian companions, not because he cared for his aberrants, but because without them he can no longer pursue his ultimate goal of seizing control of the slaadi population in the wasted "city" of Yumdakanapla in Limbo. 

Whispers in his mind urge him to find the dragon who killed his companions, incapacitate it, and implant a tadpole into the dragon's dying body, creating the first slaad dragon. Scurtalag dismisses the voice as madness for now. But as the croons grow louder, it's possible the slaad will crumble and submit to whatever lurks inside him.
Blue and Death Slaadi, Monster Manual, 2003 Wizards of the Coast
Use the death slaad stat block from page 278 of the Monster Manual for Scurtalag, with the following edits.

  • Sturdy. Scurtalag is beefy, he starts with max death slaad hit points: 240.
  • Chaos Master. Scurtalag is an especially powerful slaad. He boasts two of the new slaadi abilities, in addition to being permanently metamorphosed: Void Leap and Slime Spit
  • Legendary Foe. Scurtalag has three Legendary Actions, one of which is taking a regular claw attack (1 action), one is Disengage (1 action), the other is Void Leap (2 actions).
  • Rebirth. Scurtalag has a second wind. When he drops to 0 hit points, he sheds his metamorphosed form and stands again as a normal death slaad with the normal stat block, slightly maddened and intent on implanting a slaad tadpole inside his dragon nemesis.

Actionable Advice

  • Amalgamated, these ideas expand slaadi in our worlds, creatures who can pose a formidable threat and help tell a wacky story. 
  • No longer are slaadi creatures with boring origins, combining a few of the ideas presented or simply expanding on one compounds on their worldly impact.
  • Gone are the days of slaadi incurring chaos and only yearning to implant mortals with their spawn, your slaadi now have motives and unique reasons to interact with the Material Plane and other realms. 
  • With their enhanced story elements as foundational pillars, our slaadi gain interesting abilities. Surely, our players will be perplexed and engaged against these interesting foes.

Implant a few of these ideas into your world the next time you run slaadi in your world, you will not regret it. Is this the last we'll see of the slaadi? Considering they are one of the primary villains of Caught in Galen, I doubt it.

Until the next encounter, stay creative!

First time reading RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out my first released supplement, Villain Backgrounds Volume I.

Provide any feedback or inquiries to @rjd20writes on Twitter or rjd20writes@gmail.com.

Art in Order of Appearance

  • Slaadi Set, The Plane Below: Secrets of the Elemental Chaos, 2009 Wizards of the Coast
  • The Slaad's Planar Portal, 2018 Michele Giorgi
  • Aasimar Warlock, 2018 Kevin Furr
  • Limbo, Manual of the Planes, 2008 Wizards of the Coast
  • All Slaadi, Monster Manual, 2008 Wizards of the Coast
  • Grey, Red, and Green Slaadi, Monster Manual, 2008 Wizards of the Coast
  • Blue and Death Slaadi, Monster Manual, 2003 Wizards of the Coast

The Fives of Volo's Guide to Monsters

Book by book, I’m retreading, reanalyzing, and relearning old ground. Ensconced with a new mindset, my Dungeons & Dragons reread is well underway. This article delves into Volo’s Guide to Monsters, explaining the Fives of the first major Dungeon Master and monster expansions of fifth edition D&D.

The Fives of Volo’s Guide to Monsters are:
  • The five most interesting combatants
  • The five most compelling creatures
  • The five most gorgeous pieces of art
  • The five best slices of the Volo’s Guide to Monsters pie
  • The five worst slices of the Volo’s Guide to Monsters pie
Page numbers are present with everything I review and provide new ideas about. Monsters are bolded the first time they are mentioned, while actions and abilities are always italicized.

By this article’s conclusion, you will have a firm hold on the best pieces of Volo’s Guide to Monsters (called VGTM henceforth), and whether or not you should pick the book up. You should also step away with novel concepts developed from or alongside the book's content.

