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Monster Lore

Volo has encountered many monsters in his day, few as odious or as ornery as the ones described herein. This chapter takes several iconic D&D monsters and provides additional information about their origins, their dispositions and behaviors, and their lairs-above and beyond what is written in the {@i Monster Manual.} To give every monster such grand treatment would require too many pages to count, so we winnowed down the list to nine groups of creatures that have a lot going for them and tend to get used often in D&D campaigns:

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BeholdersGoblinoidsMind flayers

If you plunder this chapter for ideas and maps the next time you create an adventure or a villain, then this material has served its purpose. We hope that, as you explore each monster section, you'll come up with new ways to challenge and entertain your players, as well as find new things that you can borrow for your own D&D campaign. Let each entry spark your imagination!

You might be wondering why certain monsters were chosen above others. Where are dragons and githyanki? What, no fiends or undead? We hope to tackle other monsters in other products over time. Until then, mind the kobolds hiding under the stairs, and beware of hags bearing strange gifts.

Beholders: Bad Dreams Come True

To those who would seek to conquer beholders or merely understand them, nearly everything about their quarry is unfathomable. These bizarre creatures are possessed of alien intelligence, inhuman forms of perception, and the ability to shape reality through force of will-or even by their mere presence. Inside the comfortable confines of its subterranean lair, a beholder is nearly unassailable thanks to the combination of its peerless intellect and the brutal effects of its eye rays.

Some of the behaviors and motivations that beholders exhibit are analogous to those of humans and other intelligent creatures. The difference is one of degree. For instance, where a prideful, confident human might be cowed by a serious threat, the arrogance of a beholder knows no such bounds: it believes that it is superior to every other creature, even including other beholders. A human chess player becomes a master by honing the ability to look several moves ahead during a game-which is still no match for what a beholder can accomplish with its superior intelligence and awareness.

The mind of a beholder is powerful and versatile enough that it can envision literally any possibility, and it prepares accordingly, making it virtually impossible for any invaders to catch it unawares. This way of thinking could be interpreted as a form of paranoia-and if so, it would be the most extreme form imaginable. While a human tyrant might be rightfully paranoid about unperceived threats, a beholder is paranoid even though it perceives everything, because that attitude is the natural companion to eternal vigilance.

Beholders are among the few creatures that can shape reality in their vicinity. In addition, beholders don't truly sleep when they rest. Instead, a beholder's mind remains semiconscious even as it dreams. As a result, on rare occasions when a beholder dreams of another beholder, the dream-reality becomes warped and takes on physical form, becoming another actual beholder. To call this process reproduction would be inaccurate, because in most cases the old and new beholders fight to the death-a fact for which the rest of the world is thankful.

Inhuman Intellect

A beholder sees in all directions. It is always looking for concealed attackers. Even when it sleeps, its smaller eyes remain open, scanning its lair for threats. If a human acted this way, the constant vigilance and lack of truly peaceful rest would lead to a dangerous level of psychosis, but a beholder's mind accepts this attitude as normal and necessary-it is always alert to the possibility of assassination or betrayal by unknown threats that stand ready to pounce on the beholder the instant it lets its guard down.

Complementing this ever-present, passive paranoia is the beholder's genius-level intelligence. Where another creature would ignore the occurrence of two seemingly unrelated events as merely coincidental, a beholder imagines multiple ways they could be related, finding or fabricating a pattern out of supposed or actual randomness. By thinking of all these possibilities-however implausible they might be-and extrapolating its own actions in response, a beholder is truly prepared for any situation and has a strategy to counteract it.

A beholder has plans on top of plans, even for the least likely circumstances. It doesn't matter if invading adventurers arrive at its lair with summoned angel allies or enslaved demons, by breaking through the floor, by teleporting or riding dinosaurs, or girded with layers of magical defenses and armed with advanced weapons. In any case, the beholder's reaction is calculated, because it has thought about what it and its minions must do in response to every situation.

Despotic Perspective

A beholder believes it is superior to all other entities. Unintelligent foes are regarded as food or pets. An intelligent creature is seen as food or a potential minion. A beholder's true rivals are other beholders, for only another beholder has the intellect, power, and magic to threaten another of its kind.

Most of a beholder's mental activity is devoted to unearthing plots against itself (real or imaginary), planning attacks against known rivals, and preparing its defenses against all possible threats. It considers itself the center of the world, in a narcissistic way; of course the clan of duergar moving into its territory is because a rival is trying to oust it, of course the gang of adventurers in its lair were sent to kill it by a cowardly rival, and so on, because it is the perfect example of beholderness and all other creatures are jealous.

A beholder's arrogance is a prominent aspect of its personality. Although it isn't inclined to brag of its superiority, especially in combat, it is dismissive of its opponents' efforts and insulting of their abilities and failures. An exceptional challenger can earn a measure of respect-enough that the beholder might be merciful and pacify the creature with a charm ray or a sleep ray instead of killing it outright. Of course, this mercy has a purpose; the defeated opponent is interrogated, subjugated, and offered a role in the beholder's retinue once its will is broken. A beholder might consider a group of skilled adventurers to be a valuable prize and use its abilities to capture them all for this purpose, giving them the opportunity to serve as guards, spies, or assassins against a rival. Refusal means, at best, servitude as a charmed minion, and at worst, disintegration.

Birth of a Beholder

Beholders can produce others of their own kind, but the process has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with psychology.

When a beholder sleeps, its body goes briefly dormant but its mind never stops working. The creature is fully aware, even though to an outside observer it might appear oblivious of its surroundings.

Sometimes a beholder's dreams are dominated by images of itself or of other beholders (which might or might not actually exist).

On extremely rare occasions when a beholder dreams of another beholder, the act creates a warp in reality-from which a new, fully formed beholder springs forth unbidden, seemingly having appeared out of thin air in a nearby space. This "offspring" might be a duplicate of the beholder that dreamed it into existence, or it could take the form of a different variety of beholder, such as a death kiss or a gazer (see "Beholder-Kin"). It might also be a truly unique creature, such as could be spawned only from the twisted imagination of a beholder, with a set of magical abilities unlike that of its parent. In most cases, the process yields one of the three principal forms of the beholder: a solitary beholder, a hive, or a death tyrant.

Solitary Beholders

Most of the beholders in the world live apart from others of their kind, and they like it that way. When a solitary beholder dreams another beholder into existence, the creatures' basic nature often means that the first thing they do is try to destroy one another. A solitary beholder lairs within a cave system or a ruined structure, either one of its own making or a place the creature took over after killing or driving off the beholder that gave it birth.

A solitary beholder gathers (or inherits) inferior creatures that it uses as minions. These creatures help defend the lair and also serve as shock troops if the beholder vacates its lair to prey on the inhabitants of the surrounding area. Often, it plunders its neighbors' homes for knowledge and treasure. After the beholder secures the spoils it desires from its enemies, it allows its minions to divide the remaining booty.

Eye Tyrants

An eye tyrant is a solitary beholder that has suppressed its xenophobia and paranoia and chooses to live as the leader or ruler of a community or an organization that includes other creatures. This doesn't mean that the eye tyrant likes, respects, or understands the creatures it chooses to associate with, but it does distinguish between individuals of other races and communicates with them on a regular basis. An eye tyrant is still ruthless at eliminating threats to itself, whether from another beholder or some other powerful creature-it just doesn't have an insane fear that any creature not under its direct control is working for an enemy. Most known beholders who choose to interact with humanoid society in any way are eye tyrants. For an example of an eye tyrant that leads an organization of humanoids, see the section on the Xanathar Guild.

Beholder Hives

In exceedingly rare cases, a beholder might experience a dream in which it sees itself in a mirror, or encounters several copies of itself, or imagines a sensation akin to what humanoids call multiple personalities. At such a time, the beholder's dream-birthing creates a beholder hive-a group of "newborns" that are identical to its own shape but smaller.

When the dreamer awakens, it treats the newborns as extensions of its own self in other bodies, and therefore isn't consumed with an urge to kill them. This united group of identical beholders doesn't truly have a hive intelligence, but their personalities and goals are so similar that they can predict and assume each others' behavior, much as especially close human siblings can. The original beholder is usually the dominant one and takes a leadership role. A hive consists of three to ten beholders, plus whatever minions they control.

Death Tyrants

As a beholder ages, it spends more and more time worrying about its mortality. The dreams of such a death-fearing beholder might reach into strange corners of reality and imagine circumstances in which the creature can live on after death. When the beholder awakens, it finds itself transformed into a death tyrant. It now exists in a state of undeath-yet its fear of being killed remains unabated.

A death tyrant's paranoia about its enemies tends to be related to how it fears it will be destroyed, and its plans take that fear into account. For example, a death tyrant who imagined it would eventually be slain by frost giants might relocate its lair to the inside of a volcano, send its minions to hunt down all frost giants within 100 miles, or take some other drastic measure to ensure that the fear never becomes reality.


The lesser creatures known as beholder-kin bear a superficial resemblance to true beholders in that each has a floating spherical body with eyes. That's where the similarity ends.

Chapter 3 of this book introduces several new types of beholder-kin. A {@b death kiss} is usually the result of a nightmare about blood, such as what a beholder might experience after an encounter with a vampire or after being severely wounded in battle. {@b Gazers} are "born" out of a poisoned or ill beholder's feverish dreams, in which its sense of perspective and scale is warped. A {@b spectator} (see the {@i Monster Manual)} is a kind of lesser beholder summoned from another plane of existence to watch over something, such as a treasure hoard. A {@b gauth} hails from the same plane as spectators, or one that overlaps it enough that they can take advantage of a flawed attempt to summon a spectator. Although true beholders can be found on a spectator's or gauth's home plane, the creatures' actual place of origin is unknown (whether another plane, a world beyond the stars, or some stranger location), and spectators and gauths aren't believed to originate from dreams as other beholders do.

Physical Characteristics

As a byproduct of their unique method of propagation, beholders in one part of the world tend to look similar, with variations becoming more pronounced the farther one travels from that area. Even a slight variation in the shape of an eyestalk or the texture of its skin is enough for one beholder to consider another a flawed abomination, which should be destroyed.

Use the following tables to produce a variety of different appearances for beholders if you desire.

Beholder Body Diameter

Beholder Body Diameter
d12Body Diameter
24 feet
3-44 1/2 feet
5-95 feet
10-115 1/2 feet
126 feet

Beholder Skin Color

Beholder Skin Color
d12Skin Color
10-11Mottled (roll twice, ignoring results above 10)
12Shaded (roll twice, ignoring results above 10)

Beholder Skin Texture

Beholder Skin Texture
d10Skin Texture

Beholder Eye Color

Beholder Eye Color
d10Eye Color
10Metallic (roll {@dice d6} for color)

Beholder Iris Shape

Beholder Iris Shape
d20Iris Shape
20Double iris (roll twice, ignoring results of 20)

Beholder Eye Size

Beholder Eye Size
d12Eye Size
250 percent normal
3-475 percent normal
10-11125 percent normal
12150 percent normal

Beholder Eyestalk Texture

Beholder Eyestalk Texture
d6Eyestalk Texture
3-4Ridged (earthworm)
5-6Segmented (insectile)

Beholder Eyestalk Shape

Beholder Eyestalk Shape
d4Eyestalk Shape
1Thick and short
2Thin and short
3Thick and long
4Thin and long

Beholder Mouth Shape and Size

Beholder Mouth Shape and Size
d6Mouth Shape and Size

Beholder Teeth Shape

Beholder Teeth Shape
d10Teeth Shape
1-4Thick and pointed
7Humanlike, fanged (vampiric)
8-9Thin and needle-like
10Double row (roll again, ignoring results of 10)

Roleplaying a Beholder

A beholder constantly fears for its safety, is wary of any creature that isn't one of its minions, and is aggressive in dealing with perceived threats. It might react favorably toward creatures that humble themselves before it and present themselves as inferiors, but is easily provoked to attack creatures that brag about their accomplishments or claim to be mighty. Such creatures are seen as threats or fools, and are dealt with mercilessly.

Each beholder thinks it is the epitome of its race, and therefore all other beholders are inferior to it-even though, at the same time, it considers other beholders to be its greatest rivals. A beholder might be willing to cooperate with adventurers who have news about another beholder's lair or activities, and might be nonhostile toward adventurers who praise it for being a perfect example of a beholder.

The tables that follow present possibilities for personal characteristics that you can use to make a beholder distinctive.

Beholder Personality Traits

Beholder Personality Traits
d8Personality Trait
1I enjoy lording my superiority over others.
2Cold, emotionless logic is the way I defeat my foes.
3I determine if a creature is worth keeping alive within the first minute of speaking to it.
4I frequently dream of [a particular creature] and am certain it is trying to manipulate me.
5I pretend to be insane so my enemies underestimate me.
6I am weary of frequent interruptions.
7Assassination attempts are the only events that quell my feelings of loneliness.
8I sometimes fear that I am a flawed abomination.

Beholder Ideals

Beholder Ideals
1Greed. My trophies are proof of my success. (Evil)
2Community. My hierarchy of minions keeps me safe. (Lawful)
3Intolerance. All other beholders are imperfect and must be destroyed. (Evil)
4Stability. I must maintain the current balance of power in the region. (Lawful)
5Perfection. Although I am perfect as I am, I can strive to be even better. (Neutral)
6Power. I will be secure when I rule over all. (Evil)

Beholder Bonds

Beholder Bonds
1My followers are all spying on me, and I seek motivated, powerful allies to destroy them.
2I miss the kinship of my identical twin, who disappeared years ago.
3I must recover an artifact that was stolen from me.
4I have foreseen the moment of my death and know what will kill me. I hope to curry favor with my slayer to forestall my end.
5I was lucky to escape my enemy, and I worry that I might be discovered again before I am ready.
6I scheme endlessly to recover an ancient tome that contains the secret of creating perfect, obedient clones of myself.

Beholder Flaws

Beholder Flaws
1I usually ignore advice from my minions.
2I enjoy taunting rivals with hints of my plans.
3I am very quick to take offense.
4I frequently have terrifying dreams.
5I often take out my frustrations on my minions.
6I sometimes forget that others don't have access to all of my knowledge.

Beholder Names

A beholder picks its own name, piecing together sounds and syllables that have significance and meaning to it.

Beholder Names

Beholder Names

Battle Tactics

A beholder analyzes its opponents, makes note of armor, weapons, and tactics, and adjusts its strategy to eliminate the most dangerous threats as quickly as possible. Although a beholder's specific actions will vary with each encounter, the creature's behavior is largely governed by the tactics discussed below.

Stay out of Range and Sight

A beholder's natural ability to fly is essential to many of its defenses and habits. Portions of its lair-especially the remote part where it sleeps-usually aren't reachable on foot, which makes it harder for its minions to take over the lair, and forces intruders to find ways to overcome steep vertical climbs.

Also, a beholder's natural levitation means it doesn't risk activating any floor-based traps, and therefore it is likely to use such defenses to protect its inner sanctum, allowing it to roam freely through the area while hostiles must dodge or overcome multiple obstacles.

Unless its opponents are concealed by fog, invisibility, or some other magic, a beholder can lurk in the dark and shoot any creature it can see within the range of its darkvision. A dark room with a 120-foot ceiling allows it to use this tactic, requiring opponents to create light at a distance in order to return fire with any accuracy.

Even intruders who don't need light to see have to contend with the beholder's superior senses-the monster can see its opponents before 60-foot darkvision sees it.

Use Antimagic Freely

Although a beholder can't use its rays on targets inside the area of its antimagic cone, the ability of its central eye is incredibly effective in combat-instantly crippling enemy spellcasters, revealing the exact location of anyone using blur or invisibility, and causing opponents using magical flight to plummet to the ground. The cone is wide enough that the beholder can usually redirect it toward any particular creature trying to escape the area, keeping that target locked down until the monster has killed all the enemies outside the cone.

A beholder can use its telekinesis ray in conjunction with its antimagic cone to lift a heavy object above the cone and drop it onto an opponent inside the cone; gravity finishes the job, even though the cone negates the beholder's telekinetic control.

The ability to temporarily suspend magical effects is useful to a beholder for determining if a minion has been charmed or compelled to act against its master; the creature might change its behavior when inside the cone, or it might remember or be able to speak of things it was compelled to forget or keep secret.

Because the cone suppresses ongoing magical effects, the beholder might create a secure area in its lair behind a permanent wall of fire or wall of force, make use of an existing magical hazard (such as a pool that transforms any creature that touches it), or an area with magical guardians (such as an old shrine with a demon bound to it) that it can bypass.

Use Eye Rays to Best Effect

A beholder can fire multiple eye rays on its turn, and it might use all of them in succession on its most dangerous foe. Even a very tough fighter is going to have second thoughts after taking damage from a disintegration ray, an enervation ray, and a death ray.

A beholder can shift its targets after its first or second rays. For example, if a beholder intends to shoot charm, slowing, and sleep rays at a ranger, and the ranger succumbs to the charm, the beholder could use its remaining rays against other targets.

Use Legendary Actions

The beholder's ability to use legendary actions effectively doubles the number of times it can shoot rays in a round. Each legendary action a beholder takes gives it an opportunity to react to a change in circumstances, or to press an assault that it began on its turn. For instance, it might use its sleep ray as a legendary action against an enemy that has just been awakened. If no such opportunity presents itself, legendary actions are always useful for piling rays on the most dangerous foe.

Use Traps and Minions

A beholder in its lair has access to so many resources that it can often vanquish invaders without directly confronting them. Devious and hidden traps are liable to be lurking around every corner, and might be blatantly obvious in some places, yet no less lethal. In similar fashion, a beholder might station some of its minions in a prime spot for an ambush, or it might send forth a bunch of its servants to overrun a group of enemies that have been weakened by traps and other hazards. Every beholder has minions, and can always acquire more, so the master of the lair doesn't hesitate to send its underlings into the fray.

Outside Combat

As described in the {@i Monster Manual,} a beholder's use of its eye rays in combat is random, governed by die rolls instead of by choice. This rule is an abstraction, designed to keep the beholder's opponents unsure of what rays will be coming next (and, not incidentally, to prevent the monster from using its most lethal eye rays at every opportunity). The rule also makes the creature easier to run.

In the safety of its lair, outside the view of any would-be enemies, a beholder can use any of its eye rays whenever it wants to. Many of them serve as tools.

Antimagic Cone

The magic-nullifying effect of a beholder's central eye has a number of possible uses outside combat, but if it's not needed, the beholder can turn it off by simply closing the eye.

Negative Energy Cone

Normally usable only by a death tyrant, negative energy prevents survivors of a battle from healing and animates any dead or dying creatures as zombies under the beholder's control. Because there is no limit to the number of zombies a death tyrant can animate and control, it can pack its lair so full of undead that there is little space for anyone to walk, creating a shambling barrier of cadaverous resistance against any invasion.

Charm Ray

It is common for a beholder to charm a hostile monster, lure the creature to the beholder's lair, and confine it there so it can't escape under its own power. In this way, even monsters that can't be bribed or coerced can be useful to a beholder, making its lair a confusing zoo of hostile beasts.

Although each use of the charm effect lasts only an hour, repeated uses over time against the same target tend to wear down a creature's will, creating a docile servant.

Paralyzing Ray

Outside combat, the paralyzing ray is most often used to restrain a fleeing minion that it doesn't want to destroy outright.

Fear Ray

A beholder uses its fear ray to psychologically torture and interrogate a prisoner until the creature loses the will to resist.

Slowing Ray

A beholder might use its slowing ray on an uncooperative creature as a demonstration of sorts, threatening to follow it up with more severe consequences if the creature doesn't submit to the beholder's will.

Death Ray and Enervation Ray

A beholder can fine-tune its death ray or enervation ray so that it can "zap" the smallest of targets and deal only a small amount of damage (though usually still enough to obliterate what it touches). For example, to guard against magical spying, a beholder might use either ray to eliminate all common vermin (bats, rats, spiders, and so on) from its lair.

Telekinetic Ray

In addition to functioning as the beholder's arms and hands for everyday tasks, the telekinetic ray is essential for building traps and other lair defenses, such as positioning the weights for a falling block trap. This ray allows a beholder to station its minions in parts of the lair that can otherwise be accessed only by climbing or flying, preventing the occupants from escaping. A beholder could also use its telekinetic ray to forcibly transport a creature immune to charm effects (such as a construct or some kinds of undead).

Sleep Ray

When it parlays with other creatures, a beholder might use its sleep ray as a display of power, quickly disabling the leader and thereby persuading the rest of the group to mount no resistance. This tactic is useful primarily when the beholder intends to use the group for its own purposes, and keeping the leader alive is advantageous to those plans. This ray is also used to pacify potentially useful captives, perhaps in preparation for conditioning them with the charm or fear rays.

Petrification Ray

The most mundane function of the petrification ray is as a means of decorating a beholder's lair with statues. Beyond that, this ray has a multitude of uses. An unruly minion could be turned to stone, eliminating the creature as a threat and creating a permanent reminder of the price of disobeying the beholder. A beholder might use loosely scattered petrified creatures to create obstacles in an open chamber, or pack them tightly in a corridor to seal off an area, or use them as falling hazards instead of heavy blocks in order to engender fear and uncertainty among intruders.

Disintegration Ray

A beholder's disintegration ray is a useful tool for excavation. The beholder can also manipulate the ray with pinpoint control, enabling it to cut and shape objects as though it were wielding a fine chisel, drill holes too small for an arrow to pass through, carve masonry blocks out of raw stone, amputate limbs, or brand creatures with burn-like scars. This ray and the telekinetic ray are the basis for a beholder's ability to shape its lair to its very specific and exacting needs, whether sculpting rooms or fabricating traps.

Variant Abilities

When a beholder's dream-imagination runs wild, the result can be an offspring that has an unusual or unique set of abilities. Rather than the standard powers of a beholder's central eye and eyestalks, the creature has one or more variant abilities-guaranteed to surprise any enemies who thought they knew what they were getting themselves into.

This section provides several alternative spell effects for a beholder's eye. Each of these effects is designed to be of the same power level as the one it replaces, enabling you to create a custom beholder without altering the monster's challenge rating. As another option, you can switch any of the damaging eye rays in the {@i Monster Manual} to an effect with a different damage type, such as replacing the enervation ray with a combustion ray that deals fire damage instead of necrotic damage.

Unless otherwise indicated, an alternative ability has the same range as the eye ray it is replacing, and it affects only one creature per use (even if the ability is based on a spell that normally affects an area or multiple targets). The saving throw for an alternative ability uses the same DC and the same ability score as the spell the eye ray is based on.

Beholder Lairs

The lair of a beholder is a reflection of the creature's mind-set-designed to anticipate, and thwart, any plan that would-be invaders might devise. Each of its chambers is isolated, accessible from only one or two other areas, giving the beholder control over the route that enemies must take to reach the sanctum where the owner of the place lies in wait.

A beholder usually creates its lair in an area of natural caves, shaping the chambers with its disintegration ray. Most of the entryways and passages that it fashions to connect one chamber with another are too narrow to admit creatures larger than itself (particularly in the innermost chambers). If any large openings between adjacent caves exist naturally, the beholder constricts or seals off such openings, either by employing slave labor or by collapsing the tunnel itself.

Regardless of its overall configuration, every beholder's lair is oriented to take full advantage of the creature's flight ability. Adjoining chambers are connected by vertical or steeply sloped tunnels that the beholder carves out of the surrounding stone, each passage barely large enough to admit the beholder's body. Enemies that are too big to traverse these smooth-walled tunnels will find it difficult to move deep into the lair and virtually impossible to confront the beholder in its sanctum.

Minions and other creatures under a beholder's control generally have their own living spaces in the lair. Because a beholder's minions are typically not able to fly, many of these chambers are connected to others by staircases or gently sloping ramps in addition to the tunnels, so the beholder can easily move its minions around as the need arises.


Common rooms found in a beholder's lair are described in the sections that follow.

Central Gallery

The main living area that the beholder uses is filled with objects that the creature enjoys looking at, such as art, statues, and its latest spoils of victory. The floor is uneven and difficult for intruders to navigate. Minions usually guard the entrances to this chamber.

Escape Tunnels

A lair has several escape tunnels, each closed off inside the lair by a large boulder or a mortared stone wall. Most of these routes are blocked on both ends, preventing creatures from easily entering the lair through anywhere but the main entrance. The beholder, of course, can disintegrate these barriers to gain access to the tunnel. As with the tunnels between chambers, escape tunnels are usually a steep climb or nearly vertical to make it difficult for non-flying creatures to follow. A tunnel bends every 50 to 100 feet to prevent attackers from shooting at the beholder while it flees, but giving the monster opportunities to attack when its enemies come into view. Many escape tunnels have falling block traps or weak ceilings supported by a single pillar, which the beholder can disintegrate after it passes that point to deter pursuit.

Eyes in the Sky

Because a beholder's paranoia knows no limits, it often designs its lair to include secret passageways that are used for reconnaissance or surprise attacks. (These features aren't shown on the accompanying map, but can be located anywhere you see fit.) A typical arrangement is a network of tunnels running above the main chambers of the lair, each wide enough for the beholder to fly through. Fist-sized holes in the floors of these tunnels open into the rooms below, allowing the beholder to spy on creatures in its lair and perhaps target them with eye rays. (Opponents can shoot back, but the holes function like arrow slits and provide three-quarters cover to the beholder.)

Minion Chambers

The lair has rooms set aside for the beholder's minions, where those creatures live, cook, eat, and sleep.


A beholder often sets aside a chamber to hold captives that it chooses not to kill. The simplest kind of prison, easy enough for a beholder to create, typically consists of 20-foot-deep holes disintegrated into the floor, some times covered with a wood or metal grating. A prisoner is stripped of weapons and magic items, thrown into one of the holes, and guarded by minions at all times.


The beholder's private chamber is usually at the highest elevation inside the lair and accessible only through a long vertical tunnel. Here, the beholder rests and plots. The room typically contains a nest of sand or cloth bedding and the beholder's favorite pieces of sculpture.


Beyond the lair entrance lies the vestibule. Rather than being sculpted with tools or eye rays, the entrance and the vestibule are left in their natural form to mislead intruders who might be expecting an artificially created structure. The floor of the vestibule is usually 15 feet or more lower than the entrance corridor, and the chamber is often inhabited by shriekers, which act as an early warning system.


A room not dedicated to some other purpose could be festooned with a variety of traps. In addition to traps that are meant to catch ground-based creatures, a beholder creates or positions certain traps so that they're effective against flying intruders.

Practically any kind of trap could be a feature of a beholder's lair. A few possibilities are described here.

Covered Pit

Simple yet effective, a covered pit trap is a hole covered with a false floor and perhaps concealed by a sprinkling of dirt or gravel. The pit might be empty, be filled with mud (causing anything trapped in it to eventually drown), or have spikes at the bottom.

Door Trap

In a seldom-used cavern with a high ceiling, a beholder might erect a wall that doesn't reach the ceiling and build a trapped door into it. The beholder can fly over the trap, while intruders are forced to deal with the door or waste time trying to climb over the wall. A typical simple door trap is a pivoting spiked arm that swings downward to impale an intruder when the door is opened.

Ceiling Trap

In addition to making use of classic "gravity traps" such as the collapsing roof, the falling net, and the rolling sphere, a beholder can use its disintegration ray to blast a hole in the ceiling above its enemies, opening up a previously prepared chamber filled with mud, water, sand, garbage, green slime, petrified enemies, poison gas, swarms of centipedes, zombies, or any other sort of hazardous material or creatures.

Gas Spores

One form of gas spore trap is nothing more than a small room or section of tunnel that contains one or more hovering gas spores. The passage leading to it is sealed off or constricted to prevent the fungus creatures from drifting into inhabited areas. Medium or smaller intruders can easily move through the passage but might have little warning about what lies ahead, especially if the passage has sharp turns that make it likely that the gas spore isn't seen until the last moment. A beholder might use its telekinesis ray to forcibly push a gas spore into an opponent, making the gas spore explode.

Obstacle Course

If its lair includes a long, narrow chamber with an uneven floor and multiple terraces, a beholder might turn this area into a killing ground. The floors count as difficult terrain, and the terraces mean that in some places climbing or jumping down is required to make progress. These areas are often seeded with perils both stationary and mobile. The beholder and its minions can bypass the area by means of secret doors at either end. Some obstacle courses feature low walls to slow enemies even further or a portcullis to trap them in one section of the chamber.

Oil Sprayer

The main element of an oil sprayer trap is a large tank, filled with oil, embedded into the top of a column or located in a space above the trapped room. When the trap is triggered, a valve in the bottom of the tank opens, and oil spews into the room, making the floor slick and igniting if any open flames are present.

Trophy Gallery

A beholder that has amassed many trophies might set aside an area in its lair dedicated to their display. A trophy gallery is often a long chamber decorated with mementos taken from creatures the beholder has slain. Niches and pedestals hold smaller objects, while larger objects are suspended from the ceiling or left freestanding in the room. To prevent minions from handling or trying to steal trophies, the more favored and valuable items are kept on high shelves, accessible to the flying beholder but out of reach of anyone on the ground.

Leaving the Lair

A beholder goes to a lot of trouble to make its lair as safe and comfortable as it possibly can, and so it rarely ventures outside. A typical beholder would primarily be concerned with securing the area in a 1-mile radius around its lair (corresponding to the area of the beholder's regional effects), but could range even farther if the need arises. It might leave home to confront or forestall the advance of creatures that it sees as threats, or to capture a new pack of minions, or to go after a particularly enticing trophy.

When a beholder goes on the offensive against a threat outside its lair, it plans ahead and makes use of all of its advantages. For example, if it decides a newly settled human village nearby is a threat, it and its minions will set up camp nearby and scout the area (usually by flying high overhead at night using darkvision) for one or two days. Once the layout and guard movements are known, the beholder sends its minions to attack or draw out defenders while it flies high overhead and uses its eye rays to subdue the village, targeting leaders and other formidable foes before significant resistance can be mounted.

One of these raids usually lasts less than an hour, after which the beholder withdraws its forces, leaving the terrified survivors to wonder when the next attack will occur. Unless they flee, the beholder and its forces return night after night, each time eliminating key defenders, and ultimately breaking the morale of the survivors, at which point the beholder's minions can capture anyone or anything worth keeping and raze the settlement.


A beholder carefully scrutinizes all the treasure in its lair and divides the booty into five groups: tools, gifts, hazards, trophies, and clutter.

A {@b tool} is any treasure that the beholder can use as personal gear. A beholder's body can't use many kinds of humanoid-type magic items because it doesn't have the body parts to wear them; for example, it can't use gloves or boots because it doesn't have hands or feet. But a beholder could wear magic rings on its eyestalks or affix a magic cloak to its back, and the items function as they would if used by a humanoid.

At your discretion, a beholder might be able to use magic items that must be held to activate, such as wands; the beholder is assumed to be using its telekinesis eye ray to move and point the item in the same way that a humanoid would use its hand. A beholder can't attune to items that require attunement by a spellcaster or a member of a certain class.

A {@b gift} is a treasure the beholder can't use itself but that would be useful to a minion, such as magic gloves, boots, armor, or an item it can't attune itself to. Usually a beholder gives gifts to make a minion more powerful and better at its job, which typically involves guarding the beholder's lair. Sometimes it uses gifts as rewards and incentives for exceptional minions; although it prefers to rule by coercion and fear, it understands that better results can sometimes be achieved by rewarding positive behavior instead of punishing negative behavior.

A {@b hazard} can be put to use in an offensive, defensive, or utilitarian capacity. Beholders are skilled at repurposing cursed or dangerous items as elements of traps or obstacles in its lair, especially if such an item emits an ongoing effect that it can suppress as needed with its antimagic cone.

A {@b trophy} is a treasure that a beholder cherishes as evidence of its power, or serves as a remembrance of victory over its enemies, or evokes another sort of positive reaction from it. The preserved corpse of a rival beholder (or any parts it can recover from a battle) would certainly be a prized trophy, as would be the skull of a defeated dragon, the clothing of a famous adventurer the beholder killed, or art objects that are pleasing to its alien senses. A beholder usually has the location of all its trophies memorized and immediately senses if something is missing or out of place. {@b Clutter} is treasure that has intrinsic value, but isn't immediately useful to the beholder or its minions. This category includes currency, gems, jewelry, and magic items that nobody in the lair can use or use well. These items are stored somewhere in the lair until they're disposed of-sometimes by distributing them among the minions as gifts, other times by disintegration.

A beholder's personality greatly influences how it categorizes its treasures. A braggart beholder might use a slain enemy's magic battleaxe as a trophy, but a manipulative beholder might give that axe as a gift to a lieutenant in order to encourage competition between its upper ranks. An inventive beholder might use an {@i eversmoking bottle} to obscure dozens of pit traps in a room, but a more militaristic one might not have a use for it and treat it as clutter. Circumstances might change the role of a piece of treasure-a {@i staff of the python} used to prop up a stone block trap might be given as a gift if the beholder acquires a minion who can attune the item.

Minions and Pets

Beholders often make use of minions. Establishing control over these creatures usually involves the use of its eye rays, but eventually the minions come to understand that the beholder can kill them whenever it wants and it is in their best interest to stop resisting and just obey the beholder's orders.

Minions build walls in the beholder's lair, distribute food to other residents, and carve out new living spaces for themselves and other minions-tasks that the beholder considers beneath its personal attention. Some even worship the beholder as an angry, capricious deity.

Three tables-Beholder Lesser Minions, Beholder Greater Minions, and Beholder Pets-make it easy to stock a beholder's lair with such creatures.

Lesser Minions

If a beholder's retinue were likened to an army, the grunts would be represented by its lesser minions, intelligent creatures that can talk and usually live in large groups. They handle menial tasks for the beholder such as hunting, scouting, and guarding the lair.

Greater Minions

A beholder's greater minions are formidable opponents. In the lair, they might be stationed where they can catch intruders in an ambush, or they could be a last line of defense against foes that threaten the inner sanctum.


A beholder often has one or more pets in its lair, mainly because (for whatever reason) it enjoys the company of such creatures. Pets are usually of low intelligence and are kept around because of their combat abilities, entertainment value, or trophy status.

Beholder Lesser Minions

Beholder Lesser Minions
d100Lesser Minions*
1-4{@creature Bandit|mm|Bandits} and {@creature Bandit Captain|mm|Bandit Captains}
5-8{@creature Bugbear|MM|Bugbears} and {@creature Bugbear chief|MM|Bugbear chiefs}
9-12{@creature Cultist|MM|Cultists} and {@creature Cult Fanatic|MM|Cult Fanatics}
13-14{@creature Duergar}
15-22{@creature Goblin|MM|Goblins} and {@creature Goblin Boss|MM|Goblin Bosses}
23-25{@creature Grimlock|MM|Grimlocks}
26-35{@creature Hobgoblin|MM|Hobgoblins} and {@creature Hobgoblin Captain|MM|Hobgoblin Captains}
36-43{@creature Kobold|MM|Kobolds}, {@creature Kobold Inventor|vgm|Kobold Inventors}, and {@creature Kobold Scale Sorcerer|vgm|Kobold Scale Sorcerers}
44-48{@creature Lizardfolk}
49-56{@creature Orc|MM|Orcs} and {@creature Orc War Chief|MM|Orc War Chiefs}
57-59{@creature Quaggoth|MM|Quaggoths}
60-65{@creature Troglodyte|MM|Troglodytes}
66-100Roll twice, ignoring results above 65

Beholder Greater Minions

Beholder Greater Minions
d100Greater Minions*
1-3{@creature Barlgura|MM|Barlguras}
4-10{@creature Ettin|MM|Ettins}
11-20{@creature Fire Giant|MM|Fire Giants}, {@creature Frost Giant|MM|Frost Giants}, {@creature Hill Giant|MM|Hill Giants} or {@creature Stone Giant|MM|Stone Giants} (as appropriate to the terrain)
21-25{@creature Hook Horror|MM|Hook Horrors}
26-32{@creature Manticore|MM|Manticores}
33-40{@creature Minotaur|MM|Minotaurs}
41-55{@creature Ogre|MM|Ogres}
56-70{@creature Troll|MM|Trolls}
71-75{@creature Wight|MM|Wights}
76-100Roll twice, ignoring results above 75

Beholder Pets

Beholder Pets
1-10{@creature Basilisk|MM|Basilisks}
11-13{@creature Beholder Zombie|MM|Beholder Zombies}
14-22{@creature Chimera|MM|Chimeras}
23-26{@creature Flesh Golem|MM|Flesh Golems}
27-29{@creature Gazer|VGM|Gazers}
30-37{@creature Hell Hound|MM|Hell Hounds}
38-41{@creature Nothic|MM|Nothics}
42-53{@creature Otyugh|MM|Otyughs}
54-66{@creature Roper|MM|Ropers}
67-75{@creature Wyvern|MM|Wyverns}
76-100Roll twice, ignoring results above 75

The Xanathar Guild

The Xanathar Guild is a thieves' and slavers' guild operating underneath the city of Waterdeep in the Forgotten Realms setting. The guildmaster is a beholder-the latest in a series of such creatures. Like its predecessors, the beholder uses "the Xanathar" as a title rather than its personal name (which is Zushaxx). The guild has been in operation for nearly two hundred years, with a different beholder taking over every few decades.

Paranoid Megalomania

The Xanathar, like its forerunners, is an eye tyrant-a type of beholder that chooses to live among other creatures in a position of superiority over them. Its paranoia is kept under control most of the time, and it turns its strange mind to the pursuit of organized crime in Undermountain and Waterdeep. The Xanathar believes its intelligence and magic make it uniquely suited for this-even more so than its slain predecessor-and it uses its abilities to ruthlessly enforce its will on as much political and criminal territory as possible.

The Xanathar's bond is its lair, an elaborate cavern complex created by its predecessors, carved out between the twisting sewers of Waterdeep. It almost never leaves its home, for at the center of this world it is the master of all it sees and safe from outside threats. The expansive lair is well stocked with the exotic pleasures it craves, such as scented oils for bathing, fragrant incense, and fine foods prepared by skilled chefs. It surrounds itself with evidence of its wealth and success, eating off gold plates, drinking from diamond-encrusted chalices, decorating its sleeping area with marvelous tapestries, and adorning itself and its sanctum with powerful magic items.

Its fear of conspiracies is merely dormant, though, not absent. From time to time it is gripped by overwhelming concerns about assassination plots, revenge-seekers, and other schemes against it. When these thoughts bubble to the surface, the Xanathar might crack down on its lieutenants, interpreting their mistakes as disobedience, their failures as deliberate attempts to undermine its power, and their successes as challenges to its superiority. The beholder's ire might manifest as abruptly as a disintegration ray or as slowly as an angry glare and increasing scrutiny over the next few weeks.

The Xanathar is ambitious and wants to expand its power by making alliances, but it is constantly wary of betrayal. The only allies it considers relatively safe are individuals that it (or its predecessor) has worked with for years, and most of these are creatures it has no reason to fear because they aren't a physical threat to it or the guild. It is hesitant to form alliances with other powerful groups, and is likely to break off ties with a new ally if it senses even a hint of betrayal or difficulty. If an organization is useful but significantly weaker than the guild, the Xanathar is likely to absorb its members and resources into its guild (either immediately or gradually) so it can keep an eye on threats from within that group.

Like all beholders, the Xanathar craves information. It is aware of the great library at Candlekeep and the lore stored there, and one of its main objectives is to get an agent into the place that can start sending copies of that information back to the Xanathar for review. The Xanathar's ultimate goal is to control the entire region under Waterdeep (both Undermountain and Skullport), giving it as much political clout as all the Lords of Waterdeep combined.

Division of Labor

Thanks to its superior intelligence and its unique way of thinking, the Xanathar is able to efficiently supervise and direct the efforts of many creatures at the same time. It holds sway over a dozen specialized lieutenants. Each lieutenant is responsible for operating one of the aspects of guild business, including assassination, blackmail, extortion, mercenaries, slavery, smuggling, spying, and thievery (of these operations, slavery and thievery are the largest). When one needs to be replaced, the best candidates are those who appreciate the benefits of strict organization (and thus are lawful evil or at worst neutral evil) and who have a high tolerance for their boss's sometimes erratic behavior.

Each lieutenant is allowed to manage its part of the guild operation as desired. Some use a direct, hands-on approach, and some establish a chain of command that establishes a clear hierarchy from the top to the lowest underling. As long as a lieutenant's operation runs smoothly, the Xanathar doesn't object to methods or micromanage day-to-day activity.

When a human megalomaniac rises to power in an evil organization, that individual is always at risk of being killed or replaced by a power-hungry rival.

When such a group is led by a beholder rather than a human, the tyrant has incredible staying power against challengers. Not only are its opponents unsure of the best way to kill it, but it can quickly retaliate with lethal force against multiple enemies at the same time, and it literally sleeps with its eyes open. The only real threat to the Xanathar's rule is another beholder, which speaks to the reason why the Xanathar Guild has been led by a succession of beholders instead of by various humanoid or inhuman creatures. Lieutenants who have their own ambitions, who might come to oppose the tyrant or fear for their safety, are much more likely to flee (or "retire") than to confront the beholder. The petrified heads of several traitorous lieutenants decorate the Xanathar's lair as testimony to how it deals with challengers.

