In the shallows beneath the water’s waves, the mysterious and isolationist Merfolk in D&D 5e build their homes. These amphibious humanoids live largely unbothered by the people of the land. Any campaign that takes adventurers to the sea or coast deserves to make Merfolk a part of its world.
Merfolk have the upper bodies of a human with the lower body of a fish. They have fins on their arms and head with smooth, almost-elven features. With the exception of their obvious aquatic features, Merfolk are similar to humans in their wide variety of cultures, colors, and views of the world.
Some Merfolk may have a blue-green color to them while those in a more tropical location may be more brightly-colored. Regardless, Merfolk from any waters tend to adorn themselves with shells, coral, and other beautiful aquatic accessories.
Merfolk live in the shallow waters where the sun still shines through the water’s surface. Sunken cities, large coral reefs, and complex underground caves often host Merfolk settlements. However, Merfolk may also build their own structures by carving through the stone of the seabed.
These settlements are largely based on the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that Merfolk lead. Being underwater, Merfolk do not have the ability to forge metals or make books. Their treasures and weapons are typically what they are able to salvage from the wreckage of ships and other items brought in by the tide.
As one would expect, fish and other marine life are important to Merfolk. Fish are generally kept as livestock, while other creatures, such as barracudas, serve as protection for the settlements.
Merfolk tend to avoid the deeper waters and the dangers that they conceal. As Merfolk do not have the ability to see in the dark, they carry bioluminescent flora and fauna with them on these rare trips. Jellyfish, in particular, tend to be kept around Merfolk settlements that commonly must swim into dark waters. The rhythmic floating and glow of the jellyfish illuminate the Merfolk settlement and give it a dreamy, hypnotic aesthetic.
Merfolk tend to be an isolated people. Most speak Common and Aquan which means that, in a rare meeting with a land-dweller, the Merfolk are able to communicate if they choose to interact.
It is rare that Merfolk interact with other beings outside of their tribe. Only in the most trying of times will tribes come together for a common goal. Otherwise, they are content to live and let live.
If a tribe is attacked, however, Merfolk will not hesitate to defend themselves. With spears and weapons salvaged from the surface or crafted from stone and coral, Merfolk are fierce and proud.
As expected, Merfolk often find themselves defending from creatures like Merrow or Sahuagin.
Merfolk may exhibit any number of behaviors towards an adventuring party. If treated with respect, they are likely to exhibit wonderful hospitality. If the party doesn’t appear safe to the Merfolk, however, they will likely hide unless forced to defend their home.
Merfolk in D&D 5e: A Sea of Opportunity
There really isn’t much lore published about Merfolk in D&D 5e.
On one hand, it’s a little saddening because there is a ton of opportunity to expound on them. But on the other hand, it opens up a lot of opportunity for the Dungeon Master to build a particular Merfolk community however they want.
Taking adventures beneath the waves is an often-ignored and, admittedly, difficult to keep interesting endeavor. But having the party meet the Merfolk and get the opportunity to explore underwater dungeons can be an interesting and unique challenge for both the DM and the players!