First, we had part one. This was followed (predictably enough) with part two. It’s time for part three. We’re looking at the beasties which, I think, are the new iconic monsters from the 4e Monster Manual.
If Dark Ones are Dean Koontz, the Larva Mage is pure Lovecraftian horror from the pen of Brian Lumley (Lord of the Worms, baby!). What’s not to love about a powerful undead Wizard whose entire body is composed of worms? Liches have nothing on this critter for sheer horror potential.
Stick a Larva Mage into a city posing as a highly respectable master of the arcane and set him up as one of the PC’s contacts. Allow them to gradually develop a friendship with their new found mentor then slowly, steadily turn up the horror volume. Have the heroes spot unusual worms on the path as they leave at night and later discover one in their pocket. Find a worm or two at the scene of a recent murder, and the trail eventually comes back to their friend who is hastily refitting his enchanted mask!
Pure Call of Cthulhu-style investigative horror, all wrapped up in a single page of the Monster Manual. Love it.
Not just the big daddy himself, but the entire entry deserves praise. The pre-built Encounters give you samples from 9th to 34th level, and there’s more than enough information in the entry to form the foundations of a campaign which takes the heroes right through Paragon to Epic levels and beyond. It’s a campaign setting outline in just four pages, and anyone who claims that the Monster Manuals just contain statblocks and no fluff needs to pick it up and read it, right now.
Orcus is well deserving of his premier slot in this Monster Manual. He’s probably the only monster in the whole book that’s complex to run and not for the faint hearted. The Aspect of Orcus is a much simpler proposition. Add in a bunch of demonic mooks and you’re all set for an Epic gaming session in every meaning of the word.
More on Orcus and his merry band, another time.
Or, as we like to call them, “Goths”. Previously, Drow were the moody Goth kids of the D&D world, but thanks to a certain RA Salvatore they became quite fashionable. Now, they’re strutting the catwalk and the Shadar-Kai are hanging around street corners talking about music by bands with names like “Eternally Damned”, “Infinite Sulk” and “OMG look at the time my mom’s gonna kill me”.
But look a little deeper, and you’ll find that Shadar-Kai are a darned near perfect race. They’re Unaligned which puts them right into the greyest shade of greyness there is. This is a race which is in a pivotal position in any conflict between good and evil. They have a better Teleport ability than the Eladrin, and in their case it actually makes sense that they’ve got it. These guys use shadows like Batman, only without the pointy-eared cowl.
The whole race exudes cool. When they’re not standing on street corners they’re on storm-tossed boats glaring moodily while the wind musses their hair. Shadar-Kai are an entire freakin’ race of Elrics. Elric-Batman crossbreeds. Ouchy ouchy ouch ouch ouch.
The provided statblocks put them in a very narrow band of levels from 6th to 8th but thanks to the wonders of 4e’s mega-simple monster advancement rules that means they can span the whole Hero Tier. They also make excellent Template fodder. Boost a Shadar-Kai Warrior up to 11th level, tack on the Death Knight template and you’ve got one awesome cool martial villain. How about a Feyborn Shadar-Kai Witch who resides in a shadowy glade in the darkest depths of the Eternal Forest, or a Shadar-Kai Gloomblade Shadowborn Stalker who is the Shadowfell Twin of a notorious Dark Stalker assassin. Open the Shadar-Kai entry and the DMG Template section, and ideas just jump off the page.
I think I just hit my monthly quota for the use of the word “Shadow”. Ah well.
Oh, and they’re a playable character race too. Shadar-Kai Dark Pact Warlock, anyone?
Another old classic reborn for 4e, the Shambling Mound is awesome because of just one thing: the Enveloping Double Attack. I’m not going to say any more. Go read it, then try it out in play. I guarantee it’ll be one of your most talked about combat encounters for months come. Yes, it is that good.
I could go on, but I’ll stop there. The first Monster Manual is full to the brim of terrific critters, and each one has a story to tell. I’ve purposefully ignored the monsters who already get mucho airtime, but they’re full of goodness too – from the Bugbear Strangler’s fantasy noir potential to the differences between all the Dragons.
What are your new iconic monsters, and why?