Today I look at two related creatures from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, the chitine and the choldrith, part-elf, part-spider abominations created by magic as servitors of the spider goddess Lolth, patron of the drow. Based on their descriptions in the lore, even though they’ve produced offspring for many generations, the manner of their creation and the strong connection to their demonic mistress’s will suggests that they haven’t evolved; rather, they remain much as they were when they were created. Which implies two things: that they don’t necessarily have the same survival instincts that evolved creatures do, and that they may occasionally behave in suboptimal ways.
Chitines—hairy bipeds with multiple additional arms and eyes—are the more humanoid of the monstrous pair. They’re also the weaker, with a challenge rating of just 1/2. Largely, they’re uncomplicated ambush attackers. Their Web Sense and Web Walker traits strongly suggest that they’re usually encountered in the company of creatures that spin webs, such as their choldrith cousins, giant spiders or ettercaps; they may also be minions of a drow arachnomancer. But while spinning webs isn’t part of their combat repertoire, it is something they can do on their own time, according to the flavor text, so they don’t need these other creatures to have a webbed-up field to fight on. Fighting in webs and pitch darkness gives them a big comparative advantage. Their Stealth proficiency and climbing movement suggest not only that they lurk in the dark, waiting to pounce, but that they lurk in the dark on the ceiling.
With Intelligence and Wisdom of only 10, chitines aren’t particularly choosy about their targets. Their above-average Dexterity and Constitution suggest a preference for skirmishing, but really, Dexterity is both their primary offensive ability and their primary defensive ability, and they lean heavily on their Multiattack. Even when engaged with one melee opponent, they’re happy to ditch them to go after another who seems more vulnerable, judging by size, age, relative isolation, whether a they seem to have a hard time seeing in the dark, and/or whether they’re under a debilitating condition, such as being restrained by sticky webs. They’re not quite smart or disciplined enough to know how to Disengage, so they’ll often provoke opportunity attacks against themselves while darting from opponent to opponent. But they can—and do—minimize these by climbing up walls, skittering across ceilings to get past enemies they don’t want to engage with, then dropping down on those they do want to engage.
What about that double proficiency in Athletics? It’s primarily useful for grappling and shoving—and therefore an oddity for a creature that relies so heavily on a Multiattack that includes nothing but Dagger attacks. A chitine can’t substitute a grapple or shove attack for one of its Dagger attacks; it can only grapple or shove in lieu of the entire Multiattack. Ah, but when a group of chitines are acting as minions of a more powerful drow, their ability to grapple makes them useful for capturing foes who might make good prisoners.
Chitines lack both flexibility and free will; once battle is joined, they don’t run away, even if they’re seriously wounded. However, a seriously wounded chitine will retreat to the ceiling and wait for one of its foes to drop their guard, pouncing when their hands are full.
The choldrith is a spider-elf of a different color. More physically capable than chitines, with significantly higher Wisdom as well, choldriths have all the same features, minus the Multiattack. But in addition, they have the Web action, as giant spiders do, and they can cast spells, including some very strong ones: hold person, spiritual weapon, bane and healing word. They may look like giant spiders with creepy hands, but they’re actually back-rank battlefield clerics. And unlike chitines, they’re good at picking their targets, they can adjust when events take an unexpected turn, and if any of the player characters speaks Undercommon, they’ll even parley—although since choldriths’ only “social” skill proficiency is Religion, their “parleying” consists mostly of monologuing about the divine perfection and supremacy of Lolth.
Sharing chitines’ predilection (and that of drow in general) for ambush attacks, choldriths Web first—restraining targets so that their allies can Multiattack them with advantage—then cast spiritual weapon as a bonus action. Choldriths don’t share chitines’ predilection for melee; they prefer to remain at a distance of about 30 feet, just close enough not to have disadvantage on Web attacks.
After that first round, choldriths use Web when it’s available and cast spells when Web is on cooldown. Hold person is the biggie, paralyzing a foe so that allies can attack with advantage and gain auto-crits; choldriths cast this spell against front-line melee threats and any shock attacker who tries to rush them, but also against backline spellcasters that make particular nuisances of themselves. In a sense, when chitines and choldriths fight together, choldriths “direct” chitines to attack certain enemies by imposing conditions that will activate the chitines’ opportunism.
Hold person is good against difficult individuals, but against a group in which no enemy stands out, a choldrith will opt for bane instead. As for healing word, sanctuary and shield of faith—all bonus actions, and therefore action economy enhancements, but also competitors with spiritual weapon—choldriths’ use of these spells is colored by their zealotry and chaotic evil alignment. A choldrith doesn’t cast healing word on a weaker ally, only on a revered higher-up; ditto sanctuary. As for shield of faith, it’s most likely to cast this spell on itself, when an enemy blitzes it. Why would it drop hold person or bane in order to cast this spell? Not to save anybody’s skin but its own.
The choldrith’s cantrips all require its action to cast, so it uses them only when Web is on cooldown and it has no reason to cast hold person or bane. If it spends a combat round preach-parleying, since communication has no action economy cost, it casts thaumaturgy to make its exhortations more dramatic and impressive. But other than that—and casting resistance on a superior—it mostly doesn’t bother with cantrips.
Choldriths rarely use their Dagger attacks. Exceptions include when they’re charged by a melee attacker and don’t have a slot available to cast hold person; and when they somehow have no reason to take any other action but do have an enemy between 10 and 20 feet away, preferably one who’s blinded, paralyzed, restrained or stunned, in which case they throw the dagger rather than run up and stab.
Choldriths are zealots; they always fight to the death unless commanded not to.
Next: narzugons and merregons.