Lizardfolk Tactics

With lizardfolk, we get into the territory of generic humanoid monsters that are more than mere cannon fodder. They’re not sophisticated, but they are significantly tougher than goblins, kobolds and orcs. According to the Monster Manual flavor text, their most salient behavioral trait is their territoriality, followed by their generally acting like South Seas cannibals in a movie from the 1940s. On the flip side, the text does acknowledge that lizardfolk may occasionally form alliances with outsiders, but we’ll set that aside, since it’s not going to influence their combat tactics.

Lizardfolk, like orcs, are brutes: average Dexterity, high Strength and Constitution. They’re also proficient in Perception and Stealth, and they’re more or less amphibious—they can’t breathe underwater, but they can hold their breath for up to 15 minutes, and they can swim as fast as they can move on land.

Based on this information, the most likely lizardfolk encounter scenario will be with a group of scouts patrolling the outskirts of their territory. They’ll be alert to intruders—it’s why they’re out there. Once they notice intruders, they’ll start stalking them (either from cover to cover, if on land, or underwater, if in a swamp), until they’re close enough to attack. Then they’ll strike first, with surprise.

The MM stat block says, “The lizardfolk makes two melee attacks, each one with a different weapon” (emphasis mine). The choices available are Bite, Heavy Club, Javelin and Spiked Shield. Honestly, the only combinations of these that don’t strike me as silly are club/shield and javelin/shield. The lizardfolk’s upright human physiology makes the idea of their lunging to bite absurd, let alone lunging to bite while swinging or thrusting a melee weapon at the same time. Of course, it’s all cosmetic, since every one of the lizardfolk’s attacks has the same attack modifier (+4) and the same damage (1d6 + 2); the only difference is whether the damage done is bludgeoning (the club) or piercing (everything else), and even that isn’t a real difference unless a PC is covered by a magic item or spell that provides resistance to one type of damage and not the other. Anyway, let’s just say that a lizardfolk’s Attack action consists of one weapon strike and one shield bash and leave it at that.

Lizardfolk don’t have any feature that grants them bonus actions or unique reactions, and their Intelligence is low, so we can assume that they fight like primitives: they pick an enemy, they bash that enemy, and they keep going until the enemy is dead or they’re seriously wounded (8 hp or fewer). At that point, whether they keep fighting depends entirely on whether or not they’re within their own territory. If they are, they keep fighting to the death. If they’re not—if they were scouting beyond their borders, or if they were on a raid—they Disengage and retreat toward their own territory at full movement speed. They also Disengage and back off if attacked by two or more enemies at once, but they don’t flee the battle; instead, they look for an opportunity to re-engage with just one opponent. Instinctively, they always attack from the direction of their own territory and position themselves with their backs toward it. They may ambush, but they don’t flank.

Long-range weapon attacks confuse them, and magic awes and terrifies them. A lizardfolk shot by an arrow or crossbow bolt behaves the same way as one being attacked by two melee opponents; regardless of where the shot came from, it instinctively moves in the direction of its territory. (If it’s already within its territory, it moves toward the center of that territory.) Depending on the type of spell, the damage it does, whether the lizardfolk can see the caster and whether they can get to him or her, they’ll either try to rush the caster or run for their lives. Rushing is more likely if they can see the caster, the spell does no more than light damage (5 hp or less) and/or there’s no other PC in the way. Running is more likely if they can’t tell where the spell came from, the spell does serious damage (14 hp or more) and/or there are too many enemies between themselves and the caster.

Lizardfolk will never surrender voluntarily: they assume that they’ll be killed. However, lizardfolk who are subdued and captured are impassive about it and will talk to their captors, if any of them speak Draconic, without sullenness or bluster. That being said, they’ll also turn against their captors in a heartbeat if their chances of success look good. An unarmed lizardfolk will bite, as well as grab the nearest handy object to use as an improvised weapon.

A lizardfolk shaman is basically a reskinned druid. It’s distinguished by its spellcasting and shape-changing abilities, the latter of which is restricted to the form of a crocodile. That’s pretty good, compared with most of the spells the lizardfolk shaman can cast, but one of its spells is so effective, the crocodile form has to be considered a secondary self-defense measure.

