Ulitharid and Mindwitness Tactics

Ulitharids are elite, extra-large mind flayers with better ability scores, a couple of additional traits, several extra psionic “spells,” telepathy that extends to a range of 2 miles, and moar tentacles. They work in conjunction with elder brains to extend the influence of mind flayer colonies over a greater distance. In fact, their Psionic Hub trait assumes and requires a connection with an elder brain, so without a mind flayer colony built around one, there’s not much reason to write an ulitharid into your adventure.

An ulitharid’s Strength and Constitution are significantly higher than those of a normal mind flayer, but these are still outweighed by its extraordinary mental abilities, which predispose it toward spellcasting and Mind Blast rather than melee attacks. However, since its Constitution is higher than its Dexterity, it’s more willing than the average mind flayer to charge forward in order to make use of these psionic powers. An ulitharid leads from the front.

The one thing an ulitharid lacks that an ordinary mind flayer possesses is proficiency in Deception and Persuasion. As part of their mind-control schemes, mind flayers may try to tempt victims with rewards, either real or imaginary; ulitharids aren’t about that. They’re the muscle, not the face. Continue reading Ulitharid and Mindwitness Tactics

Balhannoth Tactics

A couple of readers asked me to look at the balhannoth, and I have to say, this is one of the strangest stat blocks I’ve ever looked at. Not necessarily because it has the most peculiar abilities—although a couple of its abilities are unique and quite interesting—but because it almost seems like two different monsters in one, each with a completely different modus operandi.

Going by its ability scores and its attack actions, the balhannoth is a straightforward brute, with exceptional Strength and Constitution. Its Bite action is a basic melee attack that deals a ferocious four dice of piercing damage at close range. Its Tentacle action does bludgeoning damage (which can be read as “constricting” as well as “whomping”) and also grapples and restrains on a hit. Additionally, the grappled target “is moved up to 5 feet toward the balhannoth.” “Up to 5” includes zero, and this gives the balhannoth the option of either reeling a target in to Bite them or holding them at a safe distance, out of melee attack reach. A balhannoth can grab up to four targets this way.

Its Multiattack offers two choices: Tentacle/Tentacle/Bite (or Tentacle/Bite/Tentacle) and Tentacle × 4. If opponents are rushing the balhannoth, or if they’re clustered too closely together, the latter lets it seize several of them at once. If only a couple of enemies are within reach, it can grab and Bite right away. Continue reading Balhannoth Tactics

Star Spawn Tactics, Part 2

To begin with, a mea culpa: In looking at the star spawn hulk in the previous post, I skipped over the Psychic Mirror feature. Mentally, I’d noted that it didn’t have any meaningful impact on the hulk’s own tactics—but having noted that to myself, I forgot to say so.

The thing is, Psychic Mirror doesn’t affect anything the hulk does, since the hulk already has another incentive to stand in the midst of its enemies, in the form of Reaping Arms. But Psychic Mirror can affect the behavior of other monsters fighting alongside the hulk. And when you get right down to it, “Psychic Mirror” is an inaccurate name: it should be “Psychic Amplifier,” because for every x points of psychic damage the hulk would take, every creature within 10 feet of it takes x points.

As an example, one commenter mentioned mind flayers, with their Mind Blast action. Suppose an attacking mind flayer blasts five player characters along with a star spawn hulk. First, each of the five player characters makes an Intelligence saving throw. On average, a PC will take 22 points of psychic damage on a failure, 11 on a success. But then the hulk makes its own saving throw, and its Intelligence is a wretched 7, so it has only a 20 percent chance of success—it’s going to fail, and take full damage, four times out of five. But it’s not the one who takes that damage! That damage is passed along to each PC within 10 feet of it—the full amount, even if a PC made his or her own saving throw! Continue reading Star Spawn Tactics, Part 2

Star Spawn Tactics, Part 1

Star spawn are new arrivals in the Dungeons and Dragons universe. The name seems to be borrowed from H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, but according to the Powers That Be, star spawn aren’t native to the Far Realm specifically. Some of them are from the Far Realm, but others are associated with “Elder Evils” that inhabit other planes, such as the Shadowfell, the Gray Waste and the Abyss. They understand and speak Deep Speech, which is not the same as Undercommon, but rather a language associated with the Far Realm; it’s also spoken by neogi, mind flayers, beholders and aboleths.

