Undying Tactics

The undying of Eberron are a fascinating invention: undead creatures aligned with good. While other undead are either raised by necromancy, kept from eternal rest by trauma or malevolent entities attempting to cheat death, the undying exist beyond the mortal veil simply because they’re so beloved, the world can’t bear to part with them. Awwww!

Undying soldiers are mostly elite guards. They have very high Strength along with high Constitution and, interestingly, Charisma—although the latter doesn’t seem to power any of their abilities, so we can slot them into the regular brute role. They have ordinary Intelligence and above-average Wisdom, so they’ll talk before fighting and make prudent targeting decisions. They’re vulnerable to necrotic damage, resistant to radiant damage and less susceptible to damage from off-the-rack weapons than from ones that are magical or merely silvered.

Illumination is an interesting feature in light (har) of the fact that undying soldiers have 60 feet of darkvision. What does shedding bright light for 10 feet and dim light for 10 feet beyond that gain them? It depends who or what they’re fighting; the first thing that comes to my mind is that a Way of Shadow monk can’t use Shadow Step to get within reach of them. That’s a pretty niche benefit, though. A somewhat broader benefit is that each undying soldier exists in a darkness-proof bubble. The spell snuffs out any light-creating spell of 2nd level or lower, but Illumination isn’t a spell, so it persists; plus, its radius is greater. If an undying soldier is attacked at night from a distance of greater than 60 feet, however, Illumination just makes it a more conspicuous target, so I would assume that this feature is on by default only indoors. Outdoors, undying soldiers are better off turning it on only when they need it. Continue reading Undying Tactics

Eladrin Tactics

The eladrin in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes are not in any way to be confused with the eladrin subrace of elves described in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. The Mordenkainen’s eladrin are CR 10 champions, each intimately associated with a different season of the year. Like many other fey creatures, they have a whimsical, fever-dream quality to their behavior: their decisions sometimes make more emotional sense than they do strategic sense.

One curious aspect of eladrin is that the four “types” aren’t separate beings at all. Eladrin morph from type to type according to the season—or their moods—with the metamorphosis taking place upon completing a long rest, so you don’t need to concern yourself with their changing type mid-encounter. They don’t do that.

What qualities do all the types of eladrin have in common? They all have resistance to physical damage from nonmagical attacks. They all have darkvision, ideal for the perpetual twilight of the Feywild. They all have superior natural armor, Magic Resistance, the Fey Step trait, and proficiency with both longswords and longbows. This constellation of features allows them to dart around a battlefield, engaging and disengaging as they please, suddenly appearing up close or far away—whichever is more inconvenient for their targets. Continue reading Eladrin Tactics

Elite Githzerai Tactics

The githzerai monk has the ability profile of a shock attacker, but it lacks the mobility to get in and out of combat easily. The githzerai enlightened is the more fully developed version of this build concept, differing from the githzerai monk in three ways: higher ability scores, the Temporal Strike action, and a package of mobility- and defense-enhancing psionic “spells”: blur, expeditious retreat, haste, plane shift and teleport.

Getting the best use out of these abilities is going to require paying close attention to action economy and “spell” duration. Let’s break it down! Continue reading Elite Githzerai Tactics

Elite Githyanki Tactics

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes goes into gith lore in considerable depth and offers stat blocks for five new gith variations: the githyanki gish, kith’rak and supreme commander, and the githzerai enlightened and anarch. To recap, githyanki and githzerai are divergent lines of the same race, once enslaved by mind flayers. Upon seizing their freedom, the githyanki claimed license to pillage and enslave in the mind flayers’ stead, whereas the githzerai retreated into pacifist isolationism and monastic reflection. Both lines possess psionic abilities.

The githyanki gish is a sort of eldritch knight or war mage, both a fierce shock attacker and a potent spellcaster, with high ability scores across the board. (This variant was introduced in edition 3.5 and has become an archetypal example of the fighter/magic-user multiclass combo, so that any such character is often referred to as a “gish.”) With proficiency in Perception and Stealth, it also excels at ambush. And its proficiency in Constitution saving throws dramatically improves its chances of maintaining concentration on sustained spells while taking damage.

Since psionics exist in fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons as reskinned magic, the githyanki gish has a number of “spells” it can cast innately alongside its conventional wizard-spell repertoire: mage hand (essentially telekinesis lite), jump, misty step, nondetection, plane shift and telekinesis, of which misty step, plane shift and telekinesis are the most broadly useful. Continue reading Elite Githyanki Tactics

Orthon Tactics

The first thing that leaps out at me about orthons—described in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes as “infernal bounty hunters”—is that they’re proficient in all of the “big three” saving throws: Dexterity, Constitution and Wisdom. I run across monsters with two of these three saving throw proficiencies fairly often, especially when looking at monsters with higher challenge ratings, but I’m not sure when I last saw a monster with all three of them. Put these together with Magic Resistance, and the takeaway is that orthons are utterly unafraid of spellcasters. They don’t even go out of their way to take spellcasters out quickly. They’re indifferent to them, which, if anything, is scarier.

