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

Mind Flayers Revisited

“Mind flayers aren’t the real boss monster,” I wrote in my post on mind flayer tactics. “They usually live in colonies, not by themselves. The real boss monster is the elder brain.” And while the fifth-edition Monster Manual doesn’t include stats for elder brains, Volo’s Guide to Monsters does! Huzzah!

Unfortunately, Volo’s doesn’t solve the real problem with 5E mind flayers: that, as written, they simply aren’t powerful enough to carry out their psionic schemes with even a modicum of efficiency. And efficiency is important, because if they have to live near humanoid settlements in order to harvest the brains they live on, yet also have to conceal their presence in order to avoid discovery not just by their prey but also by vengeful gith, they’re gonna need a decent number of minions. Continue reading Mind Flayers Revisited

Beholder-Kin Tactics

The Monster Manual lists two variants of the beholder: the death tyrant, a more powerful, undead variant; and the spectator, a less powerful, not-really-evil variant. Volo’s Guide to Monsters lists three: the death kiss, the gauth and the gazer. Together, these are referred to as “beholder-kin.” All three variants are evil.

The death kiss is the most powerful of the three, though not as powerful as a standard beholder. In lieu of ray-projecting eyestalks, its body is covered with long, waving tentacles that end in spines and toothy mouths. It has the extremely silly feature Lightning Blood (which I can’t even type without laughing ruefully), which inflicts lightning damage against any opponent that strikes it with a piercing or slashing weapon. That’s right: Its blood is electrically charged. This is ridiculous even for an aberration. I mean, I can almost buy the flavor text explanation, “A death kiss survives solely on ingested blood, which it uses to generate electrical energy inside its body,” with the usual suspension of disbelief that Dungeons and Dragons demands, but to suggest that the death kiss’s blood itself is what carries the stored electrical charge, and not some other organ in the death kiss’s body . . . whatever, man, I can’t even with this. You hit it, you get shocked. That’s what it says.

Sigh. Continue reading Beholder-Kin Tactics

Beholders Revisited

Volo’s Guide to Monsters is thorough in its treatment of beholders, in terms of both tactics and flavor. It contains material on determining a beholder’s appearance and behavior, the layout and contents of its lair, and even where baby beholders come from (it’s suitably weird). Since this blog’s focus is on tactics, I’ll concentrate on that.

For the most part, everything I said in my original analysis of beholders stands, but there is one small, implied contradiction. Continue reading Beholders Revisited

Myconid Tactics

Before I get into material from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, I promised I’d look at myconids: vaguely humanoid fungus creatures, categorized by the Monster Manual as “plants” in defiance of our current understanding of fungi as less closely related to plants than to animals. Granted, we shouldn’t be surprised when anything in Dungeons and Dragons defies science—but if, as a dungeon master, you feel like honoring science and being perversely difficult toward your players, you might choose to reclassify them as beasts, monstrosities or even aberrations. The last category might fit best, as they’re intelligent, but they’re certainly not a humanoid intelligence, or even an animal intelligence.

As subterranean creatures, all myconids share 120 feet of darkvision, plus the features Sun Sickness, Distress Spores and Rapport Spores. Sun Sickness penalizes myconids for venturing aboveground during the day: it gives them disadvantage on all ability checks, attack rolls and saving throws while in sunlight, and if they spend more than an hour out in it, it kills them. (They dry up or something, I guess.) Distress Spores gives them a form of telepathic communication with other myconids, informing them when they’re injured. Rapport Spores are interesting: they give all living creatures exposed to them the ability to share thoughts over a limited distance. Which is useful, because otherwise, myconids have no form of verbal communication.

Myconids are lawful neutral, not evil. Although not automatically friendly, they’re not automatically hostile, either; their default disposition is indifferent. But they are lawful, which means that being a troublemaker in their vicinity may provoke a hostile response from them. The more chaos-muppety your player characters are, the less likely myconids are to appreciate their presence. Continue reading Myconid Tactics

Aboleth Tactics

From their description, you’d think aboleths were among the bossest of all boss monsters, but in fact, they have a challenge rating of just 10—well within the power of a party of medium-high-level adventurers to take on, assuming they have some way to reach the creatures’ underwater lairs.

The Monster Manual classes them as aberrations, but they don’t originate from some other plane of existence, despite having a connection to the Elemental Plane of Water. Rather, they antedate all the gods and intelligent beings of the contemporary material world. They are the Old Ones. To me, it’s cool to think of them as the product of a different, much more ancient path of evolution, like holdovers from the world-sea of the Ordovician Period in our own history, 450 million years ago, and their connection to the Elemental Plane of Water as a way they discovered of perpetuating their existence over the eons.

