The Lizardfolk (or Lizardmen in earlier editions) have been part of Dungeon and Dragons since 1975, first appearing in the Greyhawk Supplement written by Gary Gygax and Robert Kuntz. That makes the Lizardfolk a part of D&D far longer than myself. I really got to know them when I was DMing my first campaign in 3X. Not even knowing their history, they struck me as a classic and interesting monster.
At some point between editions, the Lizardfolk went from being an aquatic creature to semi-aquatic. When I got my hands on it in 3x, it was a reptile with a bonus to swimming, that could hold its breath a really long time. This hardly equals aquatic or even amphibious any more. I had no idea the previous versions were aquatic, but its abilities hinted strongly enough at its past that I latched onto the idea anyway. Here was a missing link in action. The fish that walked out of the sea, but never quite forgot.
I should note that an Ecology was released for the Lizardfolk in Dragon 335, that I do not own. It may build on this further or speak to something completely different.
The official books placed the Lizardfolk in the swamp – that seemed natural enough. I threw a few tribes down in my own swamps. I couldn’t settle for this alone, though. These were savage people at times, sure. I mean they eat other intelligent humanoids. However, they were certainly not unintelligent. They keep a tribal structure. They could be nomadic or village-based, depending on need. They use tools, proper weapons and armor. This all led me to believe they likely trade with other races under certain circumstances. They also used different tactics in battle, based on location, ability, and command structure. These were a people that would move based on necessity, and adapt to their environment. Naturally, I placed them in the desert.
No, no, don’t close your browser tab vowing never to return again! Would a race that thrives near water be happy in a desert? Of course not, but who wants to interact with happy people? Humans are known for settling in places that make us miserable (take Canada, for example). In the desert, Lizardfolk can maintain a nomadic, tribal structure. Nomadic desert people are a staple of fantasy and classic tales of adventure. They can trade under the right circumstances, but also act as raiders to be feared. After all, they can hold their breath for inordinate amounts of time. Think about how frightening it would be if you’re guarding a caravan through the desert and suddenly armed lizard people leap from the sand all around you, and from under your feet! As an added bonus, later that night, when your players have all gone home, they will be reminded of Star Wars, and link the encounter with even more happy thoughts.
Now, if you started with the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons, and stuck with me this far, you’re probably very confused. Lizardfolk are swamp people, sure, but they’re not even remotely aquatic. While there is a mention in the descriptive text of the Monster Manual of their swimming skill and ability to hold their breath, there are no mechanics to represent it. None of the Lizardfolk even get a bonus to Endurance in the stat block.
It would seem Wizards of the Coast has also been following the course of guiding the Lizardfolk away from their watery roots. You may argue that this article is mis-titled. Man was a fish once, some say, and we call that Evolution. The difference here is that man continued to acquire new traits, traits we all share, that helped guide us toward civilization. The Lizardfolk have only lost traits. They are, in fact, one of the few monsters appearing in more than one Monster Manual without any unifying racial ability. The only thing that Lizardfolk share these days is the word scale in their names and swampwalk. On top of that, they were one of the few intelligent humanoids in Monster Manual 1 that did not receive playable stats in the back of the book. These days you can easily play a kenku and bullywug, but not a proud lizardman. The wizards have marked them shamefully as monsters only, not capable of becoming an adventurer in this world. They simply don’t have it in them.
To this I say Nay! NAY!
You might be expecting playable race stats, now that I’ve preached for so long, but alas, no. I have some worked up, but in my experience such content is hardly worth bringing to the table. There’s already a wealth of races, feats and paths facing players. Anything that can’t be pulled up in the Character Builder is considered not worth the effort. I can hardly blame them – instead I implore you to support the Lizardfolk with two practices.
- First, encourage your players to play Lizardfolk, by reskining existing races. I recommend the Gnoll, because it’s pack mechanics can help represent a tribal culture, you can have working claws, and WotC has added enough support in the way of feats and options to keep it engaging. The Bullywug can also work, but has nearly no options. A few other races might work as well, so use your discretion. The point should be to allow Lizardfolk players to exist!
- Second, remind your players that Lizardfolk are not to be taken lightly – by using engaging social and combat encounters. These are people who could be valuable allies, but will eat you if it’s in their best interest. They’re outsiders, looking in, who were cast out for unclear reasons. There’s plenty to play with.
I’ll discuss some combat tactics and introduce a few new Lizardfolk stat blocks this week with Steal this Monster articles. Keep your eyes out for it. We’ll also have a Hold Breath ability that you can add quickly to the existing Lizardfolk.
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