What Do I Know About First Impressions? Handimonsters Patreon (5e OGL)

Picture1When I finished my review of Beowulf: Age of Heroes, I started following Handiwork Games for any future news about their projects. In doing so, I came across their Patreon, Handimonsters. This patreon publishes multiple monthly monsters for members, so I decided to check it out.

No, I’m not obsessed with D&D monsters. Why would you say that, and no, you can’t look at my bookshelves and count the number of different bestiaries I have.

In my defense, it’s often a unique and interesting monster that catches my attention that will fuel my desire to work up a scenario around that creature, so monsters are as much about plot hooks for me as they are challenges to throw at player characters.

Patreon Details

The Patreon currently has the following tiers:

  • $3–Three monsters, plus the free monster published every month, in PDF form
  • $6–Art prints, digital art assets, VTT tokens, fold up mini-PDFs
  • Both tiers include access to the previous 3 months of content and to their Discord server

When I say that these monsters are provided in PDF form, I mean that each page looks like a page straight out of a well-produced, professional bestiary, with colorful, detailed artwork, details about the monster, and a stat block. These are impressively formatted and illustrated pieces.

The Monsters I’ve Seen

The following monster are those that I have access to and have looked at from the Patreon:

Flame Bones CR 6 Undead
Blazedog CR 1 Beast
Bog Bug CR 2 Beast
Conceptor CR7 Fey
Flesh Fungus CR 6 Plant
Flesh Fungus Swarm CR 1/2 Plant
Glass Spider CR 7 Fey
Heartwood Sprite CR 1/2 Fey
Jump Rat CR 1/2 Beast
Moat Terror CR 9 Aberration
Mudmaster CR 2 Monstrosity
Rumorvine CR 5 Plant
Screamer CR 1 Beast
Shademoss CR 6 Plant
Skienweaver CR 5 Fey
Swamp Octopus CR 8 Aberration

Each one of these is illustrated, and the individual PDFs are generally one page, with a second page containing the 5e OGL statement. The Flesh Fungus spreads out to two pages, with the two stat blocks on the first page, and the artwork on the second.

I appreciate that, right from the start, many of these creatures are beasts, fey, or plants, because I love getting more of those creature types. I especially appreciate designers that can embrace the concept of “no, it’s not an animal that does exist, but it’s one that could exist, so let’s just make it a beast instead of a monstrosity or anything else.” That said, I’m not sure any dogs would naturally learn how to burst into flames.

You can get a lot of mileage out of a monster that has a decent attack bonus and damage and does the right kind of damage to an opponent, as well as having some appropriate resistances. That may be a functional approach, but not the most exciting. There is more to that with most of these monsters.

Flame bones can cause more damage by throwing more of itself into an attack, and thus damaging itself. Shademoss have a special attack that works if characters suffer from a particular condition. The bogbug puts a new spin on causing party members to attack one another but allowing someone affected by the ability to make tough choice to act normally. Heartwood sprites have an ability that plays with the idea of not accepting food or drink from the fey. The blazedog can set itself on fire and spend bonus actions causing that fire to burn with more intensity.

The Skeinweaver, Glass Spiders, and Conceptors are all fey connected to dreams, with some dabbling in fate or inspiration. Skeinweavers remind me of one of my all-time favorite D&D monsters, the Spellweavers, being mysterious insectoid creatures examining the nature of reality. I love the story elements in these monsters, such as Conceptors sometimes accidentally being brought into the material plane by those they are inspiring waking up too quickly.

Picture2Mechanical Animals

I am not going to pretend that I am a master of the math of monster design, and even the guidelines presented in the Dungeon Masters Guides are apparently not the full extent of the secret knowledge imparted to WOTC monster makers. That said, I did want to look at where these monsters fall in the design parameters set in the DMG.

Of all the monsters, the Swamp Octopus is the closest to being in line with the AC, hit points, bonus to hit, and save DCs outlined for its CR. The Swamp Octopus has “kicker” to its attacks that might warrant bumping up the CR, or dropping some of the stats, but the fact that it can lose attacks by losing tentacles means that it’s expected damage progression can also be modified over the course of the encounter.

The save DCs for special abilities are almost always spot on with what is suggested in the DMG, with most matching exactly, and a few being a point or two above or below. Armor class swings to above or below depending on the creature in question.

Hit points are, across the board, low for the individual challenge ratings. I’m a little concerned that some of these things will get knocked out of a fight before they can do their special tricks, if they happen to roll lower on initiative than multiple party members.

Interestingly, “to hit” bonuses are consistently higher than standard. I’m wondering if that’s a conscious design decision to make sure the monsters can reliably do what they need to do. Maybe that, coupled with the lower hit points, are meant to ensure that the monsters don’t stick around too long, but have a better than average chance at succeeding at their attacks.

It’s also worth noting some of these monsters do things that do mess with the overall math. Skeinweavers and conceptors have abilities that mess with advantage and disadvantage, and the Shademoss has lower damage than its CR would indicate but generates sporelings that change the action economy and number of attacks. Bogbugs are another one that is hard to judge just based on baseline abilities, because they have special abilities that inflict conditions or play with exhaustion, which is a powerful ability in 5e.

I’ll be interested to see how much survivability these creatures have in real encounters. If worst comes to worst and I’m right about being way under hit point expectations, I can always see how they do with maxed out hit points. That said, with the number of spells, classes, and subclasses in D&D, these aren’t things that are easy to eyeball, and I don’t want to discount any playtesting the designers went through with these creatures.

Final Thoughts

I’m really excited about this Patreon. I love monsters, and so far, most of these jumped out at me as creatures I want to work into a narrative at some point in time. Many of them have fun rules widgets to play with, and they have enough background material to make it easy to center them in a narrative, or to know what kinds of narratives these creatures will compliment.

Looking forward to seeing the months ahead.

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