The undying of Eberron are a fascinating invention: undead creatures aligned with good. While other undead are either raised by necromancy, kept from eternal rest by trauma or malevolent entities attempting to cheat death, the undying exist beyond the mortal veil simply because they’re so beloved, the world can’t bear to part with them. Awwww!
Undying soldiers are mostly elite guards. They have very high Strength along with high Constitution and, interestingly, Charisma—although the latter doesn’t seem to power any of their abilities, so we can slot them into the regular brute role. They have ordinary Intelligence and above-average Wisdom, so they’ll talk before fighting and make prudent targeting decisions. They’re vulnerable to necrotic damage, resistant to radiant damage and less susceptible to damage from off-the-rack weapons than from ones that are magical or merely silvered.
Illumination is an interesting feature in light (har) of the fact that undying soldiers have 60 feet of darkvision. What does shedding bright light for 10 feet and dim light for 10 feet beyond that gain them? It depends who or what they’re fighting; the first thing that comes to my mind is that a Way of Shadow monk can’t use Shadow Step to get within reach of them. That’s a pretty niche benefit, though. A somewhat broader benefit is that each undying soldier exists in a darkness-proof bubble. The spell snuffs out any light-creating spell of 2nd level or lower, but Illumination isn’t a spell, so it persists; plus, its radius is greater. If an undying soldier is attacked at night from a distance of greater than 60 feet, however, Illumination just makes it a more conspicuous target, so I would assume that this feature is on by default only indoors. Outdoors, undying soldiers are better off turning it on only when they need it. Continue reading Undying Tactics
Karrnathi undead soldiers constitute the bulk of the army of the kingdom of Karrnath. Seeking to stave off defeat in the face of failing fortunes, Karrnath allowed necromancer-priests to bolster its army by raising the dead. After the war, many of these undead soldiers were sealed away from the world—but not all of them.
As combatants, they’re not complicated. With very high Strength and Constitution, they’re brute melee fighters that seek to close the distance between themselves and their foes as quickly as possible. However, they also have respectable Dexterity, Intelligence, and Wisdom, indicating a fair measure of flexibility. Unlike your off-the-rack skeleton or zombie, Karrnathi undead soldiers are clever and perceptive. Their compulsion is to triumph, by whatever means are at hand, and they’re capable of exercising sound and nimble independent judgment to determine what the best means are. They aren’t flummoxed by a deep trench, for example—rather than stop in their tracks, like a skeleton, or march right into it, like a zombie, they’ll build a bridge.
Thanks to their darkvision, Karrnathi undead soldiers can and do march on their foes at night, Multiattacking with Longbow until they close with their opponents, then switching to Longsword. The fact that they can’t see farther than 60 feet in darkness doesn’t deter them if they know where their enemies are: Since they already have disadvantage on Longbow attacks from between 150 and 600 feet away, the fact that their targets are shrouded in darkness doesn’t make their chances any worse, and their Multiattack gives each of them three shots per turn. The only range in which the limit of their darkvision matters is between 60 and 150 feet, and they can cover this ground with one round of Dashing plus one round of normal movement. To avoid any letup in their barrage, they divide into two equal groups, one of which Dashes forward while the other keeps shooting, then shoots while the other Dashes to catch up. Continue reading Karrnathi Undead Soldier Tactics
Sincere apologies to everyone for disappearing for the entire month of October. I have a good excuse: I was spending what little free time I had working furiously on finishing my next book, which will include some entities that certain readers have been awaiting for a long, long time.
Today, I return to Eberron with a couple of quasi-humanoid aberrations, the dolgrim and the dolgaunt, both of them species that originated as goblinoid races warped by evil magic.
Dolgrims look like the result of a transporter malfunction, each one the fusing of two goblin individuals into one horrible entity with four arms, two mouths and two dissociated personalities. Unlike ordinary goblins, dolgrims are shock attackers, with high Strength along with high Dexterity and merely above-average Constitution. They also have less Intelligence than the average goblin, no doubt the result of the clashing noise in their heads. However, their split personalities do confer one advantage: advantage on saving throws against certain mind-affecting debilitating conditions.
Because their Strength and Dex are roughly equal—the base scores differ, with Strength slightly higher, but the modifiers are the same—they can flex between attacking at range and in melee. But that higher Strength gives them a slight preference for melee, so they have a simple approach to combat: Regardless of what range they begin at, they charge, shooting with their crossbows as they run, throwing spears when they come within 60 feet and finally switching to their morningstars upon arrival.
Their Multiattack gives them three attacks per turn, but this doesn’t supersede the loading property of the hand crossbow: “You can fire [sic] only one piece of ammunition from it when you use an action, bonus action, or reaction to fire it, regardless of the number of attacks you can normally make.” [Linguistic nitpick: You don’t “fire” weapons that don’t use gunpowder. You “shoot” or “loose” their ammunition.] Thus, as long as they’re attacking with Hand Crossbow, they can shoot only once per turn. There’s no range at which it makes sense to shoot once rather than throw three spears, not even between 20 and 30 feet (unless the target has AC 19 or greater, and that’s not an assessment dolgrims are equipped to make). Continue reading Dolgaunt and Dolgrim 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
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
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
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
Thanks to your votes, The Monsters Know What They’re Doing has won a gold ENnie in the Best Online Content category, and The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters has won a silver ENnie in the Best Writing category. W00T! I’ll endeavor to justify your support by posting a bit more often.
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
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