Magic and the power that it unlocks can be like a drug.

Those who dedicate their lives to the study of magic can easily find themselves always wanting more knowledge and power. A wizard who doesn’t balance their knowledge with temperance puts themselves at risk of all kinds of terrible fates.

Few would know this better than the one-eyed creatures known as Nothics.

These hideous creatures live to collect secrets and magical power. But there’s more to these beings than meets the eye…

Today we’re taking a closer look at the Nothic in D&D. This serves as both a study of one of the more interesting creatures in the 5e Monster Manual as well as a warning to those arcanists who desire power above all else…

The Nothic in D&D 5e

So, what exactly is a Nothic?

We’ll start by looking at their description, abilities, and general temperament. From there, we’ll delve deeper into the dark origins of these creatures and examine what drives them.

Physical Description

Nothics are medium-size creatures which puts them around the typical adventurer’s size. However, they are commonly squatted and hunched over which could make them seem much smaller at first glance.

They are aberrations which puts them in a similar category to creatures like Beholders, Aboleths, and Mind Flayers. As such, their abilities don’t necessarily adhere to the same rules as the arcane magic of the Material Plane.

The most striking physical trait of Nothics is their single large eye. Darting its gaze back and forth, few things escape a Nothic’s sight.

The Nothic’s body is warped into something entirely alien. It is covered in jagged spines and possesses sharp claws on each of its hands and feet. As it skitters and awkwardly hops to move around, their gangly arms drag along the ground.

Needless to say, their appearance will certainly get quite the reaction from anyone who sees one!

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Abilities

Nothics are watchers and stealthy observers above all else. They are very stealthy and capable of stalking a party of adventurers unnoticed for quite some time.

Because they have truesight out to 120ft, it’s difficult to trick them. They’ll see right through things like illusions or invisibility spells.

Creeping up near the party, the Nothic is able to use its Weird Insight feature on a creature it can see within 30ft of it. This allows the Nothic to learn facts or secrets about the creature. This is the Nothic’s primary feature so we’ll discuss it in more detail later in this article.

If pressed into combat, the Nothic acts in self-defense. While it’s quick to find an escape, it can do some serious damage if it’s cornered.

It’s able to make two attacks with its claws, but they aren’t particularly strong.

Their Rotting Gaze is another story though…

The Nothic targets a creature that it can see within 30ft of it. That creature has to make a DC12 Constitution saving throw or take 3d6 necrotic damage.

A Nothic can use their Rotting Gaze feature once per turn as an action. Using this feature replaces its melee attacks. However, the Nothic can use this feature as much as it would like.

If the Nothic is able to play “keep away,” Rotting Gaze is a deadly enough deterrent at lower levels that it might be able to make a getaway.

Nothic Origins

Nothics are created from wizards and arcanists who delve too deep into arcane secrets. Their pursuit of hidden knowledge becomes an obsession and inflicts a dark curse upon the unfortunate soul.

This curse stems from Vecna, a lich so powerful that he was able to become the god of secrets in some worlds.

The curse transforms the wizard into a Nothic and strips them of any memory of who they once were. They are left as horrible creatures driven only by their impulsive desire to collect secrets and magical items.

However, the creature does gain some abilities as a part of this transformation. They have a keen insight and understanding of other creatures and secretive lore.

Weird Insights and Dark Knowledge

As I mentioned when discussing the Nothic’s abilities, the Weird Insight feature is the Nothic’s most important ability. It’s how the Nothic is able to gather knowledge, secrets, and esoteric lore to fuel its obsessions.

A Nothic’s Weird Insight feature might resemble a kind of psychic ability, but Nothic doesn’t specifically read the minds of those it encounters.

While a more traditional mind-reading ability like Detect Thoughts uses a Wisdom saving throw, the Nothic’s Weird Insight is actually a contest between the Nothic’s Wisdom (Insight) and the target’s Charisma (Deception) skills.

Considering that a target that can’t be charmed automatically wins this contest, there’s perhaps a pinch of enchantment behind the Nothic’s Weird Insight versus the typical divination magic behind mind-reading abilities.

