Lots of monster types in this batch, but not that many monsters. The overwhelming majority of the mechanical changes in Monsters of the Multiverse went into humanoids and fiends; whether because they were designed and balanced better to begin with or because they just aren’t encountered as often, other monster types got away pretty clean.
First up is the kirin (I refuse to include that silly, superfluous hyphen). While the kirin has undergone several significant changes, none of them has all that great an impact on its tactics, save one: It’s lost a lot of its combat-appropriate spells. Specifically, etherealness, mass cure wounds, freedom of movement, guardian of faith, gaseous form, silence, command, sanctuary and spare the dying are all out the window, while sacred flame has been replaced by a new ranged spell attack, Sacred Fire. Here are some things a kirin’s not going to do because of these deletions: transport up to three willing evacuees to safety through a wall, restore approximately 18 hit points to half a dozen of its allies, free a restrained or paralyzed ally from its condition, conjure a spectral guardian to defend itself (guardian of faith is probably the kirin’s biggest loss), mute enemy bards and other spellcasters, give magical sanctuary to a creature under its protection or forestall the death of an unconscious ally.
True resurrection, one of the reasons why a group of player characters might seek out a kirin in the first place, and control weather, a potentially important tool in a kirin’s lair defense, are also gone. So is heroes’ feast, which the kirin might cast as a boon before sending the PCs off on a dangerous quest.
Aside from these changes, the kirin’s updates are either cosmetic or minor buffs: Its size is reduced from Huge to Large (gaining 2 Hit Dice in the process, so that its average hit points remain nearly the same), its Hoof attack now deals force rather than bludgeoning damage, its Horn attack now deals radiant rather than piercing damage, its blindsight is replaced by truesight, its Detect legendary action is gone, and its Multiattack permits it to make two Sacred Fire attacks. This last change does have a minor tactical implication: Rather than fly down to strike its enemies with melee attacks, then fly back up out of reach again, an airborne kirin can simply stay out of reach the whole time, zot its enemies with kirin lasers and deal, on average, 2 damage more than it could with its melee attacks, without risking a single opportunity attack. I posit that this is No Fun at All, for the Dungeon Master or for the players—and yet why on earth would a creature with Intelligence 19 and Wisdom 20 not choose the offensive action that’s both safest and most effective?
Well, there’s one possibility: A target of the kirin could, conceivably, be resistant or even immune to radiant damage. There’s no creature in the Monster Manual or Monsters of the Multiverse that’s immune to radiant damage (although the skulk used to be, in its Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes incarnation), and the only creatures in these books that are resistant to radiant damage are all celestials themselves, save the archdevil Zariel. However, there are a number of creatures that are resistant to radiant damage in supplementary books—for instance, the crystal dragons in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. So if a kirin happens to be fighting one of these, it can opt for the melee Multiattack instead, in order to deal force damage with its hooves.
I know that Monsters of the Multiverse isn’t about performing total reconceptualizations of the creatures it contains, but if there’s any creature in fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons that would have benefited from one, it’s the kirin. As I learned from a consultation with a cultural sensitivity reader while working on How to Defend Your Lair, there’s basically no way you can employ a D&D kirin as written that isn’t an insult to the mythological being that ostensibly inspired it. It may be that the best tactical decision DMs can make with respect to the kirin is simply to retire it.
The only fey that Monsters of the Multiverse changes significantly is the eladrin, and only in three of its seasons: autumn, winter and spring. (The only changes to the summer eladrin are to its Hit Dice and its damage resistance—changes that every other eladrin undergoes as well—and to the amount of fire damage its weapons deal.)
The autumn eladrin gains a Multiattack that lets it attack twice, just as the summer eladrin does; it can also replace one weapon attack with a spell. However, heal and raise dead are kaputt, replaced by revivify, and the area-effect calm emotions and sleep are supplanted by the single-target but also nastier hold person. Thus, rather than try to turn its intractable enemies’ hearts, it immobilizes their muscles instead—and if it uses its Multiattack to cast hold person first, it has a decent chance of being able to make a follow-up Longsword or Longbow attack roll with advantage. Aside from that, its tactics don’t vary.
The winter eladrin loses the damage-dealing spells cone of cold and ice storm and gains sleet storm, which deals no damage, in their stead. However, sleet storm has a larger area of effect—a cylinder with a 40-foot radius—than ice storm, heavily obscures visibility, snuffs out exposed flames, and not only turns the ground into difficult terrain but also makes it so slippery that creatures trying to move within it may fall prone.
