Animated Object Tactics

So far, I’ve largely neglected constructs, except for my post the other day on golems. Constructs are different from other monsters, because they’re explicitly not evolved creatures—they’re magical creations, usually from inanimate objects. This means they can behave in whatever manner their creators want them to. (Within limits.)

But if you were creating an animated object, you’d still want it to function in the most effective manner it can, given the traits you’ve imbued it with, wouldn’t you? So I’ll examine these constructs as if they were evolved creatures after all. Continue reading Animated Object Tactics

Jackalwere Tactics

I was asked about jackalweres in conjunction with my post on lamia tactics. I’m going to look at them in isolation, though, because generally speaking, the company a monster keeps isn’t going to influence its tactics substantially (goblins being an exception when they’re bossed around by hobgoblins).

As the name implies, jackalweres—not “werejackals”—aren’t your ordinary lycanthrope. Rather than humanoids tainted with a bestial curse, they’re jackals tainted with a human curse. Like lycanthropes, however, they typically adopt a hybrid form during combat.

Jackalweres have an unusual ability contour: high Dexterity but merely average Strength and Constitution, combined with above-average Intelligence. This is a contour you’d usually associated with a sniper or a spellcaster, but jackalweres’ attacks are largely melee-based. This suggests three things. First, jackalweres are highly unsuited to drawn-out combat and will abandon a fight quickly if they don’t immediately get the upper hand. Second, they’ll rely heavily on guile. And third, the successful use of their Sleep Gaze feature—the closest thing they have to “spellcasting”—will figure prominently in their strategy. Continue reading Jackalwere Tactics

Beholder-Kin Tactics

The Monster Manual lists two variants of the beholder: the death tyrant, a more powerful, undead variant; and the spectator, a less powerful, not-really-evil variant. Volo’s Guide to Monsters lists three: the death kiss, the gauth and the gazer. Together, these are referred to as “beholder-kin.” All three variants are evil.

The death kiss is the most powerful of the three, though not as powerful as a standard beholder. In lieu of ray-projecting eyestalks, its body is covered with long, waving tentacles that end in spines and toothy mouths. It has the extremely silly feature Lightning Blood (which I can’t even type without laughing ruefully), which inflicts lightning damage against any opponent that strikes it with a piercing or slashing weapon. That’s right: Its blood is electrically charged. This is ridiculous even for an aberration. I mean, I can almost buy the flavor text explanation, “A death kiss survives solely on ingested blood, which it uses to generate electrical energy inside its body,” with the usual suspension of disbelief that Dungeons and Dragons demands, but to suggest that the death kiss’s blood itself is what carries the stored electrical charge, and not some other organ in the death kiss’s body . . . whatever, man, I can’t even with this. You hit it, you get shocked. That’s what it says.

Sigh. Continue reading Beholder-Kin Tactics

Gnolls Revisited

I hate to say it, but Volo’s Guide to Monsters has managed to make gnolls even less interesting to me than they were before.

That’s unfortunate. They were already an unsophisticated, “Rrrrraaaahhhh, stab stab stab” kind of monster, aside from the gnoll Fang of Yeenoghu, which at least had the brains to identify weaker party members and go out of its way to get them. Here’s what we learn about them from Volo’s:

  • They’re not evolved creatures, but rather hyenas transformed by the power of the demon lord Yeenoghu.
  • They’re driven solely by the desire to kill and eat.
  • That’s pretty much it.

And yet, inexplicably, Volo’s contains a section on “Gnoll Tactics.” It doesn’t provide any such section for goblinoids, whose features make possible some really interesting tactics. (In particular, hobgoblins are supposed to be savvy tacticians.) It provides one for kobolds, which is great, because kobold tactics aren’t obvious without a fair amount of analysis. But the “Gnoll Tactics” in Volo’s aren’t tactics so much as reiterations of gnolls’ fundamentally brutal and unimaginative nature. (They don’t set up permanent camps. They leave no survivors. They like weak, easy targets. They attack tougher creatures “only when the most powerful omens from Yeenoghu compel them to do so,” i.e., when the dungeon master decides they will.) Continue reading Gnolls Revisited

Orcs Revisited

Volo’s Guide to Monsters gives us fantastic resources to use when designing lairs for kobolds and planning out how they’ll behave in a combat encounter. When it comes to orcs, though, Volo’s cops out on these topics, instead giving us an anthropological (orcological?) overview of the highly theocentric structure of orc society. This offers some guidance on encounter building, but nothing here offers any new insight on how orcs might behave during a fight, save one detail: war wagons.

We can surmise that a group of orcs escorting a war wagon will be less likely to charge Aggressively if doing so means leaving the war wagon unattended. Also, as reluctant as orcs are to retreat to begin with, they’ll be even more reluctant if doing so means abandoning a war wagon. To allow a well-laden war wagon to fall into the hands of an enemy by fleeing would be unforgivably disgraceful. Orcs are so hung up on pride and valor, they won’t even use the war wagon for cover if they’re seriously wounded. If they have 1 hp left, they’ll place that 1 hp between the enemy and the war wagon.

