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What Do You Think?
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

W ell, if you’ve been with us for the last couple of months, you know that I end every column with one or more polls to get your feedback about how closely the monsters I’ve described match your impressions of the monsters in D&D lore. This week, instead of moving on to a new batch of monsters, we’ll take a look over the first few columns and the feedback you gave us. I’ll also be making reference to the bestiary included in the August playtest packet, so you can see how the story descriptions and the game mechanics align.

Orcs

Nearly 90 percent of you told us that the orc I described in my very first column was clearly recognizable as an orc (a 4 or 5 on the poll scale). Whew! Glad I got off to a good start. So rather than refine my portrayal of the orc, let’s look at how the bestiary reflects what the column talked about.

Orcs fight fiercely and hit hard. In the bestiary, they wield greataxes to dish out heavy damage, and they can augment their damage with their Rage trait. They have high Strength (14) and Constitution (12) scores, but they’re not very smart (Intelligence 7).

They’re not great at defense, with an Armor Class of only 13, and they rely on their sheer ferocity (reflected in their high hit points) to keep them going.

What you don’t see in the bestiary’s orc entry is any trait or action that makes orcs work well together. That’s not what they do—it’s every orc for itself.

Gnolls

Gnolls provoked a bit more discussion than orcs. Particularly contentious was my description of gnolls as “cowardly, apt to flee from a fight that turns against them.” In retrospect, I think “cowardly” is not the best term.

Gnolls choose their battles. They like to fight with a clear advantage in numbers or strength. In the bestiary, gnolls have the Savage trait, which gives them a bonus to damage when they fight in numbers. They’re smart enough to run away when they realize they’re outmatched, but they don’t necessarily run when they’re caught up in their bloodlust.

Gnolls might not be any more intelligent than orcs (they both have an Intelligence score of 7), but their tactics in combat are very different. Orcs rage, care only about themselves, and hack and slash until their foes are dead. Gnolls are more weaselly. They move around, they dart in to attack and then dart back out, and they goad their opponents into an ally’s reach. They’re more cunning foes, in a way that ability scores can’t really reflect.

And they’re also crazy—unpredictable, frenzied, and unstable. An individual gnoll might stop in the middle of a fight to take a nice bite out of a fallen foe, letting blood run down its chin as, laughing its eerie laugh, it wades back into the melee a moment later.

Goblins

A lot of the discussion about goblins revolved around the artwork, which I’ll let Jon discuss in his column. Overall, though, a large majority (over 80 percent) thought the goblin described was very close to dead on (a 4 or 5 on the poll scale).

What was wrong? Mostly that they’re too weak. How can a race whose negative characteristics so far outweigh their positives survive in the harsh D&D world?

What are they good at? Dexterity (13), backstabbing (Dirty Fighter +2), ambushing, stealth (Stealthy +5), using terrain to advantage, and escaping from danger.

And their weaknesses? Low Strength (8), low hit points (3), low Charisma (8), low Wisdom (9), cowardly, and hate sunlight. My original article also listed low Constitution, but the current bestiary gives them a 10 Constitution, so let’s strike that.

Anyway, yeah, that’s a lot of negatives. Bearing in mind that we’re not trying to balance goblins as a player character race (at the moment), there are more positive aspects of the goblin that we can bring to the fore.

The first is numbers. As the 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual put it, goblins “would be merely pests, if not for their great numbers.” Goblins might avoid fights where they don’t outnumber their foes, but they almost always outnumber their foes. You might face a squad of hobgoblins or a band of bugbears, but goblins come in hordes. One goblin isn’t much of a threat, but a dozen sure are. In the current playtest bestiary, this is reflected in their Dirty Fighter trait. They’re particularly dangerous in numbers because when a lot of goblins get together, it’s easier for them to fight dirty—to distract their opponents and interfere with enemy attacks.

They don’t do well in sunlight, but they can also see in the dark (in the current bestiary, they have darkvision to a range of 60 feet). That means it’s easy for goblins to lay ambushes and make good use of their stealth underground, at least when surface-dwellers intrude into their domain. If adventurers are carrying light sources, the goblins can see them coming a long way off and lie in wait in the darkness without giving away their own presence.

Hobgoblins

The response to my description of hobgoblins was even more positive, with over 88 percent of you giving it a 4 or a 5 in the poll at the end. It seems that we can agree on hobgoblins as the organized, disciplined, regimented branch of goblinkind.

The game statistics in the bestiary support that notion. They wear better armor (ring mail) than goblins or bugbears, and they wield longspears, presumably in tight formation. They also have two traits that reinforce their regimented nature. Steadfast means they don’t scare easily, at least not while they’re in formation. And Disciplined lets them work together to take down heavily armored foes. The hobgoblin leader in the bestiary has the Commander trait, which gives the disciplined hobgoblins a bonus to damage when they hit.