The crucial spell is conjure animals, which requires concentration and therefore prevents the lizardfolk shaman from casting its other most potentially effective spell, entangle. But by itself, conjure animals should give a party of PCs pause. It allows the shaman to summon one CR 2, two CR 1, four CR 1/2 or eight CR 1/4 reptiles. There’s no CR 1 reptile in the MM, but check out the other options:

  • One swarm of poisonous snakes
  • Four crocodiles
  • Eight constrictor snakes
  • Eight giant lizards
  • Eight giant poisonous snakes

I’m not even going to break this down with game theory the way I usually do, because your decision here should be based entirely on the emotional reaction you want to elicit from your players: do you want icky-creepy-get-it-away-from-me (one square full of writhing Danger Noodles), moderate freakout (four Murder Logs) or full-scale panic attack (eight king cobras)?

(OK, one teensy bit of game theory: A single CR 2 monster is worth 450 XP, whereas four CR 1/2 monsters are worth 400 XP but will probably also bump up the monsters’ adjusted XP by one encounter multiplier level—see the Dungeon Master’s Guide, p. 82—and eight CR 1/4 monsters are also worth 400 XP and will probably bump up the AXP by two encounter multiplier levels. From the caster’s point of view, therefore, “more” trumps “better,” unless the lizardfolk group already consists of 15 or more individuals—11 or more against a party of six or more PCs.)

Therefore, the first thing the lizardfolk shaman is going to do, once an encounter commences, is cast conjure animals to call up Nag, Nagaina and the rest of their posse. After that, the shaman won’t enter melee combat—not that it couldn’t, being just as strong and tough as any other lizardfolk, but unlike them, it’s smart enough to know that if it took a solid hit, its concentration could be broken, and then there’d go the cobras. Instead, the shaman will lob produce flame cantrips (which will do 2d8 fire damage rather than 1d8 because the shaman is a level 5 spellcaster) at any enemies within 30 feet. Its fellow lizardfolk, incidentally, won’t be afraid of this magic—on the contrary, since the shaman is on their side, they’ll be feeling extra-bold and will be much more likely to rush an enemy caster rather than run from him or her. They’ll also become mighty salty if anyone dares to assault their shaman.

Speaking of enemy casters, if one makes the mistake of coming within 30 feet of the lizardfolk shaman, it will cast thorn whip and yank him or her forward, so that the other lizardfolk can pound him or her into jelly.

What if the shaman is targeted by a ranged attacker? It will still be caught off guard, but its greater mental flexibility will allow it to come up with a purposeful response. If its concentration isn’t broken, it will send a couple of the king cobras (or whatever creature it summoned) after the PC who shot it. If its concentration is broken, its main contribution to the battle has just been negated, and until it takes care of that archer or crossbowman, there’s not a lot more that it can do: most of its spells don’t have great range. But since its fellow lizardfolk are useless against ranged attackers, the shaman has to take care of the problem itself. In a swamp, it can Change Shape into crocodile form, submerge and go after the shooter. In jungle, this won’t work, because a crocodile has only 20 feet of movement speed over land, so an archer can easily keep his or her distance. The shaman will be forced to conclude that the battle is going south and cast fog cloud, either to cover the lizardfolk’s escape (if they’re outside their territory) or to enshroud the PCs so that the lizardfolk can reposition themselves more advantageously.

In general, any time a battle outside their territory goes badly for the lizardfolk—say, at least half of them seriously wounded—the lizardfolk shaman will cast fog cloud to help them get away. (Inside their territory, the shaman will have already cast fog cloud on the PCs first, to allow the lizardfolk warriors to sneak up on them quickly.) If the fog cloud is dispelled (by gust of wind, say) while the lizardfolk are retreating, the shaman will follow up with plant growth to slow their pursuers even further. (What about entangle and spike growth? Their utility diminishes significantly in a swamp or jungle, where the terrain is already difficult. And the fact that they also require concentration forces a choice between one of them and conjure animals or fog cloud, which are clearly superior.)

