In Eberron, the warforged are a race of sentient constructs, originally built for war but now capable of deciding and pursuing their own purposes in life. Many, however, continue to serve in the role for which they were first devised.
Warforged soldiers have very high Strength and Constitution, high Wisdom and above-average Dexterity, an ability contour that combines brute melee ability with excellent strategic judgment. Proficiency in Perception makes them good at spotting enemies who are trying to be sneaky, but they’re not ambush attackers—they have no particular aptitude for stealth themselves. They are, however, capable trackers, thanks to proficiency in Survival.
Their Multiattack comprises only melee attacks—specifically, Armblade—so warforged soldiers want to close with their opponents quickly in order to make use of this weapon. Until they get within melee reach, they use their javelins as throwing weapons. However, beyond 30 feet, they have disadvantage on these attacks, and there isn’t much they can do to change that. Consequently, if their movement isn’t enough to get them within 30 feet of their foes, they either Dash—if they’re in close formation with other warforged soldiers, allowing each one to use the Protection reaction on another’s behalf—or Dodge as they advance. Between 10 and 30 feet away, they hurl a javelin. Continue reading Warforged Soldier Tactics
The Tarkanan assassin is a hired killer, but that (plus their Dexterity and their Armor Class) is where their resemblance to the standard assassin in the Monster Manual ends. Most conspicuously, they don’t have the Assassinate trait—or even Sneak Attack! Clearly, this non-player character requires a fresh approach.
As one might expect, the Tarkanan assassin is a shock attacker, with a decent enough Constitution to put up with a bit of a scuffle but primarily interested in getting in and out of combat quickly. Proficient in Athletics instead of Acrobatics, they’re more likely to tackle their target than shoot them while hanging upside-down outside a window. They’re also proficient in Sleight of Hand, perhaps for slipping poison into someone’s drink—it’s not enough by itself to conceal spellcasting. Deception proficiency suggests an aptitude for disguise, and Perception plus Stealth is the hallmark of the ambush attacker.
Tarkanan assassins have darkvision, which is interesting, because House Tarkanan, according to the lore in Eberron: Rising From the Last War (chapter 4, “Crime in Sharn: House Tarkanan”), comprises members of many races, not just those with darkvision. Does this mean that House Tarkanan doesn’t employ humans, halflings or changelings as assassins (and why wouldn’t you hire changelings to perform all your asassinations?), do they somehow acquire darkvision as part of their initiation into the order of assassins, or is it an unmentioned side effect of their aberrant dragonmarks? The book doesn’t say. Choose your own favorite explanation. Continue reading Tarkanan Assassin Tactics
OK, here’s a quickie post in response to a reader who pointed out that I haven’t yet taken a look at two non-player characters from the Monster Manual: the scout and the spy.
Scouts are spotters and lookouts. With proficiency in Perception and Stealth, they could be effective ambush attackers, but that’s not their job. Their job is to gather information and return with it; combat is an undesirable complication. Consequently, if they attack at all, they prefer strongly to do so at range.
Eighty percent of the humanoids they encounter will have a speed of 30 feet. Of the remainder, most will have a speed of either 25 or 35 feet. Therefore, they don’t position themselves any closer than 75 feet to their targets unless they absolutely have to, and if they have a good view, they’re content to stay as far as 150 feet away. They can attack at these distances without disadvantage, but they’re not assassins. They attack only in self-defense.
Whether they do even this much depends on the speed of any foe who sees and pursues them. If the subjects of their reconnaissance have a speed of 30 feet or slower, they take potshots (Multiattack, Longbow × 2) at pursuers who are still more than 75 feet away at the start of the scouts’ turn. If the pursuers are closer or faster, scouts Dash away. If more than one opponent manages to get within melee reach, or if they can’t afford to take even a single hit, they Disengage—they have the training to do so.
Scouts only drop their bows and draw their swords when they’re surrounded, with no avenue of escape. If they have no reason to think they’ll be killed if they’re captured, they may choose to surrender rather than fight. Continue reading NPC Tactics: Scouts and Spies
Despite several reader requests, I kept putting off analyzing the kraken priest because it’s always kind of a pain to analyze creatures with large spell repertoires. Turns out the KP’s repertoire isn’t as big as I thought it was, so my bad.
The kraken priest’s ability contour is highest in Constitution, second-highest in Wisdom, with Strength and Dexterity a good ways behind. This non-player character is a spellcaster first and foremost, and arguably a support spellcaster first and foremost, rather than a spellslinger hiding way in the back. Charisma is also high; Intelligence, merely average.
Presumably through the kraken’s influence, the KP has resistance to physical damage from nonmagical weapons and can breathe underwater. That’s pretty much it in the way of distinctive passive features. Aside from spellcasting—which isn’t all that unusual for, you know, a priest—the KP’s only distinctive features are the actions Thunderous Touch and Voice of the Kraken. Continue reading NPC Tactics: Kraken Priests
Volo’s Guide to Monsters includes stat blocks for 11 different magic-using specialists: wizards from eight different schools and warlocks of three different patrons. The wizards are all at least level 7; the warlocks, even higher. There are also a level 9 war priest, a level 10 blackguard (antipaladin) and a level 18 archdruid. Every one of these spellcasters has a different repertoire of spells. To come up with individual tactics for each of them would take me the next two weeks.
