Monsters of the Multiverse Humanoids, Part 1


I’m going to look at the significant changes to monsters in Monsters of the Multiverse in the order they appear in MOAR! Monsters Know What They’re Doing (which, for the record, is not random, OK?—they’re in order of challenge rating, from low to high) and grouped by creature type, starting with the humanoids. Which means the first ones I’m going to look at are the sorry, sad-sack xvarts.

The basic xvart loses the Overbearing Pack feature; the shoving effect is moved into the Shortsword attack, which includes pushing the target 5 feet but not knocking it prone. This change means that the strategy of knocking down targets to attack them with advantage is history.

Since they still have Raxivort’s Tongue, I do think the idea that they’d team up with giant rats and giant bats remains sound. Because of how the shoving rider works, they do still have an incentive to double-team their opponents, but simply pushing the target 5 feet doesn’t offer much benefit. It can’t be used to trigger opportunity attacks: you don’t get an OA when a creature is pushed out of your reach against their will.

The only peak in their ability contour is in Dexterity, so xvarts are either shock attackers or snipers. But both of these combat roles require a way to maximize damage. How can xvarts do that?

  1. Like before, xvarts send their beast buddies into combat first. Then, while the xvarts’ foes are fending them off, they pop up and attack from 30 feet away with their slings. When charged, they use Low Cunning to slip away.
  2. Xvarts hide near a pit full of giant rats, then use the shoving rider to push their foes into the pit. This plan is made feasible by the fact that the shove is automatic on a Shortsword hit: the target doesn’t get to make a Strength check to resist it. Xvarts need that edge, because they haven’t got much else.

By themselves, these are pretty much the only options xvarts have. But what if we add a xvart warlock of Raxivort into the mix? The new stat block adds a ranged attack, Raxivort’s Bite—a mashup of eldritch blast and poison spray, which are both gone now—and a Multiattack that allows the xvart warlock to use it twice or, alternatively, to make two Scimitar attacks instead. It loses the spells expeditious retreat and scorching ray, and it can cast burning hands and invisibility only once per day each. This change seems bigger than it actually is, because the xvart warlock only had two spell slots to begin with, and it was always going to save one of them for either expeditious retreat or invisibility, spending the other slot to cast burning hands or scorching ray.

Scorching ray was the inferior spell only because burning hands was cast at 2nd level; now the xvart warlock casts it at 1st level. Still, 3d6 fire damage to two targets (per “Targets in Area of Effect,” Dungeon Master’s Guide, chapter 8), for an expected 16 damage total, isn’t shabby at low level. Granted, two hits with Raxivort’s Bite deal 15 damage on average, but they both have to hit, and a +3 attack bonus isn’t stellar. So now we have an idea of what else the basic xvarts can use their Shortsword shoves for: pushing enemies into a cluster, where a xvart warlock can flambé them with burning hands. That’s the combination we’re looking for.

Xvart warlocks keep their distance from healthy enemies, lobbing Raxivort’s Bite from 30 feet away and using Low Cunning to elude those who try to engage them in melee. But they descend upon individual injured enemies, hoping that a couple of slashes with their scimitars will be enough to KO them and grant them the temporary hit points from Raxivort’s Blessing. They save their single casting of burning hands for when their fellow xvarts prod their foes into grouping up, and as before, they cast invisibility and decamp when moderately wounded.

The derro savant loses the cantrips acid splash and ray of frost and the spells burning hands, chromatic orb and lightning bolt. Lightning bolt seems like a terrible loss, but it was always highly situational: the derro savant had to get awfully lucky to hit more than two targets with it, and it wasn’t worth casting against fewer than three. Casting chromatic orb with a 3rd-level spell slot, the next-best option the derro savant had, increased its damage to 5d8. The new action Chromatic Beam, a Dex-save ability that deals half damage on a success, deals 6d6 damage on a failed save—almost as good as 5d8 on average, with less variance—and can strike two or more opponents at once. (Since its area of effect is only 60 feet long instead of 100 feet, there’s no shame in using it to skewer just two.) And it can be cast every turn! It’s not quite lightning bolt, but it’s an improvement over chromatic orb in every way. This action is the derro savant’s new default. It needs a compelling reason to take any other. (Don’t mourn for burning hands; for the derro savant, it was only ever a close-range self-defense spell.)

