4e’s New Iconic Monsters

While everyone else is praising Monster Manual II, I have yet to bag a copy. Boohoo. In the meantime an unfun accident with water meant I’ve spent an awful lot of time drying and carefully unpeeling pages of my Monster Manual one by sodden one. Ick.

Thankfully it survived intact (if rather crumpled along the edges), and its meant I have also been able to pour (no pun intended) over every page. Make no mistake: this first Monster Manual is the best one, ever. It’s packed with old and new foes alike as well as giving new prominence to critters who came late to the 3e D&D party and deserve more love.

Here’s a grab bag of my favourites. These are the monsters who, I think, deserve a lot of airtime in the game. It’s time to step out of the Kobold/Goblin/Orc/Dragon safety zone, people!

Berbalang
It’s a blue skinned ghoul-like creature that can duplicate itself and eats memories. What’s not to love? This is an old monster from D&D given a fresh lick of (blue) paint for 4e, and it hits all the sweet spots.

First and foremost, it’s a ready-made walking plot device. Imagine a Berbalang who consumed a famous Paladin who was the only living person who knew the location of the Sacred Chalice of Pelor, a powerful artefact that is required to hold back an evil that wakens every 1,000 years. Can the heroes find the Berbalang and convince it to share that knowledge – and will they be willing to pay the price?

Or how about a Berbalang who consumed someone under the effects of a Geas and is now compelled to carry out the same quest?

Dark Ones
Fancy a little Dean Koontz in your D&D? Just drop a small enclave of Dark Ones into a populated area, and stand well back. These critters are like evil gnomes who explode into shadow when you kill ’em. Dark Creepers make darned fine substitutes for urban Goblins – they’re tougher, smarter and no less wicked – while a Dark Stalker would make a decent long-term foe for a low-level party.

Picture a Fagin-like Dark Stalker who has used a vile Ritual to turn local forgotten children into his own guild of Dark Ones. These children steal valuables for him from the homes of the wealthy using the city’s newly constructed sewer system as their own private expressway. Then one of the “children” recognises it’s parents………

Drakes
One of the core questions any 4e D&D campaign setting should answer is: “Just how common are Drakes anyway?” These critters fit the same niche as domesticated pets do in the Real World; they are faithful companions, guards and vermin. From the lowliest Spiretop Drake to the powerful Rage Drake, how common you make them will go a long way toward defining just how fantastic you want your fantasy to be.

In my own campaign set in Ptolus, Spiretop Drakes have almost replaced birds entirely with several different breeds sharing roofspace all across the city, and wealthy patrons favour Guard Drakes and Pseudodragons to dogs and cats. This reinforces the fact that this is a Fantastic city, not a faux-medieval one.

When is comes to combat encounters, adding a few Drakes into the mix is like adding salt to taste. A Hobgoblin Warlord is cool – but a Hobgoblin Warlord riding a Rage Drake is way cooler! I have to resist the temptation to over-use Drakes. Ever since that time I almost TPK’d the party with 5 Needlefang Drake Swarms in a single room. Ouch.

Eidolon
An Eidolon is a trap, a terrain feature and a monster all rolled into one. Mummy. It’s one of the few critters who can be dangerous even when it stands there doing nothing – while this rune-covered statue is immobile it’s allies do an additional 1d8 damage. Try to hit it and Divine Retribution will strike you down, or kill one of it’s allies and it’ll fire Vengeful Flames at your ass. When it finally does decide to move, it’s got a Reach 2 punch that packs quite a…. errr…. punch.

This is one of the monsters which (imho) is more deadly than its Level and XP value would suggest. Just like most 4e critters it is dead easy to play (no complicated powers here!) but it’s not one I’d throw at anything other than an experienced group of players. Thankfully, with an INT of only 7 it’s not the cleverest cookie in the barrel so a group might just be able to persuade it that they are it’s real allies and those cultists are the fakes…….

That’ll do for now. Next time: More iconics from the Monster Manual!

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5 Responses

  1. Love the Fagin-Dark Stalker plot. Looking forward to more monster hooks . . .

    The Last Rogues last blog post..Back Cover Blurb

  2. Brett says:

    Thanks, I have used Drakes and Creepers, but hadn’t really looked at the Berbalang and Eidolon. I will take another look at them and see where I can sneak them in. One of my favorite 4e iconics isn’t in either MM, it is in Open Grave. I love the Brain in Jar. It is a low level creature with dominate and I am using one for the main bad guy of the story line my second level group is playing now. Use with a bunch of other low level undead, skeletons, zombies and crawling claws and you some some creepy fun without being massively overpowered.

  3. dr. checkmate says:

    The Fagin plot hook is indeed made of awesome. “More, please.”

  4. I like berbalang. In addition to just liking to say berbalang (berbalang! berbalang! berbalang!) they do make great plot hooks. I ran a game once where the villains were a berbalang teams up with a doppleganger. They were grifters, scamming people through impersonation and consumed memories.

    Berin Kinsmans last blog post..Where to Find Berin

  5. Greywulf says:

    @The Last Rogue and @Dr Checkmate Thanks! I’ll be sure to add more hooks into the other iconics in the rest of the posts.

    @Brett Oh yes. I’m a Brain in a Jar fan too. They’re much fun in Mutants & Masterminds as pulp villains, and that carries across to D&D perfectly. Gotta love Pulp Fantasy!

    @Berin They do have the bestest name when it comes to saying it out loud, don’t they? Like the idea of a Berbalang & Doppelganger team-up. Sounds like a brand of high-end music systems………

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