Hey, readers. I owe you an update! Yeah, it’s been a while since I posted any new tactical analyses, and I apologize for that. Since I became a parent, my available time to work on projects has gotten pared way back. For the past couple of months, what time I’ve had has been claimed by getting my next two (!) books ready to deliver to my publisher, and it’s going to be the same for at least the next couple of months as well. The holidays weren’t much of a break, either, since my wife is hard at work on the illustrations for book No. 3 (you know her work from book No. 1), meaning I’ve been picking up slack for her rather than vice versa. A lot of things have fallen by the wayside, writing blog posts among them. I’ll still slip in a post here and there when my workload permits, and once I’m further along on book No. 4, I’ll try to make up for lost time. But it’s probably going to remain somewhat quiet for a while.
Thanks to your votes, The Monsters Know What They’re Doing has won a gold ENnie in the Best Online Content category, and The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters has won a silver ENnie in the Best Writing category. W00T! I’ll endeavor to justify your support by posting a bit more often.
Well, knock me over with a feather: The judges have chosen nominees for the 2020 ENnie Awards, and The Monsters Know What They’re Doing is on there twice, nominated for Best Online Content (for this blog) and Best Writing (for the eponymous book). Huzzah!
The ENies are “people’s choice” awards, which means your favorite nominees are counting on you to show your support! To cast your ballot, visit http://ennie-awards.com/vote/2020/ by July 12.
To vote for Best Online Content: http://ennie-awards.com/vote/2020/ballot.php?category_id=13
To vote for Best Writing: http://ennie-awards.com/vote/2020/ballot.php?category_id=21
Your enthusiastic comments have kept this project going since 2016. I initially wasn’t sure a demand existed for tactical analyses of monster behavior, but you’ve shown me that not only is there demand for it, there’s a hunger for it. Thanks for letting me feed you.
Many people talk about highly tactical combat and immersive roleplaying as if they were opposite ends of a spectrum. They’re not! Knowing how your player characters fight and win is a way of roleplaying their competence—and keeping them alive means keeping their stories going!
To promote the upcoming release of Live to Tell the Tale: Combat Tactics for Player Characters, I’ve invited five D&D streamers—RJ Cresswell (The Grimwode Saga), Katie “Goblinkatie” Downey (D4, Stellar Arcanum), LaTia Jacquise (Rivals of Waterdeep), Blythe Kala (Star Trek: Perseverance) and B. Dave Walters (Beyond Heroes, L.A. by Night)—to put tactical advice into action in a livestreamed combat encounter this Saturday, June 27, from 2 to 4 PM CDT (7 to 9 PM UTC) at twitch.tv/KeithAmmann.
Each of these players will bring a new level 1 protagonist to the table, and we’ll talk about how to play each of those PCs effectively. Then those PCs’ “future selves”—level 5 versions of the originals—will band together to confront a deadly foe. Will they prevail? I think so . . . but I don’t plan to make it easy!
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
About two months ago, I got an interesting query from reader Nick Seigal, asking about how to run a monster or villain more intelligent than oneself. When you think about it, it’s a challenge that runs throughout Dungeons & Dragons and every other roleplaying game that quantifies mental capacities: How do you roleplay any character or creature with greater intelligence, wisdom or charisma than you yourself possess? (For that matter, how do you play having significantly less? I’m reminded of the one good bit in the otherwise godawful Robert A. Heinlein book Friday, in which the main character, a covert agent, has to take an IQ test and hit a predetermined score exactly.) In social interaction skill checks, it can be handwaved—and often is—with a die roll in lieu of roleplaying. But combat, with its round-by-round mechanical decision-making, requires something more.
With respect to Intelligence (the ability) in particular, it behooves us to think about what we mean when we talk about intelligence (in general), and one important aspect of intelligence is something we might call “quickness of apprehension”: the ability to rapidly recognize the importance of what one sees or hears. This quality is one we see in great detectives of literature, such as Sherlock Holmes, who hoovers up every visual detail at a crime scene in moments, or Nero Wolfe, who pounces on an out-of-place phrase in a conversation which signifies consciousness of guilt. Any detective of ordinary or slightly above-average intelligence could find the same clues, but it would take hours of examining the crime scene or poring over a verbatim transcript of the conversation, and most would give up long before then.