In addition to its lieutenants, the Xanathar has many minions with specific jobs. These underlings don't have as much clout as the lieutenants do, but they do hold key roles in its guild and have some degree of influence in the organization. Among these are the beholder's accountant, chamberlain, chief messenger, doctor, fish-keeper, fortune-teller, lawyer, master entertainer, monster trainer, trap-setter, and warden for its private prison. The individuals in these roles generally serve the Xanathar for months or years, because replacements that have the same specialized skills can be hard to come by.

What Others Know

The organization's grunt-level employees-thieves, slavers, and ordinary thugs-work for the Xanathar Guild because it pays well. They don't necessarily know their leader is a beholder; they just know the boss is powerful, dangerous, and doesn't tolerate mistakes.

Although previous Xanathars carefully guarded the facts of their true nature and allowed only a handful of their lieutenants to know the truth, the current Xanathar treats the matter more like an open secret.

All of its lieutenants, as well as many mid-level members of the guild that the Xanathar trusts, know that the guild is run by a beholder.

Most of the guild's low-ranking members have an idea that the boss isn't human, especially given how long the Xanathar has been in power (they aren't aware that several beholders have held the job). Most believe their leader is a member of a long-lived race, perhaps a dwarf or an elf. Some think the truth is more monstrous, and that the Xanathar is a drow or perhaps a dragon in humanoid form.

The people of Waterdeep are generally aware that there are one or more guilds controlling criminal activity in the city. Rumors occasionally surface about a monstrous crime lord, such as a demon or a dragon, that guides its organization from the shadows. Most common folk dismiss these rumors and the fools who circulate them, asserting that the Lords of Waterdeep would never allow such creatures to roam the city.

Giants: World Shakers

The saga of giantkind began in the dawn of the world. Elves had yet to set dainty foot out of the fey realm when the thunder of the giants' steps shook the world to its bones, and even the dragons were yet unaware of the power and glory they would attain. The record of that early age had already vanished into the mists of legend by the time humankind came onto the scene. Now, not even the giants know the full truth of their beginnings.

All that the giants and their kin know for certain is that they are sibling races. Humanoids such as elves, humans, and dwarves are more similar in size and shape than the disparate giant types are to one another, but those races have no shared heritage. In contrast, every true giant, regardless of type, can trace its ancestry directly to Annam the All-Father. Most giants believe that Annam took a number of consorts in addition to his mate Othea, accounting for the variety in appearance and abilities among the types of giantkind.

Giants and giant kin rank among the world's most fearsome creatures, literally towering over the other, younger beings that crowd the world. Yet nowadays most giants live in isolation or in obscure locations, exhibiting none of the collective grandeur and power of their forebears.

First Impressions

Encountering a giant can be an awe-inspiring and disorienting experience. First comes a rhythmic booming, felt more than heard, that resolves slowly into the sound of footsteps: a giant is near! Loose stones vibrate and tumble down the hillside. Trees sway, then bend aside as the colossus emerges. How can anything be that big? Is it a trick of perspective?

When giants first appear before a band of adventurers, they demonstrate the qualities that make them spectacular to behold:

Children of the All-Father

In an age before human and elf, when all dragons were young, Annam the All-Father put the first giants upon the world. These giants were reflections of his divine offspring and also children of the world, birthed from the marrow of mountains, the hot blood of volcanoes, and the breath of hurricanes.

Annam conceived the giants to be masters of the world. He gave them great height so they would look down on all they ruled. He created a hierarchy for his children-the ordning-so that all would know their status with respect to one another, and would know who among them stood nearest the knee of the All-Father.

United in purpose, Annam's children built Ostoria, the fabled empire of the giants, where they lived according to the ordning. Storm giants ruled all from both below and above. They held sway over the oceans from undersea fortresses and lorded over the land from castles in the sky. Cloud giants built immense floating cities and served the storm giants as their strong right hands. Stone giants and fire giants settled on the mountaintops and in the sprawling caverns beneath them, where they carved and forged the greatest works of giant art and craft. Frost giants defended Ostoria with the might of their arms, not just on the chilly peaks and glaciers but on every frontier. Hill giants sprawled over all other lands, subjugating lesser creatures through brute force.

Ostoria and Other Worlds

The tale of Ostoria is drawn from the Forgotten Realms. Think of it as a good example of how giants developed on many worlds, as it captures their rise and fall from prominence in a manner that is iconic to many D&D settings. In your own world, you can replace Ostoria with another giant empire or adapt it to create your own origin story.

Beginning of the End

All told, the empire of Ostoria dominated the world for four millennia before its decline began in a genocidal struggle against the dragons that came to be known as the Thousand-Year War.

Dragons had lived in and around Ostoria in relative peace since the empire's foundation. Conflicts between dragons and giants in those days were personal, not tribal or regional, and usually involved bragging rights or hunting territory. Differences were settled by individual contests of might, wits, or skill. That situation persisted for generations, until the red dragon Garyx inflamed the greed and envy in its followers by railing against the giants' prosperity, and they rose up in response.

At least, that's what most giants believed to have happened. No one really knows any longer what set off the war. But once battle began, the long-standing peace between giants and dragons crumbled everywhere. Foes tore at each others' throats in all parts of Ostoria. There were no front lines or safe havens, only endless ambushes, sieges, and atrocities committed against giants and dragons alike. Eventually, none were left alive on either side who had seen the war's beginning. Age and brutality had claimed them all, and the few giants and dragons then alive had spent their entire existence at war. The Thousand-Year War didn't truly end so much as it wasted away through attrition and exhaustion.

The realm that could still be called Ostoria survived only far in the north. A few outposts and fragment kingdoms, such as the fire giants' Helligheim and the stone giants' Nedeheim, clung to life in deep caverns and hidden valleys. In the millennia that followed, even these places fell, and what remained of Ostorian territory became barren, shrouded in ice as thick as mountains. Since that time, many lesser races have attained greatness and themselves fallen into obscurity. Few hints of the giants' once-great empire have survived the relentless accumulation of years.

Voninheim, the Lost Capital

Voninheim ("Titan Home" in the Giant language) stood as the capital of Ostoria for millennia. It was an awe-inspiring structure of iron and stone, raised by magic as much as by mortal hands. Some attributed its construction directly to one or more of Annam's sons, arguing that even giants couldn't have erected such a monumental edifice. The palace stood firm and unshaken as glaciers that could flatten mountains assailed it and flowed around it, until only its iron spires jutted above the ice like great, gray fangs. Eventually the relentless ice buried it utterly, and Voninheim was abandoned. Many giants seek to rediscover its location: some hope to recapture the lost glory of Ostoria, but others want only to claim the mighty weapons of legend said to be entombed in its frozen halls.

But the giants remember. Their empire and their unified purpose are long gone, but a yearning for a return to the greatness that was once theirs burns in all their memories.

Annam's Offspring: The Giant Pantheon

When Ostoria fell, Annam disowned his children, swearing never to regard the giants again until they returned Ostoria to its past prominence and reclaimed their rightful positions as rulers of the world. Giants, therefore, don't pray to Annam, who refuses to hear them. Instead, they revere his divine children, as well as a host of other hero-deities and godly villains that are minor members of the pantheon.

Chief among the giant gods are the six sons of Annam. The brothers are Stronmaus (champion and favorite of storm giants), Memnor (cloud giants), Surtur (fire giants), Thrym (frost giants), Skoraeus Stonebones (stone giants), and Grolantor (hill giants).

Although each of Annam's sons is typically worshiped by giants of a particular type, they, like Annam himself, aren't racially distinct. Stronmaus, for example, doesn't look like a storm giant, though he is often depicted as one in carvings and other art. Like Annam and each of his brothers, Stronmaus is a unique godly being with no mortal equivalent. His temperament and interests are similar to those of the storm giants, so most of his followers are of that type.

Similar statements can be made about the other five brothers. Most cloud giants revere Memnor, for example, but many reject him because of his deceitfulness and venerate Stronmaus instead. A storm giant living amid blizzards and icebergs in the far northern sea might pay homage to Thrym rather than to Stronmaus. Giants that have given up hope of rising in the ordning sometimes worship Vaprak the Destroyer, who is recognized by giants as the father of trolls and ogres. Giants don't worship male deities exclusively, either. Annam's mate Othea, Hiatea the huntress and home warden, Iallanis the goddess of love and peace, and Diancastra, an impetuous and arrogant trickster, have substantial followings. Like humans, some giants even fall prey to demon cults, in which they pay homage to a demon lord such as Baphomet or Kostchtchie. Worshiping such entities, or any non-giant deity, is considered a great sin against the ordning. Being discovered means being cast out from family and clan.

The Giant Tongue

The language that giants share is one of the few remnants from their once-grand empire. Over time it has fragmented into many dialects, and each type has its own distinctive accent, but giants of different types can generally understand one another.

Any non-giant who learns the Giant language can converse with all types of giants, but giants sometimes have a hard time hearing the tiny voices of human-sized creatures, and some vowel sounds emitted by giants are nearly impossible to reproduce for any creature that doesn't have lungs as large as beer barrels.

Maat and Maug

Two words have special significance in the Giant language and the giants' worldview. Neither one of them translates directly into Common or any other language, because their definitions encompass several related concepts. {@b Maat} (pronounced mott) is the term giants use to describe ideas, behaviors, creatures, and objects that they consider good, holy, honorable, or desirable. {@b Maug} (pronounced mog) is the counterpart term, embodying what other languages call evil, unholy, dishonorable, or undesirable.

Individual giants aren't necessarily thought of as maat or maug by their kin. What matters isn't a giant's personal philosophy but its standing within the ordning, which is influenced by behavior and attitude but also by a host of other factors. Every individual commits both maat and maug acts, and rises or falls in the ordning as a consequence. A giant isn't judged by other giants on the basis of whether what it did was inherently good or evil, but on whether its actions enhanced or diminished the qualities giants admire-the "giantness," if you will-in themselves and their clans.

A storm giant, for example, might see the raiding practices of hill giants as distasteful but not maug, because brutal raiding is an inborn trait of the hill giants. If those same hill giants worshiped Yeenoghu, however, that act would represent a flagrant turning away from the traditions of the ordning. Hill giants who choose that path make themselves maug.

Representative Giant Phrases

What is your tribe and rank? {@i Wo dun stomm rad?}

Who is your leader? {@i Wer dun forer?}

I give you respect. {@i Am du paart.}

Who goes there? {@i Wer fers dir?}

Where are you going? {@i Wie ferst du?}

My name is Red Wind of a Thousand Evils. {@i Rodvind Tusenmaug er meg nom.}

Attack our enemies! {@i Anfel su uvenir!}

Lead me to your king. {@i Fang meg zo dun kong.}

Non-giants are considered maug out of hand and must usually prove themselves maat to gain a giant's respect.

Runes and Tale Carvings

For much of their written communication, giants use a modified version of the runic letterforms claimed by the dwarves as their own. This alphabet is used widely today, including by many traditional enemies of the dwarves such as orcs, giants, and goblinoids. That giants were first in the world and thus the creators of the script is a fact that giants take for granted but which dwarves hotly dispute.

Many giants are illiterate or nearly so-particularly hill, frost, and fire giants, which place little value on learning. Instead of writing stories with words, they typically tell their tales with pictograms etched in wood, ice, stone, or even earth, in the case of hill giants. These "tale carvings" relate legends or the stories of important events or meetings in the manner of highly sophisticated cave paintings. Often they employ aspects of legends about the giant pantheon. For example, Memnor's face or head floating above the shoulders of another giant indicates that the giant was a liar or a deceiver; a depiction of Iallanis being stabbed in the back represents the betrayal of love. Such symbols and visual allegories are well understood by giants, but they can be indecipherable to viewers who aren't steeped in the giants' mythology. Most non-giants find a tale carving as unintelligible as giants would find poetry written in Elvish.

A Glossary of Giant Words

Giants and Magic

Giants have a paradoxical relationship with magic. The most outwardly magical are the cloud giants, followed closely by storm giants. Both types have an innate ability to use some forms of magic related to air, weather, and gravity. Very few giants, however, study magic in the way that humans, dwarves, and elves do. Arcane scholarship by itself isn't acknowledged by the ordning; it isn't maug, but it isn't maat, either. Mastering the secrets of magic, though, demands a degree of devotion that would take giants away from pursuits that are valued by the ordning. As a consequence, it's a path rarely taken.

The exception is rune magic. Giants are drawn to the solidity and permanence of magical runes. Stone giants are great practitioners of rune carving, both because of the artistry it demands and because their environment is perfect for its use. At least a few skiltgravr ("rune cutters") can be found among any type of giants, even the slow-witted hill giants who stomp enormous marks into hillsides or gouge them into their own flesh.

Crafting this form of magic is painstakingly slow. Imagine a wizard who crafts a scroll and who eschews the convenience of parchment and ink in favor of stone and chisel, glacier and axe, or iron and forge.

Carving a magical rune into an item imbues it with power. Like any other magic item, it can be used to activate one or more magical effects. A magical rune can also be inscribed upon a surface to create effects similar to those of a glyph of warding or symbol spell. The rune itself determines what sort of magic the item or surface holds. For example, a storm rune carved into a stone might allow the stone's possessor to control the weather. The same rune carved into door or chest might deal thunder damage to anyone who opens it.

A Giant's Bag

A giant on the move always has a sack slung over its shoulder. The primary purpose of a giant's bag is to carry food. With such an enormous belly to feed (particularly in the case of hill giants), it's unwise for a giant to travel without a supply of nourishment.

Giants also carry rocks in their bags: a few for battle, a few others for hunting, and one or two special ones for games. Beyond that, a bag might contain anything: tools, mementos, items for trade, or merely curios the giant wanted to bring along. Some possible contents are:

Champions of Rock Throwing

Giants have a well-deserved reputation as living siege engines-all of them can hurl boulders with accuracy across great distances. Rock throwing-for battle, hunting, and sport-is a tradition that goes back to the ancient times of the giants. Other races developed the sling, the spear-thrower, or the bow to artificially improve the strength and accuracy of their ranged attacks, but giants never perceived a need for mechanical assistance. Even in places where giants have adapted bows or javelins for use in combat, they've never neglected the straightforward strategy of picking up a rock and letting it fly. Few activities, in fact, seem to give them as much satisfaction as the simple act of tossing boulders.

Most of the games that giants play involve throwing rocks in ways that hone their skills for hunting and war. One of the most popular contests, especially among fire giants, involves nothing more than taking turns trying to knock each other down with boulders. Frost giants build targets out of snow and ice and compete to see who can knock down the most with a single toss. A popular one-on-one game begins with the challenger throwing a stone as far as it can. The giant who was challenged then goes to where the stone landed and hurls it back at the challenger. A challenger who is stronger wins, because the return throw will fall short, but a giant who took on a better thrower will stumble away, nursing its injuries, as a lesson that arrogance has a price.

In battle against puny creatures, giants use boulders that fit in one hand. When giants fight enormous foes (such as dragons) or enormous targets (such as castles), they prefer to hurl stones so large that even a giant must use both arms to lift and throw one. Giants throw just as accurately with both arms as with one, a feat most humans would find impossible. These attacks are effective only at shorter ranges, however, for obvious reasons.

When they hunt by rock throwing, giants use smaller stones, about the size of a human head, that can kill an elk or a bear without smashing it into pulp.

How to Lay a Giant Low

A force allied with giants-or worse, a force made up of giants-is one of the most fearsome opponents on the battlefield. The giants can rain boulders onto an enemy from a distance where only skilled archers, heavy siege weapons, or spellcasters can strike back at them.

At first blush, it might seem that a potent wizard would make the best giant-killer, but few spellcasters can stand up to a giant in direct confrontation. One might do harm to a giant, but odds are it will survive the one or two spells that can be thrown at it before a well-placed boulder or the swing of an enormous club quashes the threat.

Among those with experience fighting giants, dwarves have developed the most effective tactics. To defeat a giant, dwarves rely on prolonged, accurate, massed archery (favoring heavy crossbows for such work), fast-moving cavalry that can force the giant into a disadvantageous position, or fanatical troops armed with pole arms, ropes, and grappling hooks. If a giant can be tripped or pulled down-preferably onto its belly so it's less able to defend itself-then it can be entangled in nets and cables and disabled by concentrated attacks on its head and neck.

On the other side of the field, giants understand that smaller foes will try to target their legs and lower bodies. Thus, when they head into a fight against human-sized opponents, they don thick boots, greaves, armored codpieces, and wide, heavy hide or metal belts to protect their bellies. Even savage hill giants peel thick bark from trees and strap it around their legs and dangle logs or stones from their belts to make the going more perilous for an enemy that tries to get underfoot.

Living the Giant Life

Giants are exceptionally long-lived compared to humans, but none are immortal. A peaceful death from old age is a common occurrence among cloud giants and storm giants and isn't unusual among stone giants and fire giants. It's the exception among hill giants and frost giants, most of which die violently in battle against humans, dragons, other monsters, or their own kind.

Giants live at a slower pace than humans do. In the space of four heartbeats for a man, a stone giant's great heart beats just once. Giant mothers stay with their child for longer than human mothers do, and giant children grow to adulthood more slowly. Giants' families are small, because a couple seldom has more than a few children, and many have none at all.

The life spans of the various types of giants are generally in keeping with their place in the ordning; the lowliest giants have the shortest life spans, and the noblest giants are the longest-lived. Stone giants are the exception. Because of their long life spans, despite their low position in the ordning, other giants consider stone giants to be the wisest of all giant types, just as Skoraeus Stonebones is often seen as the wisest of all the giant gods.

Giant Life Spans

Giant Life Spans
Giant TypeLife Span
Hill200 years
Frost250 years
Fire350 years
Cloud400 years
Storm600 years
Stone800 years

Roleplaying a Giant

Giving a giant a personality trait, an ideal, a bond, and a flaw helps to create a more vibrant NPC. You can also give a character background to a giant. The noble background, for example, could apply to a cloud giant.

Giant Personality Traits

Giant Personality Traits
d8Personality Trait
1The brutality of my peers is a relic of a bygone era that should be stamped out. I seek a more enlightened path.
2As the most powerful beings in creation, we have a duty to use our strength for the benefit of all.
3I take what I want. I don't care who gets hurt.
4A giant lives for a few centuries, but giantkind is eternal. Everything I do is to glorify my ancestors and make my descendants proud.
5Dragons are my mortal enemies. Everything I do is to ensure their destruction.
6I measure a creature's worth by its size. The small folk are beneath my concern.
7The small folk are vermin. I enjoy torturing and killing them.
8Good or bad, Annam's sons represent the ideals that we, as giants, must strive to uphold.

Giant Ideals

Giant Ideals
1The Ordning. Annam created the ordning for the good of all giants, and it's our duty to uphold his vision. (Lawful)
2Skill. What sets my clan apart is its mastery of our traditional crafts. (Good)
3Strength. No other race can match the strength of giants, and none should dare to try. (Evil)
4Lordship. Giants are the rightful rulers of the world. All will be well when our empire is restored. (Neutral)
5Tribute. The lesser races owe giants not just respect but payment of tribute, and what they don't pay willingly, we will take by force. (Chaotic)
6Religion. Of Annam's many sons, none is greater than my patron deity. (Any)

Giant Bonds

Giant Bonds
1My clan is the most important influence on my life, our collective place in the ordning depends on our devotion to one another.
2My clan mates who serve in our deity's temples are the closest companions I'll ever know.
3My place in the ordning is ordained by our patron deity, and it would be blasphemous to aspire to anything higher or lower.
4Though I can never rise above my clan's position in the ordning, I can be a leader among my clan.
5My own kind have turned their backs on me, so I make my way among the lesser creatures of the world.
6Humans have proven their worth in the world and earned a measure of respect from giantkind.

Giant Flaws

Giant Flaws
1The ordning is too restrictive for the likes of me.
2The lesser creatures of the world have no souls
3Unity among giants is a myth, anyone not of my clan is a fair target for my weapons.
4I care nothing for what others expect, to the point where I cannot help but contradict what others ask of me.
5I am terrified of arcane magic and can be cowed by overt displays of it.
6Ancient dragons fill me with dread. My knees grow weak in their presence.

Cloud Giants

Cloud giants are aptly named, or at least were at one time. Few of them live literally on clouds anymore, but most do reside atop high mountains, inside or even above a near-perpetual cloud layer. A select few-those at the apex of the clan's ordning-claim the last of the ancient cloud castles that still drift across the sky.

No one can build those majestic structures any longer. The methods of their construction were lost (along with much other knowledge) when Ostoria fell. Some cloud giants believe the information might yet be buried in some long-forgotten, ruined library. Rumors of its existence crop up from time to time, stirring debate and dreams of resurgent glory among the cloud giants, but definite information has proven impossible to obtain. Many cloud giants think that someday, a hero will unearth this ancient secret. Until then, they must be satisfied with watching clouds drift past their mountaintop homes instead of living atop those clouds as in days of yore.

Family First

Most types of giants live communally in large groups of clan mates, but the central unit of cloud giant life is the family-a mated pair, their offspring (if any), and perhaps a couple of close relatives. Cloud giants prefer not to congregate in great numbers in any one place, to avoid drawing too much attention. It's not that they fear attack from humanoids or monsters, because few creatures other than dragons can challenge them. But if more than a few lived in the same place, the size of their combined treasure hoard would attract an incessant stream of adventurers and other would-be thieves-a nuisance on the order of rats in the larder.

Despite the distances that separate the homes of families, cloud giants aren't isolated. Every family or individual knows where its nearest neighbors are, even if the location is hundreds of miles away, and those neighbors know where their nearest neighbors are, and so on across the world. In a crisis, word is spread from family to family, so that a mighty squad of cloud giants could be assembled, in time, if need arises.

Most cloud giant homes include one or more pets. Wyverns, griffons, giant eagles and owls, and other beasts of the sky are popular choices. Pets aren't limited to flying creatures, though. Any sort of creature might be found in a cloud giant menagerie, with rare specimens treated more as status symbol than as companions.

Benevolent Overlords

Cloud giants are famous (or infamous) for demanding tribute from the humanoids that live beneath them. Such tribute is only proper from their perspective, for two reasons. First, their presence in an area benefits everyone by driving away many evils, especially flying predators such as manticores and wyverns. Second, the giants believe they deserve to be rewarded for their forbearance; no one could stop them from simply taking what they want, but instead of doing that they allow their tribute to be freely given. (The logic of that position is clearer to the giants than it is to those on the other end of the arrangement.)

Much of the tribute that cloud giants accept is in the form of livestock and crops, but this isn't their only source of food. Cloud giants are avid gardeners. Almost all cloud giant strongholds devote space to a garden that produces enormous yields: beans as big as turnips, turnips as big as pumpkins, and pumpkins as big as carriages.

The garden of a cloud giant family is seldom affected by drought, frost, or locusts. When such a calamity strikes nearby farms, families have been known to share their bounty to ease the humanoids' food shortage.

Two Faces of Memnor

The chief deity of cloud giants is Memnor, the cleverest of Annam's offspring. But Memnor isn't only clever, he's sly and deceitful. Tales of his exploits emphasize his charisma, his smooth manner, and his ability to manipulate and mislead his siblings and other legendary figures into doing exactly what he wants, usually to their great detriment.

Thus, cloud giants have two distinct aspects of Memnor to admire and emulate. Those of a benign disposition revere him for his charm, intelligence, and persuasiveness, while those of a more malign bent take Memnor's self-interest to heart and imitate his trickery. Cloud giants that take a particular interest in trickery, known as "smiling ones," wear two-faced masks as they practice their deceptions and prey on those who are susceptible to their charms. Statistics for cloud giant smiling ones appear in chapter 3 of this book.

Such events are at the root of tales about magic beans and others about a human family living in a cottage carved from a single, enormous gourd. Beyond that, the cloud giants' generosity in times of want helps to cement their reputation as friends of humankind-a reputation that serves them well, even though it's not entirely deserved.

Ordning of Extravagance

A cloud giant's position within the ordning doesn't depend on talent or skill. It depends on wealth. The more treasure a cloud giant possesses, the higher its standing. It's as simple as that. Almost.

Ownership is one thing, but wealth that's kept locked away means little. To fully contribute to one's status, wealth must be displayed, and the more ostentatious the display, the better. In a cloud giant family's home, extravagance is omnipresent. One might boast windows framed in gold leaf, rare perfume stored in vials of crystal with silver lids, or a scene in the sky depicted in a tapestry composed entirely of pearls.

Another way for a family to demonstrate its wealth is by bestowing lavish gifts on other families. (A gift from one family member to another doesn't prove anything about the family's largesse.) No cloud giant truly believes that it's better to give than to receive; a family does so only with an eye toward how the giving can elevate its status. Memnor and his trickery play a role in this "game." The very best gift (from the giver's perspective) is one that everyone believes to be far more valuable than it truly is. Only the giver and the receiver will ever know a gift's true value, and neither of them would ever reveal that a gift is worth less than it appears to be, because to do so would reduce the status of both.

Wealth also changes hands between cloud giants when they indulge their obsession for gambling and wagering. Cloud giants don't engage in betting for enjoyment; it is less a form of entertainment than a type of bloodless feud. No cloud giant is a good loser, and one would be aghast to hear someone else say, "I lost 40 pounds of gold, but I had a good time." Betting wars between families can go on for generations, with fortunes and estates (and the position in the ordning that goes with them) passing back and forth repeatedly. What a parent loses, a child hopes someday to win back, plus more; what the child wins back, a grandchild probably will eventually lose again. The tales that cloud giants tell of their ancestors are seldom about wars or magic or battles against dragons-they're about brilliant wagers won through boldness or deceit, and rival families brought to disgrace and ruin by the same.

Masks of Nobility

Ancient depictions of Memnor often showed him wearing a two-faced mask. Because of this, cloud giant nobles seldom show their faces, but instead wear exquisite masks made of precious materials adorned with gemstones. Each noble has a collection of these masks that it wears to conceal its face but still reflect its current mood; an individual might change masks many times during the day as its emotions shift.

A mask is prized both for its material value and for its accuracy in expressing the mood it represents. Only the richest of cloud giants can afford the dozens of masks necessary to show all the subtle differences in emotion possible among their kind. Artisans who can sculpt and craft masks that meet the cloud giants' exacting standards in such matters are richly rewarded for their skill.

Fire Giants

The fire giants were the officers, engineers, and crafters of ancient Ostoria. Their position and unparalleled skill, along with their domineering outlook, make them haughty and arrogant.

Ordning of Craftwork

Fire giants are the greatest smiths, architects, and technicians among giantkind. The iron-lined halls of a fire giant stronghold, deep inside a mountain or a volcano, support the unimaginable weight of the stone above them and enable the giants to harness the heat of rivers of magma to power their forges.

A fire giant's prowess in the occupations of crafting determines its place in the ordning. Although fire giants put stock in combat skill, they recognize that success in battle or on the hunt derives mainly from the quality of one's weapons and armor, and those that can fashion the finest gear enjoy the highest status in the clan. Maser artisans, architects, and engineers select the best disciples to pass their knowledge on to, along with their standing. Often pupils are children or siblings of their teachers, but that's not always so. Leaders are chosen by general recognition from among the best crafters in the clan.

One group of fire giants, known as the dreadnoughts, owe their place in the ordning not to their crafting ability but to their extraordinary physical prowess. They take on a lot of the work of guarding the forges and keeping them stoked-effort without which the crafters couldn't succeed. (See chapter 3 of this book for more information on fire giant dreadnoughts.)

Fire giants don't spend a lot of time crafting works of art, although they would maintain that all of their feats of metalworking and engineering are themselves forms of artistic expression. Beyond such accomplishments, true artwork is scarce among fire giants, and most of what exists is jewelry, made from gems and ore that they mine and then refine. A unique form of art that some fire giants produce involves manipulating magma as it cools, forming it into fantastical, one-of-a-kind shapes. The most striking of these works are collected and displayed inside the stronghold, not unlike how other cultures create topiary gardens.

Mighty Fighters, Poor Planners

When fire giants aren't honing their crafting skills, they're drilling with weapons or exercising to keep themselves fit for battle. The typical fire giant has a mastery of combat tactics that few other warriors can match, but the giants' understanding of strategy is rudimentary.

This deficiency isn't born from a lack of ability, but has its roots in tradition. In ages past, when the giants worked together to dominate the world, strategy was determined by the cloud giants and the storm giants. Ever since the clans went their separate ways after Ostoria's wars against the dragons, the fire giants have not mounted a grand, strategic effort to extend their sway, but they have fought countless skirmishes and other tactical engagements, mainly to solidify their hold on territory they have already claimed. If an ambitious fire giant ever became a master of strategic planning (or captured and enslaved a cooperative general), little could stop a tribe of fire giants that enjoyed this additional advantage over their neighbors.

Fire giants raise and train hell hounds as war dogs, and they sometimes persuade human wizards (free or enslaved) to harness fire elementals as guardians for their strongholds. Some allow trolls to roam free in rarely used parts of their fortresses, serving as perimeter guards of a sort. Trolls require little maintenance, able to survive on the fire giants' scraps and on dead or diseased slaves; they're tough enough to deter most intruders; and their susceptibility to fire makes them little threat to a fire giant.

Surtur's Cleansing Fire

Surtur, the chief deity of fire giants, is believed to have been born alongside Thrym. Each twin then tried to be the first to cry out, the first to walk, and the first to talk, and they have competed with one another ever since. Often in legends these contests are bloody battles, but some tales have the brothers acting side by side on grand adventures. Surtur is seen as the more clever of the two, and fire giants emulate his unsurpassed skill at creating and building things.

In the fire giants' world, fire is strength. It burns away impurities and leaves behind only what is strong enough to withstand the heat, such as the best steel from the forge. When fire is controlled, it is the giants' most powerful tool; when it rages unchecked, it can bring down forests and lay waste to cities.

Because of the destructive power of fire, the worship of Surtur is tinged with an apocalyptic air. Some observers suspect that priests of Surtur maintain clandestine workshops and armories where they manufacture and stockpile battle gear in preparation for a final, all-encompassing battle that will decide the fate of the world. If the suspicions are true, these sites are expertly hidden and kept secret even from most fire giants.

Slaves: Labor-saving Devices

It takes a lot of work to build and maintain a fire giant stronghold. Most of that effort comes not from the giants themselves, but from the slaves that they keep. Fire giants enslave other creatures to accomplish unskilled labor, so the giants can concentrate on the more vital aspects of foundry operation and crafting that only they are capable of. They aren't overly cruel masters, but neither are they particularly kind-they are uncaring about their slaves, because slaves aren't giants, and there are always more to be had if the supply runs low.

Most creatures that fire giants capture are put to work in the giants' mines or on surface farms the giants claim as part of their domain. Even master crafters of other races are consigned to unskilled labor, because so few of them have talents the fire giants consider "skilled." Only creatures that have skills the fire giants need but don't practice (because they aren't valued in the ordning), such as accounting, brewing, and medicine, are allowed to continue plying their trades.

Skilled slaves receive better treatment, at least in the sense that an owner uses less force with a delicate tool, but as a rule fire giants view humans in much the same way that humans view horses: they have utility if properly directed, and some might be prized for rare qualities, but even the smartest, best trained horse isn't a person. That said, it's not unheard of for a fire giant to "consult with" a slave physician when it falls ill, or with a slave engineer right before beginning a difficult stage of tunnel excavation. (Such a consultation would only be to ensure that the right tools and materials are on hand for the excavation, not to solicit a second opinion on the giant's personal assessment of the structure's integrity.)

Giants that stand low in the ordning are assigned to manage slaves and mining operations. Excavating mine shafts and digging out ore is important work, but smelting and metalwork are valued more highly than effort spent keeping a tunnel from collapsing on slaves.

Paying the Price

Fire giants on many occasions have ransomed captives back to their families or communities, once the giants determined that a slave had no particular talent they needed and others were willing to pay for its return. Affluent prisoners such as merchants and aristocrats are the most likely to win this sort of reprieve, for obvious reasons. The ransom demanded rarely involves baubles such as gold or gems: fire giants prefer payment in mithral, adamantine, or different slaves (ones with more useful talents or stronger backs).

Frost Giants

Frost giants dwell in the remote, frozen places of the world. Anything warmer than the flesh of a recently killed elk is as flame to them. As a sailor fears the howl of the wind heralding a storm, the denizens of ice-capped mountains and northern steppes shudder at the war horns that presage the arrival of Thrym's blue-skinned, icy children.

Ordning of Might

Position within the frost giant ordning is determined by sheer, brute strength. Frost giants know that those that use cunning, agility, and magic are dangerous foes and can sometimes overcome pure strength, but never in a straightforward, fair manner; enemies that act that way are maug, and strength alone is maat.

Doubt or disagreement between frost giants over which is strongest is settled by a trial of strength. Such a contest typically involves wrestling but can also be a rock-throwing competition, a hunt, or one-on-one combat.

To show proof of their superiority, frost giants keep and display trophies of their victims. Mammoth tusks, griffon beaks, and manticore tails adorn the walls of frost giant lairs. Formidable humanoid enemies are memorialized in trophies, too, but only rarely do giants put the heads or bodies on display. A human hero's greatsword or a wizard's staff is a more appropriate trophy in such cases.

A frost giant's armor and weapons are as much a record of its battle honors as its trophy collection is, for those who know how to read the signs. Notches carved into the haft of a weapon show the number and type of foes it has brought down. Horns, feathers, claws, and tusks affixed to helmets and armor serve as decorations commemorating the giant's greatest feats of strength.

The ordning is determined by strength and strength alone, and there is no difference in physical prowess between the genders of frost giants. (Most child-rearing duties are handled by the elderly of both sexes, not solely by females.) It is considered highly maug to attack or challenge a pregnant female, even to improve one's standing, just as it would be to attack a frost giant as it slept.

A frost giant that is innately weaker than its kin has a low rank in the ordning and practically no chance of rising any higher. At times, when a giant becomes intensely frustrated with that situation, it turns to clandestine worship of Vaprak, the deity of trolls and ogres. An individual touched by Vaprak's favor is transformed into an everlasting one-a giant with enough strength to rival the leaders of the clan, but destined to be cast out or destroyed if its secret allegiance becomes known.

Because strength is their only standard of measurement, frost giants are more likely than other giants to welcome a non-giant into their group. The might of a human who hunts polar bears bare-handed as frost giants do, or who wrestles a frost giant into submission, can't be denied. Such a human could never become the chieftain of a tribe but could earn a place of honor as one blessed by Thrym.

Ruthless Raiders

Frost giant society has no industry to speak of. It takes what it needs from others, and if it can't take something, it has no need for it. Frost giants do make leather, clothes, and bone tools and adornments from the animals they hunt, but those activities account for almost all of their craftwork.

When frost giants plan a raid on a nearby settlement or outpost, they time it to take place under the cover of a blizzard, believing the storm to be a sign from Thrym that the weak-boned humanoids are ready to be plundered, in the same way that a farmer might look at a rainstorm as a blessing from the harvest god.

Frost giants recognize two kinds of loot: rod and kvit. Rod ("red") plunder consists of living creatures, either livestock or slaves. Kvit refers to material goods, the most prized being objects of steel, alcohol, and large gems. Frost giants like to grab gems for adorning their clothing, but ordinary currency is usually left behind after a raid. Tiny, round coins simply have no worth to a frost giant.

Thrym's Frigid Might

Thrym has long rivaled his twin brother Surtur for Annam's affection and pride. Frost giants pride themselves on Thrym's victories over Surtur and other legendary threats when he proved to have more strength or a steadier heart. Yet, Annam was swayed more by Surtur's well-crafted gifts than by the trophy heads Thrym laid at his feet. For this reason, frost giants bear more ill will toward Annam than most other giants do.

Unlike his brothers, Thrym is seldom depicted alone. He is usually accompanied by up to ten shield-brothers and shield-sisters, heroic frost giants that won such great glory during the war between giants and dragons that Thrym granted them the honor of fighting forever at his side.

Because frost giants can't stand the heat of a forge, they don't mine their own metal or craft their own weapons and armor. The fire-forged items of steel and iron that they wield and wear are prized as though they were made of gold. The giants are always on the lookout for such booty on their raids, but they don't often come across gear that is large enough for them to wear. Many of the giants in a tribe boast arms and armor handed down from their ancestors; others make do with items cobbled together from smaller parts. Shields sized for a human, for example, can be lashed together into a crude suit of scale armor; an anvil riveted onto a log serves as a warhammer.

Masters of Beasts

Frost giants dominate wild creatures both as evidence of their strength and to use them as hunting companions. They don't, however, have much grasp of animal husbandry, so their "pets" are bullied and beaten into submission more than they're trained. When a frost giant commands a beast to attack, it's less a command than an acknowledgment to the creature that the giant won't beat it for satisfying its hunger. A creature that proves willful or that resists "training" is fated to end up on the giant's dinner table.

The roster of creatures in a frost giant lair can include polar bears, winter wolves, and mammoths, but the giants' most prized living possessions are remorhazes. Adult remorhazes are untrainable by anything short of powerful magical compulsion, but one taken as an egg can be trained as it is raised. In fact, remorhaz hatchlings are surprisingly pliant to the frost giants' manner of teaching by bullying.

Hill Giants

Hill giants live to eat. Anyone who understands this one fact about them knows everything there is to know.

Ordning of Gluttony

Hill giants are the weakest of the true giants. They have the shortest stature, the smallest brains, and the least ambition. The only area in which they excel is girth.

Since eating is the only thing hill giants care about, a tribe is always led by its fattest, heaviest member-the most successful and thus the most admired one in the group. The qualities that other creatures expect or demand of their leaders-such as intellect, decision-making ability, and personal magnetism-have no importance to hill giants. They are neither recognized nor rewarded, except to the extent that a hill giant with slightly above average smarts might use trickery or intimidation to grab more food than its neighbors.

Dens of Squalor and Stench

Hill giants stuff the most repulsive, rotting things into their mouths without hesitation, suggesting that either they have no sense of taste or their hunger is so all-consuming that flavor isn't a consideration. Whatever the reason, the upshot is that hill giant dens are filthy, reeking places. Decaying carcasses and cracked bones are strewn about. The ground is saturated with blood and with the giants' own filth.

Not every hill giant's digestive system is so indiscriminate; from time to time a giant does get sick, but most of them recover and don't learn anything from the experience. The rare exceptions are called mouths of Grolantor-giants that are confined and starved to the point of emaciation before being unleashed during a battle or a raid.

The stench that exudes from a hill giant den might attract monstrous scavengers such as oozes, ropers, carrion crawlers, or otyughs. Hill giants don't domesticate or tend these creatures but do tolerate their presence. A visit from a gelatinous cube or a carrion crawler probably is the only "housekeeping" a hill giant's den ever sees.

Ghouls are known to lurk around the edges of hill giant encampments, but they're less welcome than other kinds of scavengers.

Grolantor: Always Hungry, Never Full

The deity most revered by hill giants is Grolantor, the least of Annam's six sons, the black sheep of the family who was scorned by his siblings and his parents. Most of Grolantor's problems, however, were of his own doing.

Proud of his great strength (his only redeeming quality), Grolantor refused to recognize the superiority of his older, smarter, stronger siblings, and insisted on being treated as their equal. He complained constantly of his endless hunger, but rather than hunt for himself, he snatched food from the plates of his siblings and his parents.

This behavior caused many fights between Grolantor and his siblings, most of which Grolantor lost. Tales about Grolantor invariably end with his gaining yet another scar on his back, received as he escaped the wrath of a family member who had been pushed too far by Grolantor's insulting boasts and selfishness.

With their greater craftiness-especially if they're led by a ghast-ghouls can use simple trickery to steal the giants' meals. A hill giant wouldn't mind if a roper dragged away a few scraps, but it would be angry if a trio of ghouls stole an entire carcass.


Hill giants sometimes amuse themselves with inane games that typically involve food or eating. One such game is called stuff-stuff, in which hill giants see how many halflings, gnomes, or goblins they can fit into their mouths at once without swallowing.

Stone Giants

Stone giants-reclusive, reflective, and inscrutable-take pains to remain apart from the world of sunlight and sky. Only when they're surrounded by stone do they consider themselves to be in reality. A world of all-encompassing stone is a realm of permanence and solidity, one where a lifetime of laborious carving can last through countless eons. The surface world, with its shifting light, endless sky, changing climate, and eroding wind, represents a dream state, an unreality where nothing lasts and therefore nothing has significance.

Ordning of Artistry

Among stone giants, mastery of an art ranks as the greatest virtue, and among all the arts, stone carving is held in highest regard. Most stone giants spend their lives in unending pursuit of the perfect artistic creation. Young stone giants practice tirelessly, hoping to prove themselves worthy of assisting the tribe's best carvers. A stone giant master carver might devote years to finding the best stone before beginning a great work. The best carvers are honored as the leaders and shamans of the tribe, and their hands are seen as holy-literally becoming the hands of Skoraeus Stonebones as they work.

