Xvart Tactics

Xvarts are tricky to devise tactics for, because their ability scores, their features and their Volo’s Guide to Monsters flavor text all seem to be at odds with one another. Their ability scores suggest Dexterity-focused sniping and shock attacks. Their Overbearing Pack feature suggests a reliance on shoving opponents prone, presumably to be followed up with melee attacks (both of which depend on Strength). And the flavor text states that they attack primarily to abduct, which implies grappling. There is a solution, but it’s tricky.

Xvarts move at the normal humanoid speed of 30 feet per round. Their Strength is low, and their Constitution merely average, so they’re anti-brutes—averse to melee slugfests. Xvarts will necessarily seek strength in numbers—and allies, specifically giant rats and giant bats. Giant rats make particularly good allies for xvarts, because of their Pack Tactics feature; giant bats, however, are tougher and more challenging. A xvart encounter should include, at a minimum, two xvarts per player character, plus an animal ally for every two xvarts.

Xvarts are neither smart nor wise. They have no ability to adapt if their favored strategy doesn’t work, and they may not be particularly quick to notice that it isn’t working. However, unlike the usual low-Wisdom monster, which waits too long to run away, xvarts are cowardly; if anything, they’ll run away prematurely from encounters that actually favor them. The Low Cunning feature gives them Disengage as a bonus action, but this represents instinctive evasive ability, not discipline. Continue reading Xvart Tactics

Boggle Tactics

Boggles are fey pranksters, called to the material plane by people’s loneliness. You might say they’re the embodiment of the desire to get attention—any kind of attention, including negative. This may remind you of someone you know.

Boggles have low Strength but exceptional Dexterity and above-average Constitution. Their melee attack is feeble, and they lack a ranged attack. Really, they’re incapable of seriously hurting any but the lowest-level adventurer. Therefore, they attack not to kill but simply to harass.

They have proficiency in Perception, Sleight of Hand and Stealth, along with 60 feet of darkvision and advantage on Perception checks that rely on smell, so they won’t operate in broad daylight but rather in twilight, at night and underground. They’re at their best in darkness, where their Uncanny Smell makes up for the penalty on seeing targets in dim light. They’re resistant to fire, which has no meaningful bearing on their tactics. Continue reading Boggle Tactics

Slaad Tactics

Slaadi are beings of pure chaos, native to the outer plane of Limbo, vaguely resembling humanoid salamanders. There’s no good reason for them to be hanging out on the prime material plane, but being beings of pure chaos, they don’t need a good reason to be doing anything.

Slaadi come in a variety of colors, tied to their bizarre reproductive cycle. Red slaadi deposit eggs that hatch into slaad tadpoles (I think the writers missed a great opportunity by not calling them “slaadpoles”), which grow up into blue or green slaadi. Blue slaadi, in turn, infect victims with a bacteriophage that transforms them into red or green slaadi. Green slaadi are more powerful and intelligent than red and blue slaadi, and they eventually metamorphose into gray slaadi, which in turn can metamorphose into death slaadi by eating the corpses of other death slaadi.

Being aberrations, slaadi should behave—and fight—in ways that reflect their origin on the plane of chaos, a factor that has to be considered alongside their abilities and features. Slaadi are high-challenge monsters, so as tempting as it may be to ramp up the chaos they create by having the player characters encounter many of them at once, it can be deadly to throw more than one slaad at a party of low- or even intermediate-level PCs. Moreover, their ability to reproduce by turning humanoids into slaadi and slaad hosts can have exponential effects, so even one slaad is a threat that needs to be squelched pronto. Continue reading Slaad Tactics

NPC Tactics: Tribal Warriors and Berserkers

I have a bone to pick with the fifth-edition Monster Manual’s description of the tribal warrior, as well as the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide’s description of the Reghed and Uthgardt barbarians. In brief, the repeated insistence that these people defer to a chief (“the greatest or oldest warrior of the tribe or a tribe member blessed by the gods”) is based on ignorance of the difference between bands and tribes on the one hand and chiefdoms on the other, and of the egalitarian nature of traditional societies.

Every dungeon master who aspires to any degree of coherent world-building needs to be a Jared Diamond aficionado. His best-known book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, examines the factors that cause certain societies to advance technologically and socially faster than others (spoiler: abundant access to high-protein staple grains, easily domesticated animals and long east-west trade routes gives a people a major leg up). His book Collapse examines the factors that cause societies to stagnate or go extinct: environmental degradation, changing climate, hostile neighbors, lack of friendly trading partners and overly rigid ideology. And his most recent book, The World Until Yesterday, examines the features of traditional societies that set them apart from modern ones.

Continue reading NPC Tactics: Tribal Warriors and Berserkers