Frost Salamander Tactics

Cousins to salamanders, elemental beings of fire, frost salamanders are elemental beings of ice—in Dungeons & Dragons lore, a conjunction of water and air. They aren’t simply salamanders reskinned to deal cold damage, though. There are major differences between the two:

  • Salamanders are Large; frost salamanders are Huge.
  • Salamanders can travel only across solid ground; frost salamanders can burrow and climb.
  • Both salamanders and frost salamanders are brutes, but salamanders are as intelligent as sentient humanoids are. Frost salamanders are smarter than apes, but just barely, and they don’t have much personality.
  • In addition to their burrowing movement, frost salamanders have tremorsense, allowing them to lie in wait beneath the surface of the ground and spring out to attack prey, like a remorhaz.
  • Salamanders wield weapons and can use their tails to grapple and restrain. Frost salamanders just mess you up with their teeth and claws.
  • The heat of a salamander’s body deals fire damage to anyone who comes in contact with it. Frost salamanders don’t have equivalent contact damage. However . . .
  • Frost salamanders have a breath weapon, Freezing Breath, whose effects lie somewhere between the Cold Breaths of young and adult white dragons. It recharges only on a roll of 6—or when it takes fire damage, thanks to its Burning Fury trait.

According to the flavor text in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, frost salamanders dig lairs in snow and ice, then crouch nearby, waiting for hapless passers-by to use those lairs as shelter. As an instinctive, mechanistic method of hunting, this is pretty clever. It’s even more clever if the area where the frost salamander dwells is mountainous, allowing it to scramble up and down cliff faces with its climbing speed. Since they have darkvision, they wait until after nightfall to strike.

The interplay between Freezing Breath and Burning Fury is also clever. Frost salamanders are vulnerable to fire damage, but if they take any, it instantly recharges their Freezing Breath, which otherwise would be an ability they’d get to use only once per combat on average. You think it’s smart to target them with the damage that hurts them most, but it just gives them more chances to use their breath weapon. Thus, you end up having to fight them by conventional means—and from time to time they get lucky and their breath weapon recharges on its own anyway.

Since Freezing Breath without Burning Fury is effectively a single-use ability, however, a frost salamander needs to wait for the right moment to use it: when its conical area of effect contains all its opponents (or six of them, whichever is less). If they’re all holed up in its lair, they’re sitting ducks for this effect, but on open ground, the right opportunity might not present itself right away.

When its Freezing Breath is available and the above criterion is met, a frost salamander always uses it. Otherwise, it has nothing to work with but its Multiattack: four Claws attacks and one Bite attack. A frost salamander may direct its Claws attacks at one opponent and its Bite attack at another, but it doesn’t divide up its Claws attacks among multiple targets. Although frost salamanders are melee-oriented brutes, Claws has a 10-foot reach, so a frost salamander needn’t—and doesn’t—come right up to its enemies to slash at them. (If they come right up to it, however, it doesn’t try to back off.) When a melee opponent of the frost salamander tries to get away, rather than take an opportunistic swipe at them with Claws when they leave its 10-foot reach, it waits for them to leave the 15-foot reach of its Bite, which deals about 75 percent more damage, and then makes its opportunity attack.

Frost salamanders are mostly indiscriminate when it comes to choosing targets. As predators, they’ll instinctively favor smaller, weaker-looking or more isolated targets over larger, tougher-looking targets in a knot, but that’s the full extent of their judgment. They also don’t like it when prey fights back, and they’ll retreat, Dodging, when they’re only moderately wounded (reduced to 117 hp or fewer). If pursued, however, they’ll direct Freezing Breath and Multiattacks at their pursuers as they back away using their full movement. (Not if they have to burrow or climb, though—these modes of movement logically require them to face the direction they’re going. In these instances, they Dodge.)

Next: clockwork constructs.

7 thoughts on “Frost Salamander Tactics

  1. Before you try pinging your pet Frosty with fire, please consult with your Ranger or other Animal Handler about the possible I impact on its training.

    Oh hey there’s a question: are there particular Ability scores (or anything) that suggest trainability? You touched on training in one of your Ogre write-ups.

    1. That, I think, is a job for the flavor text. Logically, you’d expect trainability to be associated with Intelligence, yet horses have Int 2 and dogs and cats Int 3, while chimps have Int 6—and while chimps can certainly be taught to do more complex tasks than dogs, cats or horses can, it would be a stretch to call them “more trainable,” because they’re never truly tame.

      1. I’d say the more intelligent a species, the less likely they are to be tameable. Sure, you can be friendly with a high intelligence creature but you tame something by taking away its desire to disobey you even given the chance (loosely). So, if you’re to consider whether a creature is tameable and how tameable they are, I’d say look inversely on their intelligence and *maybe* their charisma.

        1. I see tameability and intelligence as a U-shaped curve. Creatures around the intelligence of dogs, cats, horses, etc are more tameable than creatures dumber or smarter than them. Dumber animals are too instinctive to modify their behavior substantially in response to life experiences, and smarter animals have more tendency to get bored easily with mundane work and more ability to circumvent the wishes of a master.

          Even within dog breeds, the most biddable dogs tend to be middling intelligence dogs such as Labradors – dumber dogs, such as toy breeds, can’t figure out what their owners want a lot of the time, and smarter dogs, such as shepherd-type dogs, have high-strung temperaments and a need for stimulation that predisposes them to behavioral problems.

  2. This was one of my favorite monsters in my last campaign. I had given the party a contract to collect parts from it for the magic shop. It really caught them by surprise and put up a heck of a fight in it’s ice lair full of tunnels.

  3. I wonder…
    One of the common things people do, when they’re taking shelter from snow and ice, is build a campfire. Are Frost Salamanders smart enough to deliberately walk over that in order to recharge their breath weapon? Or would that run too far against their elemental nature?

    1. With Intelligence 7, this is probably a bridge too far. As an elemental that despises fire and is weak to it, there’s no way the standard frost salamander is up for this kind of strategic and tactical thinking, which runs contrary to its intrinsic nature. That said, a particularly smart frost salamander with Intelligence 10 or 11 could absolutely take advantage of this feature, perhaps even going so far as to down a potion of fire resistance beforehand, so as to utilize the feature without any extra risk to itself.

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