Author Archives: lackhand

About lackhand

I was born in 1984 and am still playing games, programming computers, and living in New York City.

Nine Hells; two editions

I wanted to do some comparison-shopping between D&D and pathfinder, so I whipped this up real fast. It’s pretty under-detailed.

Both D&D Pathfinder
1st Layer
Avernus Portal-strewn fireball wasteland Volcanic wasteland where souls are judged
Former: Bel (Pit fiend general); Current: Zariel (Burned angel) Barbatos (Ragged tentacled hobo)
2nd Layer
Dis Iron City in a wasteland Similar
Dispater: humanoid devil type with control issues Same
3rd Layer
Minauros: Bog; acid rain; Jangling Hiter Erebus: Sewers of Dis, counting houses
Mammon: Serpent with human torso Mammon: Wealth-possessing spirit
4th Layer
Phlegethos / Phlegethon Fiery wasteland, torture plain (Soul-)Forges of hell
Fierna and Belial, incestuous Belial; shapeshifting construct
5th Layer
Stygia Freezing cold Temples & Libraries of sin & heresy
Levistus (frozen prince) and Geryon (bat-winged snake, though as a vestige a triple oni) Geryon: snake coils, with a triple body above
6th Layer
Malbolge Avalanches & Copper fortresses; now Hag Countess Ossuary Smouldering forest of false reward
Former: Beherit (Destroyed), Moloch (generic fiend), Hag Countess Malagard (turned into geography); current: Glasya (daughter of Asmodeus) Moloch: Flaming bull armor
7th Layer
Maladomini: Ruins and despoil Cocytus: Frozen hell
Baalzebul Slug-punished perfectionist Cloud of flies; prince of Hell
8th Layer
Cania/Caina SUPER frozen hell of lost cities Iron torture hell with sentient darkness
Mephistopheles Lord of hellfire Same, but linked to his plane
9th Layer
Nessus Rifts and Malsheem, the citadel of hell Desolate volcanic wasteland

Everyone that I would like to poison is immune

I’ve posted about my vision of the great cities of Hell before.

Hell, you see, is other people. But D&D has enough magic in it that it’s not just people-people; it’s hornéd and scaléd devils, undead liches and wights.

So let’s talk about these creatures. You have your diabolic metropolis. You have your crèche of the undead. These are creatures for whom life is cheap; the zombies have no sense of self, the liches rejuvenate, the devils literally respawn. This is a setting where an assassin’s guild would fit, because knifing someone in the dark is only moderately aggressive.

And I had this whole thing! The Master of Poisons as the center of power! And you can sort of kind of squint and do it, because maybe they do potions too, and maybe some potions (Enlarge/Reduce stuck on reduce, gaseous form if it isn’t labeled, and so forth) make interesting not-quite-poisons, and so on. But mostly: devils are immune to poison. Most undead are immune to poison.

Back to the drawing board.

G: Gargoyle


A beast who references adamantine weapons (which exist in the monster manual but not the DMG), the Terran language (which exists in the monster manual but not the PHB), and which bites and claws.

I don’t object to a bite and a claw; I don’t object to its ludicrous defensive statistics. I’m kind of curious now whether I should just use them instead of ogres in my game (same CR, similar hit points, nearly impenetrable, though its attacks are far less likely to hit or damage; more interesting). This same-slotting feels like an accident, since they’re super defensive monsters — looking at it that way, they kind of seem boring, though of course you’ll actually end up killing them with a few well-placed fireballs, since they burn as normal.

Terry Pratchett’s Trolls of Discworld are well-represented as gargoyles; silicate monsters with impenetrable skin. Okay, they can’t fly, and that matters a lot, and they’re taller, but they definitely look a lot like this. In his first book, the Trolls are unrecognizable rocks until they start moving, like the Gargoyle’s False Appearance. Implies maybe a Heavy Gargoyle (no flight speed, better strength & multiattack).

Variant: Uninflammable Gargoyles

Lose their damage resistances; +2 their AC, 1.5x their hit points, and have vulnerability to adamantine weapons. They’re horrible rock monsters; why do magic weapons even damage them anyway?

