If eladrin are the elf-kin with the strongest remaining connection to the Feywild, shadar-kai are those whose nature has been shaped by the grim Shadowfell. Three types are described in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes: the shadow dancer, gloom weaver and soul monger.
Shadow dancers are shock troops optimized for operations in darkness. They can function in dim light, but bright light hobbles them severely, so they’ll never willingly choose to fight in daylight or comparable illumination. Dexterity is their one outstanding ability, which they rely on for both offense and defense, and they’re proficient in Stealth, predisposing them to ambush.
Although they’re tough, their stat block is short, not especially complex and mostly passive. Their two standout features are Shadow Jump and Spiked Chain (which they can use three times as a Multiattack action).
Shadow Jump is a mobility feature and action economy enhancer that lets shadow dancers teleport from one dark or dimly lit point to another up to 30 feet away. Depending on the environment and the positioning of combatants, they can use this trait either to engage in melee or to disengage from it. Shadow Jumping to engage is a more desirable tactic when fighting in total darkness, as we’ll see in a moment. Continue reading Shadar-kai Tactics
The yagnoloth is bonkers. What’s more, it’s a very particular and distinctive kind of bonkers—so much so that if I hadn’t done my due diligence and found that it dates back to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual II, I’d be 100 percent convinced that it was a Chris Perkins invention. (Except I also have a strong hunch that Kate Welch is responsible for the flavor text phrase “its brutally powerful giant appendage.”)
Yagnoloths are daemonic contract lawyers and commanders of lower-level yugoloths. Although they’re Large creatures, they possess asymmetrical, mismatched arms, one of them Medium and the other Huge. Ability-wise, they have no real weakness: the nadir of their ability contour is their Dexterity, which is still well above humanoid average. Their Strength and Constitution are highest, making them brutes, but they also possess exceptional Charisma and very high Intelligence. They cast their spells from the front line.
They’re as potent in social interaction as they are in combat, with Deception, Persuasion and Insight modifiers equal to their attack bonuses, and they shamelessly use suggestion, which they can cast innately and at will, to try to compel other parties to accept less-than-favorable terms. Like all yugoloths, they’re immune to acid and poison damage and resistant to cold, fire and lightning damage along with physical damage from nonmagical weapons. They have advantage on saving throws against magic, they can’t be poisoned, they have overlapping blindsight and darkvision, and unless you speak Abyssal or Infernal, they talk directly into your thoughts. Continue reading Yugoloth Tactics: Yagnoloths
A couple of readers asked me to look at the balhannoth, and I have to say, this is one of the strangest stat blocks I’ve ever looked at. Not necessarily because it has the most peculiar abilities—although a couple of its abilities are unique and quite interesting—but because it almost seems like two different monsters in one, each with a completely different modus operandi.
Going by its ability scores and its attack actions, the balhannoth is a straightforward brute, with exceptional Strength and Constitution. Its Bite action is a basic melee attack that deals a ferocious four dice of piercing damage at close range. Its Tentacle action does bludgeoning damage (which can be read as “constricting” as well as “whomping”) and also grapples and restrains on a hit. Additionally, the grappled target “is moved up to 5 feet toward the balhannoth.” “Up to 5” includes zero, and this gives the balhannoth the option of either reeling a target in to Bite them or holding them at a safe distance, out of melee attack reach. A balhannoth can grab up to four targets this way.
Its Multiattack offers two choices: Tentacle/Tentacle/Bite (or Tentacle/Bite/Tentacle) and Tentacle × 4. If opponents are rushing the balhannoth, or if they’re clustered too closely together, the latter lets it seize several of them at once. If only a couple of enemies are within reach, it can grab and Bite right away. Continue reading Balhannoth Tactics
Drow shadowblades are spies and assassins, trained to strike from hiding. With extraordinary Dexterity serving as both their primary offensive ability and primary defensive ability, they’re shock attackers, striking swiftly and hard with the goal of taking out their targets as fast as possible. Their Constitution is high enough that they can handle a protracted battle, but they’d rather not.
With proficiency in all of the “big three” saving throws (Dexterity, Constitution and Wisdom) and with innate advantage against being charmed, shadowblades have little to fear from enemy spellcasters and can assail their desired targets without distraction. Like all drow, they have long-range darkvision plus Sunlight Sensitivity, confining them to nighttime and (more likely) subterranean operations. They also have the standard drow spell package of dancing lights plus one daily casting each of darkness, faerie fire and levitate.
In addition, as a bonus action, shadowblades can use the Shadow Step feature to teleport up to 60 feet between one dimly lit or dark location and another; doing so also grants advantage on “the first melee attack it makes before the end of the turn.” The wording is crucial, because it dictates shadowblades’ turn sequence and mode of striking: the bonus action must be taken before the attack, and the attack must be a melee attack, i.e., either Shadow Sword, grapple or shove. Continue reading Drow Tactics: Shadowblades
In the Feywild, creatures spring into existence that are the manifestations of the feelings of mortals. In the Shadowfell, this happens, too, but only for the really bad feelings. These creatures are the sorrowsworn.
The intriguing thing about the sorrowsworn is that they literally feed off negative emotions. Doing violence to the Angry, for instance, makes its attacks more effective, while refusing to do violence to it reduces its effectiveness.
