Frost Salamander Tactics

Cousins to salamanders, elemental beings of fire, frost salamanders are elemental beings of ice—in Dungeons & Dragons lore, a conjunction of water and air. They aren’t simply salamanders reskinned to deal cold damage, though. There are major differences between the two:

  • Salamanders are Large; frost salamanders are Huge.
  • Salamanders can travel only across solid ground; frost salamanders can burrow and climb.
  • Both salamanders and frost salamanders are brutes, but salamanders are as intelligent as sentient humanoids are. Frost salamanders are smarter than apes, but just barely, and they don’t have much personality.
  • In addition to their burrowing movement, frost salamanders have tremorsense, allowing them to lie in wait beneath the surface of the ground and spring out to attack prey, like a remorhaz.
  • Salamanders wield weapons and can use their tails to grapple and restrain. Frost salamanders just mess you up with their teeth and claws.
  • The heat of a salamander’s body deals fire damage to anyone who comes in contact with it. Frost salamanders don’t have equivalent contact damage. However . . .
  • Frost salamanders have a breath weapon, Freezing Breath, whose effects lie somewhere between the Cold Breaths of young and adult white dragons. It recharges only on a roll of 6—or when it takes fire damage, thanks to its Burning Fury trait.

Continue reading Frost Salamander Tactics

Flail Snail Tactics

The ridiculous flail snail probably ought to be categorized as a beast, but Volo’s Guide to Monsters declares it to be an elemental, meaning someone casting conjure elemental in the hope of summoning an earth elemental, xorn or gargoyle may end up stuck with one of these instead. Large, tough and most of all slow, the flail snail is technically a brute, but let’s not kid ourselves: This thing isn’t a predator, it’s prey.

Despite that, the flail snail has no effective means of running away when attacked, so it has to rely on a suite of defense mechanisms, the rudest of which is its Antimagic Shell, which has a chance of bouncing spell attacks back at their casters or refracting them into a multidirectional fusillade of force damage. Antimagic Shell, however, is passive. The one and only decision the flail snail needs to make when attacked is whether to use its Flail Tentacles, its Scintillating Shell or its Shell Defense on any given turn.

Note that flail snails, while brilliant in the visual sense, are far from it in the cognitive sense: with Intelligence 3, they’re not going to be employing advanced combat heuristics. A flail snail’s choice of action is going to boil down to a couple of simple rules that it always follows. Continue reading Flail Snail Tactics

Elemental Myrmidon Tactics

Elemental myrmidons are categorized as elementals, but they also have something of the construct about them, since their essences are summoned into suits of plate armor and armed with weapons of indisputable solidity, and since they follow their summoners’ commands without free will.

More intelligent than ordinary elementals—and far more intelligent than elder elementals—elemental myrmidons have sufficient cognitive candlepower to understand and respond to what’s going on in a battle, if not to assess opponents’ weaknesses or devise clever plans. Each has one outstanding physical attribute: Dexterity in the case of the fire elemental myrmidon, Strength in the other three. Their Wisdom and Charisma are average.

Elemental myrmidons all wear plate armor and have resistance to physical damage from nonmagical attacks. They’re immune to poison damage and can’t be paralyzed, petrified, poisoned or proned. Their weapon attacks are magical, they have darkvision (as with the elder elementals, I construe this as indicating more an indifference to lighting conditions than an actual preference for dim light or darkness), and each of them has a single potent, slow-to-recharge special melee attack in addition to a melee Multiattack.

None of the four types of elemental myrmidon has a ranged attack. Even if they’re not brutes per se—and except for the earth elemental myrmidon, none of them is—they’re equipped only for melee combat, so the only tactical decisions for them to make are whom to target and when to use their special attacks. Continue reading Elemental Myrmidon Tactics

Elder Elemental Tactics

The four elder elementals in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes have a lot in common. To me, the most striking commonality is that they’re exceptional, if not extraordinary, in every single ability score but one: Intelligence. Each of them has Intelligence 2, indicating bare-minimum sentience.

