Leucrotta Tactics

Given a choice between looking at a completely new monster and one from the good ol’ days, I have a strong tendency to gravitate toward the latter, and when I wrote up a list of creatures from Volo’s Guide to Monsters and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes that I haven’t examined yet, one name jumped out at me: the leucrotta, which appeared in the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual along with a much handsomer illustration than it’s given in Volo’s—but not nearly as hilarious a description. (Volo’s: “A leucrotta is what you would get if you took the head of a giant badger, the brain of a person who likes to torture and eat people, the legs of a deer, and the body of a large hyena, put them together, and reanimated them with demon ichor without bothering to cover up the stink of death.”)

I don’t recall leucrottas’ being associated closely with gnolls in the earliest days of the game, but in fifth-edition D&D, the connection is explicit: they’re another creation of the demon lord Yeenoghu. They’re smarter than the average gnoll and even smarter than gnoll pack lords, though not quite up to the level of a gnoll Fang of Yeenoghu. But they’re also less social, associating with gnolls mainly out of convenience and treating them as pawns when they do.

Leucrottas are large, fast, strong and tough—brutes, but unusually swift ones. They’re predators, but they lack proficiency in Stealth, which necessitates some creativity in their hunting pattern. How does a predator capture prey when it’s not good at hiding?

Well, let’s look at what the leucrotta is good at. Moving fast—its base speed is 50 feet per turn. Hunting in the dark—it has your basic 60 feet of darkvision. Melee attacking—it has Multiattack, and its Bite attack deals three dice of damage on a critical hit rather than two. Keen Smell—it doesn’t need to see you, or hear you, to know where you are. Rampage—like gnolls and their ilk, it gets bonus movement and another attack when it takes an enemy down. And Mimicry—it can imitate other creatures, including humanoids, with uncanny accuracy.

The solution I’ve come up with is very particular, but I think it works out. The central problem is that while the leucrotta can lure victims to it by imitating the sounds of an animal or person in distress, as soon as a victim got anywhere close to the leucrotta, they would immediately see the monster for what it was and hightail it. So how does the leucrotta avoid being spotted without proficiency in Stealth? It operates only in the dark of night, for one thing—but that only keeps it from being spotted by creatures without darkvision. What about creatures with darkvision, or with light sources? How does it get the jump on those? By exploiting another condition of heavy obscurity: fog. A foggy night is a leucrotta night.

Stealth and Perception are tricky, enough so that I devote a whole section to it in the revised edition of Live to Tell the Tale. The basics: If you win a contest between your Dexterity (Stealth) and an opponent’s Wisdom (Perception), you are “hidden,” i.e., both unseen and unheard, and your opponent doesn’t know where you are; it may not even know you’re there. Any break in line of sight—either a physical obstacle or an intervening zone of heavy obscurity—makes you unseen, which imposes disadvantage on attack rolls against you, but it doesn’t make you unheard. Thus, a foe listening carefully can pinpoint your location and aim at an attack at you, albeit with disadvantage. Darkness heavily obscures an area for creatures with normal vision, but for creatures with darkvision, it only makes it a little harder to see (disadvantage on sight-based Perception checks). Passive Wisdom (Perception) is on all the time and applies to all senses, so while you may have disadvantage on a passive check to see an enemy and fail, you may still be able to hear that enemy normally.

This combination of rules is what the leucrotta exploits. By hunting in fog, it ensures that even targets with darkvision will be unable to see it for what it is—and while they can hear it, thanks to Mimicry, what they think they’re hearing isn’t what they’re hearing at all. Plus, even if a target is hidden—unseen and unheard—the leucrotta can still locate them by following its nose, and it has advantage on that check, meaning that its olfactory passive Perception is 18. Yes, heavy obscurity effectively imposes the blinded condition on the leucrotta—but it effectively imposes it on everybody, and while a blinded attacker has disadvantage on attack rolls, attacks against a blinded target have advantage, and this advantage and disadvantage cancel each other out. Thus, the leucrotta is nearly guaranteed the ability to attack with surprise in the first round of combat, charging when it scents prey within 50 feet of it.

