Before I get into material from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, I promised I’d look at myconids: vaguely humanoid fungus creatures, categorized by the Monster Manual as “plants” in defiance of our current understanding of fungi as less closely related to plants than to animals. Granted, we shouldn’t be surprised when anything in Dungeons and Dragons defies science—but if, as a dungeon master, you feel like honoring science and being perversely difficult toward your players, you might choose to reclassify them as beasts, monstrosities or even aberrations. The last category might fit best, as they’re intelligent, but they’re certainly not a humanoid intelligence, or even an animal intelligence.
As subterranean creatures, all myconids share 120 feet of darkvision, plus the features Sun Sickness, Distress Spores and Rapport Spores. Sun Sickness penalizes myconids for venturing aboveground during the day: it gives them disadvantage on all ability checks, attack rolls and saving throws while in sunlight, and if they spend more than an hour out in it, it kills them. (They dry up or something, I guess.) Distress Spores gives them a form of telepathic communication with other myconids, informing them when they’re injured. Rapport Spores are interesting: they give all living creatures exposed to them the ability to share thoughts over a limited distance. Which is useful, because otherwise, myconids have no form of verbal communication.
Myconids are lawful neutral, not evil. Although not automatically friendly, they’re not automatically hostile, either; their default disposition is indifferent. But they are lawful, which means that being a troublemaker in their vicinity may provoke a hostile response from them. The more chaos-muppety your player characters are, the less likely myconids are to appreciate their presence.
Myconid sprouts are, basically, fungus babies, and shame on the PCs for picking on them. With low Strength and only average Dexterity and Constitution, they’d normally be skirmishers, except that they also have a base movement speed of only 10 feet, so they’re not really capable of skirmishing. They certainly will not start any kind of fight unless they outnumber the PCs by a sizable margin—four to one or more. Otherwise, if the PCs show any degree of hostility toward them, they’ll simply Dash (action) directly away, which in their case means retreating at the breakneck velocity of 20 feet per round. They won’t use their Rapport Spores unless and until they come within 10 feet of a larger myconid. But if they’re damaged, their Distress Spores will summon other myconids up to 240 feet away (by travel distance—the spores can’t pass through walls) to come to their aid.
Myconid adults are the default myconid. With a base movement speed of 20 feet, they’re faster than myconid sprouts but still slow by humanoid standards. With average Strength and Dexterity and slightly above-average Constitution, they’re not strong enough to be brutes or agile enough to be skirmishers. They compensate with their Pacifying Spores, which have, roughly, a 25 to 50 percent chance of stunning a single opponent. These aren’t great odds, so adult myconids will prefer to outnumber their opponents two to one before initiating a fight.
An adult myconid will use its Pacifying Spores as its first action unless another myconid has already done so successfully against the same opponent. If so, its course of action depends on the reason why the myconids are fighting. Counterintuitively, if they were attacked unprovoked, a myconid with a stunned opponent will release Rapport Spores and try to determine its opponents’ reason for attacking. But if the myconids are the aggressors, because their opponents have been causing intolerable mayhem, a myconid with a stunned opponent will seize the opportunity to attack with advantage.
Once combat is under way, either because the myconids are the aggressors or because the PCs are determined to reject any peaceful resolution, a myconid with a stunned opponent will continue to attack with advantage. A myconid whose opponent has resisted others’ attempts to stun it will use its own Pacifying Spores. However, a myconid whose opponent has resisted its own attempt to stun it won’t try further; it will simply attack with its fists, without advantage. The first myconid to attack a previously stunned opponent on whom the effect has worn off will use its Pacifying Spores again, assuming it has uses left.
An adult myconid’s self-preservation instinct kicks in when it’s seriously injured (reduced to 8 hp or fewer), but because of its low speed, fleeing is a difficult proposition. It will Dash (action), but this is less “fleeing” and more “withdrawing”; if its opponents are determined to pursue it, its chances aren’t good. If there are enough casualties that the myconids are outnumbered by their opponents, they’ll stop attacking, release Rapport Spores and try to parley. If parley fails, they’ll release one final burst of Pacifying Spores, then all Dash (action) away the next round.
A myconid sovereign is the guiding mind of a circle of myconids. Myconid sovereigns have above-average Strength and Constitution, suiting them more naturally to the brute fighter style. If the myconids are responding to provocation by chaotic PC behavior, the response will be led by a sovereign.
Myconid sovereigns have a Multiattack action comprising one spore attack (either Pacifying or Hallucinating) and one fist attack. While Pacifying Spores stun opponents, Hallucinating Spores poison them. What’s the difference? A stunned creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws, and attacks against the creature have advantage. A poisoned creature doesn’t automatically fail any saving throw, nor do attacks against the creature have advantage, but the creature has disadvantage on its own attacks and ability checks. In either case, the spore target is incapacitated, meaning it can’t move or take actions or reactions.
So, wait—if the poisoned target is incapacitated while it hallucinates, if it can’t take actions or reactions, what does it matter if it has disadvantage on its attacks and ability checks? Technically, it confers disadvantage if a hallucinating creature has to make a skill contest roll that doesn’t involve taking an action, such as a Perception check against the Stealth skill, an Athletics or Acrobatics check against being grappled or shoved, or a Wisdom check against the Deception, Persuasion or Intimidation skill. Shoving an opponent and knocking him or her prone would then confer advantage on melee attacks against that opponent, but that’s taking two rounds (and two rolls) to do what Pacifying Spores accomplishes in one. In short, combat-wise, the net effect of Hallucinating Spores is incapacitation, and that’s it—any other effect is purely situational and incidental.
From this, we can conclude that if the myconid sovereign is responding to PC mayhem, it’s not going to bother to use its Hallucination Spores; it’s going to use its Pacifying Spores the same way a myconid adult would. Only if the PCs are the aggressors, and the myconid sovereign isn’t sure why, will it resort to its Hallucination Spores, then try to talk the hallucinating opponent into pursuing a different course of action.
I haven’t discussed the myconid sovereign’s final feature, Animating Spores, a.k.a. Create Fungus Zombie. This takes the corpse of a dead humanoid or beast and turns it into a spore servant, a slow-moving thrall of the myconids. It fights as a brute, whether or not that style suits it, no longer having access to any ranged attacks, spells, or other class or combat actions it previously possessed.
Note the wording: “It loses any action that isn’t Multiattack or a melee weapon attack that deals bludgeoning, piercing or slashing damage. . . . If the servant has no other means of dealing damage, it can use its fists or limbs to make unarmed strikes.” This means a spore servant can’t Dash, Disengage, Dodge, Help, Hide, Search, Use an Object (to any degree that requires an action) or Ready another action. Although the MM isn’t super-clear on the matter, I’d assume that Animating Spores restore the hit points of the spore servant to its former maximum.
Spore servants are, for all intents and purposes, mindless drones, which the myconids can (and will) throw at their opponents indiscriminately, although they do have the common sense to aim spore servants at stunned opponents, in order to give them advantage on their attacks. They have no self-preservation instinct (or, for that matter, free will) and will fight until they’re destroyed.
Next: thoughts from Volo’s.