The kobold inventor is essentially unchanged; however, the fact that the rot grub swarm works differently now has the potential to alter the sequence in which it uses its inventions. It now deals an average of only 7 damage on a hit, then requires a Constitution save against the poisoned condition. On a failed save, the target takes subsequent poison damage at the end of each turn and can make additional saves only by taking fire damage (from any source). This option is a high-risk play: the Con save is easy to succeed on, even at low level, making it likely that the target won’t take any more than the initial damage. The threat is stronger than the execution. Despite the potential to deal additional damage, I’d now rank it fifth, behind Acid, unless Team Kobold is trying to deter its opponents from moving through a chokepoint. In that specific instance, it poses enough potential risk to make it worth lobbing in round 1. The Green Slime Pot is still strongest overall, although it no longer breaks open on a miss.

The kobold scale sorcerer has lost its Metamagic options, along with fire bolt, poison spray, expeditious retreat and scorching ray. However, it’s gained fog cloud and levitate, each of which (along with charm person) it can cast twice per day; it now has a Multiattack that lets it make two attacks per round, or make one attack and cast one spell; and it’s picked up a ranged spell attack, Chromatic Bolt, a reskin of chromatic orb that can be cast at will. Its damage is low compared with that of chromatic orb (2d6 + 2 vs. 3d8, or an average of 9 vs. an average of 14), but it can be cast twice in a single turn, so it comes out ahead. Moreover—and this is pretty clever—by splitting it into two attacks, the kobold scale sorcerer can also diversify the type of damage it deals, slinging lightning with one hand and acid with the other, for instance, just in case it discovers that the target has resistance to the first type it hits with. This flexibility, and the fact that it doesn’t cost a spell slot, makes up for the loss of scorching ray, which could only be cast twice anyway.

If Team Kobold needs to escape, the kobold scale sorcerer can now cast fog cloud, shutting down all opportunity attacks within its area of effect. Although it can cast this spell twice per day, the only appropriate times to cast it are before initiating combat (to catch targets unawares) and when it’s time to bug out. During combat, because it renders everyone in its area of effect both blinded and invisible, it nullifies advantage from Pack Tactics, which is the only thing that kobolds have going for them.

As for levitate, it strikes me as highly situational: in most cases, levitating the kobold scale sorcerer itself simply makes it a more tempting target for ranged attackers, and because it’s resisted with a Con save, it’s not good for lifting most charging melee attackers off the ground. The exception is a rogue who’s coming to stick a knife in the scale sorcerer’s back, whose primary defensive ability is more likely to be Dex rather than Con. They get zero-g’d.

The tortle druid no longer carries a quarterstaff, using natural weaponry in the form of its claws to defend itself instead. I’m not sure I love this change; since I’ve already posited that the staff is a weapon of last resort anyway, I prefer the mental image of a taciturn tortle druid, pressed beyond the limits of tolerance, whacking its antagonist with a stick. Claws seem more brutal, somehow.

Anyway, like most magic-using creatures, its Spellcasting has gotten an overhaul, and it’s gained a Multiattack (four melee attacks, or two ranged) and Nature’s Wrath, a ranged spell attack that deals elemental damage. Produce flame is off the menu, along with animal friendship and darkvision; its remaining leveled spells are limited to two castings per day. Happily, the tortle druid still has the option of casting hold person on a nuisance and walking away. Unhappily, its only subsequent option for dealing with a paralyzed provocateur is those claws, which is less funny and more shocking than the staff, even if they can technically be declared nonlethal attacks. Thunderwave still applies against two or three melee opponents, and Nature’s Wrath takes the place of produce flame, with three times the range and two bolts per action.

In other words, nothing about the new tortle druid stat block implies anything significantly different from the original one. It’s simply more effective at doing what it did before, and heck, you can even reskin the claws as a quarterstaff if you want to retain the old flavor.

The firenewt warlock of Imix gains a ranged attack, Fire Ray, that supplants all of its fire damage–dealing spells: fire bolt, burning hands, flaming sphere, hellish rebuke and scorching ray. In return, it gets a Multiattack, allowing it to sling three Fire Rays in a single action. Since three Fire Ray hits deal an average of 16 damage total, it’s less effective than any single spell the firenewt warlock could cast before. On the other hand, it previously had only two spell slots with which to cast its leveled spells, after which it had to fall back on fire bolt, and three Fire Rays are definitely better than one fire bolt. The action economy benefit of flaming sphere is a regrettable loss, but the firenewt warlock can aim its Fire Rays anywhere it wants, so that’s a plus.

Here’s the change to the previous heuristic: If one enemy stands out as obviously, exceptionally dangerous (judged primarily by size), the firenewt warlock hurls all three of its Fire Rays at that enemy. If no such enemy stands out, it divides its Fire Rays among two or three backliners. If an enemy comes too close, it switches to its Morningstar melee attack, which it now gets to make three times.