Bugbears

The bugbears dip a bit in the popularity poll, with only 76 percent of you giving them a 4 or a 5. The key criticism we saw about the bugbear description is that it focused too much on their big, brutish nature and not enough on their stealth. I think the place where I went farthest astray was in describing a typical bugbear ambush. The bestiary helped correct me, though, by making sure that bugbears are armed with large javelins they can hurl from their hiding places to start an ambush out right.

So when you wander into a bugbear ambush, these massive javelins fly out from the bushes, dealing tremendous damage to everyone they hit. But then the bugbears don’t just leap out to attack with their morningstars. Instead, you see large shadows skulking through the woods, moving around to another advantageous position to launch another volley of javelins. If hobgoblins are soldiers, bugbears are guerillas, and I think that’s much more frightening than an attack by brutish orcs or ogres.

Kobolds

My description of kobolds got a pretty warm reception, with approval (a 4 or 5 rating) back up over 80 percent. The most contentious part of the description seems to have been the kobold claim to dragon descent.

That’s one of those things that has worked its way into my mind (and not just mine) without ever really being explicitly stated in the core rules, at least not that I could find. The idea first came up in 3rd Edition, but there it wasn’t even in the Monster Manual—it got a mention in the Player’s Handbook’s entry on the sorcerer. (Kobolds were, it said, vocal proponents of the theory that sorcerers have dragon blood.) Contrary to what I thought, it wasn’t explicitly stated in the 4th Edition Monster Manual either. Even the winged kobolds (urds) of past editions were described as more batlike than draconic.

At the risk of sounding wishy-washy, I’m inclined to say the idea that kobolds are descended from dragons should remain just that—an idea. Some kobolds, especially those with sorcerous powers, make that claim loudly and boastfully. It’s clear that some kobolds, like those in the 2nd Edition Dragon Mountain adventure, revere dragons and keep closely associated with them, probably because they feel some kinship with them. But kobolds also have some characteristics of dogs or rats, including their smell (like a wet dog), their language (like the yipping of a small dog), and their tails (bare and ratlike). It’s worth a conversation with Jon about whether we want to take a closer look at the kobold’s appearance.

And maybe it’s best to just leave the urd aside for now.

Lizardfolk

Again, approval for the lizardfolk was over 80 percent (a 4 or 5 rating), with the biggest concern being just how civilized the lizardfolk are. And that’s a very good question.

I had occasion recently to look at the old (1982) adventure U2: Danger at Dunwater, the sequel to the much more well known U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh. I was a little surprised by the depiction of “lizard men” there: they have soldiers and officers with locked chests to hold their belongings, a cabinet in the kitchen to hold their dishware, and a chief with an upholstered chair in his sitting room. The tribe’s “minister” (in a political, not a religious sense) sits in an armchair reading a papyrus scroll, and the illustration shows him wearing slightly bent spectacles.

To my mind, that’s clearly too much civilization and culture for lizardfolk. In fact, the game has been remarkably consistent, at least up until 4th Edition, in describing the majority of lizardfolk as being extremely primitive, at least technologically speaking: they attack with a claw/claw/bite routine by default, and their “garb is limited to strings of bones and other barbaric ornament.” About one tribe in ten is more advanced, though. These tribes use clubs and shields, and they also build huts in which to live. That more advanced concept of lizardfolk has driven most of the art for the race throughout the game, and in fact they’ve often been depicted with metal weapons and shields. (The 3rd Edition Monster Manual explained that by saying that the leaders of these more advanced tribes wield weapons obtained through trade with other races.)

So here I think I need to stand by my original description, but it’s great that the history of the game gives us room to accommodate a pretty broad spectrum of technology with this race. If you like more advanced lizardfolk, use those more advanced tribes—even if only one tribe in ten in the larger world is so advanced (which is not necessarily true in your world), that doesn’t mean that the remaining nine tribes in ten that your player characters encounter are the more primitive kind. There might be very good reasons that the more advanced ones are more likely to come into contact or conflict with other civilizations.

Also, I realize that comparing lizardfolk to orcs might have suggested that they are not only technologically primitive but also temperamentally savage and unsophisticated, and that’s not necessarily true at all. The comparison, suggested in some online discussions, to a society like those of an Amazon tribe is pretty apt, I think.

