Cadaver Collector Tactics

Cadaver collectors are like monstrous Roombas that scour the endless battlefields of Acheron, scooping up corpses and recycling the souls that formerly inhabited them into specters, which are then bound to fight for the cadaver collectors’ masters. Although native to that outer plane, they can be summoned to other planes as well, including the prime material—and if the summoner dies or loses control of them, they just keep on Roomba-ing around, turning living beings into cadavers if there aren’t already cadavers handy.

With Intelligence 5, they’re mechanistic juggernauts that never vary their method. What is their method? Well, they’re brutes, with extraordinary Strength and Constitution, so whoever, whatever and wherever their targets may be, they march straight at them. They have no independent judgment and lack the Wisdom to discriminate among targets, but they have a function, and a good machine completes its function with maximum efficiency, so they tend to head toward concentrations of bodies, whether those bodies be alive or dead. When they’re close enough to three targets to engulf them all in a 30-foot cone of Paralyzing Breath, that’s what they do (as long as this recharge ability isn’t on cooldown). And when they come within melee reach of a paralyzed target—or when cheeky opponents with magic or adamantine weapons run up and impertinently attack them—they employ their dual Slam Multiattack (rolling with advantage if the target is paralyzed, with every hit a crit).

What if they’re attacked by foes with nonmagical, non-adamantine weapons? They ignore it and keep juggernauting toward the nearest knot of humanoid organic mass. These attacks can’t hurt them and have no relevance to their mission. Woe betide the third opponent to get in on the action, though: at that point, the cadaver collector’s density-detecting algorithm kicks in, and all it has to do is take a couple of steps back—heedless of opportunity attacks—to nail all three with Paralyzing Breath. Continue reading Cadaver Collector Tactics

Drow Tactics: Inquisitors

Looking at the ability contour of the drow inquisitor, a high-level cleric, we see a heavy emphasis on the mental abilities, particularly Wisdom and Charisma, which are extraordinary. Intriguingly, reverse-engineering its Death Lance attack, it appears that this attack is made using either Wisdom or Charisma rather than Strength or Dexterity, so the usual rules of thumb governing fighting style don’t apply. If we take Dexterity, the highest of the inquisitor’s physical ability scores, as its primary defensive ability, we get a spellcasting quasi–shock attacker. Combine this with the obligatory drow proficiency in Perception and Stealth and 120 feet of darkvision, and we have the makings of a nasty ambush.

The drow inquisitor is unafraid of spellcasters, having Magic Resistance, Fey Ancestry, and proficiency in two of the “big three” saving throws (Constitution and Wisdom), plus Charisma. Which opponents does it prioritize, then? For ideological reasons, devout worshipers of gods other than Lolth, along with non-drow elves; for resource competition reasons, dwarves; and for practical reasons, anyone who’s showing him- or herself to be particularly dangerous. Drow inquisitors are adaptable.

They also have proficiency in Insight, so if the odds of victory don’t look so hot, inquisitors won’t hesitate to parley—even if it means giving up an ambush opportunity. Why launch an ambush if even that isn’t enough to give your side a comfortable advantage? The inquisitor isn’t uniquely good at getting others to do what it wants, but it’s very good at figuring out what others want—and whether this is compatible with its own interests. This ability is enhanced by Discern Lie, a trump card it can play on any attempt at Deception. Continue reading Drow Tactics: Inquisitors

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

Mind Flayers Revisited

“Mind flayers aren’t the real boss monster,” I wrote in my post on mind flayer tactics. “They usually live in colonies, not by themselves. The real boss monster is the elder brain.” And while the fifth-edition Monster Manual doesn’t include stats for elder brains, Volo’s Guide to Monsters does! Huzzah!

Unfortunately, Volo’s doesn’t solve the real problem with 5E mind flayers: that, as written, they simply aren’t powerful enough to carry out their psionic schemes with even a modicum of efficiency. And efficiency is important, because if they have to live near humanoid settlements in order to harvest the brains they live on, yet also have to conceal their presence in order to avoid discovery not just by their prey but also by vengeful gith, they’re gonna need a decent number of minions. Continue reading Mind Flayers Revisited

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

Dragon Tactics, Part 2

“Metallic” dragons are the good complements to the evil “chromatic” dragons. Looking just at their statistics, they’re identical in most ways: Their physical abilities follow the high-Strength, high-Constitution “brute” profile. They have proficiency bonuses on all of the “big three” saving throws, plus Charisma. They have blindsight, darkvision, flying movement and one alternative movement mode (burrowing, swimming or climbing)—although I have to put an asterisk by this last one, because the editors of the fifth-edition Monster Manual seem to have forgotten to give silver dragons an alternative movement mode. Adult and ancient metallic dragons have the same legendary actions as chromatic dragons of those ages, and they share the chromatic dragons’ Legendary Resistance and Frightful Presence features. In addition, young, adult and ancient metallic dragons have the same Claw/Claw/Bite Multiattack. And, of course, they all have breath weapons.

