What Do I Know About Reviews? Bloodied & Bruised: Monster Manual (DMs Guild Product)
While D&D 4th edition remains the only version of D&D that I have played, but not DM’d, I did spend a lot of time pouring over the monsters and mechanics in the game. One of my favorite developments from 4e was the Bloodied condition. In some ways, it delivered on what D&D has said across multiple editions, providing you with a point at which you can say “okay, 50% of those hit points were just glancing blows and getting worn out, now is when things get serious.”
In addition to creating a benchmark that players could track in their progress against a dangerous foe, making Bloodied a formal condition also meant that mechanics could trigger off the condition. Are you worried that your dragon won’t get to unleash its breath weapon because things are going too well for the player characters? Once they get it Bloodied, it’s going to unleash a breath weapon one way or another.
Bloodied exists in D&D 5e, but as an optional rule mentioned in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and then only for purposes of tracking how badly damaged a creature is by looking at them. While I have used it for this purpose in my 5e games, I have missed the idea that creatures would get the chance to lash out when they start taking real harm.
D&D 5e didn’t port over the mechanics of actions triggered with the Bloodied condition, but it did start to play with interposing opponent turns between player character turns with Legendary actions, and creating a narrative trigger for environmental effects with Lair Actions. More recently, it has even played with rules for evolving how a monster engages in a fight, by creating Mythic Actions, which rejuvenates a monster at 0 hit points while adding additional options to their combat abilities.
. . . And That Brings Us To
Now, what we’re going to look at today is Bloodied & Bruised: Monster Manual, a Dungeon Masters Guild product that gives more emphasis to the Bloodied condition, using it both as a trigger for additional actions, and a status that grants new options to some monsters when they reach the state.
How it Measures Up
Bloodied and Bruised: Monster Manual is an 88-page PDF. That includes an ad for other DMs Guild products from the author and a three-page table of contents. Everything else in the book pertains to the topic of the product.
The PDF is nicely formatted, with red and white borders, and a dual-column layout with clear headers and sub-headers. The monsters are listed in the product in the same order that they appear in the Monster Manual.
What’s Being Added
There are several different types of mechanics being added in these entries, broadly summarized with the following descriptions:
- “While Bloodied” Conditions which may add new attacks, resistances, or other abilities
- “When First Bloodied,” an action which triggers when the creature first reaches the bloodied condition
- Death Throws, which are present for some monsters currently, that trigger when the monster reaches 0 hit points
Some abilities might grant the monster a new strength, like gaining regeneration, tougher armor class, or changing a resistance to an immunity. Other abilities are frailties, which are a new hindrance that affects the monster once it is badly injured.
The text notes that creatures with 10 or fewer hit points probably shouldn’t be given Bloodied abilities, since they aren’t really designed to last very long. I’m inclined to agree, as even a few of the creature that do get Bloodied abilities feel like they are getting more of a buff than they probably need for the narrative role they are likely to play.
Some of the abilities that are the most game-changing are the bloodied conditions that recharge a monster’s limited use abilities. That encourages a DM to use those abilities early and makes it much more likely they will get to be used more than once. This is an interesting paradigm shift, given the timing I hear mentioned often in D&D discussions.
For example, many people will cite that a fight with a challenging opponent may still only last three rounds. I’ve had fights go much longer, and I think mine might skew a bit more towards four rounds, but that’s only a minor change to the assumed math. A monster ability that recharges on a 5-6 is unlikely to recharge until a fourth round of combat, and a monster ability that recharges on a 6 is really unlikely to come into play more than once in a fight.
Another recharge ability granted to some monster’s worthy of some encounter math noodling is recharging Legendary Actions. On one hand, this is going to be tricky, because Legendary Actions can only be used after an opponent takes their turn, meaning that when a monster gets Bloodied is going to limit how long they must use their newly recharged Legendary Actions. However, what this does is free up the creature to use some of those Legendary Actions that would normally take two or three of their Legendary actions.
It’s worth noting that none of the Bloodied conditions restore Legendary Resistance (which I think is a good thing–that’s a resource that’s good to have but can be detrimental to player fun when it gets rolled out too often).