Of course, not all stone giants have the hands of a god. Those who show little skill in carving are considered pathetic and viewed with a combination of pity and contempt. To determine the ordning beneath the highest levels of artistry, stone giants compete in games of boulder hurling and catching. Their rock-throwing skills suit stone giants well when they have cause to defend their homes or attack enemies. But even where boulder tossing is concerned, artistry is fundamental to the effort. A stone giant hurling a boulder isn't only performing a feat of strength but is also striving to display consummate athleticism and grace.

Those who can't infuse artistry into every aspect of their lives fall to the lowest rungs of the ordning and are often pushed literally to the perimeter of stone giant society, to serve as guards on the tribe's most distant borders or as hunters that wander beyond those borders. As such, the stone giants that are first encountered by outsiders are almost always the least successful members of stone giant society and the poorest examples of the ideals stone giants aspire to. They are the brutes and boors cast out by a society of artists and philosophers.

For a people that spend their lives mostly in darkness, stone giants have a nuanced appreciation of the effects of shadow and light. They design carvings to produce shadows in specific ways when a light source is placed in the proper location. Without both the light and the shadow, the carving is incomplete and can't be viewed in its true form. For example, a tale carving made with these special techniques tells one story when it's viewed in flat, dim light, but it reveals a second, much deeper tale with the addition of proper illumination.

Skoraeus Stonebones, the Great Creator

Stone giants worship Skoraeus Stonebones as the Great Creator, second in skill to Annam, but master of the other deities in his father's absence. He appears in stone giant art in two ways: as a pair of hands, one holding a chisel and the other a hammer, and as the largest statue or relief carving of a stone giant in a tribe's caves. Typically, Skoraeus is depicted twice as tall as any other stone giant.

In the legends of the giants, Skoraeus often sits on the sidelines during the schemes and battles of his siblings. He acts as an observer, a confidant to the other gods, and a keeper of secrets that he must be forced or tricked into divulging.

In a classic tale, Memnor came to Skoraeus and whispered something in his ear. When Surtur demanded to know what Memnor had said, Skoraeus told his brother exactly what he had heard. Surtur brooded on that message, which was misleading when taken out of context, and eventually reacted rashly, but the consequences of his acts were seen as no fault of Skoraeus. If Surtur had instead asked Skoraeus for advice about Memnor's words, the legend would have ended differently.

Skoraeus is considered the most knowledgeable of the giant gods about magic, wards, banes, hidden treasures, and the secrets of the earth. Skoraeus gave the secret of smelting to Surtur. Skoraeus showed Thrym how to carve runes on his old weapons to imbue them with magic when Surtur refused to forge new ones for him. Skoraeus crafted spears for Hiatea so she could complete her ten tasks of valor. Skoraeus tapped with his hammer on the stone under the sea, so that Stronmaus could find the chain-tunnels that allowed him to pull the tarrasque down to the bed of the ocean where at last it would drown.

Speaking Stones

Although they are unsurpassed masters of tale carving, stone giants also employ mundane writing in their stone tableaux. Names, dates, and descriptions appear in their tales, often as part of an image (a character's arms or armor might incorporate runic letterforms, for example).

Stone giants also make extensive use of the carved word through "speaking stones." A speaking stone is an upright stone cylinder into which writing is carved in a descending spiral. When the cylinder is turned in one's hands (a feat impossible for any creature of human size and strength) or when it's rotated with its base placed in a cradle designed to balance it upright, the writing can be read as the cylinder goes around. The message wraps around the pillar like the threads of a screw, but in two alternating spirals. The first is read from top to bottom as the cylinder rotates; then the cylinder must be flipped over to reveal the second line of script, also read from top to bottom.

Speaking stones are sized to match the length of the message they carry, so there is no blank space on a stone. A cylinder that turns out to be too long or too thick, so that the message ends before the entire surface of the stone is used, is considered poor artistry. Tradition and honor demand that it be crushed into gravel and a new speaking stone begun.

Gentle Giants?

Newcomers who know only about the stone giants' focus on artistry might think them to be a peaceful and reasonable people. Among their own kind, they tend to be so. But outsiders, particularly non-giants of any sort, are unwelcome in the stone giants' caverns, and trespassers aren't treated politely.

A creature's first sign that it has intruded into stone giant territory might be a boulder, thrown seemingly from nowhere and exploding into shards against a nearby rock. Those who know anything about stone giants understand that this wasn't a miss; it was a measured warning, and the next stone won't land so harmlessly.

It's possible for travelers to negotiate with stone giants for safe passage through their territory, if someone in the group speaks Giant and the giants are offered a tribute Beautiful and large furs, exotic food, or art objects are suitable tributes; money is a weak inducement for all but the lowest of stone giants. If offered such enticements, one or two giants might come forward to negotiate while others remain at rock-throwing range.

To unfamiliar eyes, stone giants encountered on the fringes of their territory look and behave like primitives. First, personal adornment has little value in the ordning of stone giants, so their clothing tends to be simple and practical. Second, these giants are the least accomplished members of the clan. They are good at ambushing and throwing rocks, but they aren't leaders or even typical examples of their kind.

Even if the giants accept the offered tribute as permission to enter their territory, they might demand a higher price to pass through it. Usually this "gift" is a service of some kind-a task the giants would rather not do or that they're unable to perform, such as chasing kobolds out of a narrow cave or retrieving something from deep within a lake. (Stone giants are poor swimmers; they dislike entering water at all unless they can easily walk across the bottom.)

Stone giants rarely keep pets. They sometimes cultivate colonies of giant bats at the edges of their territory, both for a food source and as a warning system against intruders. They also don't mind sharing their caves or warrens with cave bears, fire beetles, and other beasts that mean them no harm. They keep their other subterranean neighbors at arm's length. Purple worms are their greatest bane, because a hungry worm chews through everything it encounters, including the giants' finest carvings and sculptures. Xorns are among the few creatures that are appreciated by stone giants; their passage through the earth causes no damage, and their alien modes of thought make them interesting to talk with.

Life in the Dark

Stone giants see well in darkness, and the caves and grottoes where they live are kept dark most of the time. They don't prefer to use illumination for any purpose that's not related to creating or displaying art.

Most of a giant's waking hours are taken up with meeting its responsibilities, whether that is a low-ranking pursuit or an artistic one. A tribe's chieftain or another leader such as a shaman determines when the tribe's guards and hunters are on or off duty. Other giants align their sleeping and waking schedules with stone giants higher in the ordning from whom they seek to learn.

Masters of the arts can ask much of lower-ranking students, including waking early to be sure the master has food upon rising, or staying awake while the master sleeps to create something the master will need (or will judge) upon waking. For one reason or another, about three quarters of a tribe's members are awake at any given time.

When outside their settlements, stone giants travel almost exclusively in darkness or-when they dare to visit the surface world-at night, the better to avoid the glaring dreams and visions that would assail them during daylight. A stone giant that visits the surface for too long or is forced out from underground risks becoming lost in the realm of dreams, living ever after as a twisted version of its former self that the giants call a dreamwalker (see chapter 3 for more information on this creature).

The Linjenstein

When a stone giant reaches the end of its tremendously long life, it joins the {@i Linjenstein} ("ancestors of stone"). The term refers both to the giants' forebears and to the chamber inside each stone giant settlement where they "reside."

A dead (or sometimes merely dying) stone giant is carried into the ancestors' chamber and leaned upright against the end of one of the rows of dead already there. The body gradually calcifies over many decades, until it becomes indistinguishable from an enormous stalagmite.

Family members visit this tomb-chamber often to pay respects to their ancestors. Some of these visits, especially by elderly giants who know they will soon take their place there, last for weeks or even months.

Storm Giants

Storm giants, the most powerful and majestic of giant-kind, are also the most aloof and the least understood. Uvarjotens aren't just forces of nature; they are bound to nature, and are extensions of it, in mystical ways that humans find hard to comprehend.

Ordning of Omens

Each storm giant knows its status in the ordning by the signals the universe sends them. Omens might be seen in the wheeling flight of a flock of birds, the patterns in sand left by a receding tide, the shapes of clouds, or any number of other natural phenomena. Storm giants that receive the greatest number of such messages generally rank highest, but the significance of individual signs can also affect one's status. On the rare occasions when storm giants meet, omens and signs accompany each individual, making it plain to all present who ranks where. Arguments about ranking within the ordning are rare, but all the giants in the group studiously examine every sign for evidence that one among them might be the greatest yet, since the revelation of that fact would herald Annam's return.

Ever since Ostoria fell and Annam abandoned his children, no sole king or emperor has ruled over giantkind. According to legend, the arrival of such a leader will be presaged by signs and omens in all the elements of the world: the sky (air), the sea (water), the continents (earth), and the underworld (fire). All of these are realms of the storm giants, which maintain a constant watch for the all-important signs. In ages past, when giant dynasties reigned, the signs that accompanied the leader of them all were clear and unmistakable. In the crawl of centuries since the empire's collapse, the few signs manifested have been muddied, conflicting, and contentious.

For an obvious reason, every storm giant has a strong personal interest in how soon Annam's return comes to pass-they all want to live to see it. Some individuals gain a measure of immortality for themselves by merging with elemental forces. These storm giant quintessents are the most reclusive of their kind, lairing in remote and inhospitable sites surrounded by brutal winds and murderous weather (see chapter 3 for more information on these creatures).

Without an emperor to serve as their political and spiritual head, the storm giants are adrift on an uncertain sea. Every possibility encapsulated in every sign is exhaustively examined. Debates over the meaning and validity of this or that omen are conducted across human kingdoms and spanning human lifetimes.

Moods of Stronmaus

Storm giants pay homage to Stronmaus, the eldest of Annam's children, who is also the most joyful and the most prone to laughter and enjoying fellowship with his siblings. That image of Stronmaus is in sharp contrast to how storm giants are perceived in the world: aloof and dour. Nonetheless, it is an accurate one.

In the giants' legends, Stronmaus is subject to gray moods and deep brooding that are just as intense as his moments of good humor. It is also true that storm giants aren't as humorless as popular notions paint them to be. They're quiet and reserved when they're by themselves, which is how they spend most of their time. But when they get together with others of their kind, they enjoy mirth, song, and drink as much as Stronmaus does. For the sake of their privacy and for the safety of smaller beings in the vicinity, these rare gatherings occur far from the presence of other creatures, thus perpetuating the giants' reputation for always being gloomy and grim.

Explorers and adventurers can find opportunity in this situation, since the giants sometimes hire agents that they dispatch to investigate portents and to retrieve items the giants need for their oracles. It's dangerous work, for two reasons. The obvious one is that the task involves delving into Ostorian ruins that have been sealed for millennia. The less obvious one is that certain portents, if confirmed to be true, would indeed bring about the return of Annam, upending the giants' social order and initiating a new age. Some would welcome such a change; others would oppose it bitterly and do all they could to stop it, possibly resorting to all-out war.

Out for Themselves

In the absence of both Annam and a worldly emperor, storm giants recognize no higher authority. Human, elf, and dwarf kings, liches, grand sorcerers and wizards—all might amass what they consider great power, but they have no influence over the storm giants. Any who try extending their reach in that direction are guaranteed to come to grief.

But as long as the world leaves the storm giants alone, the giants will leave the world alone. They wish neither good nor ill on the realms of humanity; they simply don't give much thought to the matter, except on the rare occasions when humans crop up in a prophecy or are hinted at by an omen.

When storm giants do interact with non-giants, those on the receiving end of their attention might question the notion that storm giants are "good" creatures. They respect the principle of the sanctity of life, but even the calmest of storm giants has a tremendous temper. When one is roused to anger, principle gives way to fury, and an offense committed by one person against a giant can bring furious retribution down on an entire community.

A storm giant that destroys a town and kills innocents in a fit of rage is likely to regret it afterward and might offer payment to make amends, though a sack of gold is likely little comfort to those who lost loved ones, homes, and livelihoods. It's always wise to tread softly, speak deferentially, and act respectfully in the presence of a giant, but this is especially true of storm giants.

Living on the Edge

Once they're old enough to fend for themselves, storm giants spend most of their lives in contemplative isolation. Storm giants are capable of living wherever they choose, whether that's atop a mountain, in a glacial cave, or at the bottom of the deepest oceanic trench. One kind of location that invariably draws their attention is an elemental crossing-where the Material Plane and the Elemental Planes intersect and interact. Elemental influence pervades the architecture of storm giants and lends a tempestuous, unearthly quality to their homes.

Storm giants use elemental crossings for their own transplanar wandering, especially into the Elemental Plane of Air and the Elemental Plane of Water. The frequent whirlpools, tornadoes, and lashing rainstorms that buffet the passages to those two planes help to safeguard the giants' homes and ensure their privacy.

Although a storm giant prefers to live outside the company of other giants, it isn't necessarily alone in its stronghold. Storm giants share their abodes with other creatures that are comfortable in the environment.

A sea-dwelling storm giant, for example, might have a few merfolk, water weirds, or even a dragon turtle for companions, while a storm giant living on a mountain peak would extend a friendly hand to any pegasus that happened by, and might even welcome yetis into its home for a time if it believed they could be trusted. The giant's guests are expected to be respectful, to make themselves useful, and to provide interesting conversation or other entertainment when the giant feels like being sociable.

Gnolls: The Insatiable Hunger

Gnolls remind the world of the horrors posed by the hordes of the Abyss, and the damage that even the briefest demonic incursion can inflict on the world.

Whenever the demon lord Yeenoghu enters the Material Plane and goes on a rampage, he leaves a great trail of corpses in his wake. As the Lord of Savagery despoils the land, packs of hyenas trail him and feast on the victims until the dead flesh of Yeenoghu's prey leave them bloated and unable to move. Then, in a shower of blood and gristle, the hyenas transform into gnolls, which take up Yeenoghu's awful mission to kill and destroy anything in their path.


Gnolls embody the dark urges of Yeenoghu, the demon lord of slaughter and senseless destruction. Although Yeenoghu has been defeated and cast back into the Abyss more than once, gnolls continue to pursue his horrid, apocalyptic vision of a world transformed into a barren, empty ruin, with only the decaying corpses of the last few surviving gnolls left to mark its passing.

As creatures that sprang up in the wake of a demon lord, gnolls are creatures of savage blood lust, incapable of understanding or acting on any other impulse. They are extensions of Yeenoghu's will. They pause only to devour what they have killed, and to fashion crude weapons and armor from their victims' corpses.

A gnoll war band exemplifies Yeenoghu's plans for the world. He wants to transform it into a vicious realm of endless fighting. When the last battle ends, Yeenoghu will enter the world, slay its last surviving champion, and preside over a wasteland of rotting corpses. To Yeenoghu, pure destruction is beauty.

The Gift of Yeenoghu

Yeenoghu imparts to the minds of his followers an unquenchable, supernatural hunger, both for violence and for the flesh of intelligent creatures. A gnoll feels a constant, gnawing demand for blood and destruction that abates only when it kills and eats intelligent creatures. Other prey might provide temporary sustenance, but it does nothing to quell Yeenoghu's hunger.

Inside the Mind of a Gnoll

From a journal recovered from a slain cultist of Yeenoghu:

{@i Day 2:} The subject continues to growl and struggle, despite the removal of its arms and legs. I will let it starve for a few days to weaken its mental fortitude. If the gnoll does have some sort of tie to the Abyss, I must keep my focus on exploiting that link, even though the creature's mind might remain aware.

{@i Day 6:} No appreciable loss of vigor.

{@i Day 11:} Still no appreciable loss of vigor.

{@i Day 13:} Ritual must commence tomorrow despite subject's high level of mental activity.

{@i Day 14:} The ritual brought our minds together. I was assailed simultaneously by hunger and rage, as if some great force from beyond had reached out and commanded me only to kill and eat. Though it lasted only a short time, it was a terrifying feeling to my human mind, but in a way it was also comforting to feel myself a part of a much greater design. What I felt was not the hunger of one beast, but the hunger of all of them.

{@i Day 15:} Used the ritual to join our minds again. This time I realized where the hunger began. I was consumed by the infinite hunger and boundless rage of great Yeenoghu, and I knew it could never be sated. Yet I felt driven to feed my lord. I killed and devoured a goat while linked to the gnoll's mind. I had set aside a knife for the deed but killed it with my bare hands instead. The flesh was warm. I fed myself. I fed Yeenoghu.

{@i Day 16:} Third use of ritual. As my connection to my lord deepens, I leave my old concerns behind. His hunger is all that matters. It is greater than me; it is greater than us all. It is His mark. He made us. He drives us. He eats what we eat. He kills what we kill. He will come if we eat well. He will come if we kill well. He will come if we eat well. He will come if we kill well. We will kill and He will eat, and we shall be He and He shall be we, never alone, never afraid, never hungry.

Gnolls wander the land continually in search of new victims, rarely sleeping and never settling down. Only a large-scale assault, such as the massacre of an entire village, can satisfy their desire even temporarily. A sated gnoll rests, knowing that it has pleased Yeenoghu. Its relief is short, no more than a few days, before the gnoll once again becomes a slave to its desires.

Strength, hunger, and fear are the three concepts that every gnoll extols. Strength allows a gnoll to overwhelm, kill, and devour a foe. Hunger motivates a gnoll to go forth and slay in Yeenoghu's name. Fear is a weapon used against enemies to make them easy prey. In concert, all three play a role in advancing Yeenoghu's goals.

Omens from Beyond

Of all the demon lords, Yeenoghu is perhaps the most active on the Material Plane. He shows support to his followers by sending them omens in the form of visions, dreams, and signs. As such, gnolls instinctively look for such omens to guide their activities, and they find them in many places.

Among the signs that gnolls rely on are the blood trails and spatters left behind after making a meal of an intelligent humanoid. They attach significance to a number of other phenomena as well, including the sight of arrows in flight, the rush of the wind, and sounds of howling or cackling laughter that have no discernible source.

Non-gnoll Cultists

Few creatures aside from gnolls worship Yeenoghu, and those that do mimic gnolls in their actions and beliefs. Yeenoghu's cultists are folk who lack all hope and have descended into nihilism. One might have suffered a tremendous personal loss, been banished from its home, or been the victim of a terrible betrayal. Whatever the reason, the would-be cultist is left isolated and abandoned, making it vulnerable to Yeenoghu's teachings.

The creature's thoughts and dreams are plagued by visions sent by Yeenoghu. The promise of ultimate power, fueled by acts of brutality, tempt and torment it. Most folk ascribe these feelings to a fleeting bout of depression or madness and are able to resist the call to violence, but a few cannot. For these rare individuals, the true lure of Yeenoghu's promises lies not in the power they offer, but in the deep sense of belonging they create.

Those that are swayed by this offer consider themselves gnolls in mind and deed, and soon set out to commit their first atrocities in Yeenoghu's name. Most of these cultists are almost as quickly killed by guards or other authorities. A few escape into the wilderness and continue to rampage on their own, perhaps eventually falling in league with a gnoll war band.

Gnoll Tactics

Gnolls might seem to throw themselves into battle mindlessly, driven only by fury and hunger, but they do possess a rudimentary form of cunning that is borne out by several tactics they use consistently.

Butcher the Weak

Gnolls seek only to kill, and as such prefer to deal with weak, easy targets.

An enemy that can fight back is an enemy to save for later. Gnolls have no sense of honor, glory, or individual achievement. They care only for the raw number of creatures they can slay. In the face of a gnoll incursion, it is best for refugees to seek shelter in castles and other fortified positions. Gnolls avoid protracted battles if they can, much preferring to slaughter those that can't defend themselves.

Overwhelm the Strong

Gnolls attack intelligent prey that is capable of resisting them only when the most powerful omens from Yeenoghu compel them to do so. They cooperate to gang up on each of the individuals in a group of explorers or adventurers, or if the prey is more numerous they rush forward in waves. The creatures will crawl over their own dead to climb a castle's walls and kill all within it. A commonly held belief is that a fortress besieged by gnolls needs ten arrows for each one to keep the creatures from scaling the walls.

Spread Far and Wide

Gnolls never set up permanent camps, though they might linger for a few days at the site of a particularly great slaughter as they devour the corpses of both their victims and the gnolls killed in battle. During this time, the hyenas that follow a pack of gnolls feast until they become bloated, then burst open to spawn more gnolls. In this manner, gnolls replenish their ranks before wandering off in ragged bands to continue their rampage.

Kill from a Distance

Almost every gnoll carries a bow scavenged from a past victim. Gnolls use ranged attacks mainly to prevent their prey from fleeing, rather than softening up their targets with an initial barrage of arrows before an assault. A target wounded by a bow shot becomes easy prey for any gnolls near it. Some particularly clever gnolls have been known to use burning arrows to spark fires, cutting off their prey's escape routes and driving victims into their jaws.

Leave No Survivors

A band of gnolls lives in a state of eternal war with everything it encounters, aside from fellow worshipers of Yeenoghu. To keep from being detected between major raids, the gnolls move through the wilderness with as much stealth as they can marshal. They never leave survivors in any group they set upon, and will pursue a fleeing enemy for days to prevent it from getting to a town or a city and raising an alarm.

If the area they hunt in becomes too well-defended, the gnolls relocate in search of easier prey. Large tracts along the fringe of civilization might be devastated before the wider world becomes aware of a gnoll threat.

On Defeating Gnolls

An excerpt from {@i One Hundred Years of War,} a famous manual of dwarven battle tactics:

Gnolls remain a threat across all seasons. Happily, our redoubts are too fortified for their tastes, but caravans, foraging expeditions, and patrols must deal with them.

Gnolls take care to move quietly when they are on the hunt for prey. The events that presage their presence are easy to misinterpret as the results of other threats. A scout might go missing, a caravan fail to arrive on time, or a village be left deserted. Several kinds of creatures, such as orcs and goblins, can cause such events, but the evidence that gnolls leave of their involvement is unmistakable. Their enemies aren't merely killed, they are dismembered and devoured. The loot that other marauders would scoop up is left where it falls, of no use to a creature that requires only flesh to feed its urges.

If you suspect that gnolls are encroaching on dwarven territory, send reliable spies to human settlements in the region, while pulling back as many of our folk as you can manage. Instruct the spies to pass along updates each day, preferably by messenger bird. Do not tell the spies of your suspicions. Invent a story, such as the search for an outlaw or some other deception.

If a spy fails to report, you must strike quickly. Send your fastest warriors and strongest spellcasters to the spy's location. If the gnolls have struck a settlement, they will rest for up to a week, bloated on their kills. In this state, they are their most vulnerable. Surround the place in silence, and advance as one to catch them in a vise. Let none survive. A single gnoll can, over time, create a new war band.

Some may argue for an approach that doesn't rely on the loss of human life to see it succeed. I would gladly suggest one if such existed. Your best strategy is to defend our halls and let the humans serve as bait. Moradin knows they multiply quickly enough that their losses will soon be recouped.


A cautious and skilled gang can follow in the tracks of a gnoll war band, keeping hidden and waiting for the creatures to move on after ravaging a village or a town. The gnolls leave the town's gold and gems and other durable goods battered and gnawed, but still intact, though they invariably ruin delicate or flammable objects in their fits of destruction.

Gnolls do possess a basic understanding of the value of weapons and armor, so one might decide to hold onto an object seen as useful. In this way, a gnoll might come to possess a magic item, though it might not know exactly how to use it. Gnolls regard objects of "treasure" only in terms of their ability to cause harm or preserve a gnoll's life. Everything else is fit only for destruction.


The language of gnolls, such as it is, consists of whines, cackles, and howls mixed with gestures and expressions. Gnolls use it to communicate only basic concepts, such as an alert about approaching prey or a call to their allies to join the fray. When gnolls fight among themselves, they rarely bother with threats or words before leaping at each other's throats.

When gnoll leaders must share complex concepts with each other, they use a broken form of Abyssal gifted to them by Yeenoghu. The gnoll language lacks a script or written form, though elite gnolls can use their limited knowledge of Abyssal to leave messages. In most cases, though, a gnoll war band has little use for written notes or signs. Gnolls simply wander, attack, kill, and feed. Anything more sophisticated is beyond the band's concern.

Roleplaying Gnolls and Cultists of Yeenoghu

Gnolls have little variation in personality and outlook. They are collectively an elemental force, driven by a demon lord to spread death and destruction.

The only real opportunity for interaction with gnolls is provided by the cultists that sometimes accompany a war band. This humanoid rabble might have information the characters need or could even be former friends corrupted to the worship of Yeenoghu. To portray a gnoll that is more intelligent or social than the usual, you can give it characteristics similar to Yeenoghu cultists.

stdClass Object ( [type] => tableGroup [name] => Roleplaying Gnolls and Cultists of Yeenoghu [tables] => Array ( [0] => stdClass Object ( [type] => table [caption] => Gnoll/Cultist Physical Features [colLabels] => Array ( [0] => d12 [1] => Physical Feature ) [colStyles] => Array ( [0] => col-2 text-align-center [1] => col-10 ) [rows] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [0] => 1 [1] => Missing an arm ) [1] => Array ( [0] => 2 [1] => Infested with maggots ) [2] => Array ( [0] => 3 [1] => Fur matted with dried blood ) [3] => Array ( [0] => 4 [1] => Missing an eye ) [4] => Array ( [0] => 5 [1] => Walks with a severe limp ) [5] => Array ( [0] => 6 [1] => Covered in burn wounds ) [6] => Array ( [0] => 7 [1] => Vestigial twin embedded on back ) [7] => Array ( [0] => 8 [1] => Loud, wheezing breaths ) [8] => Array ( [0] => 9 [1] => Drool is mildly acidic ) [9] => Array ( [0] => 10 [1] => Covered in weeping sores ) [10] => Array ( [0] => 11 [1] => Horrific smell of rot ) [11] => Array ( [0] => 12 [1] => Weapon still embedded in old wound ) ) ) [1] => stdClass Object ( [type] => table [caption] => Gnoll/Cultist Personality Trait [colLabels] => Array ( [0] => d6 [1] => Personality Trait ) [colStyles] => Array ( [0] => col-2 text-align-center [1] => col-10 ) [rows] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [0] => 1 [1] => Once an enemy defies me, I dedicate everything to its destruction. ) [1] => Array ( [0] => 2 [1] => The best enemy to fight is one caught by surprise. ) [2] => Array ( [0] => 3 [1] => I hate the sun and travel only by night. ) [3] => Array ( [0] => 4 [1] => I have stopped using language and instead rely on growls and shrieks. ) [4] => Array ( [0] => 5 [1] => I have no fear of death and welcome it in battle. ) [5] => Array ( [0] => 6 [1] => My berserk fury makes a rabid dog look gentle. ) ) ) [2] => stdClass Object ( [type] => table [caption] => Gnoll/Cultist Ideals [colLabels] => Array ( [0] => d6 [1] => Ideal ) [colStyles] => Array ( [0] => col-2 text-align-center [1] => col-10 ) [rows] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [0] => 1 [1] => Strength. I must remain strong to survive. (Any) ) [1] => Array ( [0] => 2 [1] => Slaughter. If I destroy the weak, I please Yeenoghu. (Evil) ) [2] => Array ( [0] => 3 [1] => Destruction. Yeenoghu will return when only those worthy of his fury remain. (Evil) ) [3] => Array ( [0] => 4 [1] => Paranoia. Others are planning to kill and eat me. I must find a way to kill and eat them first. (Chaotic) ) [4] => Array ( [0] => 5 [1] => Self-Sufficiency. When the time comes, even my allies will die by my hand. (Evil) ) [5] => Array ( [0] => 6 [1] => Leadership. I am not part of the pack. I am above it. (Chaotic) ) ) ) [3] => stdClass Object ( [type] => table [caption] => Gnoll/Cultist Bonds [colLabels] => Array ( [0] => d6 [1] => Bond ) [colStyles] => Array ( [0] => col-2 text-align-center [1] => col-10 ) [rows] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [0] => 1 [1] => I would die before betraying the Lord of Savagery. ) [1] => Array ( [0] => 2 [1] => I would follow the leader of our war band anywhere and gladly sacrifice myself to protect him or her. ) [2] => Array ( [0] => 3 [1] => I cull the weak from our war band, so that we remain strong. ) [3] => Array ( [0] => 4 [1] => Yeenoghu's omens guide my every choice. ) [4] => Array ( [0] => 5 [1] => If I die in battle, I was simply too weak to please Yeenoghu. ) [5] => Array ( [0] => 6 [1] => I devour the weak to purge them from the world, the strong to blunt their power. ) ) ) [4] => stdClass Object ( [type] => table [caption] => Gnoll/Cultist Flaws [colLabels] => Array ( [0] => d6 [1] => Flaw ) [colStyles] => Array ( [0] => col-2 text-align-center [1] => col-10 ) [rows] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [0] => 1 [1] => I lack tactical guile and rely on overwhelming attacks. ) [1] => Array ( [0] => 2 [1] => I flee from opponents that can match my strength. ) [2] => Array ( [0] => 3 [1] => My supposed allies are my first victims. ) [3] => Array ( [0] => 4 [1] => Deep down inside, I am terrified I will fail Yeenoghu. ) [4] => Array ( [0] => 5 [1] => My desire to torment my foes sometimes gives them the opportunity to outwit me. ) [5] => Array ( [0] => 6 [1] => My arrogance causes me to overlook opportunities. ) ) ) ) )

Gnoll Names

As befits creatures with a language that is little more than whines, growls, and shrieks, most gnolls lack a name and would have little use for one. Powerful gnolls, usually fangs, pack lords, and flinds, receive names directly from Yeenoghu. The same applies to Yeenoghu's blessed followers among humans, orcs, and other races.

Use the following tables to create a Gnoll along with Personality traits and physical characteristics or choose each characteristic individually.

Gnoll Names

Gnoll Names

Anatomy of a War Band

A gnoll war band is likely to contain a variety of gnolls and other creatures, and no two of these groups have the same composition.

The gnolls that make up the rank and file have different attributes and thus different roles in the war band's assaults. Augmenting the warriors that comprise the bulk of the force are the hunters, specialists in sneaking and attacking at range, and the flesh gnawers, which rely on natural savagery rather than weapons to tear apart their foes. A pack of hyenas is always part of the band, and sometimes these beasts are as numerous as the gnolls themselves. A war band that has been through hard times might contain a number of gnoll witherlings, while one that enjoys Yeenoghu's favor might be led by a flind-the scarcest and strongest of all gnolls. It's also possible, though quite rare, for a war band to include cultists-other humanoids that have dedicated themselves to Yeenoghu and attached themselves to the war band to prove their loyalty.

Each of these elements of a war band is further described below. Statistics for gnoll flesh gnawers, gnoll hunters, gnoll witherlings, and flinds appear in chapter 3 of this book.

Gnoll Pack Lord

Most war bands are led by pack lords. These champions of Yeenoghu curry their lord's favor with living sacrifices. They mark their hides with bloody runes, which sometimes grant supernatural power conferred by Yeenoghu himself. Pack lords favor big, heavy weapons, such as glaives and axes.

Gnoll Fangs of Yeenoghu

Fangs of Yeenoghu are gifted with the power to spawn more gnolls. They anoint the remains of their foes using bizarre rituals. A hyena that feeds on such a corpse spawns a gnoll, while other humanoids who join in the feast become cultists of Yeenoghu. Fangs use their claws in battle, the better to imbue their victims with the magic needed to spawn more gnolls.

Gnoll Warriors

Common gnolls comprise the bulk of a war band. They fight mainly with spears fashioned from wood and bone. While they lack any particular blessing of Yeenoghu, their ferocity makes them formidable enemies.

Gnoll Hunters

When a war band is on the move, the hunters travel in a wide arc around the perimeter of the force. Hunters are more adept than other gnolls at sneaking and moving through an area undetected, which makes them useful for reconnaissance. Sometimes a team of hunters is used to silently pick off sentries on patrol before they can raise an alarm, which makes the upcoming onslaught by the rest of the war band even more lethal. Another function that hunters perform is to trail along behind a war band, making quick work of wounded gnolls and those who can't keep up the pace.

Gnoll Flesh Gnawers

All gnolls are ruthless and brutal, but the flesh gnawers in a war band use their quickness and agility to augment their savagery. At the start of a raid, flesh gnawers lurk around the edges of the gnoll forces, hoping to jump on enemies that become isolated. When a flesh gnawer springs into action, its blades and teeth turn it into a whirling dealer of death, able to dash from one target to the next as though it had been shot from a bow.

Gnoll Witherlings

A war band might go for weeks without coming across the sort of prey it craves. Gnolls can eat wild animals for sustenance, but only the flesh of intelligent humanoids can calm the endless hunger bestowed upon them by Yeenoghu.

When a war band grows desperate for food, its members turn on each other. Those who succumb to the violence are devoured, but their service to the war band doesn't end at that point. The survivors preserve the bones of their fallen comrades, so that a pack lord or a flind can perform a ritual to Yeenoghu to turn them into loyal, undead followers known as witherlings.

Even after death, gnoll witherlings serve the war band much as their comrades do. Although not as formidable in battle as warriors or hunters, they are just as relentless.


A flind is an exceptionally large and strong gnoll. No war band contains more than one flind, and such a creature is always the leader of its band. A flind wields a weapon that carries Yeenoghu's blessing: a magical flail that saps the body and the mind of any foe that feels its touch.

Because flinds are so rare, other gnolls see them as Yeenoghu's special messengers, gifted with a keen eye for omens and an ear for Yeenoghu's whispers. Each day, a flind consults the signs around it and determines the war band's direction.

During a battle, a gnoll that delivers the death blow to a flind claims its flail and, in a burst of abyssal energy, is touched by Yeenoghu and turns into a flind itself. The death or disappearance of a flind for any other reason causes a war band to descend into brutal infighting. Sometimes a new leader emerges from the pack after putting down its rivals; more often, the band fragments and the survivors go their separate ways.


Rarely, a war band includes orcs, humans, or other humanoids that have sworn loyalty to Yeenoghu. The gnolls treat these cultists as they would other gnolls, refraining from killing them so long as they join in the slaughter when the band finds prey.

Almost all cultists are brutish individuals touched by insanity, one step above the hyenas that trail behind the war band's path. They aren't gnolls, and thus don't receive their inspiration directly from Yeenoghu. Yet exceptions do occur. If an individual of great intelligence and great ability heeds Yeenoghu's call, the Lord of Savagery might elevate it to the leadership of its band. Such champions are rare, and a band led by a cultist is capable of feats that are beyond a group of gnolls-accomplishments that combine the gnolls' savagery with a humanlike level of intelligence and planning.

Gnoll Allies

Gnolls wage war against any creatures they meet, except for those that have dedicated themselves to Yeenoghu and those that act in accordance with his wishes. The Lord of Savagery stains the souls of his followers and kindred creatures in such a way that they and his gnolls recognize one another on sight and don't immediately leap into battle. Thus, a war band might include or be accompanied by other beings of evil.


A fang of Yeenoghu is sometimes gifted with the cosmic insight needed to summon forth mindless demons. When Yeenoghu deigns to allow it, a war band might find itself augmented by some of his favorite demons, such as barlguras, dretches, hezrous, or manes. The Lord of Savagery also has a special affinity for maw demons, which share his insatiable hunger.

Demonic hyenas known as shoosuvas are dispatched by Yeenoghu to aid his most exalted champions. Among the gnolls, the appearance of a shoosuva is a reward for recent triumphs and a harbinger of great victories and much feasting to come. A shoosuva protects the war band's most powerful members and serves as a companion to the strongest fang of Yeenoghu in the group.

For more information on maw demons and shoosuvas, see chapter 3 of this book.


Ghoul packs emerge from graveyards and dungeons to trail in the wake of a war band, feasting on the remains of its victims and sometimes eventually merging with the group. Although ghouls typically revere Orcus, their endless hunger can prompt them to turn to Yeenoghu.

The Hunter's Chant

This simple declaration of Yeenoghu's power was devised by a small cult to the demon lord discovered deep in the forest. A group of woodcutters, facing starvation, turned to cannibalism to survive and ultimately fell under Yeenoghu's sway. Gnolls sing a similar chant in their language while they seek out prey.


Large packs of hyenas follow gnoll war bands. For their part, the gnolls largely ignore these animals. They tend to gather around fangs in battle, eager to partake of Yeenoghu's blessing and its horrid transformation.


Brought forth during Yeenoghu's ancient incursions into the world, leucrottas are bigger, smarter, and faster than gnolls. When one joins a war band, it doesn't strive to lead the group (which would cause unneeded conflict) but rather to serve and protect its leader. A leucrotta's dedication to Yeenoghu is as fervent as that of any gnoll, and its main goal is always to advance the cause of the Lord of Savagery over its own.

For more information on leucrottas, see chapter 3 of this book.


Of all the creatures encountered by gnolls, trolls are the most likely to join them simply because the gnolls' way of life appeals to them. As ravenous creatures with incredible toughness, trolls fit well into the loose scheme of a gnoll war band.

Creating a Gnoll War Band

To include a gnoll war band in your campaign, or if you need to generate one quickly for use in an encounter, use the tables in this section. Roll on each one in turn to determine the war band's name, components, and unique traits.

The War Band Name table is set up to create two word names. Some war bands become infamous enough to earn an epithet from their enemies, but only the most powerful flinds and pack lords bother to name the groups they lead.

The War Band Composition table determines how many gnolls and hyenas the band contains. The War Band Leadership table indicates the war band's commander (if it has one) and gives a modifier to apply to the composition results: for a band led by a flind, double all the results, and for a band that lacks a leader, halve them.

Roll once on the Special Creatures table to see which special creature is part of the war band and in what numbers. The Shared Physical Trait and Notable Behavior or Tactics tables add some distinctive flavor to the war band. Finally, the Demonic Influence table adds an abyssal tinge to the group: owing to the gnolls' supernatural link with the Abyss, their advance toward a community might be heralded by strange effects that afflict the area or the people in it a day or so before they strike the settlement.

Gnoll War Band Name

Gnoll War Band Name

Gnoll War Band Composition

Gnoll War Band Composition
War Band CompositionNumber Appearing
Gnoll fangs ofYeenoghu{@dice 1d4 + 1}
Gnoll hunters{@dice 1d4 + 1}
Gnoll flesh gnawers{@dice 2d4}
Warriors (common gnolls){@dice 6d6}
Hyenas{@dice 4d6}

War Band Leadership

War Band Leadership
1Gnoll War Band Flind Leader
2-4Gnoll War Band Gnoll Pack Lord Leader
5-6No Leader

Gnoll War Band Special Creatures

Gnoll War Band Special Creatures
d20Special Creatures
1{@creature Barlgura}
2-5{@creature Dretch|MM|Dretches}
6-8{@creature Ghoul|MM|Ghouls}
9-10{@creature Gnoll Witherling|VGM|Gnoll Witherlings}
11{@creature Hezrou}
12-13{@creature Leucrotta|VGM|Leucrottas}
14-16{@creature Manes}
17-18{@creature Maw Demon|VGM|Maw Demons}
19{@creature Shoosuva|VGM}
20{@creature Troll|MM|Trolls}

Shared Physical Trait

Shared Physical Trait
d10Shared Physical Trait
1Rune branded on forehead
2Bone piercings
3Ritual scarring
4Surrounded by clouds of flies
5Constant, cackling laugh
6Covered with strange mushroom growths
7Horrid stench
8Eyes glow like fire
9Long, black fangs

Notable Behavior or Tactics

Notable Behavior or Tactics
d8Notable behavior or Tactics
1Use of flaming arrows and burning pitch
2Use of drums and screeching horns to spread fear
3Attempts to capture and use siege engines
4Carry and spread disease
5Prisoners kept in cages and tormented
6Use of nets to take captives for feasting later
7Leader has a powerful item, such as a horn of blasting
8Actions magically controlled by a spellcaster

Demonic Influence

Demonic Influence
d12Demonic Influence
1Food and drink spoil
2Animals become rabid, vicious
3Terrible storms erupt
4Minor earthquakes strike
5Residents suffer bursts of short-term madness
6Folk indulge in decadence, excessive drinking
7Quarrels turn violent
8Friends betray one another

Goblinoids: The Conquering Host

Maglubiyet is truly the Conquering God. He stiffens the spines of cowardly goblins. He rouses bugbears from their lazy slumber. He sets the thunderous step of hobgoblin legions. Maglubiyet takes three races and turns them into one people.

In bygone times the goblinoids were distinct from one another, with separate faiths and different customs. Then Maglubiyet came and conquered all who stood before him, mortals and deities alike. Gods and heroes who wouldn't bend to his will were broken and discarded. He put his foot on the neck of mighty Khurgorbaeyag, bound the will of intractable Hruggek, and forced sadistic Nomog-Geaya to fall in line. What the goblins, the bugbears, and the hobgoblins were before their gods bowed to Maglubiyet no longer matters. Now they are, first of all, followers of Maglubiyet.

On the surface, goblins, bugbears, and hobgoblins are as different as halflings, dwarves, and elves. Each race has its own tendencies, outlook, culture, and gods. But Maglubiyet's hand joins them together, just as he made all their other gods parts within a greater whole. When one kind of goblinoid encounters another kind, the two groups don't see one another as strangers or foes. Instead they know that by the fact of their meeting alone, Maglubiyet has commanded them to come together. They know the time has come to form a host.


