With D&D 5E here, especially with the Monster Manual on hand, I’ve been kind of mentally reviewing what is different about my campaign world now that I’m trying to stay as close to the party line as possible.
- Goblins! Instead of a million different humanoids I have goblins. In addition to normal, undersized Goblin Boggarts (which are hatched from eggs, kind of like in Harn) with their chiefs and shaman I have Hobgoblins as fully-grown, experienced goblins, Redcaps are elite goblins, and Black Goblins are sterile mules that are oversized shock troops. There are also the Border Goblins of the Shadowlands and the dreaded Ash Goblins with their Barghest leaders who serve the Lords of Dearth. Lastly, there are the Khazan, the Human-Goblin crossbreeds created during the Wars of Binding ages ago that live amongst both humans and goblins, vilified by the former and often leading the latter.
- Trolls! Yeah, instead of Hill Giants and Stone Giants, I have big trolls kind of like Tolkien’s. There are Marsh Trolls, Forest Trolls, Hill Trolls, Rock Trolls, Cave Trolls, and Sea Trolls. Rock and Forest Trolls are actually pretty civilized, while Marsh, Hill and Cave Trolls are primitive and either live in isolated family groups or live in service to various powerful personages. Trolls are often the biggest and baddest creatures that a group is likely to see – Ogres being much more common with their noble Fir Bolg, “High Ogre” antecedents less common but not unheard of while Giants (Formorian or Mountain) are relatively rare. It’s worth noting that one can also find Half-Trolls (and Half-Ogres for that matter) also, but they are rarer than Trolls themselves given the difficulty in birthing the child.
- Demons! My demons are elementals corrupted by exposure to the Dearth aka the Five Demon Emperors (aka Lovecraftian elder gods). So, as a result, there are Pyrodemons, Hydrodemons, Aerodemons, and Terrademons. There are also a whole variety of Dire Beasts, which are similarly corrupted animals and creatures. You want terrifying? Find out you have to fight a Dire Troll, or worse yet, a Dire Drake of some sort. Demons and the forces of the Dearth are the one thing pretty much everyone bands together to fight, good or evil. In fact, the two greatest schisms of the universe, the Fall of the Celestials (more of a Jump actually) and the Sundering of the Fae were actually rooted in practical and philosophical differences about how to pursue what is called “the War Without End” in the oldest of texts.
- Drakes! So, Dragons in my game are evidently what other games need a Tarrasque for. Forget that, I’m a former 1E-er, I always thought Dragons were wimpy in the game (though I recognize that changed sometime around 2E, pretty much after I stopped playing). So my dragons are homebrewed awfulness that are worthy of the name while I also have Greater (Winged) and Lesser (Wingless) Drakes that fill the role needed for large reptilian creatures that hoard treasure and that threaten civilization. The Greater Drakes are the flight-capable Fire, Storm, and Frost Drakes, as well as more vestigial-winged Swamp, Sand, Forest, and Sea Drakes – and there is a whole extra ecological niche of reptilian Drakes that are domesticated – Riding Drakes, War Drakes, Hunting Drakes, Hearth Drakes, etc.
- No Beholders, Mind Flayers, or Gith! Yeah, you heard me, none of those wonderfully iconic D&D monsters. Mostly because I just though Beholders were too weird, Mind Flayers didn’t really appeal to me (too much a copy of Cthulhu), and the Githyanki/Githzerai just seemed a bit off to me. But I did like some of the ideas involved – but wanted something that was even more terrifying – and so was born the Ichneumon Vorre, a horrific psychic, parasitic race that roams the Astral Space that reproduces like an Ichneumon Wasp, and also creates thralls by infecting them with their blood and creating a horrific, blood-sucking beast. They look like a cross between a Predator and an Alien. Then there is also the Old Race, a cannibalistic race of psychic proto-human hunters that roam the Astral in search of the Ichneumon Vorre, who consider everything else either beneath notice or worthy of hunting – and anything worth hunting is worth eating. The Old Race is human, but long changed by their travels in the Astral.
- No Drow! In my world, there is essentially a vague analogy to the Seelie and the UnSeelie Courts of the Fae. During the Sundering, the Sh’Achtar broke with their kin, and essentially created the Shadowlands to take the War Without End as close to the borders of the Dearth as possible. Or, after the cosmic upheaval that created the Shadowlands, the Sundered (as the term Sh’Achtar translates) took up residence there because of the differences they had with their brethren in Faerie. They are pale, not dark, and definitively the sort of Fae that you need to watch out for.
- Beastmen! To one eye, my Beastmen seem rather akin to the Jaghut of the Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steve Erikson. But my Beastmen (who call themselves “the Thal of Erkrath”) are rooted in the idea that the old “cavemen” from the 1E MM (obviously based on Neanderthals) were actually far wiser and far, far more than they seemed. Possessed of a powerful racial memory and orals histories that cover more history than anyone suspects the Beastmen have renounced civilization and magic as the root of all evil and live purposefully solitary and pastoral lives, far from any civilization. Despite this, and due to various Sorcerer-King liches that keep trying to be re-awoken or reborn, each tribe elects has a shaman who is burdened with learning the skills involved in magic and the like, so that various old bindings and spells can be maintained – and potential problems recognized before they become worse problems. I’ve never answered the question of what the relationship between the Beastmen and the Old Race is, but I do know that they are related, both being protohumans of a sort.
- Yaun-Ti! Yeah, I tweaked the crap out of these as well but in some ways the least amount when it came to official game statistics. Far to the south, live the serpent-venerating (and serpent-blooded) folk of the Great Empire of Ith. Descended from the slaves of and founded on the ruins of the great Serpathian Civilization, the Pure-blood Ithians rule the Empire, with their degenerate kin are hidden away. A culture of cults and intrigues, they are feared in much of the Known World and have a civilization to rival the Kistathians in historic and cultural richness but rival the Shadowlands in cruelty.
There is more of course, but those are the ones that come to mind as I’ve been reading the Monster Manual and making sense of it.