In a D&D combat situation, this manifests in a highly intelligent creature’s being able to “read the room.” It can tell a fighter from a paladin, a wizard from a sorcerer, or a Life Domain cleric from a Light Domain cleric. It can get a sense of a character’s Strength by observing the force of their weapon strikes, their Dexterity by watching them dodge attacks, their Constitution by watching them take hits, their Intelligence and Wisdom by listening to them call out to their allies. It notes who’s got magical weapons and what they do. It pays attention to how badly injured its opponents are. It observes the opponents’ positioning, notices when someone has made a blunder and capitalizes on it. It’s mindful of its own weaknesses and the need to avoid, neutralize or eliminate opponents who might target those weaknesses. Continue reading Intelligent Enemy Tactics
Things got real busy last week, and I never got around to posting a new monster analysis. But this week I have a special announcement: My next analysis will be on video, as I take a guest turn on Don’t Split the Podcast Network’s DM’s Deep Dive, hosted by Mike “Sly Flourish” Shea. I’ll analyze the steel predator from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes and also answer questions from Sly (and maybe viewers, if there’s time?). Drop by https://www.twitch.tv/dontsplitthepodcast at 8 PM U.S. Central Time for the live interview; I’ll post the video on this blog when it’s archived on YouTube.
You didn’t think I was gonna put out just one snazzy trade book, did you?
Live to Tell the Tale: Combat Tactics for Player Characters is the fully revised new edition of the PC tactics guide you know and love, coming
June 23 July 7, 2020, in hardcover and e-book formats from Saga Press and available now for pre-order!
This new edition includes revised sample battles, including an all-new level 15 battle; new sections on Stealth and Perception, advantage and disadvantage, mounted combat, managing spell slots and using feat options; and dozens of gorgeous illustrations by talented fantasy artists. That’s right—illustrations! Actual illustrations! Also, I finally learned how to use Adobe Illustrator, so the battle diagrams look way cooler now, too.
Click here to pre-order Live to Tell the Tale from your favorite independent bookseller.
I’m a strong believer in independent booksellers as community anchors, promoting the free expression and sharing of ideas, enriching the cultural life of communities, and keeping money circulating in the local economy. If you don’t already have a favorite independent bookseller, maybe it’s time to get to know one!
Or, I guess, you could pre-order from one of these online retailers:
It’s here! The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters, published by Saga Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, is available in hardcover and e-book formats today!
This book features all the creatures I’ve analyzed from the Monster Manual, along with exclusive analyses of un-blogged monsters including aarakocra, basilisks, cockatrices, griffons and hippogriffs, kenku, merfolk, quaggoths and xorn, plus thoughts on how to handle encounters with tactically uninteresting monsters.
Click here to order The Monsters Know What They’re Doing from your favorite independent bookseller. I’m a strong believer in independent booksellers as community anchors, promoting the free expression and sharing of ideas, enriching the cultural life of communities, and keeping money circulating in the local economy. If you don’t already have a favorite independent bookseller, maybe it’s time to get to know one!
Or, I guess, you can order from one of these online retailers:
Before I delve into the oinoloth, I want to settle an issue regarding yugoloths—or at least, regarding my interpretation of yugoloths. The issue involves the question of what plane yugoloths are native to, and specifically, whether they can be killed (as opposed to just destroyed) on any plane other than Gehenna, the outer plane of “lawful evil neutrals.” My take, which differs from pure canon, is that yugoloths may be numerous in Gehenna, and some yugoloths may be native to that plane, but Hades has as strong a claim on them, if not stronger.
The fifth-edition Monster Manual says:
Back to Gehenna. When a yugoloth dies, it dissolves into a pool of ichor and reforms at full strength on the Bleak Eternity of Gehenna. Only on its native plane can a yugoloth be destroyed permanently. A yugoloth knows this and acts accordingly. When summoned to other planes, a yugoloth fights without concern for its own well-being. On Gehenna, it is more apt to retreat or plead for mercy if its demise seems imminent.
This paragraph isn’t as ironclad a statement that yugoloths are native to Gehenna, and only to Gehenna, as one might think. First, it doesn’t state explicitly what a yugoloth’s native plane is, only that if it’s killed somewhere other than its native plane, it re-forms in Gehenna. Another paragraph on the same page states, “Yugoloths are fickle fiends that inhabit the planes of Acheron, Gehenna, Hades, and Carceri” (the last of these, in AD&D, originally called “Tarterus,” a misspelling of “Tartarus”), implying that any of these planes could be a yugoloth’s native plane. Second, I reserve the right to declare occasionally that the Monster Manual flavor text is full of it, as in the case of the soldierly hobgoblin that for some reason instantly forgets all its training and abandons all its discipline if it happens to catch a glimpse of an elf, or the use of “efreeti” as a singular noun rather than “efreet.”
Before yugoloths were yugoloths, they were “daemons,” the neutral evil counterpart to lawful evil devils and chaotic evil demons. The first daemons to appear in a D&D sourcebook were the guardian daemon, mezzodaemon and nycadaemon in the Fiend Folio (the last two are now the mezzoloth and nycaloth). The guardian daemon’s home plane is unspecified, but the mezzodaemon and nycadaemon are described as inhabiting “the Lower Planes between the Abyssal Layers and the Hells—i.e., Tarterus, Hades, Gehenna” (idiosyncratic italics in original). Gehenna doesn’t even appear first in that list. Continue reading I Don’t Feel Like Arguing About Yugoloths