Tag: CR 1

  • Variant Zombie Tactics

    The Monster Manual zombie isn’t a complicated or sophisticated attacker, but it possesses one trait that makes it memorable: Undead Fortitude, which allows it to pop back up and keep fighting even after it’s reduced to 0 hp. You never know how many hits it will ultimately take to stop a zombie. Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft additionally (and accurately) notes, “The horror of the shambling dead lies not in their individual menace … but [in] their numbers, their persistence, and their disregard for their own well-being.” One zombie, in the right circumstances, can be played for laughs; many zombies are legitimately unnerving, regardless of context.

    Even so, after a while, zombie fights can become ho-hum affairs—especially past level 5, when clerics’ Destroy Undead feature can clear them out en masse. How can a Dungeon Master keep the thrill alive?

    We can find part of the answer by looking to an unrelated monster: the troll. A troll, out of the box, is nothing but a hard-to-kill brute. However, the Loathsome Limbs variant, which allows the troll’s severed limbs to keep fighting independently, turns a troll encounter into something special. In a similar vein, suppose that a town’s response to an invading zombie horde was to make absolutely sure they didn’t get up again by hacking the corpses to pieces—and even that didn’t work. That’s one way you might end up with a swarm of zombie limbs.

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  • Death’s Head and Boneless Tactics

    Hello, hello! I’m back from PAX Unplugged, the new book is moving, and I’m back to the blog with monsters from Van Richten’s Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft (she did the research, racist uncle took the credit—that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it). Before I jump into individual monsters, however, I strongly encourage you, if you own this book, to read the introductory sections of chapter 5, “Monsters of Ravenloft.” The advice these sections give on creating new monsters and customizing existing ones is outstanding. I won’t recapitulate them here, because honestly, this instance is one of few about which I can say the content speaks for itself, and I can’t improve on it by paraphrasing. Just read it.

    With that out of the way, I’ll note that, as you might expect, the emphasis in Ravenloft is heavily on undead. Out of the 32 enemies included in the book, undead account for 12 of them. Monstrosities number six, and humanoids (including non-player characters) five. That’s nearly three-fourths of the creatures in Ravenloft right there. The leftovers comprise two aberrations, two fiends, two plants, a beast and its corresponding swarm, and a construct. My original plan was to follow the order of the sections of The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters, starting with humanoids, but now that I think about it, it makes more sense to dive right in with the undead.

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  • Monsters of the Multiverse: Fiends, Part 2

    On to ƬЄƛM ƇӇƛƠƧ!

    The maw demon, a wind-it-up-and-let-it-go battlefield hazard of the Abyss sometimes found in the company of gnolls, loses the Rampage trait (and, thus, much of its connection to gnollkind) and gains Disgorge, a projectile vomit attack. Charming. This action recharges only on a roll of 6, meaning the maw demon will most likely get to use it only once per combat encounter. Since it’s stupid and erratic, the maw demon won’t wait for a better opportunity to use it than the first one it gets, so its nature impels it to move straight toward any group of three or more foes clustered together in a 15-foot cubical area and vomit as soon as it arrives. If it gets a chance to do it again, it will, but that’s not probable.

    The babau’s Multiattack is dialed back: formerly comprising Weakening Gaze and two melee attacks (either Claw or Spear), it now comprises only two Claw attacks, one of which it can replace with Weakening Gaze or a Spell. The Spear attack is gone, which is fine; the babau didn’t need it. Its spell list is left intact.

    The flaw inherent in Weakening Gaze remains: It’s primarily useful against enemies who are likely to have the Constitution to resist it. And the tactical conclusion remains: Use it against paladins and fighting clerics, because at least they don’t have proficiency in Constitution saving throws. Fear is still likely to fail, but the fact that it costs only one Claw attack, rather than an entire action, makes it a somewhat less pointless gamble against three or more targets within its area of effect. For the same reason, darkness is a better deal than it was before, particularly against a party that contains neither a paladin nor a battle cleric. And heat metal is dramatically better, since it can now be combined with a Claw attack for up to three dice of damage plus the babau’s Strength bonus. If none of these options makes sense, default back to two Claw attacks.

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  • Monsters of the Multiverse Humanoids, Part 1

    I’m going to look at the significant changes to monsters in Monsters of the Multiverse in the order they appear in MOAR! Monsters Know What They’re Doing (which, for the record, is not random, OK?—they’re in order of challenge rating, from low to high) and grouped by creature type, starting with the humanoids. Which means the first ones I’m going to look at are the sorry, sad-sack xvarts.

    The basic xvart loses the Overbearing Pack feature; the shoving effect is moved into the Shortsword attack, which includes pushing the target 5 feet but not knocking it prone. This change means that the strategy of knocking down targets to attack them with advantage is history.

    Since they still have Raxivort’s Tongue, I do think the idea that they’d team up with giant rats and giant bats remains sound. Because of how the shoving rider works, they do still have an incentive to double-team their opponents, but simply pushing the target 5 feet doesn’t offer much benefit. It can’t be used to trigger opportunity attacks: you don’t get an OA when a creature is pushed out of your reach against their will.

    The only peak in their ability contour is in Dexterity, so xvarts are either shock attackers or snipers. But both of these combat roles require a way to maximize damage. How can xvarts do that?

    1. Like before, xvarts send their beast buddies into combat first. Then, while the xvarts’ foes are fending them off, they pop up and attack from 30 feet away with their slings. When charged, they use Low Cunning to slip away.
    2. Xvarts hide near a pit full of giant rats, then use the shoving rider to push their foes into the pit. This plan is made feasible by the fact that the shove is automatic on a Shortsword hit: the target doesn’t get to make a Strength check to resist it. Xvarts need that edge, because they haven’t got much else.

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  • Dragon Tactics, Part 5: Deep Dragons and Sea Serpents

    Deep dragons present a subterranean variation on the chromatic dragon theme. They exist in wyrmling, young, adult and ancient variants, just like their chromatic cousins, and share a sequence of features and traits that they acquire according to the same pattern as they age. Their challenge ratings are lower, however, since they have fewer hit points, deal less damage than even white dragons, and lack the Frightful Presence trait; we might think of them as degraded versions of the chromatics.

    Like their kin, deep dragons are melee-favoring brutes, with Strength as their primary offensive ability and Constitution as their primary defensive ability. Despite living underground, they can fly as fast as their skyborne relatives, and they can also burrow and swim. Sadly, lacking the Tunneler trait, deep dragons have no way of burrowing through solid rock; they have to make do with whatever passages nature carves for them. But they’ll certainly favor caves with large halls, and flooded areas are a plus—to an extent. Unlike green dragons, deep dragons aren’t amphibious and have to hold their breath underwater. That’s no big deal, though: Fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons’ suffocation rule is generous, as long as you can take a deep breath and hold it before you dive. Deep dragons also have exceptional darkvision—90 feet as wyrmlings, 150 feet later on—so they have no reason to light their lairs, and they love locations with straight passages and long sight lines, which allow them to see other creatures long before they can be seen themselves.

    They have proficiency in the ambush skills of Perception and Stealth, but they also have proficiency in Persuasion. To confabulate with a deep dragon wyrmling, you’ll have to speak Draconic, but young, adult and ancient deep dragons all speak Common (and Undercommon) and also have high enough Wisdom and Charisma that they’ll stop fighting and parley if a combat encounter is going awry for them, generally when they’re moderately wounded (for a young deep dragon, reduced to 65 hp or fewer; for an adult, reduced to 102 hp or fewer; and for an ancient, reduced to 140 or fewer). (more…)

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“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

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