Tlincalli Tactics

The tlincalli (the name appears to be completely invented, not based in myth, but it looks Nahuatl to me, so I’m going to pronounce it tlhin-ky-yeenope! That’s a Spanish pronunciation. As reader Victor R. points out, in Nahuatl, each l is pronounced as a separate l, so it’s tlhin-KAHL-lee) is a centaur-like monstrosity with a humanoid torso topping a scorpioid body. Based on the illustration in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, its face is pretty awful as well, although details are hard to make out.

With very high Strength and Constitution and merely above-average Dexterity, tlincallis are brutes, unafraid of direct melee confrontation. Their Intelligence is below humanoid average, though not animal-level, while their Wisdom is above average, allowing them to pick out promising prey—the old, the young, the weak, the isolated and the oblivious—as well as to realize when a particularly dangerous opponent needs to be taken out.

The combination of proficiency in Perception and Stealth is indicative of an ambush attacker; proficiency in Survival adds the ability to track, which is consistent with the flavor text’s characterization of them as nomadic hunters. Tlincallis hot on the trail of desirable prey will pursue it aggressively until either they bag it or it fights back forcefully enough to deter them.

Continue reading Tlincalli Tactics

Shadow Mastiff Tactics

Shadow mastiffs are a nasty quasi-canine predators from the Shadowfell, valued as watchbeasts and hunting companions by the kinds of entities that would rather employ a monster for such purposes than pick up a nice puppy from the pound. Packs of them sometimes slip across the boundary between the Shadowfell and the material plane, roving and hunting for the joy of it.

With very high Strength and high Dexterity, shadow mastiffs are ambush attackers without the patience for a drawn-out fight. If they can’t take down their chosen target in two or three rounds of combat, there’s a good chance that they’ll give up and search for easier prey, and attacking from hiding is essential to their hunting pattern—they may not start a fight at all if they can’t gain surprise on the first round.

Five of their features—Shadow Blend, Sunlight Weakness, Keen Hearing and Smell, darkvision, and resistance to physical damage from normal weapons while in dim light or darkness—create such an overwhelming incentive for shadow mastiffs to stay out of sunlight and other areas of bright light that their entire hunting strategy revolves around exploiting the gloom of night. And since their Intelligence isn’t high enough for them to adapt to changing circumstances, lighting a torch or lantern or casting an illumination spell is an effective way for a target who survives their initial assault to get them to abandon their attack. Continue reading Shadow Mastiff Tactics

Sea Spawn Tactics

Sea spawn are humanoids who once lived normal lives but in one way or another have been “lost to the sea”—either by violating some maritime taboo or by falling under the sway of some powerful underwater denizen. Because they can survive out of the water for no more than a day, their transformation dooms them to live the remainder of their lives beneath the waves.

With an ability contour that peaks in Strength and Constitution, sea spawn are straightforward, and fairly uncomplicated, melee fighters. However, since their Piscine Anatomy allows three variations, you can enliven a sea spawn encounter by throwing a mix of types at your player characters.

Sea spawn have 30 feet of swimming movement vs. 20 feet of normal land movement, a strong incentive for them to fight in water (where they can move twice as fast as a typical humanoid foe) rather than out of it (where they’re 33 percent slower). Similarly, their 120 feet of darkvision is a strong incentive for them to attack only at night or in water so deep that sunlight doesn’t penetrate. Continue reading Sea Spawn Tactics

Pigeon Tactics

If you live in a major North American city (except, weirdly, Milwaukee), you’ve undoubtedly encountered pigeons on an almost daily basis. Like squirrels, they enjoy a commensal relationship with humans, benefiting greatly from our effect on the ecosystem without significantly helping us or harming us in any way. And you know they’re generally quite chill, unless your toddler runs directly at them, as toddlers invariably do.

The standard pigeon in fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons is no different. A small, unthreatening thing, it’s disinclined to fight at all and relies heavily on its Hypervigilant Flight reaction, which allows it to move up to half its speed as a reaction—without provoking an opportunity attack—if another creature moves within 5 feet of it. Pigeons are prey creatures, not predators, and the only way you’re likely to suffer a Beak attack from one is if you somehow manage to grab it.

A swarm of pigeons behaves similarly to a single pigeon, but not exactly the same. It still spooks easily, and it rarely attacks, preferring simply to use Hypervigilant Flight to retreat to a safe distance and, if pursued, to Dash to a safe perch out of reach. However, sometimes a swarm of pigeons chooses an empty, elevated location to roost in, such as an upper floor of an abandoned building. Particularly if this roost is home to eggs or squabs, a swarm of pigeons may become aggressive toward anyone who intrudes.

The first action it generally takes against a trespasser is Evacuate, more as a scare response than a calculated attempt to debilitate. If the target subsequently moves, so does the swarm, using Hypervigilant Flight. However, if the target doesn’t leave, the swarm then swoops back down and attacks with its Beaks. It continues to attack until the intruder is driven off or the swarm is reduced to 10 hp or fewer.

The giant pigeon is another matter, because unlike its Tiny cousins, it doesn’t scare. Cheeky and undauntable in its pursuit of food, it disregards other creatures as long as they leave it alone. Even snatching food away from it doesn’t provoke it to fight; it simply continues to try to get the food back, with greater determination. (You can use the Disarm action, from “Action Options” in chapter 9 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, to represent the giant pigeon’s attempts to snatch food back from a character who’s holding it.) If and when one does actual harm to it, however, it fights back, doing its best to drive the aggressor away. Continue reading Pigeon Tactics

Draegloth Tactics

The draegloth is part demon, part drow, sent by high priestesses to wreck face in their houses’ names. Strong and tough, it possesses some spellcasting ability, but that’s mostly peripheral to its vicious physical combat ability.