Duergar must really have been suffering, because every duergar stat block includes at least one significant change. The most salient is that Enlarge (or Reduce) is now a bonus action rather than an action, which means there’s no longer any need to give up an attack to gain the additional damage (or defensive benefit). It also no longer breaks Invisibility! Without a downside to it, duergar will naturally make use of this trait at the earliest possible opportunity. I look forward to seeing this change extended to the basic Monster Manual duergar; in fact, as a DM, I’d just go ahead and house-rule it.

The duergar soulblade was in greatest need of an overhaul, because its combination of powers, while fascinating, was too slow to make work in practice. In Monsters of the Multiverse, its psionic abilities are gone, but it always has its Soulblade, which deals an extra die of damage regardless of whether or not the attack roll is made with advantage. It also gains two hit dice, so it’s no longer more fragile than a basic duergar.

All the fiddly considerations surrounding the duergar soulblade’s previous abilities are gone. Kapoof. Now it’s just a straightforward shock attacker, with the same single use per combat of Invisibility that it had before—and no particular need to use that invisibility to gain advantage on an attack roll, since advantage no longer confers extra damage. Instead, we can think about how to employ it to make the duergar soulblade the most effective shock attacker it can be.

There are two possible routes to take. One is to exploit Invisibility to allow the duergar soulblade to study its foes for a round and determine where it can deal its Soulblade damage to best effect, then land its sucker punch when the moment is right: Enlarge, then Soulblade with advantage. The other is to charge straight for the most critical target, Enlarge and start whaling away, saving Invisibility for an escape if the duergar soulblade takes too much damage.

Both of these approaches are sound, but choosing between them requires a degree of discrimination that I’m not sure the duergar soulblade possesses. With Intelligence 11 and Wisdom 10, it’s neither sophisticated in its tactics nor shrewd in its target selection. The implication, I think, is that it doesn’t have very good criteria for identifying critical targets and also probably doesn’t have the patience to wait and watch; if it did have that patience, it might not even know what to look for. So unless Team Duergar has excellent dope on its enemies, it seems like the duergar soulblade should default to charging, swinging away, and vanishing if and when it gets in trouble, even though the other option is cinematically cooler. Then again, “cinematically cool” may be its own justification—and, in fact, was my justification for the ridiculous five-round sequence I had the duergar soulblade executing before—so do whatever fits the flavor you want the combat encounter to have.

The duergar stone guard’s King’s Knife is renamed Shortsword, a purely cosmetic change; it gains a Multiattack, allowing it to make twice as many attacks per round, and Enlarge is changed as described above. These changes, it turns out, aren’t enough to alter its tactics in any way, save one: It uses its bonus action to Enlarge as it can gain any benefit from doing so. That may be at the start of its turn, just before it attacks, but if it’s forming up a defensive line and expects its enemies to try to break through it, it may Enlarge preemptively so that it can increase the damage on any opportunity attack it makes—or to take up more space, so that it’s harder to get around, or just for the sake of intimidation.

Similarly, the timing of Enlarge is the only difference in the stat block of the duergar xarrorn. Since it’s now more likely to use Enlarge, it’s likely to opt for Fire Lance over Fire Spray a little more often. But the duergar xarrorn still doesn’t get a Multiattack, and nothing else about these two actions has changed, so the same rule applies as before: Always attack with Fire Lance rather than Fire Spray as long as you have advantage against a target wearing light armor or none, or hide armor or a chain shirt without a shield.

The duergar kavalrachni loses its Enlarge action entirely, which makes sense, when you think about it: if you Enlarge while mounted, you maybe squish mount. Interestingly, however, this action was erroneously omitted from the first printing of Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes and wasn’t added back in until later; as a result, my writeup of duergar kavalrachni tactics in MOAR! Monsters Know What They’re Doing already treats it as nonexistent!

Cavalry Training now allows the duergar kavalrachni to make use of mounts other than female steeders—the more intelligent the mount, the better, to justify treating it as independent rather than controlled—and War Pick deals a bit of poison damage to compensate for the lost damage from being Enlarged. The upshot is, thanks to that errata-induced quirk, my original tactics stand in their entirety.

Where other duergar have Enlarge, the duergar mind master has Reduce. On the plus side, it gets to use it as a bonus action now. On the minus side, the Mind-Poison Dagger no longer deals an extra die of damage while the duergar mind master is Reduced, so it’s no longer competitive with Mind-Poison Dagger while un-Reduced. Was it too powerful before, having the ability to deal the same damage while shrinky-dinked? That seems hard to argue. In any event, despite the change in timing of Reduce, I don’t see anything here that calls for a change in tactics. Where it would have Reduced as an action and Hidden as a bonus action before, now it simply does the reverse.