Goblins occupy an uneasy place in a dangerous world, and they react by lashing out at any creatures they believe they can bully. Cunning in battle and cruel in victory, goblins are fawning and servile in defeat, just as in their own society lower castes must scrape before those of greater status and as goblin tribes bow before other goblinoids.

Beast Masters and Slave Drivers

Goblins know they are a weak, unsophisticated race that can be easily dominated by bigger, smarter, more organized, more ferocious, or more magical creatures. Their god was conquered by Maglubiyet, after all, and now when the Mighty One calls for it, even their souls are forfeit. It is this realization that drives them to dominate other creatures whenever they can-for goblins, life is short.

Goblins seek to trap and enslave any creatures they encounter, but they flee from opposition that seems too daunting.

For miles around their lair, they employ pit traps, snares, and nets to catch the unwary, and when their hunting patrols encounter other beings, they always look for ways to capture their foes instead of killing them. Goblins that run up against the fringes of a society first test its defenses by stealing objects, and if these crimes go unpunished, they begin stealing people.

Enslaved creatures receive the worst treatment the goblins can dish out while still getting decent performance out of the slaves. But humanoids and monsters that are especially capable or that provide unusual services find themselves treated like favored (though occasionally abused) pets.

Virtually any kind of creature that can be browbeaten into service might be found with a goblin tribe, but rats and wolves are nearly always present. Both have lived in concert with goblins for at least as long as humans have worked with dogs and horses, and in goblin society those two animals serve similar purposes.

Family Matters

A goblin tribe is organized in a four-tiered caste system made up of lashers, hunters, gatherers, and pariahs. The status of every family in the tribe is based on its importance to the tribe's survival. Families that belong to the higher-ranking castes keep their status by not sharing their knowledge and skills with other families, while those in the lower castes have little hope of escaping their plight.

Outsiders who don't understand the goblins' social system are sometimes surprised by how different castes interact with them. A single human warrior might frighten away a dozen gatherers, only to be shocked when two hunters viciously attack. A captured group of invaders might hang in a net while dozens of goblins pass by and pay them no heed until a group of gatherers shows up.


The closest thing a goblin tribe has to nobility is the caste of lashers-families of goblins trained in the ways of battle, and also possessed of key skills such as strategy, trap-building, beast taming, mining, smelting, forging, and religion. If the tribe has any spellcasters, this caste includes them. Lashers follow the lead of the tribe's boss, and enforce their will on other goblins with whips.


The families of goblins that are skilled in the use of weapons but not privy to any other special knowledge have the second highest status in the tribe. Hunters are often the best wolf riders and know the most about the territory farthest from the tribe's lair. These individuals hunt game in peaceful times, and in combat they serve as scouts, foot soldiers, and cavalry.


Families in the second lowest caste are responsible for getting food from the surrounding area, taking what's naturally available or stealing whatever they can. Gatherers also do the little amount of farming of which goblins are capable and are charged with checking traps for captured people or beasts. Gatherers aren't usually armed with weapons more deadly than a sling or a knife, but they frequently carry nets, caltrops, lassos, and nooses on poles for controlling captured creatures. These goblins cook for the tribe, and in times of war they are also responsible for making poison.

Gatherers, and the pariahs beneath them, greatly fear for their lives in battle, believing that the lashers and the hunters have special knowledge of how to survive. It is the members of the lower castes that give goblins their reputation for cowardice.


Some goblin families are the lowest of the low, composed of the most dimwitted, least educated, and weakest goblins. They get the worst jobs: mucking out animal pens, cleaning up after other goblins, and doing any hard labor such as digging mines. If the goblin tribe has slaves to do some of this work, the pariah families enjoy the opportunity to supervise and dominate such creatures, which have no status at all.

Khurgorbaeyag: The Overseer of All

Goblins once had many gods, but the only one who survived Maglubiyet's ascendancy is cruel Khurgorbaeyag, known as the Overseer. Khurgorbaeyag drives his worshipers to be the masters of others. Only by wielding the whip can they hope to escape its lash. Khurgorbaeyag sometimes makes his presence or his desires known through wrathful signs and magical blessings: the crack of a whip without a visible source, chains or ropes that move of their own accord, or a glowing cage that appears to trap foes or those who displease him. Worshipers of Khurgorbaeyag are sometimes overtaken by sudden onsets of depression, which they take as a sign that they have somehow displeased their god. When they rouse themselves from this despondency, they take up the master's whip with renewed zeal and seek out more creatures upon which they can wield it.

Khurgorbaeyag's holy symbol is a yellow-and-red striped whip made of leather. This mark of his authority is used by its wielder against goblins of a lower caste as well as on slaves and enemies. The knowledge of how to make such a whip is enough to elevate a goblin to the master caste of lashers. Often the secret is guarded by one family in a tribe, which enjoys prestige and influence because it controls the supply of whips.

Status Symbols

Goblins love symbols of authority, and thus the tribe's boss often has such trappings wherever he or she goes. Such a symbol can take a typical form, perhaps a crown or a throne, but also can be a more distinctive objects like a high-backed wolf saddle or colorful boots. The castes in a tribe also adopt symbols to indicate membership or kinship, but the symbols used are rarely the same between different tribes and often make little sense to other creatures. Some possible status symbols are given in the Status Symbols table. A caste or a boss might display more than one of these items.

Status Symbols

Status Symbols
d20Status Symbol
1Earrings and notches in an ear
2Rib bones tied into hair
3A belt made from raccoon pelts
4A gnome's boot used as a hat
5A pouch of toenail clippings from an allied ogre
6A frog kept in a jar
7Fragile helmets made from axebeak eggs
8Nose rings
9Painted or stained hands
10Bugs kept in a bag for snacking
11War cry tattooed on chest
12Shields made from ankheg chitin
13Bracelet made of pieces of goblins turned to stone
14Special breed of rat kept as pet
15Teeth pulled out in certain places
16Owlbear-feather cloaks
17Scars from lashings
18Orc-tusk lip piercings
19Umbrellas made from dead darkmantles
20Cloaks made of scraps from an elven tapestry


Spellcasters of any sort among the goblins are rare. Goblins typically lack the intelligence and patience needed to learn and practice wizardry, and they fare poorly even when given access to the necessary training and knowledge. Sorcerers are less prevalent among them than in many other races, and Khurgorbaeyag seems to dislike sharing his divine power with his followers. And although many goblins would readily offer anything to have the abilities of a warlock, the patrons that grant such power know a goblin is unlikely to be able to uphold its end of any bargain.

Even when a goblin is born with the ability to become a spellcaster, the knowledge and talent necessary to carry on the tradition rarely persists for more than a couple of generations. Because they have so little experience with magic, goblins make no distinction between its forms. To them all magic is "booyahg," and the word is part of the name they give to any of its practitioners.

A goblin with access to booyahg becomes a member of the lashers and can often rise to the role of boss.

Booyahg Caster

This goblin served under a hobgoblin wizard, stole a look at its master's spellbook, and learned a little wizardry by aping the gestures and words it remembered. The goblin can cast a randomly determined 1st-level wizard spell once per day. Intelligence is its spellcasting ability.

Booyahg Wielder

This goblin found a magic item (a {@i necklace of fireballs, a circlet of blasting,} or the like) and learned how to use it.

Booyahg Whip

Khurgorbaeyag saw fit to gift this goblin with powers that enable it to dominate others. The goblin has {@dice 1d3} other goblins that slavishly obey its orders.

Booyahg Slave

This goblin warlock serves a patron who can extract payment in flesh if the goblin doesn't do as promised. Often this patron is a coven of hags serving as the tribe's boss, a fiend that has made its way into the world, or an undying lord such as a lich or a vampire. (For more information on undying lord patrons, see the {@i Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide.)} Use one of the warlock stat blocks in appendix B to represent this goblin, adding darkvision and the Nimble Escape traits common to all goblins.

Booyahg Booyahg Booyahg

This goblin is a sorcerer with the wild magic origin whose every casting, including cantrips, is accompanied by a wild magic surge. Use the {@b mage} stat block in the {@i Monster Manual} to represent this goblin, adding darkvision and the Nimble Escape traits common to all goblins. Each time the goblin casts a spell, there is an accompanying surge of wild magic; roll on the Wild Magic Surge table in the {@i Player's Handbook} to determine the wild magic effect.

Who's the Boss?

Goblins pattern the rule of their tribes after the whip-cracking rule of their god, Khurgorbaeyag, and thus each group has one leader that exerts autocratic control. But as with many tyrannies, the passing of a leader often results in a chaotic transition to the next. Sometimes a goblin boss has the foresight to declare a successor, often a child or other family member the boss has been able to trust. But such a declaration doesn't always prevent a mad scramble for influence and allies, or secret backstabbing and outright fights over the title. Most often, the victor in such a struggle comes from another family of the lasher caste, and any allies of the previous boss count themselves lucky if their only punishment is demotion to the pariah caste.

Sometimes another creature assumes control of a goblin tribe, by killing or subjugating the current boss and cowing most of the rest of the tribe. If the creature is dimwitted, like a troll or ogre, the lower-class goblins give it obeisance, but before long the upper-class goblins begin to think that whoever can bend the ear of the new leader can act as the real boss. If the creature brushes aside such manipulation, the tribe falls into line behind the new tyrant-better to abide the new rule than conspire against it and be called out as a traitor.

Nilbogs: Pranksters with Power

A nilbog ("goblin" spelled backward) is a goblin possessed by the spirit of a mischievous prankster god. Even though goblins dwell at the bottom of the hierarchy in a goblinoid host, the threat of a nilbog appearing in their ranks keeps the bugbears and hobgoblins from inflicting too much cruelty upon their lessers.

A nilbog doesn't use its abilities indiscriminately. One can be placated if it is provided with comfortable quarters, good food, and free rein to do as it wishes, in which case it holds its power at bay.

Hobgoblins have learned how to guard against the appearance of a nilbog: the crudest, most obnoxious goblin in the host is given the title of jester. This goblin lounges in a hobgoblin warlord's command center, free to behave as it wishes without risk of punishment or rebuke.

For more information on nilbogs, see chapter 3 of this book.

Goblin Lairs

Tribes of goblins take up residence in shrouded valleys, shadowy forests, and caves and tunnels beneath the surface of the world. Capable miners and crafters, they seek to settle in places where they can get the raw materials to make weapons and armor. Their need for iron and other metals sometimes puts them in conflict with other races, but just as often, goblins get what they need by claiming mines abandoned by other races and scratching away at veins thought to be played out.

When goblins expand a mine, the tunnels they dig are narrow and warren-like. Goblins live both within these tunnels and on the surface around the outside of the area. They guard the territory around the mine for miles, sending out patrols of hunters equipped with war horns and using wolves as watchdogs to alert them to intruders.


The territory around a goblin lair has several hallmarks, most of which aren't readily apparent. Packs of wolves allied with the goblins serve as effective perimeter guards, without giving away the fact that a tribe of goblins lives nearby. Hunters take up guard posts in tall trees and atop high rocky outcrops from where they can view the terrain while staying unseen. Any obvious path through the territory (a valley, a clear trail, or a river) might be turned into an ambush point where a force of goblins can capture intruders. Such places might also be set with net traps, snare traps, or hidden pit traps that gatherers regularly check for new slaves. The area also includes burial grounds for each caste, always placed far from the lair.

Lair Exterior

Anyone who is skilled or fortunate enough to pass through the territory of a goblin tribe without being detected is likely to come upon some tell-tale signs of habitation-complete with goblins at work and other goblins standing guard over them.

If the lair was built around a mine, the tribe's smelting furnace and forge will be in the vicinity. A lair inside a forest likely has piles of cut timber (and suitable tools) nearby. In appropriate terrain, the goblins might set aside some land for simple farming (raising mushrooms and gourds). If the lair doesn't have enough space underground for everyone, gatherers and pariahs are housed in huts on the surface, near the areas where they work.

Lair Interior

The ideal place for a goblin lair is an abandoned mine that features two or three large chambers and a few smaller ones, with tunnels connecting them. In such a place, the tribe can protect its most valuable assets while providing for a modicum of comfort. Most lairs have only a single entrance, but the goblins might build a number of escape tunnels that emerge far from that location.

Close inside the entrance, if a suitable area exists, the goblins set up a den for their wolves. The animals come and go as they please, unless the goblins have use for them. Any tunnel in the lair, whether dug by goblins or not, is likely to be trapped, typically in a way that not only injures the enemy but also collapses the passage.

Open spaces inside a lair are useful for a number of reasons, and the goblins will hollow out chambers for their use if need be. Slaves and tamed monsters are best kept in large areas with limited access, making them easier to guard. The tribe's boss lays claim to a space that's treated as a throne room of sorts. The lashers and hunters of a tribe occupy other caverns and chambers, enjoying the comfort and safety of underground living as a reward for their status and their value to the group.


Bugbears feature in the nightmare tales of many races—great, hairy beasts that creep through the shadows as quiet as cats. If you walk alone in the woods, a bugbear will reach out of the bushes and strangle you. If you stray too far from the house at night, bugbears will scoop you up to devour you in their den. If a bugbear cuts off your head, your soul stays trapped inside, and the bugbears use your head to magically command all whom you once knew.

Lurid tales such as these have flowered from the seeds of truth. Bugbears do rely on stealth and strength to attack, preferring to operate at night. They do take the heads of enemy leaders, but they are no more likely to eat people indiscriminately than humans are. Bugbears aren't likely to attack lone travelers or wandering children unless they clearly have something to gain by doing so. From the viewpoint of the rest of the world, their aggression and savagery are thankfully offset by their rarity and lethargy.

Shiftless, Savage Layabouts

When they're not in battle, bugbears spend much of their time resting or dozing. They don't engage in crafting or agriculture to any great extent, or otherwise produce anything of value. They bully weaker creatures into doing their bidding, so they can take it easy. When a superior force tries to intimidate bugbears into service, they will try to escape rather than perform the work or confront the foe. Even when subsumed into a goblinoid host and drawn into war, bugbears must often be roused from naps and bribed to get them to do their duties.

This indolence offers no clue to how vicious the creatures are. Bugbears are capable of bouts of incredible ferocity, using their muscular bodies to exact swift and ruthless violence. At their core, bugbears are ambush predators accustomed to long periods of inactivity broken by short bursts of murderous energy. Ferocious though they may be, bugbears aren't built for extended periods of exertion.

Gang Mentality

Since bugbears aren't a particularly fecund race, their overall population is small and spread over a wide area. Bugbears live in family groups that operate much like gangs. The individuals in a group typically number fewer than a dozen, consisting of siblings and their mates as well as a handful of offspring and an elder or two. A gang lives in and around a small enclosure, often a natural cave or an old bear den, and it might have supplementary dens elsewhere in its territory that it uses temporarily when it goes on long forays for food.

In good times, a bugbear gang is tight-knit, and its members cooperate well when hunting or bullying other creatures. But when the fortunes of a gang turn sour, the individuals become selfish, and might sabotage one another to remove opposition or exile weaker or unpopular members to keep the rest of the gang strong. Fortunately for the race as a whole, even young and elderly bugbears have the ability to survive alone in the wild, and the cast-off members of a gang might eventually catch on with a different group.

Left to their own devices, bugbears have little more impact on the world than wolf packs. They subsist by crafting simple tools and hunting and gathering food, and gangs sometimes come together peacefully to exchange members and goods between them.

Malevolent Worship of Malign Gods

Bugbears worship two deities who are brothers, Hruggek and Grankhul. Hruggek is the fearsome elder sibling, possessed of legendary might and prowess in battle. Bugbears believe their strength and bravery come from him. Cunning Grankhul is the younger one, and in the stories bugbears tell, he gifted them with stealth but in return he sapped their vigor, so that bugbears sleep in his stead while he remains eternally alert and awake.

According to bugbear legends, Hruggek and Grankhul often fight alongside each other, preying upon all they encounter as is their right as superior warriors. Hruggek takes the heads of those he kills and puts them on spikes in his den, where they utter pleas for mercy and sing paeans to his might. Grankhul watches over Hruggek when he sleeps, but if he must be elsewhere, he whispers commands to the severed heads to wake Hruggek if any danger threatens him.

Bugbears admire the qualities of both brothers. Because of Hruggek, they consider bravery and physical superiority to be their natural state. Thanks to Grankhul, they can use their size and strength to work as stealthy assassins rather than blundering around like ogres.

Bullying, murder, and engaging in battle are all holy acts for bugbears. Garroting an unsuspecting creature and defeating foes in open battle are seen as acts of worship, in the same way that dwarves consider metalsmithing to be sacred to Moradin.

The bugbears recognize two other gods, both of which they disdain and fear: Maglubiyet and Skiggaret.

Maglubiyet, the leader of the goblinoid pantheon, forced both brothers to submit to his rule, but instead of killing them, he showed mercy and even honored them in a way by setting them free-under his control-so that bugbears could continue to employ their talents against his enemies. Bugbears understand that by venerating Hruggek and Grankhul, they also give tribute to Maglubiyet, even though they don't openly pay homage to their overlord. When bugbears are called to join a host, bugbears believe Maglubiyet has again corralled the brothers into a divine battle, and they honor their gods by following suit.

Skiggaret is the bugbear version of the bogeyman, as hateful and terrifying to them as bugbears are in the eyes of many other races. His name is rarely spoken, and never above a whisper. Skiggaret's influence manifests at times when bugbears are forced to act in a cowardly fashion; a bugbear that knows or feels itself to be in mortal danger is affected by a form of madness and will do anything, including trying to flee, in order to stay alive.

Bugbears believe that this feeling of fear comes from being possessed by Skiggaret, and they don't relish experiencing it. After the madness has passed, bugbears don't dwell on things that were done in the presence of Skiggaret. Talking about such acts might call him back.

Blessings of the Bugbear Gods

Bugbears have no use for priests or shamans. No one needs to tell them what their gods want. If the brother gods are angry with them, they let the bugbears know with bolts of lightning (Hruggek) or by striking them blind or dead (Grankhul). Bugbears worship their gods simply by preying on other creatures, using no other sort of ceremony to show obeisance-with one exception.

In an act of worship that also sometimes attracts favorable attention from their gods, bugbears sever the heads of defeated foes, cut away or stitch open the eyelids, and leave the mouths hanging open. The heads are then placed on spikes or hung from cords around a bugbear den. The heads themselves are trophies that honor Hruggek, and their ever-staring eyes are an homage to sleepless Grankhul.

The heads of leaders and mighty opponents are particularly sacred, and offering up such a trophy can provide a bugbear gang with a special boon. A gang that gains the favor of Hruggek and Grankhul in this way might find that the head will emit a shout when an enemy gets too close (in the fashion of an alarm spell). Sometimes the heads of people who have information the bugbears need speak their secrets amid blubbered pleas for mercy (as with the {@spell speak with dead} spell).


War is the lifeblood of hobgoblins. Its glories are the dreams that inspire them. Its horrors don't feature in their nightmares. Cowardice is more terrible to hobgoblins than dying, for they carry their living acts into the afterlife. A hero in death becomes a hero eternal.

Young hobgoblins start soldiering when they can walk and heed the mustering call as soon as they can wield their weapons capably. Every legion in the hobgoblins' entire society forever stands prepared for war.

Brutal Civility

Hobgoblins hold themselves to high standards of military honor. The race has a long history of shared traditions, recorded and retold to keep the knowledge fresh for new generations. When hobgoblins aren't waging war, they farm, they build, and they practice both martial and arcane arts.

These trappings of civil society do little to conceal an underlying brutality that hobgoblins practice on each other and perfect upon other races. Punishment for infractions of hobgoblin law are swift and merciless. Beauty is something hobgoblins associate only with images of conflict and warfare.

The iron grip their philosophy holds on their hearts blinds hobgoblins to the accomplishments of other peoples. Hobgoblins have little appreciation or patience for art. They leave little space for joy or leisure in their lives, and thus have no reserves of faith to call upon when in dire straits.

Implacable Gods

Hobgoblins revere two gods unique to their race, the only survivors of a pantheon that was decimated by Maglubiyet so long ago that hobgoblins don't remember the names of the fallen. Nomog-Geaya is the greater of the two and the more frequently honored. He is seen as a stoic, cold-blooded, and tyrannical leader, and hobgoblins believe he expects the same behavior from them. Bargrivyek is a god of duty, unity, and discipline, and he is thought to be pleased by displays of those principles.

In the stories that hobgoblins tell one another, Bargrivyek serves as Nomog-Geaya's second in command. Nomog-Geaya would prefer the position were filled by someone more like himself, but Bargrivyek was all he was left with after Maglubiyet's conquest. Although both deities are ultimately beholden to Maglubiyet, the greater god allows them to retain a measure of their influence over the hobgoblins because their philosophies are in line with his own.

Hobgoblins don't build temples to their gods, lest they displease Maglubiyet, but the few priests among them do tend small shrines and interpret the body of legends about their gods. Nomog-Geaya's priests always wield his favored weapons, a longsword and a handaxe. They are responsible for martial training as well as instruction in strategy and battlefield tactics. Bargrivyek's priests wield his symbol, a flail with a head dipped in white paint. They work as a police force in hobgoblin society, making judgments about honor, mediating disputes, and otherwise enforcing discipline.

Rank, Status, and Title

As in any strict military hierarchy, every hobgoblin in a legion has a rank, from the warlord down through a cadre of officers to the soldiers that make up most of its number. These ranks, using the titles most often applied to them, are as follows:

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1st rank: Warlord5th rank: Spear
2nd rank: General6th rank: Fist
3rd rank: Captain7th rank: Soldier
4th rank: Fatal Axe

A legion is organized into units called banners, each one made up of a group of interrelated families.

Members of a banner live, work, and fight together, and each banner has a separate status within the legion that is reflected in the power of its officers. For instance, the captains of the highest-ranking banners can expect their orders to be followed by the captains of any banners of lower rank.

Rank and responsibility aren't necessarily commensurate from one legion to another or even between banners in the same legion. A phalanx of foot soldiers led by a captain in one legion might be two hundred strong, while in another such a force numbers just twenty. One banner might have four warriors mounted on worgs led by a fist, while a fist in another banner of the same legion might lead ten mounted warriors. If any rank doesn't serve a purpose in the legion, the warlord eliminates it from the hierarchy to maximize efficiency.

Bloody Blue Noses

Hobgoblins are sometimes born with bright red or blue noses. This attribute is thought to be a sign of potency and potential. Blue and red-nosed hobgoblins receive preferential treatment, and as a result they occupy most of the leadership positions in hobgoblin society.

The noses of all hobgoblins become more colorful when they are enraged or excited, much the way that humans' cheeks can flush with emotion.

Honor Bound, By Glory Crowned

Advancement in rank comes as a result of attaining glory, but for the achievement to mean anything, a hobgoblin must abide by the race's code of honor in doing so.

Glory can be earned by discovery of great resources (such as finding a new vein of iron or a powerful magic item), by fine performances (writing and performing a great ballad about the legion), by designing and constructing a great defense or monument, and through other means. But the greatest respect is reserved for those who earn their glory in battle. In theory, the fortunes of war can elevate the lowest-ranking banner in a legion to the highest status. In practice, warlords are careful to position themselves and their banners to claim the greatest victories in any conflict, and they portion out opportunities and responsibilities to other banners as politics dictate.

Each hobgoblin legion has a distinct code of honor and law, but all follow a few general precepts that are at the heart of the hobgoblin honor system.

Follow Orders

Carrying out orders without question is critical on the battlefield, and hobgoblins follow this dictum in peaceful times as well in order to maintain stability in their society. Hobgoblins don't shrink from following orders that they know will result in death if the act will bring glory to the banner or the legion.

Honor the Gods

Hobgoblins give regular recognition to the deities left to them after Maglubiyet's conquest. Idols of Nomog-Geaya, as well as standards and flags with his image or symbol, receive a bow or salute at all times except emergencies. Bargrivyek's peacemakers receive due deference regardless of rank or banner status. Of course, Maglubiyet's call to conquest is always answered.

Suffer nor Give Insult

As befits their warlike nature, hobgoblins believe that any insult demands a response. Suitably (and somewhat ironically), the outward politeness and civility that they demonstrate among each other enables them to avoid conflicts in daily life. This same form of "courtesy" is often extended to other races the hobgoblins have dealings with, much to the outsiders' surprise. When such respect isn't reciprocated, though, relations can swiftly deteriorate.

Reward Glorious Action

Hobgoblins never deny advancement in status to a banner that has earned it, nor do they withhold higher rank from a deserving individual. If a banner attains great glory in battle but is nearly destroyed, the handful of members who remain are welcomed into another banner, taking their banner's name and colors along with them, and assuming places of leadership in the group.

Uphold the Legion

Hobgoblins care more for the survival of their legion than they do for others of their own kind. Two legions might battle over territory, resources, or power, or out of simple pride. Such a feud can continue over generations in an ongoing cycle of retribution. Each legion has a list of grievances against any others it knows about, and any legions meeting for the first time view each other with immediate hostility. Only a truly great warlord can force legions to work together as an army if Maglubiyet has not called forth a host.

Iron Shadows

A few hobgoblins have mastered a system of unarmed combat called the Path of the Iron Shadow. Its practitioners are known as Iron Shadows. They serve as a secret police force and a spy network in hobgoblin society. Statistics for a typical hobgoblin Iron Shadow can be found in chapter 3.

The Iron Shadows recruit from all ranks of hobgoblin society. They answer only to the priests of Maglubiyet, and use their talents for stealth, disguise, and unarmed combat to squash potential insurrections and treachery before an uprising can flourish.

These hobgoblins have the ability to command shadow magic to conceal their true nature, create distracting illusions, and walk from one shadow to the next.

When they operate in the open, they wear masks that resemble the leering faces of devils. As befits their role in society, they receive proper deference from all other hobgoblins that cross their path.

Academy of Devastation

Hobgoblins know the value of arcane magic in warfare. Where other cultures treat magic as an individual pursuit, a calling that only a select few can even attempt, hobgoblins practice mass indoctrination and testing to identify every potential caster in their ranks.

The Academy of Devastation is a hobgoblin institution made up of spellcasters. Members are sent abroad to test young hobgoblins. Those who show an aptitude for magic are enrolled in the academy, brought to a hidden school, and subjected to a rigorous regimen of drills, exercises, and study. In the academy's view, every young student is a potential new devastator, destined to be forged into a weapon of war.

Hobgoblin devastators have little knowledge of or use for spells that have no use on the battlefield. They are taught potent, destructive spells and also learn the fundamentals of evocation magic. The death and destruction they bring about is worthy of as many accolades as the ruin wrought by traditional warriors. Luckily for their enemies, devastators seldom employ sophisticated tactics, functioning essentially as a mobile artillery battery. They can bring tremendous force to bear, but rarely display the versatility and inventiveness of spellcasting elves and humans. A few do become accomplished tacticians in their own right, and it isn't uncommon for such an individual to serve as the warlord of a legion.

Statistics for a typical hobgoblin devastator can be found in chapter 3.

Hobgoblin Lairs

When hobgoblins aren't on the move, they have a stable lifestyle and society wherein they can raise new generations, train them, and prepare for future battles. If few enemies exist nearby and the hobgoblins in a legion have room to spread out, the members of each banner might live in a separate location, effectively its own settlement, with worg riders and messenger ravens passing communications between the sites.

In lands dominated by other humanoids, hobgoblins will settle for taking up residence in an old dungeon or ruin where they can hide their numbers and keep their presence secret. Such an arrangement isn't desirable, because space is usually at a premium.

Permanent Visitors

If a hobgoblin legion is looking for a place to set down roots, its first choice is an out-of-the-way area that has adequate resources or can be improved to suit the hobgoblins' needs. Land for farming or grazing is desirable, as is access to lumber, stone, or metal ore. If the hobgoblins find a place that fits the bill, they build non-portable facilities such as forges and sawmills, marking their intention to stay either until all the resources have been harvested or until Maglubiyet calls them off to war. If the hobgoblins are interested in doing business with the outside world, they might erect a trading post on the fringe of their territory where other people can come to exchange goods and coin.

Who Goes There

A hobgoblin lair resembles nothing so much as a military base. It is always well guarded, whether by lone sentries perched in trees or a stone tower with a full garrison of troops. As space permits, large areas are dedicated for use as training grounds, marshaling fields, target ranges, combat arenas, and similar facilities for the practice of warfare. Monuments, typically statues and pillars, are erected around these areas to remind the legion of past glories.

Every legion's headquarters includes a command center where the warlord meets with banner leaders and others of high rank. Inside the complex or somewhere near it is the Way to Glory-a road, river, tunnel, or valley on either side of which the honored dead are interred, each burial site complete with a description of the banner, rank, and glories of its occupant.

The quarters for troops are austere but sufficient, as are the necessary stables and dens to hold the legion's animals and beasts. Legions that have need of such amenities also set aside space for a library, which can double as a school and training facility for spellcasters. If a hobgoblin lair has a prison, it's usually a small one—miscreants are incarcerated for only a short time before facing the hobgoblins' harsh justice.

Maglubiyet's Will Be Done

When Maglubiyet conquered the goblins' gods, he taught the goblins to fear his cruelty. They bowed in sniveling obeisance to him and then turned their impotent wrath upon others, becoming petty tyrants. When Maglubiyet conquered the bugbears' gods, he taught the bugbears the practicality of cold brutality. When Maglubiyet conquered the hobgoblins' gods, he knew he had to take the hobgoblins firmly in hand. From him they learned discipline, and thus they became the natural leaders among all the goblinoids.

The goblinoids are bound together by Maglubiyet's subjugation of their individual deities. All types rightly fear Maglubiyet's wrath, but each carries out the Mighty One's divine will differently. Goblins typically flee from obvious threats, and hobgoblins often have to round up and threaten them before they can make use of them. Bugbears accept hobgoblin demands for assistance only grudgingly, and often they must be bribed with loot, spirits, battle gear, or the severed heads of enemy leaders-a particularly holy gift. Hobgoblins operating on their own will remain in their forts, content to deal with internal politics of rank and matters of defense, but when they encounter other types of goblinoids (or seek them out), it is viewed by all as a divine sign-Maglubiyet has called them together to do his bidding on a grand scale.

No Other God Shall Stand

Goblinoids are indoctrinated from a young age to consider all gods but their own as lesser, false entities. Maglubiyet is the only true deity, they learn, and the world will be wracked by chaos and despair until he one day conquers all pantheons. Goblinoids harbor a special hatred for clerics of enemy deities, focusing on them in battle and desecrating their temples whenever they have the chance. Whether a deity is good, evil, or neutral is immaterial. All gods other than Maglubiyet and his servants are false and must be destroyed.

Formation of the Host

When the three types of goblinoids coalesce into a host, this new societal and military arrangement fundamentally changes how virtually every individual behaves.

Leaders in Word and Deed

Hobgoblins form the backbone of the new culture, taking up most leadership roles and acting as the strong center in any military action. Hobgoblins that are called to lead a host become fired with purpose, overtaken by a fanaticism that lends new urgency to their every action.

When multiple legions gather into a host, each of those legions has a separate status, just as each banner in a legion does.

The legion of the host's warlord has the highest status, and warlords of lower status are demoted to the title of general. A member of the lowest-ranked banner in the warlord's legion has a higher status than those of other legions who share the same rank, but a general at the head of another legion still outranks everyone in the warlord's legion except for the warlord.

Hobgoblins in a legion set aside their animosity for other legions when a host forms. The warlords of rival legions don't seek to depose the leader of the host unless the fortunes of war create the opportunity. Each legion records all the insults directed toward it while a member of a host, and when the host disbands, those grudges again come to the forefront.

Stealthy Shock Troops

Bugbears that are subsumed into a host function as a special cadre of spies, assassins, and bodyguards, answering to the senior leadership of the host rather than to others of their own kind.

On occasion, their hobgoblin leaders will see fit to equip the bugbear force with improved equipment, such as metal-tipped javelins in place of stone-tipped ones, or chain shirts instead of the usual hide armor. Bugbears are never outfitted with ranged weapons (which they refuse to use) or with heavy armor (which compromises their stealthiness).

If some bugbears demonstrate a particular talent for some facet of combat or subterfuge, the hobgoblins might separate them into squads that employ those skills to best effect (see the "Bugbear Special Forces" sidebar).

Reluctant Little Tyrants

One of the first steps hobgoblins take when a tribe of goblins joins the host is to train the gatherers and the pariahs as soldiers, effectively elevating those goblins' status to that of hunters and reducing the number of castes in the host to two. Leaders and religious figures of the tribe still maintain some of their authority, but the lowliest hobgoblin or bugbear can give an order to a goblin chief, and that chief must leap to obey or, as is often the case, immediately yell orders for other goblins to do it.

Goblins that are conscripted into a host resign themselves to their fate-which could well be to have their souls claimed by Maglubiyet for eternal war in Acheron. Thus reconciled, they become humorless and show no pity toward whatever meager victims fall under their dominion, usually enslaved laborers or monsters that are pressed into service as battle beasts. When the need arises, they also work as scouts, sappers during sieges, and skirmishers on the battlefront.

Auxiliary Units

A host rarely consists of nothing but goblinoids, especially if it has been on the move for a while. In addition to wolf and worg mounts and flocks of squawking ravens, a host might attract or press into service many kinds of creatures. Some possibilities:

The Host on the March

A goblinoid host that is prepared for war doesn't wait for the enemy to approach its doorstep. In pursuit of ever greater glory for Maglubiyet, the host's leaders keep the army on the move, occasionally breaking off small garrisons (often of one type of goblinoid) to guard territory that needs to be held.

A host usually marches at night, with outriders, who carry messenger ravens, traveling ahead, behind, and on both sides of the main group. The ravens can distinguish between individuals from a great height and navigate over long distances. Thus, a raven can fly back to the main body when it is released by someone remote from the group, and it can be sent out again to look for the individual that released it in order to deliver a response.

Most of the army travels on foot, and wolf-riding goblins and worg-riding hobgoblins also make up a significant portion of the force. Hobgoblins might ride horses or other mounts they could obtain, such as hippogriffs, axe beaks, or giant vultures. Bugbears don 't ride mounts, but they aren't above hitching a ride in the howdah of an enormous battle beast such as an elephant or a hydra.

If the host has slaves, they pull wagons or sledges in the center of the army, dragging along the equipment of war while surrounded by its users. If slaves have yet to be acquired, goblins and beasts of burden perform this function.

Bugbear Special Forces

Under any circumstances, bugbears are valued members of a goblinoid host. If some of them are specialized (or can be trained) in different aspects of warfare, their value increases, especially when they work in concert.


Bugbears that serve as thugs have more of Hruggek than Grankhul in them. They leap in among massed foes and make wide, whirling swings with their weapons to create openings in enemy formations.


The wild attack of a group of thugs is often followed by the charge of one or more bulwarks. A bugbear bulwark carries a spiked shield into battle that it uses like a plow, bashing aside whatever it encounters.


Bugbears that are gifted in stealth are sent out to kill enemy sentries and thus clear the way for others to penetrate the foe's defenses. Murderers carry many javelins with them, which they throw from hiding and wield in melee, and they also carry garrotes to cut off sounds of screaming.

Conquest and Occupation

Warfare in the name of Maglubiyet isn't conducted like the raiding of orcs or the wanton slaughter of gnolls. It is instead a practice of claiming territory and subjugating people. Those who surrender to the host with little or no resistance get fair and honest treatment. If they offer proper tribute, they can even look forward to avoiding goblin whips and chains. Warriors among the conquered people might be accepted as auxiliary units in the host, if they prove to be capable and trustworthy.

Typically, a goblinoid host seeks to retain enough of the population in a conquered settlement for the community to continue to produce goods and services. The labor force likely includes more youngsters and elderly than before the goblinoids' conquest, with a corresponding drop-off in production. In any case, a group of conquered people serves the host best when it continues to produce resources that the goblinoids can use. Only when a settlement offers stiff resistance or has no lasting value to the host do the goblinoids resort to slaughter and slavery to empty it of enemies.

The Warborn

While a host pursues conquest, it is taboo for its members to copulate. Such proclivities must be suppressed so that all effort is focused on the task at hand. Breach of the taboo can bring summary execution, so it is rare for offspring to be born among the host even when it success fully campaigns for years.

The taboo doesn't extend to female goblinoids that come into the host already pregnant and give birth while on campaign. Such offspring are called Warborn, a title they keep for life. The Warborn are thought to be blessed by Maglubiyet, and as a result these young goblinoids are carried into battle like a standard and used to rally troops.

A host that gains many victories might end up claiming vast amounts of territory and eventually become a true nation. Such an empire might last for generations if the military can continue achieving new conquests or at least claim victories when the goblinoids defend territory they previously took over. If triumphs of some sort don't keep coming, the bonds of allegiance among the goblinoids eventually fray. Legions of hobgoblins begin infighting, and goblins shirk their duties while the hobgoblins are distracted. Then, seeing the disarray of the host as a sign that Maglubiyet is no longer looking, the bugbears turn on their hobgoblin leaders, take a few of their heads as fresh trophies, and leave.

Life in a Slave State

When a host conquers a settlement or a community, the surviving victims quickly learn to adapt to life under goblinoid rule. The hobgoblins bring their own legal code down upon the vassals, and it is liable to be harsher than that to which the inhabitants were accustomed. Yet the host will also respect traditions of law and custom among those they conquer, as an aid to maintaining order by pacifying the population. Some surviving civilian leaders are allowed to retain their positions, often gaining more privilege and power than they previously possessed by serving as agents of the goblinoids, helping to identify any who are disloyal to the host.

In matters of religion, there is little or no flexibility. The host eliminates any spiritual leaders or temple servants who offer any resistance. Clergy of gods that are deemed harmless, such as a deity of the harvest, can escape this fate. When the host encounters priests of deities of battle or conquest, they offer them a simple choice: Turn to the worship of Maglubiyet, or prove the superiority of your god in combat. Any such priest who remains faithful to some other god rarely lasts long, because the priest will face a succession of foes-as many as it takes for the priest to succumb and for others to see that resistance is pointless. Maglubiyet ultimately offers only two options: submit or die.

If the settlement has holy sites dedicated to conquered gods, these are converted into shrines to the Mighty One.

Maglubiyet's Army of Immortals

The war horns of the host signal that every goblinoid has the chance to prove his or her worth to Maglubiyet and join his Army of Immortals in Acheron, the plane of eternal battle. There Maglubiyet marshals his host against slavering orc hordes in a bid to bring Gruumsh and the other orc gods to heel, a mythic contest that has pitted the goblinoids and orcs of the world against one another since time immemorial.

All representations of the defeated gods are thrown down, ruined, or marred. Mosaics are broken apart. Stained glass is shattered. Flags and pennants are soaked in blood. Statues are put in chains. Altars become chopping blocks where Maglubiyet's bloody axe is used to decapitate all who refuse to bow to him.

Goblinoid War Camp

A goblinoid army doesn't stay on the move forever, but when they make camp, it isn't for rest and recreation. A goblinoid war camp is a place that is constantly ready for war, and the hobgoblins run it accordingly.

A war camp might be a permanent settlement that a hobgoblin legion uses as a garrison. The accompanying map depicts one such place, and it can also be used to represent a location constructed to serve as a staging area by a host that is actively campaigning.

The basic layout of a war camp is circular. To prepare the site, slaves, goblins, and any beasts fit for the purpose dig a ditch around the desired location, interrupted in places where wide paths provide access to the center of the enclosed area. Inside this ring of excavation are sections of a wooden palisade, each part capped with a gate and a tower on either end. These outer walls and gates aren't regularly manned or patrolled, because the occupants aren't concerned about being taken by surprise. If an enemy force does approach, though, these barriers do a good job of delaying any incursion until the goblinoids can rally their defenses.


Inside the surrounding bulwark, the goblinoids all have their separate quarters, organized according to their wonts. Typical of any camp are the wide paths that crisscross it, running from each gate through the center of the camp and out the other side. This configuration enables all the goblinoids to swiftly rally and exit the camp en masse to meet an approaching threat.

Command Center

The camp's warlord resides in the command center, which is a large wooden building in the middle of camp. Here the warlord meets with advisors and makes plans for future conquest. Most of the time, a command center also holds elite bugbear bodyguards that protect the warlord and a goblin jester that serves as insurance against the appearance of a nilbog (see the "Nilbogs: Pranksters with Power" sidebar).

In a camp that doesn't have separate facilities for a library and a rookery, the command center subsumes those functions. Library records are stored in a chamber adjacent to where the war council meets, and posts for ravens are set all around the exterior of the building.

Goblinoid Quarters

Each type of goblinoid has its own accommodations within the war camp.

Bugbear Dens

After the hobgoblins stake out their territory, bugbear gangs dig their dens wherever else they wish, sometimes building them in the shadow of the outer wall but most often scattering them about, seemingly at random. A den typically consists of a hole and a crawlspace big enough for a few bugbears.

Goblin Hovels

The camp's goblins settle wherever their hobgoblin commanders tell them to. Their quarters usually surround the areas where slaves and beasts. The typical goblin hovel is a round tent where related goblins sleep. In a permanent camp, these hovels often take the form of wattle-and-daub huts.

