Draconian Tactics

You thought I was salty in “Derro Tactics”? This is where I get really salty. This is where I share one of my most unpopular of unpopular Dungeons & Dragons opinions:

I am not nostalgic for Dragonlance. At. All.

Even as a high schooler, reading the first two Dragonlance trilogies, I recognized that those books were not good books. They were all right. They were beach reading for nerds. That was OK for me then, because I was a nerd who wanted some beach reading. From the very beginning, though, I hated the concept of the kender, which were clearly ersatz halflings free of any even marginally actionable link back to the J.R.R. Tolkien estate, distinguished by the most annoying traits the authors could come up with to assign them. Also, looking back, the depiction of gully dwarves is beyond cringeworthy.

For me, two trilogies were plenty; the story, such as it was, felt complete. I didn’t doubt that more Dragonlance novels had been published, but my jaw dropped recently when Teos “Alphastream” Abadía posted on Twitter that there had been more than 190. (I’ve since counted the titles on the list on Wikipedia and come up with only 189 published novels, plus two more unreleased, but also another 20 short story anthologies, for a total of 209 published works.) No way does the world need that much Dragonlance.

So, naturally, it’s going to be re-released later this year. I guess the fact that readers bought 209 Dragonlance books makes it a hot property.

My general attitude toward the revival of old official campaign settings, with the exception of Eberron, is that I’d much rather see something entirely new. We get a little of that with Ravnica and Theros, although those are technically borrowed from another Wizards of the Coast property, Magic: The Gathering. But all the excited anticipation surrounding Planescape, Dark Sun, Spelljammer? I don’t feel it. And I especially don’t feel it about Dragonlance, which in my opinion has aged like fine milk.

That’s all preface to the fact that this post is about draconians, a monstrous folk native to the Dragonlance setting. In that setting, as you might expect, they’re evil, but in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons, they can be of any alignment, despite also being described as “bipedal monsters born from dragon eggs that have been corrupted or warped by powerful magic.” Five varieties are statted out: the foot soldier, the mage, the infiltrator, the dreadnought and the mastermind. None has an especially high challenge rating, but that’s a good thing, since they’re meant to be encountered in hordes.

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Monsters of the Multiverse: Celestials, Fey, Elementals, Constructs, Oozes and Beasts

Lots of monster types in this batch, but not that many monsters. The overwhelming majority of the mechanical changes in Monsters of the Multiverse went into humanoids and fiends; whether because they were designed and balanced better to begin with or because they just aren’t encountered as often, other monster types got away pretty clean.

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Valenar Animal Tactics

The Valenar hawk, Valenar hound and Valenar steed are presented as archetypal examples of a more general class of creatures: fey animals, inhabited by the spirits of long-dead elven druids, which bond to humanoids (usually elves themselves, but not always) as companions. This bond is distinct from, and potentially in addition to, that of the Beast Master ranger’s companion animal; it allows telepathic communication over a distance of up to 100 feet. With a little reverse engineering, you can make a Valenar animal out of any beast stat block by applying the following template (approximate, since the changes aren’t as consistent as those of, say, nonhumanoid skeletons):

  • Add a total of 21 points to the beast’s ability scores, bringing its Intelligence to 9 or greater, its Wisdom to 15 or greater and its Charisma to 11 or greater.
  • Add proficiency in Perception and increase its passive Perception accordingly.
  • Allow it to understand Common, Elvish and Sylvan.
  • Add the Bonding trait, whose wording is identical across all three of the archetypal Valenar animals.
  • Recalculate the attack bonus, damage and saving throw DCs of its existing attack(s) based on its new ability scores.

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Dolgaunt and Dolgrim Tactics

Sincere apologies to everyone for disappearing for the entire month of October. I have a good excuse: I was spending what little free time I had working furiously on finishing my next book, which will include some entities that certain readers have been awaiting for a long, long time.

Today, I return to Eberron with a couple of quasi-humanoid aberrations, the dolgrim and the dolgaunt, both of them species that originated as goblinoid races warped by evil magic.

Dolgrims look like the result of a transporter malfunction, each one the fusing of two goblin individuals into one horrible entity with four arms, two mouths and two dissociated personalities. Unlike ordinary goblins, dolgrims are shock attackers, with high Strength along with high Dexterity and merely above-average Constitution. They also have less Intelligence than the average goblin, no doubt the result of the clashing noise in their heads. However, their split personalities do confer one advantage: advantage on saving throws against certain mind-affecting debilitating conditions.

Because their Strength and Dex are roughly equal—the base scores differ, with Strength slightly higher, but the modifiers are the same—they can flex between attacking at range and in melee. But that higher Strength gives them a slight preference for melee, so they have a simple approach to combat: Regardless of what range they begin at, they charge, shooting with their crossbows as they run, throwing spears when they come within 60 feet and finally switching to their morningstars upon arrival.

Their Multiattack gives them three attacks per turn, but this doesn’t supersede the loading property of the hand crossbow: “You can fire [sic] only one piece of ammunition from it when you use an action, bonus action, or reaction to fire it, regardless of the number of attacks you can normally make.” [Linguistic nitpick: You don’t “fire” weapons that don’t use gunpowder. You “shoot” or “loose” their ammunition.] Thus, as long as they’re attacking with Hand Crossbow, they can shoot only once per turn. There’s no range at which it makes sense to shoot once rather than throw three spears, not even between 20 and 30 feet (unless the target has AC 19 or greater, and that’s not an assessment dolgrims are equipped to make). Continue reading “Dolgaunt and Dolgrim 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”