Duergar Tactics: Mordenkainen’s Duergar, Part 2

Moar duergar! The duergar mind master is the last of the CR 2 duergar, the one with the ability contour of a spellcaster but no actual spells. What it does have is Mind Mastery, a feature with a 60-foot range which requires an Intelligence saving throw to resist. More to the point, it targets one creature within 60 feet and requires a DC 12 Intelligence save to resist.

This feature, frankly, is terrible. Even a level 1 PC who’s dumped Intelligence still has a 40 percent chance of succeeding on this saving throw. It’s a straight-up waste of an action in any circumstance save one: as part of an ambush. In this instance, a hidden mind master can use Mind Mastery against a target without giving away its position or even its presence if it fails, since Mind Mastery is technically neither an attack nor a spell. If it succeeds, it gets to force an opponent to sucker-punch one of their own allies—or, depending on the local terrain, walk directly into a chasm or a river of lava or something. With Intelligence 15, a mind master is smart enough to know not to bother using this feature in open combat.

So forget treating it as a spellcaster; we’ll pretend that its Intelligence is nothing special after all and it’s just another shock trooper, using Dexterity for offense as well as defense. Continue reading Duergar Tactics: Mordenkainen’s Duergar, Part 2

Yugoloth Tactics: Oinoloths

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes talks about “oinoloths,” e.g., “Oinoloths bring pestilence wherever they go.” But various (mostly older) sources, including the third-edition Manual of the Planes, refer to “the Oinoloth,” a singular individual, and even give the Oinoloth a name: Anthraxus, a highly apropos name for a lord of disease, though maybe not the most creative. (Also worth noting: The Oinoloth’s seat of power, the Wasting Tower of Khin-Oin, was situated originally in Hades, later in the Blood Rift, which begins in the Abyss and runs across the lower planes to the Nine Hells.)

Fifth-edition D&D seems to dispense with all that. The oinoloth’s listing in Mordenkainen’s refers to this fiend only in the plural and gives it a Challenge Rating of 12—exceeded by ultroloths’ CR 13. This hardly seems like the profile of an arch-ruler of yugoloths. Like the capital-M Minotaur, which D&D turned into a species of lowercase-m minotaurs, it appears that the capital-O Oinoloth has become a species of lowercase-o oinoloths—perhaps descendants of an earlier Oinoloth, although who’d want to produce offspring with an avatar of pestilence is a question probably best left unanswered.

The practical reason for considering this question is that if the oinoloth were a unique being, you’d only ever find one in any given combat encounter. But since fifth-edition oinoloths seem not to be unique, not only is it possible to run into multiple oinoloths at once, at very high levels of play it seems downright probable. Continue reading Yugoloth Tactics: Oinoloths

Eidolon Tactics

Eidolons are intriguing creatures, because despite being undead, they’re not necessarily evil—they may even be good. Spirits honored by the gods for their zealous devotion, eidolons spend their afterlives guarding those gods’ sacred places and protecting them from defilers. Their compulsion—which every undead creature must have—is to protect. Not necessarily a bad thing!

Even more intriguing is that eidolons can hop into inanimate objects and animate them for the purpose of carrying out their eternal mission. Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes offers, as an example, a stat block for an animated statue.

But first, let’s look at what an eidolon can do on its own. The flavor text says, “An eidolon has few methods for protecting itself beyond its ability to awaken its sacred vessels.” How true is this? Continue reading Eidolon Tactics

Boneclaw Tactics

What if you’re a wizard with the ego, ambition and power to pursue immortality through self-enlichment, and you start the grueling process but fail to pace yourself properly? You could end up as a boneclaw, the powerful undead servant of a random individual who certainly didn’t ask for one and may or may not have any use for it.

Figuring that only the most brilliant mages even have a chance at becoming liches, the boneclaw’s Intelligence of 13 is surprisingly low, and I ascribe this to the trauma of failure. Something about the process of becoming a boneclaw damages the erstwhile wizard’s intellect, surely a sore spot. It’s not stupid by any stretch, just unable to soar to its previous heights of brilliance. Its Intelligence is now outshone by its extraordinary Strength and very high Dexterity, Constitution and Wisdom.

