D is for Death Slaad, with Sternness Despised

I’m always impressed by how serendipitously these posts come together, like how last year we happened to have two characters from the same campaign, but polar opposites, at adjacent letters. You’d think I planned it that way. Today is one of those times. While yesterday was about a highly mutable creature which a name that calls forth different concepts in a variety of fields, today is about a creature that means one and only one incredibly specific thing.

Slaads are a race of froglike creatures, avatars of chaos who propagate via egg implantation or disease. As they age and gain power, they change color and gain new abilities not unlike a Pokemon. In general, red slaad are the weakest, followed by blue, green, gray, and death, which is technically not a color but sure feels like a capstone, doesn’t it? White and black slaads exist at epic levels but aren’t relevant to this post. If you haven’t played a lot of D&D and you don’t recognize slaad, that’s because they’re propriety creatures of Wizards of the Coast. Like mind flayers and beholders, they’re not in other systems because they can’t be. They’re not taken from an existing mythology, their name doesn’t mean anything interesting, and even autocorrect keeps wanting to change this post to “D is for Death Salad”.

Death slaads in particular love killing, and they come from the days when powerful outsiders had a huge list of spell-like abilities at hand to accomplish whatever they wanted. They rule by fear, and that’s pretty much all we know about their society from the Monster Manual. I get the impression that they’re supposed to be serious threats, a top-tier villain for a mid-level campaign where they players have been fighting other slaads for months. But it’s impressive how much a monster changes when you tweak just one kittle part of their description. So I thought, let’s keep the death slaad as powerful, intelligent, vicious, and capable. Let’s just make it the opposite of serious.

The Portalator was a shopkeeper who managed portals to various other planes and places within them. I think he was in the Abyss, and he came up when the party wanted to work their way to a demon prince who had been harassing them and give him what for. He was forward, personable, and maybe ever so slightly incredibly camp. From the very first word he uttered, he was clearly not a typical slaad and became unique enough for the players to recognize and dread him from them on. He turned against the party for reasons I honestly don’t fully remember, and at the end of the campaign’s second arc he managed to kill the cleric with a save-or-die right after she used one against his team. They got their revenge against him in the third arc…I think. I’m not sure they ever found the body.


Anyway, I think this was the first in a long, long line of affably evil characters. D&D has this assumption that monsters should be taken at face value: anything that can kill you probably wants to, it probably doesn’t want anything more, and it probably doesn’t have much personality behind that which it displays in combat (or in encounters and setting design on their way to combat). I reject this impression as a rule, and I try to give a meaningful personality to every meaningful character. If I’m making a villain mustache-twistingly evil, that’s an intentional choice, not the default for everything that rolls initiative. But everything that’s going to get some screen time deserves some sort of character trait, and tweaking just one or two parts of a monster’s description often gives you something fruitful.

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