Eyedrake and Elder Brain Dragon Tactics

Now we get into the real weirdies—the dragon-adjacent aberrations, elementals, constructs and oozes. And since beholders and mind flayers contend with dragons for the title of Most Iconic Monsters of Dungeons & Dragons, it’s not surprising that Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons contains two creatures that represent the overlap between these creatures’ spheres of influence and that of dragons.

The eyedrake is a quasi-beholder that pops into existence when an actual beholder can’t stop perseverating on its jealousy of a dragon rival. Its form resembles what a 6-year-old beholder might produce if asked to draw a dragon: a vaguely wyrmlike but also vaguely circular body, legless, with wings formed from webbed clusters of eyestalks and a big eye front and center, inside its jaws. (Obviously, dragons’ mouths are in the wrong place. The eye belongs in front.)

Perhaps because of the draconic influence upon their creation, eyedrakes are more brutish than beholders are, with very high Strength to match their Constitution and Charisma. With expertise in Perception and Stealth, they’re also ambush attackers. Unlike dragons, however, they’re not built for speed: their beholder heritage slows their flight down to a comparatively sluggish 30 feet per move. Thus, once they’re engaged in melee combat, they’re not in as much of a hurry to get out of it, although they are smart enough to move out of reach of a melee opponent with Extra Attack.

In addition to their Bite, which is a solid attack but not on par with their Eye Rays, eyedrakes have Antimagic Breath, a cross between a dragon’s breath weapon and a beholder’s Antimagic Cone. Like a breath weapon, it’s not on all the time, it is limited by a recharge, and it deals beaucoup damage. However, it recharges only on a roll of 6, not 5–6, which makes it less of an “always choose first” ability. An eyedrake doesn’t rush to use it but rather waits for two conditions to be met: First, it must be able to aim the cone at three or more opponents. Second, ideally, at least one of these opponents is buffed by a 1st-, 2nd- or 3rd-level spell. To use Antimagic Breath in the first or second round of combat when no target is benefiting from a magical buff yet would be a waste of half this action’s functionality.

If the eyedrake is lucky enough to have its conditions met in round 1, it uses its Antimagic Breath immediately. In round 2, it uses Antimagic Breath if its conditions are met or if it’s already moderately wounded (reduced to 83 hp or fewer). In round 3, it uses Antimagic Breath if it hasn’t already, and uses it a second time if it’s recharged and either its conditions are met or it’s at least moderately wounded.

Also, because an eyedrake’s Eye Rays rely on being able to see, it uses Antimagic Breath to dispel darkness if that spell is cast on an object (unfortunately, as written, Antimagic Breath doesn’t work against darkness if it’s cast on a point in space). It does the same against light if the encounter location is completely dark, because its darkvision allows it to see through normal darkness, and its opponents wouldn’t be casting light if they didn’t need the illumination in order to fight back effectively. In fact, an eyedrake prefers to hang out in total darkness for this very reason.

An eyedrake employs its Eye Rays the same way a beholder does: The rays fire at random, but the eyedrake chooses the best targets to aim those rays at. However, an eyedrake isn’t quite as good at taking the measure of its opponents as a beholder is. Instead, it falls back on gut reactions:

  • Freezing Ray against an opponent with a finesse weapon and/or a movement speed greater than 30 feet.
  • Debilitating Ray against any non-melee opponent, but especially one who’s shown themself to have a robust action economy, making liberal use of bonus actions and/or reactions.
  • Repulsion Ray and Paralyzing Ray against rogues, monks, and other Dexterity-based shock attackers and skirmishers.
  • Fire Ray and Death Ray against tough melee opponents.

Although it has no social skill proficiency, an eyedrake’s Wisdom and Charisma are both high enough for it to engage in parley. The trouble is, it’s too deranged to have anything worth saying; it reacts to being moderately wounded by launching into a stream of babble whose central theme is, “Go away go away go away!”—and if its foes don’t understand Deep Speech or Draconic, they won’t know what it’s saying, anyway. It certainly won’t bargain for its life or safety by offering material inducements, since jealousy and avarice are its reasons for being. Instead, as the flavor text says, it fights to the death, because it can’t imagine not fighting to the death. The compulsion that drives it is too strong.