Once again, we see the combination of low Intelligence and high Wisdom, only this time it’s dialed up to an extreme. What does it mean to have Intelligence 2 and Wisdom 18 or 21? It means intuition without thinking, awareness without adaptability, judgment without reason. It means a creature that acts according to its nature and can’t be compelled to do otherwise. It means a creature that senses the degree of threat that a party of player characters poses but can’t really distinguish any one of those PCs from any other.

These are the other traits shared by all elder elementals:

  • At least two physical ability scores that are higher than all their mental ability scores.
  • Proficiency in Wisdom and Charisma saving throws, making them extremely difficult to manipulate or to banish.
  • Resistance to physical damage from nonmagical attacks.
  • Immunity to poison damage, exhaustion, paralysis, petrifaction, and being poisoned or stunned.
  • Darkvision out to a radius of 60 feet, which in this case I interpret to indicate not a preference for fighting in dim light or darkness but an indifference to lighting conditions in general.
  • A lack of language. Elder elementals aren’t here to chat.
  • Legendary Resistance, which they’ll use primarily to avoid debilitating conditions and only secondarily to avoid damage.
  • The Siege Monster feature, which means they’ll destroy your cover before they destroy you.
  • A Multiattack comprising two different attack actions, one attack with each.
  • A selection of legendary actions that includes one turn’s worth of additional movement.
  • Neutral alignment. The default attitude of an elder elemental toward other creatures is indifference. It’s not going to attack—intentionally—unless it’s provoked. But who knows who or what might provoke it?

Continue reading Elder Elemental Tactics

Salamander Tactics

Salamanders are the fiery analogue to water weirds, galeb duhrs and invisible stalkers, but they’re significantly more independent-minded, serving only efreets (and those only reluctantly and resentfully). They have a society of their own, on the Elemental Plane of Fire, and if they’re hanging out on the material plane, they’re probably doing so against their will.

As fighters, salamanders are shock troops. Their exceptional Strength is coupled with high Dexterity and Constitution (their Con is higher than their Dex, though not significantly so): they can engage in either toe-to-toe slugfests or hit-and-run attacks, but in general they’ll favor melee over ranged attacks, because they can do much more damage at close range.

Salamanders are immune to fire attacks, vulnerable to cold attacks and resistant to physical damage from nonmagical weapons. Thus, they’re more cautious around foes who wield magic weapons, as well as spellcasters who sling frost spells. Because of their choleric temperament, however, this caution is as likely to result in focused fire (pun intended) as in avoidance. Continue reading Salamander Tactics

Water Weird, Galeb Duhr and Invisible Stalker Tactics

Mea culpa. In my last post, I said I’d be looking next at “minor elementals.” However, of the three elemental creatures I’m looking at today—the water weird, the galeb duhr and the invisible stalker—the latter two are actually more powerful than pure elementals are, and none of them can be called with the conjure minor elementals spell.

You’ll note that one of the four classical elements, fire, is missing from this group. For some reason, the fifth-edition Monster Manual doesn’t offer a true igneous equivalent to these three creatures, all of which are specifically described as beings that can be summoned from their home elemental planes. The nearest equivalent—which technically can be summoned with conjure elemental, though this fact is mentioned nowhere in its flavor text—is the salamander. However, salamanders are neutral evil and, by their description, very much independent agents. Water weirds, galeb duhrs and invisible stalkers are neutral and (usually) compliant. Continue reading Water Weird, Galeb Duhr and Invisible Stalker Tactics

Mephit Tactics

I’ve been asked to take a look at mephits, wicked little critters that maliciously embody the para-elements of dust, ice, magma, mud, smoke and steam. The Monster Manual characterizes them as “tricksters,” but every one of them is of neutral evil, not chaotic, alignment, so their “trickery” is of a decidedly baleful sort. I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t behave as evolved creatures with respect to their self-preservation instinct, but if survival is their No. 1 priority, causing gratuitous harm and annoyance to others is No. 2.