All sorrowsworn have 60 feet of darkvision—good for the gloom of the Shadowfell—and are resistant to physical damage from any type of weapon, not just nonmagical weapons, while out of bright light. Continue reading Sorrowsworn Tactics
What do you get when you cross a dragon, a kraken and a beholder? You get a morkoth, a weird, paranoid, tentacled beastie that drifts through the planes on its own private island, which might be aquatic but might also be airborne, and hoards living beings as well as treasure.
By default, a morkoth’s lair is immersed in water, although the morkoth can make that water clear and/or breathable at will—as well as the reverse. This water is just one of many advantages the morkoth has in its own lair, since it has a swimming speed of 50 feet, twice its land speed. It can breathe equally well in air and water, so the breathability (or lack thereof) of the water in its lair is an amenity it can offer to guests and a weapon it can use against intruders.
Morkoths, despite their many hit points and high armor class, aren’t all that physically formidable. Their Strength, Dexterity and Constitution are all modestly above average. Their standout ability is Intelligence, which is also their spellcasting ability, so while they do possess a respectable Multiattack that can also restrain one enemy, they’ll reserve it for enemies who get right up in their beaky faces. They’d much rather attack with spells. Continue reading Morkoth Tactics
In case your players are so jaded that they just shrug and say, “Whatevs,” when you throw a giant at them, Volo’s Guide to Monsters introduces a set of elite variations, one for each race of giants in the “ordning.” Curiously, however, most of them don’t offer any new tactical twists. Continue reading Elite Giant Tactics
There aren’t too many gargantuan creatures in the Monster Manual. Ancient dragons grow to gargantuan size; aside from that, you’ve got your kraken, your tarrasque and your roc, a monstrous avian whose name, curiously, shares an etymology with “rook,” the chess piece (from Persian rukh, by way of Arabic) but not with “rook,” the corvid bird (from Old English, an imitation of its croaking call).
This terror with a 200-foot wingspan—roughly the size of a Boeing 747—hunts big, slow-moving game, snatching up an elk, a buffalo or even a giant as easily as a hawk or owl would seize a squirrel. It’s unaligned and has only bestial Intelligence. Its Strength and Constitution are extraordinary; its Dexterity, as ordinary as you can get.
Rocs are fearless. Aside from their enormous pool of hit points, they have proficiency in all of the big three saving throws (Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom), plus Charisma. Magic doesn’t scare them, and it takes massive damage to even deter them: From their maximum of 248 hp, they’ll need to be reduced to 99 hp or fewer to be driven off. Continue reading Roc Tactics
The behir is, simply, a predator. A huge monstrosity, in the neighborhood of 15 feet long, it’s fast, tough and strong, able to run as fast as a lion and to climb faster than most humanoids can run. Its Intelligence is at the upper end of animal range, and it’s a good judge of prey. It’s also surprisingly stealthy, able to strike from ambush and do spectacular damage to its victims.
But all this power comes at a cost: Behirs get sleepy as they digest their prey. Because of this, once a behir strikes and swallows its prey, it immediately breaks off and retreats to its lair or some other hiding place so that it can absorb its meal in peace.
Normally, a creature with a recharge ability prefers it over any other method of attack, but in the case of behirs, Lightning Breath is an oddly limited-use feature. Its range is only 20 feet, meaning that in most cases, it’s only likely to strike a single target (see “Targets in Area of Effect,” Dungeon Master’s Guide, page 249), and while the damage it does is substantial—about 50 points of expected damage—it doesn’t help the behir eat anything.
In contrast, the behir’s Multiattack comprises a Constrict action, which does an average of 34 points of damage and restrains its target on a hit, and a Bite action, which does an average of another 22 points of damage, with advantage on the attack if the target is restrained. That’s 56 points of damage right there, and the behir’s chance to hit is extremely high, compared with its chance of doing full damage with its Lightning Breath. Finally, on its next turn, it can Swallow the creature it’s restraining, which is what it came for. Continue reading Behir Tactics
One reason I haven’t addressed the remorhaz (pronounced rem-o-raz) yet is that I’ve tried to emphasize creatures that are likely to have fighting styles more complex than “Rrrrraaaaahhhhh, stab stab stab” (or “chomp chomp chomp”). Generally, that’s meant skipping over monsters with simple brute profiles—high Strength, high Constitution, low-to-middling everything else, without much in the way of tactics that might modify this—and the remorhaz is one of those. However, a reader asked me to take a look at it, so let’s see what there is in its stat block that might liven it up:
- Burrowing movement. Remorhazes aren’t stealthy, but it doesn’t take proficiency in Stealth to sit in a hole in the ground and wait for prey to stroll by. (I love how the Monster Manual handwaves the combination of their arctic habitat and their Heated Body feature by declaring, “While hidden under the ice and snow, it can lower its body temperature so that it doesn’t melt its cover.” Well, isn’t that convenient!)
- Sixty feet of tremorsense. OK, this I like, because basically it works the same way as the sandworms in Dune. It doesn’t have to see you walking overhead: it can feel you.
- Heated Body. Touch a remorhaz, or hit it with a close-range melee attack, and you take fire damage.
- The Swallow action. This is where the remorhaz gets interesting.
Continue reading Remorhaz Tactics