Sincere apologies to everyone for disappearing for the entire month of October. I have a good excuse: I was spending what little free time I had working furiously on finishing my next book, which will include some entities that certain readers have been awaiting for a long, long time.
Today, I return to Eberron with a couple of quasi-humanoid aberrations, the dolgrim and the dolgaunt, both of them species that originated as goblinoid races warped by evil magic.
Dolgrims look like the result of a transporter malfunction, each one the fusing of two goblin individuals into one horrible entity with four arms, two mouths and two dissociated personalities. Unlike ordinary goblins, dolgrims are shock attackers, with high Strength along with high Dexterity and merely above-average Constitution. They also have less Intelligence than the average goblin, no doubt the result of the clashing noise in their heads. However, their split personalities do confer one advantage: advantage on saving throws against certain mind-affecting debilitating conditions.
Because their Strength and Dex are roughly equal—the base scores differ, with Strength slightly higher, but the modifiers are the same—they can flex between attacking at range and in melee. But that higher Strength gives them a slight preference for melee, so they have a simple approach to combat: Regardless of what range they begin at, they charge, shooting with their crossbows as they run, throwing spears when they come within 60 feet and finally switching to their morningstars upon arrival.
Their Multiattack gives them three attacks per turn, but this doesn’t supersede the loading property of the hand crossbow: “You can fire [sic] only one piece of ammunition from it when you use an action, bonus action, or reaction to fire it, regardless of the number of attacks you can normally make.” [Linguistic nitpick: You don’t “fire” weapons that don’t use gunpowder. You “shoot” or “loose” their ammunition.] Thus, as long as they’re attacking with Hand Crossbow, they can shoot only once per turn. There’s no range at which it makes sense to shoot once rather than throw three spears, not even between 20 and 30 feet (unless the target has AC 19 or greater, and that’s not an assessment dolgrims are equipped to make).
Although they’d probably prefer to back off if their initial assault doesn’t take an opponent down, once they’re engaged in melee, dolgrims don’t have any reasonable option except to continue attacking and try to finish their foes off as fast as they can. According to Keith Baker, dolgrims do in fact reproduce—in a way that preserves their genetic material even more faithfully than sexual reproduction does—and they’re selfish by nature, so I’d say they do possess a normal self-preservation instinct, which makes them want to retreat when seriously injured (reduced to 5 hp or fewer). But their innate savagery, combined with the fact that it’s hard for them to get away, means they usually don’t get a chance to retreat unless they earn a break in the action by vanquishing an opponent. Once a seriously wounded dolgrim knocks a foe unconscious, it Dashes away. One that’s not seriously wounded will attack an unconscious enemy to make sure they’re dead!
Dolgaunts were created from hobgoblins and share their ruthless efficiency and discipline in battle. While dolgrims are nimble pests transformed into muscular aggressors, dolgaunts are stalwart soldiers turned into agile finesse attackers. Their proficiency in Perception and Stealth marks them as ambush attackers, their proficiency in Acrobatics enables them to attack while dropping from above, and their 40-foot speed allows them to run down a victim.
The dolgaunt’s Multiattack is somewhat complicated, but its implications are straightforward. It comprises two Tentacle attacks and two Unarmed Strikes, and either Tentacle attack or both may be replaced by Vitality Drain, which only works on a target already grappled by Tentacle. Whether the dolgaunt uses Tentacle or Unarmed Strike first doesn’t matter: Tentacle’s grapple doesn’t restrain, so it doesn’t confer advantage on the dolgaunt’s attacks. But once a dolgaunt has an opponent grappled by a Tentacle, it makes all the sense in the world to substitute Vitality Drain after that.
Or does it? Vitality Drain deals damage only on a failed saving throw, and the DC is low—only 11! Even an average low-level player character will succeed on this save 55 percent of the time, and a hardy front-liner will do so 75 percent of the time. Why should a dolgaunt give up a perfectly serviceable Tentacle attack—with a 15-foot reach, no less—for that?
For starters, Vitality Drain doesn’t only deal damage; it also heals the dolgaunt for half the damage dealt. This extra benefit is often enough to make it competitive with Tentacle, especially when you factor in the chance that a Tentacle attack might miss. Against a target with a +1 Constitution save modifier, for instance, the expected damage from a Vitality Drain is 4.05, restoring 2.025 hp to the dolgaunt, for a net value of 6.075. (I’m not rounding here, because minor differences are going to matter.) By comparison, a Tentacle attack deals an average 7.5 damage on a hit. To have expected damage greater than the net value of Vitality Drain, the dolgaunt must have at least an 85 percent chance to hit with Tentacle, and it has that only against AC 10. Any armor at all, and Vitality Drain shapes up as the better deal.
Against a +5 Con save mod, on the other hand, Vitality Drain’s expected damage is about 2.25, restoring 1.125 hp, for a net value of 3.375. To have expected damage of greater than this net value from a Tentacle attack, the dolgaunt needs only a 45 percent chance to hit, which it has against AC 18 or lower. In this case, Tentacle is usually superior.