Aboleths have high Constitution and extraordinary Strength, but it’s their exceptional mental abilities that define them. With their high Wisdom and exceptional Intelligence and Charisma, they’re schemers and manipulators par excellence, with superior situational awareness. Because they can’t be permanently slain, according to the MM flavor text, their self-preservation impulse doesn’t manifest the same way it would in an ordinary mortal creature.

As for their physical abilities, they fit the brute profile most closely, though not perfectly, their Constitution falling somewhat short of their Strength. They have no ranged attack and engage in melee without reluctance, but their preference is for a short and decisive battle, settled by their phenomenal Strength, over a drawn-out one. Continue reading Aboleth Tactics

Chuul Tactics

Believe it or not, until I cracked open the fifth-edition Monster Manual, I’d never heard of chuuls. I got into role-playing games with Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, back when God’s grandma was a little girl, and we didn’t have chuuls back then, not even in the Flumph Folio. According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, chuuls were introduced in the third edition. (Maybe not so all-knowing: it describes them as “extremely intelligent,” while according to the 5E MM, they have Intelligence 5.)

Chuuls are, more or less, enormous, semi-uplifted crayfish, servants of the mighty, ancient aboleths. They’re amphibious, chosen for their role because of their ability to survive on land as well as in the water. They’re larger than human-size and exceptionally strong and tough, predisposing them to be brute fighters. Although they’re not exceptionally dexterous, their chitin gives them an armor class of 16. They can sense magic, and we can infer from the flavor text that they’re drawn to it, obeying an ancient, instinctual command to gather powerful items for the aboleths that ruled them.

Chuuls have darkvision, suggesting that they move about on open land only at night and spend the rest of their time either underground or underwater. Judging from the flavor text, they don’t seem to have a lot of motivation to go wandering around but rather will stick close to locations that they feel some urge or duty to guard. They aren’t conscious of any such duty, however: with Intelligence 5, they operate strictly by instinct. Continue reading Chuul Tactics

Gibbering Mouther Tactics

Today we continue our look at the spawn of the Far Realm with the gibbering mouther, a weird and horrifying denizen of places no one in his or her right mind would go, and where no one stays in his or her right mind for long. An oozing blob dotted with mouths full of teeth and horrifying noises, the gibbering mouther offers an interesting analytical challenge, as its stat block looks unlike anything we’ve examined so far.

The gibbering mouther has average Strength, very high Constitution and low Dexterity, an atypical ability contour. It’s not strong enough to be a brute, it’s not fast enough to be scrappy, and it has no aptitude for stealth. Its low Dexterity suggests that, since its ability to avoid damage is poor, it will need some kind of compensatory advantage to make combat worthwhile, and simply being able to soak up damage isn’t enough; we’ll have to look for this advantage among its other features.

Its mental abilities are typical of an animal: average Wisdom (reflecting little except its perceptive ability), low Charisma and very low Intelligence. Entirely instinct-bound, it makes no distinctions of any kind between potential targets; one is as good as another. It may sometimes retreat when injured, but that’s the extent of its ability to adapt to changed circumstances. Continue reading Gibbering Mouther Tactics

Grell Tactics

Need something to go with your walking brain? How about a hovering brain with stinging tentacles? OK, technically, a grell’s body only looks like a big brain, according to game lore, but it does originate from the Far Realm—also the home plane of the mind flayer and the intellect devourer—so if you need another aberration to round out an encounter with these psionic nemeses, the grell is a good fit.

Grells are above average in all their physical abilities, but the balance is tipped toward Strength, with Dexterity coming in second, suggesting a hit-and-run attacker. Their primary mode of movement is flying, with the ability to hover, and they have high proficiency in Stealth.

One thing they don’t have, however, is much flexibility. Beyond its unexplained immunity to lightning and its ability to sense without eyes, the grell’s features are limited to a simple Multiattack comprising one attack with its beak and one with its tentacles. Continue reading Grell Tactics

Mind Flayer Tactics

Mind flayers are like classic pulp supervillains: brilliant, twisted, scheming, always wanting to take over the world—but first, they have things they want to do your brain. They even wear outfits straight out of Flash Gordon. And yet the fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons mind flayer feels unsatisfying to me, maybe because, as written, it just isn’t very efficient.

The Monster Manual flavor text characterizes them as “psionic commanders,” declaring, “Mind flayers possess psionic powers that enable them to control the minds of creatures such as troglodytes, grimlocks, quaggoths and ogres.” And the feature they use to accomplish this is . . . dominate monster, which they can use once per day, and which affects one creature, requires concentration and lasts for one hour?

This is paltry. It’s unworthy of a supervillain. I’ll talk about the tactics of the mind flayer as written, but then I’ll go on to talk about how to make a mind flayer capable of enthralling, and keeping enthralled, more than one minion at a time. Continue reading Mind Flayer Tactics