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: Continue reading Steel Predator Tactics

Cadaver Collector Tactics

Cadaver collectors are like monstrous Roombas that scour the endless battlefields of Acheron, scooping up corpses and recycling the souls that formerly inhabited them into specters, which are then bound to fight for the cadaver collectors’ masters. Although native to that outer plane, they can be summoned to other planes as well, including the prime material—and if the summoner dies or loses control of them, they just keep on Roomba-ing around, turning living beings into cadavers if there aren’t already cadavers handy.

With Intelligence 5, they’re mechanistic juggernauts that never vary their method. What is their method? Well, they’re brutes, with extraordinary Strength and Constitution, so whoever, whatever and wherever their targets may be, they march straight at them. They have no independent judgment and lack the Wisdom to discriminate among targets, but they have a function, and a good machine completes its function with maximum efficiency, so they tend to head toward concentrations of bodies, whether those bodies be alive or dead. When they’re close enough to three targets to engulf them all in a 30-foot cone of Paralyzing Breath, that’s what they do (as long as this recharge ability isn’t on cooldown). And when they come within melee reach of a paralyzed target—or when cheeky opponents with magic or adamantine weapons run up and impertinently attack them—they employ their dual Slam Multiattack (rolling with advantage if the target is paralyzed, with every hit a crit).

What if they’re attacked by foes with nonmagical, non-adamantine weapons? They ignore it and keep juggernauting toward the nearest knot of humanoid organic mass. These attacks can’t hurt them and have no relevance to their mission. Woe betide the third opponent to get in on the action, though: at that point, the cadaver collector’s density-detecting algorithm kicks in, and all it has to do is take a couple of steps back—heedless of opportunity attacks—to nail all three with Paralyzing Breath. Continue reading Cadaver Collector Tactics

Clockwork Tactics

The clockwork constructs in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes are a collection of machines used by rock gnomes to defend their turf. Combining trickery with extraordinary durability and disproportionate damage-dealing capacity, they share a range of condition and damage immunities along with darkvision and the ability to understand their controllers’ commands—but also a rigidity in their behavior that can only be compensated for by active, real-time control. If they’re sent off to do their work on their own, they do it mechanistically, with no adaptation to what’s going on around them.

First up is the bronze scout, which isn’t particularly strong, but it doesn’t need to be, because it’s basically a self-guided mobile land mine. The key things to note are its burrowing movement, its double proficiency in Stealth, its Earth Armor trait, its Lightning Flare action, and one more trait that’s mentioned in the flavor text but unpardonably omitted from its stat block: “telescoping eyestalks” that let it see aboveground while it burrows below. These eyestalks are crucial, because the bronze scout lacks tremorsense or any other listed way to detect the presence of creatures above it.

This combination of features makes the bronze scout the ideal ambush initiator: Using Stealth to muffle its approach, it scuttles along the ground until it sees movement, then tunnels into the earth and heads toward it. Once it’s approximately in position, it pokes its eyestalks up and looks around, checking to see if its position is correct—that is, if at least three enemies are within 15 feet of it (see “Targets in Area of Effect,” Dungeon Master’s Guide, chapter 8). If it’s not, it retracts its eyestalks and repositions. If it is, it sets off its Lightning Flare, whereupon its waiting allies launch their attack. Since it’s immune to physical damage from nonmagical, non-adamantine weapons, it can take a hell of a beating, Biting back at whatever attacks it. But if it’s seriously damaged (reduced to 7 hp or fewer), it dives back underground, provoking no opportunity attack thanks to Earth Armor, and scuttles away.

The bronze scout doesn’t have to be used in this way, though. It can be used, as its name suggests, simply as a scout, which doesn’t attack at all unless it’s discovered. In this instance, the bronze scout Readies the Lightning Flare action, with the triggering condition “when any creature winds up to make a melee attack against it.” Including the wind-up in the trigger condition is key, because it’s a perceivable circumstance allows the bronze scout to use Lightning Flare as an interrupt, occurring before the opponent follows through with the attack, whereas if the condition were “when any creature makes a melee attack,” the reaction would have to wait until after the attack either hit or missed. Continue reading Clockwork Tactics

Marut Tactics

Maruts are interplanar marshals that monitor and enforce compliance with mystically signed contracts. And by “enforce compliance,” I mean, of course, delivering beatdowns to whoever breaches them. Unlike most constructs, maruts are highly intelligent and able to exercise considerable individual discretion in carrying out their tasks; the tasks themselves, however, are rigidly determined. Maruts don’t care whether you’ve honored or violated the spirit of a contract, only the letter of it.

As lawful neutral creatures, maruts are indifferent toward other beings by default. If you’re helping them in their duties, they’ll be friendly, in a robotic sort of way. If you’re hindering them, they’ll clear the blockage. Once you no longer pose any hindrance, however, they’ll be on their way. If you’re not the party they’re out to punish, they’ll only attack to subdue.

