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Monster Spotlight: Merfolk

3 Minute Read
Apr 4 2022

Is it actually better down where it’s wetter? We’re going to find out when we take a look at the the merfolk in this week’s monster spotlight.

Merfolk are some of my favorite mythological creatures. Their myths range from the friendly singing princesses to monsters that drag sailors to their deaths and everything in between. And appearing since D&D’s first edition and evolving ever since, they’ve been here since the beginning.


First Edition

The first appearance of Merfolk as monsters was very specific to label them “Mermen.” They live in warm and tropical seas, harvesting ocean vegetation and hunting and herding certain fish for food. Merfolk live in undersea communities, here merwomen and children live and are guarded by 3-18 large barracuda. They are intelligent creatures using the same weapons that playable character would, and have an entire paragraph written out describing how they would go about grappling, sinking, and looting a ship.

First edition Merfolk are also neutral, indicating to me that as a community they are generally neutral but individuals could run the gamut of alignments just like any other intelligent creature. This could leave it up to the DM’s discrepancy whether a merman you encounter is good or evil, sinking a ship for revenge or justice, or malice.


Second Edition

Merfolk are by and large almost exactly the same in 2E as in 1E. The most noticeable difference is the additional and more fleshed out information you get about the species this time around. 2E goes on to explain that mermen attack ships in times of great need and how often in an encounter you can expect to see a patrol leader, a chief, or a shaman. Mer-shaman are a new addition to 2E, casting the spells of a 3rd level priest. Merfolk society is described as heavily patriarchal and preferring solitude to friendship or trade with outsiders, but acknowledges them as being creative and producing works of art.



Third Edition

Third edition is where the title Merman switches over to Merfolk. They are now described as playful and mischievous, often playing pranks on adventurers who are lucky enough to encounter a merfolk, but not often treated with true evil or malice. Interestingly, it is noted that most Merfolk encountered outside of their homes would be warriors, hunters, or scouts. Barracudas have been replaced with porpoises and bards are specified as the Merfolk’s favored class. Though spellcasters who aren’t bards are now generally adepts.





Fifth Edition

Merfolk come back for fifth edition! Now they are a much simpler race for the DM to play. There are rules specifying the percentages of a scout party or what kinds of spellcasters you may encounter. They are described as not often uniting under one ruler. This makes Merfolk seem like people more interested in living in small family groups. Their weapons are also now specified as being crafted from what they can salvage from shipwrecks and beaches or naturally occurring ocean detritus. Most recently Merfolk seem to have become an encounter left up to the creativity of the DM.


Have you encountered any Merfolk in your adventures? How did they respond to your party? Is it truly better down where it’s wetter? Let us know in the comments!

Happy Adventuring!

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