Month: October 2022

  • Ghost Dragon Tactics

    It’s the spooooopy season, and so it’s appropriate that my first post–Gamehole Con analysis should be of the ghost dragon, a wyrm with unfinished business—which is to say, one that’s not done having stuff yet. At first blush, it seems odd that the fact of the ghost dragon’s refusal to pass beyond the veil makes it less legendary than it was before, rather than more, but the absence of legendary and lair actions is deceiving. A ghost dragon is as challenging a foe as any other adult dragon, if not even more so.

    Ghost dragons can no longer burrow, climb or swim, but they don’t need to: they’re incorporeal now, and they can fly just as swiftly as they ever did. As in life, they’re brutes, with extraordinary Strength, Constitution and Charisma, not to mention high Intelligence and Wisdom as well. They’re resistant to physical damage—even from magic weapons!—and outright immune to acid, cold, necrotic and poison damage, plus a host of debilitating conditions. They gain expertise in Stealth, good for popping out of apparently unattended treasure piles and going, “Boo!” (They shouldn’t actually hide in the treasure pile, though, because that would cause them to take force damage each turn they were in there.)

    But here are the really brutal features: Bite and Terrifying Breath. What’s so brutal about a Bite attack? Seems pretty quotidian, right? Ah, but this Bite attack deals 23 percent more damage on average than the Bite of an adult red dragon and 52 percent more than that of an adult white … and it also slows the target down to half speed on a hit.

    Terrifying Breath, meanwhile, deals cold damage in a 90-foot cone—the standard breath weapon area of effect for an ancient dragon, not an adult dragon, as the ghost dragon evidently used to be, based on its size—and causes the frightened condition in targets that failed their saves, à la Frightful Presence. But there’s one more thing: Creatures frightened by Terrifying Breath are also paralyzed. That’s the real killer, right there. In fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, paralyzed is about the worst thing you can be, next to unconscious or dead.


  • Draconic Shard Tactics

    It’s a throwaway line, but the draconic shard stat block in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons contains one of the low-key coolest tidbits I’ve come across: “Armor Class 17 (Deflection).” Never mind armor, natural or otherwise; a draconic shard simply redirects that blow that should have hit. Wicked!

    The concept of the draconic shard, despite being tied to the concept of gem dragons, is considerably cooler than gem dragons themselves are. The idea is that the gem dragon has such irrepressible force of will that even when its body is slain, its spirit goes right on existing like nothing happened—and because it no longer has a body, it’s even tougher to destroy. Now that’s legendary.

    Draconic shards have the unusual ability contour of extraordinary mental abilities (both Intelligence and Charisma, with exceptional Wisdom to boot) paired with exceptional Constitution, an in-your-face spellcasting combination usually associated with support casters. In the draconic shard’s case, however, this combo simply means that it has no qualms about getting up close and personal with its foes. It can keep its distance, but it doesn’t need to.

    Moreover, despite having an appropriately dragonish 80-foot flying speed, the draconic shard is perfectly happy to sit tight inside an object that it possesses—meant not in the usual “hoard of loot” sense but in the spiritual sense. If it starts to feel restless, however, no problem: It can make the object fly!


  • How to Defend Your Lair, Available for Pre-order

    The world is a dangerous place—especially when you’re up to no good.

    But even a person of unblemished character and sterling repute may make enemies, especially among those of more blemished character and more tarnished repute. Perhaps your deeds have intruded on someone else’s interests, or soon will, and they’ve resolved to stop you. Perhaps the wealth you’ve amassed is becoming an irresistible temptation to larcenous minds. Perhaps you’re making discoveries that others would prefer to keep under wraps—or would appropriate for purposes of their own.

    Whether you’re a rampaging monster, a renowned hero, a despised tyrant, an ambitious schemer, a paranoid recluse, or the current possessor of the Golden MacGuffin, someone’s going to come at you. Probably more than one someone. You need to be ready.

    You need a lair.

    Cover Illustration by Lio Pressland

    Coming Nov. 29 from Saga Press, How to Defend Your Lair pulls back the curtain on an underrated but crucial part of any tabletop roleplaying game: drawing the maps. Say goodbye to encounters between PCs and baddies in randomly generated dungeons and hello to a game in which where the fight takes place is just as important as the fight itself.

    In How to Defend Your Lair, I discuss real-world principles of building security and area defense and how to use them to to create strongholds infused with flavor, informed by narrative, and complex enough to force your players to think strategically. Keep out ordinary intruders—and provide a thrilling challenge to extraordinary ones!

    How to Defend Your Lair includes sections on fundamental principles of defense, terrain, magic, lair staffing, battle strategy and interrogation, along with 16 illustrative scenarios, from a grung village in the rainforest to the mountaintop redoubt of a wily lich.

    Click here to preorder today from your favorite independent bookseller, or follow one of these links:

    Barnes & Noble
    Google Play
    Apple Books

    If you’d prefer to support your friendly local game store with your purchase, ask the buyer to contact Simon & Schuster Distribution or ACD Distribution to order wholesale.

  • Dracohydra Tactics

    “Your [wizards] were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” That, right there, could be said about any number of Dungeons & Dragons monstrosities, and it’s certainly true of the dracohydra, which according to Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons is the end result of the question, “Do you think we could make our own Tiamat?”

    The dracohydra walks, swims and flies; I’m surprised it doesn’t also burrow and climb as well, but those first three are plenty. Ability-wise, it’s an unambiguous brute, with extraordinary Strength and Constitution and not a whole lot else. Like the hydra, the chassis it’s built on, it’s not tactically complex, and making a combat encounter with one interesting is going to require some additional elements, like environmental hazards, time pressure, distracting vermin—or, as suggested by the flavor text, the chuckleheaded mage who brought it into being.


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Praise for The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters

“I’ve always said, the Dungeon Master is the whole world except for his players, and as a result, I spend countless hours prepping for my home group. What Keith gets is that the monsters are the DM’s characters, and his work has been super helpful in adding logic, flavor, and fun in my quest to slaughter my players’ characters and laugh out the window as they cry in their cars afterward.” —Joe Manganiello

“The best movie villains are the ones you fall in love with. Keith’s book grounds villains in specificity, motivation, and tactics—so much so that players will love to hate ’em. This book will enrich your game immeasurably!” —Matthew Lillard

“This book almost instantly made me a better Dungeon Master. If you’re running games, it is a must-have enhancement. I gave copies to the two others in our group who share in the Dungeon Mastering, and both of them came back the next time grinning rather slyly. Keith is a diabolical genius, and I say that with the utmost respect!” —R.A. Salvatore

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