Welcome once again to the weekly Nerdarchy Newsletter. This week’s newsletter is all about creatures from the Far Realm, Xoriat, or even the famed city of R’lyeh. We’re exploring our D&D ideas about aberrations in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons.
Aberrations are bizarre and alien creatures. They are spawned from places of madness. It would be easy to insert the theme of aberrations into your game without even using a single monster stat block.
A fun way to do it would be to bring a little slice of the realms of madness to the world. The campaign setting of Eberron offers an interesting way of handling this:
“Eberron sits on the material plane, which is one of a myriad of planes of existence. Scholars speak of other planes of existence that orbit the material, or prime plane. As these planes draw closer to the material plane, they become coterminous. This act affects Eberron, infusing the material plane with the aspect of the plane becoming coterminous.”
It would be easy enough to implement this in your own D&D game world. Here are some suggestions.
The stars only align once every 1,000 years or more to open the way.
An arcane ritual performed brings the planes into alignment.
A child born under an auspicious sign will open the way to the realm of madness.
Want easy ways to represent a plane of madness merging with the realms of madness? Then look no further than the aberrations in 5E D&D and their lair and regional effects. Here’s a fantastic example straight from the Basic Rules.
When fighting inside its lair, an aboleth can invoke the ambient magic to take lair actions. On initiative count 20 (losing initiative ties), the aboleth takes a lair action to cause one of the following effects:
The aboleth castsphantasmal force (no components required) on any number of creatures it can see within 60 feet of it. While maintaining concentration on this effect, the aboleth can’t take other lair actions. If a target succeeds on the saving throw or if the effect ends for it, the target is immune to the aboleth’s phantasmal force lair action for the next 24 hours, although such a creature can choose to be affected.
Pools of water within 90 feet of the aboleth surge outward in a grasping tide. Any creature on the ground within 20 feet of such a pool must succeed on a DC 14 Strength saving throw or be pulled up to 20 feet into the water and knockedprone. The aboleth can’t use this lair action again until it has used a different one.
Water in the aboleth’s lair magically becomes a conduit for the creature’s rage. The aboleth can target any number of creatures it can see in such water within 90 feet of it. A target must succeed on a DC 14 Wisdom saving throw or take 7 (2d6) psychic damage. The aboleth can’t use this lair action again until it has used a different one.
The region containing an aboleth’s lair is warped by the creature’s presence, which creates one or more of the following effects:
Underground surfaces within 1 mile of the aboleth’s lair are slimy and wet and are difficult terrain.
Water sources within 1 mile of the lair are supernaturally fouled. Enemies of the aboleth that drink such water vomit it within minutes.
As an action, the aboleth can create an illusory image of itself within 1 mile of the lair. The copy can appear at any location the aboleth has seen before or in any location a creaturecharmed by the aboleth can currently see. Once created, the image lasts for as long as the aboleth maintains concentration, as if concentrating on a spell. Although the image is intangible, it looks, sounds, and can move like the aboleth. The aboleth can sense, speak, and use telepathy from the image’s position as if present at that position. If the image takes any damage, it disappears.
This is just one monster from the Basic Rules. There are handful other monsters not in the basic rules — 6 more to be exact. By mixing and matching regional and lair effects from these 7 monsters you can create the perfect madness on the prime material plane.
From Ted’s Head
Aberrations are things from beyond. They are so unlike the normal folk in the way they look but also in the way that they think. They are known for having tentacles, but what if that is all that they are? Enter the tentacled mass — a creature nothing more than a central mass with lots of tentacles reaching off of it in a variety of sizes and colors.
The creature is so alien as it has nothing that comes close to resembling a head or even a mouth. Because of this there are loads of rumors as to how the thing feeds or grows. Some theorize it absorbs what it considers food through its skin while other think it feeds on nothing more than the suffering of those it attacks.
The mass of tentacles is quite strong and those wishing to fight should know, with that many arms it is a danger to be up close. The size of such a creature allows it to easily hold onto many smaller creatures.
Large aberration, neutral evil
Armor Class 14 (Natural Armor)
Hit Points 114 (12d10 + 48)
Speed 30 ft.
STR 18 (+4) DEX 11 (+0) CON 19 (+4) INT 10 (+0) WIS 13 (+1) CHA 10 (+0)
Skills Athletics +7
Saving Throws CON +7
Senses Darkvision 120 ft., passive Perception 11
Languages Understands Deep Speech but does not speak
Challenge 5 (1,800 XP)
Many Armed. The tentacled mass has advantage on any Strength (Athletics) checks made to grapple. The tentacled mass can grapple up to 8 Medium or smaller creatures and not have its speed reduced while grappling.
Multiattack.The tentacled mass makes four tentacle attacks.