Nothics don’t consider this to be even slightly invasive. In their own twisted and nihilistic way, they might even view sharing these insights with the creature they gained them from as helping by revealing an important truth.

Like creepy monsters? The Bag Man will give you nightmares!

What Does a Nothic Want?

With no knowledge of who they once were, Nothics are driven by obsession and impulse.

Nothics typically want three things:

  • Magical knowledge and items
  • Particularly rare lore/secrets
  • To be restored to their previous form

Nothics are happy to share the insights they gain in exchange for more knowledge or (especially) magic items.

As for wanting a way to reverse their condition, that’s not a conscious desire. It’s more of a subconscious pull that drives them towards collecting as much magical knowledge as possible.

Remember: they don’t consciously remember being anything or anyone else.

These desires (paired with their stealthy demeanor) make Nothics particularly drawn to magical academies or libraries.

Sneaking through the halls and collections of arcane knowledge, the Nothic gets into everything it possibly can. It’s a safe bet that it’s using its Weird Insight on everyone it sees from the safety of its hiding spots.

Some powerful mages may make an arrangement with a Nothic. In exchange for magic items or bits of knowledge, the Nothic acts as a type of guard dog for the mage.

Outside of such arrangements, Nothics tend to be fond of subterranean areas where they can easily hide. If there’s a nearby source of magical power/knowledge, that’s even better!

Nothics are loathsome stalkers in a way that makes me think of Gollum from Lord of the Rings.

I envision them as eating whatever they can catch in their filthy lairs. This could range from insects to rats to adventurers who are rotted to the bone by the Nothic’s Rotting Gaze.

Nothics and Telepathy

If we’re strictly looking at the Nothic in the Monster Manual, it doesn’t have any telepathic abilities. Despite being able to pry into creatures’ minds with its Weird Insights, it’s limited to only being able to speak Undercommon.

Personally, I think that this creates a bit of a bottleneck that prevents an encounter with a Nothic from being as impactful as it could be.

Fortunately, it’s a quick solution. Simply giving the Nothic the ability to speak telepathically to a creature gives it a way to interact with the party in a way that’s interesting.

Not to mention, it also really dials up the creep factor of the whole situation!

While it’s not explicitly mentioned in the Monster Manual, this has been done with Nothics that appear in other official adventures to great effect.

Nothics looked a bit different back in 3e

Nothics in Your D&D Game

You can find Nothics appearing in several official adventures for D&D 5e including The Lost Mines of Phandelver, Curse of Strahd (read the review here!), Out of the Abyss, and Tomb of Annihilation.

With these being some of the most popular adventures released for 5e, you’ve got pretty good odds of encountering a Nothic! Not to mention, encounters with Nothics are so unique that they can really add some extra spice to a homebrew game!

Whether you’re a player or a Dungeon Master looking to run a Nothic in your next game, let’s go over what you can expect!

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Encountering a Nothic as a Player

Nothics are as creepy as they come. Unless you or someone in your party has a high Passive Perception (like a Druid, Cleric, or Monk), you might not even be aware that one is stalking you.

Next thing you know, you might hear a voice in your mind telling you all kinds of terrible things about yourself. The voice knows your greatest fears and your deepest, darkest secrets.

Now you’ve got those insecurities at the front of your mind instead of keeping an eye out for danger ahead in the dungeon you’re exploring!

Looking around and hopefully rolling well on your Wisdom (Perception) check, you see the strange one-eyed creature staring at you intensely.

If you try to attack it or even yell at it, it’s likely to run. It’s probably kept its distance just in case.

Now you’ve got the biggest choice to make when it comes to encountering a Nothic: do you engage with it as it promises to reveal more secrets to you? If yes, you might be able to bribe it with items like spell scrolls, potions, or other magic items.

If you choose to attack the Nothic, it is going to try to make a quick escape. However, it might still try to hit you with its Rotting Gaze first. Be prepared to make a Constitution saving throw if you decide to attack.

This is likely to be more of a social encounter, but Nothics are very persistent. If it senses that you have magic items on you, it likely won’t give you a moment of peace! Even if you run it off, it will almost certainly come back again later.

