D&D Monster Monday: Frost Salamander
The Plane of Ice contains many treasures that many back home would pay handsomely for. You knew it would be dangerous, but you knew nothing of the terror that is the frost salamander, a lizard-like elemental with freezing-cold breath and razor-sharp claws. These are creatures with no fear and no mercy.
The frost salamander is a treacherous beast and the perfect monster to cap off this month’s rapid-fire Monster Monday series! I have to say I had a fun time looking up all sorts of wintery/frost themed creatures. Plus, there are still plenty of creatures to go around should I want to do this again next year!
The frost salamander is both a ticking time-bomb with regards to its offensive prowess, but also a bit of an idiot. I mean, it’s a creature that’s vulnerable to fire damage while also being attracted to fire and heat sources.
Their fast and variable speed and their simple dragon-esque statblock make for a fun encounter to throw at your adventuring party. Plus, their hides, fangs, and claws are highly sought after for crafting materials so your party will enjoy hunting these for a nice side-job. Should they survive the encounter, that is.
Let’s burrow down deep into Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes and check-out the icy menace, the frost salamander!
Frost Salamander Lore
The frost salamander is native to the Plane of Ice a.k.a. Frostfell which is a plane between the elemental Plane of Water and Plane of Air. Don’t worry, I barely understand/care about all of this plane stuff too, especially since they are known to travel to the colder parts of the Material Plane via planar gates.
Frost salamanders are super dangerous creatures due to their Freezing Breath and their deadly-sharp claws and teeth. However, they also have the distinct ability to quickly burrow underground or even below thick sheets of ice making them completely undetectable by natural means.
They are also known to dig-out what is known as a “false lair” which is a large cavern below the earth that looks just like a typical cave. Considering the harsh environment that the frost salamander lives in, any travelers would certainly think of this cave as a refuge from the ongoing blizzards and hailstorms outside.
Once the frost salamander’s prey makes themselves comfortable, the salamander will strike from the darkness. It’s quite an ingenious tactic.
But, these creatures are also pretty dumb too. Not as dumb as the roc mind you, but these are creatures that are both vulnerable to fire damage and highly attracted to fire. They associate (correctly) that heat or fire = food, but there are also cases where frost salamanders are lured by this heat into traps so that hunters can harvest their highly-valued claws, teeth, and hides.
Frost Salamander Stats and Abilities
You can find the frost salamander’s statblock on page 223 of Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes.
Size: Huge elemental
AC: 17 (natural armor)
HP: 168 (16d12 + 64)
Speed: 60 ft., burrow 40 ft., climb 40 ft.
STR: 20 (+5)
DEX: 12 (+1)
CON: 18 (+4)
INT: 7 (-2)
WIS: 11 (+0)
CHA: 7 (-2)
This is an enormous creature that comes with its benefits such as battlefield control and a larger radius of attack. It’s also decently-armored with a 17 AC and a solid chunk of HP behind that respectable natural armor. Like the lore says, their hides are highly valued to make armor with.
This is a damn fast creature clocking in a 60 ft. of movement speed per turn. While that is certainly impressive, we also need to take into account that it can also use up to 40 ft. of this speed for climbing and/or burrowing. This is a quick creature with a ton of maneuverability.
Their ability score array is by far the weakest part of this section of the statblock. Sure, they have solid modifiers in their two primary ability scores, but outside of that everything else is either mediocre at best or awful at worst.
They do wind up with having a +4 and a +8 to Wisdom and Constitution saving throws which give them favorable odds with most of the common saving throw abilities. However, having only a +1 to Dexterity is surely a weak point for the creature, especially since it is the source of so many saving throws in 5e.
Resistances, Immunities, Saves, and Skills
Saving Throws: Con +8, Wis +4
Skills: Perception +4
Damage Vulnerabilities: Fire
Damage Immunities: Cold
Senses: darkvision 60 ft., tremorsense 60 ft., passive Perception 14
CR: 9 (5,000 XP)
The +4 to Perception and 60 ft. of tremorsense is a fantastic combination for this creature to have. This is what allows them to create false lairs or burrow below thick sheets of ice to ambush a weary adventuring party.
Damage vulnerabilities are not common in D&D 5e, and for good reason. The frost salamander has a vulnerability to fire damage which is both flavorful and extremely unfortunate due to how common fire damage is in 5e.
On the other hand, they also have immunity to cold damage which is another extremely common damage type in 5e. Honestly, this sort of balances it out. However, I’m shocked that a CR 9 creature doesn’t have any other damage resistances or immunities, or even some condition immunities.
