Here we are in the 4th vote-decided entry into Libris Monstrum and that means one more of my choosing and one of your before I go back and take a second look at the previous ten entries. If you are worried that we won’t get to a monster you prefer, let me know and it’ll get into the voting. Until then lets talk about a creature made for D&D, one which has had a history as something a bit silly, but also horrific: the slaad!
I want to begin discussion of slaad by talking about the earlier days from 3rd Edition backwards. Keep in mind this discussion focuses on the treatment of slaadi in the Monster Manuals. When, how, who developed information and background about the slaad is less important to me than their base treatment. At least for this discussion. Slaadi began life in D&D as rather comical, giant frog people. They have always been beings of chaos, living and spreading from the Lower Planes but without all the evil. In fact, the only real expanded ecology we get in AD&D is the fact that, while found throughout the Lower Planes, they have no part in the Blood War (an cosmologically important demon vs devil war). This is signifigant because it helps define them simply as terrifying agents of chaos. While AD&D included the various colors we still see today, there is very little differentiating them other than color. The reds deposit eggs, the green are the highest class of lesser slaadi, and strange tattoos on their foreheads are signs of power and achievement. The stage is set for a caste system of some kind and their metamorphosis into greater versions.
Third Edition reveals to us some more detail. With stat blocks and beefier (though small) descriptors for each color, we get a hell of a lot more. Now we can see the differences in size, attributes, skills, and abilities. We even learn how the various castes come into being, most of them anyway. Infected arcane casters create green slaadi instead of red, for example. Death slaadi require dark and mysterious rituals to become what they are, their age and power allowing them to become something all other slaadi obey. Of interesting not, to me, is that slaadi end up with the ability to summon slaad. As far as I know this isn’t a maintained ability and was something rampant among outsider groups in the 3rd Edition era. Nevertheless, what we have in slaadi are terrible xenomorph-inspired chaos beings….that look like frogs.
One of the things that 3rd Edition tried to do was bring fear into the look of a slaad. It didn’t do a poor job, and blue slaadi are especially frightening. In many ways the frog-aspect is lost however. Fourth Edition took the opportunity to re-unify the look of slaadi in general and make something recognizable as froggy and fearsome in the art. Webbed digits, expanding throats, and fearsome claws all feature in the art. In adition, on of the best things about 4E is the Lore section for EVERY monster. Slaadi are no exception and it is the first time we get a succinct insight to the race that “believe they were the first creatures in the cosmos”. There are few other things cleaned up with slaad, including chaos phage which is treated as a disease, but represents the infection of a person with a slaadi egg. The weirdest part of the disease, to me, and something I think needs to be thrown out is that the tadpole that erupts from the host turns into a random type of slaad. I love the idea that it depends on host, suvival, and rituals. It is an aspect that deserved to be kept within the move to 4E.
In 5th Edition we finally see a culmination of the slaadi lore. We finally get to hear about the Spawning Stone and where these creatures come from (thanks Primus!). The art is similar to 4E in design, but with more realism. The green and death slaad are especially great. The entry also gives us specific development of slaadi with red creating blue and vice-versa. Spellcasters give rise to green slaadi which eventually transform into grey, which in turn become death slaadi. We also lose the extra names and go back from void slaad to death slaad. It was an interesting take, but unnecessary. Finally, there are the slaad control gems! These items exist within the brain of a slaad, a portion of the Spawning Stone itself. With it you can control slaadi, wielding them as minions. Not all slaadi have them, of course, only those spawned from the stone or those who later came in contact with it.
A Horror Monster
One of the best ways to use slaadi in an adventure is to sit down and watch Alien and then prepare to horrify your players. The ways you can do this are varied, as with any similar style movie, but the results are similar. Something is infecting people and horrible monsters are exploding from those infected. These then turn into horrible monsters that do little else but sew chaos and spread the infection. Killings, infections, and slaadi spread through the city as PCs try to figure out what is going on. With the slaad control gems being a thing, there are many sources for the event as well. Perhaps you wish to simply have them be there for there own sake. The propagate and expand trying to become ground zero for a slaadi plague / invasion (hard to decipher which it is). Or you can put the gem in the hand of a powerful magic user, madman, or some other villain. Controlling the slaadi is a frightening adventure but one which his an enemy (new or old) and whatever their true goals were.
Slaad Lords & Planar Invasions
Let’s get back to the invasion idea. These things, at least in 4E, thought themselves to be the first thing created. With madness and chaos backing them, perhaps they believe they should be the only thing left in creation. All the more reason to spread. Especially to the material plane where dangers are lessened and hosts plentiful. I love this idea. It can be the spark of a whole campaign and gives us opportunity to bring in some other creatures. If I remember correctly, bullywugs are pretty arrogant and strange creatures that are on the verge of madness as a race. They could easily be roped into an invasion campaign and certainly fit the froggy theme. Early level adventures seek to stop bullywugs who raid caravans, villages, and the like. They learn that those turn to kidnappings. The whole thing escalates into a slaadi horror scenario before turning into a fight-the-plague situation. Eventually this can be taken even further.
Beyond the green and grey slaadi are death slaadi and perhaps worse. Rumors of white slaadi and words of something even greater. The PCs may learn of the Spawning Stone and seek whatever the source of slaadi are or damage the stone in some way. But what of the slaad lords? I love the slaad lords because there is really so little about them. I may be wrong, I may not know where to look, but the most I generally find about them sounds like rumor and consists manly of name and title. Ygorl, Lord of Entropy. Chourst, Lord of Randomness. Rennlouv, Lord of Colors. The titles themselves imply nothing beyond what one would expect from a slaad, but what to such powerful versions of such strange creatures do? What do they plan? Wouldn’t that be an interesting thing to explore!
I know there is so much more to consider, and that i am on the verge of writing an adventure series (which I’ll add to the list), but let me know if there are specific things I missed. Something I need to cover in the second part? Let me know! If you have a resource especially good for delving deeper into slaadi lore, please share and I will be sure to include that in the next part.