A Nothic could be charmed by a spell like Charm Monster or the Friends cantrip. Cryptic as their Weird Insights may be, it could be useful for learning more about what lies ahead.

If you’re particularly suspicious of an ally or NPC, a charmed Nothic could likely be bribed pretty easily into telling you a bit more about them.

Using a Nothic as a DM

Unless the party has it cornered, the Nothic has no interest in fighting except in self-defense. Even then, it is only going to fight as much as it has to in order to make a safe escape.

Keep in mind, they are much more content to stalk the party, learn the party members’ secrets, and attempt to acquire any magical items or secrets they may have.

If you make an encounter with a Nothic just a single occurrence, you’re leaving a lot of wasted potential. Imagine the horror of having a creature tell you all about your biggest fears, failures, and dark secrets while you’re trying to focus on something else. Now imagine that it refuses to stop even while you’re in combat with something else!

Don’t go for the cheap encounter. Instead, have specific party members get constantly badgered by the Nothic. Until they finally look around and manage to spot it hiding in the corner, the Nothic is sowing doubt and paranoia in the characters’ minds.

I’d recommend having the Nothic prioritize interacting with characters that have magical items. It sees the Fighter’s magic sword or the Bag of Holding on the Warlock’s hip and hopes that it can make a deal. It provides secrets and insights in exchange for magic items.

If the party takes a long rest while in a dungeon and being stalked by a Nothic, it should absolutely attempt to quietly steal a magic item.

It should get annoying to the party. If the party gives the Nothic magic items, it should take this as a sign that they have more. If they don’t give the Nothic what it wants, it’s convinced they’re holding out on it.

Should the party end up in combat with the Nothic, it fights defensively until it can escape. Once some time goes by, it begins stalking them again.

In the Nothic’s mind, maybe they’ll share their magic items and dirty secrets this time…

If “I know something you don’t know” had a face…

Making Truly Weird Insights

The real flavor to the Nothic is its Weird Insights.

These don’t have any real mechanical function, but they add an interesting level to the encounter. Because of that, they’ll hit a lot harder in a group that really gets into the roleplaying aspect of the game.

To work just right, a Nothic’s Weird Insights should hit a few key notes:

  • Make it deeply personal for the character. Even the most “squeaky clean” hero has doubts/flaws/tragedies that they keep buried deep inside.
    • “If you weren’t out trying to be a hero, you would have been able to protect your village from those gnolls. It’s YOUR selfishness and YOUR fault that your village was destroyed.”
    • “You swore your Oath and undying loyalty to a King that doesn’t even know you exist. In doing this, you have relinquished yourself to unappreciated and disposable servitude. Such a waste!”
  • Be sure it’s accurate. Unless the player really gives you as the DM a ton of improv space with their character, make sure the Weird Insight is accurate. Nothics are insane with no concept of boundaries, but their insights are never wrong… Know the character’s backstory!
    • “You never measured up to your siblings which is why your Father favored them! Wait, what? You’re an only child? Oh… Uhh… let me try again… one moment…”
  • Have the Weird Insight be something actionable. In other words, the Nothic’s words should nudge the character towards a (typically unfavorable) certain action.
    • “Your beloved has eyes for another that you could never compete with. As long as they live, you will never receive that love in return!”
    • “Your headmaster has warned you against studying necromancy. You possess great potential that he only wishes to inhibit so that you will never be as powerful as him!”
    • “You risk life and limb to assist your traveling companions with their matters. Do you honestly believe they’d do the same for you? Fool!”

Conclusion – Nothic in D&D 5e

The Nothic is a creature that works great as a complication on the party’s adventure. There’s something about a creature that relentlessly follows you while wearing you down emotionally that is especially creepy.

At the end of the day, their desire for magic items and secrets will never be fully satisfied. In the meantime, the Nothic is perfectly happy to bring you into its own spiral of madness and doubt.

Have a memorable encounter with a Nothic you’d like to share? Let’s talk below in the comments!

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05/22/2022 04:54 pm GMT