Category: Humanoids

  • Dragon Follower and Dragonborn Champion Tactics

    Tyranny of Dragons (Hoard of the Dragon Queen plus The Rise of Tiamat) was the first full-length campaign I ran for my fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons group, after putting them through The Lost Mine of Phandelver. It was the right campaign for the moment, and its linear nature and geographic jumping around made it easy to insert character-specific side quests, which I appreciated. It also had many flaws, though, and a big one is that the dragon cultists just weren’t that interesting or memorable as opponents. (There’s also all of “Mission to Thay,” chapter 8 of Rise of Tiamat, which … whoo, boy, don’t get me started on that.)

    Might the insertion of some dragon followers or dragonborn champions from Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons have livened up Tyranny? Maybe, but not without some fiddling.

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  • Monsters of the Multiverse Humanoids, Part 2

    Today I finish up the humanoids in Monsters of the Multiverse by looking at significant changes to shadar-kai, drow, gith and nagpas. As a reminder, I’m only examining creatures whose tactics might differ because of changes to their traits and actions in Multiverse. If I don’t mention a creature, my tactics for that creature are unchanged.

    The shadow dancer, now explicitly called the shadar-kai shadow dancer, was already a powerful fighter in darkness, thanks to its Shadow Jump bonus action. It’s even more powerful now that its Multiattack includes an additional use of Shadow Jump. Having one use of this ability as a bonus action and a second one in its Multiattack means the shadow dancer no longer has to choose between using it to engage in melee and using it to disengage; it can do both in a single turn. Since it can now return to darkness at the end of every turn, it can always gain advantage on the first of its three Spiked Chain attacks against a target without darkvision, increasing its expected damage by roughly half. There’s no longer any reason for this shock attacker to stay within its opponent’s melee reach between turns.

    The most significant changes to the gloom weaver, now called the shadar-kai gloom weaver, are to its Spellcasting, but in addition, its Multiattack now allows it to make a third Shadow Spear attack rather than cast a spell, the spear comes back when thrown, and all elves, not just shadar-kai, are exempted from Burden of Time. Taken together, these changes are great enough to require a total rethinking of gloom weaver tactics. (There’s also a slight chance that Misty Escape will recharge and allow a second use of it, but that chance isn’t good enough that the gloom weaver should take a chance and use it when it wouldn’t have done so before.)

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  • Monsters of the Multiverse Humanoids, Part 1

    I’m going to look at the significant changes to monsters in Monsters of the Multiverse in the order they appear in MOAR! Monsters Know What They’re Doing (which, for the record, is not random, OK?—they’re in order of challenge rating, from low to high) and grouped by creature type, starting with the humanoids. Which means the first ones I’m going to look at are the sorry, sad-sack xvarts.

    The basic xvart loses the Overbearing Pack feature; the shoving effect is moved into the Shortsword attack, which includes pushing the target 5 feet but not knocking it prone. This change means that the strategy of knocking down targets to attack them with advantage is history.

    Since they still have Raxivort’s Tongue, I do think the idea that they’d team up with giant rats and giant bats remains sound. Because of how the shoving rider works, they do still have an incentive to double-team their opponents, but simply pushing the target 5 feet doesn’t offer much benefit. It can’t be used to trigger opportunity attacks: you don’t get an OA when a creature is pushed out of your reach against their will.

    The only peak in their ability contour is in Dexterity, so xvarts are either shock attackers or snipers. But both of these combat roles require a way to maximize damage. How can xvarts do that?

    1. Like before, xvarts send their beast buddies into combat first. Then, while the xvarts’ foes are fending them off, they pop up and attack from 30 feet away with their slings. When charged, they use Low Cunning to slip away.
    2. Xvarts hide near a pit full of giant rats, then use the shoving rider to push their foes into the pit. This plan is made feasible by the fact that the shove is automatic on a Shortsword hit: the target doesn’t get to make a Strength check to resist it. Xvarts need that edge, because they haven’t got much else.