All in all, it’s a well-made CR 9 creature, but I am surprised that it is lacking a few elements that typical mid-high CR creatures have.
Abilities and Traits
Burning Fury. When the salamander takes fire damage, its Freezing Breath automatically recharges.
I love this trait. The frost salamander’s Freezing Breath is an extremely powerful attack. It’s noticeably more powerful than its Multiattack, but it has a low recharge rate.
Burning Fury gives the players an important choice in combat. Is it worth it to deal a ton of bonus damage to the salamander if it means letting it deal a boatload of damage to the entire party? Sure, in doing so you can chop it down quickly, but there’s also the chance of it killing one or all of you.
This changes the dynamic of the fight while still giving the party decision making to determine the outcome of the encounter.
Multiattack. The salamander makes five attacks: four with its claws and one with its bite.
Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 8 (1d6 + 5) piercing damage.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 15 ft., one target. Hit: 9 (1d8 + 5) piercing damage and 5 (1d10) cold damage.
Freezing Breath (Recharge 6). The salamander exhales chill wind in a 60-foot cone. Each creature in that area must make a DC 17 Constitution saving throw, taking 44 (8d10) cold damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.
The creature’s Multiattack is fairly strong what with five separate attacks each with a +9 to hit. That’s quite a bit of value in the action economy. In total, it deals 46 average damage per turn which is just over the average of the damage Freezing Breath deals to a single creature.
It’s fine for a consistent damage-dealing option, but when Freezing Breath is available and you can catch at least 2-3 creatures in it, go with that.
The nice thing about Claws and especially Bite is that they both have some additional reach meaning that opportunity attacks can be triggered quite easily against this huge creature if the party isn’t careful about their positioning.
Freezing Breath is the creature’s signature move. It’s a powerful blast of cold damage that requires a high Constitution saving throw to reduce the damage. 44 cold damage is not a small amount either and keep in mind that it’s the average damage of the ability inflicted on each creature.
The downside, of course, is that the ability has a recharge of 6 meaning that it will probably only be up once maybe twice in a fight. Use it both as soon as you can and as optimally as possible so that you may get the chance of restoring it on a later turn while still inflicting a ton of damage.
Who knows, though, the party may slip up and accidentally trigger Burning Fury and give you an opening to dish-out even more cold damage!
Frost Salamander Strengths
Deadly Burst Damage
The frost salamander’s Multiattack is decent it’s not great, but it’s enough to keep up the threat alive until Freezing Breath is available.
Which brings me to my point. Freezing Breath is fantastic AoE burst damage. It has a high saving throw and is a 60 ft. cone which statistically speaking should mean that you should have at least one or two people fail the save and take full damage.
Sure, the downside to all of this is that Freezing Breath only recharges on a 6 so it shouldn’t be frequently available unless, of course, the party deals fire damage to the frost salamander. While this deals double damage to the salamander, it also triggers Burning Fury and refreshes Freezing Breath’s cooldown.
60 ft. of movement speed is double the amount of a typical medium-size adventurer. I mean, unless you have a party of high-level monks the salamander should have an easy time closing the gap or chasing down a party of adventurers.
This is just a ridiculous amount of movement speed for a creature, especially for such an enormous creature. This speed gives the frost salamander the ability to easily reposition and control the flow of battle which is an immense perk in its own right.
However, we also need to mention the fact that this 60 ft. of speed also comes with other types of movement. You can use up to 40 ft. of your total movement pool to climb and/or burrow, giving you even more options to reposition with while in combat.
Frost Salamander Weaknesses
Fire, It Burns Us!
Even with the immunity to cold damage, vulnerability to fire damage is still a large downside to the creature’s statblock. There are so many spells that deal fire damage that it shouldn’t be unheard of for the party to have at least one or two spellcasters that regularly use or have access to a fire damage spell.
If the party can reliably deal fire damage to the frost salamander you have effectively cut the creature’s decent health pool in half depending on how much fire damage you can deal.
However, the saving grace of the frost salamander is that they at least become deadlier when they have been set aflame unlike most other creatures with damage vulnerabilities. Burning Fury instantly recharges the frost salamander’s Freezing Breath if it takes fire damage, giving you even more AoE burst damage!
At the end of the day, the fire damage will still probably result in a quick death to the frost salamander, but it should cost the party a fair number of additional resources to do so.
Susceptible to Crowd Control
While it’s true that the frost salamander has a +4 and +8 to Wisdom and Constitution saving throws, they are still super susceptible to Dexterity saves which make up an enormous amount of the spell saves in 5e. Their Intelligence and Charisma are also abysmal and while they aren’t common saving throw abilities, there are still a few spells and effects that call for these.
