Monsters of the Multiverse: Aberrations

Time to look at the aberrations that receive significant updates in Monsters of the Multiverse. Most of these are spellcasters; the exception is the star spawn mangler. These changes aren’t tactically earthshaking, but they do require certain things to be prioritized differently.

First, the neogi master. It gains a new attack action, Tentacle of Hadar, a hybrid of arms of Hadar and eldritch blast with a range greater than the former and less than the latter. Its Multiattack is modified to allow it to attack twice with this action as an alternative to Claw/Bite. As for its Spellcasting ability, it loses access to arms of Hadar, counterspell, fear, invisibility, unseen servant, eldritch blast and vicious mockery. It can cast its remaining leveled spells once per day and its remaining cantrips at will. Finally, Enslave, formerly an action, is now a bonus action.

Because Multiverse monsters no longer have pact magic, the neogi master can cast hold person at only one target at a time, whereas before, it could target three. This loss hurts, because the neogi master can no longer paralyze both the target it wishes to enslave and the tough front-liners who come to its defense—and the concentration requirement means it’s still constrained from casting hunger of Hadar at the same time. A neogi master now needs a posse of regular neogi to lock these characters down, whereas before, it could have worked alone.

On the other hand, thanks to the Multiattack upgrade, a neogi master no longer has to get within melee reach to attack. The one-two Tentacle punch makes the neogi master a more effective skirmisher than it was before, able to switch back and forth flexibly between short and long range. Also, the loss of other combat actions narrows the focus on what was probably meant to be central to the neogi master’s tactics all along: hunger of Hadar, a damage-dealing sphere of magical darkness into which the neogi master can see, thanks to Devil’s Sight (which it always had, although it wasn’t called out explicitly as a trait), and therefore use Enslave. In fact, since Enslave is now a bonus action, it can even combine the two on the same turn. The caveat is that, while hunger has a 150-foot range, the range of Enslave is only 30 feet, so the neogi master can’t execute this combination from farther away.

Other neogi, lacking Devil’s Sight, can’t Enslave creatures within that area of effect, but they can use it to pick off foes who escape from it, especially if those foes are attempting to charge the neogi master. Meanwhile, on subsequent turns, the neogi master can attack into the sphere with Tentacles of Hadar with advantage against most creatures. Hold person, sadly, is reduced to a last-ditch measure with which to try to bring down a single dangerous enemy quickly if the neogi master’s concentration on hunger of Hadar is broken. Dimension door remains the neogi master’s escape hatch.

The star spawn mangler gets three interesting turns of the wrench: The Ambush trait, which granted advantage on attack rolls against creatures that hadn’t acted yet in round 1, is replaced by the Ambusher trait, which gives it advantage on initiative rolls. Also, Flurry of Claws, formerly restricted to a single target, is no longer restricted in this way, so it can be used against multiple targets. Finally, its recharge timing is stricter: 5–6 rather than 4–6.

There are a couple of reasons why this combination of changes is particularly interesting. On the one hand, a star spawn mangler could previously use Flurry of Claws to make six Claw attacks against a surprised or slow opponent in the first round, all with advantage. On the other hand, if the mangler itself was the slow one, it might never gain advantage from Ambush at all. With Ambusher, a mangler doesn’t gain advantage on those attacks (at least, not from this trait—it may, however, gain advantage on the first one, and possibly the rest as well, by hiding in pitch-darkness), but it is more likely to attack first. Moreover, if it manages to finish an opponent off with, say, four of the Flurry’s Claw attacks, the other two aren’t wasted: it can redirect its aggression toward another target within reach. On top of the added flexibility, this change also makes accidental insta-kills less likely.

The change to Flurry of Claws’ recharge chance alters the relationship between Multiattack and Flurry. Before, Flurry was so good that the mangler came out ahead by using it every other turn even if it never used its Multiattack at all. How does it look now? On par: Six attacks over three rounds with Multiattack; six attacks over three rounds with Flurry, although Flurry does still confer extra movement and immunity to opportunity attacks. This narrowed difference, combined with the fact that the mangler may get only one Flurry per combat, reduces the incentive to hide out between Flurries … although it doesn’t eliminate it.

In fact, my previous statement, “Flurry of Claws is better than Multiattack as long as a manger gets to use it at least once out of every three turns,” still holds true, and by extension, so does the conclusion, “If a mangler flubs two recharge rolls, two turns in a row, it springs out and attacks anyway, using Multiattack, because otherwise it will fall behind on its damage.” Just be aware that this double flub is now about 78 percent more likely to occur.

The upshot is, although the core tactics don’t change, the exploitation of darkness increases in importance, because the star spawn mangler must now rely on it, rather than Ambush, as a source of attack roll advantage.

I always suspected that the star spawn larva mage’s lack of a legendary action option that didn’t cost at least 2 actions was a mistake, and Monsters of the Multiverse confirms it: Slam now costs only one legendary action. Similarly, it always seemed like the Cantrip legendary action could have been renamed “Cast Eldritch Blast Again,” and guess what? It’s been replaced by the Eldritch Bolt legendary action, which grants one use of the eponymous reskinned attack.