I’ll preface the Fives with this:

VGTM is well-worth the money for all Dungeon Masters and for players who want to play and immerse themselves in the lore of core “monstrous” races, but it contains a few duds that sap a small portion of its potential. More on that near this article’s end. Overall, it is an excellent addition for many D&D troves.

Onward, to the Fives!

Five Most Interesting Combatants in VGTM

These five creatures stand out as interesting combatants. Reasons vary, from wielding a plethora of actions to possessing unique traits and abilities that can be utilized to create cooler battles.

Number 1: Flail Snail (pg. 144)

Funky, somewhat comical, and surprisingly potent, the flail snail wields an array of abilities to scatter and scare parties of tier one and two play. Evolved with an Antimagic Shell, casters who don’t know this fact will consequently discover the flail snail is a devastating enemy, capable of reflecting spells and turning them into bursts of destruction.

In addition, the flail snail may attack with as many tentacles as it possesses (rules as written, the flail snail starts with five and must attack one target), which allows it to smack one PC into submission.

The powerful Antimagic Shell and interesting Flail Tentacles abilities engineer a fascinating foe, and its defensive and single-target potential elevate it to a top-five combatant in VGTM.

Consider the following to further spice up the flail snail in combat encounters:
  1. Allow its Shell Defense action to be a reaction instead, allowing it to emerge as a bonus action on its turn.
  2. Grant it additional tentacles depending on the size of the group and allow them to attack more than one target.
  3. Pair it up with brutes and snipers like ogres and gnolls to turn the flail snail into a truly deadly encounter. A creature of elemental earth, perhaps these ogres or gnolls are under the employ of a greedy elementalist or a domineering galeb duhr.

Number 2: Orc Variants (pgs. 183-185)

Wizards of the Coast decided to vary up the action economy and orc power level with their set of orcs in VGTM. Despite their terrible chapter in the book (more on that soon), their stat blocks are inspiring and powerful in the hands of a proper tactician AND a novice DM.

There are five orc variants in VGTM (not including the tanarukk), and four of the five are interesting foes to face and craft an encounter around. Here’s the run down of why they’re great.

Three of the four variants carry the Aggressive ability, a bonus action that allows movement toward a foe. Love it, movement options are usually limited for monsters.

Orc Blades of Ilneval boast an extra damage die on longsword hits and, similar to a dragon’s breath, have a rechargeable ability called Illneval’s Command that allows them to, as an action, command up to three orcs within 120’ feet to make an attack with their reactions. Intermonster play is excellent, I use it in my games, and WOTC should use it more too, more of this, WOTC! To be fair, the original orc war chief in the Monster Manual has a similar ability, granting nearby allies advantage, but I think the addition of reactions to the orc's allies is far superior. This orc also has Aggressive.

Orc Claws of Luthic know a few powerful spells, have the Aggressive ability, but most importantly, once they are below half hit points (something I call Bloodied, a condition from fourth edition D&D), they double the number of claw attacks they make. That means if they’re below half life (usually 22 hit points), they can make four attacks on a turn. Paired with an evoker or sniper from the back and bolstered by their own spells, these orcs stand as horrifying foes on the front lines of a battlefield. The ferocity of foes increasing as a battle progresses is a killer piece of drama, and I’m glad these orcs capitalize on it.

Orc Nurtured Ones of Yurtrus are Aggressive, suicidal siege weapons capable of inflicting massive damage and the Poisoned condition upon foes with their special Corrupted Carrier/Corrupted Vengeance ability/action. Upon death or suicide, they explode and shower the battlefield in their diseased bits. Before a battle truly begins, they can be sent in to weaken enemies, a tactic any intelligent foe will gladly utilize.

Finally, Orc Red Fangs of Shargaas act as orc rogues, armed with Cunning Action, a massive sneak attack in Hand of Shargaas (two extra damage dice when it hits with a weapon), the ability to see in magical darkness, an action that allows them to cast darkness, and essentially an assassinate on the first round of combat. Carving out a space to annihilate foes from is their specialty, and in conjunction with the other orc variants, they can inflict massive harm on even a powerful tier two party.

