Monsters of the Multiverse: Monstrosities

In contrast to humanoids and NPCs, Monsters of the Multiverse makes few substantive changes to the monstrosities from Volo’s Guide to Monsters and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes; most of its changes are too minor to affect the relevant creatures’ tactics. Only the choldrith, leucrotta, yuan-ti and froghemoth receive changes to their traits and/or actions significant enough to merit reexamination.

The choldrith is a spellcaster, and in Monsters of the Multiverse, it loses healing word, sanctuary, shield of faith, mending and resistance. Spiritual weapon is reskinned into a bonus action, Spectral Dagger, that functions identically. These are the only changes to the choldrith, so all we need to ask is how it’s affected by the loss of these spells. The answer is, not much, since hold person and bane were always its preferred options (although defending itself with shield of faith when charged is no longer a possibility, nor is using its magic to support a superior ally). However, it is affected by the fact that it can now cast those two spells only once each, whereas before it could try again if they didn’t work the first time or its concentration was disrupted. I think it’s probably wise to lead with bane and switch to hold person if and only if one enemy proves particularly problematic, especially if they’re a melee opponent.

As I mentioned a few posts ago, Keen [Sense] traits have been replaced across the board with heightened Perception skill modifiers, and this is one of a handful of changes to the leucrotta. It gains the Stench trait, which it shares with the catoblepas, although the leucrotta’s Stench has a range of only 5 feet rather than 10. Finally, it loses the Rampage trait.

I’m troubled by the loss of Keen Smell, because it takes away the explanation of how a hunting leucrotta might be able to find a hidden opponent in fog; by reducing the search to a simple Perception check, even one with a pretty good modifier, Monsters of the Multiverse makes the leucrotta too easy for a stealthy character to hide from. Rather than have a de facto passive Perception of 18 thanks to its sensitive nose, the leucrotta now has a de jure passive Perception of 15 across the board. This change doesn’t alter its tactics; it just makes the leucrotta a little less effective as a hunter, and a little less interesting. The same goes for the loss of Rampage: Rather than a fleet-footed predator that storms through its prey, it’s now just a fleet-footed predator. And Stench is a passive trait that serves only to make the leucrotta harder to fight back against.

In short, no tactical changes; just a disappointing subtraction from its flavor. It’s clear that many creatures’ stat blocks needed intervention, either to simplify them or to increase (or decrease) their deadliness. But I’m not sure this one did, or that it benefits from the changes it received. If anyone wants to argue a differing opinion, I’m all ears.

With the removal of Volo’s sections on monster lore, the Unusual Abilities for yuan-ti go down the memory hole. Some of these—Acid Slime, Chameleon Skin and Shed Skin—were simple, flavorful enhancements that offered good surprise twists for yuan-ti encounters. One, Polymorph into Snake, contained an unresolved ambiguity with potentially severe unintended consequences, and the decision not to clarify the ambiguity but rather to scrap the action altogether was almost certainly the wisest solution. And one, Sticks to Snakes, was potentially hilarious but also totally overpowered in its ability to turn a full quiver of arrows into a swarm of poisonous snakes. I mourn its loss, even as I acknowledge that it was probably the right decision.

All the yuan-ti from Volo’s except the yuan-ti broodguard benefit from the transformation of Change Shape from an action into a bonus action. Although it still suffers from the drawback of leaving clothing and equipment behind, at least it’s faster, and thus more feasible as part of a surprise-attack or escape-through-a-hole strategy: the yuan-ti can Change Shape and then attack, or Change Shape and then either Dash or Disengage, in the same turn.

In addition to that, the yuan-ti anathema can now climb or swim as fast as it slithers, and the advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks granted by Six Heads has been folded into a higher across-the-board Perception modifier (+11 now!), but it loses a number of spells. Worst of all, it loses the ability to Constrict in its anathema form—although in its snake form, its Constrict damage is substantially increased and includes some additional acid damage. The anathema’s Multiattack was mechanistic before, and it still is; it simply loses the benefit of being able to restrain its foe as it slashes and bites.

There’s one thing I’m puzzled by, which may be intentional or may be a typo: Previously, the anathema’s Shapechanger allowed it to polymorph into a Huge giant constrictor snake. Now, Change Shape lets it transform into a Huge constrictor snake. The constrictor snake and the giant constrictor snake are two different creatures, and a key difference between the two is in their Bite attacks: The constrictor snake has +4 to hit and deals 1d6 + 2 piercing damage, but the giant constrictor snake has +6 to hit and deals 2d6 + 4 piercing. The yuan-ti anathema’s stat block enhances the Constrict attack of both—it has +10 to hit—but does nothing to enhance the Bite attack in the underlying stat block. Maybe it was decided that the damage of Constrict plus the giant constrictor snake’s Bite damage was too much and needed to be dialed back?

But that’s hard to believe. In its default form, the yuan-ti anathema can Multiattack for a total of 53 damage on three hits (two with Claw and one with Flurry of Bites) each turn. In snek form, it has no Multiattack and can either Constrict or Bite, not both, but a successful grapple on an earlier Constrict attack continues to deal damage as it does other things. A first-round Constrict with a successful grapple deals 23 damage total; in subsequent rounds, it deals that damage again and can also Bite for an additional 6. There’s no mathematical upside to snek form, at least if the anathema is fighting alone. What about a tactical upside? I think the anathema would have to have an awful lot of minions for restraining one target to make up for such a big difference in damage (not to mention giving up the ability to cast spells), and the job could be taken care of just as easily by a lower-level minion such as a type 3 yuan-ti malison.