Finally, the duergar warlord loses Enlarge from its Multiattack, but that’s OK, because it simply does the same thing as a bonus action instead, just before attacking. Effectively, no change.

On to the hobgoblin Devastator, our friendly neighborhood battlemage (friendlier now, having been morally upgraded from lawful evil to “typically lawful neutral”). The Arcane Advantage trait, which increased the damage of certain spell attacks, is no more. All of the hobgoblin Devastator’s former cantrips are gone, along with magic missile, thunderwave, Melf’s acid arrow, scorching ray and ice storm. Standing in for them is a new ranged spell attack, Devastating Bolt, that deals significant force damage from up to 60 feet away and automatically knocks a target prone. That’s an interesting ability with very specific utility, since prone creatures are poor targets for ranged attackers: Devastating Bolt is for use against foes that the Devastator’s allies are going to follow up with melee attacks against.

It retains fireball and lightning bolt, and it can cast each of these, along with fly, twice per day, neatly clearing the 3rd-level spell slot logjam. It also keeps fog cloud and gust of wind. Finally, it gains a Multiattack, so it can hit twice with its staff if it must (or sling two of those Devastating Bolts), and its Quarterstaff attack now deals not only bludgeoning damage but a large dollop of force damage as well.

Fireball is still the go-to choice against clustered enemies (even with friendlies in the area of effect—Army Arcana takes care of that), with lightning bolt the situational alternative. Fog cloud is still the tool for signaling and covering retreats, and gust of wind is still for dispelling enemy fog clouds and cloudkills, plus chokepoint control and pushing back charging opponents. Now, however, if an opponent does get within melee reach, the hobgoblin Devastator doesn’t need to be shy about engaging with its staff: although its attack bonus is still unimpressive, it deals an average of 18 damage total on each of two possible hits. Moreover, the hobgoblin Devastator is smart enough to know when its attacks are unlikely to overcome its enemy’s Armor Class, in which case it Disengages (hobgoblins are both smart and disciplined enough) and withdraws. Mostly, however, it counts on its allies to run interference and keep foes from getting that close.

In the deep scion stat block, Change Shape is now a bonus action rather than an action. This change gives the deep scion a lot more flexibility. For instance, suppose the deep scion is accompanying a party of player characters as a spy, and its cover is blown. It can initiate combat with the Change Shape bonus action followed immediately by a Psychic Screech. The DC isn’t super-high, but maybe one or two of its foes will be stunned by it. On its next turn, it can Multiattack, making two Claw attacks and one Bite attack—or, if it needs to run, it can Change Shape back into humanoid form so that it can move faster on land as it Dashes toward water. Then, upon reaching the shore, it uses the Change Shape bonus action one more time as it dives, gaining that extra 10 feet of swimming movement. It wasn’t this nimble before. This change is a big improvement.

Next: shadar-kai, drow, gith and nagpas.

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6 responses to “Monsters of the Multiverse Humanoids, Part 1”

  1. Desmond Miller Avatar
    Desmond Miller

    great job! I own all of your books and recommend them at my bookstore!

  2. Vince Snetterton Avatar
    Vince Snetterton

    You are excellent.

  3. Austin Ballard Avatar

    They’re organized by CHALLENGE RATING?! This whole time I was completely confused whenever I tried to find anything in your books and thought they were in completely random order. It might be good in future books to have chapter headings that say the challenge rating just so it’s easier to tell that. Or to just organize them alphabetically. I think that’s better for a reference book like that.

    Anyway, thanks a lot for doing these and for your analysis in your previous post about which creatures were changed and by how much!

  4. kncjj Avatar

    Hobgoblin Devestators are also now not humanoid, they are Fey. So are Nilbogs and Iron Shadows.

    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      That’s gonna take me some getting used to, although it does make some sense from a folkloric perspective. I think the idea that charm person, hold person, locate person, etc., won’t work on goblinoids anymore because they’re considered fey rather than humanoids will cause more than a few brains to break.

  5. TriMarkC Avatar

    Your articles and books have been such a huge boon to me as a DM!! I always overthink my creatures’ tactics, treating too many cannon fodder or skirmishers as if they were all the bosses of that fight, too. You e allowed me to jot down a couple of your tactics for the majority of the pieces in my battlemat, and instead focus on the parts I live – the bosses’ tactics and the role playing w my players’ chars!! You rock!

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