Monster Hunter’s Handbook
It is my sincere wish that any soul who comes into possession of this booklet may employ the dearly-bought wisdom herein to strike at the heart of monstrous villainy wherever it arises. Make no mistake: it is a bloody business, and not for the faint of heart. Often, it is those of us familiar with tragedy who can best pierce the darkness. We hunt monsters so the innocent don’t have to.
– Rudolph Van Richten
Preface: Light Up the Darkness
Always remember: monsters are creatures of darkness. Darkness is their ally, not yours. Those steeped in conventional wisdom might take shelter in the shadows when they sense danger lurking, thinking themselves safe or hidden from prying eyes. With monsters, this is not always the case.
My advice? Carry light with you at all times. No matter where you encounter these creatures, do your best to ensure the area is lit. Daylight is ideal, but for obvious reasons this can’t always be managed.
Think about light and darkness as a general thinks about battlefields. Your enemy is familiar with and comfortable in the darkness; but in the light, they’re fighting on your terms.
Chapter 1: Fiends
Spawned in the Infinite Layers of the Abyss, demons are the embodiment of chaos and evil — engines of destruction barely contained in monstrous form. Possessing no compassion, empathy, or mercy, they exist only to destroy.
Devils personify tyranny, with a totalitarian society dedicated to the domination of mortal life. The shadow of the Nine Hells of Baator extends far across the multiverse, and Asmodeus, the dark lord of Nessus, strives to subjugate the cosmos to satisfy his thirst for power. To do so, he must continually expand his infernal armies, sending his servants to the mortal realm to corrupt the souls from which new devils are spawned.
Van Richten’s Advice
Chapter 2: Hags & Witches
Mad women and men sometimes forge pacts with dark powers in exchange for magic and longevity. These witches prefer to live in the shadows and can see in the dark. When traveling in the open, they often use spells to assume less conspicuous forms. Entirely unscrupulous, they will deal with anyone in return for power. They will also betray anyone for the same reason.
Witches are obsessive collectors, each believing that almost anything found — a piece of broken bone, a dead rodent, a handful of dust, or some other worthless item or substance — could be valuable or useful as a spell component, a ritual object, or a potion ingredient.
Keep an eye out for vermin. Witches are particularly fond of cats, snakes, and toads.
Ancient beings with origins in the Feywild, hags are cankers on the mortal world. Their withered faces are framed by long, frayed hair, horrid moles and warts dot their blotchy skin, and their long, skinny fingers are tipped by claws that can slice open flesh with a touch. Though they resemble withered crones, there is nothing mortal about these monstrous creatures.
All hags possess magical powers, and some have an affinity for spellcasting.
Hags propagate by snatching and devouring human infants. After stealing a baby from its cradle or its mother’s womb, the hag consumes the poor child. A week later, the hag gives birth to a daughter who looks human until her thirteenth birthday, whereupon the child transforms into the spitting image of her hag mother.
Hags sometimes raise the daughters they spawn, creating powerful covens. A hag might also return the child to its grieving parents, only to watch from the shadows as the child grows up to become a horror.
Arrogant to a fault, hags believe themselves to be the most cunning of creatures, and they treat all others as inferior. Even so, a hag is open to dealing with mortals as long as those mortals show the proper respect and deference. Over their long lives, hags accumulate much knowledge of local lore, dark creatures, and magic, which they are pleased to sell.
Hags enjoy watching mortals bring about their own downfall. A bargain with a hag, though often necessary, is always dangerous.
Van Richten’s Advice
Chapter 3: Lycanthropes
One of the most ancient and feared of all curses, lycanthropy can transform the most civilized humanoid into a ravening beast. In its natural humanoid form, a creature cursed by lycanthropy appears as its normal self. In its animal form, a lycanthrope resembles a powerful version of a normal animal. On close inspection, its eyes show a faint spark of unnatural intelligence and might glow red in the dark.
Evil lycanthropes hide among normal folk, emerging in animal form at night to spread terror and bloodshed, especially under a full moon. Good lycanthropes are reclusive and uncomfortable around other civilized creatures, often living alone in wilderness areas far from villages and towns.
A humanoid creature can be afflicted with the curse of lycanthropy after being wounded by a lycanthrope, or if one or both of its parents are lycanthropes. A remove curse spell can rid an afflicted lycanthrope of the curse, but only very powerful magic can free a natural born lycanthrope of its curse.
There are many varieties of lycanthropes, but my experience is limited to werewolves.
A werewolf is a savage predator. In its humanoid form, a werewolf has heightened senses, a fiery temper, and a tendency to eat rare meat. Its wolf form is a fearsome predator, but its hybrid form is more terrifying by far — a furred and well-muscled humanoid body topped by a ravening wolf’s head. A werewolf can wield weapons in hybrid form, though it prefers to tear foes apart with its powerful claws and bite.