All right, enough of that; on to Spellcasting. Divine word is gone—probably to eliminate the polymorph exploit, which, again, is wise. Haste is also gone, and I don’t mind it in this case as much as I do in others, because (a) it always made more sense for the anathema to cast it on an ally rather than on itself, and (b) it has other spells competing for its concentration.

Those were an awful lot of words to bring us to the conclusion that, aside from the loss of the Constrict combo and divine word, the yuan-ti anathema’s tactics don’t significantly differ.

The spellcasting variants of the yuan-ti malison are all affected by the changes to Spellcasting, changes to their Multiattacks and the aforementioned switch from the Shapechanger trait to the Change Shape bonus action. Each also gains a ranged spell attack, Spectral Fangs, in lieu of one of its previous traits and eldritch blast. Spectral Fangs is not only unlimited-use—all the deprecated traits were limited to two uses per day—but can be cast twice per turn for as long as the variant yuan-ti feels like keeping its distance from its targets. That and an additional die of damage make up for the reduction of its former 300-foot range to a more normal 120 feet.

The yuan-ti mind whisperer loses charm person, crown of madness, expeditious retreat, fly, illusory script, friends and poison spray. Spectral Fangs, its reskinned eldritch blast, deals the psychic damage that formerly came from Mind Fangs. Since it keeps its best opening spell, hypnotic pattern, and doesn’t need to conserve spell slots anymore, it can hang back and use Spectral Fangs until its enemies force it to do something different.

The yuan-ti nightmare speaker loses arms of Hadar, hex, hold person, hunger of Hadar, witch bolt, chill touch and poison spray. The first four are all concentration-required spells that were strong but required situational decision-making. The decision is now simplified to the point of not even being a decision anymore: The nightmaker speaker drops darkness on its enemies, blinding them, and enjoys the advantage granted by its Devil’s Sight (which it always had, but now it’s clearly called out in the list of traits) as it Spectral Fangs its enemies to death from afar, dealing the necrotic damage that used to come from Death Fangs. I’m saddened by the loss of the arms of Hadar walking bomb combo, but at least it still has the Constrict/Scimitar combo if an enemy decides to charge and engage it in melee.

The yuan-ti pit master loses command, counterspell, hellish rebuke, misty step, unseen servant, vampiric touch, friends and poison spray, but except for vampiric touch, none of these spells ever did it much good anyway, because it was so short on spell slots. Thankfully, the pit master still has invisibility, and in a rare Spellcasting upgrade, it gains hold person. Also, it gets to cast each of these spells twice per day. In its former build, the pit master needed to close to melee range to make use of vampiric touch, but now it can hang back and plink with its Spectral Fangs (which deals poison damage, as Poison’s Disciple used to) if it wants to. If it’s in the mood for melee instead, hold person is good for pinning down a chosen foe while delivering a beatdown, and in addition to its former offensive application, invisibility now stands in for misty step as a way to slip away from enemies when the pit master is surrounded and doesn’t want to be.

Finally, the froghemoth’s Tongue attack no longer includes a bonus action Bite on a failed saving throw. Instead, the Bite attack becomes part of the froghemoth’s Multiattack, not as an alternative to Tongue but in addition to it. This change makes the order of the Multiattack important: the froghemoth should always use Tongue before Bite, unless for some reason it doesn’t want to use Tongue. Otherwise, however, the details of these actions don’t change, and the froghemoth’s target selection heuristics remain the same.

Its Shock Susceptibility is nerfed: It no longer loses its Multiattack upon taking lightning damage. (It also no longer has to choose between taking an action and taking a bonus action, but that doesn’t matter, because it no longer has a bonus action to take.) Thus, there’s no compelling reason for it to freak out and go ham on any enemy that deals lightning damage to it. You can keep this behavior pattern for flavor’s sake, or you can simply describe the already stupid creature as being half-stunned by the jolt while otherwise doing what it normally does.

Next: giants of the multiverse.

3 thoughts on “Monsters of the Multiverse: Monstrosities”

  1. There’s one small thing about the Leucrotta losing its Rampage trait, and that’s to do with Gnolls. The Gnoll Pack Lord has an Incite Rampage feature that lets any ally within range use its reaction to make a Bite attack, provided it has the Rampage trait. The flavour text in Volo’s (not sure if its preserved in MotM) mentions that a Leucrotta in a Gnoll war band sticks close to the pack’s leader in battle as either a mount or an advisor. I kind of thought that synergy with a Gnoll warband was the main point of its Rampage feature tbh. A Leucrotta-only encounter won’t be much different for this change, but a boss battle with a Pack Lord might be. A Leucrotta was probably the best target for this feature (except a Fang Of Yeenoghu) but now its relegated to lower tier Gnolls (and Yeenoghu himself technically, but that guy isn’t taking any orders from anyone).

    My best guess as to why it was removed is that it shared its bonus action with Kicking Retreat. Previously a Luecrotta could hit-and-run at most times, but then press an advantage if it took an enemy down. Why it couldn’t have two options for bonus acitons I don’t know.

    1. I’m pretty sure the WotC design philosophy for monsters is currently “Multiattack is a thing it does and it has a bonus action which is another thing it does.” I don’t think they can remember what they were doing in 2014, so having additional options for what to do on a creature’s turn has been simplified to an additional thing it can do.

  2. I think I saw some variation of Sticks to Snakes in a Zee Bashew video a little while ago- a Spelljammer disaster that ended in lots of snakes, the Paralyzed condition, and the action economy screwing over Zee and his friends. It seemed so ridiculous at the time I had to assume it was homebrew! Good (and terrifying) to know that it existed in an official form all too recently!

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