Metallic dragons differ from chromatic dragons in four ways:

  • Young, adult and ancient metallic dragons all have social skill proficiencies in addition to Perception and Stealth.
  • Ancient brass and copper dragons, and adult and ancient bronze, gold and silver dragons, can Change Shape.
  • Adult and ancient metallic dragons have only two lair actions available to them, rather than three.
  • Each metallic dragon has two types of breath weapon, one of which is nonlethal and can be used to subdue without injury.

Given that these are good creatures—most of the monsters we’ve looked at so far are either evil creatures or unaligned predators—an encounter with a metallic dragon is going to play out very differently from an encounter with a chromatic dragon. Rarely will it begin with the dragon attacking the player characters—or, for that matter, with the PCs attacking the dragon. Continue reading Dragon Tactics, Part 2

Dragon Tactics, Part 1

The Monster Manual’s section on dragons is one of the longest in the book and, at first glance, one of the most complicated. But unlike, say, demons, which are all over the place in terms of what they can do, dragons are easy to work with, because they all follow the same pattern. I’ll begin today with the “chromatic” (evil) dragons, then continue with the “metallic” (good) dragons tomorrow.

First, there are certain things that all dragons have in common. They all fly, at twice their land movement speed, and all have one additional movement ability, depending on their color. They all have high Strength and Constitution. They all have bonuses on the “big three” saving throws (Dexterity, Constitution and Wisdom), plus Charisma. They all have proficiency in Perception and Stealth. They all have blindsight and darkvision, suiting their subterranean dwelling preferences. They all begin as uncomplicated “wyrmlings,” then gain abilities and features as they age and grow. And they all have breath weapons.

This last feature is dragons’ defining characteristic. Every dragon, even a wyrmling, has a breath weapon, with effects depending on the dragon’s color. The breath weapon does powerful damage over a cone-shaped area of effect. Because of its power, it has to recharge: At the start of each of its turns, roll a d6 for the dragon. If you roll a 5 or a 6, it has access to its breath weapon again. On average, this means the dragon will get to use its breath weapon once every three turns. But dice are fickle. My players recently fought a dragon that got to use its breath weapon three rounds in a row because the dice happened to fall that way. (They beat it anyway, very cleverly, I’m happy to say.)

Taking high Strength and Constitution as indicative of a “brute” profile, a tough creature with a strong preference for toe-to-toe fighting, most dragons are brutes, even at the wyrmling stage. Of the chromatic dragons, only black and green wyrmlings lack the Constitution to take on any comer in melee. These, despite their Strength, may prefer simply to use their Stealth to avoid combat unless they’re attacked. Dragons of every other color and age won’t hesitate to get directly up in your grille. Continue reading Dragon Tactics, Part 1

Beholder Tactics

Our current Dungeons and Dragons group got together after one of my wife’s coworkers cattily referred to a client as “someone who looks like he’d play Dungeons and Dragons in his mom’s basement,” and another of them retorted, “I would totally play Dungeons and Dragons.” He ended up being the host of our weekly sessions.

Why do I mention this? Because the beholder is such an iconic D&D monster that our host—who knew hardly anything about the game before we began playing—told me near the beginning of our campaign, “All I want is to run into an ‘eye of the beholder,’ and I’ll be happy.”

The beholder is an aberration—a magically summoned creature of extraplanar origin—with a hateful, avaricious and territorial temperament. It has little purpose in life beyond guarding its chosen turf. Though not strong, it has powerful mental abilities along with a high Dexterity and very high Constitution, protecting it against all of the “big three” types of saving throws. As you’d expect from a floating blob with a giant central eye, its Perception skill is through the roof; it also has darkvision out to 120 feet. It has an innate ability to hover, so it can never be knocked prone.

At melee range, it has a bite attack, but the beholder’s trump card is its Eye Rays, which emanate from the many smaller eyes at the end of stalks extending from its body. These rays have a range of 120 feet, enough to keep trespassers at a distance for two to five combat rounds. It can also project an Antimagic Cone from its central eye, but this ability is problematic, as we’ll see in a moment.

Finally, a beholder in its lair has access to three lair actions: slippery slime on the floor, grasping appendages flailing from the walls and random beholder eyes appearing on nearby surfaces. And a beholder encounter almost always happens in its lair.

The beholder is aggressive, malicious and antisocial, so when trespassers appear, it’s not going to indulge any attempt to negotiate passage—it’s going to attack immediately.

Continue reading Beholder Tactics