Creating Folklore Monsters for 5E D&D
Over at Nerdarhcy the YouTube channel Nerdarchists Dave and Ted shot a video response to Making Enemies in 5E Witchery from Zee Bashew. The idea is taking the way monsters and monster hunting are presented in the world of The Witcher and apply the concepts to 5E D&D. What I really dig about this approach is how it encompasses several components to help players create more engaging and exciting stories together with the Dungeon Master. Since we started playing a Nerdarchy team campaign last week with a fresh party of 1st level characters I thought it would be fun and useful to use the Witcher style monsters discussed in the videos by Zee Bashew and our own Dave and Ted to create a terrifying monster for the Adventurers of Adventure to face off against. So let’s get into it, lay down the ground rules and create a Witcher style monster for 5E D&D.
Crunchy Witcher style monsters
First off there are some ground rules for creating a Witcher style monster for 5E D&D described in the videos. This represents the crunchy part of the process. The goal for this monster is presenting an creature much more powerful than the adventurers can reasonably defeat in combat. A monster’s challenge rating marks the starting point for this process. A challenge rating indicates what level an appropriately equipped and well rested party of four adventurers ought to be to face a creature without suffering any deaths. We want our heroes to certainly face the very real possibility of death, perhaps in multiple! So the first thing we do is find the average level of the group, then add three to find the challenge rating for our monster.
I’m running the Nerdarchy team game for a party of four 1st level adventurers, so the Witcher style monster they’ll contend with is a CR 4. Using the handy D&D Beyond monster database I see there’s 88 CR 4 monsters. During our session zero the players expressed interest in giants and fey, and narrowing the field to these two creature types eliminates a whole bunch of monsters, leaving me with four to choose from: ettin, ogre battering ram, sea hag and yeth hound. All of these are fantastic options and would definitely make really exciting antagonists for beginning adventurers. Since we’ve already got giant presence in the campaign I’m digging a yeth hound.
Next we halve the hit points of the creature. It’s not specified whether to halve the suggested average hit points or the total possible hit points. So I’ll do both. Half of the average is 25 and half of the maximum is 39. My instinct tells me to go with the latter. Our Witcher style yeth hound will have several special defenses so this might be too many. I guess I’ll find out along with the characters.
On top of any traits from the creature stat block we’re going to add one resistance for every CR so this yeth hound will get four resistances. After working ahead and coming up with some story elements I came back and settled on cold, lightning, necrotic and poison resistance. The powerful folklore monsters also get one immunity for every 3 CR and since a yeth hound’s bite causes psychic damage it feels on brand to give this unique one psychic immunity. Worth noting a yeth hound’s default defenses include damage immunity to bludgeoning, piercing and slashing from nonmagical attacks that aren’t silvered, and immunity to the charmed, exhaustion and frightened conditions.
This yeth hound poses a significant challenge already! A variety of damage resistances and immunity to a damage type make hurting it at all tricky for spellcasters, plus immunity to nonmagic weapons that aren’t silvered puts martial characters at a serious deficit too. Fortunately the next step is giving the creature a damage vulnerability. I’m going to take inspiration from yeth hound lore straight out of Volo’s Guide to Monsters and make this special one vulnerable to radiant damage.
With all these additional traits, our Witcher style yeth hound makes a truly terrifying monster for a party of 1st level adventurers. Thankfully the players trust me as their DM to help them tell the story of their characters so they won’t feel completely hopeless after encountering this fey monster. If they indulge me this experiment and hang in there as 1st level characters perhaps a touch longer than they might otherwise advance I think we’ll all have a great time and create a memorable experience together.
Now that the crunchy part of creating this Witcher style monster is out of the way, the next part of the process gives adventurers some tools to defeat the creature. Even better, discovering and implementing these monster hunting tips offers ways to engage with the campaign setting through exploration and social interaction. The powerful monsters that emerge through this process mean heroes need a solid plan to defeat them, which involves luring the creature to an advantageous battleground and exploiting their weakness to defeat them. For this part we’ve got to delve into my favorite part of the video discussions.
Folklore monsters for 5E D&D
My biggest takeaway from the discussions of Witcher style monsters in 5E D&D is including folklore elements. The Monster Manual and other official books with monster entries does a wonderful job getting you started. In VGtM yeth hounds pop up in the section on hags as part of the Servants table, a selection of possible faithful, trusted helpers for a hag. Now we’re really getting somewhere. A story begins emerging for this singularly dangerous yeth hound.
A lure adventurers can use to coax a creature into an area where its more vulnerable makes a tremendous difference when the heroes face the monster. In the existing lore powerful fey grant yeth hounds to individuals as supernatural hunters. These evil creature hound prey relentlessly, until the sun rises. Yeth hounds cannot abide sunlight, which banishes them to the Ethereal Plane until their master can retrieve them after sunset.
There’s a ton here to draw on. Finding a suitable lure means the adventurers can try to figure out who the yeth hound hunts and using that information. Investigating this supernatural threat can take adventurers around the area meeting with locals who’ve heard the Baleful Baying at night, or even seen the insubstantial form of the creature from the Border Ethereal. Learning about the sunlight banishment might lead adventurers to try and track the creature and figure out where the location of its dark den. They could learn about yeth hound packs and the relationship with the master, and become curious about both. Where are the rest of the pack, and who commands the fearsome creature?
A big part of the appeal of folklore monsters is the superstitions and common wisdom of how to overcome them. In the video Dave mentions things like copper pennies pinning a creatures shadow to the ground, and in some folklore driving an iron nail into your home’s doorframe prevents supernatural entities from entering. In Zee’s video he talks about things like chewing a root to gain immunity to a creature’s effect, or how it might only be harmed by a blade buried in a grave for 10 years. I found a website listing a bunch of supernatural creatures from myth along with weaknesses and there’s a ton of ideas right there for your folklore monsters.
To really make things interesting, I might even incorporate the idea of villain actions for this yeth hound. The idea of villain actions is adding special turn based actions to a creature that creates an arc to a combat encounter. This is particularly useful for a solo creature because of the action economy — especially a creature with only a single attack action like the yeth hound. Check out more about villain actions here.
Since this Witcher style monster I’m creating with the yeth hound is for our Nerdarchy team game I don’t want to give away too much yet, but I’ve definitely got plenty of elements inspired by these videos to put a dynamic situation in front of the characters. I know these players well and I’m sure Dave, Ted, Megan and Steven will surprise me and create fun situations together surrounding our unique yeth hound. Behind the scenes I’ve already got a name and story for this monster and there’s people and places they can discover where they’ll find information and resources to overcome the challenge, if they decide to follow up on this particular adventure. Adventure logs tend to fill up pretty quickly in my 5E D&D games.
Before you head off to create your own Witcher style monster for 5E D&D, I’ll leave you with a clue about the yeth hound. Is it a clue to defeating the creature? A hint about its master? When it comes to folklore monsters you never know…
“A ship comes on a sea of bones, but treasure waits behind a silver skull.”