The other point of contention revolved around lizard kings, with the idea that they’re demonic in nature raising some concern that this would make lizardfolk step on the gnoll shtick. I can see that point, even though I think it would be a mistake to limit demon-worship to just a single humanoid race. The fact that minotaurs have a connection to Baphomet is important in defining that race, for example. I think it’s interesting if the realization that “these lizardfolk are acting like gnolls!” is a clue that a lizard king is involved. Sess’inek has a well-established history in the game, going back to the 2nd Edition Monster Mythology supplement, and his ties to lizard kings are equally well established, although, as originally presented, lizard kings were just unusually intelligent and evil lizardfolk. But then why are all super-intelligent lizardfolk also chaotic evil? What gives lizard kings their special abilities? I think a demonic tie is the best explanation.

Troglodytes

There was much less agreement on the troglodyte, with fewer than 70 percent of you giving me the thumbs-up. I saw a lot of love for troglodytes as worshipers of the King That Crawls, the god Torog, which was the most common suggestion for differentiating them from lizardfolk.

Interestingly, when I first named the King That Crawls, I had something much more like Laogzed in mind than the humanoid god that appeared in the Underdark supplement. Laogzed, of course, is the troglodyte god presented in the original Deities & Demigods, a monstrous thing “whose appearance suggests both toad and lizard.” I agree that linking troglodytes more closely to this kind of monstrous deity gives them more flavor. Harsh parents tell their misbehaving children that the King That Crawls will come up from the Underdark and drag them down . . . and that idea is reinforced by occasional troglodyte raids on the surface where the trogs do just that. (Or—SPOILER ALERT—they drag you off into the swamp where you’re charmed by a naga, as in the old adventure, N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God.)

Laogzed’s nature reinforces troglodytes as I described them in the article: they’re driven by insatiable hunger, and they’ll raid on the surface to acquire humans and livestock to devour. Attaching them to Torog adds another dimension to those raids—they torture their captives before eating them. If your loved ones are captured by troglodytes, you hope the trogs served Laogzed and not Torog.

I agree that having the troglodytes worship either Laogzed or Torog (more about that in the polls) is more interesting than the idea of trogs who are attuned to elemental earth. Honestly, I’m not sure where that latter idea came from, and it’s not one we need to emphasize in future discussions of trogs.

What Do You Think?

OK, let’s ask some more focused questions in the polls this time around, since we’re discussing mostly fine points now.

 Orcs: Do you think the bestiary statistics for the orc match up with the story we’ve presented?  
1—No, they’re off base.
2—More or less.
3—Yes, they’re spot on.
4—I haven’t seen the bestiary.

 Gnolls: Does this refinement make the gnoll description better, worse, or the same?  
1—Worse now than it was before.
2—The same, and I didn’t like it before.
3—The same, but I was happy with it before.
4—Better, but not quite there yet.
5—Better, and it’s just about right.

 Goblins: Do you think goblins as presented here are strong enough opponents?  
1—No, they’re too weak.
2—Yes, they’re just right.
3—They’re too strong.

 Hobgoblins: Do you think the bestiary statistics for the hobgoblin match up with the story we’ve presented?  
1—No, they’re off base.
2—More or less.
3—Yes, they’re spot on.
4—I haven’t seen the bestiary.

 Bugbears: Does this refinement make the bugbear description better, worse, or the same?  
1—Worse now than it was before.
2—The same, and I didn’t like it before.
3—The same, but I was happy with it before.
4—Better, but not quite there yet.
5—Better, and it’s just about right.

 Kobolds: Dragon blood?  
1—No dragon blood.
2—I like the wishy-washy answer.
3—Definitely dragon blood!

 Lizardfolk: Am I wrong to hold my ground on primitive lizardfolk and demonic lizard kings?  
1—Lizardfolk should be more advanced, but I’m fine with demonic lizard kings.
2—Lizard kings should not be demonic, but the technology you described is fine.
3—Lizardfolk should be more advanced and lizard kings should not be demonic.
4—I didn’t like them at first, but you’ve convinced me.
5—I liked them before and I still like them now.

 Troglodytes: Laogzed or Torog?  
1—I want hungry, hungry trogs who worship Laogzed.
2—I want cruel, torturing trogs who worship Torog.
3—I like having a choice, or different tribes serving different gods.
4—Troglodytes don’t need gods to make them interesting or distinct.

Previous Poll Results

How well do the giants we’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D giant?
5 -- These are the perfect giants. 842 48.6%
4 -- Most of them are spot on, but a couple fall short. 493 28.5%
3 -- The vague outlines of the six races are OK. 212 12.2%
2 -- We agree that giants are big and come in six kinds. 122 7.0%
1 -- Too much myth and not enough D&D. 63 3.6%
Total 1732 100.0%

James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.
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