Hobgoblin Barracks

Not surprisingly, hobgoblins have the most spacious and well-appointed quarters in a war camp. Each of the banners in a legion has its own group of lodges in one of the quadrants of the interior, each one facing the pathway that runs past its front door.


Hobgoblins know the value of improving one's base of knowledge, and so they value any documentation about the world around them-maps, accounting records, battle reports, and other important facts. This knowledge is sorted by a legion's librarian and stored in the camp's library. The library serves as a hub for communication and strategy, and it is never located far from the group's leaders. In the field, the army's library is carried in a fortified and fire-protected wagon, surrounded by battle-hardened caretakers (often devastators or Iron Shadows) willing to give their lives to protect it.

Pens and Pits

Goblins are responsible for tending to the camp's slaves, battle beasts, and beasts of burden. These are hobbled, chained to posts, or placed in pens, cages, or pits as needed. Most of these containment sites are surrounded by goblin hovels, and those that aren't are nearby, so that the goblins can keep track of their charges.


Hobgoblins keep flocks of ravens that serve them as messengers and spies. A huge, tree-like conglomeration of metal and wood serves the ravens as a roosting and nesting place. If a camp doesn't use one of these freestanding structures, its ravens are accommodated by perches and outcrops built on the outside of the command center. In the field, a wagon serves as a make shift rookery.

Supply Wagons

Members of the army are expected to maintain their own battle gear, but ammunition and replacement gear are kept on hand, as well as other nonperishable supplies. Rather than being contained in a building, these items are on wagons distributed throughout the camp in such a way that all the vehicles are accessible and ready to be moved if the rallying horn is blown.

Every wagon is under watch by at least two guards, which are responsible for recording "withdrawals" and reporting on inventory to the camp's leaders.

The Block

Maglubiyet's holy symbol is a headsman's axe, and the block is where it is blessed by feeding it the lifeblood of conquered foes and goblinoids that neglect their duties. In a temporary camp, the block might be a simple slab of wood or stone laid on a hastily heaped-up pile of dirt. In a permanent garrison, the block is often attached to the command center and placed on a consecrated platform.

Near the block stands a post or a rack with various weapons that represent the symbols of the goblinoid gods, each placed in accordance with the god's rank. Maglubiyet's headsman's axe is always highest. Then comes Nomog-Geaya's sword and handaxe, Bargrivyek's white-tipped flail, and at the bottom, often touching the ground, the red-and-yellow whip of Khurgorbaeyag. Notably absent from this grouping are the symbols of the bugbear gods. Instead, severed heads hang in bunches around the block or are impaled upon spikes, their eyelids removed and mouths open. These honor the bugbears' deities, Hruggek and Grankhul, and their separate but subordinate positions in Maglubiyet's rule.

Hags: Dark Sisterhood

Hags are crones who represent corruption of ideals and goals, and they delight in seeing the innocent and good brought low. They are inhuman monsters, their forms twisted by evil. Shapechangers and blasphemers, they ally with other hags to form magical covens with extra powers. They collect and remember secret knowledge that is better lost and forgotten. Desperate mortals come to them looking for advice, only to have their requests fulfilled in ways that bring great suffering to themselves and their loved ones.

Ugly, Unpredictable, and Old

Hags are mysterious, unfathomable, and dangerous, especially from the viewpoint of mortals. One day a hag might be stealing and eating children that wander into the woods, on another day she might be making lewd jokes to adventurers asking her for advice, and the next she might be uprooting saplings to make a fence around her home for impaling intruders.

It is nearly impossible to predict how a hag will act from day to day, sometimes moment to moment, which is why folk with any wisdom at all give hags a wide berth.

Hags perceive ugliness as beauty, and vice versa. They revel in having a hideous appearance and sometimes go out of their way "improve" upon it by picking at sores, wearing skins and bones as decoration, and rubbing refuse and dirt into their hair and clothing.

Because both the Seelie Court and the Unseelie Court appreciate and revere true beauty among the fey, hags are almost never found in either place. The Summer Queen and the Queen of Air and Darkness recognize that hags have valuable knowledge and impressive magic, but they can't abide the stain on the beauty of their surroundings, so most hags are excluded from both courts. The rare few accepted as courtiers are either so influential that their entry can't be refused, or young and humble enough to be willing to use magic to put on a prettier appearance. Other hags aren't upset by their exclusion; they like to be left alone to their own schemes, not constrained by a fey queen's whims, and to be able to talk out of both sides of their mouths.

Hags are virtually immortal, with a life span greater than that of even dragons and elves. The oldest, wisest, and most powerful hags are called "grandmothers" by other hags. Some grandmothers are nearly as powerful as some of the archfey.

Hags of lower but still respectable status are called "aunties." An auntie gains her status from being very old, a member of a powerful coven, directly serving a grandmother, or having many offspring (whether adopted or birthed).

Master Manipulators

Hags delight in corrupting others. They do so not by imposing their will or being outwardly violent, but by making sinister bargains with those who seek their aid. This desire to orchestrate the downfall of others is why so many hags make their homes near humanoid settlements, which gives them a ready supply of creatures to tantalize and torment.

Folk with nowhere else to turn are some of a hag's best customers. A farmer with a philandering spouse might seek out the local hag for a potion to make the spouse faithful again. The mayor with a demented father might ask the hag for something that makes him lucid again. A merchant whose child is deathly ill might go to the hag for a cure. The common element in these situations is that the mortals approach the hag for help; despite knowing that she is evil and dangerous, they are desperate enough to risk making a bargain with her, or foolish enough to think they can persuade her to be helpful without getting something in return.

Hags make bargains differently from how devils operate. A devil might approach a mortal to make a deal because it wants the individual to become tainted with evil, so that when the victim dies its soul goes to the Nine Hells. Hags are usually content to wait and conduct their own business, allowing mortals to come to them when the perceived need is great enough. Instead of being interested in a mortal's soul, a hag wants to bring the mortal low during its life as compensation for fulfilling her end of the bargain. Devils barter with the soul as the commodity; hags barter because they enjoy making people miserable. Night hags, as fey turned fiends, use aspects of both methods-corrupting a mortal's dreams until the creature commits enough evil acts that she can claim its soul.

As much as she enjoys offering and enforcing her bargains, a hag rarely goes out looking for people to make deals with because she knows that someone coming to her puts her in a position of power. The visitor likely had to approach the hag in secret for fear of causing an uproar in town, and is probably eager to return home before being missed, which adds time pressure to the process and tips the balance more in the hag's favor. All these factors contribute to the hag's being able to set her terms for the bargain, presenting an offer that appears reasonable, and perhaps seems to have a tempting loophole or two that the mortal could exploit.

Hags understand mortal desires and vices, and know how to manipulate people by preying on those qualities. A hag's bargain might bring success and prosperity for a time, but eventually have a drawback or side effect that makes the mortal resent the agreement and seek to get out of it. The philandering spouse now happy to stay home might grow slothful, the mayor's father might turn violent after regaining his senses, and the merchant's child might relapse if not treated again every few months.

Even when a bargain turns sour for a mortal and other people in town hear about or see the person's misfortune, the hag will eventually attract new customers. Other people will come to believe that they can outsmart the hag, or that their need is simple and can't be perverted, or that the earlier victims got too greedy when they were proposing a deal. Even if only one or two people make deals with a hag every year, over time many unfortunates can come under her sway-and she remembers the exact terms of every one of those bargains.

Making a Deal out of Desire

Although it could be argued that there's no good time to make a bargain with a hag, mortals are more likely to get away in good shape if they offer up something a hag needs or wants. In such a case, the hag might even start the bidding.

A hag that faces a serious threat from enemies will not hesitate to use promises or bribes to defuse the situation. For instance, most treasures in a hag's lair are useless without her knowledge of how to identify and handle them, so she might offer to provide such information in return for her life. If an item later backfires on the one who uses it, or turns out to be cursed in some way, that's just another lesson in why never to never threaten or trust a hag.

Hags are curious about other creatures of power. They enjoy receiving news and gossip about other hags and influential creatures such as dragons, demons, genies, and certain mortals. Offering a hag accurate information of this sort as part of a bargain earns a small measure of her respect, and might make her more receptive to the idea of a "fair" deal.

When a hag bargains with other creatures of the Feywild, rather than mortals, she approaches the situation with a more respectful attitude. She realizes that the creatures of her native realm are more powerful than common humanoids and therefore more dangerous when disappointed or angered by a deal gone bad. Fey are also long-lived and thus have more time to retaliate against the hag, whereas most humanoids die within a few short decades. These considerations don't mean that hags are automatically pleasant in dealings with other fey, just that they aren't as blatant or demanding in the bargains they offer; hags know exactly how much they can get away with, and they like pushing the limits of what others will tolerate.

Bargainer Beware

When a hag is generous with her help or requires only a simple task as payment, that's no guarantee that the deal will turn out as expected for both parties. By offering a proposal that seems, or actually is, fair, chances are that the hag is pursuing a hidden agenda. She still wants to set events into motion that benefit her or bring about the downfall of another, but she does so in an indirect way that has no obvious connection to her. A bargain as simple as a villager agreeing to deliver a mysterious letter at a crossroads at noon on a certain day could be the key to ruining the mortal's life. The hag's reasons might not become apparent for years or even decades, or won't be meaningful except under specific circumstances, such as an auspicious birth or a climactic encounter with a dangerous villain. Even when she's offering a deal that seems to have no downside, a hag is always secretive about her motivations, the reasons for the payments she requires, or how these things benefit her.

A hag that spends a long time in close proximity to a human settlement often depletes the community of good-hearted folk as they succumb to her evil and selfish plans. The mood of the town becomes unwelcoming, grim, moody, or outright hostile toward newcomers and travelers. Even after a hag has done her worst in such a place, she maintains leverage over her victims by holding out the prospect that someday she will undo the curses that she has lain on them. For that reason, the local leaders won't allow any outsiders to act against her (which includes sabotaging adventurers who might decide to confront her).

Roleplaying a Hag

Even when a hag acts indifferently or friendly toward adventurers, inside she is still a twisted fey creature, and she doesn't give two coppers about what anyone else thinks or wants. She might casually comment about how easily a visitor would fit in her cauldron or make a blunt sexual comment about a guest. When a mortal visits a hag, the experience should be nerve-wracking, uncomfortable, and risky; at any point the hag might lose her temper and decide to pull out someone's fingernails with her iron teeth.

Hags look upon younger creatures from the perspective of a cantankerous grandparent who no longer cares what anyone thinks-set in her ways, free to speak her mind, and not afraid to bring down punishment if pushed too far. Hags enjoy meddling with other people's lives, like busybodies with cruel intentions. Any time a hag agrees to help someone, the bargain includes a price to be paid, plus a hidden plan by which she sets the mortal up to fail, or a way that she gains leverage (whether over the deal-maker or someone else).

When a hag is presented with an unusual spell, a rare magic item, or a person who has a strange magical gift, she will sniff it, shake it, listen to it, taste it, murmur odd statements to herself, and mentally place a value on the merchandise. Hags aren't subtle about showing their intent at such times, and one might snatch away the offering so she can examine it more closely, even if this makes it obvious she is interested. If she doesn't have anything else like it, or can think of a use for it, or if having it means a rival can't get her hands on it, she'll value the offering highly. A visitor who offers a desirable item as a bribe or a gift is more likely to get a fair deal from the hag, or at least likely to suffer less when the true price of the deal is revealed.

If a hag's life is threatened, she will pretend to be weak and helpless if she thinks it will spare her life or buy her time to retaliate or escape. She'll use dangerous treasures as bribes, not telling about their curses or side effects. She will lie and deceive and try to turn her enemies against each other, playing up their guilt and fear and jealousy to tear them apart from the inside. She is older, smarter, and more shrewd than any mortal who dares to threaten her.

Hags prefer to cajole and bargain rather than confront someone with actual violence; they reserve their aggressive outbursts for situations where they are overwhelmingly more powerful than their opponents (such as when attacking children) or have an unfair advantage (such as when their enemy is asleep). Although a hag can always resort to attacking with her claws, if it comes to that then something has gone very wrong with her plans.

Hag Personality Traits

Hag Personality Traits
d8Personality Trait
1I have made subtle insults into an art form.
2I always act unpleasant so others never learn of my secret affections.
3I enjoy wagers as parts of my bargains, which increase the risk and the stakes.
4I laugh at my own jokes-the darker, the better.
5I never volunteer information, and I respond only to questions.
6I offer generous terms in my deals, but the cost for defaulting is exceedingly high.
7I require all of my bargains to be put in writing and signed in the other party's blood.
8I am very superstitious, and I see omens in every event and action around me.

Hag Ideals

Hag Ideals
1Change. I will metamorphose into every kind of hag and live a century as each, becoming something even greater in the end. (Chaotic)
2Community. Loneliness is the path to madness. That is why I have minions to keep me company. (Lawful)
3Greed. I will acquire the rarest and most valuable holy treasures to keep them from being used for good. (Evil)
4Independence. I neither require nor want a coven. I will not be someone's equal. (Neutral)
5Power. I will become an auntie or a grandmother, even if I have to kill my own mother to do it. (Evil)
6Ugliness. I want to be envied for my appearance and my cruel heart. (Evil)

Hag Bonds

Hag Bonds
1I hate a certain mortal family and steal one of their children each generation for my own purposes.
2I am involved in a centuries-long feud with a rival of similar power and status.
3My house holds everything that I hold dear. I can't abide visitors who threaten my hearth and home.
4I owe a great favor to a hag grandmother.
5I traded away something before I realized it was priceless, and now I want it back.
6My daughter was taken from me, and I want to find her and train her.
7My greatest rival and I know a secret word that will destroy both of us simultaneously.
8The ones who looted and burned my home will pay for their offense.

Hag Flaws

Hag Flaws
1I am too eager for gossip.
2I can't resist flirting with a handsome man.
3I have an allergy to a creature (such as cats or ravens) or a substance (such as apples or blood) that is important to my work.
4I will not tell a lie, but I can still say nothing, nod suggestively, or bend the truth a little to suit my needs.
5I am greatly weakened on the nights of the full moon.
6I can't resist a clever riddle.

Hag Names

Hags have whimsical names, often with a dark twist. A hag gives her newborn daughter a name that the girl keeps during her childhood, but upon gaining her full hag powers the daughter chooses her own name, which might or might not relate to her birth name. Some hags use different names in different guises, but still prefer their original name as their favorite.

The Hag Names table allows you to generate a hag's name. You can also select from the table or use it as inspiration.

Hags always have a title followed by a first name, or a first name followed by a last name. You can randomly determine (equal chance of either) whether a hag has a title or a last name. {@b Note:} Roll on the Hag Name table to generate a complete name or choose or roll from the other three

Hag Title

Hag Title

Hag First Name

Hag First Name
d12First Name

Hag Last Name

Hag Last Name
d12Last Name

Weird Magic

Over the course of a seemingly endless lifetime, a hag typically discovers or creates several unusual ways to use magic. The weird magic that hags can call upon comes in a number of forms and with various means of activation. Even those who have read scholarly books about hag lore can't predict what a particular hag might have up her sleeve.

A grandmother or some other hag of great age and renown might know unique rituals that can temporarily or permanently alter or transform a creature, bring back the dead for a limited time, rewrite memories, or siphon emotions. At the other end of the spectrum, even a hag without lofty status is likely to have strange, single-use items that don't emulate common spells or even follow the normal rules of magic. For inspiration in devising the effects of such weird items, see "Charms" in chapter 7 of the {@i Dungeon Master's Guide.}

If you want a hag to use a weird object of this sort in a combat situation, provide her with an item that produces a CR-appropriate spell effect when the hag manipulates or activates it. The effect might be a benefit to herself or an attack against her enemies. For example, a green hag (CR 3) might smash an ornate hand mirror, producing a cloud of glass shards that damages creatures like {@spell cloud of daggers} (a 2nd-level spell). She might instead uncork a bottle of wasps that surround her and stitch up her wounds with their stingers, healing her as {@spell cure wounds} (cast as a 2nd-level spell). Or she could take a mummified toad from her pocket and throw it into her cauldron, which immediately spews out inky blackness equivalent to {@spell darkness} (a 2nd-level spell).

A hag carefully shepherds her use of weird magic because the items in her repertoire are often impossible to duplicate or replace. To reflect this fact, a hag should be able to use weird magic only once or twice per encounter in her lair, or only once per encounter if she is elsewhere. A hag who is expecting a fight might be better prepared and able (or willing) to use weird magic one additional time per encounter.

If a hag is faced with mortal peril, all thoughts of conserving her resources vanish-she will use any weird magic at her disposal if it helps her stay alive. After all, a hag that's not dead has a virtually limitless lifetime to replace what was spent. No matter how hard it was to acquire that jar of death slugs, or that book on how to invoke the razor wind, or the runestone containing the three syllables for crystallizing blood, it is better to use such things than to risk death by not doing so.

Mounts and Vehicles

Many stories tell of hags using strange, enchanted creatures and objects for travel, and most of those stories are accurate.

Instead of the usual horse or pony, a hag might ride astride a giant pig, a goat, or a cow. It's not unknown for a hag to use a sentient creature as a mount, perhaps as the result of a bargain that creature struck with her. A hag that wants to humiliate a mortal hero might require that hero to serve as her mount for a year as part of fulfilling her bargain. The giant raven that carries a hag aloft could be in actuality one of the hag's victims transformed because that individual tried to go back on its deal with her.

Some hags prefer nonliving conveyances from time to time, and their imagination in this regard knows no bounds. A hag might happily animate and "spruce up" any sort of object she can tailor for the purpose, such as a clay statue, a huge woven basket, a cauldron, a butter churn, a giant bird's nest, a mortar and pestle, or a tombstone.

Usually only the hag that obtained or created them can use her mounts and vehicles. They obey only her commands, and their magic responds only to her will.

If a hag allows any other creature to use one of them as part of a bargain, she must be expecting an immense return on her investment.

Types of Hags

Each of the five common types of hags prefers a particular environment. It is possible to find a hag in unusual terrain, perhaps if she is traveling or is part of a coven along with two local hags. Grandmothers and aunties are more likely than other hags to take up permanent residence in unfriendly terrain, since their long-range plans sometimes require spending decades or years in a certain area before returning home.

Hag Metamorphosis

It's commonly believed that five kinds of hags exist in the world (and beyond it). What's not so widely known is that some hags can change from one kind to another during their lives.

A hag that lives long enough or has the necessary resources can alter her basic nature, leaving behind her old physiology and adopting that of a hag appropriate to the environment of her current home. She might accomplish this transformation through force of will over time, or faster with the help of a ritual or assistance from her coven. The reasons for making such a change are as varied as the personalities and goals of hags.

Solitary but Social

Hags are selfish by nature, and each one cherishes her independence-from the rest of the world as well as from other hags. At the same time, every hag recognizes that she and her sisters are kindred souls, like the members of a dark sorority or sisterhood.

Even though hags don't like each other, they share knowledge and trade secrets, helping them to keep abreast of worldly events and possible dangers. Even a hag living in a remote, isolated location is aware of goings-on that involve her neighboring hags, whether through magical communication, personal visits, or mundane messengers such as birds. In most cases, these relationships with her sisters, though devoid of emotion, are the closest a hag comes to having friends.

When a hag is attacked or killed, other hags are likely to hear about it. If the victim was friendly with other hags, those responsible for her death might find themselves the target of retaliation. If the victim died while owing favors to another hag, that hag sees her killers as now responsible for the dead hag's debts. If the victim was unpopular or if other hags were indebted to her (and thus are happy to see her go), her killers might receive relatively cordial treatment from those other hags instead.

Every hag has a particular status relative to others of her kind and to hags of all sorts, based on age, abilities, influence, alliances, and experience, and is aware of her place (though not necessarily satisfied with it). The few grandmothers sit at the top of the hierarchy, a larger number of aunties are beneath that, and all other hags vie for prominence in a chaotic pecking order that no mortal can truly figure out. A hag that is known to associate with an auntie has a higher status than a similarly powerful hag without such a connection, and a young hag born of a grandmother begins her existence already benefiting from a greater measure of respect and status.

Hag Covens

To a hag, the thought of sharing her home with other creatures-even other hags-is disgusting. She has nothing but dislike or disdain for anyone other than herself, and she loves being alone (except for the company of minions and other creatures under her sway). That's the ordinary state of affairs. But when a group of hags have a common goal or they seek greater power to combat a formidable threat, they suppress their basic nature and come together to do their work. The result is a coven.

Being part of a coven gives each individual hag more magic and spellcasting ability, and to her these benefits offset the inconvenience and bickering that goes with living and working with other hags.

If a member of a coven is killed and the surviving members intend to keep the group from dissolving, they immediately attempt to recruit a replacement.

This process involves each prospective member committing cruel acts with the aim of impressing the remaining coven members.

Adventurers who slay only one member of a coven might deal a blow to it in the short term, but later on the surrounding region is wracked with plagues, curses, and other disasters as the applicants attempt to outdo one another.

An unusually gifted mortal sorcerer, warlock, or wizard of a deeply evil nature might be invited to join a coven or allowed to compete for a vacancy. This arrangement is potentially a dangerous proposition for the mortal, but a pair of hags might agree to it if their needs are served. For instance, a human member of a coven makes an ideal spy and infiltrator in and around a humanoid settlement.

Welcome to the Family

Hags make more hags by snatching and devouring human infants, birthing daughters who turn into hags on entering the thirteenth year of their lives. Fortunately for humanity and the rest of the world, such an occurrence is rare.

Rarer still, but not unheard of, is for a hag to repeat this process twice or more in short succession, giving her multiple offspring of about the same age. She might do this to form a coven with two of her daughters, or to create a coven made up entirely of her offspring. Some hags cite ancient lore that suggests that if a hag consumes twins or triplets, her offspring might have additional, unusual abilities; similarly, devouring the seventh-born child of a seventh-born is said to be a way to pass on rare magic to the hag's daughter.

Alternative Coven Spells

Some covens gather for a specific purpose, such as to defeat a champion of good, to serve as oracles for the delivery of baleful prophecies, or to corrupt a pristine wilderness. In such a case, because the coven strives to bend its magic to a more directed purpose, the members have different spells available for use with their Shared Spellcasting trait, usually focusing on a theme related to that purpose. Three examples of themed hag coven spell lists are given below.


For a coven whose members are obsessed with death and the ability to manipulate it, an appropriate spell list would be:


Hags might seek to exert control over their environment and the creatures in it by mastering the following group of spells:


The power to affect the future or perceive things out of the norm could make these spells attractive to a coven:

The Rule of Three

They say that things come in threes. Good things. Bad things. Strange things. Hags and purveyors of witchcraft embrace the Rule of Three, as it is called: a coven has three members, they believe that good or evil magic returns upon its source threefold, and the casting of many spells requires the same words chanted three times.

Long ago, planar travelers came to recognize that many of the realms and layers of the multiverse are configured in multiples of three. It is possible that plane-traveling hags learned of this planar-based superstition and adapted it to their own uses, although some among the oldest hags claim to have invented the concept or at least named it.

Hag Lairs

No matter what form it takes, a hag's home is a manifestation of her basic nature. It is ugly, eerie, or unnerving in some way, often incorporating some aspect of decay, such as a dead tree, a ruined tower, or a menacing cave entrance that resembles a skull.


Whether naturally or by manufactured means, the lair is well defended from intrusion. It might be reachable only by a steep mountain path, or it might be surrounded by a fence the hag builds out of posts capped with magically warded skulls. Often, a lair reflects the outlook of its primary inhabitant-a murderous hag's home might be crafted to look like a coffin or a mausoleum, and that of a gluttonous one might look like a tavern or a gingerbread house. Because such places are convenient for them, sea hags often establish their lairs inside the hulls of wrecked or abandoned ships.

Best of Both Worlds

Many hags settle in places where the barriers between the mortal world and the Feywild are thin, making it easy for them to interact and bargain with creatures of both realms. Other popular choices are a place where the ambient energy augments certain kinds of magic, a site related to death such as a burial ground, and within a ring of fallen standing stones that still resonate with ancient power. In order to facilitate bargaining with mortals, the home must be near enough to a populated area that it attracts occasional visitors, but not so close that a community would see the hag's presence as a threat and try to defeat her or drive her off.

Treasure, Treasure Everywhere

A hag's home is cluttered with mundane items, caged creatures, oddities, objects that hint of a magical purpose, preserved specimens, scraps of lore, and curiosities that have a supernatural origin but aren't inherently magical. For a selection of strange hag treasures, see the "One-of-a-Kind Objects" section later in this chapter.

Exit Strategy

A hag always has an escape plan, in case ambitious do-gooders try to turn her home into her final resting place. If she is outmatched, or wants to vacate her lair quickly for some other reason, she uses a mix of her innate spellcasting, rare magic, guile, and the assistance of minions to get away. Most hags have three plans prepared: one for general threats and two others for specific likely scenarios, such as "They've set the house on fire" or "A necromancer with undead are attacking."

If a hag is forced to resort to such measures, she immediately begins to plot her retaliation against those that caused her to flee. Like a vampire or a demon, a hag has a long life over which to exact her vengeance, and no dish of revenge is sweeter than one served cold and to the next three generations of her enemy's family.

Hag Lair Actions

If a hag is a grandmother, she gains a set of lair actions appropriate to her nature, knowledge, and history. A coven that includes a grandmother can use her lair actions as well, but the grandmother's will prevails-if one of the coven attempts this sort of action and the grandmother disapproves, nothing happens. A powerful auntie (or her coven) might also have access to lair actions like these, but only at certain times of the year or when the influence of the Feywild is strong.

The following lair actions are options for grandmothers and powerful aunties. Grandmothers usually have three to five lair actions, aunties usually only one (if they have any at all). Unless otherwise noted, any lair action that requires a creature to make a saving throw uses the save DC of the hag's most powerful ability.

Lair Actions

On initiative count 20 (losing initiative ties), the hag can take a lair action to cause one of the following effects, but can't use the same effect two rounds in a row:

A powerful {@b annis hag} might have the following additional lair action:

A powerful {@b bheur hag} might have the following additional lair action:

A powerful {@b green hag} might have the following additional lair action:

A powerful {@b night hag} might have the following additional lair actions:

A powerful {@b sea hag} might have the following additional lair actions:

Regional Effects

A hag's foul nature slowly suffuses the environment around her lair, twisting it to evil.

Each hag's lair is the source of three to five regional effects; the home of a grandmother, an auntie, or a coven has more effects than the lair of a single hag, including some that can directly harm intruders. Any regional effect that requires a creature to make a saving throw uses the save DC of the hag's most powerful ability. These effects either end immediately if the hag dies or abandons the lair, or take up to {@dice 2d10} days to fade away.

Regional Effects

The region within 1 mile of a grandmother hag's lair is warped by the creature's fell magic, which creates one or more of the following effects:

A powerful {@b annis hag} creates one or more of the following additional regional effects within 1 mile of her lair:

A powerful {@b bheur hag} creates one or more of the following additional regional effects within 1 mile of her lair:

A powerful {@b green hag} creates one or more of the following additional regional effects within 1 mile of her lair:

A powerful {@b night hag} creates one or more of the following additional regional effects within 1 mile of her lair:

A powerful {@b sea hag} creates one or more of the following additional regional effects within 1 mile of her lair:

Minions and Pets

Although they are solitary by nature, hags sometimes feel the need for companionship. Usually one scratches this itch by acquiring servants she can insult and slap around as she wishes. Such a creature might be charmed into compliance, or under a spell that stops its heart if it disobeys, or too afraid of nonmagical punishment for failure to do what she says. Most hags have some kind of slave or minion creature living with or near them as a defense against attackers, even if it's just a common animal.

Hags particularly delight in using mortals bound to their service as minions. A paladin might have no qualms about putting a hag coven to the sword, but her conviction falters if she must first fight through a crowd of innocent farmers that the hag has compelled to defend her. Ordinary folk are also useful as minions because they can serve the hag as her eyes and ears in a nearby settlement, either operating secretly or actively trying to persuade other townsfolk to pay her a visit.

The weird magic at a hag's disposal means that she might have almost any type of creature helping or serving her-fey, giant, undead, and so on. Even a creature much more powerful than she might be under her command, working off the debt of a bargain for itself or someone else. Favors beget favors, and under duress a hag might speak a magic word to call upon a blood debt from a dragon, a noble, or another hag, making her able to wield magical, political, or physical power in a way she can't do by herself.

Like the land near a hag's lair, over time her minions are altered by her presence, becoming twisted versions of their former selves (in a dark fey sort of way), but still recognizable as what they once were. She might alter them with magic, making them tireless, resistant to fire, able to transform into a flock of crows, or able to teleport through shadows-whatever the hag thinks best defends or serves her.

Random Hag Minions

To determine the minions and helpers in a hag's retinue, roll once on the following tables or choose from the possibilities.

The Servants table includes faithful, trusted helpers that a hag uses to protect herself and her home. These creatures are either naturally wicked or warped by the hag to better serve her. In either case, a hag is confident that her servants will obey her orders without question.

The Brutes table gives examples of the muscle a hag might employ, mercenaries that serve the hag only so long as it benefits them. These creatures run errands and take care of roughing up enemies or patrolling areas that the hag considers beneath her personal attention. Hags prefer to employ clever, cruel creatures rather than dumb oafs.


1{@creature Flameskull|MM|Flameskulls}
2{@creature Flesh Golem|MM|Flesh Golems}
3{@creature Helmed Horror|MM|Helmed Horrors}
4{@creature Rug of Smothering}
5{@creature Scarecrow|MM|Scarecrows}
6{@creature Shadow Mastiff|VGM|Shadow Mastiffs}
7{@dice 2d4} {@creature swarm of insects|mm|swarms of insects} or {@creature swarm of rats|mm|swarms of rats}
8{@creature Yeth Hound|VGM|Yeth Hounds}


1{@creature Bugbear|MM|Bugbears}
2{@creature Doppelganger|MM|Doppelgangers}
3{@creature Ettercap|MM|Ettercaps}
4{@creature Gargoyle|MM|Gargoyles}
5{@creature Jackalwere|MM|Jackalweres}
6{@creature Kenku}
7{@creature Meenlock|VGM|Meenlocks}
8{@creature Oni}
9{@creature Quickling|VGM|Quicklings}
10{@creature Redcap|VGM|Redcaps}
11{@creature Wererat|MM|Wererats}
12{@creature Werewolf|MM|Werewolves}


Much of a hag's treasure is strewn among all the clutter in her lair, making it difficult for intruders to quickly identify all the items that have use or value. But the hag knows what, and where, everything is.

Every hag is infallible when it comes to keeping track of her treasures and other possessions. Her organization and labeling, if such a system exists, is designed to foil thieves and serve as a final, vexing puzzle for anyone who tries to make use of an item without her consent.

A hag's treasure-like a gift from a fey being-should be doubted and even feared rather than simply being scooped up and carted away.

Treasure-seekers are likely to fare better if they consider a hag's booty to be trapped, exercising caution rather than giving in to greed or curiosity. Manipulating a container or other item without knowing what's inside or what it does (or without knowing the proper password or technique) is likely to be very dangerous. At best, whatever was held in a container merely escapes or dissipates. At worst, just about anything can happen, none of it good.

One-of-a-Kind Objects

Above and beyond the items of obvious value a hag has accumulated, she also has a few bizarre and unique items in her collection. The Hag Objects table provides a way to quickly add such weird items to a hag's home.

Hag Objects

Hag Objects
1The eye of a cleric, preserved in a liquid-filled jar. When an undead creature comes within 100 feet of the jar, the eye darts about as if it is looking around in a panic. It otherwise remains motionless.
2The leathery, preserved head of a dwarf. Anyone who holds its 5-foot-long beard can see through its eyes.
3A perfectly smooth, round stone the size of a human's fist. If placed on the ground, it rolls 20 feet per round toward the nearest source of fresh water.
4A sickly crow with clipped wings. The only sound it can make is to roar like a lion.
5A seemingly empty, sealed jar. If opened, the person standing closest to the jar suddenly recalls {@dice 1d6} happy memories from the life of a long dead elf lord.
6A seemingly mundane gold piece. Anyone who touches it gains the unshakable belief that this is the very first gold coin minted by humanity.
7A black box, 3 feet on each side. Anyone who opens it finds a set of three wooden, articulated figures that are modeled after three members of the adventuring party. If the figures are stood on the ground, they act out insulting parodies of their duplicates' recent actions.
8An oval-shaped disc made of an unknown metal. If it is tossed in the air, it flies in circles around the tosser for a minute, tiny lights winking on its surface, before settling to the ground nearby.
9A thick, dusty tome, every page filled with tiny, barely legible writing. Careful study of the book reveals it to be a written transcript of every conversation that took place over the course of a year, three years ago, in a nearby village.
10A small painting that depicts a placid field. Just after midnight each day, the painting changes to depict the following day's weather.

Kobolds: Little Dragons

Kobolds are often dismissed as cowardly, foolish, and weak, but these little reptilian creatures actually have a strong social structure that stresses devotion to the tribe, are clever with their hands, and viciously work together in order to overcome their physical limitations.

Expert Tunnelers

Kobolds are naturally skilled at tunneling. Similar to dwarves, they seem to have a near-instinctive sense of what sections of stone or earth are strong or weak, are bearing a load or are safe to excavate, or are likely to contain minerals or offer access to water. This ability enables them to fashion secure homes in places where other creatures wouldn't feel safe.

Kobolds take advantage of their size by creating small-diameter tunnels that they can easily pass through, but that require larger creatures to hunch over or even crawl to make progress. In places where a tunnel opens into a chasm and continues on the other side, the kobolds might connect the two passages with a rope bridge or some other rickety structure, designed to collapse under the weight of any creature heavier than a kobold. On occasion, the route through a kobold lair runs along a ledge that borders a cavern or a crevasse, and the kobolds might erect a railing or a wall that prevents them from falling off the edge-high enough to protect a kobold but low enough to serve as a tripping hazard for a larger creature.

Those of other humanoid races have little good to say about kobolds, but they do admit that the little reptilians do respectable tunnel work using simple tools. If a band of kobolds is enslaved by more powerful creatures, the kobolds are usually put to work enlarging their masters' living area and protecting vital areas of the lair with traps and other defenses.

Some human communities hire kobolds to dig their sewer tunnels, paying them with food and tools the kobolds wouldn't have access to on their own. If they are treated well and left alone to do the job, the kobolds work industriously and build a network of passages beneath the streets, connecting them to a nearby waterway and greatly improving the town's sanitation. If the kobolds like the area and aren't mistreated by the humans, they might build a warren and make a permanent home there, while continuing to expand the town's sewers as the community grows. These so-called "city kobolds" live underground but might make occasional nighttime forays up to the surface. Roughly one quarter of the towns and cities in the world have kobold communities living under them, but the kobolds are so good at staying hidden that the surface-dwelling citizens in the area often don't know what lies beneath them.

Because the kobolds make sure they stay out of the way of anyone more dangerous than themselves, grow their own subterranean food, and prefer to sneak about at night, the people of a town might go for weeks or months without noticing evidence that kobolds are in the area, and years between actual sightings.

Able Scavengers

Kobolds are adept at identifying broken, misplaced, discarded, or leftover crafted items from other creatures that can still be put to use. They prefer to scavenge objects that have clearly been lost or thrown away, which is easy to do without attracting attention. At the same time, they don't automatically shy away from trying to grab items that are the property of other creatures, because such objects are more likely to be in good condition and thus more useful or valuable.

When they go after items that aren't free for the taking, kobolds try to remain undetected and don't give their targets reason to harm them. For example, a group of city kobolds might sneak into a cobbler's house at night to loot it of knives, leather bits, nails, and other useful items, but if they are at risk of discovery, they run away rather than attack anyone in the house. By fleeing before they can be seen or identified, they avoid getting into a situation where the townsfolk would try to hunt down all kobolds and put the tribe's survival at risk.

Some aggressive individual kobolds and tribes do exist, but in general kobolds don't purposely provoke retaliatory attacks from the creatures they steal from. It's better to be cautious and overlooked than to be considered dangerous and a threat.

In a couple of situations, kobolds might abandon this careful approach. First, because of their hatred of gnomes, city kobolds often go out of their way to target gnomes' houses and shops. Even in such cases, the kobolds' fear of retaliation usually prevents them from trying to directly harm the gnomes, but they might spit in the milk, balance dishes on tables so they're easily knocked over and broken, or scatter sewing needles all over the floor-petty, vengeful acts that humiliate, injure, or anger the gnomes, but not so much that the gnomes want to hunt down and kill the kobolds. Because of the kobolds' animosity, gnomes tend to avoid or abandon settlements that have a severe infestation of kobolds, and conversely kobolds are usually driven out of communities that have a large gnome population.

Second, kobolds are always on the lookout for magic that might help them free their imprisoned god, Kurtulmak. Typical kobolds don't know how to use a wand, a spellbook, or anything with more magical power than a potion, but they all believe that the tribal sorcerer can figure out how to use any such item they come across. When kobolds sense an opportunity to separate a magic item from its owner, they are often willing to take the chance of revealing themselves because the potential reward is worth the risk.

Dragon Servitors

Kobolds believe that they were created by Tiamat from the blood of dragons-a view supported by their reptilian (they would say draconic) appearance. In every kobold tribe, the legend of the creatures' origin is passed down from elder to hatchling, giving each individual and every generation a reason to feel pride and self-respect. The kobolds prefer to run away than fight, to live off the scraps of others, and they are often dominated by larger humanoids, but they know that there is greatness within them and they are proud that they were chosen to be the blood-kin of dragons.

Kobolds willingly serve chromatic dragons and worship them as if they were demigods-mighty beings of divine descent. This isn't a casual sort of worship or lip service; kobolds are awed in the presence of a dragon, as if an actual avatar of a deity were in their presence. Kobolds fall all over themselves to obey orders from a dragon, even if they are dangerous orders. Although kobolds usually don't worship Tiamat directly, they recognize her as the dragon-goddess of all chromatic dragons, and as the master of their racial god, Kurtulmak.

Kurtulmak: God of Kobolds

The god of kobolds was a vassal of Tiamat. When the gnome god Garl Glittergold stole a treasure from Tiamat's hoard, she sent Kurtulmak to retrieve it. Garl lured his pursuer into a maze-like cavern, then collapsed the exits behind him, trapping Kurtulmak for all eternity.

Kurtulmak is a hateful deity, one who despises all life except for kobolds. He especially hates Garl Glittergold, gnomes, and fey creatures that enjoy playing pranks. He taught the first kobolds how to mine, tunnel, hide, and ambush. He is dominated by his emotions-intelligent, but not wise. Arrogant and prone to gloating, he carries grudges, has a huge chip on his shoulder, and spends a lot of time fashioning elaborate revenge scenarios against those who have disrespected him.

Arcane Magic Users

Unlike some other humanoids, kobolds don't fear or shun arcane magic. They see magic as part of their connection to dragons, and are proud to be blessed with the ability to wield such power. Young kobold sorcerers are trained by elders, and the training has an almost religious significance. Most kobold sorcerers are of the draconic bloodline origin and specialize in either damaging magic (which can also be used in mining), augmentation (of materials or allies), or divination (to find raw materials and foresee threats to the tribe).

The main reason why kobolds depend on arcane magic rather than divine is Kurtulmak's imprisonment, which makes it difficult for him to grant spells to mortals and for those mortals to receive his favor. Furthermore, kobolds are so frail that a single hit from a human's weapon can kill one of them, so a tribe has little use for healing magic, and a sorcerer can meet most of the tribe's other magic-related needs.

Kobold shamans are very rare; priests of Kurtulmak, when they reveal themselves, are easily recognized by orange garb (usually just a roughly torn sash or cloak) decorated with an image of a gnome's skull.

Life and Outlook

Kobolds have a tribal society in which they all take on specialized roles that protect and sustain the tribe. The strongest kobolds are trained to be hunters and warriors, the most clever are crafters and strategists, the toughest are miners and beast-wranglers, and so on. Even a stupid or physically weak kobold is given a role in the tribe, whether something as simple as picking mushrooms for food or watching over hatchlings, and they all understand that their actions contribute to the survival of the group. The tribe practices for the eventuality of defending the lair against intruders, and their plans always include knowing the best escape routes and who is responsible for blocking tunnels to deter pursuit.

Kobolds feel a cool affinity or something like kinship for other members of their tribe, but they are rarely affectionate with each other. Two kobolds who've known each other for over a decade might consider each other friends or enemies, but the strength of this sentiment is much fainter than any comparable human emotion. Since most of their waking time is spent working, adversarial kobolds rarely have opportunities to exchange insults, let alone come to blows over their differences.

Kobolds choose mates primarily for convenience. Their lack of emotional bonding means they have no concept of marriage or permanent family relationships. Their eggs are placed in a common tribal hatchery with no effort to keep track of who each one's mother is. This practice and the communal raising of the hatchlings mean that the tribe operates like a group of cousins.

Because they lay eggs, and the eggs don't require much tending, kobold females aren't exempted from war or work. Furthermore, kobolds can slowly change sex. If most males or females of a tribe are killed, some survivors change over several months until the tribe is balanced again. In this way, the tribe can quickly repopulate with just a few survivors. Because of these factors, kobolds don't have assigned gender roles for young or adults. A leader, sorcerer, miner, or crafter is as likely to be female as male.

