How Do You Solve a Problem Like Demogorgon?

Regarding Demogorgon, in mid-December I boldly tweeted:

True story, though: I was wrong. I still don’t get how to run Demogorgon, the Prince of Demons, the Sibilant Beast, and Master of the Spiraling Depths (MtF, p.144). The crux of my problem is this: nobody wants to look at him, and if they don’t, his most potent weapon is useless. On top of that, the rest of his weapons aren’t all that good either.

According to encounter creation rules, Demogorgon is a beyond deadly encounter for 4 level 20 characters . In my experience, this fiend performs way below expectation, and possibly the least threatening of the Demon Lords. Here’s where the problem lies:

Gaze. Demogorgon turns his magical gaze toward one creature that he can see within 120 feet of him. That target must make a DC 23 Wisdom saving throw. Unless the target is incapacitated, it can avert its eyes to avoid the gaze and to automatically succeed on the save. If the target does so, it can’t see Demogorgon until the start of his next turn. If the target looks at him in the meantime, it must immediately make the save.

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, Page 144

As Willy Wonka would say, “It’s all thereblack and white, clear as crystal!” The PCs can just look away. The fiend gets to use the gaze twice as a legendary action (only twice! on a CR 26 monster! yeesh!). For one glorious combat I misread the rule and though I could ignore the part about looking away, and just confuse and stun players at will. Yeah…but nope.

You might say, “But, Voivode, when they look away they have disadvantage on attacks, and grant advantage when attacked!” I’d agree that’s true, but how many level 20 PCs don’t have some relatively easy way to invoke advantage and making it a wash? Very few. It’s AC is 22, which is pretty good, but still relatively beatable. The +17 attack mod helps too, but combined with a decent-but-not-great 406 HP, it’s all just not enough. By comparison, a tarrasque at CR 25 has more HP, more resistances, a higher AC, and 3 (count ’em 3) legendary action that the PC can’t just choose to ignore.

OG Demogorgon
Demogorgon as depicted in OD&D

Honestly, this naughty boy would go on my Blocklist if he weren’t so much drama. The best I can recommend when you’re building an encounter is to make sure it happens in his lair. He might as well have few extra trick (and they are only tricks) from his lair actions and that way, when he gets his ass kicked, he can sleep it off in his own bed.

Wanna know what other monsters are on my Hotlist? Or, maybe instead of the deadliest monsters that provide interesting challenges outside of combat? Check out my Blocklist.

Monsters that Swallow: In the Belly of the Beast

Monsters that swallow, the Skyswimmmer
The Skyswimmer, from The Guidmaster’s Guide to Ravnica, one of the two flying creatures that can swallow

I have to say, there are few things that bring me more joy in the coliseum than watching one of my monsters swallow a contestant. Honestly, I’m not sure why. It doesn’t give me that much of an advantage. The contestant is restrained and blind, but they also have full cover from everything outside the monster.

It does create a moment in combat, though. One of our heroes is buried inside the flesh of their foe. Will they hack their way out? Maybe they’ll hit it in the guts so hard that it expels them, or perhaps their friends will have to rush to their rescue and free them from their meaty tomb.

Usually the one to get swallowed is the idiot barbarian who ran way out ahead of their allies. Sadly, this character is uniquely equipped to survive such glaring errors in judgement, and can probably resist the damage and overcome the restraint well enough to deal my beautiful monster a killing blow. I’ll have to visit Vexia in her workshop and see if she can find me something that can sooth the savage heart while it is slowly digested…

Other Monsters that Swallow

Thanks to 5eTools, I can quickly assemble a list of monsters for you to put your contestants in the belly of:

Astral Dreadnought MTF
Banderhobb VGM
Behir MM
Clockwork Behir OoW
Core Spawn Worm EGW
Froghemoth VGM
Frost Worm EGW
Giant Frog MM
Giant Ice Toad TftYP
Giant Subterranean Lizard TftYP
Giant Toad MM
Juvenile Kraken GoS
Kraken MM
Necrotic Centipede BGDIA
Neothelid VGM
Old Croaker EGW
Purple Worm MM
Purple Wormling SKT
Reduced-Threat Remorhaz TftYP
Remorhaz MM
Runed Behir WDMM
Skyswimmer GGR
Slarkrethel SKT
Sperm Whale IDRotF
Tarrasque MM
Tromokratis MOT
Udaak EGW
Wurm GGR
Young Purple Worm PotA

Wanna know what other monsters are on my Hotlist? Or, maybe instead of the deadliest monsters that provide interesting challenges outside of combat? Check out my Blocklist.

Balhannoth: I Dream of Tentacles

Balhannoth: I Dream of Tentacles
Balhannoth – Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, P. 119

I got to play a Balhannoth for the first time last week. Now we’re friends forever. It has everything I’m looking for in a monster. Four tentacles, a mouth, and the ability to turn invisible, teleport or bite at the end of other character’s turns. The tentacle attacks restrain. The teleport can move a grappled enemy against their will. Oh, and they’ve got a climb speed.

Plus they’ve got a face even a parent would have a hard time loving. Having a truly repellent monster with tentacles and a horrifying maw really helps set the tone, especially in a campaign where you can make use of this creature’s abilities to take advantage of the desires of their prey.

The Balhannoth in Combat…

They are very capable in combat. I was able to stand up to a minotaur fighter and a hexblade warlock in close combat for an extended period of time. Not only that, I was able to use the creature’s mobility and invisibility to keep combat from turning into a slugging match.

