Cloaker Tactics


For some reason I thought I recalled the cloaker from the original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual, but I must have gotten it confused with the lurker, because according to the cloaker’s Wikipedia biography, its first appearance in a core book was in the second-edition Monstrous Compendium, in which it was (hilariously) described as “impossible to distinguish from a common black cloak.” Fashion mimic! Wisely, later editions have depicted it in more evolutionarily plausible terms, although it’s still categorized as an aberration rather than a monstrosity.

Cloakers have exceptionally high Strength and high Dexterity but merely above-average Constitution, a rare contour that I generally associate with shock attacks; combined with their proficiency in Stealth and their False Appearance feature, this contour indicates an ambush predator that seeks to take down its prey in a single strike, if possible. A fight that lasts more than a couple of rounds won’t be to a cloaker’s liking.

Their Intelligence and Wisdom are above-average, but not unusually so, so while they’re selective about their targets, their judgment may sometimes be off. (And then there’s that strangely high Charisma. What’s that for? Resistance to banishment? I have no good explanation.) They have 60 feet of darkvision and Light Sensitivity and speak Deep Speech and Undercommon, so obviously, they’re subterranean dwellers that have little or no reason to venture aboveground.

Attacking cloakers wrap themselves around the heads and upper bodies of their prey, and their Damage Transfer feature causes half of all incoming damage to go right through their thin bodies and into the unfortunate saps they’re suffocating, but this added staying power doesn’t necessarily make them any more inclined to stay around.

The cloaker’s Multiattack is a bite/tail combination. The tail attack has a long reach but otherwise is simple, straightforward damage. The bite employs the common fifth-edition practice of adding a “rider” to a successful hit, but this time with an unusual qualifier: the initial attack must be made with advantage. Attacking while unseen isn’t just beneficial for the cloaker—it’s practically mandatory.

The cloaker’s prey is not only blinded but also unable to breathe. The side effect of being blinded is simple—disadvantage on the creature’s own attacks, advantage on attacks against the creature—but the MM stat block doesn’t elaborate on the effects of suffocation. For that, we have to refer to page 183 of the Player’s Handbook. Turns out, it’s not that serious: “A creature can hold its breath for a number of minutes equal to 1 + its Constitution modifier (minimum of 30 seconds).” Since a combat encounter with a cloaker isn’t going to last five rounds, let alone 10 or more, we can safely disregard this detail, except in one respect: If you can’t breathe, you can’t speak, and if you can’t speak, you can’t yell for help.

You also can’t cast a spell that requires a verbal component while you’re suffocating. Between the PH and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, that reduces the number of spells you can cast with a cloaker wrapped around your head to eight—one of which is a ritual, and two of which require you to be able to see your targets. But hey, at least you can still cast friends, hypnotic pattern, ice knife, minor illusion or snare.

ETA: Reader Siloth notes that the PH draws a distinction between holding one’s breath and suffocating and that the latter is far more serious. I’m not entirely sure which side of the fence to come down on. The stat block says only that an enveloped target is “unable to breathe,” not that it’s “suffocating.” Absolute literalism is always the way to go in 5E, but in this case, it offers us no guidance. However, thinking about this as a dungeon master, I think there‘s a fair distinction to be made between using an action to hold one‘s breath (that is, preparing with a deep inhalation) and suddenly finding oneself unable to breathe without having had a chance to prepare. (A tweet by Mike Mearls seems to support this interpretation.) In the case of the cloaker, I see nothing wrong with cutting straight to suffocation: it takes an aspect of the feature that’s of questionable use and value and turns it into something meaningfully threatening.

The last two actions in the cloaker’s arsenal are Moan and Phantasms. Phantasms is the cloaker’s version of the mirror image spell, and there’s no good reason whatsoever for the cloaker not to use this action before it makes its first attack: being neither a spell nor an attack, it doesn’t give away the cloaker’s position. It functions only in dim light or darkness; bright light dispels it.

Moan frightens most creatures within a 60-foot radius. What’s the effect of the frightened condition? It imposes disadvantage on attacks against the source of fear, and it prevents one from moving any closer to that source. This is a great way for the cloaker to make sure that no one comes to rescue its prey. But the timing is tricky. A hidden creature is revealed when it makes a sound (PH 177), so it’s unwise to use this feature before attacking unless the cloaker has some means of attacking with advantage other than stealth. After it attacks, however, it wants to finish its prey off, not spend a whole action trying to scare his or her friends away. Plus, that saving throw DC isn’t high, the effect doesn’t last long, and once another creature has engaged the cloaker in melee already, it loses a lot of its usefulness.