Mephits aren’t tough—half of them are CR 1/4, and the other half are CR 1/2. All of them have low Strength, all of them can fly, and all of them have darkvision (meaning they either live underground or are active primarily at night) and the Death Burst feature, which does something when they’re killed, although that something depends on the type of mephit. And they all have a simple melee attack, along with a breath weapon that has only a 1 in 6 chance to recharge, so in all likelihood, they’ll get to use it only once. Most (but not all) of them are proficient in Stealth, suggesting that they like to ambush their victims, and their low Strength suggests that they’ll usually be encountered in decent-size groups; a lone mephit wouldn’t dare pick a fight with more than a couple of enemies at once.

Beyond that, though, every type of mephit is a little bit different, and there’s nothing for it but to look at each type individually. Continue reading Mephit Tactics

Dao Tactics

Today I wrap up my look at genies with the dao, which I include only for completeness’ sake, because—let’s be frank—it’s not all that interesting a monster, unless you’re running a thematic campaign on the Elemental Plane of Earth. Like the marid, it seems to exist only because someone thought the existence in myth of air and fire genies meant there had to be water and earth genies too. It doesn’t even appear to have a source in Arabic folklore. And its afterthought nature shows in its abilities.

Dao are straight-up brutes, lacking the cleverness of their cousins, although they still have above-average Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma by humanoid standards. They do have proficiency in Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma saving throws, and their Constitution is extraordinarily high, but they’re susceptible to spells that require Dexterity saves, which spellcasters can exploit.

Dao can attack unarmed or with a maul; the latter does greater damage and allows them to knock targets prone, so it’s clearly the preferred option. They have no special attack related to their element, only the Sure-Footed feature, which gives them advantage on saving throws against being knocked prone themselves. Continue reading Dao Tactics

Marid Tactics

The “four elements” of air, earth, fire and water originated with the Greeks, but somewhere along the line, some Dungeons and Dragons writer must have read that jinn, in Arab myth, were supernatural beings of air and that efreets were supernatural beings of fire; decided that there had to be corresponding water and earth spirits, too; and shoehorned marids into the genies-of-water role, maybe because of the syllable mar-, which means “sea” in Latin. In Arabic, however,  مارد mārid means “defiant” or “rebellious,” and it’s used to describe all sorts of troublemaking creatures, including not only certain genies but demons and giants as well.

The D&D marid, like its fiery cousin, the efreet, is a brute fighter with extraordinarily high Strength and Constitution but also extraordinarily high mental attributes. Like jinn, marids have proficiency in Dexterity, Wisdom and Charisma saving throws along with a Constitution high enough to make saving throws easily without proficiency, so they’ll have little to fear from spellcasters.

The marid’s equivalent of a jinni’s Create Whirlwind and an efreet’s Hurl Flame is Water Jet, a linear, guaranteed-damage attack that can push enemies away and knock them prone. Based on this feature’s 60-foot range, there’s not much reason to expect it to affect more than two creatures at once (based on the “Targets in Areas of Effect” table on page 249 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide), and since the marid can always position itself to line up any two opponents in its sights, is there any reason for it not to use this feature again and again? Continue reading Marid Tactics

Efreet Tactics

Efreets* are genies of fire, elemental beings akin to jinn, but more consistently wicked and malicious. They’re strong, cunning and ruthless, and they view mortal humanoids as lesser beings fit only for enslavement and other forms of exploitation.

With their extraordinarily high Strength and Constitution, they’re straight-up brute fighters. But not dumb ones: their Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma are all high as well. They have proficiency in Wisdom saving throws, along with Intelligence and Charisma, but not in Dexterity or Constitution. Their native Constitution is so high, they needn’t worry about making Con saves, but their Dexterity is barely above average for a humanoid, so they’ll be slightly warier of spellcasters than jinn are. Continue reading Efreet Tactics