Sphinx Tactics

Sphinxes are bosses. Probably somewhat underutilized bosses, since you can only employ the solve-the-riddle, access-the-vault trope so many times before it gets tiresome (and that number of times is generally one, if not zero), so the first challenge you have to overcome as a dungeon master, before dealing with its tactics, is figuring out a way to make a sphinx encounter feel fresh. I’ll be honest: I have no useful advice on this. If you have any, share it in the comments below.

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons had four varieties of sphinx; the number peaked in version 3.5 (the “More is always better” edition) at nine. But the fifth-edition Monster Manual includes only two: the androsphinx and the gynosphinx. The androsphinx remains the more powerful of the two, because patriarchy. (The gynosphinx, strangely, seems to have a mane, although on closer inspection, it may just be a wig.)

Androsphinxes and gynosphinxes have many features in common. Physically, they’re brute fighters; mentally, they’re champs across the board, though the masculine androsphinxes have less Intelligence and more Charisma. (If you think this makes them sound like the types who typically get promoted to management, you’re not alone.) They’re hyper-Perceptive, with 120 feet of truesight; they can’t be charmed or frightened, and they’re immune to psychic damage. At a minimum, they’re resistant to physical damage from nonmagical weapons (androsphinxes are fully immune). They can fly, at a speed greater than their normal movement. Their claw attacks are magical, and they get two per action. They have three legendary actions, which they take on other creatures’ turns: a single claw attack, teleportation and casting one spell. (Since this last costs three actions, they’ll use it only in case of dire emergency.) They have the Inscrutable feature, an ability primarily applicable to social interaction, which shields them from mind-reading. And they have a repertoire of spells they can cast at high levels. Continue reading Sphinx Tactics

Devil Tactics: Greater Devils

Yesterday I looked at the lesser devils. Today I’ll look at the greater devils: horned devils, erinyes, ice devils and pit fiends. (The fifth-edition Monster Manual doesn’t include stat blocks for archdevils.)

Like the lesser devils, all the greater devils have certain features in common. They have darkvision out to 120 feet and the Devil’s Sight feature, indicating a preference for operating in darkness. They’re immune to fire and poison and resistant to cold (except ice devils, which are immune to cold as well), magical effects, and physical damage from normal, unsilvered weapons. And they all tend toward a brute ability profile—high Strength and Constitution—indicating a preference for melee combat.

Finally, since it’s in the nature of devils to obey those with power over them, a devil fighting in the course of carrying out an assigned duty will never flee from combat, no matter how badly injured it is. Continue reading Devil Tactics: Greater Devils

Dao Tactics

Today I wrap up my look at genies with the dao, which I include only for completeness’ sake, because—let’s be frank—it’s not all that interesting a monster, unless you’re running a thematic campaign on the Elemental Plane of Earth. Like the marid, it seems to exist only because someone thought the existence in myth of air and fire genies meant there had to be water and earth genies too. It doesn’t even appear to have a source in Arabic folklore. And its afterthought nature shows in its abilities.

Dao are straight-up brutes, lacking the cleverness of their cousins, although they still have above-average Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma by humanoid standards. They do have proficiency in Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma saving throws, and their Constitution is extraordinarily high, but they’re susceptible to spells that require Dexterity saves, which spellcasters can exploit.

Dao can attack unarmed or with a maul; the latter does greater damage and allows them to knock targets prone, so it’s clearly the preferred option. They have no special attack related to their element, only the Sure-Footed feature, which gives them advantage on saving throws against being knocked prone themselves. Continue reading Dao Tactics

Marid Tactics

The “four elements” of air, earth, fire and water originated with the Greeks, but somewhere along the line, some Dungeons and Dragons writer must have read that jinn, in Arab myth, were supernatural beings of air and that efreets were supernatural beings of fire; decided that there had to be corresponding water and earth spirits, too; and shoehorned marids into the genies-of-water role, maybe because of the syllable mar-, which means “sea” in Latin. In Arabic, however,  مارد mārid means “defiant” or “rebellious,” and it’s used to describe all sorts of troublemaking creatures, including not only certain genies but demons and giants as well.

The D&D marid, like its fiery cousin, the efreet, is a brute fighter with extraordinarily high Strength and Constitution but also extraordinarily high mental attributes. Like jinn, marids have proficiency in Dexterity, Wisdom and Charisma saving throws along with a Constitution high enough to make saving throws easily without proficiency, so they’ll have little to fear from spellcasters.

The marid’s equivalent of a jinni’s Create Whirlwind and an efreet’s Hurl Flame is Water Jet, a linear, guaranteed-damage attack that can push enemies away and knock them prone. Based on this feature’s 60-foot range, there’s not much reason to expect it to affect more than two creatures at once (based on the “Targets in Areas of Effect” table on page 249 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide), and since the marid can always position itself to line up any two opponents in its sights, is there any reason for it not to use this feature again and again? Continue reading Marid Tactics

Efreet Tactics

Efreets* are genies of fire, elemental beings akin to jinn, but more consistently wicked and malicious. They’re strong, cunning and ruthless, and they view mortal humanoids as lesser beings fit only for enslavement and other forms of exploitation.

With their extraordinarily high Strength and Constitution, they’re straight-up brute fighters. But not dumb ones: their Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma are all high as well. They have proficiency in Wisdom saving throws, along with Intelligence and Charisma, but not in Dexterity or Constitution. Their native Constitution is so high, they needn’t worry about making Con saves, but their Dexterity is barely above average for a humanoid, so they’ll be slightly warier of spellcasters than jinn are. Continue reading Efreet Tactics

Jinni Tactics

A jinni (the fifth-edition Monster Manual uses the variant spelling “djinni”) is the product of a humanoid soul bound to the elemental essence of air. By default, jinn are chaotic good, but they’re also haughty and vengeful, and a party of players may find themselves fighting one if it’s trying to get payback against someone who once betrayed it. Jinn don’t reproduce naturally, so they don’t have the same kind of evolved behaviors as creatures that reproduce over generations have, but they are keen to preserve their own existence—not to mention slick hagglers—and will readily parley with anyone they recognize as a major threat.

Jinn have high Dexterity and extraordinarily high Strength and Constitution, an ability contour that suggests a brute fighter but really allows them to fight however they want. They also have high Intelligence and Wisdom and extraordinarily high Charisma, giving them a strong self-preservation impulse, shrewd target selection, the ability to strategize and, most of all, the ability and willingness to seek negotiated solutions to conflict. Their saving throws and damage immunities don’t have much bearing on their fighting style, except insofar as they aren’t afraid of most spellcasters. You’ve got to be at the top of your game to beat a jinni that way. Continue reading Jinni Tactics