Kruthik Tactics

Kruthiks are a refreshing change of pace: a straight-up monster that just wants to eat, have babies and otherwise be left alone. They come in various sizes, but all of them have in common a high armor class, burrowing and climbing movement, darkvision, tremorsense, and the features Keen Smell, Pack Tactics and Tunneler.

Ordinary young and adult kruthiks have a balanced ability contour favoring Dexterity. This would normally indicate a bias toward ranged combat, but young kruthiks lack a ranged attack, and in adult kruthiks, the bias is slight, almost insignificant. Thus, they don’t fit neatly into any one single combat profile. On the other hand, their Intelligence isn’t high enough to indicate tactical flexibility. I’m going to interpret this to mean that they may start combat in any number of ways—brute melee fighting, ranged sniping, scrappy skirmishing, hard-and-fast shock attacks—but whichever of these they choose, they generally don’t deviate from.

Because their ability contours offer so few clues about their fighting styles, the importance of their burrowing and climbing movement and their Pack Tactics and Tunneler features is magnified. Young kruthiks are disinclined to fight enemies they don’t outnumber—at least 3 to 1. Adult kruthiks don’t necessarily have to outnumber their enemies, but they’ll never fight in a group of fewer than three, and four or five is a more typical squad size. Since young kruthiks have only melee attacks, they have to swarm their enemies; adult kruthiks can combine melee Stab attacks with ranged Spike attacks (akin to a porcupine throwing its quills) and gain the benefit of Pack Tactics as long as least one of them is engaged in melee with a foe. Continue reading Kruthik Tactics

Nightwalker Tactics

It took me a couple of tries to get through the flavor text on the nightwalker in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, but here’s what it seems to boil down to: If some schmuck is dumb enough to try to visit the Negative Plane, which has even less to recommend it as a destination than Philadelphia International Airport (Update: To be fair, I traveled through PHL recently, and it’s much improved from what it was like in the ’90s, so I apologize for the cheap dig, PHL), the tradeoff is that a nightwalker is released into the material plane, and the visitor can’t leave the Negative Plane until the nightwalker is somehow persuaded to go back. How can it be persuaded to go back? “By offerings of life for it to devour.” How many such offerings are necessary? It doesn’t say. What do nightwalkers want? “To make life extinct.” So the idea here is to convince a nightwalker to abandon the place where it has plenty of life energy to devour by giving it life energy to devour? Try throwing bagels to raccoons and see how quickly they go away.

As if this arrangement weren’t bad enough for our traveler, destroying the nightwalker traps the traveler on the Negative Plane forever. In short, in an entire universe of bad ideas, going to the Negative Plane for any reason is quite possibly the worst. If you’re creating a nightwalker encounter, though, someone went through with this execrable half-baked plan, and now your player characters are the ones who have to deal with the consequences.

With extraordinary Strength and Constitution, nightwalkers are brutes, but they’re some of the nimblest brutes in the Dungeons and Dragons menagerie: their Dexterity is also extraordinary, though not quite as high as their Strength and Con. Their mental abilities, in contrast, are weak, with below-average Wisdom the highest of the three. They’re indiscriminate in their target selection and operate on instinct, without any flexibility in their tactics. Continue reading Nightwalker Tactics

Marut Tactics

Maruts are interplanar marshals that monitor and enforce compliance with mystically signed contracts. And by “enforce compliance,” I mean, of course, delivering beatdowns to whoever breaches them. Unlike most constructs, maruts are highly intelligent and able to exercise considerable individual discretion in carrying out their tasks; the tasks themselves, however, are rigidly determined. Maruts don’t care whether you’ve honored or violated the spirit of a contract, only the letter of it.

As lawful neutral creatures, maruts are indifferent toward other beings by default. If you’re helping them in their duties, they’ll be friendly, in a robotic sort of way. If you’re hindering them, they’ll clear the blockage. Once you no longer pose any hindrance, however, they’ll be on their way. If you’re not the party they’re out to punish, they’ll only attack to subdue.

