Jackalwere Tactics


I was asked about jackalweres in conjunction with my post on lamia tactics. I’m going to look at them in isolation, though, because generally speaking, the company a monster keeps isn’t going to influence its tactics substantially (goblins being an exception when they’re bossed around by hobgoblins).

As the name implies, jackalweres—not “werejackals”—aren’t your ordinary lycanthrope. Rather than humanoids tainted with a bestial curse, they’re jackals tainted with a human curse. Like lycanthropes, however, they typically adopt a hybrid form during combat.

Jackalweres have an unusual ability contour: high Dexterity but merely average Strength and Constitution, combined with above-average Intelligence. This is a contour you’d usually associated with a sniper or a spellcaster, but jackalweres’ attacks are largely melee-based. This suggests three things. First, jackalweres are highly unsuited to drawn-out combat and will abandon a fight quickly if they don’t immediately get the upper hand. Second, they’ll rely heavily on guile. And third, the successful use of their Sleep Gaze feature—the closest thing they have to “spellcasting”—will figure prominently in their strategy.

Jackalweres are proficient in Deception and Stealth—here’s the guile, as well as a potential way to strike with surprise. They’re immune to physical damage from nonmagical, non-silvered weapons, giving them a little more staying power than they’d have otherwise. Since they have only 18 hp to begin with, though, that’s not saying a lot. They have the Pack Tactics feature, which suggests that another key part of their strategy is not starting fights at all unless they outnumber their victims substantially. (The Monster Manual flavor text notes that they often have ordinary jackals fighting alongside them, but these pose little or no threat to intermediate- or higher-level adventurers.)

Sleep Gaze is weak, as monster features go. All it takes to resist is a DC 10 Wisdom saving throw. The average adventurer has a 60 percent chance of succeeding on that roll; the average cleric, druid, paladin, warlock or wizard, a 75 percent or better chance; and Fey Ancestry makes elves entirely immune to it. But that assumes one jackalwere and one target. Two jackalweres against one target . . . well, that’s like giving the target disadvantage on the roll, reducing his or her chances of success to 36 or 56 percent (elves remain immune). How about three against one? Chances reduced to 22 and 42 percent. Four against one? Thirteen and 32 percent. (Note, as usual, the careful and highly literal phrasing of the feature: “A creature that successfully saves against the effect is immune to this jackalwere’s gaze for the next 24 hours”—emphasis mine. Not any jackalwere’s gaze, just this jackalwere’s.)

Unlike a lot of monsters, jackalweres are intelligent—crafty, even. They may not be able to judge how experienced a player character is, but they can tell whether you’re carrying a holy symbol or a staff, and they’ll know that means you’ll probably be a harder target. They’ll also know that elves are immune to their special ability.

Their goal is to end the fight in the first round if they can. Thus, for jackalweres to initiate an encounter, their numbers will have to total the following: three per elf, four per non-elf who displays a holy symbol or wields a staff, and two per other non-elf.

As an example, let’s look at the six-character party I’m DMing for. It consists of a human barbarian, a halfling ranger, a dwarf ranger, a human paladin, an elf sorcerer and a dwarf druid. A pack of jackalweres would have to number at least 17 to be willing to attack this party. Two of them would use Sleep Gaze against the barbarian, two against the halfling, two against the dwarf ranger, four against the paladin, and four against the druid; the remaining three would draw scimitars and attack the sorcerer directly, using Pack Tactics to gain advantage on their attack rolls.

That’s in the first round of combat. In the second, Sleep Gaze won’t work anymore; on the other hand, any victims of the jackalweres who haven’t been put to sleep will be greatly outnumbered, and all the attacking jackalweres will gain advantage from Pack tactics. If a third round of combat isn’t enough for them to subdue all their foes, they’ll all Disengage and run away in the fourth round.

“Jackalweres kidnap humanoids for their lamia masters,” the flavor text informs us. “A jackalwere’s magical gaze renders a foe unconscious, allowing the monster to bind a creature or drag it away.” What if a pack of jackalweres aren’t working for a lamia? They’re gonna eat you, son. They’re chaotic evil. Once a target is unconscious, jackalweres sheathe their blades and switch to bite attacks—which do critical damage against unconscious targets.

Because jackalweres won’t fight without an overwhelming numerical advantage, think very carefully about pitting low-level PCs against them if they’re hunting independently (as opposed to seeking captives for a boss lamia). Up to about level 4, any number of jackalweres willing to tangle with your PCs will be too many for them to handle. The sweet spot at which they’ll be an appropriate challenge for your PCs is level 5. At level 6 or 7, they’ll be a serious threat only as minions fighting alongside a lamia. At level 8 or above, you can safely play them for comedy.

An individual jackalwere that’s seriously injured (reduced to 7 hp or fewer) will first Disengage, then Dash away. If at least half of a jackalwere pack has fled or been slain, the rest will Dash away without bothering to Disengage. If a party of adventurers initiates combat against them—most likely, by catching them off guard—and they lack the numbers they’d need to start a fight themselves, they don’t stand their ground; they immediately Dash and flee.

Next: umber hulks, per reader request.

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3 responses to “Jackalwere Tactics”

  1. Spiderwrangler Avatar

    Using jackalweres in a current encounter, also added in tactics of trying to lure/split the party, setting up ambushes where multiple can Sleep Gaze (hit the druid with 5 at once). Make use of the immunity to regular weapons by faking injury/death (ranger shot the visible guy, barbarian ran to help druid and got gazed too).

    Gnomes are additionally more resistant, so they’ll want to gang up on them similar to ganging up on cleric types.

  2. Luke Calvert Avatar
    Luke Calvert

    You make good points, as always! The point about jackelweres’ intelligence leading them to only engage under favorable conditions is particularly thought provoking for me! I wonder what you think about the following:

    There is no use limitation on Sleep Gaze whatsoever. This means a failed attempt on party member A on round 1 doesn’t preclude a round 2 attempt on party member B, and so on. Does this affect the “overwhelming numbers” calculus that you cited as a problem? In particular, at earlier levels I’m thinking a sizable pack of jackals could serve as less lethal crowd control. Similarly, as a Lamia’s slavers, I could see an argument to equip the jackalweres with whips, nets, or similar mobility reducing armaments.

    On a different note, Sleep Gaze works regardless of form, so an innocuous jackal or two could potentially take out a sentry silently to get the drop on a resting party, or harmless beggars could abduct a careless shopper in a crowded bazar. Further, the ability is silent as to whether a target is aware of what the jackalwere is trying to do, so I could see a DM trying this once or twice, failing, and keeping the lid on his or her secret until the ideal conditions are met to achieve the desired result.

    Big fan of your work! Keep it up!

    1. Carson Rush Avatar
      Carson Rush

      Trying the sleep ability on a second target definitely allows you to try this with essentially half the numbers, allowing this to be a encounter viable at low levels.

      Ambushing someone as a dog sounds incredibly good.

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