But wait: With all the benefits of sleet storm, you may ask, why bother casting fog cloud, which gives the winter eladrin nothing but heavily obscured visibility, when it can cast either spell at will? That’s a darn good question. Fog cloud has a smaller radius and a shorter range, and it’s spherical rather than cylindrical, meaning it covers only one-third of sleet storm’s volume.
However, it does have one benefit that sleet storm doesn’t: The winter eladrin can walk out of it any time it wants. The trouble with sleet storm is that the eladrin can’t Fey Step out of it, because it can’t see where it’s going, and if it tries to stroll out, it has to make the Dexterity saving throw to avoid falling prone, just like everyone else. The winter eladrin does not want to be in the sleet storm. It wants to be a safe distance away, where it can shake its head and morosely deplore its opponents’ insistence on trying to fight it.
There’s another problem, though, and that’s concentration. All three of the revised winter eladrin’s spells require concentration. It’s not such a problem that fog cloud and gust of wind both require it, but it is a problem that both gust of wind and sleet storm require it. What the winter eladrin would really like to be able to do is use gust of wind to shove back enemies who are doggedly advancing through the sleet storm, and it can’t. Plus, arguably, gust of wind would also blast a zone of clear visibility through the sleet storm.
I’ll come back to this issue in a moment, because I need to move on to the other significant change to the winter eladrin: It’s got a significantly higher Dexterity score and a Multiattack now, and its weapon attacks deal quite a bit more damage than they did before. Previously, the best it could do was an average of 5 or 6 damage per turn; now, with two Longbow attacks, it can deal an average of 40 damage! That’s massive. Thanks to that boosted Dex, they’re also no longer stationary casters. They’re Frosty the Guerrilla.
When we put everything together, we have a new picture of winter eladrin combat tactics, and it’s pretty different from before. First off, while the winter eladrin doesn’t want to be close to its foes per se, it does want to be within 60 feet of them, so that they’re subject to its Sorrowful Presence. Hopefully, this measure is enough; the winter eladrin has to deal with only those opponents who aren’t charmed.
Does the winter eladrin want to slap a sleet storm on top of a whole market square when only half of its erstwhile opponents are still hostile toward it? Surely, gust of wind will suffice to keep them at bay, especially since foes who are good at succeeding on Wisdom saves are rarely also good at succeeding on Strength saves. For those who press forward, there’s also Frigid Rebuke, but foes who are good at succeeding on Strength saves are often good at succeeding on Constitution saves, so the “secretary problem” rule for choosing targets for Frigid Rebuke (see MOAR! Monsters Know What They’re Doing, page 447) is worth holding on to. Fortunately, since sleet storm deals no damage, the winter eladrin can feel free to switch over to it if gust of wind isn’t doing the job, without having to fear that those charmed by its Sorrowful Presence will become de-charmed; they’ll be wet, miserable and flat on their prats, but they’ll still be charmed. As for its uncharmed foes, they may have made their Wisdom, Strength and Constitution saves, but by Oberon, they’re not going to make their Dex saves, too!
An important note regarding winter eladrin self-defense while sustaining gust of wind: If you use the Dungeon Master’s Guide weather rules (chapter 5, “Wilderness Survival”), a strong wind imposes disadvantage on ranged weapon attack rolls. That goes for the eladrin, too. Trying to shoot into the gust of wind is foolish, and honestly, it’s not what the winter eladrin wants at this stage of the game, anyway. Fighting is stupid, and you’re stupid for trying to fight me, it’s thinking. If you haven’t drawn blood, you haven’t even made it mad yet, only gloomier than ever.
To maintain its 60-foot distance, the winter eladrin uses Fey Step to teleport backward when its first foe gets within 30 feet of it. After that, it’s 50/50 whether it will have Fey Step available when it wants it, so it may have to resort to weapon attacks if its opponents are sufficiently obstinate. It could cast gust of wind over and over if it wanted to—it’s an at-will spell, after all—but there’s likely to come a point where repeatedly doing the same thing is obviously senseless, and someone just needs a beatdown. Still, Fey Step remains useful not just for self-defense but also for mockery, and because it’s a bonus action, the winter eladrin can teleport, then snap off a couple of shots from its bow in the same turn.
Finally—and I hate to say this—the joyous nullification strategy of the spring eladrin is crushed by Monsters of the Multiverse’s revisions. Hallucinatory terrain, Otto’s irresistible dance, confusion, enthrall and charm person are all gone, and suggestion is reduced from three uses per day to one. In return, the spring eladrin gets major image once per day, but honestly, what good is that? The moment anyone interacts with the illusion physically, the jig is up.
The spring eladrin’s tactics are essentially reduced to an echo of the winter eladrin’s:
- Rely on Joyful Presence to charm as many opponents as possible. (At least the spring eladrin’s save DC for this ability is higher than the winter eladrin’s: It will probably manage to charm two-thirds of its opponents rather than only half.)