But while dolgaunts are fairly smart, they’re not capable of discerning their opponents’ Constitution save modifiers; they are capable of seeing how much armor their opponents are wearing. Thus, we need to come at this question from the other direction.
Let’s divide our prospective opponents into seven easily identified categories: spellcaster without armor, spellcaster in light armor, rogue/skirmisher in light armor, spellcaster in medium armor, warrior in heavy armor, monk (a category all its own), barbarian (ditto).
- Spellcaster without armor: Assume AC 12 (thanks to Dexterity) and Con save mod +1. Tentacle hit probability: 75 percent. Con save failure probability: 45 percent. Expected damage from Tentacle: 5.625. Expected net value from Vitality Drain: 6.075. Use Vitality Drain.
- Spellcaster in light armor: Assume AC 14 (thanks to Dexterity) and Con save mod +1. Tentacle hit probability: 65 percent. Con save failure probability: 45 percent. Expected damage from Tentacle: 4.875. Expected net value from Vitality Drain: 6.075. Use Vitality Drain.
- Rogue/skirmisher in light armor: Assume AC 14 (thanks to Dexterity) and Con save mod +2. Tentacle hit probability: 65 percent. Con save failure probability: 40 percent. Expected damage from Tentacle: 4.875. Expected net value from Vitality Drain: 5.4. Use Vitality Drain.
- Spellcaster in medium armor: Assume AC 17 and Con save mod +2. Tentacle hit probability: 50 percent. Con save failure probability: 40 percent. Expected damage from Tentacle: 3.75. Expected net value from Vitality Drain: 5.4. Use Vitality Drain.
- Warrior in heavy armor: Assume AC 18 and Con save mod +5. Tentacle hit probability: 45 percent. Con save failure probability: 25 percent. Expected damage from Tentacle: 3.375. Expected net value from Vitality Drain: 3.375. Use either, or one of each; it doesn’t matter.
- Monk: Assume AC 15 (thanks to Unarmored Defense) and Con save mod +1. Tentacle hit probability: 60 percent. Con save failure probability: 45 percent. Expected damage from Tentacle: 4.5. Expected net value from Vitality Drain: 6.075. Use Vitality Drain.
- Barbarian: Assume AC 15 (thanks to Unarmored Defense) and Con save mod +5. Tentacle hit probability: 60 percent. Con save failure probability: 25 percent. Expected damage from Tentacle: 4.5. Expected net value from Vitality Drain: 3.375. Use Tentacles.
What we quickly see is that in nearly every case, Vitality Drain is better. The exceptions are classes that have proficiency in Constitution saves: fighters and barbarians. And, in fact, if we toss out two new categories, paladin (AC 18, Con save mod +2) and sorcerer (AC 12, Con save mod +3), it turns out that Vitality Drain is better against the pally, while Tentacles are better against the sorcerer.
A paladin is obviously a paladin 9 times out of 10, but sorcerers aren’t always easy to distinguish from wizards. So while a dolgaunt knows from experience to stick with Tentacles against a grappled fighter or barbie but to use Vitality Drain against a grappled pally, it uses Vitality Drain against grappled sorcerers as well until something happens to clue it in that it is in fact grappling a sorcerer and not a wizard—say, a Wild Magic surge or an application of Metamagic. At that point, have the dolgaunt make a DC 15 Intelligence check. On a success, it knows to switch to Tentacles. (Against Draconic Bloodline sorcerers, their Draconic Resilience makes Vitality Drain the better choice anyway, so the dolgaunt has no reason to switch.)
Dolgaunts fighting alone can combine their ambush and Acrobatics skills and the 15-foot reach of Tentacles to lurk on rooftops or in rafters and snag passers-by. They play a similar combat role to that of PC monks, quickly taking down key enemies, which in their case are generally casters lobbing spells that require non-Dex saving throws to resist. They use their speed, often along with the element of surprise, to run these enemies down and their long tentacles to hold melee-oriented opponents at bay beyond the reach of those opponents’ weapons. (Remember, a combatant surprised in the first round of an encounter can’t move or even make an opportunity attack before the end of their turn.)
However, according to the flavor text in Eberron: Rising From the Last War, dolgaunts also command groups of dolgrims the way hobgoblins sometimes command goblins. While the dolgrims rush forward to wreck face, dolgaunts can follow behind, lashing out with their tentacles to strike targets behind the enemy front line; pin down individual enemies so that they can’t escape the dolgrim rush; or lie in wait while dolgrims channel enemies toward them, the anvil to the dolgrims’ hammer. Dolgaunts are flexible combatants, but while their tentacles have great reach, they lack any actual ranged attack. When they want a backline foe taken out, they order dolgrims to handle it for them.
Dolgaunts are highly disciplined. Whether they flee when seriously wounded is partly a function of whether they’re acting on their own initiative or under orders, partly a function of the importance of completing their mission. If they’re under orders to, or if their sacrifice will help the mission succeed, they fight to the death. If the mission is a flop and their deaths will do nothing to get it back on track or redeem it, they withdraw when seriously wounded (reduced to 13 hp or fewer), taking the Disengage action before moving away at full speed—and leaving any dolgrims present to take the beating that was meant for them.
Next: Karrnathi undead soldiers.