Those latter three high stats are accompanied by proficiencies in their respective saving throws, meaning that the boneclaw possesses exceptional resistance to the vast majority of attacks that require saving throws to resist. It may not be able to perform the kind of magic it once did, but your magic isn’t going to impress it one bit. Continue reading Boneclaw 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

Kirin Tactics

The kirin (inexplicably hyphenated “ki-rin” in Dungeons and Dragons products going all the way back to the original D&D book Eldritch Wizardry, which preceded even Advanced Dungeons and Dragons—kirin, unhyphenated, is a Japanization of the Chinese 麒麟 qílín) is a mythical creature whose appearance portends the births and deaths of great rulers and sages. A deerlike beast with scaly skin, grand antlers and dragonish facial features, the kirin is often characterized in Western writing as the “Japanese unicorn” or “Chinese unicorn” because of its virtuousness and standoffishness and because it’s sometimes depicted as having a single horn rather than a pair of antlers. The link is reinforced in fifth-edition D&D, as both unicorns and kirin are categorized as celestials.

Kirin are reclusive, and being lawful good, they prefer to avoid violent encounters. Combat with a kirin is going to take place in only two instances: Either a player character has attacked the kirin, or the kirin is fending off an intrusion by an intrinsically evil creature, such as a fiend or undead.

A kirin’s extraordinary Strength is nearly matched by its Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma, making it one of the few creatures that’s equally well-suited to melee combat and spellcasting. With proficiency in Perception, it’s hard to catch by surprise, and with proficiency in Insight, it knows which of its opponents are genuinely hostile and which are simply misguided. Continue reading Kirin Tactics

Yuan-ti Revisited

Volo’s Guide to Monsters’ treatment of the yuan-ti is heavily lore-focused, with a section, useful to dungeon masters, on how to design a yuan-ti temple-city. From a tactical standpoint, the only additions are five new variants (!) and a brief subsection headed “Unusual Abilities.”

Unusual Abilities offers four traits that DMs can use to customize an individual yuan-ti or a group of them:

  • Acid Slime gives the yuan-ti a corrosive coating, lasting one minute, that inflicts 1d10 acid damage against a grappled opponent or one who strikes it with a close-range melee attack. It’s a bonus action, and yuan-ti don’t get any other bonus actions, so this is a free supplement to the yuan-ti’s action economy. It’s all benefit and no downside, so the yuan-ti will use this feature on its first turn.
  • Chameleon Skin is also a freebie: it’s a passive ability that grants advantage on Stealth Checks. No tactical implication; it just makes the yuan-ti better at what it already does.
  • Shapechanger, for the yuan-ti pureblood, comes with the same disadvantages as it has for the yuan-ti malison and yuan-ti abomination. Skip it.
  • Shed Skin is another all-benefit, no-downside feature, letting a grappled or restrained yuan-ti slip free without a skill or ability check. It costs only a bonus action, which is no cost at all, since the yuan-ti has no other bonus action to give up. A yuan-ti with this trait will use it anytime it applies.

Continue reading Yuan-ti Revisited

NPC Tactics: Magical Specialists

Volo’s Guide to Monsters includes stat blocks for 11 different magic-using specialists: wizards from eight different schools and warlocks of three different patrons. The wizards are all at least level 7; the warlocks, even higher. There are also a level 9 war priest, a level 10 blackguard (antipaladin) and a level 18 archdruid. Every one of these spellcasters has a different repertoire of spells. To come up with individual tactics for each of them would take me the next two weeks.

Rather than tackle each one separately, then, I’m going to share some rules of thumb for developing tactics for a spellcasting NPC. Continue reading NPC Tactics: Magical Specialists

Yugoloth Tactics

Finally, as promised! In Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, the neutral evil analogues to lawful evil devils and chaotic evil demons were daemons, but since midway through second-edition D&D—perhaps to avoid confusion with demons, or perhaps to avoid confusing Philip Pullman fans—they’ve been called “yugoloths.” Yugoloths are neither as obedient as devils nor as recalcitrant as demons: they have a mercenary mind-set, and in fact are often used as mercenary warriors by archdevils and demon lords, according to the Monster Manual flavor text.

There’s little reason for a yugoloth to be encountered in any other context, and therefore little likelihood that player characters will run into one on their home material plane. But I can imagine a scenario in which an evil ruler asks a court wizard to summon a yugoloth for aid in battle against a rival, figuring that it might be easier to control than a demon and less likely to demand something unacceptable in return than a devil.

There are four types of yugoloth listed in the MM. From weakest to strongest, they’re the mezzoloth, the nycaloth, the arcanaloth and the ultroloth. (Given this naming pattern, I’m not sure why they’re called “yugoloths” instead of just “loths.” The “yugo-” prefix is never explained.) However, even mezzoloths have a challenge rating of 5. These are not opponents for low-level adventurers. Continue reading Yugoloth Tactics