Fomorians are yet another manifestation of the “evil ≡ ugly” essentialist trope, which I wish would go away. Once a noble and beautiful strain of giantkind, they were cursed with a warped and hideous appearance for their hubristic crimes against the Feywild. Not only was their pulchritude taken from them, they lost their intellectual brilliance as well: the average fomorian has an Intelligence of only 9.
Extremely strong and tough brutes, with a hefty reservoir of hit points, fomorians barrel directly into the fray. Their Evil Eye feature works out to a range of 60 feet, but they use it from the midst of melee. Long-range darkvision suggests that they dwell in darkness—either underground, where they’re most commonly found, or in the densest and gloomiest of forests—and don’t attack when there’s a bright light source present.
Their low Intelligence and high Wisdom are an interesting juxtaposition. By my reckoning, Intelligence represents logical assessment, while Wisdom represents judgment as well as perception. Fomorians’ situational awareness is a mixed bag: They’re pretty good at assessing whether or not a fight is winnable, and they refrain from engaging when it’s not, but they lack tactical breadth and target selection savvy. Once they’ve committed to a fight, their behavior is relatively simple, and their decisions arbitrary. Continue reading Fomorian Tactics
Recently, I was asked by a reader to look at ogre tactics. There’s a reason why I haven’t touched on ogres before now, and that’s that ogres basically have no tactics. They’re dumb, simple brutes. With many monsters, simply throwing them at player characters and having them go “Rrrraaaahhhh, stab stab stab” (or in this case, “bash bash bash”) falls far short of what those monsters are capable of at their best. With ogres, at least ordinary ones, it’s all they’re capable of.
But Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes includes several ogre variants that are, in fact, worth examining. What you have to remember, though, is that these ogres are never going to appear on their own, nor solely in the company of other ogres. These are semi-domesticated ogres used by other species as trained warbeasts. They use their special features only when commanded to. Thus, it’s the Intelligence of the trainer, not of the ogre, that influences how effectively they’re used.
In the stat block of the basic ogre, there are only two details that a dungeon master not accustomed to tactical thinking might overlook (by now, they should be obvious to any regular reader of this blog). Continue reading Ogre Tactics
Today, by reader request, I take a look at ettins, a species of two-headed subgiants distantly related to orcs. There’s not a lot here to look at, though. Ettins are fundamentally a “Rrrraaaahhhh, bash bash bash” monster without any sophistication or subtlety. Clumsy brutes with extraordinary strength, exceptional Constitution and not much Dexterity or Intelligence, they rely on tank-like durability and crushing force to confront enemies head-on.
The one thing that makes an ettin interesting as an enemy is that it’s difficult to surprise. Thanks to its Wakeful feature, you can never catch an ettin napping: while one of its heads sleeps, the other remains alert. Plus, ettins have expertise in Perception and advantage on Perception checks, along with 60 feet of darkvision. Even in the dead of night, an ettin’s got a good shot at spotting you. For this reason, orcs and other, cleverer beings may employ ettins as sentries. Continue reading Ettin Tactics
In case your players are so jaded that they just shrug and say, “Whatevs,” when you throw a giant at them, Volo’s Guide to Monsters introduces a set of elite variations, one for each race of giants in the “ordning.” Curiously, however, most of them don’t offer any new tactical twists. Continue reading Elite Giant Tactics
Going solely by their extraordinary Strength and Constitution, it would be easy to lump all giants together as brute fighters. If we want encounters with giants to be more than boring bash-fests, we have to look for clues not just in their stat blocks but also in the Monster Manual flavor text.
Take the matter of rock throwing. Every race of giants has this ranged attack alongside its melee attack, and on average, it does more damage. Yet every race of giants also has a Strength much, much higher than its Dexterity, so based on the assumptions I’ve been using all along, they should consistently prefer engaging in melee to attacking from a distance. Also, giants’ Multiattacks apply only to their melee attacks, not to throwing rocks. So why include a ranged attack at all? Continue reading Giant Tactics
I mentioned trolls in an earlier post on this blog, but a reader recently brought to my attention that I’ve never given them the full treatment. This is an inexcusable oversight on my part. Trolls are great—if you use the Loathsome Limbs variant. I love this variant because it creates trolls that hark back to my favorite troll combat scene ever, from Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson, and because I once ran a solo adventure for a friend in which he and a couple of NPCs had to fight one such troll without ever being told what it was. The suspense was heightened by the fact that they didn’t know what it could do, and they had to discover its weakness by trial and error.
The vanilla troll isn’t all that interesting. It’s a straightforward brute, with exceptionally high Strength, extraordinarily high Constitution and low-to-middling mental abilities. It’s got darkvision, so it prefers to operate at night or underground. It operates more by smell than by sight, regenerates damage unless it’s been struck by fire or acid, and has a claw/claw/bite Multiattack.
Such a monster would be an uncomplicated opponent: It would close to melee range immediately, slash and chomp away, and retreat only if seriously injured or attacked with fire or acid.
But add in Loathsome Limbs, and trolls become a lot more fun. Continue reading Troll Tactics
Oni are cousins to ogres, more intelligent, with innate spellcasting ability and capable of regeneration. Unlike, say, trolls, which can be prevented from regenerating by burning them with fire or acid, oni regenerate regardless of what kind of damage they take or how much, short of killing them.
Physically, oni have the typical brute ability contour of very high Strength and Constitution relative to their Dexterity, which is merely average. The fact that they excel at toe-to-toe melee fighting, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s always their first choice. They also have high Intelligence and Charisma, and even their Wisdom is above-average. This means that they can plan, assess their opponents’ weaknesses accurately, use this information to select the targets of their various abilities, and employ deceit as well as raw strength in order to achieve victory. Oni also have proficiency on all of the big three saving throws—Dexerity, Constitution and Wisdom—making them highly resistant to magic, despite not having the Magic Resistance feature per se. And they can fly!
The timing of their abilities may be an issue, though, because despite their various advantages, one thing they lack is any feature that enhances their action economy. Just the opposite, in fact: Their Change Shape feature costs them an action, during which they can do nothing else. On the other hand, being able to cast invisibility at will gives them a way to avoid detection, and by extension damage, while setting up for other things. Oni’s Regeneration makes them masters of attrition fighting: the longer they can drag a battle out, the better. Their opponents have to hit hard and end the battle as fast as possible, or the oni will wear them down. Continue reading Oni Tactics