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An Autocorrect Nightmare
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

T his week, we begin a tour of the planes that will let us dig a little deeper into the inhabitants of the outer planes, beyond the celestials and fiends we've talked about already. And I'll start it off with two of the most contentious creatures in the D&D canon: morons and salads.

I mean modrons and slaads. Good grief. I thought technology was supposed to help us.

Let me preface this column by saying that we're sailing into stormy waters at this point. We haven't nailed down a direction for these creatures yet, and this material is even more up for discussion than what I've presented before. We're asking for your help at this point—not to make sure that our intended direction is right, but to help us find a direction to pursue.

Modrons

Small–Huge Constructs
Alignment: Lawful neutral
Level: By type
Environment: The Clockwork Nirvana of Mechanus

Forget, for a moment, everything you know about modrons (if anything—they've been mostly absent from the game for a long time, so I don't blame you if you've never heard of them).

Given that there is a plane of ultimate law, whether it's the leftmost spoke on the Great Wheel or the astral domain of a deity responsible for upholding the cosmic order, imagine its inhabitants. It's not a big leap to picture a rigid hierarchy with a populace organized into a caste system where every being knows its place—a society like a giant bureaucracy where everything is done according to strict and well-defined policies and procedures. You might take it a step further and imagine an OCD paradise where everything is always perfectly aligned and nothing is out of place, spelling and grammar errors are nonexistent, and clutter is unknown.

But is it a paradise, or a nightmare? Would you chafe against the regulation or find comfort in it? Is it a hive mind where individuality is unknown, or is it simply a well-ordered place where the laws are followed because they are perfectly just? For those of us living in a society that prizes freedom and individuality, that exalts the free thinker and tends to distrust authority, such a place might sound quite horrible, and it's easy to look down on its inhabitants as being nothing more than mindless drones. We might envision them as robots or insects—emotionless, almost pre-programmed, maybe incapable of reacting to unpredictable situations.

With all that in mind, let's look at the modrons as they've been presented in past D&D lore.

Modron society is much like the vast hierarchy I've just described. Five castes of "base modrons" form the foundation of the society, from monodrones at the bottom, up through duodrones, tridrones, and quadrones, up to pentadrones at the top. Notice the root "drones" in all those names, suggesting that these creatures do lack individuality and independent thought. Indeed, the monodrones are almost mindless, with an Intelligence score in the 2–4 range, capable of understanding orders but not interpreting them, carrying them out exclusively until ordered to do something else. They get smarter and more powerful up the hierarchy.

Above the base modrons are the ten ranks of hierarch modrons: decaton, nonaton, octon, septon, hexton, quinton, quarton, tertian, secundus, and Primus, the ruler of all modrons. There are only 385 hierarch modrons in existence—100 decatons, 81 nonatons, and so on.

There's a mathematical sensibility running through the whole design of the modrons, even their statistics. In the earlier editions, monodrones have 1 Hit Die, duodrones have 2 HD, and pentadrones have 5 HD. With decatons there's a leap up to 10 HD, increasing by one per rank to the secundi, which have 18 HD. They grow steadily larger by rank, their attacks improve, their magic resistance goes up, their Intelligence continues to climb, their AC gets better—all according to predictable arithmetic progressions (except a weird hiccup in Armor Class, where the nonaton is better than the octon).

It is possible for a modron to move up the ranks, making it more like a military chain of command than a caste system. When a hierarch modron dies, a modron from the next lower rank is promoted up to fill its space. But there's a really interesting difference here between the original presentation of modrons (in the 1st Edition Monster Manual II) and their 2nd Edition appearance in the Planescape Campaign Setting. In the 1st Edition material: "This process is repeated to fill the new gap in the lineup, until an outstanding pentadrone is promoted to the hierarchy." That's my emphasis, because look at what Planescape has to say: "Since they have no individuality, there's no point in trying to promote the 'best and the brightest': all modrons of a given rank are deemed equal." The 2nd Edition version in general puts more stress on the hive mind idea, portraying modrons as utterly devoid of any concept of self. (That's sort of a nice tie to the original name of their home plane, Nirvana.)

Both editions, though, acknowledge the possibility of individuality in the modron ranks in the form of rogue modrons. Some "defective" modrons "do not act in accordance with Primus' wishes and directives," and they're hunted down by the pentadrone police force that maintains order within modron society. (Amusingly, the text refers to these modrons as "units," as if they really are robots—or appliances.)

But if rogue modrons are so rare, why do they have a police force at all? According to the numbers given in the original Monster Manual II, about one modron in a thousand is involved in some form of law enforcement. If the modrons are a hive mind, why do they need modrons whose purpose is to enforce the law? Maybe the answer is that rogue modrons aren't actually that rare, or maybe modrons are more individual than they've been given credit for.

Modrons are immune to illusions and magic that affects the mind, including spells that can charm or that can cause fear. The four lowest levels of base modrons are very straightforward combatants, relying on melee weapons and crossbows. Pentadrones, serving as law enforcement and responsible for maintaining order among the other base modrons, also have a paralytic gas attack.

