Month: February 2023

  • Carrion Stalker and Strigoi Tactics

    It’s a curious thing—and, to be frank, the thing that’s allowed me to support my family by writing analyses like these—that fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons’ format for presenting monsters, comprising flavor text alongside a stat block, does so little to explain how a given monster uses the abilities it’s got. Which makes it all that much more curious when the flavor text bucks the trend and does explain how a monster uses the abilities it’s got, precisely and accurately. The manticore, in the Monster Manual, is one of these instances. The carrion stalker, in Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft, is another.

    Even if it didn’t, however, this stat block is an easy lift. All the parts fit together neatly, without complication. The carrion stalker is a Tiny monstrosity with Stealth proficiency, burrowing movement and tremorsense, so obviously it sits quietly out of sight, waiting for something to jostle its substrate, then bursts out and attacks. Its Multiattack consists of either three Tentacle attacks or, if it’s attached to something, two Tentacle attacks and a Larval Burst. “Attached,” in this case, comes from a rider on its Tentacle attack which functions as a sort of reverse grapple (or perhaps an automatic Climb Onto a Bigger Creature—see Dungeon Master’s Guide, chapter 9, “Action Options”): Rather than immobilize the target on a hit, the carrion stalker affixes itself to the target and goes wherever they go. Being attached to a target also grants it advantage on attack rolls against them, although—unlike the restrained condition—it doesn’t impose disadvantage on the target’s counterattacks. Finally, the Larval Burst is the carrion stalker’s pièce de résistance, an area-effect action that hurls maggots 10 feet in all directions, which is best used when there’s at least one living creature other than the target within range, and preferably two or more (see DMG, chapter 8, Targets in Area of Effect table).

  • Gremishka Tactics

    Gremishkas originated in the second edition Dungeons & Dragons Ravenloft campaign setting, but they fell off the radar in later editions before being revived in Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft. Originally, they were essentially just quadrupedal gremlins—malicious nuisances that took up residence in people’s cellars and caused trouble. In fifth edition, they’re still tricky and malicious, but their existence is the result of a magical accident, they have a particular animus against mages, and using magic to try to get rid of them tends to go poorly.

    For those who are tired of rats in the basement, a gremishka is a good antagonist for a low-level campaign—but level 2, perhaps, rather than level 1, for a reason that will shortly become apparent. Its challenge rating is only 1/8, but it’s also not going to go looking for a fight. Its only above-average physical ability is its Dexterity, making it a shock attacker; generally, after delivering a single bite, a gremishka runs away, and it often doesn’t even bother to bite first. It’s a clever beastie, with Intelligence above humanoid average, and while it doesn’t possess much tactical flexibility, this Tiny monstrosity certainly has the wits to know (and maybe even create) various routes of escape, in order to avoid getting cornered. With 30 feet of darkvision, the gremishka is nocturnal, and given that it understands but doesn’t speak Common, I fancy that it might be fond of eavesdropping on conversations—the better to know what will really get its targets’ goat.

  • Jiangshi Tactics

    The jiangshi (pronounced chyahng-shr, with both syllables in level high tone) is a reanimated corpse from Chinese folklore, nicknamed the “hopping vampire” because of how it struggles to move within the limits of rigor mortis (translated literally, the name means “stiff corpse”). This limitation is reflected in its 20-foot movement speed, which is a key consideration in the jiangshi’s tactics: It’s not going to chase anyone down, and without proficiency in Stealth or Perception, it’s not an ambush attacker, either. The jiangshi has to seek out victims who are sleeping or otherwise immobile—or get next to them without their realizing what it is.

    With their exceptional Strength and Constitution (and miserable Dexterity), jiangshi are brute melee fighters, so they’re inclined toward melee combat to begin with, but their speed turns this preference into a necessity. The sine qua non of their combat tactics is their Multiattack, which comprises three Slam attacks and one use of Consume Energy. Consume Energy is their compulsion, the means by which they suck the life force out of living creatures. To get the most out of it, a jiangshi has to kill its victim with the necrotic damage it deals with this action. Therefore, the attacks it makes immediately beforehand have to bring their victim to the point of death.


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“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

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