How can we make this feature work? Here’s what I’ve come up with:

First, the cloaker selects its prey. In the manner of other ambush predators, it chooses someone old, young, weak, wounded, isolated or oblivious. (Looks can be deceiving, however, and the cloaker can be deceived. It doesn’t know that an elderly halfling can also be a level 7 Way of Shadow monk, for instance.)

Second, it uses the Hide action and begins to stealthily stalk its prey.

Third, it uses the Phantasms action and closes to a distance of 40 feet.

Fourth—the first chance its prey and its prey’s allies have to realize what’s going on, unless the cloaker has screwed something up in the first three steps—the cloaker glides up and strikes. It bites first, because a successful bite/envelop means it makes its follow-up tail strike with advantage.

Fifth, on its next turn, if it hasn’t been driven off (see below), it Multiattacks again, only this time it uses its tail against an ally of its prey if it needs to.

Finally, the moment of truth arrives. If the cloaker hasn’t at least seriously injured its prey at this point, it’s smart enough to realize it’s not going to get a meal out of this, detaches itself and withdraws. If it has, it’ll take one last bite. Either way, when it decides it’s time to leave, that’s when it Moans, because this is its most effective way to keep anything from following it.

Why doesn’t it try to drag its prey away with it? Normally, I’d say it would. But here’s the problem: The cloaker’s bite attack doesn’t grapple, as so many other predators’ attacks do. Whoops. No taking its leftovers to go.

So what makes a cloaker decide discretion is the better part of survival?

  • A moderate injury or worse (reduced to 54 hp or fewer). Opportunistic predators have little tolerance for armed resistance.
  • Bright light shoved in its face. Nope nope nope nope nope nope.
  • Melee engagement by three or more opponents other than its prey.

On the other hand . . . if, by some fluke, the allies of the cloaker’s prey don’t come to his or her rescue at all, it will happily stick around long enough to finish its meal, even if it takes three or more rounds.

Next: demiliches.

Related Posts

20 responses to “Cloaker Tactics”

  1. Siloth Avatar

    The suffocation part of Bite action is a bit weird. As per rules creature can hold its breath for a really long time, making suffocation a non-issue. But if we consider the target of the attack to be suffocating for the get go, as not being able to hold breath, creature will drop to 0 hit points in number of rounds equal to it’s Con Mod. That would make this monster much more terrifying. I’m not really sure witch ruling is the right one.

    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      Actually, with that comment you just posted, I think you may have hit upon the necessary distinction. Check out the easy-to-miss paragraph at the top of the right-hand column of PH 183: “For example, a creature with a Constitution of 14 can hold its breath for 3 minutes. If it starts suffocating [emphasis mine], it has 2 rounds to reach air before it drops to 0 hit points.” That’s a game-changer.

      ETA: Then again, maybe not. The MM doesn’t say an enveloped target is “suffocating.” It merely says the target is “unable to breathe.”

      This is one of those moments when I really wish Jeremy Crawford would ever answer my questions.

      1. Siloth Avatar

        I found something that makes this a bit more clear, althou it’s form Mike Mearls.

      2. A Clammy Bear Avatar
        A Clammy Bear

        Who’s to say it doesn’t wait for it’s Target to exhale? Holding your breath is a voluntary action. I’d have my player roll % to see where they were in the breath cycle.

        1. Keith Ammann Avatar

          If I were playing an earlier edition, maybe I’d do something like that, but it seems to me not to be in the spirit of 5E.

          1. Nedak Avatar

            If you’re going to offer a chance to take a breath, a con save might be more appropriate.

  2. Matthew Vienneau Avatar
    Matthew Vienneau

    I distinctly remember the cloaker picture in 1st edition, so I looked it up – page 25 of the MM2.

    Also mentioned on the Wikipedia page?

    1. Doug Avatar

      I think the Wikipedia page is only listing other appearances in second-edition AD&D sources, not in all D&D sources. Otherwise, it’d list the first-edition AD&D adventure A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade, in which the cloaker made its first appearance ever.

  3. Matthew Vienneau Avatar
    Matthew Vienneau

    Possibly the Moan is used first to clear out the cavern except for 1-2 hardy souls, and then it attacks?

    Or as they flee, it attacks from behind, with the prey scattered in different directions?

    Maybe it moans from a hidden spot in the cavern so the players can’t tell what direction it’s coming from, it just seems haunted and frightening?