Maruts are spectacularly tough, with more than 400 hp, an armor class of 22, and extraordinary Strength and Constitution. Their Intelligence and Charisma are also exceptional, and their Wisdom is high; they have expertise in Insight, Intimidation and Perception. They’re brutes, but they’re brilliant brutes: they can see through most lies and know other creatures’ abilities and weaknesses as if reading them off their character sheets or stat blocks. Unfortunately for them, while they’re capable of great tactical flexibility, they don’t really have the features they need to make full use of it. Continue reading Marut Tactics

Devourer Tactics

Don’t let the neotenic proportions in the illustration in Volo’s Guide to Monsters fool you: devourers are big and mean enough to pick you up and stuff you inside their own ribcages. Which they do. It’s a thing.

Fiends, though not technically demons, devourers seize humanoids and consume them body and soul, transforming them into undead creatures of power proportional to what they possessed in life.

Devourers have extraordinary Strength and Constitution; their Charisma is also very high, but they’re melee-oriented brutes first and foremost. With above-average Intelligence, they’re going to be fairly good at guessing who’s going to be susceptible to which of their abilities, though these guesses are by no means infallible. With 120 feet of darkvision, they’re not creatures you’re ever going to encounter in broad daylight—strictly at night, indoors and/or underground. (According to the flavor text, they aren’t even found on the material plane all that often.) Continue reading Devourer Tactics

NPC Tactics: Kraken Priests

Despite several reader requests, I kept putting off analyzing the kraken priest because it’s always kind of a pain to analyze creatures with large spell repertoires. Turns out the KP’s repertoire isn’t as big as I thought it was, so my bad.

The kraken priest’s ability contour is highest in Constitution, second-highest in Wisdom, with Strength and Dexterity a good ways behind. This non-player character is a spellcaster first and foremost, and arguably a support spellcaster first and foremost, rather than a spellslinger hiding way in the back. Charisma is also high; Intelligence, merely average.

Presumably through the kraken’s influence, the KP has resistance to physical damage from nonmagical weapons and can breathe underwater. That’s pretty much it in the way of distinctive passive features. Aside from spellcasting—which isn’t all that unusual for, you know, a priest—the KP’s only distinctive features are the actions Thunderous Touch and Voice of the Kraken. Continue reading NPC Tactics: Kraken Priests

Elemental Myrmidon Tactics

Elemental myrmidons are categorized as elementals, but they also have something of the construct about them, since their essences are summoned into suits of plate armor and armed with weapons of indisputable solidity, and since they follow their summoners’ commands without free will.

More intelligent than ordinary elementals—and far more intelligent than elder elementals—elemental myrmidons have sufficient cognitive candlepower to understand and respond to what’s going on in a battle, if not to assess opponents’ weaknesses or devise clever plans. Each has one outstanding physical attribute: Dexterity in the case of the fire elemental myrmidon, Strength in the other three. Their Wisdom and Charisma are average.

Elemental myrmidons all wear plate armor and have resistance to physical damage from nonmagical attacks. They’re immune to poison damage and can’t be paralyzed, petrified, poisoned or proned. Their weapon attacks are magical, they have darkvision (as with the elder elementals, I construe this as indicating more an indifference to lighting conditions than an actual preference for dim light or darkness), and each of them has a single potent, slow-to-recharge special melee attack in addition to a melee Multiattack.

None of the four types of elemental myrmidon has a ranged attack. Even if they’re not brutes per se—and except for the earth elemental myrmidon, none of them is—they’re equipped only for melee combat, so the only tactical decisions for them to make are whom to target and when to use their special attacks. Continue reading Elemental Myrmidon Tactics

Elder Elemental Tactics

The four elder elementals in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes have a lot in common. To me, the most striking commonality is that they’re exceptional, if not extraordinary, in every single ability score but one: Intelligence. Each of them has Intelligence 2, indicating bare-minimum sentience.

Once again, we see the combination of low Intelligence and high Wisdom, only this time it’s dialed up to an extreme. What does it mean to have Intelligence 2 and Wisdom 18 or 21? It means intuition without thinking, awareness without adaptability, judgment without reason. It means a creature that acts according to its nature and can’t be compelled to do otherwise. It means a creature that senses the degree of threat that a party of player characters poses but can’t really distinguish any one of those PCs from any other.

