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Good Riddance, part 2: Snakes alive! Couatls become the bad guy

Good Riddance, part 2: Snakes alive! Couatls become the bad guy

rainbow serpent

The classic alignment grid consisting of three rows (Good, Neutral, and Evil) and three columns (Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic) is a contentious topic in TTRPGs. A lot of games (including the Tales of the Valiant RPG) don’t use it, but it endures. Criticisms include that the system is too rigid and is not descriptive enough. And it essentially predestines certain creatures (even Humanoids) to be either good or evil.

Shortfalls aside, the alignment system leaves an open question: “Why are there good-aligned creatures in monster books?” Kobold Press’s own Tome of Beasts 1 includes several good-aligned creatures. These creatures make fantastic NPCs or allies for the party, but does that mean a party can never fight a buraq or a firebird?

A GM can ignore alignment and have the party fight an “evil” angel. But maybe a better choice is to find interesting narrative ways to make typically “good” creatures antagonists while maintaining their lore.


The couatl is a feathered serpent akin to an angelic messenger from the gods. Two keystone abilities of the couatl are its ability to pacify its foes and change its shape. Below, several scenarios are presented that allow for combat with this creature that is all too often used as more mouthpiece than a fearsome stat block.

The Dark Couatl

While the primary goal of this series is to “keep the good guys Good,” the couatl presents an interesting opportunity to join the dark side. It’s hard to imagine a villain better equipped for work in the shadows than a creature with an aptitude for Stealth with its high Dexterity score, the ability to change its face, telepathy, a high Charisma score to influence others, resistance to conventional weapons, and the ability to knock out targets without killing them.

At a challenge rating of 4, the dark couatl makes for an excellent boss in tier 1 of a campaign. Couatls are messengers from the gods, but what about a messenger of an evil god? In this scenario you can use the couatl in the following ways:

  • The couatl runs a cult to quench the thirst of an evil god. Perhaps it assassinates the clergy of one of the god’s enemies or kidnaps them for unholy rituals. 
  • The party is hired to lure out this evil by using a devout cleric as bait. When they first encounter the assassin, they discover clues about its true celestial nature. 
  • The couatl flees the battle and the party must track it back to its dark lair for a final confrontation.

A Divine Test

In the early levels of a campaign, the party is informed of an oracle that lives in some hard-to-reach location. The party must overcome challenges to consult the oracle in order to learn an important prophecy that decides the fate of the land. At the end of a dungeon of your choosing, the party meets the oracle, a couatl, disguised as an old woman. The couatl has been given a divine mandate to test those who come before it and only give the prophecy from the gods to the most worthy of heroes.

In this scenario, you can use the couatl in the following ways:

  • The couatl fights the party to test their worthiness but aims to knock them out rather than kill. The couatl can even explain these terms to the party so you reduce the chances of the party killing the couatl, who surrenders when reduced to 10 HP or fewer.
  • At the conclusion of the fight, the couatl can heal the party so that they can face any additional challenges you have in mind for the dungeon. 
  • The couatl can return later in your campaign to fight alongside the party, making full use of its defensive abilities to aid the party to fight a foe that would be too strong for them to fight alone.

Fighting Destiny

Another scenario is when the party’s moral compass, while still potentially pointing toward Good, points in a slightly different direction than a couatl’s patron god. Perhaps an apocalypse is coming and the first blow to strike is upon a village that the party is fond of. The god has foreseen that if the party focuses on saving the village, the rest of the kingdom will fall and sends a couatl to warn the party of their course of action. In the party’s desire to save the village and their beloved NPCs, the couatl attempts to pacify them before they can disrupt the prophecy. Of course, the party members are the heroes of the story, so it’s likely that the god was not able to account for the power and creativity of the party who can, in fact, save everyone. In this scenario, you can use the couatl in the following ways:

  • The couatl approaches the party disguised as a human, perhaps with other followers or additional couatls depending on the party’s level.
  • The couatl fights to knock out the party, making use of its poisonous bite and ability to constrict its opponents.
  • The couatl may grant the party a couatl’s feather as a reward from the god and a symbol of their heroism.

Couatl’s Feather

Wondrous Item, Rare (Requires Attunement)

2,000 gp

This illustrious feather reflects light into a rainbow of colors. While holding this feather, creatures that you have not attacked, harmed, or forced you to make a saving throw in the last 24 hours have disadvantage on their first attack roll against you.

More good GM advice and tools are on the way in the Tales of the Valiant Game Master’s Guide!
It completely funded on Kickstarter! If you missed the campaign ,there’s still time to pre-order!

about Daniel Kahn

Dan Khan stylized author illo

Daniel Kahn is a D&D 5e freelance writer and lead author of several platinum best-selling titles on the DMsGuild. For more monster weaknesses, check out Monster Weaknesses and Monster Weaknessess of the Multiverse on the DMsGuild, which includes weaknesses for every creature in the Monster Manual and Monsters of the Multiverse. Follow Daniel on Twitter: @FrictionlessDan and visit his website.

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