Hierarch modrons have more magical abilities, including the ability to use cleric spells. All hierarchs can use abilities that resemble the clairaudience, clairvoyance, command, and dimension door spells. Decatons, responsible for the physical welfare of base modrons, have additional healing and bolstering abilities like those of a cleric (though they can't turn undead). Nonatons, the captains of the pentadrone police, can read thoughts and detect lies, as well as use magical abilities that work as the following spells to subdue rogue or intruders: slow, web, and power word stun. Octons are sector governors and have only minor magical abilities beyond their clerical spellcasting.

Septons are traveling bureaucrats, inspecting the work of other modrons and transmitting reports up the chain of command. They can continuously read thoughts and detect magic, and they have a wizard's spellcasting ability as well as a cleric's. Hextons, the generals of the armies of Mechanus, have no special magical abilities. Quintons are bureau chiefs and record keepers, and they have magical abilities to recall lore. Quartons, the regional overseers, have no unusual abilities. Tertians can use wizard abilities, and their heavy macelike tails can paralyze their enemies. The four secondi have wizard and monk abilities as well as cleric spells. Primus is a godlike being with incredible spellcasting ability and the ability to banish foes to neighboring planes.

Now, I've gone all this way without mentioning modron appearance. In the abstract, if we describe the sixteen ranks in the modron hierarchy and speculate about the extent to which individuality exists among these lawful constructs, I don't think anyone would have any problem with these creatures as being a part of D&D. But when you go on to say that the base modrons are basically solid geometric objects with spidery legs, and the hierarchs are weird beings with large numbers of tentacle-like arms, that's where some people just draw the line. Planescape was definitely a step up from the original depictions of these creatures, but there's still a strong feeling that modrons are just plain silly, thanks perhaps entirely to their appearance.

So what do we do? Is it possible to work with those basic descriptions ("spherical monodrones" with "spider-like arms" or "fan-like wings," "blocky, rectangular duodrones," and so on) and make them look cool? Should we totally reconcept their appearance? Should we just embrace the goofy art?

Tell us in the polls!

Slaads

Medium–Large Aberrations
Alignment: Chaotic neutral
Level: By type (Death > Black > Gray > Green > Blue > Red)
Environment: Ever-Changing Chaos of Limbo

Slaads (or slaadi) are probably less contentious than modrons. They've appeared in every edition of the game since the original Fiend Folio, and they've always looked more or less like big, colorful frog-people. They are the native inhabitants of Limbo, the plane of ultimate chaos. (In 4th Edition, they live among the elemental creatures of the Elemental Chaos.)

We're experimenting with the idea of making slaads aberrations—almost the prototypical aberrations, in fact. If you remember the definition of the aberration type I provided last week, we've said that they are utterly alien beings, virtually incomprehensible, with alien and unusual abilities. Many of them also have body horror elements—the ability to transform natural creatures into corrupted horrors. It turns out that slaads fit that description pretty well. We can and probably should emphasize the slaad's alien, chaotic nature more, to make sure they don't look like just another kind of demon—both in terms of physical appearance and in the spell-like abilities they wield.

One key difference that already exists in slaads is that body horror element. A red slaad implants an egg pellet into a creature hit with its claws. That egg hatches into a blue (or occasionally green) slaad that eats its way out from inside the victim. A blue slaad, likewise, can infect a creature with its bite, causing that creature to slowly transform into a red (or occasionally green) slaad. The 4th Edition version of slaads extended that horrific element to other slaad varieties, and we'll probably want to carry that forward.

The main slaad varieties are red (also called blood slaads), blue (talon slaads), green (curse slaads), gray (rift slaads), and death slaads. There is no hierarchy or order among these creatures of chaos, and little coordination among individuals of any color or variety.

Red Slaad. The weakest slaads are feared for the egg pellets they inject when hitting with their claw attacks and the horrid croak they can emit to stun nearby foes. They also regenerate wounds.

Blue Slaad. Armed with scything blades on the backs of its hands, the blue slaad transmits a terrible transforming curse with its bite attack. They are fearsome melee combatants, but lack significant magical abilities.

Green Slaad. The green slaads, by contrast, are defined by their magical abilities. They have an apparently random assortment of spell-like abilities that vary from individual to individual, such as causing fear, using telekinesis, reading thoughts, or teleporting themselves or their enemies. All of them share the horrifying ability to take on the likeness of the humanoid creature that spawned them.

Gray Slaad. A green slaad that survives for more than a century transforms into a gray slaad, gaining more powerful magic and better melee combat abilities. They can create fear or illusions, call up fire or lightning, blind a foe or cause racking pain. Like green slaads, they can also take on the form of the humanoid creature that spawned them.

Death Slaad. A mysterious ritual can transform a gray slaad into a near-immortal death slaad. Their deadly claw attacks stun the victim with overwhelming pain. Their magical abilities are varied and powerful, similar to those of gray slaads but extending to deadly magic such as the cloudkill, phantasmal killer, or symbol of death spells.

It seems like we might want to steer the abilities of the gray and death slaads, in particular, toward more psionic-feeling powers—stunning mental blasts, overwhelming psychic assaults, telekinetic attacks, and the like. I don't see them using suggestion or dominate powers, though—it seems antithetical to their chaotic nature.

