Archives of Candlekeep: Colors of Chaos – The Slaad

Archives of Candlekeep: Colors of Chaos – The Slaad

This article was first broadcast in Episode One Hundred Ninety Seven on 26th January 2022.

Ryu: Well at least you’re reading a book and the machine isn’t humming.
Ostron: What?
Ryu: Never mind, what are you researching?
Ostron: Infestations.
Ryu: Oh come on, again? Lennon already got rid of the mimics!
The Mimic: And a bang-up job he did, too!
Ostron: Yes, yes, we’re all very impressed. No, this is a much less pleasant infestation. Slaadi.
Lennon: Well thank you for being impressed with me, but what did I do?
Ryu: You got rid of the mimics, like we just said. Apparently you have to get rid of…somebody? Somebodies?
Ostron: Slaad. Plural is slaadi.
Lennon: And all of it is “no thank you.” Ostron, feel free to take this one.
Ostron: Ugh, there isn’t a Slaad infestation in the guild house! I’m just trying to be prepared.
Lennon: You’re expecting an infestation in the guild house?
Ostron: Well you can’t really tell with them; that’s kind of their whole thing. m

Slaad as a species are another fixture of D&D although a lesser known one. The only setting where they’ve featured as a prominent enemy has been Planescape, due to their nature as natives of Limbo. Even there, though, most resources and stories focus more on the endless three-way conflict between the Githzeri, Githyanki, and Mindflayers around Limbo and the Slaadi take a bit of a back seat. However, most of that is their own fault.

Slaad can’t technically claim to be “OG” monsters of D&D but they snuck in very early, making their first appearance in the 1st edition Fiend Folio published in 1981. The creator of the Slaad is one Charlie Stross, a British author more well known for his urban fantasy and sci-fi nowadays. Many of his fantasy novels have a heavy Lovecraftian theme to them and that is certainly present in the Slaadi, though Stross himself insists he created them without any prior knowledge of Lovecraft’s works. He was, however, running a fever at the time, which he claims was a part of the inspiration.

As mentioned, the Slaadi have become a fixture of D&D but for better or worse they’re sort of like the weird, disorganized back room of the game. They’re always there, someone sometimes goes in and grabs something to use for a bit, but otherwise they just sort of exist. Part of that, again, could be due to how they’re portrayed and what their goals and motivations are stated to be.

Depending on whether the person you’re talking to likes physics or not, Slaadi are either the embodiment of chaos or entropy. In physics, entropy is what you get when something has energy but none of it can be used for anything worthwhile. Those things are called “disorderly systems” which is where the link to chaos comes in.

The nature of the Slaadi and their behavior have remained mostly unchanged throughout the history of D&D. As mentioned, they don’t very often get center stage in adventures or sourcebooks so no major D&D authors have tried to mess with their lore. They can also be somewhat problematic to use as enemies.

First of all, as mentioned, they mostly reside in the plane of Limbo, and unless you’re running a plane-hopping adventure it’s unlikely groups of players will end up there. Even if they do, they’re probably more interested in the things going on with the various Gith species, so the Slaadi might show up as a random encounter at best. Also because they’re inherently chaotic, they are very bad at things like organized military maneuvers or coordinated attacks. If an adventure author or DM is staying true to the lore, that means a “Slaadi invasion” plot is hard to make work for any length of time; eventually the Slaadi involved are going to wander off and do something else. That said, there are a couple of ways to make them a more significant threat. We’ll go over the lore and then provide some suggestions.

The details of their origin have been a little muddied at times but not a lot of it is contradictory, thankfully enough. Apparently Primus is to blame for the existence of the chaos frogs. Primus, for those who aren’t aware, is the prime being that directs the Modrons, creatures who are nearly the literal embodiment of lawful order. Limbo, as a plane, was too chaotic and uncontrolled for the Modrons to exist there for any length of time; its chaotic nature was incompatible with them. So Primus created a device that reduced the overall level of chaos in Limbo by collecting it. The device in question is the size of a small island by the way and after it was released into Limbo, it very quickly earned the name “The Spawning Stone.”