The lizard king/queen isn’t complicated at all. Mostly, it’s a bigger, badder lizardfolk. For its Multiattack, it can Claw/Bite, Trident/Bite, or Trident/Trident. Let’s get real: If you’re leading a bunch of tribespeople carrying clubs and shields, are you going to go out there and chew on your enemies? No, you’re going to go out there with an even more impressive weapon and show everyone how it’s done. Your trident does more damage than your bite (assume that it’s wielded two-handed, since the stat block makes no mention of a shield), and besides, your Skewer feature only works with the trident. Of course you’re going to use the trident for both attacks!

There is one other detail to note about the lizard king/queen: its immunity to the frightened condition. We can infer from this that the lizard king/queen ain’t afraid of nothin’ . . . least of all Trawiodol the Uncanny’s dancing lights. The Royal Reptile isn’t going to run from a caster, ever. No, it’s going to single the caster out for special pointy attention, just to show all the other lizardfolk why it’s the boss and they’re not.

In summary:

  • Lizardfolk use Stealth to approach within 30 feet of their enemies, then attack with surprise. (If a lizardfolk shaman is among them, it casts fog cloud to blind the PCs so that the other lizardfolk can sneak up on them more easily.)
  • On their turn, ordinary lizardfolk attack once with either a heavy club or a javelin and once with a spiked shield. A lizard king/queen attacks twice with a trident, using its Skewer feature on its first hit of the turn.
  • Lizardfolk Disengage (action) and retreat temporarily (move) if attacked by more than one enemy or if shot by a ranged attacker.
  • Ordinary lizardfolk are freaked out by enemy spellcasters and will either rush them (if they can see the caster, the spell does 5 hp damage or less and/or there’s no other PC in the way) or run away (if they can’t tell where the spell came from, the spell does 14 hp damage or more and/or there are too many enemies between themselves and the caster). If they have a lizardfolk shaman among them, they’re more likely to rush an enemy caster or anyone who attacks their shaman. A lizard king/queen will aggressively attack any enemy caster.
  • Lizardfolk losing a battle outside their territory will Disengage (action) and retreat back toward their territory. Lizardfolk losing a battle within their territory will fight to the death.
  • A lizardfolk shaman, on its first turn, will cast conjure animals, summoning either eight giant poisonous snakes, four crocodiles or one swarm of poisonous snakes. On subsequent turns, if it can reach an enemy caster with thorn whip (range 30 feet), it will yank the caster forward where other lizardfolk can attack it. Otherwise, it will cast produce flame (2d8 fire damage) at targets within 30 feet.
  • If a lizardfolk shaman is hit by a ranged attacker and its concentration on conjure animals isn’t broken, it will send its summoned creatures to attack the shooter. If its concentration is broken and the terrain is swampy, it will Change Shape into a crocodile and swim through the water to pursue the shooter. If the terrain is jungle, it will cast fog cloud to enshroud the PCs and allow the lizardfolk to reposition themselves.
  • A lizardfolk shaman will cover its group’s retreat with fog cloud; if fog cloud is dispelled, it will cast plant growth to slow its pursuers.

Next: Gnolls.

10 thoughts on “Lizardfolk Tactics

  1. Hey, I have been working on a Lizardfolk Druid (using Volo’s) and I noticed that Giant Constrictor Snake (a form I fully intent to use once I reach level 6) is CR 2 and it would be a great option for dealing with a single target unless the shaman just want to overwhelm them with small creatures. Oh and there’s also Dinosaurs, quite a few in fact. Image 8 Pteranodons harassing the party from the air while the caster hides out of range.

  2. Volo’s added a CR 1 reptile in the form of the deinonychus. 13 AC, claw/claw/bite multiattack at 1d8+2 for each hit, PLUS the potential for another bite attack as a bonus action against a target knocked prone by its pounce ability, though they have fewer hit points to compensate. Two of those suckers would be bad news for a low-strength squishy that’s more likely to fail the DC 12 save against being knocked prone, ESPECIALLY if the shaman already had them summoned before surprising the PCs.

  3. Would the reptiles summoned by the shaman really affect the encounter CR? Don’t the summoned creatures count toward the shaman’s average damage per round, which is already included in its CR? (DMG 279) It’s not very clear on that.

