Slaadi: Hulking toad-like chaos monsters spawned from the turmoil of Limbo. These shapeshifters are resistant to magic and capable of regeneration, and Death Slaad, chaotic evil aberrations, are the most powerful kind.
Slaad are not the most well-known D&D monster, but they’ve been around since the 1st edition of the game, and they can be pretty terrifying. That makes them great for including in your campaign, but not a lot of people know how to handle a Slaad, much less a Death Slaad.
Slaad have a complicated lore that even in 5e can get a little confusing. They have a suite of powers but seem fundamentally designed for melee combat, which can make them difficult to run in combat. Their ability to shapeshift allows them to hide in plain sight, but many DMs will be left unsure as to what exactly their motivations should be. Clearly, some clarity is needed. I’m happy to provide.
Did you know that, in addition to Death Slaad, there are four (and a half) other kinds of Slaad? Red and blue Slaad (the weakest kind) make up the majority of the species. Green Slaad are a little stronger and can cast spells. They can transform into gray Slaad given enough time and eventually become Death Slaad. And of course, all Slaad start out as tadpoles (that’s the “and a half”).
Death Slaad Stats
Let’s start with the basic stats so we know what we’re dealing with. Here’s a list:
- STR 20 (+5), DEX 15 (+2), CON 19 (+4), INT 15 (+2), WIS 10 (+0), CHA 16 (+3)
- AC: 18 (natural armor)
- Hitpoints: 20d8+80 (170 avg)
- Speed: 30 ft.
- Skills: Arcana (+6), Perception (+8)
- Damage Resistances: Acid, Cold, Fire, Lightning, Thunder
- Senses: 60 ft. of darkvision, 60 ft. of blindsight, and 18 Passive Perception
- Languages: Slaad, telepathy (60 ft.)
- Challenge Rating: 10
While a more detailed examination of their strengths and weaknesses is yet to come, we can see that Death Slaad have well-balanced stats with no particularly strong deficiencies, though their Wisdom and Dexterity saves are the most vulnerable. Notably, they don’t have resistance to nonmagical attacks; instead Death Slaad primarily resist elemental damage.
Moving on to their actual abilities, the ability to resist elemental damage is complemented by Death Slaad’s Magical Resistance, which grants advantage on all saving throws against spells and other magical effects. They also have the ability of Regeneration, regaining 10 hit points at the start of every turn where the Death Slaad has at least 1 hit point.
Death Slaad are Shapeshifters. They can use an action to polymorph into a small or medium humanoid (though, of course, they keep their stats) or back into their Slaad form. They are also Innate Spellcasters that use Charisma (DC 15 for saves, +7 for spell attacks) and can cast the following spells without material components:
- At will: Mage Hand, Detect Magic, Detect Thoughts, Invisibility, and Major Image
- 2/day each: Fear, Fireball, Fly, and Tongues
- 1/day each: Cloudkill and Plane Shift
To top it off, all the Death Slaad weapon attacks are magical. In combat, Death Slaad have three main kinds of attack, and they can use Multiattack (two attacks with claws or greatsword, one with bite). Their bite does 1d8+5 piercing damage, their claws 1d10+5 slashing damage, and their greatsword 2d6+5 slashing damage. All their attacks have a +9 to hit and deal an additional 2d6 necrotic damage.
Behavior and Portrayal
For those unfamiliar, Slaad were spawned from an enormous stone imbued with the power of Law when it was set loose in the Chaos plane of Limbo. If you’re not familiar with D&D’s lore, that can be a lot to take in, and if you want more information about slaadi lore, you can check it out here.
But for now, what’s important to take away from this is that Slaad are primal creatures, formed in another plane of existence from raw chaos. That makes them creatures with a quintessential nature, lovers of chaos (especially the chaos of battle), and, in the case of Death Slaad, lovers of cruelty.
The reproduction of Slaad is pretty weird. In addition to the stone above, red Slaad can make new Slaad by implanting eggs in humanoids, and blue Slaad can infect humanoids with a disease that turns them into Slaad. Occasionally, green Slaad are produced by these processes, and while it is unclear how greens can turn into grays (some kind of magical process), Death Slaad are created whenever a gray Slaad eats the entire corpse of another Death Slaad. The process is pretty strange.
Death Slaad specifically are arrogant, and rightfully so. They are the most powerful of the species, using the gray Slaad as servitors for their (unknown) designs and corralling red and blue Slaad to invade other planes to produce more of their kind.
They’re also the most intelligent of the Slaadi. With 15 intelligence, Death Slaad are more than capable of tricky tactics and using their shapeshifting to their advantage. Combine that with their high charisma, and a Death Slaad could easily pass themselves off as a humanoid if they had a reason to. However, Charisma can be tricky. Maybe it means the Slaad can be very persuasive, but it makes more sense to play it as if the Slaad has an undeniable aura of power and menace.
I recommend playing Death Slaad as both brutal and cunning creatures with alien motivations. Just because they are strong and love fighting, it doesn’t mean they aren’t smart or incapable of subtlety. While their motivations might be as simple as a raid on the material plane to make more Slaadi, Death Slaad might also be trying to enact some plan or gain some power. They might even be serving someone more sinister.
