Gremishkas originated in the second edition Dungeons & Dragons Ravenloft campaign setting, but they fell off the radar in later editions before being revived in Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft. Originally, they were essentially just quadrupedal gremlins—malicious nuisances that took up residence in people’s cellars and caused trouble. In fifth edition, they’re still tricky and malicious, but their existence is the result of a magical accident, they have a particular animus against mages, and using magic to try to get rid of them tends to go poorly.
For those who are tired of rats in the basement, a gremishka is a good antagonist for a low-level campaign—but level 2, perhaps, rather than level 1, for a reason that will shortly become apparent. Its challenge rating is only 1/8, but it’s also not going to go looking for a fight. Its only above-average physical ability is its Dexterity, making it a shock attacker; generally, after delivering a single bite, a gremishka runs away, and it often doesn’t even bother to bite first. It’s a clever beastie, with Intelligence above humanoid average, and while it doesn’t possess much tactical flexibility, this Tiny monstrosity certainly has the wits to know (and maybe even create) various routes of escape, in order to avoid getting cornered. With 30 feet of darkvision, the gremishka is nocturnal, and given that it understands but doesn’t speak Common, I fancy that it might be fond of eavesdropping on conversations—the better to know what will really get its targets’ goat.
The bulk of a gremishka’s tactics lie outside the confines of its stat block, because as written, there’s not much it can do other than bite and run. The matter of how it runs is important, however. The gremishka’s Armor Class is too low for Dodging to help it much (counterintuitively, creatures with higher AC benefit more from the Dodge action than creatures with lower AC do), which leaves Dash, Disengage and a parting Bite as possible actions for a gremishka about to turn tail.
Although its Bite attack packs an unexpected wallop in the form of some bonus force damage, it still doesn’t deal a lot of damage in total, and it leaves the gremishka open to an opportunity attack from each melee opponent who can reach it. Dash does the same; if the gremishka can reach a hidey-hole with less than 30 feet of movement, an additional 30 feet doesn’t add a lot of benefit. Personally, while I’m usually stingy with this action, I think Disengage is usually the best choice for a gremishka—first, because it’s clever enough to know that disengaging is a thing; second, because its only physical advantage is being small and nimble, and Disengage reflects that mechanically; and third, because it’s annoying.
The shape of a gremishka encounter should therefore be less about taking it on in a head-to-head fight and more about finding and eliminating its paths of escape, until the player characters can finally corner it. When they do corner it, though, they need to be careful, because of its Magic Allergy reaction. One-third of the time, this reaction causes magical energy from a spell cast within 30 feet of it to be reflected back in all directions, dealing a small amount of force damage. One-third of the time, the gremishka absorbs some of the energy and uses it to heal itself—again, just a small amount.
It’s the last one-third that a gremishka’s foes need to worry about.
That last one-third of the time, casting a spell within 30 feet of it causes it to explode into a swarm of gremishkas. This swarm is CR 2, and that’s why you don’t want to send a party of level 1 noobs against even a single gremishka: It could turn into this thing.
While the swarm is technically still a shock attacker—Dexterity remains both its primary offensive ability and its primary defensive ability—I feel like there needs to be a change in behavior to drive home just how badly things have suddenly gone wrong. There’s also the mechanical fact that a swarm can’t attack any creature outside its own space, along with the broad implication that a swarm of anything is, by nature, more aggressive than the individual thing itself. Put it all together, and a swarm of gremishkas is mean. But not just mindlessly mean. Opportunistically mean.
As a swarm, gremishkas have greater Wisdom, which allows them to be far more discriminating in their target selection and to have a better sense of when they’re outmatched. They still aren’t stealthy, so they’re probably not going to catch their targets off guard, but being able to move through Tiny spaces gives them the ability to engage when they want to engage. A single gremishka uses its hidey-holes to lie low until the heat is off, but a swarm of gremishkas uses them to choose its moment to attack.
That being said, you do have to be mindful of the fact that having a newly spawned swarm of gremishkas immediately run away through the same pipes as a single gremishka—so that your PCs now have to hunt down a whole mess of them, not just one—is very likely to elicit despair among players who don’t find humor in the irony. Watch your players’ reactions to the first phase of the gremishka fight. If they’re laughing more than groaning as they pursue this little pest, feel free to continue the game of cat-and-mouse with the swarm. If they’re groaning more than laughing, you should probably have the swarm stay out in the open and act hyperaggressively instead.
Either way, the swarm deliberately zeroes in on the “most magical” member of the opposing side, preferring to attack wizards over warlocks and sorcerers and wizards, warlocks and sorcerers over everyone else. It has only 24 hp on average, but that comes with a couple of asterisks: first, resistance to bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage regardless of its source; and second, the interaction between Limited Spell Immunity and Spell Redirection.
The swarm’s damage resistance means that if Angus MacBash rushes to Martinus Trismegistus’s defense and starts playing whack-a-gremishka with his warhammer, it’s going to take him a while to make a significant dent. Limited Spell Immunity means that if Caitríona Larksong recklessly tries to thunderwave them off Martinus’s back, it’s only Martinus who’s going to take the damage, while a more direct approach—say, ice knife or produce flame—will miss automatically and strike someone else, thanks to Spell Redirection. These defenses make the swarm much tankier than it might be otherwise. There are only two easy ways through: magic missile, which hits automatically with no attack roll or saving throw required (and which honestly seems to me like an oversight), and fire (be careful not to burn Martinus or his spellbook, please). Acid’s not bad, either, if you happen to have any.
A swarm of gremishkas attacked with magic missile or fire is smart enough to recognize the danger they pose. When struck by fire, it runs, and when struck by magic missile, it runs if its hit points are low (12 hp or fewer) but rushes the caster and mauls them if its hit points are high (13 hp or more). It also runs when seriously wounded (reduced to 9 hp or fewer). Otherwise, when it’s chosen a target, it sticks with them.
Next: carrion stalkers.
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