Kicking Retreat is the odd trait out in the leucrotta’s stat block. It seems not to be of much use for a creature whose ability contour clearly marks it as a brute attacker that wants to stay engaged in melee—and there’s never any need to Disengage in pea-soup fog, because you have to be able to see a foe to make an opportunity attack against it. This trait only comes into play if the fog is dispersed (say, by gust of wind) or if for some reason a leucrotta is hunting on a non-foggy night. (Maybe it’s found some convenient ruins with lots of fragments of ancient construction to block victims’ view.) Since it’s faster than almost anything that might fight back against it, it can begin its turn with a Multiattack, then use Kicking Retreat to Disengage as a bonus action and trot 40 or 50 feet away, returning on its next turn to brutalize its target some more. If you subscribe to the idea that leucrottas like to toy with their prey (I don’t, personally), Kicking Retreat also works for this purpose.

Predators are often dissuaded by prey that fights back and retreat after taking only moderate damage, but the leucrotta is described as being more bloodthirsty than most of its peers. It cares about self-preservation, but it won’t run away until it’s seriously wounded (reduced to 26 hp or fewer), and it uses Kicking Retreat to Disengage when it does so.

Next: cranium rats.

7 thoughts on “Leucrotta Tactics

  1. I’ve been looking forward to this one for awhile (cranium rats too, actually, so excited to see those are coming up). Wanted to use leucrottas in a “monster hunt” side-quest–my thought was to have them use terrain. “convenient ruins” would work but I’m thinking more ravine-ridden badlands where the leucrotta can vanish into a hidden canyon or grotto and where echoes can obscure the direction of attack (and mimicry). I never thought of using fog; that’ll definitely make it more interesting (and it’s appropriate for the area where this adventure happens to boot).

    The way I interpret kicking retreat is something like this: leucrotta charges in and attacks the weakest-looking target on the first turn, hopefully one-shotting it and getting in a rampage, then on the next turn it attacks again, rampaging if possible and otherwise using kicking retreat and running off 35-40 feet. If its prey comes after it, it tries to single out a creature–maybe somebody who foolishly charged after it, or maybe one of the soft people left behind (it’s fast enough to run circles around most pcs, and fog or terrain can give it cover against ranged attackers). If the party runs or if it can’t single anyone out it stays out of sight, mocking them from afar with the voices of its victims and other creepy stuff, hoping to get one of them to panic and run or lose their cool and attack.

  2. I think the leucrotta makes more sense when its paired with a complete pack of gnolls. A leucrotta on its own would probably have a hard time taking on a full party. But put one in with a pack lord, a couole witherlings, and a handful of regular plain ol hyenas, and they can make for an odd bedfellow for the present gnolls the party has to contend with. The leucrotta can move in, kick, disengage, and maybe get out of the way.

  3. Darkvision is such a particular feature in D&D. A thing that I’ve been struggling with in terms of DMing is trying to find ways that, between every member of the group, I can surprise them with something, and it’s hard! Someone always has darkvision, so I can’t hide a monster in the dark, or detect good and evil, so I can’t have a fiend disguised as a person or something. Between five moderately savvy players, trying to hide something is tricky.

    the Leucrotta *seems* like it would be a really good spooky monster in a very particular setting — one in which no one had darkvision, and the only light sources were torches or the Light spell (the Leucrotta’s speed, I think not coincidentally, is just farther than the distance that Light or a torch illuminates, so it can lure people towards it, then charge in before it’s revealed). It makes sense that the leucrotta would mostly just hunt things that *didn’t* have darkvision, having learned from experience that orcs or elfs just aren’t worth the trouble.

    The fog is a good idea though, everyone hates fog.

  4. Ooh I like the fog, gonna pair my Leucrotta up with some dust mephits for a vision obscuring desert-y encounter. Thanks for the article, I wonder if a charge ability might go nicely with the kicking retreat? Or you know, a missile attack ?

  5. I deployed a leucrotta to great effect by having it be transported in an enclosed wagon by goblinoid monster smugglers. It imitated the cries of kidnapped children, and my player’s naturally assumed that the goblins were kidnappers. (I made a point of mentioning the stench of the wagon, but I guess that didn’t tip them off.)

    Their release of the leucrotta was followed by a pretty cool chase scene, in which the leucrotta wrought havoc on random cityfolk and the adventurers tried to defeat the monster they’d unknowingly unleashed. A chase lets you use the leucrotta’s speed to great effect, and its kicking retreat.

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