Brutes with extraordinary Strength, exceptional Constitution, and above-average but not otherwise remarkable Intelligence, draegloths are melee machines. With proficiency in Perception and Stealth, they possess decent ambush capability, but their real strength is their ability to engage enemies and keep fighting until the job is done. They’re resistant to cold, fire and lightning, giving them extra staying power against unimaginative enemy spellcasters who reflexively resort to these damage vectors first.

As the flavor text acknowledges, “Most are too impatient to bother with complicated tactics”; even if they had more patience, they lack the features and traits that would invite the use of more sophisticated techniques. But one aspect of their Innate Spellcasting caught my attention. Continue reading Draegloth Tactics

Yeth Hound Tactics

The yeth hound originates in Devonian myth as the local spin on the “black dog” motif prevalent across British and Northern European folklore as a harbinger of doooooom. In fifth-edition D&D, they’re evil fey predators that hunt at night, their howls echoing through the darkness.

To run a yeth hound, you’re going to need to familiarize yourself with the chase rules in chapter 8 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, because they’re a major component of how this creature hunts, as indicated by the first paragraph of flavor text in Volo’s Guide to Monsters: “Yeth hounds fly in pursuit of their prey, often waiting until it is too exhausted to fight back.”

But first, the usual breakdown. Yeth hounds have a ferocious ability contour: exceptional Strength, very high Dexterity and Constitution, making them both brutes and shock attackers. Their goal is to make the first hit count, but if that’s not enough to slay their prey, they’re tough enough to stick around and finish the job. Their Intelligence is lower than that of an ape, but higher than that of an ordinary dog; they can understand speech but can’t speak. They’re immune to physical damage from nonmagical, nonsilvered weapons, and they can’t be charmed, exhausted or frightened. Continue reading Yeth Hound Tactics

Slithering Tracker Tactics

Time for another oldie but goodie: the slithering tracker, one of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual’s original oozes. Mind you, back then, “ooze” wasn’t a monster category; certain monsters simply happened to be oozy by nature. Also, it was smaller: only 2½ feet long. (It’s Medium-size now.)

A curious thing about the slithering tracker is that its lore has also been changed: it’s no longer a mere denizen of the underdark but the product of a nasty magical transformation, the sort that usually produces something undead, and rather than simply hunt prey to consume, it actively seeks vengeance. However, unlike, say, a revenant, once a slithering tracker sucks the life out of its target, it doesn’t consider its mission fulfilled. Instead, it keeps compulsively sucking life from whatever other beings it can suck life from until it’s put out of its misery.

For this reason, you can’t treat a slithering tracker like any other ooze. It’s much more akin to the undead, in the sense that it’s driven by a compulsion that it can’t control and that overrides its survival instinct, despite its high Wisdom. Continue reading Slithering Tracker Tactics

Cranium Rat Tactics

Cranium rats are minions of mind flayers, created “by bombarding normal rats with psionic energy” (and also, it seems from the illustration, delicately removing the top layers of their scalp and skull). Mind flayer colonies use them as forward observers; although the range of their telepathy is short (only 30 feet), the 120-foot telepathic range of a mind flayer extends their link to a more practical distance, and the 5-mile range of an elder brain increases their effectiveness by several orders of magnitude.

A lone cranium rat can’t do much. It’s extremely weak, with only 2 hp and 30 feet of darkvision. Its Bite attack is inconsequential. It can cause its brain to glow, emitting eerie dim light to a range of 5 feet, but that’s not very useful. If its range were 30 feet, it could combine this illumination with its darkvision to eliminate its Perception penalty within that radius. Since its passive Perception is only 10, that would be fairly useful. At only 5 feet, though, all a single cranium rat can do with this glow is give itself away.

However, a cranium rat that’s actively spying for a mind flayer colony might be ordered to use Illumination because a mind flayer or elder brain wanted to get a good, clear look at someone or something that the cranium rat had approached in the dark. In this scenario, the cranium rat is effectively doomed to die, providing a brief moment of extreme creepiness before it succumbs to an opportunity attack. If that attack should somehow miss, the cranium rat snuffs its light and Dashes away, hopefully to safety. Continue reading Cranium Rat Tactics

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? Continue reading Leucrotta Tactics

NPC Tactics: Scouts and Spies

OK, here’s a quickie post in response to a reader who pointed out that I haven’t yet taken a look at two non-player characters from the Monster Manual: the scout and the spy.

Scouts are spotters and lookouts. With proficiency in Perception and Stealth, they could be effective ambush attackers, but that’s not their job. Their job is to gather information and return with it; combat is an undesirable complication. Consequently, if they attack at all, they prefer strongly to do so at range.

Eighty percent of the humanoids they encounter will have a speed of 30 feet. Of the remainder, most will have a speed of either 25 or 35 feet. Therefore, they don’t position themselves any closer than 75 feet to their targets unless they absolutely have to, and if they have a good view, they’re content to stay as far as 150 feet away. They can attack at these distances without disadvantage, but they’re not assassins. They attack only in self-defense.

Whether they do even this much depends on the speed of any foe who sees and pursues them. If the subjects of their reconnaissance have a speed of 30 feet or slower, they take potshots (Multiattack, Longbow × 2) at pursuers who are still more than 75 feet away at the start of the scouts’ turn. If the pursuers are closer or faster, scouts Dash away. If more than one opponent manages to get within melee reach, or if they can’t afford to take even a single hit, they Disengage—they have the training to do so.

Scouts only drop their bows and draw their swords when they’re surrounded, with no avenue of escape. If they have no reason to think they’ll be killed if they’re captured, they may choose to surrender rather than fight. Continue reading NPC Tactics: Scouts and Spies