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[Let's Read] D&D3.5 Monster Manual (by someone with no idea of what he is doing)

Monsieur Meuble

Furniture warlord
Validated User
#1
Oh hey !

After getting more than my part of entertainment through various Let's Read D&D Monster Books, notably by Leonaru, I have decided to participate in this great effort by delving, monster by monster, inside a book old by more than a decade : the Monster Manual for D&D3.5.

But why make it simple when it can be done with difficulty ? I must say it : I played twice in a D&D game... and almost DMed an Eberron game. I was always more into urban fantasy. So yeah, I am a false-nerd, a cultural-marxist infiltrator here to kill the hobby, etc. But D&D is the Lingua Franca of RPGs, I got quite interested in the implied setting and some of the published settings, I can follow Order of the Stick like any grognard, I think I can do it.

And to make matter worse, I won't be reviewing the Monster Manual but le Manuel des Monstres... because I have this French version and not the English one. Problem ? Call the cops, I don't give a f*** !
This essentially means that the alphabetic order may be different and some nuances of translation may colour a monster differently than what you expect...

AND to make matter worse, 3.5 was my first D&D.

(also, 3.0 and 3.5 weren't translated by the same teams and publishers in France, and from what I heard, the first one wasn't exactly optimal and some questionable translations had to be kept or something...)

Images all courtesy of Wizards of the Coast.

Aboleth

We start with a solid monster here. May not look like much at first gaze ; some kind of ugly fish, so probably for use in one of those subaquatic adventures this book seems to assume constitute half of every game. But nope !
First, it's an amphibian, not a fish, so it can be OUT of the water, or close enough to be greeted with a fireball by a wizard shouting "YOU FOOLISH MORTAL ! " or something.
But most importantly, our first monster is no simple monster but obviously some boss-level thing, with a (comparatively) big exploration of its life and mores, and we even have two version, the baseline aboleth, and the Mage aboleth, with ten levels of character class, so you know it means business !
It's highly intelligent (INT 15 for Baseline, which is really nice but not point-buy wizard nice, and 20 for the mage, which is, okay, a bit more optimized already) and, more importantly, they know what their parents know, and them too before them and so until the beginning of time.

Three short paragraphs in, and we are in plot-bunnies country. Those things may all remember their creation at the hand of their specific Demiurge, or its absence as the case may be. They have seen empires, races, worlds rise and fall. For all we know, the first Aboleth had a plan of cosmological scale that he kept in his head away from the eyes of men and gods and it is getting applied and refined across millions of brains ; an equation to calculate the true name of the Creator, or how to bend proteins...
I can see a social organization centered around ultimogeniture. The last kids (1d3 every 5 years) will be born with more experience inherited from their parents, and last kids of last kids even more... A strict primogeniture line will have millions of years of experience LESS than a strict ultimogeniture one...
This may explain why the baseline Aboleth only has one Knowledge skill (at +13, but still ! ). Most encountered Aboleth are "youth errors", inexperienced sons and daughters of inexperienced fathers and mothers...
And they can even get the memory of their victims ; the process and exact definition of "victim" aren't précised, so I'll assume it involves eating... but it may as well apply to the victim of its Enslavement.
Because, yes, they have an Enslave capacity, usable thrice a day, with a Will save of 17... so, since it's a CR7 monster... the typical warrior with his +2 Will and his dump Wisdom is toast, the Cleric has pretty comfortable chances even without boosting, the point-buy wizard is not so great...
The victim still has a free chance to free himself every 24 hours, so it's not a way to keep slaves under control for too long (as long as they have at last a -2 Will mod).
In the French edition, as worded, the victim has an additional roll if the Aboleth is killed or the victim evacuated, which conjure funny (or creepy) idea of slaves keeping getting controlled by their dead master whose soul dissolved across the Aboleth Akashic Records... but the English wording and the intention is clear that's control is just broken completely.

Then, we have the mutagenic mucus, turning anyone touched (baring a 19 Fortitude save) or worst, breathing it (the aboleth envelopes itself in it like a hagfish) into an amphibian creature needing quasi-constant contact with water to not dry to death or just drowning in air. That's how they make sure that the slaves captured only through a fluke of dice stay around...

They also have a bunch of psionic ability, with a a clear "illusion and mirages" thematic. "Come to the peaceful and not-at-all cthulhu-fish infested subterranean lake with obviously clear and potable water, partake in it" is it trying to say to the PC before revealing the terrible truth.

Skill-wise, the baseline Aboleth is a bit lackluster for something with such an old memory. Now, the Mage... that's more impressive and closer to what is expected. Except the +2 in Disguise ; coupled with a lesser Charisma than the baseline, all I can imagine is a giant cthulhu-fish putting latex vulcan ears and slowly crawling into a drow city, thinking all along "it's working, it's working..."