Altogether, these orc variants, if used together with all their special abilities and actions in tow, will gormandize many unprepared groups. I’m a fan of these oft-used variants of fourth edition, and these orcs seem like a return to that concept. I’d deeply enjoy a book filled cover-to-cover with these for goblins, kobolds, orcs, gnolls, vampires, liches, dragons, kuo-toa, elementals, and more. Or a book with set archetypes that could be applied to creatures like this. Maybe that’s an idea for another day.

If you’re lacking ideas for using these orc variants in combat, I have you covered:
  1. Pair an Orc Blade of Ilneval with three Orc Red Fangs of Shargaas. Using the Orc Blade’s command action, each of the Orc Red Fangs can eviscerate opponents as a reaction, and still attack again on their turn!
  2. Orcs often use giant bats to their advantage, especially Orc Red Fangs of Shargaas. Arm the giant bats with Orc Nurtured Ones of Yurtrus in their stringy digits. As a battle begins, they can torpedo the poison bombs upon foes and render them Poisoned and injured.
  3. Start Orc Claws of Luthic off at half hit points, Bloodied and inflicting double damage already; as a surprise, though, grant them the Relentless Endurance ability, allowing them to stand back up after they’re killed/knocked out, ensuring they’ll likely get a few sets of swipes out before they fall or are captured.

Number 3: Gauth (pg. 125)

One of the more interesting beholder variations, the gauth adds an element of foreboding danger, especially to parties rich in magic items. Its Stunning Gaze might freeze an unaware group, and its Death Throes might catch a struggling one off guard in a battle's ultimate moments. Alongside its potent Eye Rays, the gauth is truly as terrifying as it looks.

Try out these situations with the gauth:
  1. The gauth targets the character with the most powerful or most used magic item, sensing its value. If the gauth thinks it cannot win the battle, it will try to steal the item with its tentacles and float away.
  2. Three gazers accompany the gauth. They carry its valuables on their tiny eyestalks, mewling in the gauth’s wake. They’ll die for it, taking any projectiles sent its way and activating any magic items the gauth might be saving for safe eating when it grows hungry.
  3. As suggested with other beholders, vary the gauth’s eye rays. Perhaps the gauth is angelic in appearance shoots radiant beams. Or maybe its creature of noise and deals thunder damage and deafens/stuns foes with sonic shots.

Number 4: Catoblepas (pg. 129)

An odd amalgamation of multiple beasts, the catoblepas will violently change the battlescape when they enter the fray. These monsters are terrifying mounts for your big bad evil villains, whether they are a blackguard, sinister archmage, or even a goblin warlord. Capable of launching an instakilling Death Ray from its eyes, the catoblepas can also inflict the Stunned condition on foes with a hit from its massive tail. With a plethora of deadly abilities raveled into this beast, there are many ways to use it to great effect.

Here are a few ways to insert these pyretic beasts into your D&D combats:
  1. Before it charges into combat to release its Stench, always launch a long-range Death Ray. Perhaps, if the catoblepas has a rider, the rider can somehow impose disadvantage on this crucial save, weakening the party before the combat ever begins.
  2. Consider granting a lone catoblepas an extra ability once it is Bloodied (below half hit points): it instantly recharges its Death Ray ability and uses it on the creature who Bloodied it, friend or enemy!
  3. Death trap dungeons are excellent locales for these stinking beasts, place one or two within in a surprising vantage point, somewhere with an eye-wide slit designed by a fiendish mastermind to devastate foes. Reaching the catoblepas should be difficult, it might get off multiple Death Rays and other traps may be revealed.

Number 5: Korred (pg. 168)

Masters of stone manipulation, combat possibilities for the korred are endless. They’re peculiar, lesser known creatures who thrive in hand-crafted arenas and have the potential to seriously surprise a second or third tier adventuring party. While on the ground, they deal substantially more damage, which is quite the unique trait, and they’re able to summon a variety of earthy beasts, force foes to dance, and literally meld into stone.