The larva mage’s offensive power is massively, and I mean massively, increased by a new Multiattack that lets it make three Slam or Eldritch Bolt attacks per turn; in the latter case, that means a total of nine dice of damage! Still a “psychic brute” whose optimal positioning is within 10 feet of as many opponents as possible, the larva mage’s opening play remains dropping into its enemies’ midst and unleashing a Plague of Worms, because without it, the larva mage has no access to its Feed legendary action. However, the new Multiattack begs for a comparison between the two. Let’s take a look.

Although the larva mage would prefer to Plague more than two opponents—and has a strong incentive to wait until its foes are clustered before doing so—the most it can really count on is two (Targets in Areas of Effect, Dungeon Master’s Guide, chapter 8), especially as combat wends on and its opponents refuse to cluster around it. Therefore, if circumstances are fortuitous, it absolutely still prefers to use Plague of Worms in round 1. But if it doesn’t get this chance, its backup plan looks like a whole lot of Eldritch Bolts.

Here’s the math behind that assessment: Against two opponents with a 50 percent chance of making their saving throws, Plague of Worms deals an expected 22.5 necrotic damage in round 1, 11.25 in round 2, and so on, converging on an eventual total of 45 expected damage. By comparison, a triple-Slam Multiattack with a 50 percent chance to hit deals a total expected 11.25 damage per round, while a triple Eldritch Bolt with a 75 percent chance to hit (farther targets are likely to be less well-armored) deals a whopping expected 43.875 damage per round. Even if you still assume a 50 percent chance for Eldritch Bolt to hit, that’s still an expected 29.25 total damage from a single Multiattack—and maybe this is the better number to use, because if the larva mage is within 10 feet of a bunch of its opponents, it’s very likely within 5 feet of at least one of them and thus will have disadvantage on ranged attacks, knocking a 75 percent chance to hit down to 56 percent. Let’s say 30-ish damage, then, for an Eldritch Bolt Multiattack—still stronger than Plague of Worms against two foes.

With Feed, Plague of Worms’ damage can be increased by 13.5 per round. However, doing so costs all three of the larva mage’s legendary actions. If we assume that it takes this action anyway, we’re looking at an expected 36 necrotic damage in round 1 and 72 in the long haul. But the larva mage can also use two legendary actions to make a fourth Eldritch Bolt attack on top of the three it gets from its Multiattack, raising the 30-ish damage to 40-ish, and still potentially make a legendary Slam attack on top of that. In short, while Plague of Worms may be the larva mage’s preferred lead action, in most instances, its better play is to make as many Eldritch Bolt attacks as it’s allowed. That doesn’t change unless and until the larva mage can affect three opponents with Plague of Worms, or better yet, four or more.

With the damage output of Eldritch Bolt and the long-term consequences of Plague of Worms, why would the larva mage ever bother to use Slam? Because of something I have to confess I missed in my initial writeup: Slam forces a Constitution save with a pretty high Difficulty Class, and since it’s a melee attack with a 10-foot reach, its target is guaranteed to be within the radius of the larva mage’s Feed on Weakness reaction. Thus, whenever the larva mage is feeling a bit insecure, it can always pass up a more damaging attack to throw a punch and potentially score some temporary hit points off a hit. It may even want to set aside a Slam attack out of every Multiattack specifically for this purpose—to make sure that whatever damage it takes between turns, at least some of it is buffered.

Before, the larva mage had three uses of dominate monster per day and could use it—albeit not reliably—to round up its enemies and bring them into Plague range. That’s been cut back to one use per day, so the larva mage has to be choosier and more creative with how it casts this spell. I’d suggest, for starters, that it should never use dominate monster to compel an enemy to march from more than 20 feet away from the larva mage to within 10 feet. That’s because doing so passes up a chance for the larva mage to use Feed on Weakness to gain temporary hit points in addition to hauling its foe into Plague range. The larva mage also no longer has circle of death, which means it can longer suicide-bomb its enemies when it starts to get low on hit points.

The only aspect of the ulitharid, an elite mind flayer, that Monsters of the Multiverse changes is its Spellcasting: From its original spell list, it loses confusion and eyebite. That’s not a huge subtraction, but it does mean that an ulitharid has to come up with alternative ways to deal with charging front-line fighters, flanking skirmishers and shock attackers, and difficult wizards. It can levitate out of the melee attackers’ reach (after using dominate monster or telekinesis to neutralize attackers with long-range weapons), but wizards remain a problem, since they’re likely to succeed on their Intelligence saves against feeblemind and Mind Blast. The ulitharid needs to either send minions to occupy the wizards’ attention or get up close and personal with them itself.