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  • Inspired Tactics

    It’s been a bountiful year of Dungeons & Dragons releases. Van Richten’s Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft! Fizban’s Guide to Dragons! Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos! Before I dive into any of those, though, I’ve got 13 months’ worth of catching up to do, and so I’m going to pick up where I left off: with Eberron: Rising From the Last War, probably followed by Mythic Odysseys of Theros, although the post-Eberron sequence remains up for discussion.

    The top item on my Eberron to-do list is the inspired, humanoids whose consciousness is ridden by the alien minds known as quori.

    Possession by quori grants psionic power to the inspired, which have high Dexterity and very high Intelligence and Charisma, positioning them as casters that aren’t looking to get into a mano a mano fight. They have proficiency in Insight and expertise in Deception and Persuasion, and they can’t be charmed or frightened, which tells us that they’re just as puissant in the social arena. In fact, they’re good enough at both talking and fighting (at least at their challenge level) that they can probably gain a bit of synergy by combining the two. Since talk is not merely cheap but free from an action economy perspective, we can easily imagine an inspired keeping a running patter going throughout a fight, angling to achieve their goal—whatever that is—by whichever means gets the job done first.

    As spellslingers, they’re limited by the ranges of their spells, but this isn’t much of a limit for the inspired: Hex is good out to 90 feet, and dissonant whispers, hold person and vicious mockery reach up to 60 feet, although charm person is good only within 30. Let’s take a closer look at these spells, because their mechanics allow some tactical combinations but prohibit others. (more…)

  • Bone Knight Tactics

    I’ve been excited to dig into the Eberron setting for a long time, and I’m kicking things off with the bone knight—not an undead, as one might guess from the name, but a humanoid non-player character who can be of any folk. Champions of the Order of the Emerald Claw, a group of fanatical lost-cause nationalists led by a lich, bone knights get their name from their practice of forging armor from the bones of fallen foes. (Judging from the illustration in Eberron: Rising From the Last War, I think they like to sneak a little Punisher imagery in there, too.)

    The ability contour of the bone knight isn’t cut-and-dried, since their two outstanding ability scores are Strength and Charisma. Their Constitution edges out their Dexterity, but just barely, and neither is unusually high. What this reminds me of more than anything else is a paladin whose player didn’t get the third high die roll he was hoping for and decided to go all in on offense. I conclude that bone knights fight like brutes, cast self-buffing and control spells from the front line, and compensate for their slightly lackluster Constitution with their bonecraft armor, which gives them a formidable AC 20. They have the Intelligence to plan and adapt, and the Wisdom to choose their targets and their battles.

    Their Charisma is high enough that an encounter will probably involve some measure of parley, and maybe only parley—they understand, after all, that it’s better to get what you want without fighting if you can—but their social skill proficiencies are in Intimidation and Deception, so we’re not talking about good-faith negotiation here. Instead, this combination suggests to me that they’re about trying to get their opponents to capitulate, through a combination of outright bullying and more subtle manipulation. Any rhetorical maneuver an abuser might use is right up the bone knight’s alley: direct and indirect threats; negative reinforcement; false accusations; gaslighting; DARVO; demonstrations of explosive anger and sudden, unpredictable violence; dividing enemies by singling out individuals among them for particular blame; and so on. (more…)

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Praise for The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters

“I’ve always said, the Dungeon Master is the whole world except for his players, and as a result, I spend countless hours prepping for my home group. What Keith gets is that the monsters are the DM’s characters, and his work has been super helpful in adding logic, flavor, and fun in my quest to slaughter my players’ characters and laugh out the window as they cry in their cars afterward.” —Joe Manganiello

“The best movie villains are the ones you fall in love with. Keith’s book grounds villains in specificity, motivation, and tactics—so much so that players will love to hate ’em. This book will enrich your game immeasurably!” —Matthew Lillard

“This book almost instantly made me a better Dungeon Master. If you’re running games, it is a must-have enhancement. I gave copies to the two others in our group who share in the Dungeon Mastering, and both of them came back the next time grinning rather slyly. Keith is a diabolical genius, and I say that with the utmost respect!” —R.A. Salvatore

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