It’s just a statue — said no one, ever

Does anyone get fooled by their False Appearance? I guess you can have the odd Angel-statue-based Gargoyle; the standard stats but with a facelift. But after your first statue-into-ambush encounter, when you see a statue of a snarling beast, I think you probably smash it, then find somewhere to snipe the medusa from in case it really was a snarling beast. The Gargoyle’s appearance works for a player’s first-ever encounter, and is worthless thereafter.

Variant: Animating Gargoyles

Are earthly animating spirits. They have the Rejuvenation trait as a Revenant, inhabiting the worked-but-twisted stones of ruins. Their False Appearance is not them holding so still as to pose as a statue, but literally creating a form from rock. It takes a bonus action for their ethereal form to become material.

Smash statues and you get no benefit. But true sight can still see them.


The name “gargoyle” shares its etymology with “gargle” — they’re downspouts. If they’re not a downspout, they’re technically a “grotesque”. So here are some spitting gargoyles:

Variant: Spitting Gargoyles

Lacking their bretheren’s Damage Resistances, Spitting Gargoyles resist acid damage, and can spit acid with a 60 foot range, one or two adjacent targets makes a DC 10 Dexterity save to negate, 7 (2d6) acid damage.

Other gargoyles might vomit more exotic substances with different effects — poison, fire, or glue might be popular.

On Fiendish Wings

5e’s choice to make gargoyles elementals is a little funny to me. I think it was shaped by older lore — were they always enemies of the Aarakocra? But I could just as easily make a case for construct (think Hunchback of Notre Dame) or fiend (it is, after all, how they’re described).

I don’t mind that they’re elementals, but it points at some funny issues — the SRD-absent spined devil (a ranged flying foe at CR 2, hmm, yes…), my obsession with the category of imp, and the fact that they’re flying stone monsters (which triggers my “elemental monsters should channel the element they’re made of, and rocks don’t fly”).

If you make the Gargoyle a fiend, it’s no longer a valid target for Conjure Elemental, and I don’t mean to minimize that. But if you’re going to summon a flying elemental, I’d much rather it be air-typed, so that’s not the worst thing happening.

F: Fungi


I really like fungi in my D&D. I feel like others do too; Out of the Abyss had an extended section on underdark flora, and Zuggtmoy (Demon Lord of Humongous Fungus Amongus) featured heavily.

Okay, but, SRD gives us the Shrieker and the Violet Fungus. Let’s talk about those.

My problem with modern incarnations on the Shrieker is how heavily dependent on random encounters it is — I don’t see why it stayed a creature, because it’s 100% a trap, and only a trap if the random encounter table exists to back that up.

In 5e, by default: the random encounter table does not exist to back that up.

I suppose I should publish good dungeon-stocking random tables; that would be a good widget, but grossly unsuitable for this heading.

Both monsters have blindsight — automatic protection against invisibility! That implies that if you’re a good dungeon denizen who fears certain types of encroachment, you plant them along the edges of your demense. It also, to me, implies:

Ghost Fungus
Medium plant, unaligned
Armor Class 5
Hit Points 18 (4d8)
Speed 5 ft.

3 (−4) 1 (−5) 10 (+0) 1 (−5) 3 (−4) 1 (−5)

Condition Immunities blinded, deafened, frightened
Senses blindsight 30 ft. (blind beyond this radius), passive Perception 6
Challenge 1/4 (50 XP)

False Appearance. While the fungus remains motionless, it is indistinguishable from an ordinary fungus.
Ghost Touch. The fungus can use its blindsight to perceive the ethereal plane. It can make touch attacks against targets on the material or ethereal planes.


Multiattack. The fungus makes 1d4 Rotting Touch attacks.
Rotting Touch. Melee Weapon Attack: +2 to hit, reach 10 ft., one creature. Hit: 4 (1d8) necrotic damage.

Can you believe I didn’t add that random multiattack line — that’s always been there? That’s awesome!

E: Ettin


I overstep my bounds here: the ettin is a marvelous monster, a two-headed giant with a flexible CR 4 and the delightful “wakeful” trait which does not specify natural sleep, and so grants an immunity to all sorts of sleep effects.

(I’m getting to the overstep thing)

Demogorgon. The riven demon, the dual-baboon-headed tentacled deity of dissolution and madness; Aemul and Hethrediah forever at each others’ (ahem) throats. As demon lords go, I like Demogorgon, who is suitably weird. I have a hard time seeing Demogorgon served by D&D’s demons, which is a plus in my book: Orcus has ghouls and liches, Juiblex has slimes; Lolth has spiders and Handmaidens; Graz’zt has lamiae. Demon lords and demons are practically unrelated, and that’s great. Demogorgon has multiheaded monsters, and jungle or aquatic servitors. I love it.

