Quick introduction – this post will be about our Enhanced Monster-compendiums, a series of supplements we’re currently publishing on the DM’s Guild. I’ll talk a bit about why we feel like the monsters in the Monster Manual need to be enhanced, as well as show an example of how we’ve enhanced the marilith, my all-time favorite demoness. Alright, let’s get into it!
Simple enough or too simple?
When 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons came out nearly half a decade ago, arguably one of its greatest features were its easy-to-read, easy-to-use monster stat blocks. The monstrous statblocks of 3.5E and 4E had been trimmed down to the core and presented in an easy-to-read manner – perfect for new DMs to get into an entirely new era of D&D.
Five years, thousands of hours of D&D, and countless monster encounters later, the drawback of the simplistic creature design in 5E’s Monster Manual has become more and more apparent. A lot of the creatures simply aren’t very interesting – there’s only really one or two ways to play them.
While running Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus and painstakingly compiling monster stat blocks into PDFs for our DM’s resources, this issue became particularly apparent. Quite a few of the fiends in the Monster Manual seem like little more than sacks of hit points with no other choice to make in combat than attack or run away.
Now, while we can forgive the CR 1/4 giant badger for not being the most versatile and exciting combatant, it’s a bit more noticeable when higher CR creatures can only really do the same thing every turn. Ideally, we’d want combat with powerful fiends to be tactically challenging and engaging for both the players and the DM, and not just a mathematical equation of “X hit points” and “Y damage/turn”.
So, instead of just whining about it, what we have decided to do is go back to the Monster Manual and try to breathe some life into some of the creatures in it, by adding features, spells and action options to the statblocks.
As we do so, we take care to stay true to the Monster Manual’s guiding principle: features should follow the simplistic design of 5E, fit thematically to the creature, and a monster shouldn’t have too many of them – only enough for them to have different things to do. And, most importantly, the aim is always to expand the creatures’ tactical choices by making them more versatile without actually making them (too much) stronger.
Today we’ll give an example of this using my favorite demoness: the marilith.
I’ve always loved the marilith. A giant snake-lady doling out death and destruction with six longswords. What’s not to love?
In 5E, less than you’d think, actually.
The marilith clocks in at CR 16, has decent hit points, decent AC, good resistances, Truesight, a cool Parry-reaction and the ability to teleport. However, when it comes offense, the marilith has only one option: six longsword attacks and a tail attack. Every round. No exceptions.
While the marilith can certainly dish it out – if all attacks hit, it averages nearly 100 damage on its turn – it can only dish it out in that one, specific way (which, coincidentally, requires a lot of monotonous dice rolling on the DMs part!).
So, how can we enhance the marilith?
Luckily, we don’t need to do too much – we just need to give it that little something extra that makes the 3-5 rounds of combat it will be around for a bit more exciting. To do this, we’ve given it the Swath of Destruction-feature and a single casting of the spell Blade Barrier.
Swath of Destruction
This feature is a sort of dashing AoE, where the marilith moves forward in a straight line, slashing and knocking over enemies as it moves past – or through – them. It gives the marilith something to do when surrounded by multiple enemies, as well as a way to quickly close with pesky spellcasters and other ranged attackers. Damage-wise, Swath of Destruction will only compare with regular longsword attacks when the marilith can hit at least four enemies, so it’s not a feature the marilith will use every turn – which is exactly what we want.
This was a go-to-spell for the marilith in earlier editions, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be now as well. It’s perfect for shaping the battlefield – trapping enemies inside in a ring of blades with her, or dissuading the party from pursuing (or escaping!) her. And, because it’s a barrier of blades, it fits perfectly with the marilith’s theme.
The Complete Statblock
All-in-all, the enhanced marilith isn’t necessarily a stronger enemy – its damage output on a round-to-round basis haven’t changed much. But it should be a more interesting enemy, both for the DM and the players. An enemy that actually has options – and not an overwhelming amount of them, but just enough so that you don’t have to roll six longsword attacks every turn.
Visit the DM’s Guild for more enhanced monsters and join our mailing list if you want to keep up with what we’re doing, get early access to content, and special offers on new products. We’ll be publishing more of these in the near future.
J. A. Valeur