However, I can’t solely blame the creature’s ability score array for its susceptibility to crowd control. Many creatures have ability scores that are just as bad if not worse than this spread and they aren’t nearly as easily crowd controlled.
The reason for this glaring issue, in my opinion, is that the frost salamander lacks any condition immunities as a CR 9 creature. It’s impressive. Giving it a couple of condition immunities would be a solid buff to the creature’s statblock, but honestly, it’s still a respectable creature in its own right.
Besides, I think every creature needs a weakness or two.
How to Play a Frost Salamander
Don’t Fall for the False Lair!
I try not to lift ideas completely from the creature’s lore blurb, but the false lair portion of the lore is just so cool. Flavor-wise it’s a cool way to showcase the creature’s expert burrowing skills and its tremorsense. Tactically, it’s a unique way to ambush the party that I guarantee they won’t see coming!
If the party is trekking through the frostbitten wasteland of the frigid north they’ll probably search for a cave or den to rest for the night. This is an ideal spot since typically these are enclosed spaces that are also covered from the elements. Logically, you’d assume you’d be safe in such a location from any ambushes.
However, a false lair will contain a frost salamander or two that are burrowed either beneath the ground or somewhere in the walls of the lair. They’ll utilize their tremorsense to suss-out when the party is settling down to rest for the night and then burst out and attack.
The benefit of this tactic is that the frost salamanders have a favorable chance of gaining a surprise round, but they also have ensured that the party is grouped in a tight space so that they’re perfect targets for Freezing Breath.
I can assure you that if the party should survive this encounter, they’ll be turning over every rock and inspecting every snow mound where they sleep for the remainder of the campaign.
Run Laps Around Your Foes!
You have 60 ft. of movement per turn. The first 40 ft. of this can be used for burrowing and/or climbing. Point being, you have plenty of speed to reposition yourself with. Use this to your advantage whenever possible!
Frost salamanders are not intelligent creatures. They’re not particularly wise either, so they’re going to rely solely on instinct. They won’t be able to pick out the optimal target amongst their foes before combat begins, they’ll probably just go for the closest one initially.
However, once they see who deals the most damage to them or annoys them the most they can lock-in on that person and give them a solid thrashing. They have so much movement speed that they should easily be able to get close to their target and use their Multiattack’s reach to wail on them.
They can also use 40 ft. of burrowing or climbing speed to break line of sight with the party to lure them in closer to get an optimal Frost Breath off.
Try to ensure that the salamander is in a favorable location unless you have a reason for them being out in the open without any cover. These are creatures that will become an enormous nuisance in tight quarters. Plus, their lore gives them a way to create the perfect battlefield!
5 Frost Salamander Plot Hooks
- The Disappearing Travellers – Rumor has it that fewer travellers have been able to make it across the chilly plains this winter. Something or someone appears to be kidnapping or devouring people en mass.
- Fur Trapper’s Delight – You can make serviceable armor out of many kinds of furs and leathers. However, the frost salamander’s hide has special properties to protect a person from the cold and will fetch a tidy sum if sold to a skilled armorer.
- Like Moths to a Flame – A town nestled just outside the forest has needed to extinguish all of their flames due to a menacing pack of frost salamanders tearing through the countryside. It’s the dead of winter and people are freezing. Someone needs to do something about the salamanders!
- Stop the Migration – Frost salamanders have been arriving in the Material Plan en mass as of late. These are dangerous beasts, so one can only wonder what is driving them out of Frostfell.
- A Chill in Your Spine – It’s a miracle! The party has found shelter in an abandoned cave. They can now rest in peace, away from the harsh blizzard outside. That’s what they believe at least.
The frost salamander is a formidable foe for any adventuring party. They have some unbelievably powerful burst damage in the form of their Frost Breath. While they are still susceptible to crowd control, they have respectable defenses against attacks thanks to their good AC and respectable HP.
Their vulnerability to fire damage is unfortunate. Especially since it is such a common damage type in 5e. However, thanks to Burning Fury this vulnerability can hurt the party more than it helps them due to Frost Breath being so deadly.
The false lairs that frost salamanders are known to create are just fantastic spots for an encounter. I cannot give this idea enough praise. It shows off the creature’s kit perfectly, plus it is a unique encounter that I’m sure your players won’t see coming.
Throw a frost salamander at the party, either in the Frostfell or the Material Plane. These tricky creatures will work just about anywhere that’s cold!