The elder brain is one of the few monsters in Multiverse to gain a spell: modify memory, which it can cast three times per day! It’s extremely finicky to use in combat: The more detailed the memory modification, the longer it takes to describe, which means the greater the likelihood that the spell will be interrupted and the new memories will fail to take. However, it does only take one action to cast, and once the elder brain is finished describing the new memory, it can drop the spell early and move on to other things if it chooses. (It doesn’t have to sustain the spell for the whole minute for the new memory to take; modify memory isn’t banishment.) Then again, ask yourself what good three uses of modify memory are against a party of four to seven player characters. It can cause arguments about whose recollections are true and whose aren’t, but that’s monkeywrenching, not a tactic with a dependable and predictable outcome. Modify memory is best used on captive snoops, who can be sent back with fake intelligence that will lead enemies to march blithely into peril.

Aside from this new spell, the only other change to the elder brain is that its Tentacle legendary action now costs double. It’s still best used opportunistically, but if it’s taking too many of its other legendary actions, those opportunities will be fewer.

The morkoth’s Bite now deals psychic damage alongside the slashing damage, roughly doubling the amount of harm. It gains a couple of hit dice, and its size is also changed from Medium to Large, increasing its average hit point total by 27 percent. And its Spellcasting is drastically reduced: Gone are chain lightning, geas, scrying, Evard’s black tentacles, detect thoughts, shatter, identify, shield, witch bolt and all its cantrips except mage hand.

Of these, the only truly significant loss is chain lightning, which subtracts a powerful countermeasure against invaders of the morkoth’s lair. The sheer amount of damage it dealt—an expected total of 135 lightning damage against four targets—is in no way made up for by the psychic damage newly dealt by Bite. The morkoth needs to hit with Bite 14 times to make up for the loss of chain lightning. That’s not gonna happen in three rounds, especially with all the other things the morkoth might use its actions for. It does still have lightning bolt, but unless its opponents obligingly get in line, it can only be certain of hitting two, for an expected total of 42 damage. If the morkoth casts that spell three times—and it can—they almost make up for chain lightning in terms of damage, but it must also spend three actions on what previously took only one.

Geas and scrying are no doubt gone because they take longer than a single action to cast, but they added a lot of flavor to the morkoth, and I wish they’d been kept in some form, even though neither of them is combat-appropriate. Evard’s black tentacles is a loss, but I can see why it was removed: It has to be cast on the ground, and a morkoth’s underwater lair is a very three-dimensional battle area. It’s highly likely that none of the morkoth’s enemies might be on the ground at all, making the spell unnecessary baggage. Detect thoughts is an invasive form of telepathy, and the morkoth still has a less invasive form of telepathy, i.e., telepathy. Shatter is a cool and useful spell, but as I’ve mentioned, it does raise the question of what happens when you deal thunder damage underwater, and removing shatter from the spell list unasks that question. Neither identify nor witch bolt is all that great a loss, and I expect that the increase in hit points makes up for the loss of shield more or less exactly (and that it’s exactly for this reason that its hit points were increased).

One other thing worth noting is that the morkoth can no longer cast dispel magic with a higher-level spell slot, meaning it can no longer dispel 4th- or 5th-level buffs. However, the most important buff as far as the morkoth is concerned, water breathing, is only a 3rd-level spell. Bye-bye.

With all its magical damage eliminated except lightning bolt, the morkoth is much more reliant on its non-Spellcasting features: primarily Hypnosis and the Spell Reflection reaction, secondarily Bite and Tentacles. Enemy spellcasters are still its useful idiots, especially now that it has fewer spells of its own. But it’s much more likely to use Hypnosis to draw in opponents for the sake of monching them, with the exception of melee fighters wielding magic weapons, which it attacks with its Tentacles in order to grapple them and hold them at a safe distance.

Next: fiends of the Multiverse.

6 thoughts on “Monsters of the Multiverse: Aberrations”

  1. The book definitely could have used sidebars titled “Non-Combat Spells” next to the stat blocks of spellcasters. Allow the important bits to remain concise, but leaving open the possibility for DMs to employ other spells that would be tactically or narratively useful.

    1. It could do with having this spelled out somewhere in the book, for sure. I know in the dev blog explaining the changes, one of the examples used is the korred who loses its ability to summon elementals, but it’s suggested instead that if you’re going to be fighting a korred, have it already present with a galeb duhr henchrock or two so that the korred can use its actions on things that are more immediately effective. So I believe developer intent is that monsters/NPCs can use these spells & abilities, they’re just not relevant for a combat stat block (though of course there end up being cases where they don’t apply their own guidelines, of course!)

  2. Typo in the second paragraph: “Its Multiattack is modifier to allow it to”, should be “modified” I think.

  3. Even though the morkoth can’t upcast dispel magic, it does still have a +5 spellcasting ability modifier, so it has a fair chance of dispelling 4th- and 5th-level spells.

    1. “Fair” isn’t good enough. A +5 vs. DC 14 provides only a 60 percent chance of success; vs. DC 15, it’s only 55 percent. When your chance of success is less than two-thirds, spend your action on something else.

  4. One thing I really like about Multiverse is that it adds more artwork. Fir example, we now know what the Starspawn grue, mangler, hulk and seer look like.

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