Much like when you gather a whole bunch of standing water together and then wonder why you’ve got a mosquito problem, concentrating all of that chaotic energy together, combined with some still unknown elements that most believe are part of the Spawning Stone’s mechanisms, resulted in the stone creating Slaadi.

Initially, as beings of pure chaos, they didn’t have a single form; they came into existence as anything from amorphous blobs to weird bodiless collections of limbs and everything in between. However their natures were already firmly established. As followers of pure chaos, they basically devolved into anarchy as a form of government; Slaad then, as now, only do something for one another if they are literally forced into it by a stronger Slaad. Two Slaadi emerged and are strong enough to be considered leaders of the Slaadi. Ssendam is a being that can take on the appearance of a humanoid man but its natural form is a giant golden amoeba with a humanoid brain where a regular amoeba would have a nucleus. The other is Ygorl, whose form is a skeletal man/bat amalgamation colored black with wings that are purely vestigial. Both of them were and are the strongest examples of the Slaadi.

Legend says that either one or both of them, having achieved dominance, wanted to make sure nothing else could spawn out of the stone that would be stronger than them, so they started fiddling with it. It’s not clear if the end result is what they wanted to happen or if it was just the result after they stopped messing with it, but either way the only thing the Spawning Stone creates now are the Slaadi everyone is familiar with.

In appearance, the majority of the Slaadi are humanoid lizard-like beings, averaging between ten and fifteen feet tall. They have frog-like heads but no other features of actual frogs, and their arms and legs are more reptilian with sturdy muscles and claws.

The biggest thing that has to be considered when encountering a Slaad is its color. All the Slaadi are distinctly colored, and their color tells you a lot about their relative strength, behavior, and how many of them there might be. We’ll start with the blue and red ones. They sit at the bottom of the Slaadi hierarchy. Their primary role as Slaadi is to propagate the species, but they go about it in different ways. Red Slaadi are capable of injecting eggs into victims through their claws. The eggs incubate in the hosts and then when they mature the Slaad will eat its way out of the host. Blue Slaadi have infected claws on the backs of their hand that inflict a disease called Chaos Phage. Left untreated, the victim of it will gradually turn into a Slaad. The ironic thing, and a source of extreme animosity between the two groups, is that the Red Slaadi method of reproduction produces Blue Slaadi, and vice versa.

However, if the victim of either method happens to be a creature capable of casting level three spells or higher, rather than red or blue, you end up with a Green Slaad. Green Slaads are the next level up and are the first type of Slaadi able to both cast spells and shapeshift into humanoids. If a Green Slaad manages to stick around for a century, it can then go off alone on a sort of pilgrimage. The details of the process are not known, but it’s thought the Green Slaadi somehow commune with the forces of chaos at the edges of the plane of Limbo. If the Slaad isn’t ripped apart, it becomes a Grey Slaad.

Grey Slaadi are also known as executioners; they are usually sent on direct missions to sew chaos and death. Their communion with the energies of chaos grants them more powerful spells to use and allows them to imbue weapons with magic. Most Grey Slaadi prefer using a magical greatsword.

If the Grey Slaadi want to move up the food chain, they have two options. They can wait one hundred years and then go on another pilgrimage where they not only imbue themselves with more chaos energy but also acquire a large amount of power from the Negative Energy plane. Or they can find and eat a dead Slaad that is exactly what they’re trying to become; a Death Slaad.

The Death Slaad are flat-out sadistic, very powerful creatures both magically and physically. They revel in causing death and pain to everyone just for its own sake. They are also referred to as “the lesser masters” because they are often the ones telling other Slaadi what to do, and are strong enough to back up their demands or kill disobedient underlings.

There are reports of two other colors in the Slaadi, but they’re so rare to be almost myth. First, there are claims that if a Death Slaad lives another hundred years, it can go on a third pilgrimage. That pilgrimage imbues them with so much chaos energy they come out of it as a White Slaad. White Slaad are mind numbingly terrifying because it’s said that they are so in touch with chaos and entropy they can harness it as a weapon and fling it at creatures or objects, basically destroying them by forcing every molecule of their bodies to stop following the laws of nature and submitting to chaos. That can even, briefly, extend to time. Drawing on the flexibility of time when extreme forces are involved, they can actually summon time-displaced duplicates of themselves when they need more allies.