Grow Fast, Die Early

Kobolds grow and mature much more swiftly than members of other humanoid races. At 6 years old a kobold is considered an adult. Most succumb to violence, accidents, or disease by age 20, but a kobold can live for up to 120 years-a longevity they attribute to being distantly related to dragons. A female can lay up to six eggs per year, and an egg matures for two to three months before it hatches.

Kobolds don't engage in funeral ceremonies; a dead kobold's body is burned or disposed of in some other convenient way (or, in a cannibalistic tribe, eaten). Kobolds believe that if they die in service to their tribe, Kurtulmak immediately sends each of them back to life as the next egg laid in the hatchery. If a particularly important or respected member of a tribe dies, the hatchery is closely monitored. The next egg laid is immediately separated from the rest and carefully protected. Once it hatches, the resultant young kobold is groomed to fill a position of importance.

Food and Cannibalism

Although their sharp teeth would suggest they are carnivores, kobolds are actually omnivores, and can eat just about anything, including meat, fruit, tree bark, bone, leather, and eggshells (a newly hatched kobold's first meal is usually its own shell). A hungry tribe leaves nothing behind from a kill, eating everything that's edible and using the rest to make tools or adornments.

Kobolds shed teeth as they wear out and grow new ones their entire lives. Many wear their own shed teeth as jewelry, with more teeth indicating an older-and wiser-kobold. Some unscrupulous individuals wear teeth stolen or harvested from others in an attempt to make them seem older and more respectable.

Most kobold tribes avoid eating what they call "talking meat"-intelligent creatures-because such behavior prompts retaliation. The fear of starvation can make them flexible about this principle, however, and if their options are either attacking such creatures or going hungry, kobolds are practical. A few tribes, particularly those in lightly populated areas, practice cannibalism, believing it is foolish to waste good meat.

In any case, kobolds that eat humanoids don't simply start consuming corpses or prisoners right after a battle; they're more inclined to tie their victims to saplings and slowly roast them over a fire, or put them in a giant cook pot to make stew. Fortunately for the prisoners, the kobolds' almost comedic preparations sometimes give rescuers time to locate and free the captives before the kobolds settle down for the main course.


Because the gnome god Garl Glittergold trapped the kobold god Kurtulmak in an inescapable maze, kobolds are bitterly hateful toward gnomes. Although they usually don't seek out gnomes to do them violence, if hostile kobolds encounter a mixed group of gnomes and other humanoids, the kobolds instinctively attack the gnomes. Kobolds in battle with gnomes are much less likely to run away because their hatred overrules their sense of self-preservation.

A kobold's cautious nature doesn't mean it can't get angry. The blood of dragons flows in its veins, and like a raging drake, a kobold that is pushed too far or has its back against the wall can become a miniature storm of fangs and claws as it desperately tries to defend its life. Likewise, kinship to their own tribe can prompt kobolds to battle another kobold tribe for resources or territory. Such conflicts aren't common, because two tribes will always prefer to expand in different directions if they come into contact, but they do happen.

For example, two neighboring tribes that want exclusive claim to a flock of mountain goats might skirmish with each other every few days. Eventually the leader of one warring tribe realizes it is losing due to attrition and moves its tribe to another area, ceding the contested territory to its more successful neighbors.

As demonstrated by their hatred of gnomes, kobolds have a persecution complex and easily take offense at the actions or deeds of other races. They aren't forgiving of other races, and they enjoy nursing their hatred until they get a chance to wreak revenge on a creature or a race that has wronged them.


Kobolds are cold-blooded and thus prefer temperate and tropical climates. Kobold tribes in colder regions tend to be smaller in population and more aggressive in their hunting, since food is relatively scarce in such areas.

Partly out of fear and partly because their eyes are sensitive to sunlight, kobolds prefer the security of a cave to living in the open air, and can be found in any sort of terrain that can support tunneling. In a swamp or along a coastline where digging into the soft ground is problematic, kobolds entrench themselves in dense woods, hills, or large rock outcroppings, creating warrens above the water line.

Kobolds reside most commonly in hilly or mountainous terrain. Such locations usually have natural caves suitable for living space, plenty of room to dig, and ready sources of food. Although lairing in these locations puts kobolds in competition with surface-dwelling humanoids, their ability to avoid detection often means their warrens go unnoticed by their larger rivals. If it's lucky, a tribe of kobolds that is discovered by a group of larger humanoids might form a mutually beneficial arrangement, relying on the humanoids for protection from invaders and in return providing services such as excavating new living spaces and disposing of trash. If it's unlucky, the tribe is enslaved by the other humanoids, and the kobolds serve similar roles but under threat of death.

Roleplaying a Kobold

A kobold acknowledges its weakness in the face of a hostile world. It knows it is puny, bigger creatures will exploit it, it will probably die at a young age, and its life will be full of toil. Although this outlook seems bleak, a kobold finds satisfaction in its work, the survival of its tribe, and the knowledge that it shares a heritage with the mightiest of dragons.

A kobold isn't clever, but it isn't as stupid as an orc. Someone can fool a kobold with smooth words or a quick wit, but when the kobold figures out it has been tricked, it remembers the affront. If it gets an opportunity to do so, it will retaliate against that person somehow, even if in merely a petty way.

A kobold doesn't like being cornered or alone. It wants to know it has a safe path for escape, or at least an ally nearby to improve its chances.

Urds: Winged Kobolds

Winged kobolds, known as urds, hatch seemingly at random from kobold eggs, even in a tribe that has no adult urds. Although being able to fly is an incredible gift, and it would be expected for kobolds to interpret the wings as a blessing from Tiamat, ordinary kobolds resent urds and don't get along with them. Fragments of kobold legends speak of Kuraulyek, a winged godling servant of Kurtulmak, who betrayed his master in some way. Kobolds see urds as Kuraulyek's favorites, and they project their resentment of this traitor onto their winged kin.

A kobold without either of these options will be nervous, its behavior alternating between meek silence and hysteria.

Kobold Names

Kobold names are derived from the Draconic tongue and usually relate to a characteristic of the owner, such as scale color, distinctive body parts, or typical behavior. For example, "Red Foot," "White Claw," and "Scurry" are Common translations of often-used names. A kobold might change its name when it becomes an adult, or add additional word-syllables after important events such as completing its first hunt, laying its first egg, or surviving its first battle. The Kobold Names table presents kobold names suitable for any campaign.

Kobold Names

Kobold Names

Physical Variations

Kobolds vary widely in how their scales are colored and patterned. Although a human might have difficulty telling two similar-looking kobolds apart, the kobolds themselves can easily recognize each other.

Most kobolds of the same tribe tend to have similar coloration. For example, the Copper Tooth tribe might be mostly gray with red stripes. Two tribes that merge eventually crossbreed enough to create a new look, although occasional outliers and throwbacks are born that bear the appearance of one of the original tribes.

Use the Scale Color table to randomly determine the predominant appearance of kobolds in a tribe. If the roll on the table indicates a patterned appearance, roll on the Scale Pattern table to determine how the two colors are combined.

Us the tables below to generate a Kobold Name and scale color.

Scale Color

Scale Color
d100Scale Color
91-100Patterned (roll twice, ignoring duplicate results and results of 91 or higher)

Scale Pattern

Scale Pattern
d20Scale Pattern


Because they are physically weak individually, kobolds know they have to use superior numbers and cunning to take down powerful foes. In addition to their Pack Tactics trait described in the Monster Manual, they use traps, ambushes, terrain, allied monsters, and any other advantage they can squeeze out of their environment. Essentially, the only way kobolds can win is not to play fair.

Kobolds work together to accomplish difficult tasks they couldn't manage alone. They carve intricate tunnel systems that enable them to hold off and discourage enemies several times their size. Without engaging in much verbal communication, each kobold knows what has to be done to succeed. Kobolds' ability to work together is remarkable, especially compared to the behavior of other small humanoids like goblins, which tend to squabble among themselves and cooperate only when threatened by a strong leader.

Kobolds avoid combat on a large scale, instead sticking to hit-and-run raids using smaller groups of warriors. If they have time, they prepare the battlefield with small bolt-holes for them to hide in and simple pit traps to hamper their opponents.

Standard kobold tactics include the following:

In a combat involving large numbers of kobolds (such as ten or more), consider spreading out their attacks over the round instead of having them all act on the same initiative count. Doing this gives the kobolds more opportunities to react to what their enemies do, and makes it harder for players to coordinate their characters' attacks because not all the kobolds take their actions at the same time.


Because they live underground, kobolds have access to a remarkable amount of earth-based treasures such as metal ores and unpolished gems. They have the basic skill to extract metals found in their natural state and to polish raw gemstones. Although they don't create their own coinage, nuggets of raw metals used for trade, bribes, or crafting are commonly found in kobold lairs.

Kobolds are talented at crafting, so most tribes have a remarkable amount of treasure in the form of simple jewelry, such as armbands, rings, necklaces, and other items that are small or can be constructed out of small pieces. These adornments are always fashioned so that they don't make noise when the wearer moves, as that would make it difficult for a kobold to sneak anywhere.

Even though the jewelry they make has no functional purpose, kobolds savor these items, perhaps as some echo of a dragon's inclination to collect treasure. Because the tribe's wealth is portable, the kobolds can relocate quickly without needing to transport containers of nuggets and gems, and they can offer these items as bribes or tribute to more powerful creatures, or as religious offerings to a dragon.

Allies, Minions, and Pets

Thanks to their lack of physical prowess and their small size, kobolds are rarely in a position to dominate other creatures, so they usually don't have minions. Even when the opportunity presents itself, kobolds would rather not try to enslave or hire any intelligent creatures because they can't trust such creatures to not turn on them.

Kobolds are good, however, at capturing and taming smaller animals and beasts, particularly rats, dire rats, and reptilian creatures like lizards that thrive in a cave or underground environment. The kobolds corral these pets or allow them to roam free, either feeding them scraps or allowing them to forage for insects and other morsels too small for the kobolds to care about. Much in the way that human villagers keep chickens, these animals help the kobolds with pest control and are occasionally used as food. Giant rats and similarly sized lizards are also used as pack animals and guardians.

Some tribes train giant weasels to serve as mounts or guardians, relying on their speed, keen senses, and ability to fit in kobold-sized tunnels. Other tribes use giant bats as mounts and guard animals, but the bats require a lot of space in which to move and are found only in lairs that feature large caves or close access to the surface world.

Kobolds are cautious and fearful of bears, since bears often seek to live in caves and the animals might wander into the outermost parts of the lair, particularly when they're about to begin hibernating. Kobolds are likely to panic when they see a bear animal companion in the company of another creature. This aversion extends to owlbears and other bear-like creatures.

Kobold Lairs

The lair of a kobold tribe is usually a maze of twisty little passages, sometimes stretching for hundreds of yards, and frequently guarded by traps. The area has a host of intersections, abrupt dead-ends, tunnels that cross over or under one another, concealed passages, and other features that make the lair difficult for outsiders to navigate.


Creatures larger than a kobold have to squat or crawl in order to fit through the tunnels of a kobold warren, which by itself is enough to deter most hostile humanoids (such as orcs or hobgoblins) from trying to invade the kobolds' territory. Adventurers trying to eradicate a kobold infestation often find themselves stuck in low passages too narrow to turn around in, forcing them to move in single file and putting the burden of combat on the first and last people in line.

The layout of a kobold tribe's lair changes over time. The inhabitants regularly collapse or seal off tunnels and caves as they carve new ones. As such, any information that might be gleaned about the layout or location of areas within the lair becomes increasingly inaccurate as the kobolds "migrate" through the rock to meet the needs and ensure the safety of the community.

Kobolds riddle their lairs with traps, using their gift for tunneling in conjunction with their skill at repurposing found items. Even though these traps are often far more deadly than the kobolds themselves, the kobolds don't feel threatened by having these devices in their home, any more than a human is afraid of its vicious but loyal guard dog.

The most common traps in a lair are deadfalls, which the kobolds set up either to kill intruders or to block off key areas of the warren as invaders approach those places. Since the tribe is continually migrating and expanding its tunnel system, older tunnels are often employed in these traps. A tunnel can be rigged to collapse by pulling a rope connected to a support beam; a fleeing kobold can yank the rope, or the beam might be in a space so tight that a larger creature can't keep from dislodging it as the creature moves through area. Even if a deadfall traps some kobolds in an enclosed space, they and their fellows can usually chisel open an air vent within an hour, and create an opening large enough for the trapped kobolds to squeeze through in a few more.

Any place where a tunnel takes a sharp turn or becomes exceedingly narrow is a natural choke point that forces invaders to fight from a disadvantaged position. Such a location usually includes a small chamber in the ceiling that features murder holes, allowing the kobolds to drop rocks, poisonous vermin, and other annoyances on those below.

Escape Tunnels

A kobold warren always has at least one escape tunnel that leads to a concealed surface exit, and the residents always know the shortest path to that tunnel. Usually an escape tunnel is rigged with traps to slow pursuers and ends in a narrow opening that requires even kobolds to squeeze through, to keep larger creatures from following them out.

Kiln and Crafting Areas

A chamber that contains a kiln is usually one of the uppermost areas of the warren, because the fire needs to be vented to the surface in order to keep it from depleting the breathable air in the lair. Kobold crafters spend their time in this area, using the kiln to bake mud bricks and harden pottery. The room is also used for other noisy activities.


Any chamber in the kobolds' underground complex that isn't immediately needed for another purpose is mined and excavated, both to extract usable ore and minerals and to provide room for later expansion of the den.

Mushroom Farms

Kobolds aren't good at agriculture, but they can get sustenance from subterranean mushrooms and hardy plant life that can live underground. A farm area might be completely underground, or a cavern near the surface with holes in the ceiling to let in some sunlight.

Root Cellars

Much as humans do in their dwellings, kobolds set aside rooms with deep pits in which they preserve food for lean times.

Sleeping Areas

Every lair has one or more spaces for living and sleeping, each large enough to comfortably hold ten to thirty adult kobolds. Individual kobolds might rest in a shallow pit or a personal-sized alcove, depending on the customs of the tribe. These spaces are used primarily for resting, although some kobolds might quietly work on crafts while others sleep. The creatures' sanitary needs, such as they are, are served by a deep pit near each sleeping area where refuse is deposited.

Most of the sleeping areas in the lair also double as hatcheries. Kobolds tend to their eggs by nesting them in a shallow pit lined with earth and dried grass. Because the eggs are susceptible to cold, they are kept near a slow-burning fire, or are protected by an insulating layer of dung and decomposing matter around the eggs.

Throne Room

A warren's throne room is always protected by traps and features a shrine to Kurtulmak in the form of a carved idol behind the throne. Rather than entering the chamber to pay homage, kobolds offer prayers at its entrance with the belief that their god hears them. The location might include a basin where offerings such as metal nuggets, raw gems, and teeth can be left.


Kobolds are amazingly creative at building traps, especially when adapting natural hazards and salvaged materials. They pound nails or spikes through a sapling and bend it to create a spring-arm, line pits or pools with sharp stones, rig platforms to collapse under anything more than a kobold's weight, and so on. Kobold traps might look flimsy or poorly designed, but a creature that gets hit with a bent sapling adorned with sharpened butter knives is liable to come away with a newfound respect for the little creatures.

The following are examples of common kobold traps:

Survival Skills

Nearly every activity in a kobold lair contributes to the tribe's survival. Guarding the lair keeps all of them safe from harm. Setting snares, farming mushrooms, and hunting provide food. Building traps deters intruders. Training guard animals helps protect the lair. Mining provides gems and ore for bribing enemies to leave them alone. Carving tunnels and rooms creates spaces for the next generation to live and improves the opportunity for the tribe to escape an overwhelming force.

The kobolds in a lair sleep in shifts, and all activities in the warren go on around the clock. Kobolds tend to be more active at night than during daylight hours, but unlike in a human settlement, there is no time when most of the inhabitants are resting. Warrens are built so that sleeping areas are somewhat isolated from the noise of work areas, enabling miners and crafters to do their work without awakening the sleepers. Kobolds learn at a young age to fall asleep to the noise of hammering nearby, but they still wake quickly at the sound of unusual activity.

Survival of the tribe is more important than the life of any particular individual. Even a cowardly kobold might sacrifice itself to give its fellows time to collapse a nearby tunnel and prevent invaders from getting to the rest of the tribe. All kobolds know that fleeing from danger, especially against bad odds, is the smart thing to do, but they are smart enough to realize that the strategic death of an individual can buy valuable time for the rest of the tribe, and each individual reluctantly accepts this need for sacrifice when it presents itself. This practice contributes to the reason why most common folk (and adventurers) think kobolds are stupid as well as weak; they've seen or heard of a lone kobold trying to hold off a group of armed attackers and attribute the act either to idiocy or the creature's ridiculously inflated idea of its prospects for success. The truth is that the lone kobold-persuaded into this role by its peers-is just hoping to slow down the invaders long enough to give the rest of the tribe time to prepare a lethal trap, an ambush, or a quick getaway.

The tribe's leader is usually the oldest and smartest kobold; the other kobolds respect the old one's ability to survive so long, and they assume the leader will use that knowledge to help the tribe survive. In some cases, the best lesson a kobold leader can teach is "I don't have to be faster than the bear. I just have to be faster than you."

Mind Flayers: Scourge of Worlds

Mind flayers, also known as illithids, are horrific, alien humanoids that lurk deep within the Underdark. Masters of psionic energy, they use their mental powers to dominate other creatures. The fortunate among their victims are slain, their brains devoured. The unlucky ones have their psyches warped, leaving them as mindless slaves with little hope of being rescued.

A Culture of Fugitives

Despite all their unique and overwhelming abilities, the mind flayers are a race on the edge of extinction.

Thousands of years ago, the illithids were the dominant power of the Inner Planes. From their astral domains, they launched flying vessels called nautiloids, able to cross between planes, so that they could harvest intelligent humanoids from hundreds of worlds.

The mind flayers relied on a slave race, the gith, to provide physical labor and sustenance when other sources of food grew thin. Eventually, the gith revolted. Whether the mind flayers became decadent or the gith discovered a weakness, none can say. What is known is that after centuries of domination, the mind flayer empire collapsed in less than a year. The gith rose up, slaughtered their masters, and destroyed almost all traces of the illithids' astral domains.

Only the mind flayers that had infiltrated the worlds of the Material Plane survived, and their safety was shortlived. Both the githzerai and the githyanki, two factions that arose from the victorious gith, sent hunting parties to root out and slaughter the remaining mind flayers.

To this day, isolated clutches of mind flayers remain in hiding, seeking ways to recapture their former glory but hampered by their paranoia of being discovered and destroyed by their enemies.

Lost Colonies

Speculation persists concerning mind flayer realms yet adrift in the Astral Plane.

The Importance of Brains

Because of their dietary needs and their otherworldly biology, mind flayers must remain within hunting distance of intelligent humanoids, even if doing so makes them vulnerable to attack from their enemies. They use the brains of such creatures as food, of course, but they also need sentient humanoids to propagate.

Food for Thought

When a mind flayer devours a brain, it acquires stray memories from its victim and shares them with the other members of its colony. Mind flayers also receive a degree of sustenance from the physical substance of a brain, but subsist primarily on the psionic energy that they extract from it in its final moments of activity.

Through some quirk of the illithids' parasitic nature, the cultural sophistication of a mind flayer depends upon what sorts of brains are in its diet. For example, members of a colony that feed on grimlocks are no less intelligent than a colony that feeds on elves, but the former will pay almost no attention to crafting clothes to wear, and the latter will dress in elaborate robes.

This phenomenon extends to all displays of culture, from modes of architecture to the decorations that adorn illithid funerary brain jars.


Mind flayers don't reproduce in the traditional sense. Instead, they lay eggs from which hatch tadpole-like creatures that are used to make more of their kind through a process called ceremorphosis. First, a captured humanoid is rendered docile by a blast of psionic power. A newly hatched tadpole is inserted into the victim's cranium, usually through a nostril or ear canal. The tadpole grows as it devours the humanoid's brain, attaching to the victim's brain stem and becoming its new brain. Over the course of a week, the humanoid body changes form, and a new mind flayer comes into being. The emergent mind flayer often retains a few dim memories from its previous form, but these vague recollections seldom have any bearing on its new life as a brain-eating monster.

The Elder Brain

Mind flayers use telepathy to communicate with each other and with other creatures. Among their own kind, they form a network of minds. Each mind flayer is an individual node of the network, taking on specific tasks, sharing information, and so on. At the center of this network is the elder brain. The elder brain is the most powerful member of a mind flayer colony. Just as mind flayers treat thralls made from captured humanoids, an elder brain expects perfect obedience from the illithids that dwell in its colony.

If a single mind flayer in a colony sees or hears some thing, the elder brain and the rest of the illithids in the colony learn of it immediately. The colony relies on a collective memory, composed from the knowledge, experiences, and skills of all of its members and stored within the elder brain.

In some ways, a mind flayer colony is like a great library of lore stored within its members' minds, with the elder brain as its librarian. Each individual illithid represents a category or subsection within the library. One mind flayer might specialize in biology, while another is an expert in defending the colony. Given that an individual mind flayer has a near-genius intellect, the extent of its knowledge is equivalent to the highest levels of scholarship attainable by humans.

There are limits to a colony's reach. An illithid can be part of its colony's network of minds only while it is within five miles of the elder brain. Beyond that distance, it is on its own. Mind flayers that venture away from the colony do so only under strict orders from the elder brain. Although such missions risk attracting unwanted attention, they can yield a treasure trove of knowledge and insights to be shared throughout the entire colony when a roaming mind flayer returns.

It is convenient for humanoids to understand a mind flayer colony by thinking of it as a single individual-the elder brain-directing a number of subservient, remote minds, which are the individual mind flayers. Perhaps at one time each mind flayer was independent, but now the elder brain is the only true power.

The illithids know that their continued survival and their eventual return to power are possible only though perfect coordination and absolute obedience to the elder brain.

An elder brain is arrogant, scheming, and power hungry, yet quick to flee or beg for mercy in the face of a powerful foe. It has no conception of joy, sympathy, or charity, but is well acquainted with fear, anger, and curiosity. It is an intellect utterly incapable of empathy or concern for creatures other than itself.

An elder brain has a perfect recollection of its race's history. Consequently, it views itself as both a refugee and a victim, forced into hiding by barbaric monsters.

An elder brain also sees itself as a savior of the mind flayer race and a living memorial that preserves the memories of the mind flayers' prey. By its twisted logic, humanoids whose brains are devoured by the colony are rendered immortal, their memories preserved forever in the elder brain's labyrinthine mind. When a mind flayer grows old, becomes infirm, or is grievously injured, the elder brain absorbs it-another form of immortality, as the mind flayer's mind dwells within the hive mind forever after.

See chapter 3 for more information on elder brains.

Renegade Illithids

Sometimes a mind flayer that's away from its colony breaks free from the elder brain. Perhaps it ran into a situation where its bonds of obedience were broken, or perhaps the colony was destroyed while it was away. In such a case, the mind flayer becomes free-willed for as long as it avoids contact with an elder brain.

A renegade illithid remains fearful of gith attacks, and likely sets about creating a sort of colony of its own, the better to remain undetected. It gathers minions, establishes a lair, and makes defense of its territory a top priority. Unlike colonial mind flayers, rogue illithids develop a healthy respect for those not of their kind. They treat especially powerful creatures and individuals as equals, not adversaries, and seek to cooperate with them. A renegade mind flayer might become a trusted advisor or a powerful ally, so long as it is kept well fed. Any alliance it makes, however, collapses if the mind flayer falls under the sway of an elder brain once more.

Enemies everywhere

Elder brains seek stability and safety for their colonies, and a colony can remain in a relatively peaceful state for decades if it can evade discovery while it acquires food.

Two kinds of events can disrupt the tranquility of a colony: an invasion and the appearance of an ulitharid.

The Gith Never Rest

Githzerai and githyanki remember the mind flayers' enslavement of their ancestors. They dispatch hunting parties to the Material Plane to root out and slaughter illithids wherever they can find them. After centuries of hunting, they have grown very skilled at it. Every mind flayer colony is constantly on the alert for an incursion of gith, even if it has never had to fight them off before.

Underdark predators, adventurers, and other kinds of formidable creatures are just as much of a threat to a colony. Although the mind flayers and their elder brain are incredibly powerful, they aren't invincible: highly accomplished heroes, drow raiding parties, rampant demons, and other hazards of the Underdark can decimate a colony even if they don't succeed in destroying the elder brain.

Rise of a Ulitharid

Rarely, the process of ceremorphosis yields an ulitharid, a more powerful mind flayer that isn't beholden to the elder brain's whims.

The appearance of an ulitharid causes a surge in the colony's collective intelligence, creativity, and strength. As the ulitharid gains power by devouring brains and honing its psionic abilities, the colony becomes more aggressive, seeking to gather more and more thralls.

Eventually, if the colony grows to sufficient size, the ulitharid strikes out on its own. Half the mind flayers and thralls in the colony undertake a great migration, seeking a new lair at least 100 miles away from the old one. Once the ulitharid finds a suitable spot, its followers construct a new lair while it transforms into an elder brain.

Although a creature as arrogant and ambitious as an elder brain might resent an ulitharid's rise, it understands that the mind flayers can't rebuild their shattered empire without expanding their reach. It might resent its new rival, but it can take comfort that soon enough the ulitharid will strike out on its own and the colony will return to normal.

The Grand Design

The first priority of any mind flayer colony is to survive. The elder brain and its servants seek to remain hidden, typically deep within the earth, while harvesting enough intelligent humanoids to nourish themselves and allow for slow but steady growth.

Once a colony is secure, it focuses on the Grand Design-the mind flayers' plan to rebuild their lost empire. The illithids know that reclaiming their rightful place in the world is possible only after the githzerai and githyanki have been eliminated and the remaining humanoids have been turned into docile slaves. To that end, each colony conducts research into the nature of the world and the creatures that inhabit it. The mind flayers examine all facets of reality, seeking any knowledge that could give them the edge they need to confront, defeat, and subjugate their enemies.

Every colony investigates a wide variety of topics and phenomena. A few members might focus on straightforward projects such as developing new uses for psionic power or how to breed savage creatures to serve as foot soldiers. Others pursue more theoretical subjects. A mind flayer might study musical tones, for example, in hopes of finding a way to manipulate the emotions of humanoids. Another might research the food humanoids eat to see if their diet or agricultural practices can be exploited. No line of inquiry is too esoteric if it might provide the next step in enacting the Grand Design.

Strategic Principles

Since mind flayers need to settle near a source of food, they must determine how best to interact with the humanoids they intend to conquer. A colony usually adopts one of three approaches to dealing with its neighbors.


A colony that desperately needs to increase its population concentrates on capturing humanoids to turn them into thralls and illithids. Operating individually or in small groups, its members use stealth and deception to infiltrate the humanoid community while keeping their presence secret. Lacking the numbers or the ability to overwhelm and dominate the entire population, a colony turns its research toward more effective ways to exert control, such as finding a way to amplify an elder brain's power to enable it to exert influence over a greater distance.


Because mind flayers are physically weak, they can't rely on simple combat to stand up against their enemies. If a colony finds itself in circumstances where it can be outwardly aggressive, its members likely focus their research on ways to cause mass casualties with minimal risk to themselves, such as plagues or methods to bring about famine and other natural disasters. A mind flayer colony using this strategy collects and feeds on humanoids mainly to use the knowledge they gain to understand their victims' strengths and weaknesses, with the ultimate goal of finding a way to dispense with all of them at once.


As a compromise between control and destruction, a colony might attempt to seize control of a few key elements of a humanoid community, and then mix in a few, calculated destructive acts to send the humanoids into an inexorable decline. If the illithids can engineer the collapse of a society's central authority, such as by inciting years of famine while driving the local nobility to bouts of madness through psionic assaults, they can create widespread unrest that the colony can use to its advantage. The mind flayers can become more expansion-minded, confident that any response from the humanoids will be too scattered to threaten them.

Special Goals

Many of the esoteric research topics pursued by a colony reflect the ambitions and priorities of the elder brain that controls it. Each one has particular ideas about how best to contribute to the ultimate success of the Grand Design, including these possibilities:

Roleplaying a Mind Flayer

Mind flayers are inhuman monsters that typically exist as part of a collective colony mind. Yet illithids aren't drones to an elder brain. Each has a brilliant mind, personality, and motivations of its own.

Use the tables below to create a mind flayer name and personality.

Mind Flayer Personality Traits

Mind Flayer Personality Traits
d8Personality Trait
1I never let pass an opportunity to show my contempt for lesser beings.
2I like to flavor my meals by engendering positive emotions in my victims before feeding on them.
3So as not to taint my thoughts, I avoid telepathically communicating with lesser beings when possible.
4I never eat unless the victim is conscious and aware.
5I'm very picky. I feed only on the brains of a specific kind of humanoid.
6I'm curious about how other races live and how their societies function.
7I find battle stimulating.
8I'm curious about the limits of other creatures' intelligence and devise situations to test them.

Mind Flayer Ideals

Mind Flayer Ideals
1Knowledge. All information is of value. (Neutral)
2Obedience. Nothing is more important than following orders. (Lawful)
3Selfishness. I do my best work when motivated by my own self-interest. (Chaotic)
4Truth. Truth is the foundation of knowledge, so I never lie. (Lawful)
5Superiority. Nothing can be gained from the study of lesser beings. (Neutral)
6Domination. All others should submit to my control. (Evil)

Mind Flayer Bonds

Mind Flayer Bonds
1I think the elder brain is wrong about something, and I want to convince it.
2I have a secret I wish to keep even from other mind flayers.
3The more the colony grows, the more powerful we all become.
4Nothing is more important than rebuilding our lost empire.
5Persistence of my colony is the greatest good.
6I have important research that must be protected at all costs.

Mind Flayer Flaws

Mind Flayer Flaws
1I am oblivious to the emotions expressed by others.
2I believe my minions will always do precisely as I intend.
3I never assume others understand and always explain everything.
4I have a memory that isn't mine. I'm obsess about it.
5It is inconceivable that another creature could outsmart me.
6I sometimes confuse others' thoughts with my own.

Mind Flayer Names

Among mind flayers, thoughts aren't communicated in language per se, but are instead transmitted telepathically as concepts and associations, which other humanoids interpret in their own language.

Telepathic communication with a mind flayer is frequently accompanied by a mental static that "sounds" to the receiver like an underlying sussuration peppered with guttural clicks. The intensity of this static increases when a mind flayer refers to itself, because with the saying of its name, the illithid is communicating far more information about itself than other humanoids can comprehend. The syllables that make up mind flayer names as expressed in other languages are thus weak approximations of the sound that others hear in their minds when illithids refer to themselves.

An illithid might adopt a name that is easier for minions and allies to speak or that makes it seem more fearsome to enemies, but each begins its life with a thought-name such as the examples in the Mind Flayer Names table, which are suitable for any campaign.

Mind Flayer Names

Mind Flayer Names


The physiology of mind flayers doesn't leave them well equipped for typical humanoid speech, and most use telepathy exclusively. At times, however, they find it necessary to speak, such as when casting a divine spell, voicing the command word of a magic item, or communicating with multiple creatures at once. A mind flayer accomplishes such vocal feats by forcing one of its tentacles down its own throat and curling the tip to act as a tongue. The process is uncomfortable to the mind flayer, can be disquieting for other creatures to witness, and results in a sound that is often harrowing to the ear. Despite the difficulty, some mind flayers make a study of spoken communication and manage consistently intelligible (if not melodious) speech.


The "writing" of mind flayers, known as Qualith, isn't as simple as a set of symbols representing sounds or ideas. An inscription in Qualith captures the thoughts of its creator and psionically transmits the thoughts to a mind flayer who later reads the inscription by touching it with its tentacles. Mind flayers write in Qualith by psionically imprinting their messages on nonmagical, nonliving material they grasp or caress with their tentacles. The imprinting causes imperceptible surface changes to the object, and abrasion or degradation of the material can cause the inscription to fade and fail.

An expression in Qualith is made up of four-line stanzas packed into interlocking blocks, creating complex patterns that are indecipherable by other creatures. Someone that touches a Qualith inscription, however, can receive fragmentary insight into the multilayered thoughts contained within it. A non-illithid that wants to understand a Qualith inscription can make an Intelligence check (DC based on the complexity of the contained thoughts) to try to derive some of the inscription's meaning. Multiple successful attempts might uncover different aspects about the illithid author, its intended meaning, and its intended audience. A failed attempt results in a crushing headache and, in extreme cases, madness. A {@spell comprehend languages} spell provides understanding of the inscription roughly equivalent to what a mind flayer would get from it.

Mind Flayer Thralls

Mind flayers never truly ally with any creatures. They either attempt to seize control of a population by subverting its leaders, or they use psionics to dominate a humanoid and turn it into a thrall.

Illithids sometimes infiltrate an Underdark tribe of humanoids and use their superstitions and traditions as tools to make them useful followers.

A mind flayer might use its psionic ability to send visions to a humanoid shaman, causing it to proclaim the mind flayers as emissaries of the gods. With that ruse in place, the "gods" then dictate strict rules that cause some members of the tribe to be branded as heretics, to provide the pretense for occasionally seizing a humanoid and devouring its brain. After the colony depletes and demoralizes the population sufficiently, the illithids might move in en masse and attempt to turn the remaining followers into thralls.

The process of transforming a creature into a thrall requires the entire colony's energy and attention, making it no small matter. Although it takes only one mind flayer to perform the process, any illithid not directly involved in the process is required to donate its psionic power to the effort while otherwise remaining inactive.

A thrall-to-be is first rendered docile through psionic means. Using a low-power version of its Mind Blast ability, the mind flayer bombards the victim with energy that washes through its synapses like acid, clearing away its former personality and leaving it a partially empty shell. This step takes 24 hours. Over the next 48 hours, the illithids rebuild the victim's memories and personality, and the victim gains the skills and talents it needs to perform its intended function.

The process that creates a thrall changes almost everything about the victim. The creature retains its Hit Dice, hit points, racial traits (but not proficiencies granted by race), and all of its ability scores except for Intelligence. After the first stage of the process, the creature's Intelligence is halved; when the second stage is over, its Intelligence score increases by {@dice 1d6}.

To complete the process, the thrall receives a new set of proficiencies, a new alignment, and a new personality. Some colonies have learned how to salvage a victim's psionic abilities during the process or how to implant psionic powers into their thralls. Also, some colonies know how to leave a victim's persona intact while infusing it with a fanatical loyalty to the colony's elder brain as well as telepathic power that allows the victim to communicate with its new masters as if it were a mind flayer. This sort of thrall makes a perfect spy, since most would never suspect its true nature.

A thrall can be restored to its former self through a combination of spells and ministration. The thrall must have regeneration, heal, and greater restoration cast on it once per day for three consecutive days. The victim is restored to normal when the final round of spells is cast.

Mind flayers vastly prefer to use humanoids as thralls, since they have a good balance of physical attributes and proper anatomy. Animals, in contrast, require a lot of direct oversight and lack the ability to use tools to help maintain the colony. Among the variety of humanoids available to the illithids, they have some preferences and tendencies.


Mind flayers have hated duergar ever since the gray dwarves revolted against them, but consider their brains a delicacy. Duergar serve as a constant reminder to the illithids that any creatures that serve them must be kept dimwitted and easily controlled. The clever duergar threw off the long-ago attempt by the mind flayers to rule them and have been enemies of the illithids ever since.


The first grimlocks were descended from humans corrupted by mind flayers in ancient times, and today these sightless humanoids are among the illithids' preferred servants. Grimlocks are easily cowed by mind flayers, because their culture still centers on worship of and subservience to the illithids. Strong but dimwitted, they lack the initiative and the cunning to rebel as long as they are provided with food, shelter, and the opportunity to pillage and slay. Also, the grimlocks' inability to see gives their brains an exotic flavor that mind flayers love.


Illithids once used kuo-toa as slaves extensively, since they proved quite easy to control. In time, though, repeated exposure to the mind flayers' psionic intrusions drove the kuo-toa mad. Nowadays, kuo-toa don't make for good thralls because their insanity makes them difficult to control. Mind flayers consider kuo-toa brains a great treat, but they prefer to eat them raw, unsullied by psionic alteration. Thus, they tend to eat kuo-toa soon after capturing them, rather than attempting to keep them penned up or docile.


Mind flayers find that the quaggoths' innate, though rarely manifested, talent for psionics makes them excellent thralls. When possible, they manipulate a tribe's thonot (a psionic shaman) into pledging allegiance to a colony. Quaggoths are naturally strong and quick, making them ideal shock troops without any additional modifications. The quaggoths' chaotic tendencies eventually motivate most colonies to convert them into thralls or food, rather than relying on the quaggoth thonot to keep them under control.


Only the most desperate colonies bother using goblins, kobolds, gnomes, and other small humanoids for anything except food. Small humanoids do make a good food source because they tend to gather in large groups, and their fear and despair in the face of a mind flayer incursion make their brains tasty to the illithid palate. They are also relatively easy for larger, stronger humanoid thralls to control. Small humanoids are only rarely transformed into thralls or otherwise kept under firm control.

Almost any humanoid creature can end up as a thrall, and mind flayers sometimes work with whatever victims fall into their grasp. Aside from the exceptions discussed above, they tend to see orcs, bugbears, humans, and other similar humanoids as largely interchangeable. Their brains all have a similar taste, and their utility as thralls is roughly equal.

Mind Flayer Monsters

Mind flayers hardly ever use non-humanoid creatures as thralls or develop other relationships with them. Most of them are either too big and strong to keep penned up for long or too limited in intellect to complete anything but the simplest tasks. In general, non-humanoids found in the company of mind flayers are those that the illithids have created or bred for specific purposes. A few types of these creatures warrant special mention.

Intellect Devourers

Almost every mind flayer colony creates intellect devourers and seeds the areas around its lair with a few to keep watch, slay intruders, and lure fresh victims to their doom.


A mindwitness represents an exception to the typical mind flayer pattern of reproduction. If a colony succeeds in capturing and subduing a beholder, it can use a tadpole to convert the creature into a bizarre hybrid known as a mindwitness. A mindwitness is a sort of psychic hub, able to collect and amplify the illithids' psionic power.

See chapter 3 of this book for more information on mindwitnesses.


These horrors, hated by mind flayers, sometimes come into being when those ignorant of mind flayer lore destroy a colony.

A neothelid arises when a tadpole pool is left untended. The tadpoles turn against each other, and the survivor grows to immense size. Comparable to purple worms, these behemoths devour everything in their path.

See chapter 3 of this book for more information on neothelids.

Mind Flayer Lairs

In the lair of a mind flayer colony, the safety and security of its residents is all-important. As a result, illithid lairs are always well hidden and well defended, almost always underground, and within easy reach of humanoids and their succulent brains.


No two lairs are the same, as the resident elder brain drives the form and function of each one. The lair shown in the accompanying map is typical and includes many elements found in every colony's stronghold.

The illithids, with their ability to levitate, design major portions of their lairs so as to make movement as difficult as possible for ordinary two-legged creatures. In such locations, thralls must climb or use ropes to move from place to place.

Brain Chamber

Mind flayers sometimes preserve extracted brains in a magical liquid. Still fully alive, they are kept in the brain chamber. The mind flayers use these brains to advance the study of how psionics affects their enemies. They also enjoy the babble of confused, horrified thoughts that emanates from these sources, and sometimes sit here in quiet, comfortable contemplation. Brains that prove boring or dull are eventually consumed, while the most interesting ones are added to the brain library.

Brain Library

Extracted brains that are exceptional in some way are kept in the colony's brain library. Here, the mind flayers continue their examinations at a much greater depth.

Cleansing Chambers

Freshly captured victims are processed in the cleansing chambers. Their gear is removed and either destroyed or kept if it is of interest, their hair is shaved to prevent parasites, and any sickly ones are disposed of.

Funerary Brain Jars

When a mind flayer dies, other mind flayers try to salvage the dead illithid's brain and bring it to the colony's brine pool for the elder brain to consume. For this purpose, mind flayers craft funerary brain jars made of stone. Every jar is made for an individual, inscribed with Qualith and artwork that relate the mind flayer's accomplishments. Often a mind flayer's funerary brain jar is created long before the illithid's death and updated as the years pass, with the jar serving as a diary of sorts for the one whose brain will eventually fill it. After it is filled with brine, a funerary brain jar can preserve a brain without spoiling for {@dice 1d4 + 10} days.

Common Room

The lair's common room serves as a gathering spot for the colony's thralls. As they complete tasks, they come here to rest, eat, and wait for new orders. Any mind flayer in need of assistance can visit this room to obtain the needed muscle power. In the event of an attack, the thralls gather here to arm themselves and ready for battle.

Elder Brain Resting Pool

Usually centrally located, the lair's resting pool is where the elder brain holds court in its brine pool, protected by a nearly impenetrable layer of a glass-like substance that blocks all attacks except for psionic abilities. The elder brain relaxes here, and often assembles the colony members to engage in debates on philosophy and the nature of the planes. This particular colony's elder brain is something of a bully, and has been known to destroy illithids that outwit it in discussions.


