Shambling Mound Tactics


The shambling mound is an old-school classic: veteran Advanced Dungeons and Dragons players will remember the Monster Manual illustration that looked like a Christmas tree with a carrot for a nose. Viny quasi-zombies of the swamps and rainforests, shambling mounds are brutes that tramp around indiscriminately ingesting whatever organic matter they come across, vegetable or animal. Oh, and also beating people up.

Oddly for such a large, ungainly creature, the shambling mound has proficiency in Stealth, which I have to attribute to its natural camouflage. Being a plant without normal senses, it’s immune to blindness and deafness, along with exhaustion. It has blindsight in a 60-foot radius, is resistant to cold and fire damage (that’s one hardy plant), and not only is immune to lightning but actually absorbs the electrical energy and uses it to regenerate.

According to the Monster Manual flavor text, shambling mounds don’t pursue prey but rather wait for prey to come within reach, but for creatures that must feed all the time—and also have “shambling” in their name—this seems like a dull way to play them. It may not move around much, but why wouldn’t a shambling mound be trudging through the woods when the player characters encounter it? Of course, whether it’s waiting or walking, it does so as stealthily as it can, in order to gain the element of surprise against its prey.

The tactical combination is neatly laid out in the shambling mound’s action features. Its Multiattack lets it make two slam attacks (at a formidable +7 to hit); if both attacks hit, its target is grappled, and it gets to Engulf in the same turn, blinding, restraining and suffocating its target. As long as the target remains grappled, the shambling mound continues to Engulf it—and probably shambles away, since it’s got what it came for, and it can’t both Engulf and Attack in the same turn except as part of that specific Multiattack combo. If the target gets free, the shambling mound repeats its Multiattack against it, or against some other target that happens to be within reach if its original target has run away to a safe distance.

Note that the only sense the shambling mound has to detect the PCs with is its blindsight. Any PC farther than 60 feet from it is effectively invisible to it. If it’s struck by a missile weapon or spell effect from outside this range, it won’t know where it came from, only which side of its “body” hurts. It will use its movement to go in the opposite direction—but if it’s hit from multiple directions, and these send conflicting signals about which way it should go, it will either average them out or simply stop moving altogether. On the other hand, if it’s attacked from within its blindsight range, it will move toward its attackers and try to whomp them. This goes double for anyone attacking it with lightning damage. It likes lightning damage. It will move full speed toward the source, hoping for more, even if that source is beyond its sensory radius.

“If a shambling mound faces defeat before an overwhelming foe, the root-stem can feign death, collapsing the remains of its mound,” the MM flavor text tells us. My standard threshold for serious injury is 40 percent of maximum hit points, which in the shambling mound’s case means it’s been reduced to 54 hp or fewer. (If that sounds like a lot, consider that the PCs will have dealt it at least 82 hp of damage already.)

Next: succubi and incubi.

Related Posts

5 responses to “Shambling Mound Tactics”

  1. Falcon At Avatar
    Falcon At

    I love your site! It’s a big help for my campaign. For my custom setting, I decided to make custom encounter lists of creatures that actually live in the setting. Reading your articles has helped me come up with some good ideas.

    However, I’m trying to set up encounters with mixed units–so rather than just an archer, I have an archer and a guard. The guard keeps people away from the archer, making the fight more interesting.

    I notice your articles rarely considered mixed-unit tactics. I never really thought about it until this article, because the Shambling Mound is just so perfect for team-ups with other monsters.

    It might be found teaming up with a lightning focused Druid, used by the druid to keep pesky PCs off his back. This allows a Monster Manual-style druid to last a little longer and have more of an impact. Thematically, pairing a villainous druid with a Shambling Mound makes perfect sense.

    It could be in the lair of a Blue or Bronze Dragon, holding down players for the dragon’s lightning breath and lair actions while healing the Mound. You’ll notice it has a swim speed. Pair it with a Storm Giant or Kraken, who both have swim speeds and are normally found at sea. Both of these monsters have actions that can heal the Shambling Mound. The Mound itself could be a mass of seaweed animated and tamed by these creatures.