There’s a variety of star spawn for every level of play, from the lowly grue to the boss-level larva mage. Continue reading Star Spawn Tactics, Part 1

Cloaker Tactics

For some reason I thought I recalled the cloaker from the original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual, but I must have gotten it confused with the lurker, because according to the cloaker’s Wikipedia biography, its first appearance in a core book was in the second-edition Monstrous Compendium, in which it was (hilariously) described as “impossible to distinguish from a common black cloak.” Fashion mimic! Wisely, later editions have depicted it in more evolutionarily plausible terms, although it’s still categorized as an aberration rather than a monstrosity.

Cloakers have exceptionally high Strength and high Dexterity but merely above-average Constitution, a rare contour that I generally associate with shock attacks; combined with their proficiency in Stealth and their False Appearance feature, this contour indicates an ambush predator that seeks to take down its prey in a single strike, if possible. A fight that lasts more than a couple of rounds won’t be to a cloaker’s liking.

Their Intelligence and Wisdom are above-average, but not unusually so, so while they’re selective about their targets, their judgment may sometimes be off. (And then there’s that strangely high Charisma. What’s that for? Resistance to banishment? I have no good explanation.) They have 60 feet of darkvision and Light Sensitivity and speak Deep Speech and Undercommon, so obviously, they’re subterranean dwellers that have little or no reason to venture aboveground. Continue reading Cloaker Tactics

Vegepygmy Tactics

In yon days of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, TSR published every adventure “module” (as we called them then) with an alphanumeric code, and if you speak the code “S3” to a role-playing gamer of my generation, it’ll be met with a big grin and the reaction, “The one with the spaceship!” Yep, that’s Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, a D&D/science fiction crossover, in which the player characters explore the wreckage of a futuristic craft and stock up on assorted high-tech weaponry and loot.

One of the more memorable monsters from this module is the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing, a carnivorous, tentacled stump with a wiggly appendage at the top that resembles an adorable furry creature. Another—equally memorable but less fondly remembered—is the vegepygmy. Among my D&D friends, I think vegepygmies must have come in for more derision than any other D&D monster except the flumph and the flail snail, although thinking about it now, I couldn’t tell you exactly why we thought vegepygmies were so ridiculous. Maybe it was just the name. Anyway, the last paragraph of the vegepygmy entry in Volo’s Guide to Monsters contains a cheeky shout-out to their origin.

Vegepygmies, essentially, are fungus in a humanoid form, though they differ from myconids in . . . ways. For one thing, they do possess the power of speech, sort of. They’re not telepathic. They’re a little more peoply-looking. They propagate by infecting other creatures with russet mold spores, rather than independently. But ultimately, they’re still just another form of animate fungus. And like myconids, they’re categorized in Volo’s as plants, even though fungi, it turns out, are closer to animals than to plants in the taxonomic tree. As I suggested with myconids, you may choose to categorize them as humanoids or even aberrations instead, then let your players try to solve the riddle of their plant-related spells’ not working on beings that sure do look like plants. Continue reading Vegepygmy Tactics

Neogi Tactics

Neogi have the bodies of spiders, the heads of some kind of sharp-toothed worm-thing and the hyper-hierarchical worldview of an 18th-century aristocrat. Nearly all their relations—with other species and with one another—revolve around power. Anything other than deference to the powerful and domination of the powerless is foreign to their way of thinking.

However, neogi are physically weak: their power comes from their psychic abilities. In terms of their ability scores, a neogi’s high Dexterity and Constitution, combined with its low Strength, indicates a preference for skirmishing and for outnumbering opponents. But neogi of equal status will cooperate only under the command of a higher-status neogi; a lone neogi must fend for itself, and will strive to avoid any engagement in which it doesn’t have a clear advantage.

