Devil Tactics: Merregons and Narzugons

My own campaigns have never been very fiend-heavy, so I haven’t delved much into the ranks of devils, but as I’m looking at the merregon for the first time, I’m impressed by the idea that the souls of soldiers who served evil spend eternity fighting for the forces of hell without faces, only permanent iron masks. I can imagine Nazi footsoldiers being condemned to this fate, and I find the image satisfying.

Merregons are brutes, with exceptional Strength and Constitution; their Wisdom is above-average, but their Intelligence is ape-level. They’re immune to fire and poison; resistant to cold, to magic and to physical damage from nonmagical, non-silvered weapons; and mute. They can’t be frightened or poisoned. The only language they understand is Infernal. They have 60 feet of darkvision, which isn’t overwhelmed by the darkness spell, as darkvision usually is.

With their double Halberd Multiattack, merregons make effective, straightforward footsoldiers. But their effectiveness is increased dramatically when they fight in the presence of another fiend of challenge rating 6 or greater—for instance, a bone devil, erinys, pit fiend or amnizu. The two Halberd attacks in the merregons’ Multiattack become three, and if they’re adjacent to their superior, they soak up attacks meant for it. Continue reading Devil Tactics: Merregons and Narzugons

Drow Tactics: Arachnomancers

Gonna do my best here with the drow arachnomancer, but please forgive me if I screw up, like, half a dozen different things. I’m operating with two levels of exhaustion, and I’m not even the one doing most of the work. My wife is a boss.

Arachnomancers are drow warlocks that can shapeshift into or out of a Large giant spider form as a bonus action and can continue to speak and cast spells in their spider form. Because they’re warlocks, unlike most monsters with spellcasting ability, they cast all their spells as if using a 5th-level spell slot, but they’re also limited to three leveled spells per encounter (not counting darkness, dominate monster, etherealness, eyebite, faerie fire and levitate, each of which they can cast once per day without spending a slot, and dancing lights, which they can cast at will). Concentration, of course, is going to govern which of these spells they can cast, so we’re going to look for sustained spells that synergize with multiple instantaneous spells.

Also, since these are warlocks we’re talking about, we want to find out what works well with eldritch blast. Although it isn’t stated explicitly in the stat block, because the drow arachnomancer is a 16th-level spellcaster, eldritch blast fires three bolts per casting, for a total of 3d10 force damage. In terms of damage dealt, this can’t compete with either its humanoid-form Poisonous Touch attack or its spider-form Bite attack. However, based on its ability contour—extraordinary Intelligence, very high Dexterity and Charisma, merely above-average Constitution, average Strength—we can infer that the arachnomancer is a long-distance spellslinger that would much prefer to stay out of melee if it can. Thus, Poisonous Touch and Bite are primarily self-defense measures, secondarily shock attacks. Continue reading Drow Tactics: Arachnomancers

Devourer Tactics

Don’t let the neotenic proportions in the illustration in Volo’s Guide to Monsters fool you: devourers are big and mean enough to pick you up and stuff you inside their own ribcages. Which they do. It’s a thing.

Fiends, though not technically demons, devourers seize humanoids and consume them body and soul, transforming them into undead creatures of power proportional to what they possessed in life.

Devourers have extraordinary Strength and Constitution; their Charisma is also very high, but they’re melee-oriented brutes first and foremost. With above-average Intelligence, they’re going to be fairly good at guessing who’s going to be susceptible to which of their abilities, though these guesses are by no means infallible. With 120 feet of darkvision, they’re not creatures you’re ever going to encounter in broad daylight—strictly at night, indoors and/or underground. (According to the flavor text, they aren’t even found on the material plane all that often.) Continue reading Devourer Tactics

Sorrowsworn Tactics

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

Star Spawn Tactics, Part 2

To begin with, a mea culpa: In looking at the star spawn hulk in the previous post, I skipped over the Psychic Mirror feature. Mentally, I’d noted that it didn’t have any meaningful impact on the hulk’s own tactics—but having noted that to myself, I forgot to say so.

The thing is, Psychic Mirror doesn’t affect anything the hulk does, since the hulk already has another incentive to stand in the midst of its enemies, in the form of Reaping Arms. But Psychic Mirror can affect the behavior of other monsters fighting alongside the hulk. And when you get right down to it, “Psychic Mirror” is an inaccurate name: it should be “Psychic Amplifier,” because for every x points of psychic damage the hulk would take, every creature within 10 feet of it takes x points.