Be vile when wielding korreds in combat:
  1. Hide korreds in stone walls. When the party passes by, korred flank the group and approach from the front, trapping them!
  2. Team up a korred with a flail snail, gorgon, or pod of earth elementals. In conjunction, these earthen masters can quake a battlefield, and the flavor is perfect!
  3. Hint toward their weakness when raised off the ground, but ensure the korred do all they can to remain on stone.

Five Most Compelling Creatures in VGTM

These five monsters are the entries I found evoked the most ideas in my mind.

Number 1: Neogi (pgs. 179-180)

It’s difficult to pinpoint, but there is something evocative about alien eel-spiders out to get rich and steal away innocents across myriad realms. In VGTM, the neogi are not dissected, which leaves plenty of room to fill in the details and steal away from previous editions (like from Lords of Madness), but their art, relatively simple motivation, sinister abilities, and wicked aesthetic cement them as one of the book’s most compelling, open-ended creatures.

Did I mention they sail plane-hopping spider ships?

Unconvinced? Let me spurn your neogitivity:
  1. Neogi are the sole-survivors of one of your world’s moons, bringing with them a host of alien abilities, technology, and unhuman motives.
  2. An unsteady alliance of neogi and illithid form and forge a fleet of flying ships. This fleet conquers a swath of territory and gazes over even more civilized lands.
  3. A semi-normalized neogi oversees a local crime syndicate, although she has a taste for poor dragonborn children, fresh from the egg. Her enslaving eyes ensure no one backstabs her, though she oft does unto others what cannot be done to her.

Number 2: Yuan-Ti (pgs. 92-102)

The entirety of the yuan-ti chapter enraptured me, even though the race is adjacent to my complete disdain for the way orcs are depicted. While yuan-ti originate from gods, those gods do not drive every action, desire, or motivation, which is key.

Yuan-ti instead are literal snakefolk attempting to slither into governments across the globe, only to manipulate and swallow these supple folk from the inside. Not to mention yuan-ti can evolve into higher forms of their kind, which is an interesting facet and path for a yuan-ti villain to take in a campaign. A villain who began as a yuan-ti malison can, by the campaign’s climax, hiss at the party as a yuan-ti anathema!

Here are a few cool ideas that sprang to mind while reading about yuan-ti in VGTM:
  1. Secretly, the chiefs of every major government are yuan-ti. However, they’ve grown decadent and no longer wish to forward the agenda of yuan-ti civilization, preferring to rule their lessers from great palaces and lofty mansions.
  2. A yuan-ti anathema was cursed to slowly devolve into the most basic form of yuan-ti until she enacts a prophecy passed down by Dendar the Night Serpent.
  3. One of the PC’s family members falls prey to the thoughts and ideals of yuan-ti and performs the rites to become one of the snakefolk. How does the PC react?

Number 3: Alhoon (pgs. 172-173)

A mix of wizard, hag, lich, and mind flayer, the alhoon is peak monster mashing in D&D. The alhoon originated as group of nine illithids who sought immortality without the necessity of lichdom, so they crafted a ritual that turned them into timeless entities. All who followed called themselves by the cabal’s name: alhoons. This ritual involves the forging of a magic item called a periapt of mind trapping that stores the souls of those consumed by the alhoon. This item alone provides plenty of plot threads, for those who wield it can communicate with the souls of the unliving.

These select three ideas popped into my head while reading the alhoon section:
  1. The original Alhoon emerge from a void, armed with a fleet of nautiloids and unhuman monstrosities.
  2. A nefarious cabal of nine illithids calling themselves the Emergent Alhoon breaks into the Material Plane, each illithid practicing a different school of magic—including dunamancy.
  3. A rare storm giant illithid becomes an alhoon through freakdom and chance, still from her cloud castle she terrorizes, studies, and consumes.

Number 4: Neolithid (pg. 181)

An illithid abomination spawned from a tiny tadpole consuming all others in a free-for-all that catapults the winner into a purple worm sized psionic beast? Really, need I say more? This is the pinnacle of wicked & monstrous.

