Meazels are, to put it simply, kidnappers. Misanthropic humanoids warped by toxic levels of exposure to the Shadowfell, they skulk through the shadows, throttle their victims with cords, and teleport away with them to some godsforsaken locale where they can murder them free from interference.
With low Strength and low Constitution but very high Dexterity, meazels are not in any way suited to attrition fighting; they want to grab their victims and go. Their high Intelligence and above-average Wisdom mark them as crafty judges of whom they need to jump first. They have proficiency in Perception and Stealth, the classic ambush predator combination, and should always begin combat hidden. Their 120 feet of darkvision suits them to subterranean as well as nocturnal existence.
The core of the meazel’s strategy is the Garrote/Shadow Teleport combination. Meazels have two attack actions, Garrote and Shortsword, which do the same damage on average; however, Shortsword is a straightforward melee weapon attack that just happens to deal some bonus necrotic damage as a rider. Garrote, on the other hand, grapples on a hit and enables the meazel, on a subsequent turn, to Shadow Teleport away along with the grappled victim! For low- to mid-level player characters, this combination is potentially nasty, because the range of Shadow Teleport—500 feet—means the victim of the meazel’s maneuver is cut off from allies who might be able to help them. They’re on their own, possibly still with a strangling cord around their neck.
There are a few wrinkles to this strategy that the Dungeon Master needs to be mindful of. First, while being able to hide in shadow is almost certain to allow a meazel to surprise its victim, the target must be in dim light or darkness as well for the meazel to gain advantage on that first attack. Otherwise, it can’t help but reveal itself as soon as it leaps out of the shadows and into the light. They’re smart enough to know that taking out targets’ light sources would benefit them, but alas, they have no way to do it themselves.
Second, as intelligent shock attackers, meazels want to be sure they can make their initial attacks count. Without advantage, a meazel’s +5 attack bonus means it can be reasonably confident of success only against a target with Armor Class 12 or lower. Meazels really want to have advantage on that first attack roll: it gives them a two-thirds or better chance to hit against ACs all the way up to 17.
Third, their own AC is only 13—not difficult to hit. With 35 hp, they can absorb a couple of hits, but taking more than that would put them at real risk. They need to be smart about which targets they take out first, and this depends a great deal on whether they’re free agents or working for someone else.
“Working for someone else”? The flavor text in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes doesn’t say anything about that, only that the remote spots to which meazels spirit their victims away draw opportunistic scavengers such as undead (ghouls, specters and wraiths seem like particularly likely suspects) and sorrowsworn.
Ah, but the “cursed by shadow” clause of the Shadow Teleport action is irresistibly attractive to a powerful undead or Shadowfellian creature with defensible space to protect—say, Strahd von Zarovich. Are the PCs starting to get under his skin? Have him enlist a gang of meazels to patrol his perimeter, then yoink their victims to designated spots in his castle. For the next hour, if they come anywhere within 300 feet of him, he knows exactly where they are.
Meazels on a mission will be encountered in greater numbers than unaffiliated meazels, and there’s a strong chance that they’ll have some intelligence on the characters they’re sent to waylay. Anytime they’re sent to abduct someone who wears medium or heavy armor, two meazels will go after that character, and one will take the Help action in order to grant advantage to the other on its Garrote attack.
If all you care about is dealing damage, it’s mathematically smarter to make two normal attacks rather than to make one attack with advantage: the chance of failure is equal, but two normal attacks have a chance of hitting twice, while one attack with advantage can never hit more than once. However, the meazels’ top priority isn’t dealing damage—it’s landing one successful Garrote hit and thereby grappling the target. And if the meazels’ target isn’t toting a light source, even better: now they can make two Garrote attacks with advantage if need be.
While Shadow Stealth allows a meazel to take the Hide action in dim light, that’s not going to stop a character with darkvision who’s staring right at it from seeing it clearly, so meazels need to stay in the darkest areas possible in order to avoid being spotted. If they know that one of their targets has darkvision, they’ll go ahead and double-team that target, too, whether they’re armored up or not. In fact, as common as darkvision and ACs from 13 to 17 are, it’s not unlikely that a group of meazels on a mission will consist of enough to double-team all their targets. That’s potentially fatal for a group of low-level PCs, but fortunately, low-level PCs aren’t likely to draw that kind of negative attention. Save the meazel special ops teams for intermediate-level PCs.
Meazels on a mission try to take out the biggest threats first: targets with darkvision, tough-looking warriors (particularly barbarians, who are hard to hurt) and, interestingly, dragonborn. Why dragonborn? Because meazels have below-average Constitution, and dragonborn have breath weapons. I know everyone likes to paint their dragonborn PCs every color of the rainbow, but canonically, dragonborn all have pretty much the same coloration, which means you can’t guess which breath weapon they have just by looking at them. If you have no idea whether the breath weapon you’re up against one that’s resisted with Dexterity or one that’s resisted with Constitution, you have to assume the worst. Also, anyone who deals moderate damage to a meazel (11 damage or greater) in a single round is going to get moved up the threat assessment list and ganged up on.
I haven’t yet discussed targets with AC 18 or greater. These are hard targets for meazels: it’s difficult to get a garrote on them, and even if one succeeds, these bruisers often have proficiency in Athletics and will break a grapple like snapping a rubber band. Against these opponents, the meazels’ strategy is to attack three to one and not even bother attempting to garrote them. This, finally, is where their Shortsword attack comes in (also against slippery types who keep escaping the meazels’ garrotes with good Acrobatics rolls).
Someone like Strahd, who mainly wants to split up his enemies and keep tabs on them, is content to allow the meazels to do their work and then get out of the way. But a less refined enemy—say, a lich, a shadow dragon or a powerful shadar-kai—might command its meazels to drop off their targets in front of other undead or Shadowfellian attackers with higher Challenge Ratings who can hurt those targets in ways a meazel can’t. Or a meazel hit squad might be accompanied by, say, a shadar-kai gloom weaver, which can cast darkness and give its meazel allies free run of the battlefield.
Freelance meazels, which don’t hunt in numbers large enough to overwhelm an entire adventuring party, are more likely to follow the targeting priorities of a predator, going for the easiest prey first—low AC, not too tough-looking, isolated, oblivious—and spiriting all their victims away to separate locations. When they’ve run off with as many targets as they can, they don’t stick around to tangle with whoever’s left. They keep their garrotes around their targets’ necks for as long as possible, then switch to Shortsword attacks if and when their targets get free—or allow other nasties drawn to the spot to finish the job.
A meazel flees when seriously wounded (reduced to 14 hp or fewer). If its Shadow Teleport ability isn’t on cooldown, it uses this action to bamf away; otherwise, it first uses the Disengage action (if necessary to get out of melee), then Hides and finally Dashes.
Next: vampiric mist.