Category: Monstrosities

  • Loup-Garou Tactics

    The loup-garou (the p is silent, so it rhymes with “boogaloo,” in both the singular and the plural) is a werewolf with an extra-intense concentration of lycanthropy. Amusingly, loup means “wolf,” and garou is what’s left of the Old French garulf, a cognate of “werewolf.” So a loup-garou is a “wolf-werewolf.” (In modern French, however, garou is a generalized term referring to any kind of lycanthrope. You could, for example, have a lapin-garou—a “rabbit-werewolf,” or wererabbit. Probably the owner of the hole I go down anytime I start looking into etymology.)

    With respect to their combat role, loups-garous (the correct plural, contra the flavor text in Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft) are uncommonly flexible. With exceptional Strength, Dexterity and Constitution, they can play the roles of brute, shock attacker and skirmisher with equal ease. Proficiency in Stealth and expertise in Perception make them outstanding ambush attackers. They have 120 feet of darkvision, making them deadly at night (it’s always struck me as odd that ordinary fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons werewolves lack any darkvision at all), and they can Change Shape as a bonus action, meaning that if a different form suits the moment better, they can switch mid-combat without losing time.

  • Unspeakable Horror Tactics

    Sorry for my silence the last couple of weeks—when the kid gets sick, everyone in the house gets sick, and nothing gets done. Also, thanks to the vigilant readers who’ve pointed out the ways this site has acted weird and buggy lately. Fixing the security hole, which was the most important thing, seems to have spawned a glitch in how the first article of text displays on the home page. I’m hoping that posting a new article clears that up. (ETA: It didnt. Grrrr.) (ETA: Found a fix!)

    Fittingly, I left off at unspeakable horrors, intentionally vague and broadly customizable weirdies that can be dropped into any horror setting—or, even better, in the howling voids between them. These creatures exist for one purpose and one purpose only: to give flesh to their victims’ fears. Categorizing them as monstrosities feels a bit off to me, somehow, but it’s not clear what other category fits them better. Calling them aberrations is equally awkward, and they clearly aren’t undead, fiends or anything else. Monstrosities it is, then.

    With ability peaks in Strength and Constitution, unspeakable horrors are melee brutes, boldly zeroing in on foes to whomp them with their limbs. Their animal-level Intelligence precludes them from coming up with any other plan. Of its four body composition options (Aberrant Armor, Loathsome Limbs, Malleable Mass or Oozing Organs) and its four limb modification options (Bone Blade, Corrosive Pseudopod, Grasping Tentacle and Poisonous Limb), only Loathsome Limbs offers any kind of tactically beneficial modification to this approach, and the accompanying Relentless Stride trait, which provides that benefit, seems in part redundant.

  • Carrion Stalker and Strigoi Tactics

    It’s a curious thing—and, to be frank, the thing that’s allowed me to support my family by writing analyses like these—that fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons’ format for presenting monsters, comprising flavor text alongside a stat block, does so little to explain how a given monster uses the abilities it’s got. Which makes it all that much more curious when the flavor text bucks the trend and does explain how a monster uses the abilities it’s got, precisely and accurately. The manticore, in the Monster Manual, is one of these instances. The carrion stalker, in Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft, is another.

    Even if it didn’t, however, this stat block is an easy lift. All the parts fit together neatly, without complication. The carrion stalker is a Tiny monstrosity with Stealth proficiency, burrowing movement and tremorsense, so obviously it sits quietly out of sight, waiting for something to jostle its substrate, then bursts out and attacks. Its Multiattack consists of either three Tentacle attacks or, if it’s attached to something, two Tentacle attacks and a Larval Burst. “Attached,” in this case, comes from a rider on its Tentacle attack which functions as a sort of reverse grapple (or perhaps an automatic Climb Onto a Bigger Creature—see Dungeon Master’s Guide, chapter 9, “Action Options”): Rather than immobilize the target on a hit, the carrion stalker affixes itself to the target and goes wherever they go. Being attached to a target also grants it advantage on attack rolls against them, although—unlike the restrained condition—it doesn’t impose disadvantage on the target’s counterattacks. Finally, the Larval Burst is the carrion stalker’s pièce de résistance, an area-effect action that hurls maggots 10 feet in all directions, which is best used when there’s at least one living creature other than the target within range, and preferably two or more (see DMG, chapter 8, Targets in Area of Effect table).

  • Gremishka Tactics

    Gremishkas originated in the second edition Dungeons & Dragons Ravenloft campaign setting, but they fell off the radar in later editions before being revived in Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft. Originally, they were essentially just quadrupedal gremlins—malicious nuisances that took up residence in people’s cellars and caused trouble. In fifth edition, they’re still tricky and malicious, but their existence is the result of a magical accident, they have a particular animus against mages, and using magic to try to get rid of them tends to go poorly.

    For those who are tired of rats in the basement, a gremishka is a good antagonist for a low-level campaign—but level 2, perhaps, rather than level 1, for a reason that will shortly become apparent. Its challenge rating is only 1/8, but it’s also not going to go looking for a fight. Its only above-average physical ability is its Dexterity, making it a shock attacker; generally, after delivering a single bite, a gremishka runs away, and it often doesn’t even bother to bite first. It’s a clever beastie, with Intelligence above humanoid average, and while it doesn’t possess much tactical flexibility, this Tiny monstrosity certainly has the wits to know (and maybe even create) various routes of escape, in order to avoid getting cornered. With 30 feet of darkvision, the gremishka is nocturnal, and given that it understands but doesn’t speak Common, I fancy that it might be fond of eavesdropping on conversations—the better to know what will really get its targets’ goat.

  • 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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