The Ettin is in the SRD. Quite reasonably, Demogorgon is not. And the Ettin makes me think of nothing so much as that particular slice of RPG history.

(that’s the overstep thing)

Okay, so there’s the obvious sidebar here:

This thing has two heads

Any creature can be made bicapital by giving it the Ettin’s two heads and wakeful traits, as well as adding an additional attack to its multiattack panoply — a bite attack, ideally, but an arm attack if that’s not possible.

But that’s not Demogorgon-y enough.

Riven Giant

Giants are grossly corporeal creatures. Any giant (but especially hill giants) reduced to 0 hit points by a blow to the head may find their skull cloven in twain; if they don’t die, the recovered ettin is quite mad with pain, but the two grisly halves of the head often pick up where the single giant had left off.

This is obviously quite disturbing.

Still not Demogorgon-y enough.

Abyssal Gaze

Some giants — especially ettins — are madness-touched. As an action and as part of their multiattack, they can use an insanity gaze, duplicating the effects of an umber hulk’s gaze until the start of their next turn.

Ettins with the abyssal can make this attack twice, once for each head.

Reasonably demogorgon-y.

But really, the orc-headed two-headed giant stands alone (or, ahem, in pairs), heads and shoulders above the rest. Isn’t that enough?

E: Ettercap


I love the ettercap. Well, that’s not perfectly accurate: I love spider monsters, and this is our first spider monster, and it has a name that’s fun to say. And what a spider monster the ettercap is, because they have an intelligence of 7 and speak no languages. These creatures substitute for the bugbear: stealthy, vicious, low intelligence, nets and garrotes.

3.X/Pathfinder suggests several traps they might build around their lair, capture-nooses and deadfalls and such. I like the idea that the ettercap lays traps, and indeed the 5e ettercap entry has a variant box with web garrote, which works just right (roll20’s copy has the garrote included). These previous editions also let the ettercap speak common, I note. How do they learn common? Who is holding conversation with them in their parlors? Are they up-to-date on slang?

I’m betting if they have treasure, it comes entirely from selling rope, silk, 50 ft. coils; I’m betting that they sneak into cities under cover of night and under a coat, all glowing eyes in the wrong places and mandible-based speech impediments.

Variant: Ettercap Trader

Speaks common and can craft goods from its silk and, to a lesser degree, chitin. They wear filthy silk cloaks and wraps to pose as humanoids.

Spiders are arachnids. Crabs are arachnids. Aquatic ettercaps, with one big claw and one little claw and a shell made of an old tin can?

Variant: Marine Ettercap

Has a swim speed of 30 ft., an AC of 16, loses its climb speed, traits and actions. It has multiattack (big + little claw). Its big claw deals 11 (2d8+2) piercing damage and a grab; its little claw 7 (2d4+2) damage. At the beginning of its turn a creature grabbed by its big claw takes 11 (2d8+2) damage.

On the other hand, you are what you eat:

Variant: Spider-species Ettercap

Some ettercaps adopt the features of their spider-charges. In particular, you might give the ettercap a CR of 3, and one of the following traits based on spider type:

  • Phase spider: Ethereal Jaunt. As a bonus action, the ettercap can magically shift fromt he Material Plane to the Ethereal Plane, or vice versa.
  • Giant wolf spider: Paralytic Poison. A creature failing the save against the ettercap’s bite by 5 or more is paralyzed while poisoned. A creature reduced to 0 hit points is poisoned for 1 hour, even after regaining hit points.
  • Leaping spider: Standing Leap. The ettercap’s long jump is up to 30 feet and its high jump is 15 feet, with or without a running start.
  • Spitting spider: Venom Web. Any creature beginning its turn in contact with the spider’s web takes 4 (1d8) poison damage and must succeed on a DC 11 Constitution save or be poisoned for 1 minute. A creature no longer in contact with the web can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of tis turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.

Per wikipedia, “It has been suggested that ettercaps are the descendants of a group of mad druids”. I’m not sure I’d really want to chase that line of plot where it leads, because druids just don’t scream spiders to me. But I guess if you have humanoid and bestial features, druids beat alternative origin stories.