    1. That’s a good question, and you or I could crunch the numbers to find out, but ultimately I think the summoned reptiles can’t count toward the shaman’s CR, because one CR 2 creature doesn’t do the same damage as eight CR 1/4 creatures, so there’s no way to know how much damage the summoned reptiles are adding. Nor does one CR 2 creature necessarily have the same hit points as eight CR 1/4 creatures. They also have their own separate ACs.

      1. Okay, well I showed our conversation to Jeremy Crawford, and while waiting for him to get back to me, I decided to “crunch the numbers”, myself.

        The Lizardfolk Shaman doesn’t have any special abilities that would affect its CR in any way. It has no resistances, vulnerabilities, or immunities, and no fly speed. So, with an AC of 13 and an average of 27 HP, its defensive CR is a mere 1/8.

        Which means, to get a total CR of 2, its offensive CR needs to be at LEAST 3. With physical attacks, its +4 to hit and 9 damage per round isn’t going to cut it. It’s a spellcaster, and with a Save DC of only 12 (CR 0), it needs to be doing 39-44 damage per round (CR 4) to qualify as CR 2!

        Without using Conjure Animals, its best bet for damage is to first cast Heat Metal with a 3rd-level slot, dealing 13 (3d8) on that turn and the two turns after (you only count the first three rounds for this). On subsequent turns, the shaman’s best damage is from Produce Flame, which will do an extra 9 (2d8) on the second and third round. 13*3 + 9*2 = 54. Divide that by 3 and we get 18, which is only CR 2 damage. That would give an offensive CR of only 1, and when combined with its defensive CR of 1/8, we get a total CR of NO higher than 1.

        It NEEDS to use Conjure Animals to get its offense to CR 4, but… now we run into a strange issue. By summoning eight Giant Poisonous Snakes, each one will deal 16 damage per round, for a total of 128! Add in Produce Flame on the two subsequent turns, and the average goes up slightly to 134 (CR 20!).

        So now, the argument is at a stalemate. It can’t be CR 2 without Conjure Animals, but if Conjure Animals counts toward its CR, then it should be CR 5-6. The only thing I can think that would fix this would be to assume that Conjure Animals is an AoE spell, and that it only hits two creatures per round. That would reduce the snakes’ damage to 32 per round, and add in the Produce Flame, and you’ve got 38, which is ONE POINT OFF from being CR 4 damage. Assuming that half (four) of the snakes hit per round would give us 70 (CR 11) per round, which is still much too high.

        I dunno. It doesn’t make sense.

  4. If you’re looking for “murder logs,” I believe you’re missing out when you ignore the giant lizard. Granted, they don’t have the grapple ability of the crocodile, but they have just as many HP and just as good an AC as the crocodile … and you can summon twice as many of them! Since it’s damned near impossible for a second-level spellcaster (a match to the Lizardfolk shaman’s CR) to do 19 damage before the (s)he’s dead from bite wounds, I believe that the giant lizard is AT LEAST as effective a summoning choice as the crocodile … especially since the combined HP of a pack of lizards is twice that of a pack of crocodiles.

    I also believe you’ve underestimated the effectiveness of a Summoning of constrictor snakes … for essentially the exact opposite of the reason I like summoning giant lizards. Sending a couple of constrictors to grapple each party spellcaster is likely to make them all useless until they’re dead, AND leave a couple of snakes to deal with the party’s HTH damage dealer.

    I LOVE the tactics you’ve outlined here, but I believe you’ve not seen the advantages of a couple of alternative possibilities.


  5. There was a sage advice last year that says Conjure Animals cannot summon swarms of creatures:
    So unfortunately the shaman can’t summon the swarm of poisonous snakes as its one CR 2 monster. Valid options would therefore be:

    Quetzalcoatlus (Volo’s Guide) – Can fly and do avg 23 piercing damage if it can dive 30 ft.
    Plesiosaurus (Monster Manual) – Can swim, do avg 14 piercing damage and hold its breath
    Giant Constrictor Snake (MM) – Also swims, can do avg 11 piercing or avg 13 bludgeoning damage and restrain one target
    Allosaurus (MM) – Fast movement, can do 15 piercing damage, or 8 slashing and attempt to knock a target prone

    Assuming the shaman doesn’t know to summon dinosaurs, the giant constrictor snake is probably the most logical option.

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