Maruts are spectacularly tough, with more than 400 hp, an armor class of 22, and extraordinary Strength and Constitution. Their Intelligence and Charisma are also exceptional, and their Wisdom is high; they have expertise in Insight, Intimidation and Perception. They’re brutes, but they’re brilliant brutes: they can see through most lies and know other creatures’ abilities and weaknesses as if reading them off their character sheets or stat blocks. Unfortunately for them, while they’re capable of great tactical flexibility, they don’t really have the features they need to make full use of it. Continue reading Marut Tactics

Elemental Myrmidon Tactics

Elemental myrmidons are categorized as elementals, but they also have something of the construct about them, since their essences are summoned into suits of plate armor and armed with weapons of indisputable solidity, and since they follow their summoners’ commands without free will.

More intelligent than ordinary elementals—and far more intelligent than elder elementals—elemental myrmidons have sufficient cognitive candlepower to understand and respond to what’s going on in a battle, if not to assess opponents’ weaknesses or devise clever plans. Each has one outstanding physical attribute: Dexterity in the case of the fire elemental myrmidon, Strength in the other three. Their Wisdom and Charisma are average.

Elemental myrmidons all wear plate armor and have resistance to physical damage from nonmagical attacks. They’re immune to poison damage and can’t be paralyzed, petrified, poisoned or proned. Their weapon attacks are magical, they have darkvision (as with the elder elementals, I construe this as indicating more an indifference to lighting conditions than an actual preference for dim light or darkness), and each of them has a single potent, slow-to-recharge special melee attack in addition to a melee Multiattack.

None of the four types of elemental myrmidon has a ranged attack. Even if they’re not brutes per se—and except for the earth elemental myrmidon, none of them is—they’re equipped only for melee combat, so the only tactical decisions for them to make are whom to target and when to use their special attacks. Continue reading Elemental Myrmidon Tactics

Modron Tactics

I was a huge math nerd as a kid. I think I must have been just 5 or 6 years old when I first got my hands on Flatland, and I drank it up like a parched man in a hot desert (having no idea until many years later that it was an allegory for classism and sexism in Victorian England), and the discovery of a quasi-sequel called Sphereland (sadly, not in print right now) delighted me even further.

So maybe you’d expect me to be more into modrons than I am. But when a reader recently told me he planned to run a campaign in Mechanus, the plane of pure law, and thought he wasn’t doing the modrons justice, I had to confess: I hate them. I have a great appreciation for silliness, but modrons have always struck me as just too silly, like whoever came up with the idea of Mechanus envisioned it as something out of The Phantom Tollbooth or Donald in Mathmagic Land.

Modrons are constructs, automata with vaguely mathematically inspired bodies and weirdly humanoid faces (with, in the illustrations of the fifth-edition Monster Manual, disturbingly full lips). The more advanced the modron, the more it can multitask, and the more authority it has over other modrons. All modrons possess natural armor, above-average Dexterity, 120 feet of truesight, and the features Axiomatic Mind and Disintegration.

One of the many peculiarities of modrons is that they’re denizens of an outer plane, yet their challenge ratings top out at 2. How many low-level adventurers are going to travel to Mechanus? I wonder whether these creatures must exist at least primarily for the sake of background decoration. They’re not going to pose a challenge to the player characters who encounter them except in great numbers—legions. Continue reading Modron Tactics

Construct Tactics: Scarecrows, Helmed Horrors and Shield Guardians

Time for more things that will kill you even though they have no business moving around at all. The scarecrow and the helmed horror are much more capable of operating independently than animated objects; the shield guardian, on the other hand, is little more than an anthropomorphic drone. Continue reading Construct Tactics: Scarecrows, Helmed Horrors and Shield Guardians

Animated Object Tactics

So far, I’ve largely neglected constructs, except for my post the other day on golems. Constructs are different from other monsters, because they’re explicitly not evolved creatures—they’re magical creations, usually from inanimate objects. This means they can behave in whatever manner their creators want them to. (Within limits.)

But if you were creating an animated object, you’d still want it to function in the most effective manner it can, given the traits you’ve imbued it with, wouldn’t you? So I’ll examine these constructs as if they were evolved creatures after all. Continue reading Animated Object Tactics

Golem Tactics

OK, I’m back. Let’s talk golems—living statues, animated through magic. (Specifically, according to legend, by hacking the divine power by which life was created; according to the Monster Manual, by summoning an animating spirit from the Elemental Plane of Earth.) Golems are fashioned to be servants, with great strength, limited intellect and no free will. A golem severed from the command of its creator may be either inert and harmless (if it could fulfill its last command) or dangerously berserk (if it couldn’t).

There are four types of golems in fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons: clay, stone, iron and flesh. One of these things is not like the others. The flesh golem is, for all intents and purposes, Frankenstein’s monster, and of all the types of golems, it has the most unfit vessel for its life force and the most existential angst. The clay golem, on the other hand, is the direct conceptual descendant of the Golem of Prague, and the stone and iron golems are stronger variations on this theme.

All golems are straightforward brutes, with exceptional (and in most cases extraordinary) Strength and Constitution and below-average Dexterity. If anything, they’re even more brutish than the average brute, because of their immunities to normal weapons and to many debilitating conditions (they can be incapacitated, knocked prone, restrained or stunned, but not charmed, frightened, paralyzed, petrified or poisoned). Any variation in behavior is going to come from their special features, so I’m going to focus largely on these. Continue reading Golem Tactics