As an example, one commenter mentioned mind flayers, with their Mind Blast action. Suppose an attacking mind flayer blasts five player characters along with a star spawn hulk. First, each of the five player characters makes an Intelligence saving throw. On average, a PC will take 22 points of psychic damage on a failure, 11 on a success. But then the hulk makes its own saving throw, and its Intelligence is a wretched 7, so it has only a 20 percent chance of success—it’s going to fail, and take full damage, four times out of five. But it’s not the one who takes that damage! That damage is passed along to each PC within 10 feet of it—the full amount, even if a PC made his or her own saving throw! Continue reading Star Spawn Tactics, Part 2

Rakshasa Tactics

Hands down, the rakshasa had the coolest illustration in the original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual; I can’t help but think that the current illustration is in part a tribute to that original David A. Trampier drawing. Rakshasas were rarely encountered, but when they were, you knew the encounter would be memorable, because it had to live up to that illustration.

The fifth-edition rakshasa is likely to be another rarity, because its challenge rating is a high 13—too difficult a boss for low- or mid-level player characters. Rakshasas aren’t on the level of fully grown dragons, but they’re as tough as a beholder or master vampire, and tougher than genies, which should give you a sense of the kind of status they should have in a campaign.

The rakshasa’s highest physical ability scores are Dexterity and Constitution, but these are exceeded by its Charisma. What we have here is a creature that, while built to survive a battle of attrition, would rather fight using magic than using its claws. But that doesn’t mean it gets its way. Continue reading Rakshasa Tactics

Giant Tactics

Going solely by their extraordinary Strength and Constitution, it would be easy to lump all giants together as brute fighters. If we want encounters with giants to be more than boring bash-fests, we have to look for clues not just in their stat blocks but also in the Monster Manual flavor text.

Take the matter of rock throwing. Every race of giants has this ranged attack alongside its melee attack, and on average, it does more damage. Yet every race of giants also has a Strength much, much higher than its Dexterity, so based on the assumptions I’ve been using all along, they should consistently prefer engaging in melee to attacking from a distance. Also, giants’ Multiattacks apply only to their melee attacks, not to throwing rocks. So why include a ranged attack at all? Continue reading Giant Tactics

Neothelid Tactics

Neothelids are products of mind flayer reproduction gone awry. Mind flayers reproduce by hatching thousands of tadpoles and implanting as many as they can in the brains of living hosts. Unimplanted tadpoles must be killed, because if they’re left to their own devices, the tadpoles will grow out of control and dumbly devour every living thing around them, including other mind flayer tadpoles. As they feed and grow, their psionic power grows as well, but the intelligence needed to direct it—which normally comes from the host brain—doesn’t. You can see how this ends: not well.

Gargantuan, clumsily thrashing brutes, neothelids have extraordinary Strength and Constitution but below-average dexterity, subsentient Intelligence but high Wisdom (representing perception and survival instinct, nothing else). It has 120 feet of blindsight, suiting it to any environment but giving it the greatest advantage in subterranean places. It can also detect the presence of intelligent creatures up to a mile away, unless they’re masking their minds with magic.

The combination of high Wisdom and rock-bottom Intelligence indicates a sort of animal cunning, which isn’t the same as flexibility—the neothelid has none of that. Operating purely from instinct, it nevertheless can choose its moment to attack and avoid tangling with creatures of comparable or greater power. It can also detect—imperfectly—which of its prospective victims are weakest and go after them first. And if it’s seriously wounded (reduced to 130 hp or fewer), it will recognize the danger it’s in, break off fighting and Dash away. Continue reading Neothelid Tactics

Beholders Revisited

Volo’s Guide to Monsters is thorough in its treatment of beholders, in terms of both tactics and flavor. It contains material on determining a beholder’s appearance and behavior, the layout and contents of its lair, and even where baby beholders come from (it’s suitably weird). Since this blog’s focus is on tactics, I’ll concentrate on that.

For the most part, everything I said in my original analysis of beholders stands, but there is one small, implied contradiction. Continue reading Beholders Revisited

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