- Use Tasha’s hideous laughter to take down one uncharmed opponent.
- Penetrate the other uncharmed opponent’s skin with sharp things.
The great likelihood that the spring eladrin will have to resort to overt violence against at least one opponent is a huge disappointment to me. Honestly, if I’m going to use a spring eladrin in an adventure, I’ll probably ditch suggestion and bring back confusion as a once-per-day spell. (I can at least see the point in eliminating Otto’s irresistible dance and enthrall: If an opponent is immune to Joyful Presence because it can’t be charmed, then neither of these spells will work on it either, and their presence presents the DM with trap choices. Same goes for charm person.)
Speaking of overt violence, the spring eladrin’s weapon damage has been massively cranked up: The one die of psychic damage that each dealt before is increased to five. I guess the idea is to send an unambiguous message to that one belligerent punk who can’t set their beef with Mirthsong Whisperblossom aside.
In the end, the spring eladrin’s tactics don’t change significantly. They simply don’t feel as frolicsome as they did before, and that’s a bummer.
On to elementals, starting with the supremely silly flail snail. Ranged spell attacks and other single-target spells no longer rebound off its Antimagic Shell back at the caster; successful saves and missed spell attacks now always ripple back out as force damage. Its individual tentacles can’t be destroyed; it always has five, and consequently its Multiattack always comprises five Tentacle attacks. Since it’s not losing tentacles over the course of a battle, the damage of each Tentacle hit is reduced slightly. Finally, a flail snail that retracts into its shell is considered restrained, imposing disadvantage on its own attack rolls but granting advantage to its opponents’—offsetting the +4 bonus it gains to its Armor Class. Before, the flail snail had no reason to come back out of its shell. Now, does it have any reason to withdraw into it?
Any examination of this question has to be prefaced by noting that the flail snail is not smart. Whichever course of action is better for it in the majority of cases is the one it always follows. It lacks the intelligence to be capable of situational judgment.
Right, then: If an attacker needs to roll x to hit the flail snail when it’s outside its shell, it needs to roll x + 4 to hit the snail when it’s inside its shell—but it has advantage on that roll. With one fairly insignificant exception, an attacker has a better chance of hitting the snail when it’s inside the shell if its attack modifier is +5 or greater. The attacker’s chances of hitting the snail when it’s outside the shell are better only if its attack modifier is +4 or less. That being said, if the attacker has +4 or less to hit, its chance of dealing damage to the snail is less than 50 percent regardless of whether it’s inside or out.
Most creatures capable of dealing enough damage to a flail snail for it to notice have attack bonuses of +5 or better, meaning they have a better chance of hitting the flail snail when it withdraws into its shell, despite its greater Armor Class, than they do when it’s out and wiggling. Shell Defense is therefore an evolutionarily maladaptive threat response, and the flail snail shouldn’t use it.
But maybe, just maybe, its natural predators don’t know that. Maybe, when it schlorps itself into its shell, they get confused and wonder where their dinner went. Maybe they wander off.
And so maybe we can stick with something close to our original strategy after all: When a flail snail is attacked or a Medium or larger creature comes within 60 feet of it, its first action is Shell Defense (note that it can no longer slither away from its attacker while in its shell, because it’s restrained). But it pops back out of its shell if its enemy continues to attack it, and from that point on it knows better than to retract. Popping out is a bonus action, and so it can Multiattack immediately after doing so—or use its Scintillating Shell if it has enemies within range which it can’t reach with its tentacles.
The most significant change to the leviathan is a major simplification of its Tidal Wave action. It now deals 7d10 bludgeoning damage rather than 6d10 and knocks targets prone on a failed saving throw, but it doesn’t keep dealing damage turn after turn, and you don’t have to keep track of its movement. Also, the wave isn’t centered on the leviathan: it can place the wave wherever it likes, as long as the wave includes a point within 120 feet of itself.
Slam and Tail now deal much greater damage than they did before—34 and 29, respectively, for a total average of 63 damage from the leviathan’s Multiattack, 50 percent more than the total average 42 damage from a Multiattack by the Mordenkainen’s leviathan. But a Tidal Wave that strikes at least two targets still deals more damage than that, and realistically, given the size of its area of effect, a leviathan can hit everyone if it wants to.
Since Tidal Wave is no longer centered on the leviathan, it doesn’t have to place itself in its enemies’ midst to hit them with it. However, there’s now a different constraint on the leviathan’s positioning: Its Siege Monster trait no longer explicitly notes that objects and structures are damaged by Tidal Wave. And since Tidal Wave stipulates only that creatures take damage from it, if a leviathan wants to smash your ship, your levee or your lighthouse, it has to do it the old-fashioned way, with Slam and Tail.