    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      Being frightened doesn’t force a creature to flee. It just prevents the creature from approaching any closer to the source of its fear. Used preemptively, it can’t do much except tip folks off to the cloaker’s presence, denying it its Stealth attack.

  4. Sharur Avatar

    I think the point of the high Charisma is to boost the save DC on its Moan. DC = 13 = 8(Base)+3(Proficiency Bonus)+2(Charisma).

    The which seems appropriate, as its Moan is intimidating you.

  5. Elgatochurro Avatar

    Use the Moan during a fight the players are having, the swoop the cloaked in from down above.

    Or use false appearance plus its 40 fight speed to give it a sneak attack for advantage

  6. lexa Avatar

    hi! i’m still new to dnd and I have a doubt about this part of the cloaker stats about the phantasms “Whenever any creature Targets the cloaker (…), that creature rolls randomly to determine whether it Targets the cloaker or one of the duplicates. ” rolls randomly what? how?

    if you could help with me with this, it’d be great. thanks

    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      Probably the same way you would with a mirror image spell.

      1. lexa Avatar

        i’ve never used this spell, but i just checked it and now it makes a lot more sense. thank you

  7. […] trapper is a great deal like the cloaker, in that it hunts by wrapping itself around its victims’ heads so that they can’t see or […]

  8. Jonah Avatar

    So maybe I’m reading the bite ability wrong, but it seems like there are two different (often concurrent – but not necessarily so) conditions imposed by the bite. Firstly, it says that on a hit, as long as the target is large or smaller, it attaches to its target. Full stop. This also, later in the article, states that it grants advantage to the cloaker against the creature it is attached to. Now, if the cloaker had advantage on the attack, then it is attached TO THE HEAD of the creature – making it blind and unable to breath. Is this the right interpretation or am i deluding myself

    1. Kenny Avatar

      I think your interpretation is correct.

      Basically, if the first Bite of a target hits, it’s attached. If the first Bite attack also had Advantage, it’s attached to the target’s head.

      If the first Bite of a target didn’t have Advantage, it’s just attached, but NOT to the target’s head. While attached, it can only Bite the same target, but it also has Advantage for those Bite attacks.

      So, if the first Bite is made, e.g. as an Unseen Attacker (and it hits), the cloaker attaches to the target’s head.

      If the target can see the cloaker (and the cloaker doesn’t otherwise have Advantage), the first Bite (that hits) attaches it to some part of the target that’s NOT the head. A second Bite (against the target) would result in it being attached to the target’s head. I imagine it something like the cloaker ‘chomping its way up or to the target’s head’.

  9. […] even more information on cloakers, be sure to read Keith Ammann’s analysis of their fighting tactics on his […]

  10. […] way of taking their prey by surprise is to creep along behind them, as suggested here. Another way that they might fight is by taking advantage of the fact that they look like cloaks. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Support the Author

Spy & Owl Bookshop | Tertulia | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indigo | Kobo | Google Play | Apple Books | | Audible

Praise for The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters

“I’ve always said, the Dungeon Master is the whole world except for his players, and as a result, I spend countless hours prepping for my home group. What Keith gets is that the monsters are the DM’s characters, and his work has been super helpful in adding logic, flavor, and fun in my quest to slaughter my players’ characters and laugh out the window as they cry in their cars afterward.” —Joe Manganiello

“The best movie villains are the ones you fall in love with. Keith’s book grounds villains in specificity, motivation, and tactics—so much so that players will love to hate ’em. This book will enrich your game immeasurably!” —Matthew Lillard

“This book almost instantly made me a better Dungeon Master. If you’re running games, it is a must-have enhancement. I gave copies to the two others in our group who share in the Dungeon Mastering, and both of them came back the next time grinning rather slyly. Keith is a diabolical genius, and I say that with the utmost respect!” —R.A. Salvatore

Find my short works on the Dungeon Masters’ Guild, or just toss a coin to your witcher:


Link to RSS feed


aberrations beasts celestials constructs CR 1 CR 1/2 CR 1/4 CR 1/8 CR 2 CR 3 CR 4 CR 5 CR 6 CR 7 CR 8 CR 9 CR 10 CR 11 CR 12 CR 13 CR 14 CR 15 CR 16 CR 17 CR 18 CR 19 CR 20 CR 21 CR 22 CR 23 dragons drow elementals fey fiends giants humanoids meta monstrosities multiverse NPCs plants shapechangers undead yugoloths