This concept is incredible and conjures myriad stories and possibilities in my mind:
  1. A neolithid manages to break into and destroy multiple mind flayer colonies, leading to the largest neolithid ever burrowing through the Underdark.
  2. A powerful psion manages to dominate a neolithid. With the abomination, he plans to attack a nearby elder brain.
  3. Some crazed mind flayer discovers a method of halting the maturing process of neolithids, allowing it to raise a small flock of medium-sized, equally psionic and terrifying neolithids.

Number 5: Vegepygmies (pgs. 196-197)

Speechless, hissing plant people who can raise the dead, including the corpses of beasts and monsters are compelling creatures in my eyes, and I use vegepygmies any time I can. From the Cursed Jungles of Yatar to my current Rise of the Giants campaign, they show up—and it’s mostly thanks to their entry in VGTM. They’re deadly and certainly mysterious. Their D&D-canonicity says they might have emerged from a crashed vessel in the Barrier Peaks. It beckons me to answer where they emerged from in Eldar.

I’ve used vegepygmies a few times, here are some of the more interesting concepts I conjured:
  1. A vegepygmy chief who leads because he found, infected, and raised a thorny tyrannosaurus rex.
  2. Caverns laced with russet mold that grows vegepygmies. As the party explores this dungeon, these wailing little moldfolk drop from ceilings and step from the walls. It’s creepy and maddening.
  3. Vegepygmy who use blowguns and russet mold darts to harass and eventually finish off targets as their velociraptor thornies tear them apart.

Five Most Gorgeous Monsters in VGTM

Here are my five favorite art pieces in VGTM, in ascending order.

Number 1: Vegepygmy (pgs. 196-197)

The howling rictus on the vegepygmy’s unnerving face and the terrifying cuteness of its thorny companion enrapture me. How about you?

Some vegepygmy may grow thorns on their bodies as their bestial pets do, an extra bit of flair.

Number 2: Firenewts (pgs. 142-143)

The near-translucent orange slime-skin and the innocent look across the firenewt’s face: priceless.

Do you want to personalize your firenewt? Let me help:
  1. Not all firenewts need to be orange, go wild. Neon green, blood red, and burning sun blue will all do!
  2. Some firenewts can be larger and hulking, perhaps even crawling on the ground. Emphasize their enlarged features.
  3. Some firenewts are warlocks of Imix, perhaps a spectre of smoke follows behind them in battle, clouding the field and frightening foes.

Number 3: Yuan-Ti Anathema (pg. 202)

Hissing with all its heads, the yuan-ti anathema inspires fear into any player or DM who gazes upon it.

Remember, not all yuan-ti need be fashioned after cobras. Search for spicier serpents!

Number 4: Draegloth (pg. 141)

Slightly hulked over, the draegloth’s menacing glare and rippling musculature reminds any onlooker it's a foe to be frightened of.

Number 5: Froghemoth (pg. 145)

Slightly silly, scaled way up, and horrifying in its own way, the froghemoth is my favorite piece of art from VGTM. Its prehensile tongue, sinewy eyestalk, and undulant tentacles, altogether they form a foe that sends shivers down my spine and inspiration straight to my mind.

Not every froghemoth is identical:
  1. Instead of four tentacles, this froghemoth has one massive band surging from its belly.
  2. Your special froghemoth is the "god" of a bullywug tribe and armored in the bones of fallen foes.
  3. Twisted by a mad mage, this froghemoth has no legs. Instead, its lower body is that of a slug. All other features remain the same.

Five Best Slices of VGTM

These five pieces are my favorite parts of VGTM, again in ascending order.

Number 1: Beholder Roll Tables (pgs. 8-9)

Beholders are one of my favorite D&D creatures, with all their concomitant variations. I also love roll tables. A combination of both, stretched over multiple pages? I’m in one of the Seven Heavens, thank you, VGTM!