Neogi have darkvision (the standard 60 feet) and proficiency in Perception, so it’s to their advantage to engage either at night or underground. They also have proficiency in Intimidation; this plus their above-average Wisdom suggests that when they’re outmatched, they’ll try to bluff and bluster their way out of having to fight. Continue reading Neogi Tactics

Morkoth Tactics

What do you get when you cross a dragon, a kraken and a beholder? You get a morkoth, a weird, paranoid, tentacled beastie that drifts through the planes on its own private island, which might be aquatic but might also be airborne, and hoards living beings as well as treasure.

By default, a morkoth’s lair is immersed in water, although the morkoth can make that water clear and/or breathable at will—as well as the reverse. This water is just one of many advantages the morkoth has in its own lair, since it has a swimming speed of 50 feet, twice its land speed. It can breathe equally well in air and water, so the breathability (or lack thereof) of the water in its lair is an amenity it can offer to guests and a weapon it can use against intruders.

Morkoths, despite their many hit points and high armor class, aren’t all that physically formidable. Their Strength, Dexterity and Constitution are all modestly above average. Their standout ability is Intelligence, which is also their spellcasting ability, so while they do possess a respectable Multiattack that can also restrain one enemy, they’ll reserve it for enemies who get right up in their beaky faces. They’d much rather attack with spells. Continue reading Morkoth Tactics

Otyugh Tactics

The otyugh is an old-school monster, dating all the way back to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons—and in all that time, debates have raged endlessly over how to pronounce its name. Countless gamers over the years have made their best guesses, usually settling on something like oh-tee-yug, while the Final Fantasy video game series has adopted the pronunciation oh-tyoo (second syllable stressed, to rhyme with “through”). But according to the seemingly authoritative EN World D&D Pronunciation Guide, citing a 1985 Dragon magazine article, it’s ot-yug; that’s the one I’d go with.

The Monster Manual categorizes otyughs as aberrations, not monstrosities, though it doesn’t explain why—maybe because of their Limited Telepathy feature or their odd morphology. They’re not described as extraplanar, they’re not evil, and they’re not especially intelligent; in all respects other than their telepathy, they seem to behave like an evolved creature.

Otyughs are brutes, with high Strength and extraordinary Constitution. They have a well-developed survival instinct, including the ability to discriminate between easy and difficult prey, but despite their ability to communicate verbally in their own language, their Intelligence is animal at best—about what you’d expect of a sign language–using gorilla. Theoretically, it may be possible to bargain with an otyugh, by appealing to its one and only interest: food. Continue reading Otyugh Tactics

Neothelid Tactics

Neothelids are products of mind flayer reproduction gone awry. Mind flayers reproduce by hatching thousands of tadpoles and implanting as many as they can in the brains of living hosts. Unimplanted tadpoles must be killed, because if they’re left to their own devices, the tadpoles will grow out of control and dumbly devour every living thing around them, including other mind flayer tadpoles. As they feed and grow, their psionic power grows as well, but the intelligence needed to direct it—which normally comes from the host brain—doesn’t. You can see how this ends: not well.

Gargantuan, clumsily thrashing brutes, neothelids have extraordinary Strength and Constitution but below-average dexterity, subsentient Intelligence but high Wisdom (representing perception and survival instinct, nothing else). It has 120 feet of blindsight, suiting it to any environment but giving it the greatest advantage in subterranean places. It can also detect the presence of intelligent creatures up to a mile away, unless they’re masking their minds with magic.

The combination of high Wisdom and rock-bottom Intelligence indicates a sort of animal cunning, which isn’t the same as flexibility—the neothelid has none of that. Operating purely from instinct, it nevertheless can choose its moment to attack and avoid tangling with creatures of comparable or greater power. It can also detect—imperfectly—which of its prospective victims are weakest and go after them first. And if it’s seriously wounded (reduced to 130 hp or fewer), it will recognize the danger it’s in, break off fighting and Dash away. Continue reading Neothelid Tactics