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August 13, 2018

D&D Monster Monday: Maw Demon

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You hear the screams of the villager as they plead for mercy from the demon that slowly approaches them. Drool and spittle dribbles out of the demon’s mouth and it speaks nothing but gibberish as it approaches. You rush towards it, weapons drawn, but in a matter of seconds the maw demon has devoured the person and launches towards you, its toothy maw ready to bite a chunk of flesh from your bones.

The past few D&D Monster Mondays have been very Monster Manual heavy so I opted to pick something from Volo’s Guide to Monsters (this is an affiliate link which gives the site a small kickback at no cost to you). You can find the maw demon on pg 137 of VGtM.

Being a CR 1 creature means that the maw demon the lowest CR creature we’ve looked at to date. While it doesn’t have a ton of lore behind it, the bits it has are interesting and tie it in well with some of my other favorite low CR creatures, gnolls.

Maw Demon Lore

There’s not a lot of maw demon-specific lore in VGtM, but you can find the two paragraphs on page 136. They’re simple creatures whose purpose is to be walking mouths that serve Yeenoghu the Lord of Savagery. This is pretty obvious just from the artwork alone.

Maw demons are typically summoned by gnoll war bands in rituals. The gnolls aren’t able to command them, but the demons naturally have formed a symbiotic relationship with gnolls. Together they’ll attack anything and anyone so satiate their unending hunger.

The real unique thing about maw demons is that after 8 hrs of rest anything that was devoured by a maw demon is teleported directly into Yeenoghu’s stomach. I was not exaggerating that they were walking mouths of Yeenoghu.

Finally, we can assume that because of this the demon maws will stay hungry and will continue to eat incessantly. They will wreak havoc upon whatever they can find, eat it, and the cycle starts again after they take a long rest. The ridiculousness of this is on-brand for demons, particularly low-level ones.

The Maw Demon’s Stats and Abilities

maw demon D&D 5e

The official 5e maw demon art is brutal. Art by Wizards of the Coast.

Base Stats

AC: 13 (Natural Armor)
Hit Points: 33 (6d8 + 6)
Speed: 30 ft.
STR: 14 (+2)
DEX: 8 (-1)
CON: 13 (+1)
INT: 5 (-3)
WIS: 8 (-1)
CHA: 5 (-3)

The maw demon’s stats and abilities are really average for a CR 1 creature. Outside of its hit points, Strength, and Dex everything else is either average or below average.

First of all, we can tell that maw demons are going to be easily crowd controlled with its low Dexterity, Wisdom, and Charisma. Its constitution is good, but it’s still only a +1.

Its hit points are above average which will allow it to stay in combat for long enough to deal some damage despite these ability scores.

Resistances, Immunities, Saves, and Skills

Damage Resistances: cold, fire, lightning
Damage Immunities: poison
Condition Immunities: charmed, frightened, poisoned
Senses: darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 9
Languages: understands Abyssal but can’t speak
CR: 1

The amount of damage resistances and immunities make up for its low ability scores in my opinion. Cold, fire, and poison damage are some of the most popular damage types for spells, especially cantrips and level 1-2 spells.

This makes the maw demon pretty unique as it actually fares better against spell casters than it does martial PCs. At low-levels especially this is generally not the case for creatures with resistances and immunities.

Its condition immunities help it to avoid 3 different types of crowd control. Depending on the party this could be the vast majority of their crowd control as spells like hold person will not affect the maw demon.

Darkvision is always a benefit and its passive Perception is understandably low. The maw demon also cannot speak any languages which does give it the benefit of not allowing the party to have an avenue to reason with the creature outside of speaking Abyssal in a one-sided conversation. It wants to eat them and it’s going to do so.

Abilities and Traits

Rampage. When it reduces a creature to 0 hit points with a melee attack on its turn, the maw demon can take a bonus action to move up to half its speed and make a bite attack.

This trait is interesting for a few reasons. First, it gives the DM a clear play-style they should use when playing a maw demon. It is going to continue to attack the same creature until it is downed. It has an incentive to doing so.

Secondly, this helps its action economy quite a bit. The maw demon can only do a single bite attack per turn and move 30 ft. However, if it is able to down a PC or creature it can do this and move an additional 15 ft. and make a second bite attack. This raises the stakes quite a bit.

Actions

Maw Demon Miniature

Fun fact the 3e maw demon mini was one of the first minis I ever got. Art by Wizards of the Coast.

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (2d8 + 2) piercing damage.

11 average damage is average for CR 1 creatures. However it’s still nothing to scoff at as it could completely down a level 1 PC in a single hit. +4 to hit is also average for CR 1 creatures. The maw demon has a fairly average stat block as a whole.

If the maw demon is able to use its Rampage as a bonus action it’s able to deal an average of 22 damage per turn which could very well mean 2 level 1 PCs dropped in a single round of combat. There’s a lot of terrifying potential in this walking mouth.

