Thanks to your votes, The Monsters Know What They’re Doing has won a gold ENnie in the Best Online Content category, and The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters has won a silver ENnie in the Best Writing category. W00T! I’ll endeavor to justify your support by posting a bit more often.
The corpse flower is a horrible ambulatory plant that scavenges the remains of the dead and occasionally belches one of them back out as a zombie. As such, particularly given its slow speed, it’s not a predator that might pursue a party of player characters, but rather a noxious nuisance that the PCs might be called to eliminate.
It has a weird ability contour: peaks in Constitution and Wisdom, with high Strength and Dexterity as well. It has no Wisdom-based offensive action, and while its Strength and Dex are equal, its Tentacle attack is clearly Strength-based. What we have here, I think, is a creature that’s mostly brute but that also has a touch of the skirmisher to it. It’s not fast, but it can climb, so that’s going to add a wrinkle to its behavior.
The corpse flower’s Intelligence is just barely within the range of sentience. Though able to grasp what’s going on around it, it’s still extremely instinct-driven and inflexible, locked into one mode of behavior. What about that high Wisdom, though? Normally it would suggest a creature that’s good at sizing up threats and reluctant to pick fights it can’t easily win. However, the corpse flower is utterly reliant on its blindsight to sense danger. It’s not able to pick up on clues such as a character’s confidence or the quality of their equipment to read them as presenting an above-average threat. Any reaction to the danger an opponent poses is going to have to occur after a demonstration of that danger. Continue reading Corpse Flower Tactics
I often talk about undead creatures as being driven by compulsions relating to the circumstances of their reanimation, and the sword wraith is a dandy example of a backstory-driven compulsion: a warrior, obsessed with glory, slain in combat in a manner much more in line with the reality of war than the ennoblement of it, and refusing to stop seeking that glorious victory despite being technically dead. It comes in two varieties: the rank-and-file sword wraith warrior and the higher-level sword wraith commander.
According to the flavor text, despite being evil-aligned, sword wraiths don’t necessarily attack every living being who comes near. They’re closer to ghosts, haunting the locations where they met their ignominious demises and grinding their emotional axes. They can be talked to. They can be flattered. They can be offended. (Boy, can they be offended.) Mostly, they want to be treated with the adulation they expected to receive for the valorous deeds they were very sure they were capable of performing.
Both sword wraith warriors and sword wraith commanders are melee-focused brutes, with exceptional Strength and Constitution. Sword wraith warriors have animal-level Intelligence and below-average Wisdom, while sword wraith commanders have more humanoid-typical Intelligence and above-average Wisdom, so while they play the same combat role, they assess situations differently. Continue reading Sword Wraith Tactics
Alas, there isn’t much to say about vampiric mist, which is what you end up with when the body of a vampire is destroyed but its essence isn’t. With no way to form a new body, it floats around aimlessly, feeding off victims by employing a sort of necrotic vacuum effect to pull blood out of victims’ pores and facial orifices.
I normally begin by looking at a creature’s ability contour, but in this case, there’s not much point. There’s only one stat that matters, and that’s its Intelligence, which is subsapient. Vampiric mist has no judgment, only instinct. Moreover, it has no attack action per se, only Life Drain, an effect that requires a saving throw to resist. Vampiric mist isn’t so much a creature as it is a punishment.
Because of their Sunlight Sensitivity, vampiric mists come outside only after dark, and they don’t mess around with civil, nautical or astronomical twilight. It’s nighttime or nothing.
Also, thanks to the Forbiddance feature, one is safe from vampiric mist as long as one is inside a residential building, either one’s own home or someone else’s. (“The mist can’t enter a residence without an invitation from one of the occupants,” but seriously, who’s going to invite a grayish-crimson, foul-smelling cloud of vapor to come inside, especially one that can’t even knock on the door or answer the question, “Who’s there?”) Inns are a gray area: If you’ve ever read a zoning ordinance, you know that inns are commercial, not residential. On the other hand, a rented room at an inn can be an individual’s primary place of residence and therefore, in a legal sense, their home. As Dungeon Master, you make the call regarding whether a player character has a permanent enough arrangement with an inn to construe their room as a residence. There’s no ambiguity around monasteries and convents: as both permanent residences and hallowed ground, they’re safe. But adventurers spend a lot of time on the road, and a tent is not a building, period. Continue reading Vampiric Mist Tactics
Well, knock me over with a feather: The judges have chosen nominees for the 2020 ENnie Awards, and The Monsters Know What They’re Doing is on there twice, nominated for Best Online Content (for this blog) and Best Writing (for the eponymous book). Huzzah!
The ENies are “people’s choice” awards, which means your favorite nominees are counting on you to show your support! To cast your ballot, visit http://ennie-awards.com/vote/2020/ by July 12.
To vote for Best Online Content: http://ennie-awards.com/vote/2020/ballot.php?category_id=13
To vote for Best Writing: http://ennie-awards.com/vote/2020/ballot.php?category_id=21
Your enthusiastic comments have kept this project going since 2016. I initially wasn’t sure a demand existed for tactical analyses of monster behavior, but you’ve shown me that not only is there demand for it, there’s a hunger for it. Thanks for letting me feed you.