Most werewolves flee civilized lands not long after becoming afflicted. Those that reject the curse fear what will happen if they remain among their friends and family. Those that embrace the curse fear discovery and the consequences of their murderous acts. In the wild, werewolves form packs that also include wolves and dire wolves.
Van Richten’s Advice
Chapter 4: Undead
Undead are once-living creatures brought to a horrifying state of undeath through the practice of necromantic magic or some unholy curse. Undead include walking corpses, such as vampires and zombies, as well as bodiless spirits, such as ghosts and specters.
Van Richten’s Advice
Chapter 5: Vampires
Awakened to an endless night, vampires hunger for the life they have lost and sate that hunger by drinking the blood of the living. Vampires abhor sunlight, for its touch burns them. They never cast shadows or reflections, and any vampire wishing to move unnoticed among the living keeps to the darkness and far from reflective surfaces.
Whether or not a vampire retains any memories from its former life, its emotional attachments wither as once-pure feelings become twisted by undeath. Love turns into hungry obsession, while friendship becomes bitter jealousy. In place of emotion, vampires pursue physical symbols of what they crave, so that a vampire seeking love might fixate on a young beauty. A child might become an object of fascination for a vampire obsessed with youth and potential. Others surround themselves with art, books, or sinister items such as torture devices or trophies from creatures they have killed.
Most of a vampire’s victims become vampire spawn — ravenous creatures with a vampire’s hunger for blood, but under the control of the vampire that created them. If a true vampire allows a spawn to draw blood from its own body, the spawn transforms into a true vampire no longer under its master’s control. Few vampires are willing to relinquish their control in this manner. Vampire spawn become free-willed when their creator dies.
Every vampire remains bound to its coffin, crypt, or grave site, where it must rest by day. If a vampire didn’t receive a formal burial, it must lie beneath a foot of earth at the place of its transition to undeath. A vampire can move its place of burial by transporting its coffin or a significant amount of grave dirt to another location. Some vampires set up multiple resting places this way.
Van Richten’s Advice
Chapter 6: Vistani
By far the most wicked and despicable of all civilized people are the Vistani. The nomadic people are easily recognized by their brightly-colored dress and jovial nature. They laugh often and drink heartily, but believe me when I say that they are villains.
Unlike the poor souls in Barovia, the Vistani can leave the dreadful valley whenever they please and aren’t damned to spend eternity there. They claim to come and go with the aid of a special potion, but this is a lie. The greedy charlatans sell this “elixir of the mists” to take advantage of the vulnerable and desperate. Anyone hoping to escape Barovia is not long for the world, so the Vistani use their ruse to lighten the purse of these doomed souls before their gold is out of their reach.
This scam is just one of their many crimes. Mark my words: never trust a Vistani. The truth behind their immunity to the cloying fog is proof enough. They are friends of Strahd von Zarovich, the dark lord of that cursed realm, and you would do well not to forget that. No matter how kind or seemingly helpful a Vistana appears, remember that Strahd chooses to treat them all with something resembling kindness — repayment for an ancient debt, if you believe their legends. They do not — indeed, they cannot — share our fear and hatred of such monsters. Many of them even serve as the vampire’s spies.
They are lazy and irresponsible, yet quick to act when their lives or traditions are threatened. They are lawless and merciless to outsiders — horse thieves, kidnappers, pickpockets, murderers. They celebrate and approve of such things as long as they benefit their people and support their senuous lifestyle. However, Vistani who knowingly bring harm or misfortune to others of their kind are banished — the worst punishment a Vistana can imagine, even worse than death.
They also earn money by telling fortunes and selling information. This, at least, is not always a ruse, though a cryptic truth is often as deceptive as a lie. I myself have known a Vistana seer whose second sight proved quite useful and unquestionably prescient.
Each family or clan of Vistani is its own little gerontocracy, with the oldest member ruling the roost. This elder carries the bulk of the responsibility for enforcing traditions, settling disputes, setting the course for the group’s travels, and preserving the Vistani way of life. Vistani elders make all the important decisions.
Perhaps you think I am being harsh or that I simply mistake cultural differences for villainy. To that I ask, what kindly folk do you know who possess the Evil Eye? A Vistana, regardless of age, can bestow a terrible curse with a mere look or utterance. Such curses can be provoked by no more than a perceived slight or their perverted view of justice.
The Vistani are wicked charlatans and spies and they will not hesitate to destroy what you hold most dear. I know better than most.
Van Richten’s Advice
Monster Hunter Tactics
I can’t promise you that the following will hold true for every monster you encounter. What I can tell you is that the tactics outlined in this guide have saved my life more times than I care to count.