Pigeon Tactics

If you live in a major North American city (except, weirdly, Milwaukee), you’ve undoubtedly encountered pigeons on an almost daily basis. Like squirrels, they enjoy a commensal relationship with humans, benefiting greatly from our effect on the ecosystem without significantly helping us or harming us in any way. And you know they’re generally quite chill, unless your toddler runs directly at them, as toddlers invariably do.

The standard pigeon in fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons is no different. A small, unthreatening thing, it’s disinclined to fight at all and relies heavily on its Hypervigilant Flight reaction, which allows it to move up to half its speed as a reaction—without provoking an opportunity attack—if another creature moves within 5 feet of it. Pigeons are prey creatures, not predators, and the only way you’re likely to suffer a Beak attack from one is if you somehow manage to grab it.

A swarm of pigeons behaves similarly to a single pigeon, but not exactly the same. It still spooks easily, and it rarely attacks, preferring simply to use Hypervigilant Flight to retreat to a safe distance and, if pursued, to Dash to a safe perch out of reach. However, sometimes a swarm of pigeons chooses an empty, elevated location to roost in, such as an upper floor of an abandoned building. Particularly if this roost is home to eggs or squabs, a swarm of pigeons may become aggressive toward anyone who intrudes.

The first action it generally takes against a trespasser is Evacuate, more as a scare response than a calculated attempt to debilitate. If the target subsequently moves, so does the swarm, using Hypervigilant Flight. However, if the target doesn’t leave, the swarm then swoops back down and attacks with its Beaks. It continues to attack until the intruder is driven off or the swarm is reduced to 10 hp or fewer.

The giant pigeon is another matter, because unlike its Tiny cousins, it doesn’t scare. Cheeky and undauntable in its pursuit of food, it disregards other creatures as long as they leave it alone. Even snatching food away from it doesn’t provoke it to fight; it simply continues to try to get the food back, with greater determination. (You can use the Disarm action, from “Action Options” in chapter 9 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, to represent the giant pigeon’s attempts to snatch food back from a character who’s holding it.) If and when one does actual harm to it, however, it fights back, doing its best to drive the aggressor away. Continue reading Pigeon Tactics

Steel Predator Tactics

Manufactured by a rogue modron exiled from Mechanus, the steel predator is a construct custom-built for a customer who wants someone dead badly enough to send a CR 16 killbot after it.

I recently discussed the steel predator with Mike “Sly Flourish” Shea on the Don’t Split the Podcast Network’s DM’s Deep Dive stream. The analysis begins at 16:55 in the Twitch VOD (YouTube video to come embedded below!), but for readers who don’t have time to watch videos or who want easily skimmed text to refer back to, here it is in a nutshell: Continue reading Steel Predator Tactics

Elder Elemental Tactics

The four elder elementals in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes have a lot in common. To me, the most striking commonality is that they’re exceptional, if not extraordinary, in every single ability score but one: Intelligence. Each of them has Intelligence 2, indicating bare-minimum sentience.

Once again, we see the combination of low Intelligence and high Wisdom, only this time it’s dialed up to an extreme. What does it mean to have Intelligence 2 and Wisdom 18 or 21? It means intuition without thinking, awareness without adaptability, judgment without reason. It means a creature that acts according to its nature and can’t be compelled to do otherwise. It means a creature that senses the degree of threat that a party of player characters poses but can’t really distinguish any one of those PCs from any other.

These are the other traits shared by all elder elementals:

  • At least two physical ability scores that are higher than all their mental ability scores.
  • Proficiency in Wisdom and Charisma saving throws, making them extremely difficult to manipulate or to banish.
  • Resistance to physical damage from nonmagical attacks.
  • Immunity to poison damage, exhaustion, paralysis, petrifaction, and being poisoned or stunned.
  • Darkvision out to a radius of 60 feet, which in this case I interpret to indicate not a preference for fighting in dim light or darkness but an indifference to lighting conditions in general.
  • A lack of language. Elder elementals aren’t here to chat.
  • Legendary Resistance, which they’ll use primarily to avoid debilitating conditions and only secondarily to avoid damage.
  • The Siege Monster feature, which means they’ll destroy your cover before they destroy you.
  • A Multiattack comprising two different attack actions, one attack with each.
  • A selection of legendary actions that includes one turn’s worth of additional movement.
  • Neutral alignment. The default attitude of an elder elemental toward other creatures is indifference. It’s not going to attack—intentionally—unless it’s provoked. But who knows who or what might provoke it?