Death Slaad are arrogant creatures that willingly bow to no one, but they can be forced to obey commands. A variant rule says that any Slaad that has ever come into contact with their original spawning stone gains a control gem in their brain.
Possession of this gem grants the possessor control over the Slaad, even a Death Slaad, though the gem isn’t easy to acquire. It requires the Slaad to fail the saving throw for Imprisonment (a 9th-level spell), a Wish spell, or 1 minute of uninterrupted brain surgery that needs a DC 20 Wisdom (Medicine) check to succeed.
Should someone acquire this gem, however, the party might be facing an even greater threat backed up by enslaved Death Slaad. Whether the Death Slaad is disguised, leading a band of lesser Slaadi, or under someone’s control, combat is likely to follow.
The first thing to know about Death Slaadi is that they’re no joke. At CR 10, Death Slaadi can be a challenge even for parties at level 10-12, and that’s alone. Death Slaad with backup, whether or not it’s other Slaadi, can be a challenge even for parties at level 15.
That said, the one thing you can count on a Slaad to do is directly fight you. Convinced of their own strength as they are, a Death Slaad isn’t going to run away and poison you later, hire an assassin, or bring political ruin on you. A Death Slaad is going to stab you with its sword.
Of course, there’s lots of room for variation. As Death Slaad are more intelligent, they will find creative applications of their magical talents. For example, a Death Slaad might hunt you while invisible, like the Predator, or even turn invisible mid combat to confuse your positioning and strike from an unexpected place. If the Slaad can manage a round or two without being hit, it can benefit greatly from its regeneration without having to actually flee.
Opening combat with fireball also provides the Slaad with a ranged option to use before closing the distance, and a tactical fireball can result in fighting inside a burning building that the Slaad has resistance to.
Other magical abilities are less likely to be used offensively. The Slaad will always want to fight in its true form if it has any choice since multiattack is most effective when the Slaad can bite. Fear and Cloudkill are both effective tools, but they are most likely to be used to ferret out enemies hiding (in ambush or out of
cowardice fear). A Death Slaad will enjoy using cloudkill to force a party to face them in open combat.
Other spells are definitely more utility magic, but it’s worth mentioning Fly and Plane Shift. The former is best used as a counter to other flying creatures rather than a tactic the Slaad relies on for its attack plan (it doesn’t have good ranged options). The latter can technically be used for offensive magic but is best saved to counter Banishment or to bring other Slaad into the material plane.
Lastly, if the Slaad believes itself to be stronger than any given individual in the party, it’s almost guaranteed to stay and fight, believing itself to be superior. There are no tactical retreats for these monsters regardless of how many other foes your party defeats; they fight to the end because they often don’t believe they can lose (“you may have killed that other Death Slaad, but you haven’t fought ME”).
These tactics are relatively straightforward, but they offer a lot of flexibility. Some techniques shouldn’t be used with Death Slaad (like traps, as they prefer to fight), but many of the standard tactics like splitting the party (maybe with Fear), allies, and ambushes are still reliable.
Player Counter Tactics
Slaad may be tough opponents, but their nature makes them predictable. A player’s best defense against Death Slaad will be taking advantage of that predictability while refusing to play to the Slaad’s strengths.
If you know you’re going to be facing a Slaad, try to set up traps. You can effectively bait the Slaad with some good Performance checks. Pretend to be afraid, pretend to flee, or pretend you want to face the Slaad head-on. Each of these three fakes allows for unique positioning and is guaranteed to appeal strongly to the Death Slaad’s nature. As long as you don’t mess up the acting, the Slaad’s insight will never be good enough to tell you’re baiting it (and even if it does find out, it might decide to go for you anyway!).
The Slaad’s strength and constitution are excellent, and it has advantage against all magical saving throws. That means if you target a Death Slaad with spells, expect failure, and try to aim for Wisdom saves. A solid paralysis can be very effective. Nonmagical effects are also useful. Slaad aren’t resistant to poison damage, and inflicting nonmagical saving throws on a Slaad’s Dexterity is a good way to lock them down.
Spells like Fog and Darkness are entirely useless against a Death Slaad due to their blindsight, but you might try locking them in a wall of force along with a damage-over-time effect.
Lastly, targeting a Slaad control gem with a spell can be useful. As mentioned, Imprisonment or Wish can be used to get a control gem (assuming the Slaad has it), but if the Slaad is under another’s control, Greater Restoration instantly destroys the Slaad’s gem, freeing it.
Death Slaadi, and Slaadi in general, are monsters with a rich potential for story and combat; I highly recommend including them in your game. If you’re a DM, be sure to emphasize the aura of power these creatures possess and think of non-combat ways their shape shifting and illusion magic could discombobulate the party. You might also take inspiration from the older edition’s lore on Slaadi!
If you’re a player, good luck! If you’re clever and use your spells effectively to prevent the Death Slaad from simply stabbing everyone, you should be able to overcome even its suite of defensive abilities.
In older editions, while Slaad came in the traditional colors, there were also rumors and legends of other, rarer Slaad types. Some Slaad transcended their color to become unique Slaad lords with unique powers. Others were simply extremely rare, like white Slaad who had power over time itself. There’s a lot of room for variation beyond the standard five colors!