Remember how monsters were such a big thing in the ’90s and early aughts? If you grew up in that time (like I did) then you’d be hard pressed to have avoided any number of monster themed TV shows, games and the like. Shows like Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark, Animorphs and many more showcased monsters in a variety of contexts from creepy to vicious to the occasional twist or subversion of the benevolent monster. And then you had the genre that really grabbed my young attention and held it for hours — monsters as allies and companions. I remember waking up at the ghastly hour of 5 a.m. many days just to watch Monster Rancher (now on Amazon Prime and I’m stoked!). As soon as I got off school I watched Pokémon then Digimon before starting on homework. Something about having a loyal friend just as big and scary as the things opposing the main characters made those shows special. It made it feel like the heroes had a real shot at winning, and it gave into the power fantasy of fighting fire with fire. It also helped teach me not to judge people and situations by initial impressions. After all, if the heroes in my favorite shows and games could befriend monsters, maybe making friends in general wasn’t as scary as I often felt.
5E D&D monsters and alignment
Looking back on things I can see how the monster friend shows and games I took in as a kid really shaped me as a person today and that’s exactly why I think it’s so important to present monsters of all alignments in Dungeons & Dragons. Thankfully, if you’re like me and want to incorporate benevolent monsters into your games, Nerdarchy has you covered with the Bestiary of Benevolent Monsters!
Alignment is more important than you think. Now, obviously an easy solution if you want some benevolent monsters in your games is to simply change the alignment of an existing creature from evil or neutral to neutral or good but then you have a host of other problems. D&D is all about mechanics supporting flavor and if you only change a creature’s alignment you may stumble onto abilities the evil creature has that make no sense for a good creature, and learning this in the middle of a game is a disaster waiting to happen. Nobody wants to fumble around trying to excuse a faux pas.
When it comes to monster alignment it plays a much more crucial role than in your standard character’s sheet. So let’s break down why certain creatures have certain alignments and how that impacts their play.
Evil monsters: The stereotype
First we’ll start with evil creatures. These monsters are actively harmful. They may or may not be malicious to various degrees but they actively cause harm without cause. Unlike animals, which are neutral and kill or hunt for food or lash out from fear, evil monsters kill for sport and lash out at anything entering their domain simply because it entered their area.
Bear in mind (no pun intended) many animals lash out at creatures in their territory, but this is usually out of fear or instinct. Evil creatures in D&D have a degree of sentience and intention about their actions. They know what they’re doing is wrong at least on some level or they’re aware their actions cause unnecessary harm and yet they continue with those actions.
Evil monsters may or may not be able to be reasoned with but they will always try to win an interaction and gain the upper hand even if there’s no real conflict outside of the one they perceive. In general evil creatures are selfish and unnecessarily competitive or aggressive.
Neutral monsters: Scarier animals and mythological wonders
Secondly there are neutral creatures. More often than not these creatures don’t have an awareness of the concepts of cosmic good and evil. Things like owlbears are essentially animals, but scarier. Most neutral monsters live according to their instincts or to some grand purpose for which they were created in the first place. If they have a degree of self awareness they may be able to be reasoned with and if they speak no languages they’re generally more like animals and can be bargained with on a more primal level with food, water, cuddles and so forth.
Unlike evil and good monsters, neutral monsters are always predictable. They will act with patterns. Even the chaotic ones will act either according to instinct or to their purpose because that purpose is individual. Neutral monsters can be trained and they may fall on either side of a conflict either out of necessity or out of self preservation. They may even have been convinced to ally with one side over another. Circumstances dictate much of a neutral monster’s actions as opposed to an individual sense of moral allegiance.
Good monsters: Champions and friends
While the header of this title presumes you’re running a good aligned game, good monsters care about cosmic good and the well being of others. There are woefully few monsters in D&D that possess the good alignment and it’s this niche the Bestiary of Benevolent Monsters fills.
Good aligned creatures may send the party on quests or provide knowledge. They may bestow treasures and magic items or they may offer support or insight. If the party is caught doing something of questionable morality against the monster they also make excellent nuanced antagonists.
Along the lines of antagonist monsters, one interesting notion is to make a benevolent monster slip into the role of a villain. Good people can be made to do evil things if enough is at stake. Suppose the monster’s child or mate is at risk, or perhaps they risk losing the relic they vowed to protect and can only regain it by serving the evil force that stole it? This does subvert the most interesting thing about benevolent monsters though, and that’s their potential to be allies. The Bestiary of Benevolent Monsters takes these factors into account and provides tips and suggestions for how to incorporate them into your campaign. This could be represented by misunderstandings or machinations of more nefarious (and evil aligned) monsters.
One nifty idea for a campaign I’ve thrown around is the notion of running a monster taming sort of game. In it, maybe the heroes are all Beast Master rangers (I know what you’re thinking but hear me out) and they start with low CR monsters as companions. In order to incentivize the Beast Master perhaps monsters in this campaign resist all damage that doesn’t come from other monsters? Thus the characters need to use their actions as Beast Masters to command their own creatures. For an added splash of fun maybe your players’ monsters each know a cantrip, which is their signature move or perhaps part of the quest is finding and teaching your monsters new cantrips and even some spells?
When the creatures need to grow stronger and the campaign becomes bigger in scope, maybe your players need to befriend more monsters of higher CR or maybe their existing monsters evolve or otherwise transform into new, more powerful (higher CR) creatures? Man, now I just want to run this campaign as I’m writing about it. ^-^ [NERDITOR’S NOTE: And I want to play in this campaign!!!]
At any rate, good monsters offer a lot of potential for storytelling and intrigue. Regardless of whether you’re allying with these benevolent monsters or raising them as your own, the Bestiary of Benevolent Monsters is sure to have something to inspire your monster themed campaigns and sessions!
What do you think?
Have you read the Bestiary of Benevolent Monsters? What are your thoughts on running monster themed campaigns and adventures? Do you have a memorable RPG story about a monster encounter? We want to hear from you in the comments! If you’re not signed up for Nerdarchy the Newsletter, you can do so and a special coupon code to use in the store for Bestiary of Benevolent Monsters or anything else plus get weekly tips, news and even more ways to save money on RPG stuff delivered right to your inbox by signing up here. You can find the Bestiary of Benevolent Monsters and other great materials for your own games in the Nerdarchy Store here.