These are the other traits shared by all elder elementals:

  • At least two physical ability scores that are higher than all their mental ability scores.
  • Proficiency in Wisdom and Charisma saving throws, making them extremely difficult to manipulate or to banish.
  • Resistance to physical damage from nonmagical attacks.
  • Immunity to poison damage, exhaustion, paralysis, petrifaction, and being poisoned or stunned.
  • Darkvision out to a radius of 60 feet, which in this case I interpret to indicate not a preference for fighting in dim light or darkness but an indifference to lighting conditions in general.
  • A lack of language. Elder elementals aren’t here to chat.
  • Legendary Resistance, which they’ll use primarily to avoid debilitating conditions and only secondarily to avoid damage.
  • The Siege Monster feature, which means they’ll destroy your cover before they destroy you.
  • A Multiattack comprising two different attack actions, one attack with each.
  • A selection of legendary actions that includes one turn’s worth of additional movement.
  • Neutral alignment. The default attitude of an elder elemental toward other creatures is indifference. It’s not going to attack—intentionally—unless it’s provoked. But who knows who or what might provoke it?

Continue reading Elder Elemental Tactics

Thank You for Your Patience

A quick note to my loyal readers: This summer and fall have been a whirlwind, thanks to work on other projects and preparation for a new little monster that will be coming to inhabit our dungeon very soon. As a result, I’ve fallen way behind on responding to e-mail messages and acknowledging reader requests. Today I’ve gone through all my outstanding e-mail and put together a queue of 18 different monster types to look at in the coming weeks. If there’s a monster you requested that I look at and I haven’t gotten to it yet, don’t despair: I’ll get to it soon! (I’ll also try to improve my posting rate, which has gone from mediocre to dismal. Such are the demands of life.)

Fomorian Tactics

Fomorians are yet another manifestation of the “evil ≡ ugly” essentialist trope, which I wish would go away. Once a noble and beautiful strain of giantkind, they were cursed with a warped and hideous appearance for their hubristic crimes against the Feywild. Not only was their pulchritude taken from them, they lost their intellectual brilliance as well: the average fomorian has an Intelligence of only 9.

Extremely strong and tough brutes, with a hefty reservoir of hit points, fomorians barrel directly into the fray. Their Evil Eye feature works out to a range of 60 feet, but they use it from the midst of melee. Long-range darkvision suggests that they dwell in darkness—either underground, where they’re most commonly found, or in the densest and gloomiest of forests—and don’t attack when there’s a bright light source present.

Their low Intelligence and high Wisdom are an interesting juxtaposition. By my reckoning, Intelligence represents logical assessment, while Wisdom represents judgment as well as perception. Fomorians’ situational awareness is a mixed bag: They’re pretty good at assessing whether or not a fight is winnable, and they refrain from engaging when it’s not, but they lack tactical breadth and target selection savvy. Once they’ve committed to a fight, their behavior is relatively simple, and their decisions arbitrary. Continue reading Fomorian Tactics

Demon Tactics: Maurezhi and Dybbuks

Maurezhi, according to Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, are demons formed from the corrupted souls of elves to lead packs of ghouls and ghasts. The connection to elves is interesting, because as I note in my article on ghoul and ghast tactics, whether or not their claw attacks have an effect on elves is a key feature distinguishing ghouls from ghasts. (Ghouls’ claw attacks have no paralyzing effect on elves; ghasts’ claw attacks do.)

Upon consuming the corpse of a humanoid it’s slain, a maurezhi has a brief window of opportunity during which it assumes his or her appearance and can convincingly pass as that person, with the help of its proficiency in the Deception skill. Almost immediately, however, this body begins to rot away, and after just a day, something is clearly not right; by a few days later, the maurezhi sheds it, like a skin it’s outgrown. The ideal maurezhi encounter therefore takes place very soon after it’s assumed a new appearance, and any delay is going to have an effect on its strategy.

Maurezhi have high Charisma, but this doesn’t figure into any of their attacks, only their deception skill. Combat-wise, they’re shock attackers, with exceptional Dexterity that functions as their primary ability for both defense and offense. Since ghouls and ghasts are also shock attackers, and since maurezhi will typically be encountered leading packs of them, there should be enough baddies to go around for an entire group of protagonists; the ghouls and ghasts go straight for the ones they want to eat, while the maurezhi zeroes in on any other opponent who might present an obstacle to that and tries to take him or her out in a round or two. Continue reading Demon Tactics: Maurezhi and Dybbuks