Fight or Flight
Depending on the creature, there are abilities that allow the monster more mobility, or grant them the ability to make an immediate attack as a reaction. In a few cases, creatures that have a ranged weapon are granted both. They gain the ability to move without provoking opportunity attacks and get to make a ranged attack after they clear out.
I appreciate that these additional abilities still require a reaction, so they don’t entirely break the action economy of the game, just provide an additional vector for using a resource the creature already has. That also means that there are going to be times when the creature has already used up its reaction and their Bloodied boost isn’t going to help them.
One sub-category of “use a reaction to attack” when Bloodied is spellcasting. Many stat blocks that can cast spells gain the ability to cast a spell as a reaction when the caster becomes bloodied, and I’m a fan of this. Anything that helps an NPC spellcaster show off that they are, indeed, a spellcaster, is a net positive for me.
Some of the death throes make thematic sense. A lot of elemental creatures will burst with an area effect based on their composition. Some undead scream or explode with necrotic power when destroyed. Not surprisingly, my favorite is the death throes ability given to many giants and giant-like creatures.
When a giant dies, they fall, and might end up doing damage to those nearby, and trapping them under the body. The ability calls for randomly rolling for the direction, but I would be inclined to make the ability function on anyone within 5 feet of the giant, for simplicity’s sake. I like it when giants get to, well, be giant.
Several creatures gain extra combat options once they have become Bloodied. For example, some of the caster stat blocks gain the ability to make an attack as a bonus action after they have used their action to cast a spell. Others gain the parry ability that some stat blocks already have, allowing them to use a reaction to increase their armor class.
Some creatures, like dragons, gain the ability to throw opponents, giving them the ability to do a little bit less damage, but also opening some room between themselves and their assailants. Many giants gain the ability to knock everyone near them prone and then attack as a bonus action, which is another means of making nearby attackers potentially less effective.
Several creatures become harder to charm or incapacitate once they are Bloodied. That means if they are a monster prone to being taken out by an incapacitating spell hurled at one of their bad saves, if they can hold out until they take enough damage, at least the quick defeat may be avoided. As mentioned above, some creatures shift their resistances to immunities as well.
A few creatures start to generate a damaging aura once they are Bloodied. A few that already have an aura might have that aura extended. And then there is the simple boost in armor class that some monsters get.
Frailties are new challenges that face the monster once they are Bloodied. This isn’t universal, and most monsters don’t end up with additional weaknesses or devolving defensive abilities. While some are thematic, like the Dryad’s Fire Vulnerability, others are simply a reduction in armor class. In many cases, beasts and monstrosities might get the Worn-Out ability, which reduces their overall speed.
The lycanthrope frailties are interesting to me compared to some of the others. Werewolves and other were creatures, once becoming Bloodied, go fully animalistic. They only assume their animal form from this point on, and their mental ability scores drop to the scores their base animal forms would have.
I like having more options to add to a monster’s stat block. I also like the rules modifications that are a little bit less than a full template, but meaningful enough to change how the monster will work in the game. These Bloodied abilities, in many cases, remind me of the Nastier Specials that the monster stat blocks in 13th Age have, giving you the flexibility to customize a monster and make it tougher than a standard version of the creature.
I appreciate that a lot of these abilities are geared towards getting monsters to be able to perform their signature moves reliably before they are taken out of the fight. While some abilities give them a straight-up boost, I particularly like the ones that add some tactical options to otherwise simple stat blocks.
While I like some of the frailties, a lot of them don’t really tell a story in the same way compared to the other Bloodied abilities. For example, I don’t know what the logic behind a monster whose armor class goes up is versus a monster whose armor class goes down. I would almost assume that supernatural creatures could raise their ACs, while less fantastical creatures would lower theirs, but that’s not how it shakes out. I wish the frailties had more of a pattern to them, for example, if a monster has a frailty, it now also gets this extra Bloodied ability.
There are also some abilities that are keyed to alignment, either allowing an evil monster to target a good character or allowing a monster to do extra damage to targets with a specific alignment and the further we move away from that kind of design, the happier I’ll be.
Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.
I don’t think everyone is going to want to make their monsters more complicated than they already are, especially in cases of dragons or fiends, which already have a lot going on. That said, if you like to tinker with and customize your monsters, I don’t think you would be disappointed with this purchase.