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).

As straightforward as this sequence is, there aren’t many questions left to answer:

  • Does the carrion stalker ever deviate from it? Nope. Its Intelligence is a paltry 2; it operates purely by instinct.
  • How good is its target selection? Not particularly good. Although its Wisdom suggests that it ought to choose its targets carefully, everything else about it suggests that it should react instinctively against whoever or whatever comes within its reach and lie low until then.
  • Does it ever flee? Yes. This critter wants to live long enough to spread its larvae, and it can’t do that unless it’s attached to a target. If someone pulls it off and flings it away, and it’s moderately wounded or worse (reduced to 24 hp or fewer), it scuttles off into the darkness. If it’s unhurt or only lightly wounded, it tries again, running at the nearest living creature and attempting to latch on again. Also, since the carrion stalker can use Larval Burst only once per day, once it’s done that, it has no further reason to stick around. (Well, it has one: Creatures reduced to 0 hp by its larvae die and are consumed by them, so why not keep attacking an infested target with Tentacles to make that more likely to happen? In the grand scheme of propagation of the species, however, it makes more sense for the carrion stalker to scurry away and possibly infest someone else tomorrow.)

When a creature’s behavior offers this few choices, I tend to sort it into the category of “hazard” rather than “adversary,” and the accompanying flavor text describes several places where this sort of hazard might be encountered and why. Use it as written, or let the flavor text give you ideas of your own.

The strigoi has more Intelligence and Wisdom and thus more agency, but it’s not much more complicated. Horribly overgrown stirges with a vampiric aspect, strigoi are aggressive, fast-flying ambush predators with very high Strength and Constitution and proficiency in Perception and Stealth. Their mental abilities allow them to choose their targets, to adjust when things don’t go as planned and to choose their battles with care. A strigoi encounter should be Deadly by default (see DMG, chapter 3, “Creating a Combat Encounter”); if the strigoi alone doesn’t make it Deadly, then assume it’s used its Ravenous Children action already, before the encounter starts, and add enough stirges to the encounter (up to six) to make it so. Alternatively, to account for the possibility that a strigoi has miscalculated, make it a Hard encounter but have it summon its Ravenous Children as soon as it’s moderately wounded (reduced to 36 hp or fewer). Under no circumstances should a strigoi encounter be Easy or Medium. It would steer clear of that fight. (It might talk, however—and perhaps seek to strike a deal.)

Like other predators, a strigoi targets the young, the old, the weak, the isolated and the oblivious. Perched in the shadows, waiting for prey to pass within 40 feet of it, it strikes its chosen target without warning and latches on—in the sense that it prefers to keep attacking the same target it initially identifies as most promising, even if it’s also attacked by another creature. It’s just flavor in this case, unlike the mechanical effect of a stirge’s Blood Drain. Summoned stirges, however, act like stirges.

Strigoi have a well-developed self-preservation instinct and flee when seriously wounded (reduced to 20 hp or fewer), Disengaging and flying away at full speed when within melee reach of at least one opponent, Dashing after that.

Next: unspeakable horrors.

Related Posts

2 responses to “Carrion Stalker and Strigoi Tactics”

  1. Brett Avatar

    Maybe it’s a glitch on my end but your Gallows Speaker article links to your Carrion Crawler and Strigoi article.

  2. The Tavernkeep Avatar
    The Tavernkeep

    Another “hazard” monster to add to my list of creatures that make perfect obstacles in what seems like a straight forward quest. I could see a carrion stalker, or a colony thereof, being what lies under the surface level of the horrifying grave that the party has been sent to in order to retrieve some relic or the body of a dishonored noble. Pair them with something like a sword wraith commander that watches over the final resting place of these displaced folk, and you can have an interesting multi-layer battle.

    I think my side-quests are about to get a lot more interesting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Support the Author

Spy & Owl Bookshop | Tertulia | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indigo | Kobo | Google Play | Apple Books | | Audible

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

Find my short works on the Dungeon Masters’ Guild, or just toss a coin to your witcher: