Gibbering Mouther Tactics

Today we continue our look at the spawn of the Far Realm with the gibbering mouther, a weird and horrifying denizen of places no one in his or her right mind would go, and where no one stays in his or her right mind for long. An oozing blob dotted with mouths full of teeth and horrifying noises, the gibbering mouther offers an interesting analytical challenge, as its stat block looks unlike anything we’ve examined so far.

The gibbering mouther has average Strength, very high Constitution and low Dexterity, an atypical ability contour. It’s not strong enough to be a brute, it’s not fast enough to be scrappy, and it has no aptitude for stealth. Its low Dexterity suggests that, since its ability to avoid damage is poor, it will need some kind of compensatory advantage to make combat worthwhile, and simply being able to soak up damage isn’t enough; we’ll have to look for this advantage among its other features.

Its mental abilities are typical of an animal: average Wisdom (reflecting little except its perceptive ability), low Charisma and very low Intelligence. Entirely instinct-bound, it makes no distinctions of any kind between potential targets; one is as good as another. It may sometimes retreat when injured, but that’s the extent of its ability to adapt to changed circumstances. Continue reading Gibbering Mouther Tactics

Grell Tactics

Need something to go with your walking brain? How about a hovering brain with stinging tentacles? OK, technically, a grell’s body only looks like a big brain, according to game lore, but it does originate from the Far Realm—also the home plane of the mind flayer and the intellect devourer—so if you need another aberration to round out an encounter with these psionic nemeses, the grell is a good fit.

Grells are above average in all their physical abilities, but the balance is tipped toward Strength, with Dexterity coming in second, suggesting a hit-and-run attacker. Their primary mode of movement is flying, with the ability to hover, and they have high proficiency in Stealth.

One thing they don’t have, however, is much flexibility. Beyond its unexplained immunity to lightning and its ability to sense without eyes, the grell’s features are limited to a simple Multiattack comprising one attack with its beak and one with its tentacles. Continue reading Grell Tactics

Mind Flayer Tactics

Mind flayers are like classic pulp supervillains: brilliant, twisted, scheming, always wanting to take over the world—but first, they have things they want to do your brain. They even wear outfits straight out of Flash Gordon. And yet the fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons mind flayer feels unsatisfying to me, maybe because, as written, it just isn’t very efficient.

The Monster Manual flavor text characterizes them as “psionic commanders,” declaring, “Mind flayers possess psionic powers that enable them to control the minds of creatures such as troglodytes, grimlocks, quaggoths and ogres.” And the feature they use to accomplish this is . . . dominate monster, which they can use once per day, and which affects one creature, requires concentration and lasts for one hour?

This is paltry. It’s unworthy of a supervillain. I’ll talk about the tactics of the mind flayer as written, but then I’ll go on to talk about how to make a mind flayer capable of enthralling, and keeping enthralled, more than one minion at a time. Continue reading Mind Flayer Tactics

Intellect Devourer Tactics

It’s a brain! With feet! What’s not to love? Well, the fact that it feeds on your consciousness and takes over your body, for one thing.

Old-school players of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons will remember the intellect devourer as one of the two most memorable monsters with psionics—that strange, complicated supplementary rule set that allowed for telepathy, telekinesis and neural combat. Fifth-edition D&D has dispensed with all that. Psionic power is now treated as either a special trait, a form of spellcasting or both. In the 5E intellect devourer, this is encapsulated in its telepathy and its Detect Sentience, Devour Intellect and Body Thief features.

According to the 5E Monster Manual  flavor text, intellect devourers are aberrations, created to serve the interests of mind flayers. They’re not independent creatures. You’re not going to randomly run into one in the woods. Rather, any intellect devourer your player characters encounter will be on some kind of mission. That will affect who it uses its powers on and when. Continue reading Intellect Devourer Tactics

Medusa Tactics

Medusa: the snake-haired quarry of Herakles Perseus, the horror with the petrifying gaze. In the fifth-edition Monster Manual, this unnatural being is explained as one who made an infernal bargain for immortality and beauty, then paid the price when the latter wore off but the former didn’t. There’s no satisfactory natural explanation for the medusa, so in this case, evolutionary imperatives don’t necessarily apply; the medusa seems more like a being driven by compulsion, as undead creatures are.