Like everything that is not a human, a halfling, a formian or an illithid, it can see in the dark.

It's generally Lawful Evil. Of course, alignment change will tend to be followed across the bloodlines of following descendants, so there may be whole nations of CG Aboleth all remembering fondly when Grand-Mommy had an Helm of Opposite Alignement forced onto her cranium fourty centuries ago... and they still remember the sinister plan of Aboleth Prime (and try to subvert it).

No mention of the Far Plane or anything, so I'm free to decide that their general and ancestral animosity is due to a personnal slight against the Demiurge ; or alternatively because of a lack of perspective, they don't respect normal people lives, seeing them as only an ephemeral blink in their millions of years of remembered life... not actively Evil, just with only contempt and disinterest for the values of life and morality "and with this last pillar broken, the giant cavernous sigil will be complete at last after centuries of work and we can begin the summoning. 'the empire of Goodlandia will sink in the underdark' did you say ? well okay, but what is your point ? ".

So, indeed, a solid entry to begin with.
 
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Monsieur Meuble

Furniture warlord
Validated User
#2
I can see a social organization centered around ultimogeniture. The last kids (1d3 every 5 years) will be born with more experience inherited from their parents, and last kids of last kids even more... A strict primogeniture line will have millions of years of experience LESS than a strict ultimogeniture one...
I did the calculation, I think. We assume 1000 years since the Creation of the world ; a line of Aboleth who are all born as soon as they left their parents (so accumulating 10 years of experience) and a line where all are the result of the coupling of two 100 years old Aboleth.
The first line will have 100 generations, the second only 10.
If my calculations are correct, the line of elders has accumulated 102200 years of accumulated memories.
The line of youth errors accumulated 12 676 506 002 282 300 000 000 000 000 000 years of souvenirs. It's 12 thousands of billions of billions of billions of years of staying at home with mom, getting shitfaced at the aboleth bar to celebrate your independance and having a one night stand with an other cthulhu-fish just out of home too, but that's something, I guess.

(okay, it's also assuming that the family trees never meet more than once, which at the hundreth generations, means 316 912 650 057 057 000 000 000 000 000 distinct individuals. Since this was the origin of the world and the species, we can assume that the Aboleth Demiurge didn't really create 316 billions of billions of billions Aboleth in the Pond of Eden and so that I'm wrong somewhere).
 

Bupp

Registered User
Validated User
#4
It's generally Lawful Evil. Of course, alignment change will tend to be followed across the bloodlines of following descendants, so there may be whole nations of CG Aboleth all remembering fondly when Grand-Mommy had an Helm of Opposite Alignement forced onto her cranium fourty centuries ago... and they still remember the sinister plan of Aboleth Prime (and try to subvert it).
I love this idea.
 

Crinos

Be inspired!
Validated User
#5
Okay, back. My two cents on the Aboleth.

The Aboleth are one of the great villain races of DnD. I mean guys like the Orcs, the Goblins and Gnolls are meant to basically be minions and flunkies, but the Aboleth, the Mind Flayers, the Beholder, and the Yuan Ti are meant to be evil masterminds to threaten heroes solo.

The Aboleth also have a neat lovecraftian bent to them: They are ancient intelligent beings from the deep sea, able to mentally influence and physically transform surface folk.

The Aboleth were best used in Pathfinder (since Aboleth are in the SRD they can be used by third party publishers such as Paizo). They were the first sapient species to develop on Golarion, the planet of the Inner Sea Setting, and are behind both the creation and destruction of the ancient Azlant civilization, and the secret masters of the Gill Men species.

So yeah, Like me some Aboleth.
 

RadioMindFlyer

Registered User
Validated User
#6
Okay, back. My two cents on the Aboleth.

The Aboleth are one of the great villain races of DnD. I mean guys like the Orcs, the Goblins and Gnolls are meant to basically be minions and flunkies, but the Aboleth, the Mind Flayers, the Beholder, and the Yuan Ti are meant to be evil masterminds to threaten heroes solo.

The Aboleth also have a neat lovecraftian bent to them: They are ancient intelligent beings from the deep sea, able to mentally influence and physically transform surface folk.

The Aboleth were best used in Pathfinder (since Aboleth are in the SRD they can be used by third party publishers such as Paizo). They were the first sapient species to develop on Golarion, the planet of the Inner Sea Setting, and are behind both the creation and destruction of the ancient Azlant civilization, and the secret masters of the Gill Men species.

So yeah, Like me some Aboleth.
Given my user name, it not a surprise I agree with you. I am a bit more partial to the illustration in 1e Monster Manuel II (which I think is cut down from their introduction illustration in Dwellers of the Forbidden City), which makes it look very, very alien and unworldly (though 4e has a nice "organic" look).