Continue reading Elder Elemental Tactics

Elite Githzerai Tactics

The githzerai monk has the ability profile of a shock attacker, but it lacks the mobility to get in and out of combat easily. The githzerai enlightened is the more fully developed version of this build concept, differing from the githzerai monk in three ways: higher ability scores, the Temporal Strike action, and a package of mobility- and defense-enhancing psionic “spells”: blur, expeditious retreat, haste, plane shift and teleport.

Getting the best use out of these abilities is going to require paying close attention to action economy and “spell” duration. Let’s break it down! Continue reading Elite Githzerai 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

Angel Tactics

Who gets in a fight with an angel? “Evil characters” is the obvious answer, but it’s not the only answer. Angels being lawful good, a dedicated group of chaotic player characters could find just as much reason to beef with them—and even PCs who are neutral on either the good-to-evil spectrum, the law-to-chaos spectrum or both, and who find themselves gadding about on Mount Celestia (or the Seven Heavens, as we called them back in the day), might somehow run afoul of the ruling authority in a way that needs to be kiboshed.

Angels, in fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons, come in three levels: devas, planetars and solars. These qualify as boss opponents for mid-level, high-level and top-level adventurers, but realistically, players are rarely going to run across them before they acquire access to the 7th-level spell plane shift, and that doesn’t happen until level 13. Lower-level PCs might journey to the Outer Planes through the use of a magic item that allows them to cast plane shift or a portal created by the gate spell, or they might manage to summon an angel to serve them using planar binding or planar ally. Even so, we’re still talking level 9 and up. Continue reading Angel Tactics

Golem Tactics

OK, I’m back. Let’s talk golems—living statues, animated through magic. (Specifically, according to legend, by hacking the divine power by which life was created; according to the Monster Manual, by summoning an animating spirit from the Elemental Plane of Earth.) Golems are fashioned to be servants, with great strength, limited intellect and no free will. A golem severed from the command of its creator may be either inert and harmless (if it could fulfill its last command) or dangerously berserk (if it couldn’t).

There are four types of golems in fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons: clay, stone, iron and flesh. One of these things is not like the others. The flesh golem is, for all intents and purposes, Frankenstein’s monster, and of all the types of golems, it has the most unfit vessel for its life force and the most existential angst. The clay golem, on the other hand, is the direct conceptual descendant of the Golem of Prague, and the stone and iron golems are stronger variations on this theme.

All golems are straightforward brutes, with exceptional (and in most cases extraordinary) Strength and Constitution and below-average Dexterity. If anything, they’re even more brutish than the average brute, because of their immunities to normal weapons and to many debilitating conditions (they can be incapacitated, knocked prone, restrained or stunned, but not charmed, frightened, paralyzed, petrified or poisoned). Any variation in behavior is going to come from their special features, so I’m going to focus largely on these. Continue reading Golem Tactics

Demon Tactics: Type 4, 5 and 6 Demons

We now return you to your regularly scheduled monsters. Today, the upper management of the demonic hierarchy: the type 4 nalfeshnee, the type 5 marilith, and the type 6 balor and goristro.

As mentioned before, demons can’t be killed on the prime material plane—or on any other except their home plane, the Abyss. Any demon killed elsewhere simply re-forms there. Therefore, demons fought on any other plane don’t fear death and won’t retreat or flee even when seriously injured. They inflict as much injury and damage as they can until they’re destroyed.

Also, all demons are (at a minimum) resistant to cold, fire and lightning damage and immune to poison, and at this level, they’re all immune to physical damage from normal weapons as well. Additionally, they have either darkvision or truesight, giving them advantage at night and underground. Continue reading Demon Tactics: Type 4, 5 and 6 Demons

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