Pigeon Tactics

If you live in a major North American city (except, weirdly, Milwaukee), you’ve undoubtedly encountered pigeons on an almost daily basis. Like squirrels, they enjoy a commensal relationship with humans, benefiting greatly from our effect on the ecosystem without significantly helping us or harming us in any way. And you know they’re generally quite chill, unless your toddler runs directly at them, as toddlers invariably do.

The standard pigeon in fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons is no different. A small, unthreatening thing, it’s disinclined to fight at all and relies heavily on its Hypervigilant Flight reaction, which allows it to move up to half its speed as a reaction—without provoking an opportunity attack—if another creature moves within 5 feet of it. Pigeons are prey creatures, not predators, and the only way you’re likely to suffer a Beak attack from one is if you somehow manage to grab it.

A swarm of pigeons behaves similarly to a single pigeon, but not exactly the same. It still spooks easily, and it rarely attacks, preferring simply to use Hypervigilant Flight to retreat to a safe distance and, if pursued, to Dash to a safe perch out of reach. However, sometimes a swarm of pigeons chooses an empty, elevated location to roost in, such as an upper floor of an abandoned building. Particularly if this roost is home to eggs or squabs, a swarm of pigeons may become aggressive toward anyone who intrudes.

The first action it generally takes against a trespasser is Evacuate, more as a scare response than a calculated attempt to debilitate. If the target subsequently moves, so does the swarm, using Hypervigilant Flight. However, if the target doesn’t leave, the swarm then swoops back down and attacks with its Beaks. It continues to attack until the intruder is driven off or the swarm is reduced to 10 hp or fewer.

The giant pigeon is another matter, because unlike its Tiny cousins, it doesn’t scare. Cheeky and undauntable in its pursuit of food, it disregards other creatures as long as they leave it alone. Even snatching food away from it doesn’t provoke it to fight; it simply continues to try to get the food back, with greater determination. (You can use the Disarm action, from “Action Options” in chapter 9 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, to represent the giant pigeon’s attempts to snatch food back from a character who’s holding it.) If and when one does actual harm to it, however, it fights back, doing its best to drive the aggressor away. Continue reading Pigeon Tactics

Cranium Rat Tactics

Cranium rats are minions of mind flayers, created “by bombarding normal rats with psionic energy” (and also, it seems from the illustration, delicately removing the top layers of their scalp and skull). Mind flayer colonies use them as forward observers; although the range of their telepathy is short (only 30 feet), the 120-foot telepathic range of a mind flayer extends their link to a more practical distance, and the 5-mile range of an elder brain increases their effectiveness by several orders of magnitude.

A lone cranium rat can’t do much. It’s extremely weak, with only 2 hp and 30 feet of darkvision. Its Bite attack is inconsequential. It can cause its brain to glow, emitting eerie dim light to a range of 5 feet, but that’s not very useful. If its range were 30 feet, it could combine this illumination with its darkvision to eliminate its Perception penalty within that radius. Since its passive Perception is only 10, that would be fairly useful. At only 5 feet, though, all a single cranium rat can do with this glow is give itself away.

However, a cranium rat that’s actively spying for a mind flayer colony might be ordered to use Illumination because a mind flayer or elder brain wanted to get a good, clear look at someone or something that the cranium rat had approached in the dark. In this scenario, the cranium rat is effectively doomed to die, providing a brief moment of extreme creepiness before it succumbs to an opportunity attack. If that attack should somehow miss, the cranium rat snuffs its light and Dashes away, hopefully to safety. Continue reading Cranium Rat Tactics

Conjured Creature Tactics

Today’s post is as much for players as it is for Dungeon Masters, because creatures summoned by conjure animals are as often found fighting alongside player characters as against them. And, in fact, the tactics relating to conjured creatures are player tactics as much as they are creature tactics, if not more so.

Conjure animals—along with the closely related spells conjure woodland beings and conjure minor elementals—is sometimes referred to as a “broken” spell. It’s not necessarily that the spell is excessively powerful; in fact, as we’ll see, it comes with a built-in hitch that can have just the opposite effect. Rather, it’s the fact that this hitch encourages casters to summon as many creatures as possible, causing combat to bog down badly—over and over and over again. So one of the things I’ll talk about is how to keep this from happening.

It behooves any player whose PC learns conjure animals (or conjure woodland beings or conjure minor elementals) to read the spell description very closely, because it doesn’t necessarily do what you think it does. Unlike, say, find familiar, these spells don’t give you the privilege of choosing what kind of creature shows up. They don’t even let you dictate how powerful the summoned creature(s) will be. The only thing you’re assured of is how many creatures show up. Continue reading Conjured Creature Tactics

Rot Grub ‘Tactics’

Rot grubs are nearly mindless creatures that exist primarily in swarms, a stat block for which is provided in Volo’s Guide to Monsters. They’re a nasty surprise for any adventurer who stumbles across them, since the only way to fight them off once they’ve burrowed into you is to intentionally burn yourself. However, to talk about their having “tactics” is to give them too much credit, and I’m only bothering to write them up because a reader requested it.

A swarm of rot grubs is easy to hit, having an armor class of only 8, but not so easy to destroy. The swarm is resistant to piercing and slashing damage, reflecting the fact that you can kill a lot more grubs with a broad bashing weapon than with a thin cutting edge or poking point. The swarm is also immune to most debilitating conditions, stunned and unconscious being two standout exceptions. The swarm can be blinded, but that doesn’t mean much, since it has 10 feet of blindsight. Except for its Constitution, which is average, the swarm’s ability scores are pitifully low.

The swarm has only one attack, a bite that does only indirect damage. Rather than take place at the moment of attack, the damage occurs at the start of the target’s turn, and it varies in proportion to the number of grubs that have burrowed into the target’s flesh (1d4 per hit). The target must cauterize the bite wound on this turn, or the burrowing grubs will do continuous round-by-round damage until the target is either cured of the infestation or dead. Continue reading Rot Grub ‘Tactics’

Stirge Tactics

Stirges are flying, bloodsucking parasites. One alone is a pest, but a flock of them constitutes a threat, and this is how they’ll nearly always be encountered.

Their Strength is pitiful, but their Dexterity is high. This makes them hit-and-run attackers, or rather hit-and-fly attackers, since they waddle along at a laughable 10 feet per turn but fly at a brisk 40. With a Wisdom of only 8, they’re indiscriminate in their target selection, attacking whoever comes closest to them; and with a barely cognizant Intelligence of 2, they know only one way to attack and stick with it regardless of circumstances.

This attack revolves around the use of their Blood Drain feature. Starting from a position in the air above its victim, a stirge dives down to bite with its mosquito-like proboscis. If it hits, it latches on. At the start of each subsequent turn, if its victim hasn’t yanked it loose, it automatically drains another 1d4 + 3 hp from him or her. Keep track of this number for each stirge individually, because once it’s drained 10 hp from its prey, a stirge is sated, and it detaches and flies away at normal speed (potentially incurring one or more opportunity attacks as it departs). Continue reading Stirge Tactics