E: Elf (Drow)

Elf (Drow)

We’re all agreed this should be a fey creature, right? Yeah. So that’s obvious. These don’t count as humanoids, since they’re fey, so I can fit them into this series.

Call this thing we’re making here Elf (Eldest).

Trow: Nasty, Brutish, and Short

A digression on etymology. The word is older than gaming and, like many references to “dark elves” seems to point at what D&D ends up calling dwarves or goblins. Or, frankly, mythologically-speaking, trolls. They do live underground in “trowie knowes”, so I can understand the underdark connection, but it’s at best a jumping off point.

I’m not interested in using the drow to rehabilitate that sensibility. We can just use goblins or something. I’m more interested in using the drow’s stats to represent the same niche the non-SRD Eladrin points at: the sidhe, the Fair Folk, the Others. Call them “Eldest”, the unbroken culture of Chaotic Neutral True Elves.

Elfshot: Drow Sleep Poison’s Mythological Basis

So where did Greyhawk’s drow get their sleep poison? Anglo-Saxon medical journals on elfshot. Why does it knock you unconscious? So that the unfair drow ambush doesn’t end the campaign.

But for the Eldest, that doesn’t work for me. So instead of envenoming their weapons, elven ranged weapon attacks gain this trait:

Elfshot. A creature taking damage from an elfshot weapon must succeed on a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or else become magically intoxicated for 1 minute (1 hour if the saving throw is failed by 5 or more). While intoxicated, the creature suffers disadvantage on intelligence, wisdom and charisma checks and saving throws.

There are countermeasures:

Elfshot countermeasures. If an elfshot wound has iron or steel touched to it (as an action), then the victim can repeat their saving throw against the effect.

Mechanically Modeling the Elvest Eldes

They don’t live underground.

That means they get regular 60 ft. (instead of 120 ft.) darkvision, lose their Sunlight Sensitivity trait, and don’t cast darkness.

Instead of darkness, they cast misty step 1/short rest. There are other abilities we might prefer (particularly invisibility (self only)), but for compatibility with The World’s Greatest Roleplaying Game, this is probably the right move.

But they absolutely need a vulnerability to iron. Damage vulnerability would be overkill (literally; they have only 13 hit points), so instead let’s give them a trait:

Iron Sensitivity. If the elf touches iron or steel, they cannot use their Innate Spellcasting trait, cannot use Elfshot, and has disadvantage on concentration checks until the end of their next turn.

Elves use a lot of brass and bronze and silver and mithril, is all I’m saying.

They don’t envenom their weapons with drow sleep poison, but instead use elfshot, as above.

The arms of the Fair Folk

Standard D&D drow gear is often made of “underdarkium”, and rots on contact with the sunlit lands. So too with the arms of the Eldest; it’s stuff which is enchanted by the glades of Arborea or the moonlit nights of Arvandor, but the same principle applies; 1 hour of sunlight destroys them, as does going more than 30 days without being exposed to moonlight.

The songs of the Fair Folk

Perhaps your drow deal poison damage on their attacks. I recommend that they simply substitute psychic damage (creatures resistant to fear or charm take half damage, creatures immune to fear or charm take none).

This still leaves a band of fair folk in a weird place, because I’ve given them this elfshot ability that makes targets susceptible to mental attack, but have NOT given them any ability to leverage this. Sure, disadvantage on a raft of checks is itself pretty bad; it covers Wisdom (Perception) checks so maybe they can sneak around, etc. Sure, it means that a band of Eldest carries a harpy or a satyr piper or a wizard in their number and makes hay out of the weakened stature of their victims.

But I still might let a band cooperatively create a hypnotic pattern:

Hypnotic Song

A band of at least 5 elves within 30 feet of each other can use their actions to sing and dance cooperatively, concentrating on the effect. If they do so, one of their number casts hypnotic pattern without using a spell slot (if the elf does not already have a saving throw DC, it is 11). An elf may cooperatively concentrate on the effect by spending a bonus action on each of their turns to continue singing and maintain the effect; they cannot rejoin if they stop for any reason and the effect ends if there are not at least 2 elves concentrating on it.

Once an elf has participated in the song, they cannot do so again until they finish a short rest.