Warforged Soldier Tactics

In Eberron, the warforged are a race of sentient constructs, originally built for war but now capable of deciding and pursuing their own purposes in life. Many, however, continue to serve in the role for which they were first devised.

Warforged soldiers have very high Strength and Constitution, high Wisdom and above-average Dexterity, an ability contour that combines brute melee ability with excellent strategic judgment. Proficiency in Perception makes them good at spotting enemies who are trying to be sneaky, but they’re not ambush attackers—they have no particular aptitude for stealth themselves. They are, however, capable trackers, thanks to proficiency in Survival.

Their Multiattack comprises only melee attacks—specifically, Armblade—so warforged soldiers want to close with their opponents quickly in order to make use of this weapon. Until they get within melee reach, they use their javelins as throwing weapons. However, beyond 30 feet, they have disadvantage on these attacks, and there isn’t much they can do to change that. Consequently, if their movement isn’t enough to get them within 30 feet of their foes, they either Dash—if they’re in close formation with other warforged soldiers, allowing each one to use the Protection reaction on another’s behalf—or Dodge as they advance. Between 10 and 30 feet away, they hurl a javelin. Continue reading Warforged Soldier Tactics

Tarkanan Assassin Tactics

The Tarkanan assassin is a hired killer, but that (plus their Dexterity and their Armor Class) is where their resemblance to the standard assassin in the Monster Manual ends. Most conspicuously, they don’t have the Assassinate trait—or even Sneak Attack! Clearly, this non-player character requires a fresh approach.

As one might expect, the Tarkanan assassin is a shock attacker, with a decent enough Constitution to put up with a bit of a scuffle but primarily interested in getting in and out of combat quickly. Proficient in Athletics instead of Acrobatics, they’re more likely to tackle their target than shoot them while hanging upside-down outside a window. They’re also proficient in Sleight of Hand, perhaps for slipping poison into someone’s drink—it’s not enough by itself to conceal spellcasting. Deception proficiency suggests an aptitude for disguise, and Perception plus Stealth is the hallmark of the ambush attacker.

Tarkanan assassins have darkvision, which is interesting, because House Tarkanan, according to the lore in Eberron: Rising From the Last War (chapter 4, “Crime in Sharn: House Tarkanan”), comprises members of many races, not just those with darkvision. Does this mean that House Tarkanan doesn’t employ humans, halflings or changelings as assassins (and why wouldn’t you hire changelings to perform all your asassinations?), do they somehow acquire darkvision as part of their initiation into the order of assassins, or is it an unmentioned side effect of their aberrant dragonmarks? The book doesn’t say. Choose your own favorite explanation. Continue reading Tarkanan Assassin Tactics

Bone Knight Tactics

I’ve been excited to dig into the Eberron setting for a long time, and I’m kicking things off with the bone knight—not an undead, as one might guess from the name, but a humanoid non-player character who can be of any folk. Champions of the Order of the Emerald Claw, a group of fanatical lost-cause nationalists led by a lich, bone knights get their name from their practice of forging armor from the bones of fallen foes. (Judging from the illustration in Eberron: Rising From the Last War, I think they like to sneak a little Punisher imagery in there, too.)

The ability contour of the bone knight isn’t cut-and-dried, since their two outstanding ability scores are Strength and Charisma. Their Constitution edges out their Dexterity, but just barely, and neither is unusually high. What this reminds me of more than anything else is a paladin whose player didn’t get the third high die roll he was hoping for and decided to go all in on offense. I conclude that bone knights fight like brutes, cast self-buffing and control spells from the front line, and compensate for their slightly lackluster Constitution with their bonecraft armor, which gives them a formidable AC 20. They have the Intelligence to plan and adapt, and the Wisdom to choose their targets and their battles.

Their Charisma is high enough that an encounter will probably involve some measure of parley, and maybe only parley—they understand, after all, that it’s better to get what you want without fighting if you can—but their social skill proficiencies are in Intimidation and Deception, so we’re not talking about good-faith negotiation here. Instead, this combination suggests to me that they’re about trying to get their opponents to capitulate, through a combination of outright bullying and more subtle manipulation. Any rhetorical maneuver an abuser might use is right up the bone knight’s alley: direct and indirect threats; negative reinforcement; false accusations; gaslighting; DARVO; demonstrations of explosive anger and sudden, unpredictable violence; dividing enemies by singling out individuals among them for particular blame; and so on. Continue reading Bone Knight Tactics

Howler Tactics

Howlers are pack-hunting predators from Pandemonium, a peril suitable only for top-tier adventurers to deal with. That’s because, according to the lore in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, these CR 8 fiends never appear alone. Either they’re accompanied by others of their kind, or they’re trained to the service of a more powerful fiend or other evil master and fighting by its side.

Theirs is a nasty ability contour: very high physical ability scores across the board, with an extraordinary peak in Wisdom. This outlier score both powers their Mind-Breaking Howl action and gives them keen hunting senses. (Although it’s not listed in the Mordenkainen’s errata, with a Perception modifier of +8, their passive Perception should be 18, not 15, as published.) But since they lack spellcasting ability, their primary attack is Strength-based, and their top non-Wisdom scores are Strength and Dexterity, I’m going to classify them as shock attackers. Move fast, hit hard.

Howlers have darkvision and therefore attack between dusk and dawn. They’re resistant to cold, fire and lightning damage on top of physical damage from nonmagical attacks, so they’re not going to pay particular attention to a spellslinger who doesn’t think outside the box. Acid or thunder damage will get their attention, but necrotic, radiant, psychic or force damage is what really draws their ire. (Shout-out to James Haeck for laying out the tiers of damage types in a way I hadn’t actively considered before in his editor’s note on this D&D Beyond post by Melissa “MellieDM” Doucette.) Continue reading Howler Tactics

Corpse Flower Tactics

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

Sword Wraith 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

Vampiric Mist 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

Two ENnie Nominations!

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.

Live to Tell the Tale Online Tactics Workshop, June 27

Live to Tell the Tale CoverMany 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!