What Volo’s does offer are five (!) new varieties of orc, two of which are spellcasters, all of which build on the orcish pantheon of the Forgotten Realms setting. Continue reading Orcs Revisited

Myconid Tactics

Before I get into material from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, I promised I’d look at myconids: vaguely humanoid fungus creatures, categorized by the Monster Manual as “plants” in defiance of our current understanding of fungi as less closely related to plants than to animals. Granted, we shouldn’t be surprised when anything in Dungeons and Dragons defies science—but if, as a dungeon master, you feel like honoring science and being perversely difficult toward your players, you might choose to reclassify them as beasts, monstrosities or even aberrations. The last category might fit best, as they’re intelligent, but they’re certainly not a humanoid intelligence, or even an animal intelligence.

As subterranean creatures, all myconids share 120 feet of darkvision, plus the features Sun Sickness, Distress Spores and Rapport Spores. Sun Sickness penalizes myconids for venturing aboveground during the day: it gives them disadvantage on all ability checks, attack rolls and saving throws while in sunlight, and if they spend more than an hour out in it, it kills them. (They dry up or something, I guess.) Distress Spores gives them a form of telepathic communication with other myconids, informing them when they’re injured. Rapport Spores are interesting: they give all living creatures exposed to them the ability to share thoughts over a limited distance. Which is useful, because otherwise, myconids have no form of verbal communication.

Myconids are lawful neutral, not evil. Although not automatically friendly, they’re not automatically hostile, either; their default disposition is indifferent. But they are lawful, which means that being a troublemaker in their vicinity may provoke a hostile response from them. The more chaos-muppety your player characters are, the less likely myconids are to appreciate their presence. Continue reading Myconid Tactics

Mephit Tactics

I’ve been asked to take a look at mephits, wicked little critters that maliciously embody the para-elements of dust, ice, magma, mud, smoke and steam. The Monster Manual characterizes them as “tricksters,” but every one of them is of neutral evil, not chaotic, alignment, so their “trickery” is of a decidedly baleful sort. I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t behave as evolved creatures with respect to their self-preservation instinct, but if survival is their No. 1 priority, causing gratuitous harm and annoyance to others is No. 2.

Mephits aren’t tough—half of them are CR 1/4, and the other half are CR 1/2. All of them have low Strength, all of them can fly, and all of them have darkvision (meaning they either live underground or are active primarily at night) and the Death Burst feature, which does something when they’re killed, although that something depends on the type of mephit. And they all have a simple melee attack, along with a breath weapon that has only a 1 in 6 chance to recharge, so in all likelihood, they’ll get to use it only once. Most (but not all) of them are proficient in Stealth, suggesting that they like to ambush their victims, and their low Strength suggests that they’ll usually be encountered in decent-size groups; a lone mephit wouldn’t dare pick a fight with more than a couple of enemies at once.

Beyond that, though, every type of mephit is a little bit different, and there’s nothing for it but to look at each type individually. Continue reading Mephit Tactics

Satyr Tactics

I’ll wrap up “fey week” with a look at satyrs, a.k.a fauns (depending on whether you’re feeling more Greek or Roman), the sex-, drugs- and rock-and-roll-loving party animals of fairyland. These creatures aren’t inclined to start a fight, but if you start one, they have ways of finishing it.

Average to slightly above-average in Strength and Constitution but well above average in Dexterity, satyrs will avoid melee fights in favor of ranged sniping. In a way, this is disappointing, because the most distinctive and delightful attack in their arsenal is ramming—but they have no good reason to use it. On average, it has a poorer chance to hit than a shortsword or shortbow attack, it does marginally less damage than either of those, and it doesn’t even knock the target down. It would have been much better if their stat block had included a Charge feature, which would have given the satyr’s ram some real punch. A satyr engaged in melee is better off using its action to Dodge.

When a fight breaks out, satyrs scatter. They take cover behind trees and Hide if they can, counting on their enemies to be unable to keep track of them all. Their ideal range from their enemies is 40 to 60 feet: well within normal bow range, close enough that their enemies can hear the tunes from their enchanted pipes, far enough away that those enemies can’t close the distance in a single round. Continue reading Satyr Tactics

NPC Tactics: Guards, Thugs, Veterans and Knights

Take a commoner who’s more physically fit than average, put a spear in his or her hand, give him or her some combat training, and you have a guard, the first line of defense against player characters who might otherwise run amok through the picturesque towns of your campaign setting.

With their above-average (though not exceptionally so) physical ability scores, guards are well suited for the simple, direct combat role of “Go ye forth and poke it, then poke it again.” That being said, they are essentially nothing more than well-trained commoners. Braver than average they are, and more motivated by duty, but this presumes that 99 times out of 100 they’re not facing any foe more challenging than another commoner. Throw a monster at them, and they’re as likely to flee or freeze as they are to stand and fight. They know how to use their weapons, but that’s not the same as understanding strategy and tactics; their sophistication extends only as far as knowing that a surrounded foe is less likely to get away, so if they outnumber their opponents, they’ll flank, and if they don’t, they’ll form a line, circle up with their backs to one another or send one of their number to run and get more guards. When they’re in serious danger—reduced to 4 hp or fewer, or next to another guard who is—their discipline dissolves, but not so much that they’ll run without Disengaging (action) first, unless they themselves are the ones seriously wounded. (The difference between their physical abilities and those of a commoner is significant enough that nonhuman guards will take the direct approach to combat even if commoners of the same race wouldn’t.)

Note that guards don’t even have proficiency in the Intimidation skill. They can yell, “Halt!” but it’s not going to make anyone take them more seriously.

Continue reading NPC Tactics: Guards, Thugs, Veterans and Knights