The other nightmare no one wants to believe is true are the Black Slaadi. Having absorbed everything they could from the chaos of limbo, some White Slaadi take their ambitions further and use a similar ritual to the one that created them to absorb energy from the chaotic Abyss, home of demons. If successful, they emerge as Black Slaadi. Appearing as dark voids in the rough shape of a Slaad, the Black Slaadi are capable of even more powerful manipulation of entropic forces, with their very bodies inflicting chaotic wounds on creatures. For reference, Black Slaadi are rumored to be able to take on elder dragons one-on-one and win the fight. They can also summon lesser Slaadi at will to assist them. Finally, killing them doesn’t wholly stop their destructive influence, because upon death they briefly turn into semi-sentient black holes, sucking in and destroying everything around them before winking out of existence. What Black Slaadi do exist are rumored to be part of the retinue of the Slaad lord Ygorl, whom they revere as a god figure.

The other thing to know about Slaadi physiology is the gems. Believed to be actual pieces of the Spawning Stone, any Slaad that is created directly from the Spawning Stone emerges with a gem embedded in their head. Any Slaad that doesn’t have one will acquire one if and when they come into contact with the Spawning Stone. They’re noteworthy because if you can manage to get your hands on one, the Slaad it came out of will be beholden to you and do basically whatever you want them to, because if you destroy that gem, the Slaad dies. However it’s not a brainwashing or domination thing; the Slaad will be fully aware of everything you make it do or do to it, and if you ever lose control of that gem, you’d better hope it wants to give you a five star review.

Most Slaadi are aware of this limitation and don’t actually want the gems, but sometimes they don’t have a choice. Every few years, the red or blue Slaadi will feel a compulsion to return to the Spawning Stone. While there, the Slaadi eggs will be fertilized by the Spawning Stone itself, while the Slaadi engage in a sort of mating frenzy. The other colors of Slaadi will also feel the compulsion (depending on which Slaad variant they originated from) and at least move near the stone, but their greater power allows them to somewhat resist the call to move in too close. That’s good for them, because during the frenzies the Slaad sometimes end up depositing eggs or curses in their own kind, and it’s just as fatal for them as it is for anything else.

Beyond that, the Slaadi don’t really have a purpose. Since they are arguably embodiments of, and devotees to, chaos, having any sort of larger strategy would kind of be against brand. The only thing they’re really interested in is creating more Slaadi and sewing chaos at the direction of whatever Slaad is strong enough to be ordering them around. The Death Slaadi have a bit more of a purpose, if sadism can be called that, but it still doesn’t translate to intelligent campaigning or planning.

So what you get is random groups of Slaadi popping out of Limbo whenever they can manage it, and attacking whatever and whomever they can find, with the red and blue ones doing their best to make sure some of them become new Slaadi or involuntary parents thereof. These are not simple incursions to repel either; stat-wise, Slaadi start at CR 5 and go up from there. The Death Slaadi are CR 10. 5th edition doesn’t have statistics for white or black Slaadi or any of the Slaad lords, but they would be even stronger.

Note that their raids aren’t limited to the material plane. Any being with any amount of biological material can catch Chaos Phage or be implanted with a Slaad egg, and so far nothing has shown a natural immunity to either. The only way to avoid it is to be a creature that isn’t really biological, like a pure elemental creature, undead, or a construct, although even with undead there’s some wiggle room; zombies, ghouls, and similar creatures still have bodies with biological material, after all, and vampires may as well be living bodies as far as the Slaadi are concerned.

Slaadi raids have resulted in people being abducted and taken back to Limbo. It’s said the Slaadi take them as slaves, but that’s a bit of a misnomer; the Slaadi have no need for laborers. Any being taken by them is only taken for the purposes of breeding.

One silver…okay maybe copper lining to the whole Slaad thing is their obsession with individuality. Slaadi don’t naturally cooperate unless forced to, so some Slaadi incursions have been halted by someone challenging the strongest Slaad directly. In some cases, the other Slaadi will stop whatever they were doing and wait for the result of the fight. After all, if the Slaad fighting is the only reason they’re around, they may not need to stay there if the Slaad is dead.

