Category: Aberrations

  • 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. (more…)

  • 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! (more…)

  • 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. (more…)

  • 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. (more…)

  • 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. (more…)

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