Canonically creatures crafted in dreamscapes, random features and flamboyant appearances fit beholders quite well. With the roll tables in VGTM, you can mold infinite combinations of beholders, each with a unique personality, appearance, motive, and, of course, name. When I first read VGTM, I crumped as I reached this chapter. The same thing occurred on my second perusing.

These roll tables highlight one of VGTM’s biggest strengths: its ability to endlessly inspire DMs while crafting their stories and worlds. I think that’s why they rank high on my list of personal favorite items in the book.

Number 2: Nautiloids (pgs. 78-79)

Described as massive, tentacled conch shells flying propelling through the sky and across the planes, nautiloids are soaring ships created by illithids. Reading about them inspired me in myriad manners. Do they exist in my world? If so, where are they now? How many are there? Do illithids still control them? Perhaps a darker force has them...How are they powered?

A nautiloid from second edition D&D.

Again, this is VGTM at its best: providing thought-provoking chunks to mull over and inspire us. A nautiloid might form the basis for an entire adventure as a dungeon, sought-after artifact, or home-base for an enemy faction. I recently introduced nautiloids into my world. When the players realized the magnitude, the scale of the enemy before them, the red slaad Arkzel perched at the bow of the huge nautiloid, they were excited and floored.

Their exultation is all thanks to VGTM.

Number 3: Yuan-Ti Society (pgs. 92-102)

Again, the portrayal of yuan-ti in VGTM oozes inspiration and compelling questions. Are the yuan-ti manipulating the governments of my world? If so, what’s the end goal? Do their gods play a role? How isolated is their culture? Are people aware of the snakefolk? If yes, why aren’t they dealt with?

The questions are endless and if you think long enough, you might end up with a world slithering with yuan-ti in every corner. Tread carefully.

Number 4: Lizardfolk Playable Race (pgs. 111-113)

After my reread, I immediately fleshed out the lizardfolk of Eldar—their entry in VGTM fulfilled its task. These are truly alien creatures in my world, creatures from a frozen moon. VGTM (and Dune) inspired me to put aliens into my world, and I cannot thank it enough for that.

Lizardfolk from the fifth edition Monster Manual.

When a book causes you to enact major change in your world because of a short passage, you know it must be a tad riveting. I think WOTC did a great job communicating the coldness, the out-of-touch nature of the lizardfolk, especially with the bit about how they speak. They don’t say “I am cold.” They say “this wind brings cold.” Minutia, but interesting.

Most of the playable races in VGTM are interesting, with strata beyond them being monstrous or bestial in appearance. I've incorporated all of them into my world and enjoy when players choose to play them. Except firbolgs, I've never liked them and their portrayal in VGTM is a tad awkward.

Number 5: NPCs Section (Appendix B)

Arguably the most versatile and useful slice of VGTM, the NPCs section in Appendix B provides a host of moldable characters to place in our games at a moment’s notice, stats fleshed out and ready to go. Being able to snatch a statted out NPC is a god-send, especially since many of them are of higher-power levels. With these blocks and a bit of imagination, you can create limitless allies, enemies, and patrons of the party.

The section includes a wizard of every core subclass, as well as warlocks of the Great Old One, Fiend, and Archfey Pacts, and a variety of martial creatures. The art of this section is also superb, notably the staves of the schools of magic.

Five Worst Slices of VGTM

Here they are, the five worst chunks of VGTM, from the best of the worst to the absolute worst.

Number 1: The Orc Section (pgs. 82-91)

In recent times, lots of folks across the TTRPG/D&D space have debated over the typical portrayal of orcs in fantasy works. This chapter in VGTM explores the lore behind the canon D&D orc in the Forgotten Realms, depicting their culture and society in exquisite detail. I hate it. After reading the chapter, I set down the book, uninspired, and had to take a walk.

The chapter can quite literally be described as “This orc god wants this type of travesty enacted, these orcs do it for them because they want to please said god.”

That’s it. That’s orcs, stereotypically. They commit evil for their gods and because it's all they've ever known.