Medusas have high Dexterity ansd Constitution, typical of a skirmisher. They have enough Intelligence to plan and lay traps, enough Wisdom to choose targets carefully and avoid battles they won’t win, and more than enough Charisma to parley when it’s advantageous. These abilities are paired with proficiency in Deception and Insight, along with Stealth. Thus, a medusa stays hidden from threats and uses its wiles to lure trespassers to their doom. (The flavor text describes a medusa’s lair as “shadowy ruins . . . riddled with obstructions and hiding places,” meaning it contains lots of places of concealment to take advantage of.)

The medusa has two distinctive features, Petrifying Gaze and Snake Hair. The latter is a simple melee attack that does some poison as well as piercing damage. Petrifying Gaze is more complicated and demands closer examination. Continue reading Medusa Tactics

Harpy Tactics

After all this talk of elementals, fiends and fey, it’s nice to get back to garden-variety monsters. Today I examine the harpy, a foul-tempered predator with an alluring voice. As with all monstrosities, I’m going to assume that it uses its abilities to survive in accordance with evolutionary imperatives.

The harpy has a balanced physical ability profile, with slightly but not significantly higher Dexterity than Strength or Constitution, and it has no ranged attack. Instead, it uses the long-range ability Luring Song to bring prey into melee attack range.

Its Intelligence of 7 indicates that the harpy is instinct-driven, and its Wisdom of 10 indicates that it’s indiscriminate in target selection but knows when to flee. This is consistent with one part of the Monster Manual flavor text: “If a fight turns against a harpy, it lacks the cunning to adapt and will flee and go hungry.” It’s less consistent with this part: “A harpy takes its time dismembering a helpless foe and can spend days torturing a victim.” If this were instinctual to the harpy, it would be disadvantageous to its chances of survival. Granted, Intelligence 7 is the upper bound of instinctual behavior, so I suppose it’s possible that a harpy might toy with its prey or lure it into natural hazards before attacking it. But these feel too sophisticated to me. Continue reading Harpy Tactics

Yugoloth Tactics

Finally, as promised! In Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, the neutral evil analogues to lawful evil devils and chaotic evil demons were daemons, but since midway through second-edition D&D—perhaps to avoid confusion with demons, or perhaps to avoid confusing Philip Pullman fans—they’ve been called “yugoloths.” Yugoloths are neither as obedient as devils nor as recalcitrant as demons: they have a mercenary mind-set, and in fact are often used as mercenary warriors by archdevils and demon lords, according to the Monster Manual flavor text.

There’s little reason for a yugoloth to be encountered in any other context, and therefore little likelihood that player characters will run into one on their home material plane. But I can imagine a scenario in which an evil ruler asks a court wizard to summon a yugoloth for aid in battle against a rival, figuring that it might be easier to control than a demon and less likely to demand something unacceptable in return than a devil.

There are four types of yugoloth listed in the MM. From weakest to strongest, they’re the mezzoloth, the nycaloth, the arcanaloth and the ultroloth. (Given this naming pattern, I’m not sure why they’re called “yugoloths” instead of just “loths.” The “yugo-” prefix is never explained.) However, even mezzoloths have a challenge rating of 5. These are not opponents for low-level adventurers. Continue reading Yugoloth Tactics

Demon Tactics: Quasits and Demon Summoning

I know I promised yugoloths today, but there are a couple of things I omitted in my discussion of demon tactics. One was the quasit, a weak demon that’s easily summoned and that occasionally even serves as a wizard’s familiar (an evil wizard, one would expect—either that or one with poor judgment). The other is the variant “Demon Summoning” rule (Monster Manual, page 54). Continue reading Demon Tactics: Quasits and Demon Summoning

Demon Tactics: Type 4, 5 and 6 Demons

We now return you to your regularly scheduled monsters. Today, the upper management of the demonic hierarchy: the type 4 nalfeshnee, the type 5 marilith, and the type 6 balor and goristro.

As mentioned before, demons can’t be killed on the prime material plane—or on any other except their home plane, the Abyss. Any demon killed elsewhere simply re-forms there. Therefore, demons fought on any other plane don’t fear death and won’t retreat or flee even when seriously injured. They inflict as much injury and damage as they can until they’re destroyed.

Also, all demons are (at a minimum) resistant to cold, fire and lightning damage and immune to poison, and at this level, they’re all immune to physical damage from normal weapons as well. Additionally, they have either darkvision or truesight, giving them advantage at night and underground. Continue reading Demon Tactics: Type 4, 5 and 6 Demons