Recent reports about a 5E rules update have floated the idea that monsters will lose access to critical hits, as the monsters don’t need the extra damage.
Maybe monsters shouldn’t deal extra damage on critical hits… because that’s boring. Maybe monsters should do cooler things when they crit.
Some Kobold Press monsters already take this enlightened approach. Tome of Beasts has the fate eater, herald of blood, and corrupting ooze, all of whom impose dreadful effects when they roll a 20 on their attack. Tome of Beasts 2 has the infernal centaur, tembril, and holler spider, each of whom foist deadly consequences when they crit.
(Might similar monsters lurk in the shadows of Tome of Beasts 3, shipping in November 2022? Order now to be among the first to find out!)
With that in mind, let’s create some pernicious, intriguing, or destructive consequences for monstrous crits! Try these along with any other playtesting you might do, and tell us how they work in the comments!
This fey pooch is named for its ability to pop in and out of existence. Add some delightful seelie merriment to combat if this lawful good boy passes a bit of blink onto targets when it crits.
Flickering Bite. When the blink dog scores a critical hit, it doesn’t do any extra damage. Instead, the target creature must succeed at a DC 11 Charisma saving throw or be under the effect of a blink spell for 1 minute. The target can’t choose to end this effect as an action.
These feral humanoids share more than a head in common with hyenas—gnolls also boast the same hideous laughter. After critting an opponent, a gnoll can release a chortle that frightens even stalwart foes.
Frightening Cackle. When the gnoll scores a critical hit, it doesn’t do extra damage. After emitting a cackling howl, all enemy creatures who can hear the gnoll within 60 feet must succeed on DC 11 Wisdom saving throws or be frightened of the gnoll for 1 minute. If the gnoll reduces a creature to 0 hit points on the same turn it uses this ability, creatures have disadvantage on the saving throw. A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.
As an extraplanar creature hailing from the Elemental Plane of Earth, the xorn spends much time hunting for the gems and precious metals for nutrients. On a critical hit, the xorn steals weapons or jewelry from their foes, gobbling them up to provide nourishment and healing.
Clutched Jewels. When the xorn scores a critical hit, it doesn’t do extra damage. Instead, the xorn grabs one piece of equipment carried by the target creature, such as a weapon, shield or piece of jewelry that is made of or adorned with gemstones or precious metals. The xorn eats this equipment, recovering 8 (1d8 + 4) hit points. This has no effect if the target creature doesn’t carry the appropriate equipment.
Nonmagical equipment consumed by this ability is destroyed, while magical equipment can be recovered from the xorn’s digestive system.
This murderous gnome from the Tome of Beasts must wet its hat in the fresh blood of its foes to remain alive. On a crit, the redcap punctures its prey, all the better for chomping with its plaque-coated incisors.
Skewering Strike. When the redcap scores a critical hit with its pike, it doesn’t do extra damage. Instead, the target creature is impaled by the pike and is grappled (escape DC 15). While grappled in this manner, the redcap has advantage on bite attacks against the creature, and the creature has disadvantage on attempts to escape the grapple while the redcap holds the pike.
This draconic negotiator from the Creature Codex often serves as an arbiter in transactions between merchants, armies, or nobility. Like any good negotiator, the drake knows that it’s helpful to charm foes to sit down and negotiate—even if all sides recently came to blows.
See the Light. When the pact drake scores a critical hit, it doesn’t do extra damage. Instead, the target creature must make a DC 15 Charisma saving throw or be charmed by the drake until the end of its next turn. The creature is no longer charmed if attacked by the drake or its allies.
Herald of Slaughter
You can find this fiendish herald of an apocalyptic epoch in Tome of Beasts 2. Much like a farmer separates wheat from chaff, the herald of slaughter can part head from neck in a gruesome snicker snack.
Decapitating Slice. When the herald scores a critical hit with its Cleaver attack against a creature that isn’t immune or resistant to slashing damage, it doesn’t do extra damage. Instead, the target creature must make a DC 16 Constitution saving throw or be paralyzed until the end of its next turn. If the target creature is already paralyzed, the herald instead cuts off one of the target creature’s heads on a failed save. The creature immediately dies if it can’t survive without the lost head.
About Benjamin Eastman
Benjamin L. Eastman was introduced to D&D by his four closest friends—who immediately betrayed his trust by sacrificing his first character to a demonic artifact. Undeterred, he’s played all manner of RPGs in the intervening years. In addition to writing Warlock Lairs and monsters for Kobold Press, he’s contributed to the Stargate RPG and Americana, and co-authored DMs Guild adventures including Baby Tarrasque. He is perhaps proudest of the bar brawl—his first published monster in the Creature Codex.