Many people talk about highly tactical combat and immersive roleplaying as if they were opposite ends of a spectrum. They’re not! Knowing how your player characters fight and win is a way of roleplaying their competence—and keeping them alive means keeping their stories going!
To promote the upcoming release of Live to Tell the Tale: Combat Tactics for Player Characters, I’ve invited five D&D streamers—RJ Cresswell (The Grimwode Saga), Katie “Goblinkatie” Downey (D4, Stellar Arcanum), LaTia Jacquise (Rivals of Waterdeep), Blythe Kala (Star Trek: Perseverance) and B. Dave Walters (Beyond Heroes, L.A. by Night)—to put tactical advice into action in a livestreamed combat encounter this Saturday, June 27, from 2 to 4 PM CDT (7 to 9 PM UTC) at twitch.tv/KeithAmmann.
Each of these players will bring a new level 1 protagonist to the table, and we’ll talk about how to play each of those PCs effectively. Then those PCs’ “future selves”—level 5 versions of the originals—will band together to confront a deadly foe. Will they prevail? I think so . . . but I don’t plan to make it easy!
Meazels are, to put it simply, kidnappers. Misanthropic humanoids warped by toxic levels of exposure to the Shadowfell, they skulk through the shadows, throttle their victims with cords, and teleport away with them to some godsforsaken locale where they can murder them free from interference.
With low Strength and low Constitution but very high Dexterity, meazels are not in any way suited to attrition fighting; they want to grab their victims and go. Their high Intelligence and above-average Wisdom mark them as crafty judges of whom they need to jump first. They have proficiency in Perception and Stealth, the classic ambush predator combination, and should always begin combat hidden. Their 120 feet of darkvision suits them to subterranean as well as nocturnal existence.
The core of the meazel’s strategy is the Garrote/Shadow Teleport combination. Meazels have two attack actions, Garrote and Shortsword, which do the same damage on average; however, Shortsword is a straightforward melee weapon attack that just happens to deal some bonus necrotic damage as a rider. Garrote, on the other hand, grapples on a hit and enables the meazel, on a subsequent turn, to Shadow Teleport away along with the grappled victim! For low- to mid-level player characters, this combination is potentially nasty, because the range of Shadow Teleport—500 feet—means the victim of the meazel’s maneuver is cut off from allies who might be able to help them. They’re on their own, possibly still with a strangling cord around their neck. Continue reading Meazel Tactics
These two monsters have nothing to do with each other except that (a) they’re the last two monsters from Volo’s Guide to Monsters that I planned to look at and hadn’t yet, and (b) neither one is all that interesting. Although, to my surprise, the one I thought would be more interesting turned out not to be interesting at all, while the one I thought would be less interesting turned out to be a little more so. Continue reading Trapper and Girallon Tactics
You see a name like “cave fisher,” and it doesn’t register with you at first, and as you study the stat block, you come to realize that the name is almost a perfectly literal description of what the creature that bears that name does: It sits in lightless caves, casts a line, waits for a meal to come to it, then reels it in.
A relative, perhaps, of the giant spider, the cave fisher is a human-size, wall-crawling arachnid with crablike claws. A solitary predator, with double proficiency in Stealth, the cave fisher is pretty dumb and inflexible, but it has one good trick up its sleeve: an extremely strong, extremely sticky filament that it can use to yank victims toward it from as much as 60 feet away. Coincidentally, I’m sure, 60 feet is the most common radius of darkvision, which means that if the cave fisher positions itself just right, it can lie in wait just beyond the ability of any prey, even prey with darkvision, to spot it. Even if it must lurk closer, expertise in Stealth plus disadvantage on targets’ Perception checks is a strong combo.
On top of that, it has Spider Climb, which allows it to move freely along walls and even across ceilings. This allows it to pull the dirtiest of tricks: hiding on the ceiling, then yanking its prey up to it, where if said prey manages to wriggle free of the cave fisher’s sticky strand, it has nowhere to go but straight down. Continue reading Cave Fisher Tactics
The tlincalli (the name appears to be completely invented, not based in myth, but it looks Nahuatl to me, so I’m going to pronounce it
tlhin-ky-yee—nope! That’s a Spanish pronunciation. As reader Victor R. points out, in Nahuatl, each l is pronounced as a separate l, so it’s tlhin-KAHL-lee) is a centaur-like monstrosity with a humanoid torso topping a scorpioid body. Based on the illustration in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, its face is pretty awful as well, although details are hard to make out.
With very high Strength and Constitution and merely above-average Dexterity, tlincallis are brutes, unafraid of direct melee confrontation. Their Intelligence is below humanoid average, though not animal-level, while their Wisdom is above average, allowing them to pick out promising prey—the old, the young, the weak, the isolated and the oblivious—as well as to realize when a particularly dangerous opponent needs to be taken out.
The combination of proficiency in Perception and Stealth is indicative of an ambush attacker; proficiency in Survival adds the ability to track, which is consistent with the flavor text’s characterization of them as nomadic hunters. Tlincallis hot on the trail of desirable prey will pursue it aggressively until either they bag it or it fights back forcefully enough to deter them.