Rather than tackle each one separately, then, I’m going to share some rules of thumb for developing tactics for a spellcasting NPC. Continue reading NPC Tactics: Magical Specialists
Today I take a look at two roguish NPCs in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, one flashy, one furtive: the swashbuckler and the master thief.
The swashbuckler of Volo’s doesn’t bear much resemblance to the swashbuckler rogue archetype in the Sword Cost Adventurer’s Guide. Instead, it has a passive feature, Suave Defense, that increases its armor class and an action economy–enhancing feature, Lightfooted, that grants it either Dash or Disengage as a bonus action. (This is actually a slightly nerfed version of Cunning Action, which also allows the user to Hide.)
The swashbuckler is distinguished by an exceptionally high Dexterity; expert proficiency in Acrobatics, Athletics and Persuasion; and a triple Florentine-style Multiattack. The Dexterity suggests a sniper, but the swashbuckler’s attacks are melee-focused. (The dagger can be used as a ranged weapon, but a swashbuckler who does this forfeits two-thirds of that Multiattack.) Because its Strength and Constitution are only slightly above average, we have to imagine a fighting style that somehow allows the swashbuckler to strike at melee range yet avoid getting hit on its opponents’ turns. How do we achieve this, given that the swashbuckler has only a normal 30-foot movement speed? Continue reading NPC Tactics: Swashbucklers and Master Thieves
The new NPCs in Volo’s Guide to Monsters fall into three categories: prospective boss enemies or boss lieutenants (the archdruid, blackguard, champion, kraken priest, war priest and warlord), magic-using specialists (the abjurer, conjurer, diviner, enchanter, evoker, illusionist, necromancer, transmuter and three warlock variants) and “other” (the apprentice wizard, bard, martial arts adept, master thief and swashbuckler). Analyzing the magic-users requires close, time-consuming attention to their spell repertoires, so I’m going to put off talking about them for now; ditto the archdruid, kraken priest and war priest. The blackguard, champion and warlord are mostly uncomplicated brutes. The “other” category looks more interesting, so that’s where I’ll start. Continue reading NPC Tactics: Apprentice Wizards, Bards and Martial Arts Adepts
I have a bone to pick with the fifth-edition Monster Manual’s description of the tribal warrior, as well as the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide’s description of the Reghed and Uthgardt barbarians. In brief, the repeated insistence that these people defer to a chief (“the greatest or oldest warrior of the tribe or a tribe member blessed by the gods”) is based on ignorance of the difference between bands and tribes on the one hand and chiefdoms on the other, and of the egalitarian nature of traditional societies.
Every dungeon master who aspires to any degree of coherent world-building needs to be a Jared Diamond aficionado. His best-known book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, examines the factors that cause certain societies to advance technologically and socially faster than others (spoiler: abundant access to high-protein staple grains, easily domesticated animals and long east-west trade routes gives a people a major leg up). His book Collapse examines the factors that cause societies to stagnate or go extinct: environmental degradation, changing climate, hostile neighbors, lack of friendly trading partners and overly rigid ideology. And his most recent book, The World Until Yesterday, examines the features of traditional societies that set them apart from modern ones.
Continue reading NPC Tactics: Tribal Warriors and Berserkers
The mage was complicated; the archmage, even more so. Strap in.
As with the mage, the archmage’s ability scores imply an aversion to melee combat, a strong self-preservation impulse, and a strategically and tactically savvy view of the battlefield. We can also determine, by reading between the lines, that the archmage is a wizard of the abjuration school, because Magic Resistance is a feature that abjuration wizards obtain at level 14. Mechanically, that doesn’t mean much, since Magic Resistance is the only abjuration feature the Monster Manual gives the archmage; still, this inference adds a dash of flavor to our archmage’s personality. Abjuration is the magic of prevention. All other things being equal, the archmage’s primary impulse is to shut you down.
The mage’s spells topped out at 5th level, but the archmage’s go all the way up to 9th, with only one slot each of the top four levels. I assume this was to simplify an already extremely complicated and powerful enemy. What it means for us is that those four slots are reserved exclusively for the archmage’s four highest-level spells: time stop, mind blank, teleport and globe of invulnerability. And mind blank, according to the MM, is pre-cast before combat begins—along with mage armor and stoneskin—so that slot isn’t even available. (How does the archmage know to combat is about to begin? Dude, 20 Intelligence. “Nolwenn an Gwrach, Supra-genius!”)
Continue reading NPC Tactics: Archmages
Figuring out tactics for spellcasters is always complicated by the need to assess the relative merits of their spells, which requires application of game-theory math along with examination of their action economy. I’ll start with the mage non-player character, basically a level 9 wizard.
Before looking at spells, let’s look at abilities. Strength is below average, Dexterity above average: a mage is a ranged attacker by preference. Intelligence is very high: a mage knows which enemies to target with which spells. Wisdom is above average: a mage prioritizes self-preservation. In fact, given the amount of training and education a wizard has to undergo in order to do what he or she does, and also given how squishy magic-users typically are, I’d say the mage has an above-average interest in self-preservation and will commence escape protocols after taking only moderate damage (reduced to 28 hp or fewer).
Continue reading NPC Tactics: Mages