Chambers on the perimeter of the lair are continually staffed by heavily armed thralls, constructs, and other watchers. The inhabitants of these rooms attack strangers on sight and sound an alarm. Any entrance to a lair is always hidden by a secret door, an illusion, or some other barrier.

Illithid Quarters

Each member of the colony claims a single room or a small series of chambers at its own and uses the space to conduct its personal research. One illithid's quarters might contain musical instruments and thralls with melodious voices; another might have cages of specimens that teem with a variety of diseases the mind flayers are studying.

Library (and Dissection Chamber)

The library in a mind flayer lair isn't a collection of books, but an array of still-living organs kept in the same fluid that enables them to keep brains alive. The mind flayers study the organs to refine their experiments Failed experiments from the transformation chamber eventually are brought here to be dissected so that their organs can be added to the library's contents.


The results of failed experiments from the transformation chamber are dumped into cages and cells in the prison, to prevent them from getting underfoot elsewhere in the lair. They are eventually processed in the nearby library.

Tadpole Chambers

The elder brain dictates that populations of tadpoles be kept in smaller pools under guard, away from the brine pool. Should the brine pool be destroyed in an attack, these tadpoles stand a better chance of survival.

Transformation Chamber

The transformation chamber contains a number of small cells. The subjects of promising experiments are kept here, bombarded with psionic energy in an effort to warp their physical development. Most creatures that undergo this process are turned into twisted, crippled wretches, but a few emerge stronger and tougher than before.


Mind flayers employ bizarre flying ships called nautiloids. Able to move through the Astral Plane, nautiloids can also transport mind flayers between the various worlds of the Material Plane.

A nautiloid looks like an enormous conch shell fitted with an exterior deck and a large mass of rubbery tentacles. Ages ago, when the mind flayers could fly through the worlds of the Material Plane without resistance, they used the nautiloid's tentacles to scour the surface for interesting creatures to take back home for study or a feasting.

The most notable feature of a nautiloid is its ability to move directly from one world to another in the Material Plane. Normally, travelers must venture to Sigil, a city in the Outer Planes, and find a doorway leading to the specific world they seek. But mind flayers can use nautiloids to move between worlds without going through Sigil. By this means, they have been able to spread themselves out into almost every corner of the multiverse.

Nowadays, a nautiloid is an incredibly rare sight. A colony in possession of one takes great care to keep it hidden, taking to the sky only out of necessity. Word of a nautiloid seen soaring through the air travels quickly in almost every world and is likely to attract the attention of vengeful githyanki and githzerai. A gith hunting party counts a nautiloid as the greatest prize it can claim, above even an elder brain.

The illithids have lost the secret of manufacturing nautiloids, meaning that the loss of any vessel brings them one step closer to remaining trapped on the Material Plane.

Offensive and Defensive Uses

A colony that has access to a nautiloid uses it as a weapon only in rare circumstances, perhaps as part of the final phase of a plan to subvert, destroy, or control an enemy. Nautiloids move quietly and are almost impossible to detect in the darkness. A sudden strike, with the ship disgorging mind flayers and thralls to finish the assault after it lands, can reduce an enemy settlement to ruins in a single night.

Most colonies that possess a nautiloid save it for use as an emergency escape vehicle. If pressed by attackers, the surviving illithids and the elder brain move into the vessel and immediately shift to another world, leaving the attackers in their wake.

Mobile Lairs

A few nautiloids are large enough to hold an entire colony, serving as a mobile lair. A colony that uses a nautiloid in this way is much more aggressive than other colonies, since it can effectively carry out hit-and-run attacks and can vacate an area that has been depleted of victims.

These immense vessels invariably have protections that enable them to survive in extreme environments. As such, the illithids typically locate their lair on a mountaintop, beneath the surface of the ocean, or at the upper levels of the atmosphere-places where raids by their enemies are almost impossible.

Mind Flayer Magic

From their perspective as masters of psionic energy, mind flayers view magic as a wild, unpredictable, and primitive source of power. After all, anything that simple humanoids can learn to use must be ineffectual compared to what illithids are capable of.

Arcane Magic

Mind flayers consider arcane magic to be an abomination, a twisted cousin of psionic power that will be erased from the multiverse when the illithids' empire rises again. Some sages speculate that this attitude arose among the mind flayers because magic played an important role in the rebellion of the gith.

In any case, a few renegade mind flayers do pursue arcane magic. Using some of the items or spells they discover, they can shield their minds as they aspire to break free of the elder brain's control.

Eventually, a mind flayer thus separated from the hive turns to the path of lichdom. Just as the elder brain offers immortality to its faithful illithids, so does becoming a lich ensure life everlasting. The feeling of freedom that comes from this change is liberating, but the specter of death forever after colors the mind flayer's actions. An undead mind flayer is hated and hunted by other illithids, but many are powerful enough to stand on their own against attackers.

See the alhoon entry in chapter 3 of this book for more information on undead mind flayers.

Divine Magic

Illithids acknowledge the existence of divine entities, but it is unusual for any but a deviant mind flayer to actively worship such a power. Since they are capable of planar travel, illithids don't view the afterlife and the Outer Planes in the mythic way that most other races do. Illithids don't believe they possess souls whose eternal fate is governed by the gods. Instead, when a mind flayer's brain is returned to the elder brain to be consumed, the creature's intelligence lives on. Only if an illithid's brain isn't retrieved after death would its consciousness be cast into oblivion.

Two divine entities have long been associated with mind flayers by the scholars of other races. These aren't deities, but rather manifestations of ideal psionic and philosophical mental states that mind flayers revere. Illithids occasionally meditate on these ideals while performing physical movements meant to help them achieve the proper attitude-actions that have often been misinterpreted by observers as worship.


The entity/concept called Maanzecorian embodies a complete comprehension of knowledge. It is a state wherein memories, thoughts, and aptitudes are dredged up from one's mind not one at a time as needed, but are all laid bare and brought to the fore at once. The perfect memories exhibited by aboleths have long fascinated mind flayers that emulate Maanzecorian, leading to frequent conflict between the two races.


Ilsensine is a broader philosophical ideal than Maanzecorian, leading many sages to assume it must be the more important or more powerful of the two "gods." Ilsensine represents not just mastery of one's own mind but a psionic union between oneself and the realm of universal knowledge. Different elder brains have different interpretations of what this state consists of and how to achieve it. Elder brains and illithids that devote themselves to Ilsensine sometimes pursue ways to dominate gods of knowledge or even aspire to supplant those gods on the way to attaining the state of full incorporation into the universal consciousness.

Mind Flayer Magic Items

Some mind flayer colonies have developed the ability to create or modify certain kinds of gear, imbuing them with psionic energy. Mind flayers craft magic items that only they or their thralls can use-a sensible security measure to keep enemies from turning the illithids' own creations against them.

Mind Blade

{@i Weapon (any sword), rare (requires attunement by a specific individual)}

Mind flayers can turn any nonmagical sword into a mind blade. Only one creature can attune to it: either a specific mind flayer or one of its thralls. In the hands of any other creature, the mind blade functions as a normal sword of its kind. In the hands of its intended wielder, the mind blade is a magic weapon that deals an extra {@dice 2d6} psychic damage to any target it hits.

Mind Carapace Armor

{@i Armor (any heavy armor), uncommon (requires attunement by a specific individual)}

Any nonmagical suit of heavy armor can be turned by mind flayers into mind carapace armor. Only one creature can attune to it: either a specific mind flayer or one of its thralls. While worn by any other creature, the mind carapace armor functions as normal armor of its kind. To its intended wearer, the armor grants advantage on Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws and makes its wearer immune to the frightened condition.

Mind Lash

{@i Weapon (whip), rare (requires attunement by a mind flayer)}

In the hands of a creature other than a mind flayer, a mind lash functions as a normal whip. In the hands of an illithid, this magic weapon strips away a creature's will to survive as it also strips away flesh, dealing an extra {@dice 2d4} psychic damage to any target it hits. Any creature that takes psychic damage from the mind lash must also succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or have disadvantage on Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws for 1 minute. The creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.

Shield of Far Sight

{@i Armor (shield), rare}

A mind flayer skilled at crafting magic items creates a shield of far sight by harvesting an eye from an intelligent humanoid and magically implanting it on the outer surface of a nonmagical shield. The shield becomes a magic item once the eye is implanted, whereupon the mind flayer can give the shield to a thrall or hang it on a wall in its lair. As long as the shield is on the same plane of existence as its creator, the mind flayer can see through the shield's eye, which has darkvision out to a range of 60 feet. While peering through this magical eye, the mind flayer can use its Mind Blast action as though it were standing behind the shield.

If a shield of far sight is destroyed, the mind flayer that created it is blinded for {@dice 2d12} hours.

Mind Flayer Augmentations

Some mind flayer colonies augment their thralls with nonmagical gear to make them more effective as lair guardians and bodyguards. Two examples of mind flayer augmentations are presented here.

Flensing Claws

Illithids don't always provide their thralls with normal weapons, such as swords and axes. Sometimes they improve the natural capabilities of thralls by giving them new anatomy. Flensing claws take the form of articulated digits that extend into long metal blades. The claws are knitted into the flesh and bones of a creature's arms and can't be removed without surgical amputation.

Each set of flensing claws is designed for a specific creature and can't be used by anyone else. A creature equipped with flensing claws can use its action to make one melee weapon attack with the claws. The claws deal slashing damage based on the creature's size: Small, {@dice 1d8}; Medium, {@dice 1d10}; Large, {@dice 1d12}; or Huge, {@dice 2d8}. The creature adds its proficiency bonus and Strength modifier to any attack roll made with the claws, and its Strength modifier to its damage roll when it hits a target with the claws. Tiny and Gargantuan creatures can't be fitted with flensing claws.

Survival Mantle

This carapace-like augmentation encases portions of the wearer's shoulders, neck, and chest. A survival mantle is equivalent to a suit of nonmagical half plate armor and takes just as long to don or doff. It can't be worn with other kinds of armor.

A creature wearing a survival mantle can breathe normally in any environment (including a vacuum) and has advantage on saving throws against harmful gases (such as those created by a {@spell cloudkill} spell, a {@spell stinking cloud} spell, inhaled poisons, and the breath weapons of some dragons).


Mind flayers don't hoard coins, gemstones, jewelry, and other sorts of treasure. However, a colony obsessed with the study of biology would consider a new, alien specimen a great prize, especially a living creature. One concerned with improving its war machinery might seek out new gear, weapons, and armor it can use. A colony that collects gold coins or gemstones might do so not to become rich but to contaminate them with a psychic effect it wants to spread through the surface world.

Adventurers who are motivated by the prospect of vast wealth are best off avoiding mind flayer colonies. Although illithids are evil, and defeating them makes the world a safer place, they don't accumulate material wealth the way many other powerful creatures do. Because of their disdain for arcane and divine power, they discount most magic items as trivial baubles, unless they are useful to the colony for a particular reason. A mind flayer might ignore a bag of diamonds it is offered as a bribe, but might listen to a proposal if a bargaining creature offers it news of a new construction technique developed by the dwarves of a faraway kingdom.

Mind flayers know that humans, orcs, and other primitive creatures love shiny baubles and mysterious devices. They might use such objects they come across the way a rat catcher uses a lump of cheese-a lure to draw quarry into a trap.

Orcs: The Godsworn

To feel the thunder of orcish war drums outside the gate and to hear a chorus of voices growling, "Gruumsh!" is the nightmare of every civilized place in the world. For no matter how thick its walls, skilled its archers, or brave its knights, few settlements have ever withstood a full-scale onslaught of orcs.

Every soldier who lives through a fight with orcs tells of confronting a hulking foe that can cleave through a warrior with a single blow, part of a force that can cut down enemies as though they were trembling stalks of wheat before the scythe. Only a skilled and determined hero can hope to survive single combat with an orc.

Savage and fearless, orc tribes are ever in search of elves, dwarves, and humans to destroy. Motivated by their hatred of the civilized races of the world and their need to satisfy the demands of their deities, the orcs know that if they fight well and bring glory to their tribe, Gruumsh will call them home to the plane of Acheron. It is there in the afterlife where the chosen ones will join Gruumsh and his armies in their endless extraplanar battle for supremacy.

Gods of the Orcs

Orcs believe their gods to be invincible. They see the principles that define them and their deities at work every day in the world around them-nature rewards the strong and mercilessly eliminates the weak and the infirm. Orcs don't revere their gods as much as they fear them; every tribe has superstitions about how to avert their wrath or bring their favor.

This deep-seated uncertainty and fear comes forth in the form of savagery and relentlessness, as orcs ravage and kill to appease the gods in order to avoid their terrible retribution.

At the pinnacle of the orc pantheon is Gruumsh One-Eye, who created the orcs and continues to direct their destiny. He is aided and abetted by the other warrior deities, Bahgtru and Ilneval, who bring strength and cunning to the battlefield. The followers of all three gods are a tribe's raiders and ravagers-often the only part of an orc tribe that its victims ever see.

Deep within the den of a tribe, far away from the war-hearth where warriors gather and celebrate, dwell the followers of Yurtrus, the god of disease and death, and Shargaas, the god of darkness and the unknown. Orcs too weak for battle (because of bodily weakness, malformation, injury, or age) often join these cults instead of facing daily humiliation, exile, or death.

Serving as the bridge between the two parts of the tribe are the priestesses of Luthic, the orc goddess who represents both life and the grave. It is her worshipers that raise young orcs to be warriors, and then, at the end of their lives, take them to Yurtrus and Shargaas to be carried into death and the great unknown.

Gruumsh, "He Who Watches"

Gruumsh, the undisputed ruler of the orc pantheon, pushes his children to increase their numbers so they may be his instrument of revenge against the realms of elves, humans, and dwarves. In order to spite the gods who spurned him, Gruumsh leads his orcs on a mission of ceaseless slaughter, fueled by an unending rage that seeks to lay waste to the civilized world and revel in its anguish.

Orcs are naturally chaotic and unorganized, acting on their emotions and instincts rather than out of reason and logic. Only certain charismatic orcs, those who have been directly touched by the will and might of Gruumsh, have the capacity to control the other orcs in a tribe.

A Chosen Few

Orcs don't become renowned in their tribes by choosing Gruumsh; he chooses them. An orc might claim its allegiance to Gruumsh, but only those who have proven themselves through feats of strength and ferocity in war are considered worthy of being true worshipers. Gruumsh singles out these individuals by bestowing upon each one a powerful dream or vision that signifies acceptance into his inner circle.

Those who are visited by Gruumsh are transformed psychologically and often physically by the experience. Some are driven to the brink of madness, reduced to muttering about omens and prophecies, while others become imbued with supernatural power and rise to positions of leadership.

Eyes of Gruumsh

A few of the orcs touched by the power of Gruumsh are given the ultimate honor of carrying a small part of the god's overwhelming rage into battle, in the form of magic that augments their weapons and helps the tribe succeed. To become an eye of Gruumsh, an orc that has been chosen by Gruumsh must gouge out one of its eyes as a sign of devotion, sacrificing half of its mortal vision in return for divine power. These god-touched orcs are revered as living connections to Gruumsh, and are treated with respect even when they are old and infirm.

Nishrek and the Eternal War

Orcs believe that if they die with honor, their spirits go to the plane of Acheron, the Infinite Battlefield-specifically the layer of Nishrek, where they join Gruumsh's army and fight on his behalf in the endless war against the goblinoid followers of Maglubiyet. Gruumsh sees this conflict as a chance to pit his people against an eager foe and enable them to prove their worth before their deities. He relishes every short-term triumph and swears revenge for every setback.

Luthic, though, takes a longer view. She understands the cosmic implications of Maglubiyet's attacks. To prevent the goblinoids from outstripping her people in population, she urges the orcs to have many offspring and teach them the ways of battle not only for survival in the material world, but to keep Maglubiyet at bay in the conflict on the planes. Her children will remain in her care, and if need be she wouldn't hesitate to take to the field herself and claw Maglubiyet's beady eyes from his face to prevent him from taking them from her.

The cosmic battle between the two pantheons has raged for eons without resolution, leading those who study its ebb and flow to expect the stalemate to continue. A different view is put forth by the archmage Tzunk, who notes that Maglubiyet has never faced a foe as ferocious and protective as Luthic. He predicts that the war will end with Luthic the only deity standing, as the cave mother ascends to rule her warrior children.

Ilneval, "the War Maker"

Ilneval is the loyal right hand of Gruumsh. He is the god who plans the attacks and devises the strategies that allow the forces of Gruumsh to dominate the battle and fill their war wagons with plunder and severed heads. Ilneval stands with his bloody sword, calling to those who understand the ebb and flow of combat to sit around his council fire and learn the ways of warfare.

Skilled Strategists

Orcs that show aptitude for the nuances of warfare at an early age are considered chosen by Ilneval and are groomed to serve as blades of Ilneval. These individuals are battle captains that follow the orders of the tribe's chief, leading a portion of the tribe's warriors into the thick of battle and bringing a measure of strategy to the assault. Blades of Ilneval are fearsome opponents, seeming to have an uncanny sense of when to move and when to strike, able to exploit the weakness of their enemy like a pack of hungry wolves.

Bahgtru, "the Leg Breaker"

Despite the influence of Ilneval, orcs are and will forever be brutal and feral in how they wage war. Bahgtru is the deity who epitomizes the physical might and ruthlessness that orcs use to overwhelm their foes. He is the one who drives every thrust of an orc's weapon, so that it does as much harm as possible.

Fearless and Mighty

In the myths, it is said that Bahgtru was out hunting when he was surprised by the mightiest of the behirs, one with hundreds of legs. In a flash, Bahgtru was wrapped in the creature's coils and gripped by its legs. No one had ever escaped the grasp of the behir, but Bahgtru saw this as the ultimate test of his strength, and laughed at his good fortune. One by one, Bahgtru broke the behir's legs, and freed himself from its clutches. The creature's shrieks became the lightning of the storm, and its broken femur became the symbol of Bahgtru's followers, reminding them that anything can be broken and defeated by superior strength.

Competing in Cruelty

Most young orcs that an explorer or an adventurer might encounters are followers of Bahgtru. Orcs of Bahgtru continually try to prove their superior strength and endurance through cruel contests against their tribe mates, acts of unprovoked belligerence, and great success in battle. It is through these tests of strength that Bahgtru's followers prove which among them will eventually be worthy of Gruumsh's unwavering gaze.

The Sacred Bull

Orcs of Bahgtru sometimes enter battle astride aurochs, large creatures that resemble oxen or cattle but are much more ferocious (see appendix B for their statistics). By doing so they honor the creatures as well as their deity, because legends tell that Bahgtru also rode a great bull into battle. No orc will eat or harm one of these sacred beasts, which are believed to be imbued with Bahgtru's spirit.

Luthic, "the Cave Mother"

While Gruumsh is the external force that pushes the orcs to victory over their enemies, it is the influence of Luthic, his wife, that binds them together and makes the orcs internally cohesive. She is the force that keeps the explosive rage of Gruumsh from bursting the orcs apart. If it was not for the followers of Luthic, it is possible that the race of orcs would be no more than small bands of warrior-nomads, scratching out a meager existence, rather than a force capable of great destruction.

Far from the den's war hearth, within the protective depths of the caves, the followers of Luthic tend the orc brood, raising them to be strong and cruel like their progenitors. By invoking the power of superstitions, omens, and traditions, these claws of Luthic hold the tribe together through ritual, fear and, if necessary, force.

Talons of the Bear

Luthic is often thought to take the guise of an enormous cave bear. Her followers honor this aspect of her by keeping cave bears as pets to guard the whelping pens that are filled with squabbling young. Luthic's devoted also grow their claws long and paint them black to mimic the fearsome talons of their goddess. Luthic rewards them by making their claws as strong and tough as iron.

Holding the Fort

Along with protecting the young and the tribe's food stores, the worshipers of Luthic also serve as the crafters, engineers, and builders of an orc tribe. They fashion crude weapons, armor, and the few manufactured items that the orcs need for daily life. When the tribe is away on raids, they are expected to dig deeper into the caverns of the den to create more living space for the ever-increasing population.

Yurtrus, "the White Hand"

Yurtrus is often depicted as consumed by rot and covered in oozing pustules, utterly repulsive except for his hands, which are pure white and free of any blemish. Yurtrus has no mouth and never utters a sound, so that he may come in absolute silence for his chosen.

The followers of Yurtrus are allowed to dwell on the fringes of the tribe, but are looked upon with distaste and unease. They interact with the tribe mostly on occasions of death, claiming the bones of fallen warriors to add to the ossuary shrines of Yurtrus, and sometimes during shamanic rites when contact with spirits occurs.

The White Hands

Shamans who heed the telepathic whispers of Yurtrus walk the perilous line between the living and the dead, and gain uncanny powers from doing so. Through this nonverbal communion, they begin to comprehend how to use the magic of death. These shamans, known as White Hands, cover their hands in white ash or wear pale gloves made of elf skin to symbolize their connection to the power of Yurtrus. The necromancy practiced by the shamans of Yurtrus is a force considered taboo by orcs, which makes them both revered and feared by the rest of the tribe.

Traffickers of the Dead

Orcs who die "a good death" are sent to Gruumsh by the priests of Yurtrus. The priests seek out the bodies of such fallen heroes and sever their heads, boil or smoke them to rid them of most of the flesh, and then use a ritual punch to break out the bridge of the nose and leave the skull with a single eye. Orcs that appreciate the strength and ferocity of a foe might choose to honor that enemy by giving it the same treatment. The bodies of orcs that die in a failed battle are left behind; they were weak and don't deserve to join Gruumsh. Those that die of old age have typically already been taken into Yurtrus's fold, and their bones are used to build furnishings and structures in the area of the lair dedicated to the worship of Yurtrus.

Chosen of Yurtrus

Orcs that suffer from gruesome diseases are brought into Yurtrus's fold and tended like prized cattle. These orcs are called nurtured ones, and they are considered the chosen of Yurtrus because they have been picked for the special purpose of spreading his virulent message among the enemy. At night, or during a heavy fog, these infected orcs rush toward an enemy's encampment, often through a hail of arrows, in order to spread their affliction within their foe's ranks.

Shargaas, "the Night Lord"

Shargaas is a god of darkness and the unknown. He is a secretive and murderous deity, dangerous to all except Gruumsh. His realm is the darkness that no creatures but those devoted to him can see through.

To other orcs, the followers of Shargaas are depraved and twisted creatures that have no honor and skulk in the shadows. Rejected by Yurtrus as too unsuitable to serve as custodians of the dead, these orcs live even deeper inside the lair, close to where the entrance to Shargaas's realm is located. There in the darkness, orcs exiled to meet their fate are either brought into the fold as members of the tribe's Shargaas cult, or are torn to pieces and devoured as sacrificial tributes by the worshipers of the Night Lord.

Culling the Weak

Although most followers of Shargaas are exiles, living in the farthest reaches of the lair away from the rest of the tribe, others remain within the main body, posing as ordinary warriors. These agents single out the weakest members of the fighting force, because removing these weak links strengthens the rest of the group. Soon after being born, an orc must be able to show that it will grow into a capable warrior, or else it will be visited by the cultists of Shargaas. The cultists also waylay orcs that have proved themselves ineffectual in leadership or combat, then drag them into Shargaas's dark caverns to be ritually murdered and devoured.

This culling of the weak and the unworthy is accepted as necessary by the tribe, but speaking about it is taboo. Those that disappear are simply said to be "with Shargaas" and are spoken of no more.

Alliance of Convenience

When faced with a particularly skilled foe able to withstand direct assaults, a war chief might call upon the cultists of Shargaas to assassinate an enemy leader, kidnap an influential hostage, or steal a valuable item.

Gruumsh doesn't always look kindly on acts of subterfuge and indirectness, because orcs are meant to take and do what they want through straightforward assault and brutality. Nonetheless, when the chief seeks the aid of Shargaas to accomplish such a task, the leader of the cult is willing to comply-for a price. In exchange for its less than honorable services, the leader will strike a deal with the war chief to provide food, tools, slaves, or some other commodity that the cult prizes.

Life in the Tribe

Orcs survive through savagery and force of numbers. Theirs is a life that has no place for weakness, and every warrior must be strong enough to take what is needed by force. Orcs aren't interested in treaties, trade negotiations or diplomacy. They care only for satisfying their insatiable desire for battle, to smash their foes and appease their gods.

Booming Birth Rate

In order to replenish the casualties of their endless warring, orcs breed prodigiously (and they aren't choosy about what they breed with, which is why such creatures as half-orcs and ogrillons are found in the world). Females that are about to give birth are relieved of their other roles and taken to the lair's whelping pens, where they are tended to by Luthic's followers.

Orcs don't take mates, and no pair-bonding occurs in a tribe other than at the moment when coupling takes place. At other times, males and females are more or less indifferent toward one another. All orcs consider mating to be a mundane necessity of life, and no special significance beyond that is imparted to it.

At 4 years old an orc is considered a juvenile, and by age 12 it is a fully functioning adult. Most orcs don't live past the age of 25 due to battle or illness, but an orc can live to about 485, remaining healthy almost up until the end. Luthic's divine blessing can further extend an orc's life, though Gruumsh is never happy when she uses this power and tends to frown upon the one so "blessed."

Future Warriors

Young orcs must mature quickly in order to survive their perilous upbringing. Their early years are fraught with tests of strength, fierce competition and nothing in the way of maternal or paternal love. From the time a child can wield a stick or a crude knife, it asserts itself and defends itself while learning to fight, to survive in the wild, and to fear the gods.

The children that can't endure the rigors of a life of combat are culled from the main body of the tribe, taken into the depths of the lair, and left for the followers of Yurtrus or Shargaas to accept or reject. A fully grown orc warrior is well prepared for a lifetime of combat.

Search, Destroy, Repeat

When a tribe is on the move, orc warriors are commanded to scour the surrounding landscape for any opportunity to spill blood and bring glory to their gods. Often, bands of warriors work on a rotation, with one group heading out on a raid just as another group returns, laden with severed heads, sacks of loot, and armfuls of food. Warriors also serve as scouts, bringing back detailed reports about the surrounding area so that the chief can plan where to send raiders next.

The territory that orc war parties cover can extend for many miles around the lair, and any encampment or settlement of elves, dwarves, or humans in that area is at risk. If orcs come upon a target that is too large to assault directly, they will lurk along supply routes, taking out their frustration on caravans and travelers. Left unchecked, a tribe can subsist on this sort of prey and booty for quite some time.

War Wagons

Orcs pillage and scavenge wherever they go-everything is loot, and loot is always something to be proud of. In order to haul as much food and booty as possible back to the tribe's den, every tribe has a sturdy war wagon. Since orcs are poor crafters, most of their wagons are stolen from human or dwarven strongholds, and then decorated with uniquely orcish accessories.

A war wagon is a source of great pride for a war chief, comparable to a human army's banner or flag. Many are clad in armor and festooned with garish trinkets and grisly trophies that hang from hooks and spikes. A war wagon makes a good shield against arrows when orcs besiege an elven fortress, and a heavily modified wagon could serve as a battering ram if a settlement dares to close its gates, blocking the way to the treasures and tasty food that lie within.

A heavily laden wagon that requires the strongest orcs to return it to the lair is a sign of great success. One that can be moved by the runts of the tribe is proof of a shameful performance.

The loss of a tribe's war wagon can undermine the chieftain's authority and cause the tribe to collapse into chaos, with the survivors scattering either to join new tribes or to strike out on their own. At the other extreme, warriors that return home with a heavily laden wagon or after heroically defending it from thieves gain great respect and advance higher in the tribe's pecking order.

All Are Fighters

Most of the orcs that stay behind when the warriors go on their raids are weaker than their tribe mates or otherwise not suited for a life of battle. Worshipers of Luthic fall into this category, as do some of those that revere Yurtrus or Shargaas. But even these orcs are trained in combat, and all of them are expected to act like warriors if the lair is attacked or threatened. Their numbers are augmented by any orogs in the tribe, which are primarily responsible for making sure that the lair is protected from intruders.

Special Enemies

When orcs attack a settlement of humans or halflings, they will kill anyone who presents a threat, but they are more interested in grabbing plunder and food rather than in wanton slaughter. The elderly, children, and any who seem weak or meek enough might escape death. If they leave the population more or less intact, the orcs leave themselves the option of returning to raid the community over and over.

When orcs fight elves, all of that changes. The enmity between the two races cuts to the core, and no orc will leave an elf alive. Orcs become so frenzied in combat against elves that they forget all about taking loot and valuables back to the tribe-the only trophies of any worth are the heads of their enemies.

Orcs treat dwarves somewhat differently from other foes, because they covet the homes that dwarves fashion for themselves. If a tribe succeeds in fighting its way into a dwarfhold, the orcs will butcher any dwarf that stands against them, but it's really all about the property-they would be just as happy if all the dwarves ran away.

Strength Respects Strength

Orcs appreciate physical prowess and formidable combat ability in any form. As such, they might accept other creatures into their ranks from time to time. Orcs have been known to associate with wereboars and ettins, both creatures that can markedly improve a tribe's murderous efficiency. For a promise of sufficient food and loot, a troll might accompany a tribe temporarily.

A group of orcs can be dominated by evil creatures of immense power, and they accept this subservient role either because they are forced to or because it offers them a measure of security while they engage in their savagery. Green dragons, for instance, sometimes use orcs as sentinels or shock troops. Orcs are sometimes attracted to the service of frost giants or fire giants, who then "reward" their loyalty by turning them into slaves.

If a tribe is defeated and driven from its lair, the survivors might come under the sway of a strong but dimwitted creature, such as a hill giant or an ogre. It is also not unheard of for an exceptionally strong and charismatic evil human to lead stray orcs that no longer have a tribe to call their own.

When Tribes Team Up

An orc tribe typically has no more than a few hundred members, because a larger group would need a prohibitive amount of resources to remain strong. As a rule, a tribe is violently hostile toward any other tribe it meets, seeing the rival orcs first and foremost as competitors for food and victims.

On some occasions, though, tribes that have a common concern band together. The result is an orc horde-a sea of slavering killers that washes over the countryside and leaves vast tracts of devastation in its wake. Such an event is rare in the extreme, but its consequences can lay low entire nations that are unable to stand against the wave.

Orc Culture and Beliefs

Orcs live in constant fear of their gods, and their behavior is rooted in that mentality. They believe that they can see the influence of the gods everywhere in the world around them, and the priests of a tribe are entrusted with the responsibility of identifying these signs and omens-both good and bad-and deciding how the tribe should react to them.

As a race, orcs have no noteworthy universal social traits, but some commonality does exist in the crude written communication that all orcs employ and in the way that they use pigments to decorate and distinguish themselves and their lairs.

Omens and Superstitions

Orcs believe that any seemingly unimportant discovery or event-a bear's claw marks on a tree, a flock of crows, or a sudden gust of wind-might be a communication from the gods.

If the tribe has encountered a similar omen before, the priests understand how to interpret it, but if a sign from the gods has no clear explanation, the priests might have to meditate for hours or days to get a vision of its meaning.

Every group of orcs has particular superstitions and recognizes certain omens.

These tenets vary from tribe to tribe, and are often based in events that the tribe has experienced. Here are a few examples:

Symbolic Communication

Orcs have a written language adapted from that of the dwarves, but they aren't a literate culture and rarely keep records or write down their thoughts. When orcs need to communicate in writing, they use crude symbols to convey basic information, such as "food stored here," "danger close," or "go this way." A orc raiding party might leave such a sign in its wake, as an aid to other warriors that travel through the same area later on. Mountain guides, druids, and rangers might be familiar with many of these symbols, enabling them to keep their charges from inadvertently stumbling into a tribe's territory.

Orcs as Underlings

With their culturally ingrained tendency to bow before superior strength, orcs can be subjugated by a powerful and charismatic individual. Evil human spellcasters and rulers in particular have a penchant for enslaving or deceiving orcs into service. A leader backed by a great military force could swoop down upon a tribe, kill its leaders, and cow the rest of the orcs into submission.

A spellcaster typically takes a more devious approach, using magic to conjure up false omens that strike fear into the tribe and make it obedient. A wizard might manipulate a few of the orcs that rank just below the war chief, using them as pawns to help overthrow the leader. The wizard validates the change in command with signs supposedly delivered by the gods (which are in truth nothing but a few well-cast illusions), and turns the tribe into a strike force eager to do the bidding of its new chief.

The survivors of a tribe scattered by defeat sometimes fall back on their fighting skills to find employment, individually or in small groups, with whoever is willing to hire them. These mercenaries, while they might pride themselves on their seeming independence, nevertheless strive to follow through on their end of a bargain, because being paid by one's employer is better than being hunted down for breaking a deal.

Colors of Conquest

Three colors have special meaning to all orcs, and they adorn their bodies, possessions, and lairs with pigments that produce those hues. Red ochre is used to represent blood, grayish-white ash to represent death, and charcoal to represent darkness.

The unwritten laws that govern the status of individual orcs within a tribe are manifested to a degree in how each orc uses these colors on itself and its personal items. For instance, the chief of one tribe might be the only one that has the right to stain its tusks with red ochre, while the warriors of another tribe rub streaks of ash into their garments to signify their safe return from a raid.

Roleplaying an Orc

Most orcs have been indoctrinated into a life of destruction and slaughter. But unlike creatures who by their very nature are evil, such as gnolls, it's possible that an orc, if raised outside its culture, could develop a limited capacity for empathy, love, and compassion.

No matter how domesticated an orc might seem, its blood lust flows just beneath the surface. With its instinctive love of battle and its desire to prove its strength, an orc trying to live within the confines of civilization is faced with a difficult task.

Use the tables below to generate an Orc Name, personality and Trophy.

Orc Personality Traits

Orc Personality Traits
d6Personality Trait
1I never relinquish my weapon.
2I welcome any chance to prove my battle skills.
3I always appear like I am about to kill everyone around me.
4I love a good brawl.
5I drink the blood of monsters to consume their power.
6I chant orcish war dirges during combat.

Orc Ideals

Orc Ideals
1Strength. Showing superior strength brings honor to Gruumsh. (Any)
2Prowess. Killing all your enemies is the path to greatness. (Evil)
3Dominance. I will have achieved glory when all cower before my might. (Evil)
4Intimidation. I can get what I want from weaklings that fear me. (Evil)
5Glory. The goals of the tribe don't concern me. Personal glory is what I crave. (Chaotic)
6Savagery. I will not be controlled. (Chaotic)

Orc Bonds

Orc Bonds
1I will defend my tribe to the death.
2Every serious choice I make must be decided by signs or omens from the gods.
3I carry the teeth of a great warrior. They inspire me to commit great deeds in battle.
4To avenge Gruumsh, I will kill every elf I see.
5I will seek and destroy those who murdered my tribe.
6I owe my survival to a non-orc.

Orc Flaws

Orc Flaws
1I have a calm temperament and let insults roll off my back.
2I don't fear the gods and have no patience for superstitions.
3I am slow to anger, but when I do become enraged I fight until my enemies are dead, no matter the cost.
4I understand the value of civilization and the order that society brings.
5I don't trust anyone.
6I believe in living to fight another day.

Orc Names

Orc names don't always have meaning in the Orc language, and most noteworthy orcs are given epithets by their tribe mates.

Orc Male Names

Orc Male Names

Orc Female Names

Orc Female Names

Orc Epithets

Orc Epithets
1The Filthy
2Skull Cleaver
3Eye Gouger
4Iron Tusk
5Skin Flayer
6Bone Crusher
7Flesh Ripper
8Doom Hammer
9Elf Butcher
10Spine Snapper
11Death Spear
12The Brutal


The lore of humans depicts orcs as rapacious fiends, intent on coupling with other humanoids to spread their seed far and wide. In truth, orcs mate with non-orcs only when they think such a match will strengthen the tribe. When orcs encounter humans who match them in prowess and ferocity, they sometimes strike an alliance that is sealed by mingling the bloodlines of the two groups.

A half-orc in an orc tribe is often just as strong as a full-blooded orc and also displays superior cunning. Thus, half-orcs are capable of gaining status in the tribe more quickly than their fellows, and it isn't unusual for a half-orc to rise to leadership of a tribe.


Orcs believe that an orog's exceptional strength and intelligence are a gift from the goddess Luthic to ensure that her brood survives and flourishes. So, when an orog is born, a tremor goes throughout the tribe, for the event is seen as a great blessing from the goddess, but it brings tension as well.

An orog within the tribe poses a potential problem for an orc war chief: will the orog grow up to be a powerful ally or a dangerous adversary? Most war chiefs treasure their positions so highly that they would refuse to relinquish the title, even to a clearly superior creature. Thus, a chief might be tempted to kill the orog while it is still young and weak, but such an act would most certainly incur the wrath of Luthic.

To raise an orog within the tribe, from the chief's point of view, is to take a risk that the orog won't one day rise up and usurp power from the chief. Because of this sentiment, orogs are secreted away by priestesses of Luthic and raised out of the sight of the chief.

Keeping the Balance

What most war chiefs don't realize, or trust in, is the fact that orogs aren't a direct threat to their rule. By nothing more than their presence, orogs serve as a balancing force. Indoctrinated by the priestesses of Luthic, they see to it that Luthic's followers are protected from the more aggressive members of the tribe. Most orogs don't go on raids, because their main responsibility is the safety of the tribe members that remain in the lair-ensuring that the tribe remains intact even if a raid goes badly and many warriors are killed. In times of internal strife, such as after the death of the chief, orogs move in to oversee the selection of a new leader and keep the tribe from splintering due to infighting. Orogs strive not to lead their tribe, but to keep the tribe together-which is often the more difficult of the two tasks.

Breaking the Mold

An orc lives on the edge of chaos and rage, and orogs are no exception. At times, an orog goes rogue and becomes a force of destruction in the tribe, seeking to fracture the group along lines of loyalty to the gods. If those who worship Luthic and those who worship Gruumsh split, the tribe can be torn apart by the schism.

At the other extreme, an orog might accept a role in battle or leadership under special circumstances. If a tribe finds itself up against formidable or unexpected resistance, the endurance and superior intellect of an orog serving as chief or battle master can be enough to win the day when a less capable leader would have failed.


A tanarukk is an abyssal creation infused with demonic power. Half demon, half orc, it wanders the world in a murderous haze. Its dimly glowing red eyes burn under thick, horn-like brows, and its tusks and claws are razor-sharp. Because the skin of tanarukks is unnaturally tough, they rarely wear armor, preferring to rush into battle unencumbered, smashing their foes with a demon-forged maul or tearing them apart.

A tanarukk is spawned when an orc tribe turns away from its gods and makes sacrifices to the demon lord Baphomet. The lords of the Abyss are always eager to claim more followers, and the violent orcs are prime candidates for corruption. A tribe pushed to the edge of destruction, its faith in its deities shattered, might beseech Baphomet to bless its next generation of warriors. In so doing, Baphomet imbues the tribe's unborn with demonic might, yielding a generation of tanarukks.

The orc deities consider such a betrayal of their worship as a crime punishable by obliteration, and orcs faithful to their gods view tanarukks as horrid blasphemies that must be attacked on sight.

On rare occasions, a non-orc that has gained control over a tribe performs a ritual to Baphomet in hopes of spawning tanarukks to serve as a squad of shock troops. Only the strongest warlords and spellcasters can keep such a force in line, meaning that often the would-be conqueror is slain by its own creations.

Orc Lairs

An orc tribe needs a home base of sorts-a place where warriors can reconnoiter after a raid, and ideally also a site that can be easily defended to ensure the safety of the tribe's noncombatants. Orcs establish their encampments mainly in mountainous areas, around and within deep caves or large crevasses in the rock. Although they prefer such terrain for strategic purposes, they can adapt and thrive in almost any environment.


Every encampment is divided along lines of worship. Those who revere Gruumsh, Ilneval, Bahgtru, and Luthic are given the best parts of the lair, while the followers of Yurtrus and Shargaas are relegated to the deep, dark recesses of the site, away from the rest of the tribe.

At the center of the camp is the tribe's war hearth. Once a war hearth is lit, the priests of Gruumsh keep it continually burning, for it represents the rage within Gruumsh's unblinking eye. The orcs converge on the hearth to celebrate victory and to feast after a kill. If a tribe moves its camp, coals from the hearth are kept glowing within shells and pots so they can be used to start the war hearth at the new encampment.

Given a choice between occupying a site on the surface and one that is wholly or partly underground, an orc chieftain typically opts for the latter. If the surface location happens to be a ruin left behind by another race, orcs are more likely to use it as a temporary campsite. The ruins of elven settlements are the exception to this rule. If orcs come across such a place, they desecrate it and leave it unfit for any sort of habitation.

A tribe uses its home base for as long as the resources in the surrounding area hold out-enough food for the foragers and hunters, and enough victims for the warriors. The orcs might have to range farther and farther from their lair as prey becomes more scarce, and after a few months or a year or two, the tribe will be forced to move on and find more fertile hunting grounds.