    Or, my favorite is to pair it with a Will-o’-Wisp. While the Mound devours the body, the Wisp devours the soul. The Wisp is smart and forms a mutually beneficial relationship with the Mound–I might have even spawned the mound itself! The Wisp’s only attack deals lightning damage, which it can use to heal the Mound. However, nothing is healing the Wisp, and it’s Consume Life ability is might be a major threat if the Mound downs someone–this makes the Wisp the primary target for the party. The Wisp itself is highly mobile and tanky, with an invisibility power it can use to lay low. If threatened, the Wisp may vanish, making players focus on the Mound instead, only to reappear later.

    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      I don’t know that I agree that the shambling mound is really a team player—it’s not intelligent enough to “team up” with anyone else. At most, a druid (for example) might find a way to use its preexisting, natural food-seeking behavior pattern to his or her advantage.

      But I take your point about mixed-unit tactics. (That side project I talked about working on, actually, got started because I was already thinking about it.) For the most part, the monsters I discuss won’t behave differently when working in tandem with other monsters. What they might do, though, is synergize. Monsters with a higher Intelligence (say, 14 or above) are much more likely to look for advantage-creating combinations of features that they can use to set up allied creatures’ attacks or attacks of their own. Monsters with Intelligence 12 or higher will get the gist and play along, paying attention to timing and the like. Monsters with Intelligence 11 or below, though, will probably just act the way they act; smarter allied monsters may take how they act into account, but they themselves won’t change how they act based on what their allies can do.

    2. Ike Unsell Avatar
      Ike Unsell

      Actually, Shambling mounds team up with black dragons. It’s in the MM flavor text for black dragons, under “Foes and Servants”, I think.

  2. Matthew Vienneau Avatar
    Matthew Vienneau

    Interesting – I hadn’t about whether the Multiattack was still available after an Engulf. I knew it couldn’t Engulf a second person, but was thinking it could still lash out at people.

    Reading it closely, I think I’ll rule that the Multiattack isn’t available if someone is Engulfed, but a single slam attack is still an option. Of course, the Mound may just be disengaging and fleeing.

    A tactic you didn’t mention was the use of water. Mounds can swim and my plan is to have the Mound engulf, and then drag the food underwater.

    Also, it may not be a team player on purpose, but my plan is to combo it with a Will o’ the Wisp that lures creatures to the Mound.

  3. Wandering Avatar

    Synergy also might depend on the size of the shambling mound, and how big a creature has to be before the mound will sense it. It takes a lot of energy to suddenly engulf and digest something. Small and tiny creatures might not be detectable or interesting.

    The mound might be home to a lot of things like insect swarms. Or some small-bodied kobolds might have learned to move softly around it to avoid attack. Those could even have a method to lead the mound where they want it.

    Cue party wondering why they’re bring followed at a distance by kobolds playing drums, or all jumping up and down at the same time…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Support the Author

Spy & Owl Bookshop | Tertulia | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indigo | Kobo | Google Play | Apple Books | | Audible

Praise for The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters

“I’ve always said, the Dungeon Master is the whole world except for his players, and as a result, I spend countless hours prepping for my home group. What Keith gets is that the monsters are the DM’s characters, and his work has been super helpful in adding logic, flavor, and fun in my quest to slaughter my players’ characters and laugh out the window as they cry in their cars afterward.” —Joe Manganiello

“The best movie villains are the ones you fall in love with. Keith’s book grounds villains in specificity, motivation, and tactics—so much so that players will love to hate ’em. This book will enrich your game immeasurably!” —Matthew Lillard

“This book almost instantly made me a better Dungeon Master. If you’re running games, it is a must-have enhancement. I gave copies to the two others in our group who share in the Dungeon Mastering, and both of them came back the next time grinning rather slyly. Keith is a diabolical genius, and I say that with the utmost respect!” —R.A. Salvatore

Find my short works on the Dungeon Masters’ Guild, or just toss a coin to your witcher:


Link to RSS feed


aberrations beasts celestials constructs CR 1 CR 1/2 CR 1/4 CR 1/8 CR 2 CR 3 CR 4 CR 5 CR 6 CR 7 CR 8 CR 9 CR 10 CR 11 CR 12 CR 13 CR 14 CR 15 CR 16 CR 17 CR 18 CR 19 CR 20 CR 21 CR 22 CR 23 dragons drow elementals fey fiends giants humanoids meta monstrosities multiverse NPCs plants shapechangers undead yugoloths