The Maw Demon’s Strengths

High Damage Potential

While its average damage is in-tune with a CR 1 creature, if the maw demon is able to use Rampage it doubles its damage output on that turn. As I mentioned before this could potentially mean 1-2 PCs are downed in a single turn if the maw demon hits for its average damage.

This damage potential makes low-level encounters against a single maw demon potentially deadly. If the maw demon gets an early turn in the initiative order and downs a PC it could make a medium encounter suddenly very deadly.

This also gives the maw demon a potential use for its bonus action which is something we should value quite a bit. Typically creatures only get an action and possibly an opportunity attack as a reaction. Being able to take an extra attack as a bonus action and move a bit is a serious advantage for its action economy.

Mage Slayer

Its resistances make the maw demon the perfect low-level mage slayer. Resistance to fire, cold, poison, and lightning damage makes it resistant to the majority of low-level offensive magic.

This puts the maw demon in an interesting position as it could either chase after the spell caster that is slinging these weak spells at it, or it could simply ignore them and focus on the PCs that are dealing real damage to it.

The maw demon’s immunity to the charmed, frightened, and poisoned conditions makes it more difficult to crowd control. If it can keep up with the target unhindered it could prove to be a devastating encounter.

The Maw Demon’s Weaknesses

Low Ability Scores

D&D maw demon 3e

Maw demons are regularly seen with gnolls, but they’ll team up with just about anyone that can secure them a meal. Art by Wizards of the Coast.

At the end of the day having so many resistances and immunities is only going to do so much. Having only 2 ability scores above 0 is a huge problem for a creature that relies on staying in melee range of a single target.

Dexterity and Wisdom saving throws are extremely common for crowd control spells and abilities. Constitution is also common and the maw demon only gets a +1 in that. Even though it’s immune to 3 types of crowd control it’s still able to be slowed, restrained, paralyzed, or grappled.

Cutting off its movement or forcing the maw demon to not be able to make a bite attack will seriously hinder its ability to be a threat in combat. The creature needs to be within 30 ft. of its enemies from the get-go.

Its low ability scores make the maw demon easily susceptible to being shut-down from getting into melee range on turn 1.

Situational Defenses

While its resistances are great, they rely on the fact that the party actually deals fire, cold, poison, and lightning damage. Before you decide to put a maw demon encounter in your next session you should consider the types of damage that your players deal.

If a maw demon is against an entirely martial party or a party full of divine casters that deal radiant damage it’s not going to have a good time. Its defenses rely heavily on having regular resistance to the damage being thrown at it.

As it is it has an average AC for a CR 1 creature and slightly above average hp. If the maw demon is unable to utilize its resistances it very quickly becomes a below-average CR 1 creature due to its lack of defenses. Unfortunately, its damage potentially cannot make up for it getting nuked by radiant light in a single round.

How to Play a Maw Demon

Go For the Kill!

The maw demon is going to want to find a target and lock onto it. It is going to need to benefit from Rampage at least once in an encounter to get the real benefit of its offensive abilities. The only way to do this is for the maw demon to focus on downing a PC or a creature.

You’ll get bonus points if the maw demon can single out a caster or someone who cannot deal as much damage to it. The ideal scenario is if it can avoid martial PCs or divine casters while it chases the party wizard.

Alternatively, the maw demon may opt for a less-armored PC and simply shrug off the fire bolts and poison sprays that are being slung at it for half damage.

Pick a target and stick to it.

Keep Pushing Forward

3.5e Maw Demon

The maw demon from 3.5e was actually a bit more powerful than its 5e re-imagining. Art by Wizards of the Coast.

The maw demon has to keep moving towards its target. It should constantly try to stay out of reach of as many enemies as it possibly can. However, the priority is sticking onto your target.

Make it rest of the party’s job to find ways to prevent the maw demon from chasing its prey. They should be on the defensive against a maw demon.

We need to consider that with only 13 AC the maw demon is able to be hit on a fairly regular basis. It’s going to rely heavily on knocking an enemy to 0 hp and benefiting from Rampage.

Doing so will not only give the maw demon some extra damage and movement, but also give it more time to attack as less creatures are able to attack it or restrain it.

Conclusions

All in all it’s a very basic creature, but its lore tie-ins and unique status as a low CR fiend make it an interesting addition to any low-level game. Including a maw demon gives you a way to introduce either Yeenoghu and his ravenous gnolls or other demonic beings to your players.

The maw demon can deal a great chunk of damage to a low-level PC and it does have a decent action economy for a CR 1 creature. Its defenses are nothing to scoff at either as it is resistant or immune to most of damage types from popular low-level spells. Depending on the party the maw demon can wreak havoc in an encounter.

In a game where fighting orcs and goblins has become a cliché for low-level games it’s welcoming to have interesting options like the maw demon pop up in the newer materials.

Previous Monster Monday – Drider

Next Monster Monday – TBD

If you enjoyed what you read be sure to check out my ongoing review for all of the official D&D 5e books!

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