For intermediate or higher-level adventurers, an eyedrake isn’t much more than a ridiculous nuisance. An elder brain dragon, though, is a nightmarish enemy: a dragon puppeted by an elder brain like an ant zombified by Ophiocordyceps fungus. The salient difference, of course, is that an elder brain is far more cunning than a fungus.

Unlike the eyedrake, an elder brain dragon is just as fast as it was in its former life, on top of which the psionic power of its illithid master allows it to hover. It loses its proficiency in Dexterity saving throws and Stealth, but it gains proficiency in Arcana and expertise in Insight, and its Perception becomes even keener. It becomes immune to psychic damage and can no longer be charmed or frightened, and it gains the elder brain’s blindsight range and long-distance telepathic power while retaining the ability to speak, allowing it to perform a Mouth of Sauron–like function in between depredations.

The elder brain dragon’s primary offensive ability is indisputably its colossal Strength, which is even greater than its already extraordinary Intelligence and Charisma; its primary defensive ability is Constitution, so again, we’re looking at a brute. Since it possesses the Siege Monster trait, we’re also looking at a brute that likes to smash buildings and other cover before feasting on their meaty contents. Its Multiattack is therefore the obvious backbone of its tactics.

However, its Tadpole Brine Breath (!?)  is on the conventional 5–6 recharge schedule, making it a “use whenever available” ability. Its area of effect is an unusual 120-foot line that’s 15 feet wide—a large-bore firehose. Going by the Targets in Area of Effect table in chapter 8 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and multiplying the usual number of targets of a linear effect by 3 to account for its triple width, this shape means that it’s optimized for a dozen or more opponents at a time, and practically wasted against fewer. Another way to think of it, though, is that it’s designed for the elder brain dragon to use against all of its opponents if possible—how often will it have a dozen or more?—and against as many opponents as it can if not. Should it really forgo the use of such an ability if its foes happen to be spread out a bit? Let’s say that the actual hard floor for the use of Tadpole Brine Breath is four targets—the number that the table would suggest if we didn’t widen the line—but that the elder brain dragon should nevertheless try to position itself where it can hit more.

Tadpole Brine Breath is brutal. As with most breath weapons, the damage it deals (in this case, psychic) is halved on a successful saving throw. However, it also infests any target in its area of effect with illithid tadpoles, whether they fail their saving throw or not! It requires three successful saving throws, after being infested, to purge the infestation—either that, a remove curse spell or healing magic that restores at least 40 hp at once. And if you go down to 0 hp while infested, you start to morph into a mind flayer, a process that takes between 30 and 48 hours in most cases but can last as long as 72 hours or be over in as few as 6. Naturally, when using this feature, the elder brain dragon wants to prioritize those targets that are closest to having 0 hp to begin with, i.e., the squishy and the badly wounded.

Getting back to Multiattack, the draconic Claw/Claw/Bite portion of the attack is suited for any and all melee applications; worth noting is that, unlike most dragons’ Claw attacks, this one has a 10-foot reach, allowing the elder brain dragon to remain airborne and attack from outside the reach of most melee opponents’ weapons, immunizing it against opportunity attacks. But let’s zoom in on the Tentacle attack, which has a 15 foot reach and grapples on a hit, with a fairly high escape DC. By itself, that might not seem particularly terrifying. What makes it terrifying is the elder brain dragon’s legendary action Shatter Concentration, which automatically terminates a grappled creature’s concentration on whatever spell or ability it’s trying to maintain. This effect is particularly nasty against spellcasters, but it also messes with a Trickery cleric’s Invoke Duplicity or a Glamour bard’s Mantle of Command. An elder brain dragon is plenty intelligent enough to be able to read the look of focused attention on an enemy’s face and figure out that distracting them will disrupt what they’re doing. When it does, it repositions if necessary to smack that enemy with a tentacle. Shatter Concentration costs 2 legendary actions, which is spendy, so if an elder brain dragon doesn’t need to break a target’s concentration, it spends its legendary actions on more Tentacle attacks instead. Shatter Concentration deals damage, but not as much damage as two Tentacle attacks.

An elder brain dragon may not have what we’d consider to be free will, but to the illithid colony that created it, it’s a major investment, one that shouldn’t be carelessly thrown away. When the elder brain dragon is seriously wounded (reduced to 140 hp or fewer), it withdraws from combat, Disengaging if necessary and Dashing otherwise, while whatever allies it has on the field cover its retreat, delaying pursuers as best they can.

Next: the rest of Fizban’s!

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