Monday, February 26, 2024

E Monsters at the Opera

A B C D Demon Dragon E F G1 G2 G3 H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Credit: Yoshitaka Amano

Be thankful that this isn't just a 10,000 word overview of everything ever described under the "elf" entry, with all their many, many subraces clogging up the E section of most monster manuals.


This is one of the monsters Ben and I differ the most on.

He has always had a strong attachment to the four classical elements. When you like your wizards a bit science-y, Renaissance alchemy is a great source to pull from. Paracelsus assigned each element a spirit: gnome, undine, sylph, and salamander. This was extremely influential on 90's Japanese video games, which were extremely influential on Ben. To him, elementals are the purest of wizardly summons, going so far as to even flavor all spells as an elemental spirit under the mage's command.

In my opinion, this is, without a doubt, the least interesting monster type in all of D&D. Specifically, there are two different (although often comorbid) creative choices that are just fatally trite:
  1. They're based on the four classical Greek elements
  2. They're just a big pile of that stuff
On the first point, the four classical elements rank among the most boring, overused, and lame fantasy tropes of all time, right up there alongside prophecies about chosen ones and magic crystals. Avatar gets a pass because it's Avatar. You don't.

On the second point, Paracelsus at least had the right idea by coming up with element-themed creatures. Something like a phoenix is a million times better than "fire, but with arms." Elemental people, elemental animals, elemental monsters, elemental structures, literally anything is better than just a heap with a face.

I would start over and re-think how we organize the basic ingredients making up the material plane. To me, the most intuitive scheme for elementals would be different parts of nature. As discussed, nymphs correspond with terrain types. Weather also makes for good elemental creatures. Or spirits representing each season, like Jack Frost. Some higher-level elementals could correspond with different types of natural disaster. Rather than boring old chunks of fire, water, earth, and air, how about fearsome demons of wildfires, floods, earthquakes, and storms? Some of the most powerful elements, the unique ones analogous to the demon princes or the saints, would be things like the Four Winds, the Seven Seas, the Sun, and the Moon. The Spirit of the Forest from Princess Mononoke is a rare "life elemental."

That said, I don't have a perfect substitute for explaining away wizard magic that I can offer Ben, so he can keep his elemental spells for now.


One of the first things I ever ran in Brave was the classic adventure White Plume Mountain. I don't recall how or why, since there aren't any written in the adventure, but my players ran into an ettin. Maybe I rolled an ogre for a random encounter but I only had an ettin mini?

Anyway, its name was Hunky Dory and one of my players got a critical hit, instantly killing its left head with an arrow. After some further back-and-forth, they subdued Hunky and made him their henchman. Losing his brother Dory had shaken him to his core, made worse by the fact that Dory's dead head was still right next to him at all times. For awhile, Hunky's job was to just walk ahead and set off every trap he could to make a path for the party. Because, y'know, knaves.

As is typical of these things, the players grew to adore their henchman. He ended up being one of the most memorable NPCs in any game I've run. I'm a fan of big dumb brutes who I can give a funny voice. But a big dumb brute who I can give two funny voices? Peak D&D.

Eye of the Deep

Ben is thoroughly unimpressed. I think it has a bit of potential. Make it more angler fish-like and less goofy and maybe it's earned its place. Most beholder variants suck. This one sucks the least.


You may have noticed that I haven't included every monster in the manual. I factored out all mundane animals in the first post, have reorganized some things ("djinni" instead of "genie" means a classic G monster wound up in the D's), I lumped all fiends into one post, etc. But there's also just a lot that I leave out. The line between "mainstay D&D monster" versus "who?" is a fuzzy one. Should I have included ettercaps? Maybe. But trust me, it's usually for the best when I choose to skip a monster.


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