…And in Campaign.

At CR 11, a balhannoth is on the low end of challenge for creatures that have legendary actions. An encounter with a balhannoth is deadly for a party of four level 7 pcs. I think that the balhannoth lore is just as interesting as their combat ability, and would make them a lot of fun in a campaign. They are able to attract beings by making them believe that the thing they are looking for is in their lair. They can also transform their lair with illusions to make it appear true.

I would love to create an encounter towards the end of a campaign, where, using a balhannoth’s ability to read minds the party was fooled into thinking that the balhannoth’s lair was the site of their epic final battle, only to find that they’d been dragged off course by a monstrosity from the Shadowfell. Maybe the monster uses it’s grappling ability to grab up on of the players and carry them through a portal to the another plane, dragging the party even further away from their final goals as they race to rescue their ally.

Wanna know what other monsters are on my Hotlist? Or, maybe instead of the deadliest monsters that provide interesting challenges outside of combat? Check out my Blocklist.

Bloodfray Giant: Big Fun

Bloodfray Giant
Bloodfray Giant, Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica p. 200

The Bloodfray Giant (well, two to be exact) made it’s first appearance in the Dungeonsport Coliseum yesterday. In just one match, this big nasty from the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica (GGR), earned it’s way on to the hotlist. These monsters hit hard, but they also have a few features that make them very interesting in combat.

Fortunately, when I rolled these guys for the encounter, the Fortress Arena had already been selected by audience vote. This was great, because it allowed the players to find places to hide from the giants. Normally, though, this would result in me having to bust down walls to get to them while they chipped away at my monsters’ health. That’s fun, but it can get tedious.

Fortunately, these giants have a 20 foot reach on their chain attack, allowing them to effectively attack against creatures in spaces too close for them to enter. This attack also restrains the target. Initially, I bemoaned the lack of the Siege Monster ability, as it greatly slowed the pace with which I could get to my victims. In the end, I came to the conclusion that it was better, as it forced me to punch holes in the walls that I could attack through.

In the end, the contestants were victorious, but they took a beating. They had to make use of their resource and the environment wisely to have a chance at survival.

Bloodfray Giant Lore

The lore on the Bloodfray Giant seems fairly thin. They are aligned with Rakdos. They likes spikes on their suspenders. Sometimes they’re used as structural elements. Not a lot of flavor there, but if you can’t do something with that look, you’re not trying.

Like most of the creatures aligned with Rakdos, they just ooze with danger and villainy. Imagine an encounter where the PCs are trapped in the tumbledown ruins of an old castle. Maybe they’re trying to find a way out past the giant, or some long-forgotten relic. Either way, as they move from room to room, the Bloodfray Giant stalks them. It exploits sections of collapsed wall to attack, or slowly makes holes for itself. When it attacks, the victim is restrained. Their allies must struggle to keep them from being dragged from the relative safety of the castle by the giant.

Wanna know what other monsters are on my Hotlist? Or, maybe instead of the deadliest monsters that provide interesting challenges outside of combat? Check out my Blocklist.

Mind Flayers, Mind Flayers, Mind Flayers

Elder Brain
Illithid Elder Brain,
VGM P. 173

I started this series with Red Abishai to showcase on a lesser-known monster. This time, I’m going with an old favorite. Easily one of the most feared and hated monsters among the people I’ve played with, Mind Flayers (also known as Iliithids) are almost synonymous with D&D.

Why is that? Well, the Mind Blast is where it starts. This cone-shaped blast of psionic energy stuns creatures who fail their intelligence saves, and deals a whopping dose of psychic damage on top of that. Once grappled with by their tentacles, the player remains stunned, and at the mercy of the Mind Flayer’s insatiable hunger for brains. Here is where the players fear of the Mind Flayer meets it’s grisly conclusion. They are one of the few monsters in the game that can instantly kill a character. They do this by chewing through the victims skull and consuming the contents.

Volo’s Guide to Monsters significantly expands on the lore of the Illithid in 5e. Most interestingly, detailing their reproductive lifecycle. It also provide a stat block for an Elder Brain. Why not build yourself a nice little community of Illithid to scoop your players brains out?

Illithid in the Coliseum

Mind Flayers are especially deadly in arena combat, at least in my experience, because players tend to lean away from intelligence based classes in the arena. I highly recommend using their reasonable talent at stealth into play. Get them hidden, and then have them used a held action to mind blast PCs when they step into line of sight. Instant brain buffet!

Mind Flayers Mystique Without the Body Count

So, let’s say you want some Mind Flayers in your campaign without the attendant body count. How do you incorporate them in the story? They key lies with what I think should be true about every PC in D&D (outside of the Dungeonsports Coliseum, that is). They are someone special in the world. Major events of the world revolve around them.

Illithid are very intelligent creatures. Much like the players, they seek to shape and control the world around them. As such, they should recognize the PCs for what they are: A valuable resource to help them achieve their aims, not just a hot meal on two legs. Illithids will be interested in capturing a party and making use of them.

So, put some Mind Flayers in that campaign of yours. Melt some PC brains with a mind blast. Let them feel the clammy grasp of the tentacles and the teeth grinding into their cranium. Perhaps more important than that, let them see what compromises their heroes are willing to make to fulfill the demands of a cruel and inhuman taskmaster.