Steel Predator Tactics

Manufactured by a rogue modron exiled from Mechanus, the steel predator is a construct custom-built for a customer who wants someone dead badly enough to send a CR 16 killbot after it.

I recently discussed the steel predator with Mike “Sly Flourish” Shea on the Don’t Split the Podcast Network’s DM’s Deep Dive stream. The analysis begins at 16:55 in the Twitch VOD (YouTube video to come embedded below!), but for readers who don’t have time to watch videos or who want easily skimmed text to refer back to, here it is in a nutshell:

  • Steel predators are brute melee fighters designed with a specific purpose—to kill a single designated target—and they pursue this target relentlessly, ignoring other creatures unless they get in its way.
  • They use plane shift to travel back and forth between their home base (wherever that is) and the plane on which their target resides. For localized, precise teleportation, they use dimension door, which they can cast three times per day. But their Intelligence is very low, so their ability to use this spell effectively is limited to a very small number of situations: pursuing their targets through barriers or up or down in space, or catching up with targets that are outrunning them, for instance.
  • Being proficient in both Perception and Stealth, they’re ambush predators, always trying to gain surprise and make their first attack without being seen. Proficiency in Stealth Survival allows them to track targets that are actively trying to elude them.
  • Their most distinctive feature, and the one around which their tactics revolve, is Stunning Roar, which recharges on a roll of 5 or 6. A 60-foot, cone-shaped shock wave, Stunning Roar not only deals thunder damage but stuns targets and makes them drop everything they’re holding on failed saving throws. Based on the size and shape of the area of effect, per Targets in Area of Effect (Dungeon Master’s Guide, chapter 8), a steel predator wants to aim it at six or more foes if possible—or at all of its opponents, if they number fewer than six—including its designated target. The goal here is twofold: to debilitate the target and to keep bystanders from coming to their rescue.
  • If the designated target is stunned, the steel predator immediately homes in and Multiattacks. If not, it uses Stunning Roar again if it’s recharged (repositioning first to target not just the designated target but anyone else who’s still moving), Multiattack if it isn’t. Its mission is to kill, not just knock out, so it continues to attack the designated target even after it’s reduced to 0 hp. When its work is done, it plane shifts away.
  • The steel predator mostly disregards any other opponents who may attack it. The exception is if they’re somehow preventing it from reaching its designated target. This isn’t simply a matter of interposing themselves: they must literally prevent the steel predator from reaching its target. With AC 20 and immunity to physical damage from nonmagical weapon attacks, it shrugs off opportunity strikes. On the other hand, if you were looking for an opportunity to give a player buyer’s remorse about having chosen the Sentinel feat for their character, here it is. That PC’s getting the deluxe treatment.
  • Usually, a recharge ability is so good that a monster will employ it whenever it’s not on cooldown. Stunning Roar is a partial exception. It always uses it when it’s available and its designated target is un-stunned. But what about when the designated target is stunned, but an interloper character isn’t? That depends entirely on the extent to which the steel predator cares about the interloper. A defending character with a weapon that can’t harm the steel predator at all, or can’t do so meaningfully, isn’t worth Stunning Roar all by themself; Multiattack is enough for them, even if Stunning Roar has recharged. However, if the defender is wielding a +2 or +3 weapon, or a magic weapon that deals acid, fire, force or radiant damage—and, again, we’re talking a defender that’s successfully keeping the steel predator from its designated target—that’s worth a Stunning Roar to shut down, from an angle that also gives the designated target another dose of it and includes any other opponent who’s still moving around.
  • Aside from knowing when to cast dimension door and where to position themselves to affect enough targets with Stunning Roar, steel predators lack the Intelligence to alter their tactics or adapt to a changing situation. They attack their designated targets, they attack anyone with the power to get in their way, and that’s it. As constructs, they don’t exercise independent judgment, they don’t parley, and they fight until the job is done or they’re destroyed.

Other highlights from the stream:

  • 11:08: I’m a “real roleplayer”!
  • 12:21: Three tips for every Dungeon Master
  • 52:03: Looking for tactical combinations in stat blocks
  • 56:10: Using tactics to tell the story
  • 58:49: Why good tactics are necessary for encounter balance
  • 1:02:41: DMing as “New Frisbee”
  • 1:04:40: Taking your players’ side
  • 1:12:52: Mixing monsters (references Goblinoids Revisted)

Next: How do you run a monster that’s smarter than you are?

9 thoughts on “Steel Predator Tactics

  1. “Proficiency in Stealth allows them to track targets that are actively trying to elude them.” – Stealth should be Survival, I think?

  2. I think it’s worth noting that Stunning Roar stuns the target even on a successful save, only the follow-up saves allow them to end the stun effect.

      1. My initial reading of the ability was hasty and that’s probably the correct interpretation; but typically when a monster has an ability that inflicts damage and a condition on a failed save and half damage on a successful save (e.g. the Ogre Chain Brute and the Venom Troll) it is stated explicitly that the condition is not applied on a successful save, language that is missing in the Steel Predator’s stat block

        1. I don’t think that is typical. I think the expectation in 5E is that rules and stat blocks should always be read absolutely literally. If it doesn’t say something happens on a successful save, that thing doesn’t happen on a successful save.

  3. You mentioned that the Steel Predator doesn’t have the wits to choose to attack at night, and that’s true, but it’s not necessarily true of its master. If the target is known to be in a static position, say city X, and has no reason to leave there, then the Steel Predator will probably be sent in at sundown to search for the target in city X, to get the job done in the dark if possible. If the target is mobile or hidden, then yeah, it’s just going to close and maul whenever it finds the target.

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