The Multiverse marut undergoes a seismic change: Its Justify action has been replaced by Plane Shift. Pros: The marut doesn’t have to accompany the target to the Hall of Concordance; it can stay behind and keep doing whatever it needs to do. Also, if it fails to teleport a creature, it gets a chance to try again. Cons: It can teleport only one target at a time rather than two at once. Also, incapacitated targets no longer fail automatically, which means the Blazing Edict tactical combination is gone. Most profoundly, the marut is now not merely taking an action but casting a spell, which means it can be counterspelled—a loophole in the marut’s modus operandi that you could drive a hellfire engine through.
If the change to the oinoloth’s Bringer of Plagues bonus action was the most urgently needed revision in Monsters of the Multiverse, this change is the one I find most baffling and inexpedient. There was a kink in the marut’s mechanics, but Plane Shift doesn’t fix it; if anything, it makes it worse. A single marut still can’t send more than two creatures back to the Hall of Concordance if it plans to go back there with them; more creatures require more maruts. But now, also, it’s not really clear what Blazing Edict is for. Before, it was obvious: Blazing Edict existed to set up creatures for Justify. Now it damages and stuns them … for what? Stunning them doesn’t make them any more susceptible to Plane Shift.
By and large, my responses to the revisions in Monsters of the Multiverse range from “Eh, that’s fine, I guess” to “Yes! Thank you!” But the revised marut—well, it’s not broken, but it’s definitely damaged. I’d house-rule it as follows: Keep the old Justify action, with the incapacitation auto-fail, but have it transport one creature at a time and stay behind, rather than two at a time, requiring the marut to accompany them. Let it use the action three times per day, and on top of that, give the marut one daily casting of plane shift (self only). Because, seriously, with Plane Shift taking the place of Justify, this “Large Construct (Inevitable)” is anything but.
I feel bad going straight from the marut to a couple of other creatures with a problem in their original stat blocks that didn’t get fixed, but, well, oozes are next on the list. Both the adult oblex and the elder oblex have three unresolved problems: There’s no Difficulty Class specified for detection of the slimy tethers between their bodies and their simulacra, Sulfurous Impersonation provides no way to unmake a simulacrum, and there’s no indication of how much damage is necessary to sever a tether.
Instead, the adult oblex gets an additional knowledge skill, presumably to help it play its part better; its Multiattack allows it an additional Pseudopod attack; its Pseudopod damage is increased by 50 percent; and it loses color spray and hold person. However, these latter two spells are superseded by three daily uses of hypnotic pattern, which I’ll come right out and say is straight-up better for the oblex’s purposes than color spray and hold person put together, except for one thing: its large area of effect. Hold person is precise. Color spray has short range and can be aimed. Hypnotic pattern is a big, blunt instrument. I think the adult oblex must use it as it would have used color spray before: to cover its withdrawal.
The elder oblex gains some Pseudopod damage (not as much as the adult oblex, though) and loses the spells confusion, fear, hallucinatory terrain, hold person and hold monster, but Sulfurous Impersonation + Deception + charm person at 5th level is still its strongest opening. Its exit strategy isn’t different, really, just more limited: dominate person against two pursuers, to turn one against the other; hypnotic pattern against three to six; and telekinesis if the opposition is succeeding on too many Wisdom saves.
I recently ran a slithering tracker in one of my own campaigns, and it definitely would have benefited from the newly added extra hit die and resistance to physical damage from nonmagical attacks. The Ambusher trait is gone, which is disappointing, but the slithering tracker can still Hide in water or some other liquid and gain advantage on its first attack roll by striking unseen. Since it only has one attack per turn anyway, nothing crucial is lost. It simply has to attack from hiding, which it generally would have done anyway, because how else do you gain surprise? Finally, Keen Tracker is superseded by Survival +6, which is better, actually. Tactics remain the same.
Last and most definitely least is the swarm of rot grubs, a mass of nasty parasites that infested targets previously had to get rid of by burning themselves. These loathsome things work quite differently now. First, they’re vulnerable to fire damage, which is good, because that’s what they deserve. Second, their bite deals piercing damage and requires a fairly easily beaten Constitution saving throw; on a failure, the target is poisoned, dealing ongoing damage until the target either dies or succeeds on its Con save. How does the target get to make another Con save? By taking fire damage, any amount, from any source. A pretty elegant solution, I think. (See this post for how this change affects the kobold inventor.)
Next: archdevils of the Multiverse.
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