Monsters of the Multiverse: Fiends, Part 1

On to fiends, which receive—by far­­—the greatest number of substantive changes in Monsters of the Multiverse, and that’s not even counting archdevils and demon lords. In fact, so many fiends receive significant updates to their actions that I’m going to break my examinations of this creature type into five posts: three for the rank and file (one each for the lawfuls, chaotics and neutrals) right now, then two more for the archfiends (one for archdevils, one for demon lords) after I’ve covered all the other creature types.

To begin with, the merregon’s Multiattack has been made unconditional: three Halberd attacks, period, whereas before it received the third only if there was a superior devil within 60 feet of it. That means there’s no longer any particular need for merregons to form a line to either side of a bone devil, erinys, pit fiend or amnizu commander. They can form any kind of formation now, including rank upon rank in front of their commanders, who can lead from the rear. A detachment of them can also break formation to strike at an enemy weakness. Mind you, at CR 4, merregons are hardly weak minions—each of them is roughly the equivalent of a level 11 PC—so even a mere platoon of them is better managed using the mass combat rules of your choice. The Loyal Bodyguard reaction is unchanged, so it does still make sense for a ring of merregons to surround the superior devil that commands them and act as its personal guard.

Continue reading “Monsters of the Multiverse: Fiends, Part 1”

Monsters of the Multiverse: Undead

Half a dozen undead creatures in Volo’s Guide to Monsters and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes receive significant updates in Monsters of the Multiverse, and deathlocks account for half of these—unsurprisingly, since they’re all spellcasters.

Gone from the deathlock’s Spellcasting repertoire are arms of Hadar, hold person and chill touch. Eldritch blast is reskinned as the ranged spell attack Grave Bolt, dealing an extra 3 damage (presumably from the deathlock’s Charisma modifier). A new Multiattack lets it attack twice with either Deathly Claw or Grave Bolt, doubling the amount of damage it can deal in a single turn.

These changes turn the deathlock inside out. For starters, it loses both of the spells that benefited from being boosted to a higher level by the deathlock’s warlockitude. It also no longer has anything that fills the role of chill touch’s suppression of healing. On the other hand, the fact that the deathlock now gets to attack a second time makes invisibility-based ambush more practical (although it gains advantage only on the first attack roll of the two), and spider climb no longer has to compete against more potent spells for the use of a spell slot.

As for direct attacks, the choice is no longer between Deathly Claw and chill touch but rather between Deathly Claw and Grave Bolt—which is really a choice between melee and ranged combat. This choice is resolved by looking at the deathlock’s ability scores and asking what they say about its combat role. With Charisma as its primary offensive ability and Dexterity as its primary defensive ability, the deathlock is a spellslinger, and as such, it wants to sling spells and avoid melee.

Therefore, its strategy is now to fortify itself in advance with mage armor and either disguise self or invisibility (the latter precludes the use of detect magic while the deathlock concentrates on it); stay as far as possible from likely foes; cast hunger of Hadar to delay opponents while the deathlock completes its task(s); and if that fails, cast spider climb to escape or to attack with Grave Bolt from inaccessible places. Since the deathlock no longer has a convenient way to paralyze an opponent, Deathly Claw is now only a last-ditch defense, for use when the deathlock is cornered and can’t get out of melee.

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Dragon Tactics, Part 3: Gem Dragons

There are a lot of cool things in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. I don’t count gem dragons among them.

Gem dragons aren’t anything new. They were first mentioned in a 1980 issue of Dragon magazine, and they appeared in the pages of the second edition Monstrous Manual and the third edition Monster Manual II. Be that as it may, I can’t get over the hokeyness of the concept. I just can’t.

I mean, it’s already silly and simplistic to have five matte-colored evil dragons pairing off against five metallic-colored good dragons, each one with a monochromatic personality, but at least there’s a symmetry to that silly simplicity. Gem dragons are like, “What if neutral dragons and also there are five of them too and they look like something else valuable?” Oh, and they’re all psionic!

It’s running the conceit into the ground. It’s too much marzipan. What comes next? Air, earth, fire, water and void dragons? Hemp, linen, cotton, wool and silk? Bitter, sour, sweet, salty and umami?

Frankly, rather than incorporate gem dragons into a campaign of my own, I’d just as soon ditch the colors, metals and sparkly rocks altogether and make every dragon unique, so that you don’t know anything about a dragon just by looking at it. We’re supposed to be moving away from bioessentialism anyway, right? Aren’t lots of players condemning alignment as outdated? All right, then, let’s put our treasure hoards where our mouths are. No colors, metals, gems or anything else. Just dragons. Pick the personalities you want them to have, give them powers to match, and make them whos, not whats.

That’s not what you came here for, though. So here we go: gem dragons. Five kinds. Well, actually, sort of, six. But moonstone dragons don’t follow the same rules, so I’ll discuss the others first, then come back to them. Continue reading “Dragon Tactics, Part 3: Gem Dragons”

Skull Lord Tactics

I’ve been procrastinating on analyzing the skull lord, because it’s another damn monster with a spellbook three inches thick. Spells are all right, but if you ask me, the way to make a monster interesting is to give it interesting features. A plethora of spells just creates analysis paralysis.

So what makes a skull lord different from a lich? Quite a lot, actually, but let’s start with the lore. Liches are megalomaniacal wizards who became undead in the pursuit of immortality and boundless power. Skull lords aren’t wizards but warlords—more correctly, agglomerations of warlords, former squabbling rivals now forced to share a single wasted body with three skinless heads.

Undead creatures are driven by compulsions, not survival instincts or rational motives. To run one, you have to know what its compulsion is. Here, it seems, the lore indicates two compulsions: to conquer and . . . to bicker. We’re gonna have some fun with this one. Continue reading “Skull Lord Tactics”

Devil Tactics: Abishais

I’ve got Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes in my hot little hands, and the first request I’ve gotten is for abishais, a kind of devil-dragon hybrid. It would be lovely if they followed a nice, regular pattern of features, as dragons do, but unfortunately, they’ve inherited their fiendish progenitors’ all-over-the-place-ness.

There are certain things all abishais have in common, though:

  • Impressive natural armor, with ACs ranging from 15 up to 22.
  • Brisk flying speeds.
  • Above-average abilities across the board, with peaks varying according to type.
  • Resistance to physical damage from nonmagical, non-silvered weapons, along with cold damage (except for white abishai, which are fully immune to cold).
  • Immunity to fire and poison damage, along with the types corresponding to their draconic progenitors’ breath weapons (this means that red and green abishai don’t get an extra type), and immunity to being poisoned.
  • Long-range darkvision and telepathy.
  • Devil’s Sight (the ability to see through magical darkness), Magic Resistance and Magical Weapons.
  • At least two attacks per Multiattack action, along with additional elemental damage when they claw or bite.

So here are a few things we can already infer about abishais in general: fearlessness toward most other beings; tactics built around aerial attacks (since opportunity attacks pose little threat to them); and a strong preference for operating underground, at night or in artificial darkness. Continue reading “Devil Tactics: Abishais”