What Do You Think?

So there you have it. Again, the polls this week aren't so much about how we're doing but about where we should go from here.

  Do you think this description of modron society and hierarchy is the right direction to pursue?  
1—No, the game just doesn’t need modrons at all.
2—No, you need to work harder than that to sell me on these guys.
3—I guess it makes sense, but it’s hardly compelling.
4—Yeah, it’s the way a lawful neutral society should be.
5—Yes, these are the right and proper modrons.

  What do we do with modron appearance?  
Embrace the goofy polyhedrons and tentacle things!
Try to make the same basic ideas look cool.
Totally reconcept the modrons’ appearance.

  What do you think about modron emotions, individuality, and hive mind?  
Modrons should be virtual automatons, part of a hive mind with no emotions or sense of self.
Modrons should be part of a perfectly ordered society where “we” is the only first-person pronoun, serene and tranquil if not totally emotionless, but able to think and act with flexibility.
Modrons should be individuals with a lawful nature who choose to live together in an ordered society but sometimes rebel against it, particularly if it swings too far toward good or evil. They have emotions and as much a sense of self as other creatures do.
Use the first option for base modrons (virtual automatons) and the second option for hierarch modrons (tranquil society).
Use the first option for base modrons (virtual automatons) and the third option for hierarch modrons (lawful individuals).
Use the second option for base modrons (virtual automatons) and the third option for hierarch modrons (lawful individuals).

  Do you think we should pursue the direction of making slaads more like aberrations—emphasizing alien powers and body horror?  
No, make them fiends—I want more demonic options for my game.
No, emphasize their randomness instead.
They make perfectly good aberrations as they are, without emphasizing that direction.
Yes, make their magic abilities feel more psionic and play up the corrupting transformation angle.

  Should slaads have lords, like Ssendam and Ygorl (described in the original Fiend Folio)?  
No, they’re creatures of chaos, for Pete’s sake!
Sure, there can be super-powerful slaads without establishing a lawful hierarchy.
Yes! Ssendam and Ygorl are an important part of the game’s history.

As always, please leave specific thoughts in the comments.

Previous Poll Results

What do you consider "low level" on a 1–20 scale?
Level 1 14 0.8%
About level 1–3 416 23.7%
About level 1–5 972 55.4%
About level 1–7 298 17.0%
About level 1–10 54 3.1%
Total 1754 100.0%

What do you consider "medium level" on a 1–20 scale? (I assume "high level" is anything above this range.)
Up to about level 5 20 1.2%
Up to about level 7 118 6.8%
Up to about level 10 309 17.9%
Up to about level 12 779 45.0%
Up to about level 15 444 25.7%
Up to level 20 (and high level is a theoretical "epic tier" above this) 60 3.5%
Total 1730 100.0%

Do my environment categories make sense to you?
No, I want to be able to use any monster wherever I want to use it. 84 5.4%
No, I need more fine distinction. 118 7.5%
Maybe, but I think there's too much distinction. 236 15.1%
Yes, I think it's great! 1128 72.0%
Total 1566 100.0%

Does the monstrosity type make sense to you?
No, get rid of it entirely and make them all beasts. 91 5.7%
No, most of these should probably be magical beasts instead. 263 16.5%
I guess, but where do things like the lammasu live? 541 34.0%
Yes, I think it's ideal. 697 43.8%
Total 1592 100.0%

Now how about my treasure idea? Does it match your sense of how treasure should be doled out?
No. Just leave treasure distribution to the DM. 151 9.4%
No. I want precise guidelines for how much treasure to give out per level. 49 3.0%
No. I like treasure parcels so I can dissociate treasure from monsters. 128 7.9%
Yes, though it sounds like a lot of rolling. 423 26.2%
Yes, I love rolling on treasure tables! 861 53.4%
Total 1612 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.
Comments
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Anyone know what type of modron Nordom from Planescape Torment is? He has the funniest dialog in the game.
  
Posted By: Butters7 (1/28/2014 7:11:31 AM)
Rating: 
0.51.01.52.02.53.03.54.04.55.0

 


The society of modrons seems so complex and annoying that can be perfect for a lawfull neutral plane.
The look of modrons may remain like the original, but fill it with many details.

Slaads like aberrations, don't leave me pleased. They are force of chaos with the only method to reproduce itself it's to implant their eggs into selected victims.
If the only way to continue their species are to transforming humanoids, this is evil or simply surviving? I think the second, if it's not made for evil purpoises.
Suggestion: emphasizing their implant/transformation based on classes of their victims should be more interesting. For examples:
Common folk and low lever characters are transformed into red slaads.
Warriors type of mid lever characters are transformed into blue slaads.
Arcana magic type of mid lever characters are transformed into green slaads.
Clerics, druids and sacred warriors like paladin or black guard of mid lever characters are tra... (see all)
  
Posted By: Eilistraecomeback (9/22/2013 10:11:20 PM)
Rating: 
0.51.01.52.02.53.03.54.04.55.0

 


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