On occasion, a tribe finds itself in a best-of-both-worlds situation, able to take over occupancy of an underground space voluminous enough to accommodate all the factions in the tribe and within raiding distance of a steady supply of prey.

The orc stronghold depicted and described here is an example of such a place, which could suit the needs of a tribe for several years or even decades. It has several subterranean chambers, conveniently configured to provide every group of worshipers with appropriate quarters, and it is accessible from the surface through only one well-guarded passageway.

Main Chamber

The warriors that worship Gruumsh and Ilneval occupy the main area of the complex, a large cavern that has the war hearth at its center and a shrine to Ilneval along the perimeter. The focal point of the shrine is a blood-covered sword mounted on the wall.

The area also includes a pile of broken femurs that represents a shrine to Bahgtru. The worshipers of Bahgtru are mostly young, brash orc warriors, eager to prove their strength and bravery to the elders of the tribe. Even if space is available in the stronghold, they often live outside the entrance in crude bivouacs and roughshod fortifications, protecting their elders by guarding the stronghold's vulnerable spot.

Off to one side of the chamber, away from where the warriors are quartered, is the fighting pit, a sunken and fenced-off area where orcs settle their differences or engage in contests of strength.

War Chief's Quarters

Adjacent to the main chamber is the room where the war chief resides, holds council, and hands out blessings or punishments from Gruumsh. The best loot and trophies of triumph are piled in this room and considered to be the property of the chief. A fire, not as large as the war hearth, burns in its center.

Next to the chief's enclosed sleeping area is a shrine to Gruumsh consisting of a crude stone effigy of He Who Watches, surrounded by bloody offerings.

Caves for Followers of Luthic

Orcs who worship Luthic are sequestered in a cavern off the main chamber, where they protect the young and supervise food stores. These orcs take control of prisoners brought back from raids, using them as slave labor to dig out new living space and do other menial tasks.

Most of Luthic's faithful reside in this area, close to the whelping pens where young orcs are kept until they grow old enough to contribute to the tribe. When they're not being worked, slaves are housed in a small adjoining chamber and watched over by a group of cave bears that Luthic's worshipers keep as pets.

Many of Luthic's priestesses have their quarters in a nearby cavern that holds the tribe's shrine to Luthic. She is represented by a crude stone statue with claws covered in charcoal and a body smeared with red ochre.

Caves for Followers of Yurtrus

Followers of Yurtrus reside on the threshold of where the deep area of the cavern system begins. They are the keepers of the dead, and the entrance to their realm is festooned with piles of bones and skulls. An altar to Yurtrus, made of stone with a hand painted in ash and tallow on it, stands in a cramped chamber apart from the main living area that is lined with skulls and bones.

Caves for Followers of Shargaas

Followers of Shargaas dwell within the most remote area of the stronghold, immersed in darkness and feared by the rest of the tribe. The tribe's altar to Shargaas is a bloodstained rock.

The stronghold depicted in the map features a number of small passages that lead away from the depths of the lair and eventually provide egress to the surface. The members of the tribe's Shargaas cult, which call themselves the Red Fang of Shargaas, take advantage of these secret tunnels to raid the outside world and bring back prisoners.

The members of the Red Fang use giant, carnivorous bats as mounts, that allow them to gain silent access to any location. Those who think they can hide under cover of darkness or escape invisibly are easy marks for the Red Fang's bats, which locate their prey with high-pitched clicks and shrieks, then swoop down and snatch up their prey with razor sharp claws.

Bat riders of the Red Fang return from their raids the same way they exited-through a crack in the cliff face far away from their lair. A tunnel leads through layers of damp stone and crystallized minerals before eventually opening out into their subterranean domain. Captives are used as food for the brood of giant bats that roost in the rookery or are kept as slaves to be worked or used for barter.


Orcs are consummate raiders. When they attack and overwhelm, they claim as booty anything of value that they can carry-and an orc's definition of "value" can be very loose indeed.

The strongest or most dominant orcs will always claim the best loot after a successful raid, and since the pecking order in the group is almost always firmly established, there are usually no squabbles over who gets what. If the tribe's war wagon is available, it is used to transport large or especially treasured items.

Each orc warrior carries its personal loot from the raid in a sack. These are the trophies of victory that orcs brandish and boast about when they return to the den. A loot sack might contain something of demonstrable worth or usefulness, something that's edible (or used to be), or something that was acquired at great risk. In any case, once the bragging is over, the loot is eaten, put to use, or otherwise disposed of.

The Orc Trophies table provides a selection of items that might be found in an orc's loot sack.

Orc Trophies

Orc Trophies
1{@dice 1d12} elf ears
2{@dice 1d4} dwarf beards
3{@dice 1d6} human heads
4Skulls and bones
5Cave bear paw
6{@dice 1d20} severed fingers
7{@dice 1d8} eyeballs
8Flayed elf skin
9Dire wolf hide
10{@item trinket (phb)|phb|Random trinket}*

Yuan-ti: Snake People

The serpent creatures known as yuan-ti are all that remains of an ancient, decadent human empire. Ages ago their dark gods taught them profane, cannibalistic rituals to mix their flesh with that of snakes, producing a caste-based society of hybrids in which the most snakelike are the leaders and the most humanlike are spies and agents in foreign lands.

Humans Transformed

The people who became yuan-ti were one of the original human civilizations. Their society built great temples of stone and forged metal into armor, tools, and weapons. In their ceremonies they paid homage to the snake as the embodiment of the qualities they most appreciated. They developed a philosophy of separating emotion from intellectual pursuits, allowing them to focus their energy on personal advancement and expanding their territory. They believed themselves to be the most enlightened mortals in the world, and in their hubris they sought to become ever greater.

The serpent gods of the primordial world heeded the prayers of these people and hissed dark demands into their ears. The people tainted their souls by performing human sacrifices in the name of the gods, debased their flesh by cannibalizing their victims, and then performed a sorcerous ritual while writhing in pools filled with living snakes that enabled them to mix their flesh with that of serpents, becoming like the gods in body, thought, and emotion. Freed from the limitations of their human bodies, the yuan-ti used their new abilities to conquer new lands and expand their borders.

One Race, Many Forms

The bodies of all yuan-ti have a mix of humanlike and snakelike parts, but the proportion varies from individual to individual. After the initial metamorphosis of the humans, their society quickly coalesced into a caste system based on how complete a person's transformation was. The vast majority of yuan-ti fall into three categories-abominations, malisons, and purebloods-while the mutated broodguards and exceedingly rare anathemas have their place in the hierarchy as well.

All yuan-ti can interbreed. Females usually lay clutches of eggs, which are stored in a common hatchery, although live births aren't uncommon. A mating between yuan-ti of different types almost always produces eggs that hatch into yuan-ti of the weaker parent, so most choose partners of the same type in the interest of maintaining the strength of their personal bloodline.

The yuan-ti have abandoned their humanity and consider non-serpentine humanoids to be lesser creatures, barely more civilized than common apes. Although some purebloods are able to reproduce with humans, most are disgusted by the idea and would do so only if seduction is necessary for a pureblood to preserve a role as a confidant or advisor in human society. The very rare offspring of such a union are always purebloods, although they may appear fully human at birth and for several years afterward.

The yuan-ti know rituals that can transform an individual into a more powerful type. The cost and time required to perform the ritual is prohibitive, and as a result most yuan-ti never get the opportunity to undergo such a transformation. Every use of the ritual must be modified to suit the individual undergoing transformation, and requires rare herbs, exotic magical substances, snakes, and one or more humans to be sacrificed and eaten as part of the procedure.

Undercover Empire

The human civilization that gave rise to the yuan-ti was among the richest in the mortal world. It rapidly progressed in metalworking, using keen intellect and magic to discover the secrets of making steel. Its military shattered rival tribes and developed advanced tactics for fighting in forests and open plains.

The civilization grew into a cluster of allied city-states. Conquered neighbors were allowed to keep their leaders and culture so long as they paid tribute, swore allegiance to the victors, and incorporated their conquerors' serpent gods into their religions. These victories sent a constant influx of food, ore, and slaves back to the home cities.

The wealth of the empire allowed the ruling elite plenty of time to focus on intellectual pursuits. These nobles turned to philosophy and prayer, offering gifts of magic and animal sacrifices to their serpent gods, paying homage to the perfection of the ophidian form. The serpent gods taught the humans how to take on aspects of the snake, but the cost of the change was high, requiring many sacrifices for each person to be transformed. Entire households of slaves in one city-state were killed and eaten to create the first yuan-ti, and once the news of how to perform these rituals spread to other leaders, the call for slaves to fuel the process increased. As the serpent gods began to demand more and more sacrifices, the yuan-ti stepped up their raids on bordering settlements to meet this need.

The physical and magical prowess of the yuan-ti empire allowed the former humans to retain their holdings for several hundred years, until a combination of drought, attacks by enemies (including dragons and nagas), civil war, torpor among the serpent gods, and the development of iron weapons by the some of their conquered enemies finally loosened the yuan-ti's hold over nearby lands. The serpent people withdrew to their fortified cities and underground temples, ceding the rest of their territory to their former minions. The yuan-ti crawled away and hid in a matter of weeks, all but disappearing from the world. Yuan-ti structures throughout the land were torn down to celebrate liberation from the snake-bodied oppressors, and within a few generations the yuan-ti were all but forgotten by the new humanoid civilizations.

For over a thousand years after their empire fell, the yuan-ti remained ensconced in their hidden strongholds, biding their time until they were ready to strike again. Today, with their numbers greatly depleted and their enemies much stronger than in ages past, the yuan-ti know they can't resort to direct attacks in order to reclaim their rightful place in the world. Operating out of the subterranean ruins of their buildings in foreign lands, yuan-ti agents infiltrate enemy governments to discover weaknesses that their leaders can exploit. The yuan-ti look forward to the day when their empire rises again and spreads across the world like venom through the blood, as it once did.

Because their population is so small, the yuan-ti are aware they are vulnerable in open warfare. Instead, their current plans assume they will never rule outwardly in human society, so they gain influence by controlling enemy rulers-and those close to them-through blackmail, drugs, magic, and the subterfuge of disguised purebloods.

Gods of the Yuan-ti

The detached, intellectual nature of the yuan-ti doesn't lend itself to fervent or devout worship in the manner that others revere their deities. Nonetheless, they acknowledge a wide range of supernatural and divine entities. Some of these are true deities, some are primordial spirits as powerful as gods, and some are creatures of questionable origin.

In addition to the three primary deities discussed below, the yuan-ti worship over a dozen other "serpent gods"-lesser beings such as animal spirits, ascended heroes, divine servants of more powerful gods, and demon lords. Many of the cults devoted to these lesser gods are unique to a particular city, and followers of the three main yuan-ti deities usually consider these religious practices quaint rather than threatening.


The Night Serpent came into being before recorded history, spawned from the feverish dreams of the first intelligent creatures. She subsists and grows stronger by feeding on the fears that plague the folk of the world. Her followers believe that Dendar is a harbinger of the end of things, which will come when she amasses enough power to consume the world. Another legend concerning her speaks of an iron door to the underworld behind which she lurks; when the time is right, she will tear it down, then eat the sun, plunging the world into darkness before she finally devours it.

Yuan-ti worshipers of Dendar are led by nightmare speakers, malison warlocks that honor their deity through acts of terror and receive magical power in return. Rather than killing enemies, these followers of the Night Serpent prefer to threaten and torture them, the better to feed and strengthen the goddess.


Though the Master of the Pit is not conscious, neither is he entirely dormant. Mirroring the fate of yuan-ti in the world, Merrshaulk entered a deep slumber when the serpent folk left the surface and went into hiding in ages past. It is unclear if declining worship caused him to fall asleep, or if his prolonged torpor caused his worshipers to abandon him. Even in his compromised state, Merrshaulk grants spells to his clergy in response to their invocations. Rousing him for advice or direct intervention is possible, but requires many ritual murders to be performed in his name, and his return to consciousness lasts only a short time.

The leaders of Merrshaulk's worshipers, called pit masters, are malison warlocks that uphold and advance the age-old yuan-ti traditions. They sense that it has become easier to wake him in recent decades, and believe this to be a sign that he will soon fully awaken, shed his skin, and-renewed by transformation-restore the yuan-ti to their rightful place as masters of the mortal world.


In the last years before the yuan-ti empire collapsed, Sseth appeared to the serpent folk in the form of a winged yuan-ti. He promised to lead the yuan-ti away from the brink of defeat and back to the pinnacle of world domination in return for their veneration. Many of Merrshaulk's devout turned to the worship of the Sibilant Death, believing him to be an avatar of their deity. They granted him enough power to mount a brief recovery, but those actions were too little and too late to prevent the collapse of the empire. Sseth chose to rest and gather strength during the years of decline, as more and more of the yuan-ti adopted his worship.

His most devout followers, known as mind whisperers, use their god-given magic to emulate Sseth's tactics and principles. They strive to succeed by offering an alternative choice to contesting viewpoints or plans, and in so doing they exude an air of self-importance that gives them a less than savory reputation among yuan-ti that follow other gods.

Gods of Other Worlds

In worlds other than the Forgotten Realms, yuan-ti make pacts with deities of the pantheons presented in appendix B of the Player's Handbook. The following are suggested yuan-ti deities for each pantheon.


Erythnul, Iuz, Tharizdun, Vecna.


Chemosh, Sargonnas.


The Fury, the Keeper, the Mockery, the Shadow, the Traveler.


Math Mathonwy, Morrigan.


Ares, Hecate.


Apep, Set.


Hel, Loki.

Serpent Gods

The yuan-ti's dispassionate attitude toward religion is especially evident among the powerful yuan-ti that take one of the lesser serpent gods as an object of worship. The worshiper of a serpent god pays homage not out of respect or fear, but because it aspires to emulate the entity, beseeching it to reveal the secret of transcending mortality. Then, once armed with that knowledge, the yuan-ti sets out to supplant its deity and become a new serpent god.

The serpent gods don't wish to be brought low, or to be bled of power as Merrshaulk was, so they mollify their worshipers with pronouncements that hint at what the supplicants seek. The truth is never easy to ferret out, but rarely an exceptionally clever yuan-ti succeeds in attaining divine form and vanquishing its benefactor. This cannibalistic pressure from mortals means that the lower ranks of the serpent gods experience a change every century or so, although often it is the newest yuan-ti godling that falls prey to the next one's ambitions.

Structured Society

The goal of every yuan-ti is to transform itself into the ideal combination of snake and humanoid. This attitude is reflected in yuan-ti society by a caste system, with status predicated on where a particular form of yuan-ti lies along the ladder of transformation.

The basic form of yuan-ti society is a pyramid with abominations at the top, malisons in the middle level, and purebloods at the base. The outliers are the anathemas, the most powerful yuan-ti of all, and two castes that lie beneath all yuan-ti: broodguards and slaves.

Statistics for yuan-ti anathemas, yuan-ti broodguards, and new kinds of yuan-ti malisons appear in chapter 3. Two new malison variants are presented in the "Yuan-ti Malison Variants: Types 4 and 5 sidebar in this chapter.

Yuan-ti Anathemas

The exceedingly rare yuan-ti known as anathemas look much like abominations, but larger, with clawed hands, and six snake heads sprouting from where the head should be. Each anathema is the product of a unique ritual that alters its original abomination form, increasing its size, power, and intelligence. Other yuan-ti treat anathemas like demigods, and they naturally assume a leadership position over all others in the area.

An anathema's aggressive presence brings about a transformation in a yuan-ti city, pushing it to become more warlike and expansionistic. The anathema directs the yuan-ti to wage small-scale wars on humanoids, usually through proxies such as cults and allied creatures, and uses these conflicts to gather riches and slaves until it has enough resources to establish the yuan-ti as the rulers of a region.

Yuan-ti Abominations

Mostly ophidian, but with humanlike arms that can wield weapons and use tools, abominations closely resemble the perfect form that the serpent gods envisioned. Absent the presence of an anathema, yuan-ti abominations are the leaders in most yuan-ti cities.

Yuan-ti Malisons

The various kinds of malisons are imperfect compared to abominations but still a step above humankind in the eyes of the serpent gods. Malisons tend to be receptive to religion, seeking insight about how they can improve toward the serpent ideal, and many of them become leaders in the worship of one of the serpent gods.

Yuan-ti Pureblood

The most numerous of the yuan-ti, purebloods are also the most humanlike, exhibiting only one or two snakelike features such as slitted pupils or patches of scales on the skin.

Yuan-ti Broodguards

The devolved creatures known as broodguards are created by feeding humanoids a special elixir, which gives them scaly skin and a compulsion to follow orders. Because their minds are crippled by their transformation, broodguards are less useful than slaves for many tasks, but because of their unwavering loyalty they make capable guardians for yuan-ti eggs.

Broodguards are technically slaves, but because of their loyalty and the expense of the potion that creates them, they have slightly higher status than common slaves-meaning that a pureblood is more likely to give a suicidal order to a slave than to a broodguard.


Every yuan-ti settlement has a number of other creatures under its control, including intelligent humanoids, charmed or trained beasts, and even undead or conjured minions. Regardless of their nature, all are treated as slaves: no creature that is not a yuan-ti is fit for anything other than menial labor and subservience. Slaves that fail to follow orders or lag in their duties are dispatched or turned into broodguards.

Emotionless Evil

During their ascension ages ago, the yuan-ti freed themselves from the yoke of their human emotions. Now they view the world from a pragmatic and dispassionate perspective. They understand emotional connections in a detached, intellectual way, and recognize that these feelings in others can be exploited through bribes, favors, or threats.

As creatures devoid of emotion, yuan-ti exhibit behavior and use tactics that exemplify that outlook (or lack of one). Whether in combat or in daily life, the following principles guide the yuan-ti in all they do.

Other Lives Are Cheap

Yuan-ti put little value on humanoid lives, even those of their own slaves and cultists. They would poison children to carry out a threat against their parents, or turn one person into a broodguard in order to show her family the consequence of resistance. They might refrain from provoking others' feelings if doing so could adversely affect the yuan-ti's plans, but they understand humanoid psychology well enough to know that they can get away with this casual disregard for life almost anytime.

Furthermore, in the yuan-ti caste system, a greater yuan-ti's life is worth far more than a lesser one's.

Weaker citizens are expected to lay down their lives to protect their betters. Leaders rely on this zealotry in their plans, and although they don't needlessly waste the lives of purebloods on futile actions, most strategies include a fallback option in which mobs of purebloods and slaves are thrown at opposing forces in the hope of allowing the malisons and abominations time to escape.

Survival First

Yuan-ti are likely to retreat or flee from conflict if they don't believe they have a reasonable chance of success. This reaction isn't out of cowardice, but practicality-yuan-ti value their own lives much too highly to risk them when the odds aren't in their favor. A short retreat might be just the thing to reach a better tactical position, find allies, or to allow the yuan-ti the opportunity to study their opponents and implement better tactics. Any enemy who chases a group of fleeing yuan-ti might be on the victorious side of a rout or could be heading into a trap; if the enemy has been encountered before, it is likely that the yuan-ti have prepared a special ambush at the end of the pursuit.

Capture, Not Kill

The objective of the yuan-ti as a race is to conquer and enslave others; they don't espouse the sort of evil that calls for them to butcher or eradicate all who oppose them. In keeping with their goal of domination, the yuan-ti would rather capture potentially useful opponents than kill them. They use many methods for capturing enemies, such as poisoning, knocking out an opponent instead of making a killing blow, throwing nets, using magic such as suggestion, or restraining them in the coils of a giant snake.

To force their compliance, enemies might be brainwashed, charmed, tortured, or transformed into broodguards. Those that prove intractable still have their uses, either as sacrifices to the gods or as food.

Depend on Deceit

Yuan-ti have no sense of honorable combat. They are naturally stealthy, and if they can sneak up on enemies, either in an ambush or to murder them in their sleep, the yuan-ti will do so-and they actually prefer these tactics to open warfare. Because abominations and malisons can change into the shapes of snakes, they can keep their presence hidden and get into places their normal forms couldn't enter.

Their immunity to poison gives all yuan-ti a tactical advantage in dealing with other creatures. A pureblood serving as a food taster for a royal family could poison a meal and declare it "safe" after taking a bite.

Serpent Cults

Some humans believe that not only are the yuan-ti superior to humans and worthy of emulation, but they are also the blessed emissaries of the serpent gods. From these entwined beliefs are born the serpent cults, groups of devout mortals who serve the yuan-ti either directly or in foreign outposts. Fanatical in their ideals, these cultists are willing to die for the yuan-ti and their gods, whether from an enemy's weapon or at the point of a sacrificial knife.

The yuan-ti use the cults devoted to them as a steady supply of willing minions and sycophants. Many yuan-ti establish or encourage cults to gather the special herbs and magic they need to perform the ritual for evolving into a more powerful form. And just as the yuan-ti have rituals to transform their own bodies, they have a ritual that can change a human into a pureblood. They sometimes use the promise of this ritual as an enticement for power-hungry followers or a reward for their most devoted cultists.

In civilized society, cultists ingratiate themselves into the local populace, usually by promising perfection of the flesh (sometimes including the healing of afflictions), freedom from the ideas of sin and guilt, and hedonistic delights to those who join the cult. The leader of a cult is usually advised by a pureblood that relays orders and information between the cult and a yuan-ti city.

Physical Variations

No two yuan-ti look exactly the same. Both the snakelike and the humanlike portions of a yuan-ti's anatomy exhibit a wide variety of shapes and colorations. Because a yuan-ti's appearance is mostly inherited, in small settlements all the yuan-ti look somewhat alike, while larger settlements see more intermixing, which produces a wider range of results.

Use the tables below to create descriptions and other details for different Yuan-ti types.

Yuan-ti Snake Body Type

Yuan-ti Snake Body Type
d20Snake Body Shape

Yuan-ti Humanoid Skin Color

Yuan-ti Humanoid Skin Color
d20Humanoid Skin Color
1-4Dark brown
6-9Light brown
10-15Medium brown
16Pale brown

Yuan-ti Scale Color

Yuan-ti Scale Color
d100Scale Color
7-12black and brown
13-18black and green
19-23black and red
24-26black and white
27-30black and yellow
31-36black, gold, and red
37-42black, red, and white
46-48blue and black
49-51blue and gray
52-54blue and yellow
61-66brown and green
74-79green and tan
80-84green and white
85-90green and yellow
91-96red and tan

Yuan-ti Scale Pattern

Yuan-ti Scale Pattern
d20Scale Pattern

Yuan-ti Tongue Color

Yuan-ti Tongue Color
d6Tongue Color

Pureblood Characteristics

Pureblood Characteristics
d20Pureblood Characteristic
4-5forked tongue
6-9scaly arms and hands
10-11scaly face
12-15scaly torso
16-18serpentine eyes
19-20Roll twice, re-rolling results of 19 or 20

Yuan-ti Eye Color

Yuan-ti Eye Color
d6Eye Color

Yuan-ti Snake Head Shape

Yuan-ti Snake Head Shape
d20Snake Head Shape
1-5Broad and rounded

Malison Arm Left

Malison Arm Left
d10Malison Type 2 Arm*
1-4Cluster of small snakes
5-9One large snake
10Scaly humanoid with snake head for a hand

Malison Arm Right

Malison Arm Right
d10Malison Type 2 Arm*
1-4Cluster of small snakes
5-9One large snake
10Scaly humanoid with snake head for a hand

Type 4 Malison: Lower Body

Type 4 Malison: Lower Body
d20Malison Type 4 Lower Body
1-7Human legs and large snake tail
8-10Human legs and multiple small snake tails
11-16Scaly human legs and large snake tail
17-20Scaly human legs and multiple small snake tails

Unusual Abilities

The variety among yuan-ti doesn't end with their physical characteristics. Some of them are born with powers that are unusual or even unique among their kind. High-ranking yuan-ti might have one or more of the following abilities, either replacing or augmenting what a normal yuan-ti can do.


You can customize a yuan-ti by giving it one or more of the following traits.

Acid Slime (Abomination, Anathema, or Malison Only)

As a bonus action, the yuan-ti can coat its body in a slimy acid that lasts for 1 minute. A creature that touches the yuan-ti, hits it with a melee attack while within 5 feet of it, or is hit by its constrict attack takes 5 ({@dice 1d10}) acid damage.

Chameleon Skin

The yuan-ti has advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks made to hide.

Shapechanger (Pureblood Only)

The yuan-ti can use its action to polymorph into a Medium {@b giant poisonous snake,} or into a Large {@b constrictor snake,} or back into its true form. Its statistics are the same in each form, except for the size change noted. Any equipment it is wearing or carrying isn't transformed. It doesn't change form if it dies.

Shed Skin (1/Day)

The yuan-ti can shed its skin as a bonus action to free itself from a grapple, shackles, or other restraints. If the yuan-ti spends 1 minute eating its shed skin, it regains hit points equal to half its hit point maximum.

Action Options

The following action options are restricted to certain kinds of yuan-ti.

Bite (Pureblood Only)

Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 3 ({@dice 1d4}) piercing damage plus 3 ({@dice 1d6}) poison damage. If the pureblood uses Multiattack, it can make two melee attacks, but can use its bite only once.

Polymorph into Snake (Abomination or Malison Only;

Recharge 6). The yuan-ti targets a creature it can see within 60 feet of it. The target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or be transformed into a Tiny {@b poisonous snake,} as if affected by the polymorph spell. The save DC is the same as that of the yuan-ti's Innate Spellcasting ability.

Snake Antipathy (Abomination or Malison Only;

Recharge 6). The yuan-ti targets a creature it can see within 60 feet of it. The target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or feel an intense urge to avoid snakes and snakelike creatures (including yuan-ti), as if affected by the antipathy effect of an antipathy/sympathy spell. The save DC is the same as that of the yuan-ti's Innate Spellcasting ability.

Sticks to Snakes (Abomination or Malison Only;

Recharge 6). The yuan-ti transforms a pile of sticks, arrows, or similar-sized pieces of wood into a {@creature swarm of poisonous snakes}. The swarm acts as an ally of the yuan-ti and obeys its spoken commands. The swarm remains for 1 minute, after which it turns back into the original materials.

Roleplaying a Yuan-ti

Yuan-ti are emotionless, yet feel completely superior to humanoids, in the same way that a human can feel superior to chickens or rabbits-in a matter-of-fact, completely objective way that doesn't brook any second-guessing. To a yuan-ti, there are only three categories of creature: threat, yuan-ti, or meat. Threats are powerful creatures such as demons, dragons, and genies. Yuan-ti are any of their own kind, regardless of caste; although a rival yuan-ti might be dangerous, and a weak or dead one might be potential food, it is first and foremost one of the true people and deserving of some respect. Meat includes any creature that is neither a threat nor a yuan-ti, possibly useful for a base purpose but not worthy of other consideration.

Most yuan-ti consider it beneath themselves to speak to meat. Abominations and malisons rarely communicate directly with slaves except in emergencies (such as for giving battle orders); at other times, slaves are expected to constantly be aware of the master's mood, anticipate the master's needs, and recognize subtle gestures of hands, head, and tail that indicate commands.

Only purebloods-which walk among humanoids and therefore have to learn how to speak to them civilly-practice interacting with meat-creatures. Much of their training involves suppressing their innate annoyance at having to speak to lesser beings as though they were equals, or being obliged to kowtow to a humanoid ruler as if the pureblood were merely an advisor. Pureblood spies feel a sort of aloof contempt toward meat-creatures, but they can affect a pleasant tone, and speak to such creatures with a silver tongue that disguises their true feelings.

Under normal circumstances, yuan-ti are always calmly deferential to those of higher rank. They tend to be curt and formal with those of lower rank, for the differences between them aren't a source of anger or disgust (emotions that the yuan-ti don't feel anyway), merely a fact of the natural order, and their culture long ago realized that treating the lower castes with a measure of detached respect prevents rebellion and advances the cause of the entire race.

Yuan-ti Personality Traits

Yuan-ti Personality Traits
d8Personality Trait
1I see omens in every event and action. The serpent gods continue to advise us.
2I have very high standards for food, drink, and physical pleasures.
3I prefer to be alone rather than among other creatures, including my own kind.
4I sometimes become consumed by philosophy.
5I believe I am superior to others of my caste.
6I am driven by wanderlust and want to explore lands far from our cities.
7I am interested in modern human culture, even as primitive as it is.
8I await the day when we again conquer lands by force, as we did in the old times.

Yuan-ti Ideals

Yuan-ti Ideals
1Greed. I display my wealth as a sign of my power and prosperity. (Evil)
2Aspiration. I strive to follow the path toward becoming an anathema. (Evil)
3Unity. No leader shall put personal goals above those of our race. (Any)
4Kinship. My allegiance is to my caste and my city. Other settlements can burn for all I care. (Any)
5Inspiration. My actions set an example for the lesser castes to emulate. (Any)
6Power. Everything I choose to do is determined by whether it will make me smarter and stronger. (Evil)

Yuan-ti Bonds

Yuan-ti Bonds
1I will see our empire rise again and, in so doing, win the favor of the serpent gods.
2I am enamored with the culture and trappings of another society and wish to be part of it.
3I respect my superiors and obey them without question. My fate is theirs to decide.
4I have an interest in an unsuitable mate, which I can't suppress.
5I respect and emulate a great hero or ancestor.
6An enemy destroyed something of value to me, and I will find where it lives and kill the offender.

Yuan-ti Flaws

Yuan-ti Flaws
1I feel twinges of emotion, and it shames me that I am imperfect in this way.
2I put too much credence in the dictates of a particular god.
3I frequently overindulge in food and wine, and I am impaired and lethargic for days afterward.
4I worship a forbidden god.
5I secretly believe things would be better if I was in charge.
6If I could get away with it, I would gladly kill and eat a superior yuan-ti.

Yuan-ti Names

Yuan-ti names have meanings that have been passed down through the generations, although spellings and inflections have changed over time.

Some yuan-ti add more sibilants to their birth names to create an exaggerated hissing sound, based on one's personal preference and whether an individual's anatomy can more easily pronounce the name in this altered form. An adopted name of this sort is recognized as a variant of the birth name, rather than a unique name unto itself. A yuan-ti might refer to itself by its birth name, by its adopted name, or (especially among purebloods) by a name it borrows from the local populace.

The Yuan-ti Names table provides yuan-ti birth names suitable for any campaign.

Yuan-ti Names

Yuan-ti Names

Yuan-ti Cities

Most yuan-ti cities were built during the height of their empire centuries ago. Since they no longer have the vast number of expendable slaves necessary for large work projects, the yuan-ti content themselves with maintaining these ancient places rather than building new ones for their needs. Although these sites are hundreds or even thousands of years old, they don't look or feel primitive-the yuan-ti empire was once very advanced, and although it has declined, its culture is still thriving on a smaller scale.

Because the yuan-ti were previously human, their architecture reflects human ideas about art and beauty. Over time this perspective was skewed toward the concept that the snake is the perfect form, so serpents are a common theme in their aesthetic.

The major buildings in a city usually have four sides and a sloped or staggered pyramid-like exterior. It is customary for stone buildings to have a series of tiles or carvings of snakes encircling the ground level at head height. These features are sometimes trapped or magically warded to prevent anyone from climbing the building's exterior. Interior walls usually have floor-level holes or tunnels that a Medium or Large snake could pass through, allowing the yuan-ti's serpentine pets, as well as abominations and malisons in snake form, to bypass human-style doors for convenience or in order to respond quickly to invaders. In well-traveled areas, ramps replace stairs, making it easier to snake-bodied yuan-ti to move between levels.

A yuan-ti settlement usually has a paved plaza, and major roads are also paved. Fountains, gardens, and carved, freestanding columns are common elements. Six-foot-high walls divide the community into city blocks or districts, with open arches allowing traffic to pass through.

Yuan-ti lairs in human settlements are nothing like the accommodations in their own cities. Because these locations are used mainly by humanoid purebloods and cultists (or were built by humanoids and taken over by yuan-ti), stairs and humanoid architecture are the norm. Each of these sites resembles the headquarters of a spy ring, a thieves' guild, or a hedonistic cult rather than the outpost of an evil empire bent on cannibalism and world domination, but it usually has a sacrificial slab tucked away in a corner for special events.

Particularly in their cities, yuan-ti rely on poison traps to keep intruders, spies, and rebellious slaves out of sensitive areas.

Cannibalism and Sacrifice

The ritual that produced the first yuan-ti required the human subjects to butcher and eat their human slaves and prisoners. This act of cannibalism had several ramifications It broke a long-standing taboo among civilized humanoids and set the yuan-ti apart from other civilizations as creatures not beholden to moral values. It corrupted their flesh, making the yuan-ti receptive to dark magic. It emulated the dispassionate viewpoint of the reptilian mind, a trait the yuan-ti admired.

Today, cannibalism is practiced by the most fervent of yuan-ti cultists, including those who aspire to transform into yuan-ti themselves. In yuan-ti cities, the activity persists in the form of human sacrifice-not strictly cannibalism anymore, but still serving as a repudiation of what it is to be human and a glorification of what it is to be yuan-ti.

Yuan-ti don't have a taboo against eating their own kind; a starving yuan-ti would kill and eat a lesser without a second thought, and a group of them would choose the weakest among them to be killed and eaten. Under normal circumstances, however, they bury or cremate their dead rather than eating them, but a great hero or someone of status might be ritually consumed as a form of tribute.

Traps are commonly placed on door locks, chests, and fake objects designed to attract looters. One insidious delivery method uses blocks of special incense to fill a room with poisonous faint smoke that disguises the presence of the poison until it takes effect.

Pyramid Temple

In a typical yuan-ti city, one of the busiest and most prominent buildings is the temple complex that houses yuan-ti and their followers while it provides facilities for worship, sacrifice, and all the other hallmarks of daily life. The accompanying map is an example of such a location.


Cultist Level

The lowest level of the temple includes sleeping and living quarters for favored or high-ranking cultists, as well as a shrine and a separate temple where the cultists can conduct their own ceremonies. The area has two ground-level entrances that are always well concealed and usually trapped, plus a guard room nearby that offers additional security.

Pureblood Level

Beginning with the second level, the accommodations in the rest of the temple are meant for yuan-ti only, and access is limited accordingly. Purebloods live and work on this tier, which features cages for slaves, special quarters for the current slave master, and a centrally located torture chamber. A pair of staircases offer access to the next level up.

Abomination Level

The yuan-ti at the top of the social hierarchy reside in the most insulated level of the pyramid, within quick striking distance of the levels above and below. On this level, substantially sized quarters for abominations are laid around the perimeter of the temple's largest chamber, a hall where the entire population of the place can assemble.

Malison Level

Of all yuan-ti, the malisons have the strongest proclivity for worship of their deities. As such, they occupy the uppermost residential level in the pyramid, one step below the mount. This level contains a library where the yuan-ti store the knowledge of their transformation rituals, and a chamber where those rituals are performed.

Temple Mount

At the apex of the pyramid, reachable by ascending the exterior steps from ground level but not through an interior staircase, is a plateau surrounded by viewing areas. The center holds an elaborately decorated altar, where many a sacrifice meets its end as yuan-ti witnesses pay homage to their gods.

Allies and Minions

Yuan-ti have been controlling and manipulating lesser creatures for hundreds of years. They enslave beasts and intelligent creatures to serve them and guard their homes, and they blackmail, enchant, or enthrall others to be their agents in humanoid lands.

Random Yuan-ti Servants

Yuan-ti employ a variety of creatures as spies and protectors. The Yuan-ti Agents table lists groups of creatures that work for the yuan-ti, representing their masters' interests. Agents of the serpent folk might roam the countryside on a specific mission or operate secretly inside a humanoid community. The Yuan-ti Protectors table includes creatures that serve as guardians either within a yuan-ti city or in a yuan-ti hideout inside a humanoid city.

Yuan-ti Agents

Yuan-ti Agents
1-20{@creature Cultist|MM|Cultists}
21-30{@creature Cult Fanatic|MM|Cult Fanatics}
31-34{@creature Doppelganger|MM|Doppelgangers}
35-50{@creature Guard|MM|Guards}
51-60{@creature Noble|MM|Nobles}
61-72{@creature Priest|MM|Priests}
73-86{@creature Scout|MM|Scouts}
87-100{@creature Spy|MM|Spies}

Yuan-ti Protectors

Yuan-ti Protectors
1-10{@creature Bandit Captain|MM|Bandit Captains} and {@creature Bandit|MM|Bandits}
11-12{@creature Basilisk|MM|Basilisks}
13-18{@creature Constrictor Snake|MM|Constrictor Snakes}
19-26{@creature Cult Fanatic|MM|Cult Fanatics} and {@creature Cultist|MM|Cultists}
27-28{@creature Flying Snake|MM|Flying Snakes}
29-35{@creature Giant Constrictor Snake|MM|Giant Constrictor Snakes}
36-45{@creature Giant Poisonous Snake|MM|Giant Poisonous Snakes}
46-50{@creature Gladiator|MM|Gladiators}
51-55{@creature Guard|MM|Guards}
56-58{@creature Hydra|MM|Hydras}
59-60{@creature Medusa|MM|Medusas}
61-51{@creature Mummy|MM|Mummies}*
62-63{@creature Poisonous Snake|MM|Poisonous Snakes}
64-68{@creature Priest|MM|Priests}
69-70{@creature Skeleton|MM|Skeletons}
71{@creature Stone Golem|MM|Stone Golems}
72-81{@creature Swarm of Poisonous Snakes|mm|Swarms of Poisonous Snakes}
82-91{@creature Tribal Warrior|MM|Tribal Warriors}
92-97{@creature Veteran|MM|Veterans}
98-100{@creature Zombie|MM|Zombies}

Character Races

Heroes come in many shapes and sizes. This chapter presents character races that are some of the more distinctive race options in the D&D multiverse. They supplement the options in the {@i Player's Handbook} and are more rare in the worlds of D&D than the races in that book are.

If you're a player, consult with your DM before using any of the races here. Many DMs like to consider the implications for their world before adding a new race. Your DM may say yes or no to you using a race or may modify it in some way.

The following races are detailed in this chapter: {@b Aasimar} are humanoids with an angelic spark in their souls, which grants them supernatural power. {@b Firbolgs} are forest guardians who prefer peaceful methods to protect their homes but take up arms if they must. {@b Goliaths} are hulking wanderers who dwell at the highest mountain reaches. {@b Kenku} are cursed bird folk, who still pay the price for an ancient betrayal. Dwelling in human cities, they have a sinister reputation for working as criminals. {@b Lizardfolk} sometimes venture from their swamp homes in search of treasure and glory. Inscrutable to their mammalian companions, they prove to be stout allies. {@b Tabaxi} are curious cat folk, who have journeyed from their distant homeland in search of interesting treasures and lore. {@b Tritons} are guardians of the ocean depths, who sometimes join people on land in the battle against evil.

The chapter also includes a section of monstrous character options that a DM can add to a campaign: {@b bugbear, goblin, hobgoblin, kobold, orc, and } {@b yuan-ti pureblood,} the stories of which are explored in chapter 1.

At the end of the chapter is a section that you can use to determine the height and weight of a character who is a member of one of the races in this chapter.

If you're the DM, including any of these races in your campaign is a storytelling opportunity, a chance for you to decide the roles that different peoples play in the tales you weave. You might decide that a race in this chapter is common in your world, that only a few members of it still live, or that it doesn't exist at all. Whatever you decide about the races, consider how they can enhance your stories.

Height and Weight

You may roll for your character's height and weight on the Random Height and Weight table. The roll in the Height Modifier column adds a number (in inches) to the character's base height. To get a weight, multiply the number you rolled for height by the roll in the Weight Modifier column and add the result (in pounds) to the base weight.

RaceBase HeightBase WeightHeight ModifierWeight Modifier
Aasimar4'8"110 lb.+{@dice 2d10}× ({@dice 2d4}) lb.
{@race Bugbear|VGM}6'0"200 lb.+{@dice 2d12}× ({@dice 2d6}) lb.
{@race Firbolg|VGM}6'2"175 lb.+{@dice 2d12}× ({@dice 2d6}) lb.
{@race Goblin|VGM}3'5"35 lb.+{@dice 2d4}× 1 lb.
{@race Goliath|VGM}6'2"200 lb.+{@dice 2d10}× ({@dice 2d6}) lb.
{@race Hobgoblin|VGM}4'8"110 lb.+{@dice 2d10}× ({@dice 2d4}) lb.
{@race Kenku|VGM}4'4"50 lb.+{@dice 2d8}× ({@dice 1d6}) lb.
{@race Kobold|VGM}2'1"25 lb.+{@dice 2d4}× 1 lb.
{@race Lizardfolk|VGM}4'9"120 lb.+{@dice 2d10}× ({@dice 2d6}) lb.
{@race Orc|VGM}5'4"175 lb.+{@dice 2d8}× ({@dice 2d6}) lb.
{@race Tabaxi|VGM}4'10"90 lb.+{@dice 2d10}× ({@dice 2d4}) lb.
{@race Triton|VGM}4'6"90 lb.+{@dice 2d10}× ({@dice 2d4}) lb.
{@race Yuan-ti Pureblood|VGM}4'8"110 lb.+{@dice 2d10}× ({@dice 2d4}) lb.