Orthons are called into play when an archdevil wants an enemy dealt with, dead or alive. They’re brutes, with extraordinary Strength and Constitution, but their Dexterity and mental abilities are far from shabby. They’re expert in Perception, Stealth and Survival—consummate ambush attackers. They’re immune to fire and poison, can’t be charmed, never tire, and are resistant to cold and to physical damage from nonmagical, nonsilvered weapons.

They have 120 feet of darkvision and 30 feet of truesight, so they prefer strongly to attack at night or in a darkened location. But even in daylight, they have the Invisibility Field feature, which lets them turn invisible as a bonus action! An orthon will always use this feature before launching an attack in anything less than total darkness—and even in darkness, if its target has darkvision. Thus, it will always make its first attack with unseen-attacker advantage. Continue reading Orthon Tactics

Star Spawn Tactics, Part 1

Star spawn are new arrivals in the Dungeons and Dragons universe. The name seems to be borrowed from H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, but according to the Powers That Be, star spawn aren’t native to the Far Realm specifically. Some of them are from the Far Realm, but others are associated with “Elder Evils” that inhabit other planes, such as the Shadowfell, the Gray Waste and the Abyss. They understand and speak Deep Speech, which is not the same as Undercommon, but rather a language associated with the Far Realm; it’s also spoken by neogi, mind flayers, beholders and aboleths.

There’s a variety of star spawn for every level of play, from the lowly grue to the boss-level larva mage. Continue reading Star Spawn Tactics, Part 1

Oblex Tactics

More from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes: After the abishai, the next two requests I got were for the oblex, a slime-creature created out of mind flayer experimentation which feeds off humanoids’ memories. On D&D Beyond, Jeremy Crawford recently characterized the oblex as “D&D’s new scariest monster.” Is it? I’m not convinced that it’s the scariest, in terms of the degree of threat it poses—but I would say it’s one of the creepiest.

The main reason I think oblexes (I feel like the plural should be “oblices”) are more creepy than scary is that they don’t need to kill their victims to consume their memories. They can kill their victims, but they don’t need to. Furthermore, it’s not clear that they have any compelling reason to. It’s the memories that power them, not the physical substance of their victims. There’s also a curious choice of wording in the Eat Memories feature that makes me wonder whether an oblex has any good reason to use it more than once per target. But more on that below.

Oblexes/oblices have an unusual ability contour, with peaks in Dexterity, Constitution and Intelligence. Dexterity plus Constitution usually means “skirmisher,” but oozes can’t move fast enough to skirmish. What they really are is quasi-brutes with Dexterity- and Intelligence-based rather than Strength-based attacks and a keen sense of their opponents’ weaknesses. Continue reading Oblex Tactics

Alhoon Tactics

Some time ago, a reader asked me to take a look at the alhoon, an undead, spellcasting mind flayer that’s almost a lich but not quite. Instead of becoming effectively immortal, the alhoon lengthens its lifespan through human(oid) sacrifice, tacking on however many years its victim has lived. (It seems to me that the alhoon should get however many years the victim has left, but whatever; I’m not a necromancer.)

Alhoons have a daunting array of features, so strap in—this is going to take a while to analyze. We’ll begin with their ability scores, which, like those of the ordinary mind flayer, are weighted toward the mental end, with Intelligence 19 leading the pack. However, unlike ordinary mind flayers, they also have a very high Constitution, along with proficiency in Constitution saving throws. This, combined with immunity (not resistance!) to physical damage from nonmagical attacks and advantage on saving throws against spells from Magic Resistance means their chief vulnerability is to magic weapons, with spells that require Dexterity saves to avoid damage a distant second. And not just any Dex-save spell: they’re also resistant to cold, lightning and necrotic damage and immune to poison. Fireball OK; lightning bolt bad.

In addition to various intellectual skills, alhoons have proficiency in Perception and Stealth, disposing them toward ambush. Their 120 feet of truesight means they probably know when you’re coming for them, and the first thing an alhoon does when it knows you’re coming is Hide. Continue reading Alhoon Tactics

Angel Tactics

Who gets in a fight with an angel? “Evil characters” is the obvious answer, but it’s not the only answer. Angels being lawful good, a dedicated group of chaotic player characters could find just as much reason to beef with them—and even PCs who are neutral on either the good-to-evil spectrum, the law-to-chaos spectrum or both, and who find themselves gadding about on Mount Celestia (or the Seven Heavens, as we called them back in the day), might somehow run afoul of the ruling authority in a way that needs to be kiboshed.

Angels, in fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons, come in three levels: devas, planetars and solars. These qualify as boss opponents for mid-level, high-level and top-level adventurers, but realistically, players are rarely going to run across them before they acquire access to the 7th-level spell plane shift, and that doesn’t happen until level 13. Lower-level PCs might journey to the Outer Planes through the use of a magic item that allows them to cast plane shift or a portal created by the gate spell, or they might manage to summon an angel to serve them using planar binding or planar ally. Even so, we’re still talking level 9 and up. Continue reading Angel Tactics