The draegloth is part demon, part drow, sent by high priestesses to wreck face in their houses’ names. Strong and tough, it possesses some spellcasting ability, but that’s mostly peripheral to its vicious physical combat ability.
Brutes with extraordinary Strength, exceptional Constitution, and above-average but not otherwise remarkable Intelligence, draegloths are melee machines. With proficiency in Perception and Stealth, they possess decent ambush capability, but their real strength is their ability to engage enemies and keep fighting until the job is done. They’re resistant to cold, fire and lightning, giving them extra staying power against unimaginative enemy spellcasters who reflexively resort to these damage vectors first.
As the flavor text acknowledges, “Most are too impatient to bother with complicated tactics”; even if they had more patience, they lack the features and traits that would invite the use of more sophisticated techniques. But one aspect of their Innate Spellcasting caught my attention.
Most drow have the innate ability to cast darkness, dancing lights and faerie fire—it’s the standard drow package. Usually, darkness and faerie fire are once-per-day spells, while dancing lights is castable either once-per-day or at-will. The draegloth is different: It can cast dancing lights and faerie fire once per day (also confusion, but I’ll get to that later), but it can cast darkness at will, suggesting that it relies on this spell more heavily.
Darkness, however, is widely understood to be a double-edged sword, since even creatures with darkvision can’t see through it. Even if the caster has a trait or feature, such as blindsight or Devil’s Sight, that allows it to see through magical darkness, its allies usually don’t, so dropping darkness in the middle of a fight tends to make those allies turn to the caster and say, “Dude, what the heck?”
While trying to think about how the draegloth would employ darkness, especially considering that it will often have drow allies fighting alongside it (or at least behind it), I finally realized what the heck. The function of darkness—its intended function, I think—is to be an equalizer.
Within the area of effect of the darkness spell, all combatants who lack any special sense beyond darkvision are effectively blinded and invisible. Attack rolls against blinded creatures have advantage, while their own attacks have disadvantage. Attack rolls against invisible creatures have disadvantage, while their own have advantage. In other words, everyone whose ability to see is shut down by darkness has both advantage and disadvantage on attack rolls—meaning they all have neither.
Furthermore, since advantage and disadvantage both apply to every single attack roll made by one combatant under magical darkness against another, it’s impossible to gain advantage or disadvantage by any other means. It’s all preemptively canceled out, neutralizing many of the most common ways of gaining an edge over an opponent. Every attack roll must be made straight. This leveling of the playing field is a big benefit to the superior raw melee combatant, and the draegloth, with its many hit points and fierce triple Multiattack, is a strong candidate for that title.
Even ranged attackers who aren’t blinded themselves but are attacking into the sphere of magical darkness are affected. They have advantage, because their targets are blinded, but also disadvantage, because they can’t see their targets—therefore, they have neither, and there’s no way for them to change that, short of making the magical darkness go away.
So darkness, which superficially seems like such a waste of an action, can in fact be significantly helpful to a creature with a particularly large reservoir of hit points (like the draegloth), a high attack bonus (like the draegloth), heavy damage-dealing capacity (like the draegloth), the ability to see through that darkness (not like the draegloth, but like the drow arachnomancer), and/or no easy way to gain advantage on attacks or impose disadvantage on opponents’ attacks (mostly like the draegloth—it does have faerie fire, but it can cast it only once per day, and it can gain ambush advantage only on its first attack).
Thus, for a creature like the draegloth, the only real drawback to darkness is the time it takes to cast: a whole action. Now, the draegloth isn’t in a hurry: it’s a big, tough brute, entirely at home in a battle of attrition. But it also needs a reason to take the time to cast darkness when it could be clawing and biting instead, and it’s smart enough to know that.
So let’s sort out a priority order for the draegloth’s actions, the most important of which are Multiattack (hidden), Multiattack (normal), darkness, faerie fire and confusion (I can’t imagine that the draegloth would use dancing lights as anything but a lure). For starters, note that all the draegloth’s spells require concentration, so it can only ever use one of them at a time.
When should a draegloth cast a spell rather than Multiattack? When the spell will give it an advantage that makes up for the opportunity cost of passing up a round’s worth of attacks. In the case of darkness, that means that the draegloth’s opponents are trying to get a leg up by gaining advantage on their attack rolls or imposing disadvantage on its attack rolls. In the case of confusion, it means there are at least two of them (preferably more—the more, the better) within a 10-foot-radius sphere in range, so that the draegloth can keep them from working together to stop it. In the case of faerie fire, it means there are at least four opponents (again, the more, the better) within a 20-foot cube and the draegloth has no other source of advantage. But especially against medium- to high-level adventurers, confusion is strongly preferable to faerie fire, because those who belong to martial classes will have Extra Attack, and confusion has an 80 percent chance of denying the use of that feature to a target who fails their saving throw.
Unless a draegloth has had a chance to observe its foes or has received advance intelligence on their capabilities, it probably won’t know whether they have means of gaining advantage against it or not. So the order of operations comes out looking like this: Multiattack (hidden), confusion, faerie fire, darkness, Multiattack (normal).
The draegloth drops confusion when it becomes obvious that it isn’t achieving the desired goal of disrupting enemy operations, and it drops faerie fire when its opponents counter with other features or spells that negate its advantage against them or give them advantage against it. Also, of course, it can’t recast them if its concentration is broken, so it moves on to the next action whose criteria are met. When the draegloth casts darkness, it centers the spell where it can envelop three or more enemies—preferably including as many enemy spellcasters as possible—then rushes into the sphere to join in the fun.
Draegloths are relatively indiscriminate when it comes to target selection, unless there’s someone they’ve been instructed to target. But they’re not dumb, and if a particular opponent is giving a draegloth particular trouble, it will single that opponent out for particular attention. In the absence of any other tie-breaker, it picks on whoever seems weakest.
Draegloths’ semi-demonic nature motivates them to keep fighting as long as there’s any fight left in ’em, but it also makes them dangerous to their own handlers. If a draegloth is moderately or seriously wounded (reduced to 86 hp or fewer) and the highest-ranking drow on the field is also seriously wounded, it turns against them, mauling them to death before Dashing away to live its dreams.
Next: sea spawn.