DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES
Guide to D&D Monsters: Displacer Beast
FEB 28, 2022
What looks like a black panther with six legs, two tentacles sprouting from its shoulders, and is dangerous enough that the characters in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves movie leaped into a gelatinous cube to dodge out of the way of its attack? That would be a displacer beast.
Taking its name from its ability to make itself appear to be several feet from its actual position by using light displacement, this classic D&D creature first made its appearance in the 1975 Greyhawk supplement. Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History suggests the original concept was borrowed from A. E. van Vogt’s pulp-era short story Black Destroyer. Though the concept illustration never made it to print, the original displacer beast had shoulder tentacles that looked more like thorny vines than its current iteration.
You might be asking yourself what’s up with the extra legs and weird tentacles? Well, these otherworldly creatures have unseelie origins and used to roam free in the Feywild. That is, until they were captured by members of the Gloaming Court and trained as ferocious hunters to track down wondrous prey like unicorns. Of course, the displacer beasts eventually escaped captivity and did what any malevolent monstrosity with a beef would do: caused absolute havoc. Naturally, this chaos spilled over into the seelie lands, and it was ultimately the Summer Court hunters, with the assistance of the goodest blink dogs, drove these predators out into the Material Plane. Thus began the long-term rivalry between fantasy puppers and kitties.
If you’re a DM who wants to run an adventure that features a displacer beast, the key feature to keep in mind is their displacement ability. The displacer beast projects a magical illusion that makes it appear to be standing near its actual location, causing attack rolls against it to have disadvantage. If you’re using tokens from the Roll20 Marketplace, remember that as you position the creature. You might even conceal its true position with a token on the GM layer.
When it comes to combat, a displacer beast is fast with 40-foot movement speed. It’s also mostly a brute predator with high Strength and Constitution. Although it has more intelligence than a panther, it’s not a tactician and still relies mostly on instinct. If it is hit by an attack, its displacement trait is disrupted until the end of its next turn. This trait is also disrupted while the displacer beast is incapacitated or has a speed of 0. So, when a displacer beast is hit, its reaction is dependent on its positioning in relation to an enemy’s. Think about it: if you have one unique thing going for you, especially from a survival perspective, you’re not going to willingly put yourself in a position where you can’t use it. Likewise, the displacer isn’t going to position itself where an opponent has an attack advantage because of the likelihood of disrupting its one unique trait.
Another important factor to remember is the melee range of its tentacles is 10 feet, not 5 feet, which means it doesn’t have to be right next to its target to hit. These creatures are well-known for their love of the kill, and a displacer beast hunts not just for food but for sport as well. With a predator’s instincts, it targets the young, old, infirm, and those who are isolated from a group.
If they manage to kill a displacer beast, a resourceful party (with a DM’s blessing) could craft a cloak of displacement using the rules in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (see: “Downtime Activities"). By those guidelines, it would take about 10 workweeks and 2,000 gp as well as proficiency with leatherworker’s tools or the Arcana skill.
Conversely, an adventuring party might want to take inspiration from history when displacer beasts were prized as guards and pets or trained by the Unseelie Court for hunting purposes. It’s easy to make a case for training these monstrosities like big cats but as fantasy history has shown, these creatures are difficult to fully domesticate. As with any cat that forms a bond with a humanoid, the displacer beast is likely asking itself: what’s in it for me? In a worst-case scenario, they may even turn on their trainers so adventurers should attempt to take on a new pet at their own risk. Like real world cats, they’re likely eager to do more than bat a mead mug off the tavern bar top.
That said, The Wild Beyond the Witchlight features a gentler version of the monstrosity and even has a stat block for a displacer beast kitten. And in Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, the elf druid Wyllow has a displacer beast companion named Crissann. These examples may show more of the domesticated side of these creatures but beneath the warm and fuzzy façade lurks 500 lbs of “find out” ready to pounce into action.
These dangerous predators are sure to leave their mark on any game, whether presented as enemies or friends. In the case of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, they’re best served with a side of gelatinous cube.