Tentacle. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 15 ft., one target. Hit: 8 (1d8 + 4) bludgeoning damage plus 4 (1d8) piercing damage. If the target is Medium or smaller, it is grappled (escape DC 14) and restrained until the grapple ends. A creature who ends its turn grappled by the mass takes 2 (1d4) bludgeoning damage
From the Nerditor’s Desk
When the adventurers in your D&D campaign are questing along, rescuing people from goblin bandits, investigating the abandoned lighthouse, or carousing at the tavern after putting an end to the curse of the ancient tomb, aberrations right there with them. Hiding just out of sight, aberrations can lurk in the shadowy corners of your campaign world, including those strange spaces between the planes.
Alien beings with unfathomable designs, aberrations can be a Dungeon Master’s best friend for introducing new wrinkles for adventurers to deal with in any campaign. Extraplanar or extraterrestrial, aberrations can show up anywhere unexpectedly. And when they do they can represent a leftover remnant of an ancient cosmic power laying dormant, signal an impending invasion of the prime material plane, or simply inject an element of chaos into your D&D multiverse.
Here are three ways you can put some weirdness into your D&D game using aberrations, using three tried and true scenarios: a kidnapped villager, a haunted building and a night at the inn.
The Horrible Truth. Goblins have taken the blacksmith’s child, and a party of burgeoning adventurers sets out to rescue them. But these goblins aren’t your typical bandits looking for ransom. And they aren’t taking people to use in some profane ritual to Maglubiyet. These goblins are slavers, with the worst of the worst masters — neogi. The neogi master pulling the strings uses the goblin bandits to keep a steady supply of slaves moving into the interplanar slave trade. Using the D&D Beyond encounter builder, a neogi master makes is hard encounter for a party of four 3rd-level characters, perfect for a boss at the end of a goblin bandit hideout. Neogi masters have high Intelligence, so this despicable slaver will be smart enough to know it ought to cut out if things go poorly. Perhaps our neogi master has fallen on hard times, without an umber hulk thrall. But they do stay close to their planar vessel, and manage to escape. The adventurers defeated the goblins, rescued and child, and put an end to this humanoid trafficking…for now.
You Saw What Now? No one has been inside the abandoned mansion for years. Once the home of a local lord, the place fell into decay after the tragic events that claimed the life of the noble family who lived there. Now the mansion sits, overtaken by twisting vines and kudzu. When people start to go missing, adventurers are hired to find the cause. The investigation doesn’t go too well, but a frantic villager stumbles into down gibbering incoherently. After they calm down they describe a disorienting wave of hopelessness that overcame them and a companion in the woods. They lost their companion in a desperate flight, and the trail leads back to the abandoned mansion. Inside, adventurers find something much different than they could have ever imagined — the inside of the house has been overtaken by the Far Realm. Trapped inside, it’s all they can do to keep their sanity intact, find the lost companion and escape. That is, if the star spawn mangler doesn’t hunt them down and kill them one by one.
What was in that Drink? Everything is going great at the tavern after a successful adventure. Pouches are filled with gold and tankards are filled with ale. The bard is up on stage performing (of course), the rogue is casing the room looking for easy marks, and the barbarian is comparing their Constitution with the dwarf in a drinking contest. All of a sudden, one of the townspeople pitches over backwards, clutching their chest in agony. Everyone watches in horror as a slaad tadpole chews its way through vital organs and out of the poor villager’s chest, killing them. At a Challenge Rating ⅛, the tiny aberration may pose very little threat to even 1st-level adventurers. But the implications are dire. It’s possible characters — and the players — may have no idea what slaadi are, and they’ll be in for quite a shock if they find out. The question is how did this villager get infected with a slaad egg in the first place?
As you can imagine, including aberrations to any encounter adds a whole other level of danger and strangeness. Aside from making combat encounters more interesting (aberrations tend to have a lot of psychic abilities and weird powers) aberrations represent a dangerous dynamic in your D&D world. And more than a few D&D aberrations have official content to support a long term campaign focused on them.
All three of these — neogi, star spawn and slaadi — include creatures with a wide variety in CR and really terrific material in their source books. Their plans are vast and they have great dispassion for other creatures, each in their own way. Neogi seek to enslave others, star spawn coldly consume sentient life and slaadi just straight up sow chaos across the multiverse.
If you’re looking to create your own aberration mythos for your D&D world, here’s another idea: an aberrant template. We created our own and stuck it in Secrets of the Vault: Monster Menagerie Vol. 1. It’s a suite of abilities you can add to any creature stat block to turn it into an aberration. This is a great way to represent a takeover attempt by an aberration like an aboleth, beholder, of the party warlock’s Great Old One Otherworldly Patron. Check ours out or make up your own, tailored just the way you envision the aberrations in your setting affecting victims. A commoner is a commoner is a commoner…except for that one trying desperately to conceal the tentacle where their arm is supposed to be.
But if you want to use aberrations without implicating a greater threat than a single encounter, D&D has you covered there too. Consider a serial strangler at large in the city, confounding the constabulary. Adventurers take on the case only to discover the culprit is a choker. And lots of people are familiar with the terrific encounter with a nothic in Lost Mine of Phandelver. For my money, the best one-off use for an aberration is during a cosmic cooking contest where one of the competitors doesn’t follow the recipe too well and a gibbering mouther bubbles and boils out of the pot. But that’s just me.