I wish TSR had, or WotC would, try out some cosmology for some settings closer to Golarion (which itself has some of the feel of the Known World's early(ish) adventures) that leans on dangerous old ones from other dimensions instead of the great wheel. If nothing else it is a nice change of pace to have evil clerics being granted powers from primordial aboleths or the great brain of the Mind Flayers instead of the god of evil.
 

Monsieur Meuble

Furniture warlord
Validated User
#7
Thank you for your welcoming. And now, for something completely different.

Achaïeraï

Everybody's favourite giant exotic bird on four giant legs ! Five meters tall, you could ask yourself how are you supposed to hit its body with a sword as normal-sized person, but it's an abstract system (except when it's overly specific), it just kind of happen. No special manoeuvres to break its legs or anything like that...
The Achaïeraï is an Always Lawful Evil Outsider from Acheron, the plane of constant mind-numbing warfare and unjustified bloodshed.
Let this be clear, the main reason to exist for the Achaïeraï (the... ara from Acheron ? ) is to provide an interesting beasty to call with Summon Monster V. It's not a pure damage-dealer like most planar animals or the thing your summon because you need a motherfucker dead no matter what (that's what you call the Barbazu for), you call the Achaïeraï to cause chaos on the battlefield and ruin the wizards.
Indeed, the giant parrot-head can, thrice a day, spew a black cloud 3 meters all around him, which cause some direct damages, so it's already an efficient chemical weapon you can throw in the fray of the enemy, but this can more importantly, on a failed Fortitude save, cause Insanity as if cast by a high-level wizard. Insanity is like Confusion (act according to a random chart every turn), except you can't cure it at the level the PCs are supposed to meet a Big Birdy. It's not permanent as the real Insanity, it "only" keeps going for 3 hours.
This is pretty brutal if used well, I think. Drop that on a group of wizards who WILL fail their save and they are out of order for even of large-sized battle, and you tie the clerics who don't understand why their normal spells don't heal them...

Now for the Achaïeraï as his own monster rather than as a chemical bomb... it's not the aboleth. You will only meet him in Acheron, that is a terrible place. As a fighting encounter, it's a matter of making your Fortitude save : unlike pretty much all Outsider, it has no special damage reduction, resistance or anything like that.
As for their role there... I see two "funny" possibility. First, they are just an emanation of the metaphysical role of Acheron as the just reward for amoral soldiers and terrible warlords. They are here to enforce the constant state of warfare and keep people from being reasonable. Their skills paint the picture of something that uses its long, arachnean legs to silently circulate among the rafters of the house where several deceased generals are discussing the possibility of an armistice or at least an alliance, before dropping on them, spewing its cloud and make sure that in the next three hours, there will be enough bad blood between all of them to ruin any peace for long.
Alternatively, I can see them as a special ironic afterlife reward for people who caused wars and atrocities for their vanity. Like a damned Helen of Troy, turned into a pretty pretty bird trapped on the ground and who can only interact with the world to cause more chaos and bloodshed. Play on the high Charisma, on obvious vanity pushed into insanity and on pure impulse control... "You know, in another life, I was a glorious champion of the God of Beauty, destroying all those who offended my very righteous aesthetic. And now, am I not bearing the most beautiful plumage of this whole plane ? Wouldn't you fight for a chance to see me ? Isn't Polly pretty ? Say Polly is pretty. Pretty Polly. Pretty Polly ! WHy arEn't YoU SAYIng Polly is a Pretty BIRDY ? POLLY PRETTY BIRDY ! *spew black cloud* "

Of course, they can be both, actually...

Like everything that is not a human, a halfling, a formian or an illithid, it can see in the dark.

All in all, as written, a magical chemical weapon that MAY have some greater relevance if you work for it...
 
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Monsieur Meuble

Furniture warlord
Validated User
#8
Aigle Géant (Giant Eagle)


First among the alphabetically displaced monsters, the giant eagle is described as exactly like a common eagle expect it's 3 meters high. It's really too bad that no such bird exist, as the common eagle is a type of ray. Lacking any more precise description, I will nonetheless assume that on the above illustration, it's the guy on the right, based on size alone. Or maybe they both are giant eagles and the green one is their chick. Strange animal, the common eagle...

Perhaps somewhat differently from the mythical common eagle, the giant eagle is intelligent (INT 10, so, human-like. A bit dumber than an Achaïreaï.) and even have an alignment, Generally Neutral Good. It has no strong opinion on the debate between obedience to superior concepts and individual freedom, but give a good value to the life and happiness of his contemporaries. They have that going for them, and them often ally with other Good people and races.