That only grants a temporary and uncertain reprieve, however. Assuming you win, there’s no guarantee the Slaadi won’t continue whatever they were doing originally; if they were enjoying themselves they won’t see any reason to stop. Problem number two is if the other Slaadi get it into their head that they can gain control of their group by defeating you after you just killed their boss. There are stories of heroic but doomed fighters forced to fight entire groups of Slaad one by one as each believed they were strong enough to beat the new champion. Those scenarios bought time for the village or town or whatever to evacuate or get reinforcements, but most of the time the hapless hero didn’t have a way out.

Introducing Slaad to a campaign is kind of tricky to do in some cases. First of all, having them around immediately introduces the element of planar travel, which may or may not fit into the campaign. Also, as mentioned, Slaadi are not pushovers. Three Red Slaadi led by a Green is a deadly encounter for five level 10 characters based on most encounter builders, and in this case the CR is not erring on the side of overstating their difficulty. All of the Slaadi have magic resistance, resistance to most elemental damage, respectable AC and hit points, and multiple high-damage attacks. If the blues and reds are around, you also have to worry about the diseases and egg implantations. Slaad attacks should be something dealt with by high level parties.

Usually Slaadi are used as random encounters for high-level characters, popping up to sew chaos and random confusion in otherwise coherent plots and stories. However, they can serve as good vehicles to add horror to a campaign. Though chaotic, they are not uncontrolled; Slaadi are sapient and capable of stalking, trapping, hunting, or harassing people, and as mentioned even a small cadre of them can be very difficult to get rid of. If you add in the higher level Slaadi, that behavior is even more likely because of the aforementioned sadism. If the characters aren’t familiar with extraplanar beings, or if they’re dealing with groups of NPCs that are unfamiliar, that can also introduce the “outbreak” complications, where people who’ve been attacked will not report it and open the door for turning into or releasing more Slaadi when the infection takes hold.

Another approach to consider is the “Lone killer.” As mentioned, any Slaad colored green or higher has the ability to shapeshift into the form of a humanoid. In the cases of those turned into a Slaad by Chaos Phage infection, their humanoid form will usually be whomever they were before they were turned. Both of these factors can lend themselves to having a lone Slaad in an area, posing as a regular citizen of whatever settlement is around, but randomly causing chaos and destruction while no one’s looking. Depending on their power and level, they could even occasionally bring in red or blue Slaadi from Limbo to mount attacks that will create more Slaadi down the line.

However, there is a major note of caution that goes along with these creatures. Forced impregnation, capturing people to use as breeding stock, and intentionally infecting others with diseases are all subjects that can be majorly triggering for some people. The xenomorphs from the Aliens franchise have a lot of the same elements, and the creators of them specifically said they used those elements because of the horror and trauma they evoke. It’s not clear if Mr. Stross had the same motive in mind, but he did admit he was aiming for a certain amount of horror. Initially the somewhat random behavior and cartoony look of the creatures was supposed to mitigate the disturbing elements, but the artwork has become less silly over time and random chaos doesn’t always make things less disturbing.

Because of the nature of events that often cause such trauma, it’s very likely you won’t know if a member of a player group would be bothered by the topics unless you are very close friends with them. For that reason it is imperative that you make everyone aware of how the Slaadi operate if you’re planning to introduce them into a campaign at any point.

Ryu: Yeah, can we not introduce them to the Guild House, ever?
Ostron: Well the Mimics got in somehow, I’m just trying to be prepared.
The Mimic: Well it’s such a posh building, isn’t it? I mean, who could resist?
Ryu: Yes, we make the place look nice but I still don’t want uninvited guests.
Lennon: What are you looking at me for?
Ostron: You just said about how the Guild House is really nice and that’s why the Mimics moved in.
Lennon (defeated): Right, sure, sorry, I obviously forgot what I said two seconds ago, because it couldn’t be someone else with a totally different dialect. But ignoring that, aren’t you more likely to bring them in? I mean, I’m not the one opening portals to who knows where.
Ostron: I think ROSTRO causes those more than I do.
Ryu: Reason number 97 on why we should get rid of that thing.
Ostron: We’re not getting rid of ROSTRO. What we should get rid of, though, is those messages piling up in the scrying pool.