I’m all for innately evil creatures, I don’t think they fit the bill. Gnolls? Should be fiends. Rakshasa? Already fiends. Goblins? They have more compelling reasons to act as they do. Orcs? Their gods want them to pillage, so they pillage, and continue pillaging. That's too boring and uninspiring.

I wish more Obould Many-Arrows existed, orcs who fought against type. Those are interesting stories, and blatantly evil orcs who will be evil regardless of other situations shaping their lives are utterly dreadful.

Orcs against type, like those in Eberron, are how I prefer them.

After further contemplation on this section, I diverged the orcs in my world. Thousands of years after their creation, a schism occurred between their kind. Some followed Luthic and remained true to the wilds and upholding nature and benign values. Others charged off with Gruumsh and began a war path for an unforgivable wrong against their people.

If anything, I can say VGTM's orcs gave me the inspiration to mold my orcs as a unique species, a decent, farraginous bunch of traits from many settings and my own mind.

Number 2: Xvarts (pgs. 199-200)

Ugly, unnerving, and with a strangely convoluted backstory that will not be added to the vast canon of my own world, xvarts are my least favorite monster in VGTM. Every time I near “X” in VGTM, I purposely skip straight to the yuan-ti and avoid these blue monsters. Succinctly, they are replications of a little blue devil god that steal stuff and try to please their god by giving said stuff to him.

Number 3: Animals, So Few

I adore and consistently use the animal section in the Monster Manual. When VGTM hit, I expected oodles more beasties to choose from, but unfortunately I was mistaken. VGTM only includes a few variants of cattle, nothing else. I would have loved to see more wild beasts, potential mounts, and their accompanying art (more on lack of beast art in a moment).

I understand it's possible to reflavor almost any of the animals of the Monster Manual, but I would like more D&D art and stat blocks to reflect on!

Number 4: Volo’s and Elminister’s Notes

While I enjoy the concept of the supposed authors of this adventurous work leaving scrawling throughout it, scarcely did these notes spurt a laugh, excitement, or intrigue out of me. There are a few I can remember, but none match the scraps in the Monster Manual. The longer ones seemed to drag and the short ones from Elminister carried an air of smug superiority, which I understand is how the Sage of Shadowdale sometimes acts. 

Regardless, none of the notes hooked me.

Number 5: NO DINO ART

Where’s the dinosaur art, Wizards of the Coast? Almost every other creature gets art, but not the dinosaurs? I know I can merely search “dimetrodon” on Google and receive a result, but I want to describe this sail-backed, large reptile, flip the book, and show my players a piece of art in the recognizable D&D style. 

Dino racing from Tomb of Annihilation.

With no dinosaur art in VGTM, despite seven dinos living inside, I cannot pursue this fantasy.

Actionable Advice

  • Volo’s Guide to Monsters is a great book for Dungeon Masters searching to expand on the lore of certain monsters in their world, or build on their menagerie with official foes
  • Volo’s Guide to Monsters is not a book written for players, though those who wish to play and learn more about certain monstrous playable races may find use in the book
  • The book contains heaps of inspiration for adventures of all types
  • The book showcases a few new types of abilities and explores foes that are, in general, more compelling than the base D&D monster set
  • Rip the monster actions and abilities from Volo’s Guide to Monsters and layer them atop existing monsters or foes of your own design
  • Volo's Guide to Monsters is at its best when providing roll tables, new abilities, and evocative plot threads for Dungeon Masters to wield in their games
Thus concludes my review of Volo’s Guide to Monsters, a monster book expansion for the world’s greatest roleplaying game: Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition.

Let me know if it helped you decide whether or not to grab the book, conjure new ideas, or inspire fascinating story beats in your world or campaign.

What’s next? Do I go back to the Player’s Handbook, take a trip to Ravenloft, or try and halt the apocalypse? We’ll see in due time.

Until the next encounter, stay creative!

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All art, unless noted, is from Volo's Guide to Monsters, all rights reserved to Wizards of the Coast.