We have all seen the movies, so you can guess what's the main service they can provide to Good persons : a good sight providing a +4 bonus to Spot, making them pretty apt, with their capacity to speak both Common and Auran, to tell fellow unicorns that they have seen an arrowhack far away and can talk with it.

Oh, also, yeah, they can serve as flying mount, and this is were life get terrible for them. First, even if they are initially okay with the idea (they need to be of Friendly disposition), they need to be trained through Animal Handling, which is pretty demeaning for someone as clever as the man on the street.
And then, there's a huge, profitable traffic of giant eagle eggs in "civilized regions" so as to provide for easily trainable mounts. This isn't treated as the slave traffic that it obviously is, we are just provided with the prices for both an egg and a chick and how much a trainer can be paid for breaking one in. For comparison, the entry for unicorn mention how much you can sell a unicorn horn but also that all Good-aligned people would be disgusted by the idea.

This, of course, give murderhobos a good reason to brave the mountains and adult eagles. I mean, with just two chicks exchanged with the githyanki pirates and some spare change , your monk can have his +1 siangham of Ki Focus, and an eyrie can have between 3 and 9 non-adults. Doesn't your wizard deserves his +6 Headband of Intellect that will allow him to call people "PATHETIC VERMINS" with even more convictions, all for the modest price of selling a whole batch of innocent children to the gnoll druids ?

Alternatively, you can have a community under attacks by giant eagles for no apparent reason, and the PCs sent to *deal* with this, only to discover that the birds are legitimately pissed with said community for being a base of egg traffic, with a training facility for wannabe rogues/rangers specialized in stealthily stealing them.

I can even imagine, let's say, an elven country at war against hobgoblins from the mountain who must suddenly face a violent revolutionary civil right movement from enslaved giant eagles and their wild brethren. The elves need the eagles to bring the fight into the mountainous homes of the enemy, and there are clues leading to the possibility that the movement has been instigated by hobgoblin agents to destabilize the elven kingdom, but slavery is wrong no matter how you cut it, especially slavery of a Good-aligned specie that would otherwise willingly collaborate against the gobs... cue the PCs and hard decisions to make...

Like everything that is not a human, a halfling, a formian or an illithid, it can see in the dark. Well, in the night.

All in all, what may have been essentially a flying horse "saved" by horrible insinuations.
 
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junglefowl26

Registered User
Validated User
#9
Wow, let me compliment you on coming up with amazing plot hooks for creatures that are rather straightforward. Bravo!



Also - I love the aboleth so much. Though, oddly, I rarely use them as evil masterminds, but more often as neutral (not in terms of alignment, just in terms of factions) parties that can dangerous or useful to everyone. I especially like the idea of aboleths as knowledge brokers that can give the players some vital information in return for some information of their own (though I am not sure whether to have the price be valuable information - like the location of a hidden refuge - or have them forget something personal, like their happiest childhood memory, or something that seems harmless at first until the pcs find out later on that giving it up was a mistake, like some minor trivia about the king's lineage.)

Of course, not immediately hostile doesn't mean not creepy, and if I had the skill, I would try to recreate the atmosphere of Aang talking to Koh.
Also, my favorite aboleth picture:
 

Crinos

Be inspired!
Validated User
#10
Ah the Archaiherai. Probably a monster with a long and distinguished history in DnD. It showed up in the original first edition fiend folio, the second edition Fiend Folio, this, even made the jump to Pathfinder since its in the SRD.

Which always amazed me because its so freaking stupid! I mean look at it. Just look at it. Its a Mad Ball with legs. That's literally what it is. Its a Mad Ball with four bird legs.

(Anyone remember Mad Balls? Am I dating myself?..... You think you're better than me don't you?)

Still, while its not one of the iconic monsters like the Beholder of the Mind Flayer, the Achaiherai has, I think, earned its spot in DnD history. Hell someone must like them they keep showing up like they do.

As for the Giant Eagle. Not much to say here. One of DnD's biggest inspirations has always been Lord of the Rings. That's why all the major races (Aside from Gnomes, who come from who the fuck knows) are based on the races of Fellowship: Humans, Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings (Hobbits). Half Orcs got added later of course for some more variety.

It also shaped a great deal of DnDisms: Goblins and Orcs became the quintessential mook races. Red Dragons are basically a race of Smaugs. We have Treants, and Balors (Based on Ents and Balrogs) even the Wights are based on the Barrow Wights.

So of course these giant intelligent Eagles are based on the Lord of the Rings Eagles. Not much to say besides that aside from the fact that I hope I live to 2050 when Lord of the Rings becomes public domain, and if DnD is still around, they will have released their 78th edition and will name all the old DnD monsters by their Tolkien names, and they will finally call Halflings Hobbits.
 
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