Drider Tactics

I’ll wrap up “Drow Week” with the drider, a centaur-like monstrosity with the head and torso of a drow and the thorax and abdomen of a giant spider. (In both centaurs and driders, the torso of the humanoid replaces the head of the beast, creating a creature with, presumably, two whole cardiopulmonary systems. We’re probably better off not thinking about this too much.)

Driders, according to the Monster Manual flavor text, are debased creations of the goddess Lolth, presumably produced with some frequency as pious drow fail the challenges of the Demonweb Pits. The text says nothing about whether driders reproduce to create new generations of driders; I’m going to go on the assumption that they don’t, meaning that they’re not evolved creatures. Because of the means of their creation, they may or may not have a strong self-preservation impulse—some of them may even have a death wish.

Driders are fighting machines. They have high Strength, high Dexterity and exceptional Constitution, suiting them for any sort of combat—ranged or melee, ambush or assault, swift or prolonged. They have a triple Multiattack with either longsword or longbow and can replace one of either of those attacks with a poisonous bite. However, based on their proficiency in Stealth, let’s say they prefer to start combat with a surprise attack. Their Spider Climb ability allows them to maneuver along walls and ceilings, and their Web Walker ability lets them ignore movement penalties from the webs of giant spiders. (They do not, however, have the ability to create webs themselves. Why not, I wonder?) They’re strictly nocturnal and/or subterranean, having both 120-foot darkvision and Sunlight Sensitivity.

The flavor text implies that they’re solitary with respect to drow and other driders, but it also says they sometimes lead packs of giant spiders. Let’s say, then, that a drider encounter is going to take one of these two forms: either one drider by itself, or a drider plus at least four giant spiders (as many as you need to achieve the desired encounter difficulty).

A drider by itself is going to begin in hiding, and when it’s ready to attack, it will use its surprise round to cast faerie fire. Why would it do that rather than attack with advantage? Because while attacking from hiding would give it advantage on one attack, faerie fire will give it advantage on every subsequent attack. It has the ability, it may as well use it, and the time to use it is at the outset of combat.

Ranged or melee combat? Ranged, to start with, for the simple reason that it’s likely to be outnumbered, and if you keep your distance, you can attack anyone, while not everyone can attack you; whereas if you’re engaged in melee, everyone can attack you, while your attacks are limited to your one melee opponent. (Plus, the bow does more damage.) It will attack when its targets are between 30 and 120 feet away, and it will try to maintain its distance, because maintaining its distance means maintaining that advantageous arrangement. It will run along walls and ceilings in order to stay out of melee attackers’ reach. Its primary targets will be the primary targets of its hate: first dwarves and rock gnomes, then other elves, then clerics and paladins of deities other than Lolth, then everyone else. If a player character does manage to close with it and engage it in melee, it will readily switch from longbow to longsword.

If the drider is accompanied by giant spiders, then while it casts faerie fire, the spiders will blanket the whole area with webs to catch the PCs in. The drider will follow the same targeting priorities as above with one exception: It will always attack an unrestrained opponent before a restrained opponent, because the spiders instinctively attack the restrained ones; they aren’t smart enough for it to train them to attack the unrestrained ones instead. If all opponents are restrained, the drider switches to melee in order to attack them, substituting a bite for one of its longsword attacks. (It could also do this against a melee opponent when not accompanied by giant spiders, but I have such a hard time imagining the biomechanics of that, I’ve just decided that the only target a drider can bite effectively is one who’s trapped in a web.)

The spellcasting variant of the drider doesn’t seem to offer much more, combat-wise, than the regular drider. It can cast freedom of movement to free itself or one of its spiders from a restraining or paralyzing effect or dispel magic to terminate an inconvenient PC spell. It can cast silence or darkness to thwart spellcasters or hold person to paralyze a target who keeps breaking out of his or her web, though these require it to drop faerie fire. But its only damaging spell is the cantrip poison spray, and its longbow is better.

Driders will often fight to the death, but maybe one in three values its continued sad existence enough to run away when seriously injured (reduced to 49 hp or fewer).  A drider with a “vow or vendetta” to fulfill will generally flee. A fleeing drider will Dodge (action) while retreating at full movement speed and will run along walls and ceilings.

Next: Plants that hate you.

8 thoughts on “Drider Tactics

  1. This is perfect – I’m planning a drider encounter and love finding tactical advice.

    Given your analysis I thought you might be able to help with a question:

    The drider does d8+3 with the longsword, or d10+3 if it uses it two-handed.

    Why would it ever use it one-handed?

    I could see keeping a hand open to cast spells if it could attack and cast spells in the same turn. Or a hand open for a shield if that was a listed option (AC 19 suggests that a shield isn’t necessary).

    Can you see any flavour/tactical reason for using the longsword with one hand?

    1. No, I think your intuition is correct. A creature with Innate Spellcasting doesn’t have to have hands free to cast a spell, and the drider isn’t described as carrying a shield. So yes, it would, in all likelihood, wield a longsword two-handed.

      1. I think Innate Spellcasting still requires somatic components. MM p10/11 doesn’t mention an exemption other than for material components.

        But even so, the drider can put the sword in one hand while casting, the following round they switch back to two hands to hit things.

        1. Technically, that would have the (extremely unlikely) effect that the Drider’s Opportunity Attacks would deal the lowered damage during the round it casts spells, since it can’t switch back to two hands until its turn.

          But PCs are so averse to OA’s that I doubt the situation would ever come up…

      2. Addendum: no spellcaster wielding a two-handed weapon needs to care about free hands; you just adjust your hold on the weapon as many times as you need.

  2. Surely a drider would stand on a ceiling and use its longbow to attack the pc’s, possibly with its spider friends in melee.

  3. I noticed a gap in Drider descriptions in the original Drow compendium and wrote the original article addressing using Driders as player characters in an article in Dragon Magazine Issue #128, “Entering the Drider’s Web” in 1987, when I was 16 years old.

    I’d have to dig out my old copy to double check, but I think they copied it verbatim and added a bit more when they updated all the monster compendiums.

    I just searched at random to see if anything related to my first published writing was still on the web, it warmed the heart to see it was still out there somewhere!!

    Now if they would just make it possible in ONE of the video games….

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