Gem Stalker Tactics

Gem stalkers are odd, and that’s not just my bias against gem dragons talking. They’re kind of a jumble, even for unevolved creatures—which they are, being created by gem dragons out of the leftover organic material of liquidated aberrations.

Let’s start with their ability contour: highest in Strength, with high Dexterity, Intelligence and Constitution to go with it. Their Dex is a smidge higher than their Con, although the modifier is the same, so while there’s a slight bias toward shock attacks over brute melee fighting here, they can flex in a pinch. Proficiency in Perception and Stealth indicates a predilection for ambush, harmonious with the shock attacker role, and their climbing ability (climbing speed plus Spider Climb) fits into this schema nicely as well.

But then we get into the strange stuff. Their Multiattack is savage: four Claw attacks, each of which deals an average 10 damage. Melee, yes, please! Shock attacker and brute are both melee-intensive roles. What’s this, though? A bonus action ranged spell attack, Crystal Dart? That’s not useful in melee. If a gem stalker is engaged in close combat with a target, it’s going to have disadvantage on ranged attacks—all ranged attacks, whether against the same target or a different one. This bonus action clashes with the gem stalker’s melee Multiattack, suggesting that it’s always used before the gem stalker closes and engages. (There’s also the fact that Crystal Dart includes one of five different riders, depending on the type of gem dragon that created the gem stalker, but more on that in a moment.)

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Dragonflesh Grafter and Abomination Tactics

As far as I can tell, dragonflesh grafters and dragonflesh abominations are newly introduced in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons, and I think they’re one of the more interesting additions to be found in this book, at least concept-wise. When you have access to (a) magic and (b) dragon parts, why wouldn’t you experiment with whether you could make yourself more powerful by combining the two? (I mean, aside from basic common sense.)

The dragonflesh grafter is the unfinished version, still recognizably humanoid in origin, though enlarged by draconic magic and incorporating pieces of dragon anatomy, which grant it several Armor Class points’ worth of natural armor. It’s a brute, with very high Strength and high Constitution; its Charisma is low, owing to its repugnant, unnatural fusion of incompatible biologies. (Given its origin, I feel like it ought to have a higher Intelligence and a lower Wisdom: It had to be smart enough to figure out how to graft dragon flesh onto itself and foolish enough to actually do it.)

Tactically, it’s not complicated. It has a weapon attack (as written, a greatclub, but you could swap in anything you wanted to) and a natural weapon (Claw), and its Multiattack lets it attack once with each per turn. These have a 10-foot reach, so it doesn’t approach any nearer before attacking, although its opponents may choose to move in closer in order to return the favor. It also has a quasi–breath weapon, Acid Retch, which affects a 30-foot cone and recharges as dragons’ breath weapons do. The application of this ability is the same: The dragonflesh grafter uses it whenever it’s available, provided it can target at least three enemies in the area of effect (per the Targets in Area of Effect table, Dungeon Master’s Guide, chapter 8). The grafter can’t fly, nor does it have any easy way to avoid opportunity attacks, so unlike dragons, which optimize their positioning before using their breath weapons, it has to decide whether or not to use Acid Retch based on whom it can affect from where it is.

As written, its average Wisdom lets it retain a normal self-preservation instinct, and it flees when seriously injured (reduced to 20 hp or fewer), Dashing as it retreats and potentially provoking one or more opportunity attacks in the process. A dragonflesh grafter with a lower Wisdom, however, might be driven slightly berserk by its transformation and fight to the death.

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Egg Hunter Tactics

I’m a big fan of multilateral combat encounters, and the egg hunters in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons are a sly way to throw in an extra dimension of conflict: parasites that feed on dragon embryos and lay their own eggs in the emptied shells.

To a dragon defending a clutch of eggs—like the black dragon Mundirostrix in Live to Tell the Tale—a party of bloodthirsty adventurers may pose a clear and present danger, but all that will be forgotten in an instant if the dragon spies an egg hunter skulking around. The horror and revulsion, fear and fury that these minuscule monstrosities evoke in dragons overwhelms all other considerations. First, the dragon will try to whisk its eggs out of the egg hunter’s reach; second, it will turn all its attention and efforts toward obliterating the parasite.

This distraction may allow a party of player characters to punch above their weight, taking on a dragon that would normally be too much for them to handle. Don’t assume, however, that just because the PCs are enemies of the dragon, an egg hunter—or its hatchlings—are friendly to them.

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Draconian Tactics

You thought I was salty in “Derro Tactics”? This is where I get really salty. This is where I share one of my most unpopular of unpopular Dungeons & Dragons opinions:

I am not nostalgic for Dragonlance. At. All.

Even as a high schooler, reading the first two Dragonlance trilogies, I recognized that those books were not good books. They were all right. They were beach reading for nerds. That was OK for me then, because I was a nerd who wanted some beach reading. From the very beginning, though, I hated the concept of the kender, which were clearly ersatz halflings free of any even marginally actionable link back to the J.R.R. Tolkien estate, distinguished by the most annoying traits the authors could come up with to assign them. Also, looking back, the depiction of gully dwarves is beyond cringeworthy.

For me, two trilogies were plenty; the story, such as it was, felt complete. I didn’t doubt that more Dragonlance novels had been published, but my jaw dropped recently when Teos “Alphastream” Abadía posted on Twitter that there had been more than 190. (I’ve since counted the titles on the list on Wikipedia and come up with only 189 published novels, plus two more unreleased, but also another 20 short story anthologies, for a total of 209 published works.) No way does the world need that much Dragonlance.

So, naturally, it’s going to be re-released later this year. I guess the fact that readers bought 209 Dragonlance books makes it a hot property.

My general attitude toward the revival of old official campaign settings, with the exception of Eberron, is that I’d much rather see something entirely new. We get a little of that with Ravnica and Theros, although those are technically borrowed from another Wizards of the Coast property, Magic: The Gathering. But all the excited anticipation surrounding Planescape, Dark Sun, Spelljammer? I don’t feel it. And I especially don’t feel it about Dragonlance, which in my opinion has aged like fine milk.

That’s all preface to the fact that this post is about draconians, a monstrous folk native to the Dragonlance setting. In that setting, as you might expect, they’re evil, but in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons, they can be of any alignment, despite also being described as “bipedal monsters born from dragon eggs that have been corrupted or warped by powerful magic.” Five varieties are statted out: the foot soldier, the mage, the infiltrator, the dreadnought and the mastermind. None has an especially high challenge rating, but that’s a good thing, since they’re meant to be encountered in hordes.

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Hoard Scarab and Hoard Mimic Tactics

Your party took a tremendous beating, but you slew the dragon. Huzzah! Bruised, bloody and weary, you’re out of healing potions and scraping the bottom of the mojo barrel, but lo—look at all the shiny loot! A balm for the adventurous soul, the hard-earned reward at the end of a brutal adventu—ow! What is that? Ow ow ow ow make it stop!

To the Dungeon Master who never tires of playing dirty tricks on their players, Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons offers the hoard scarab and the hoard mimic, two monstrosities that disguise themselves as treasure and feed off dragons’ casualties like pilot fish or crocodile birds. You thought your encounter day was over? Think again, suckers!

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