Ghost Dragon Tactics

It’s the spooooopy season, and so it’s appropriate that my first post–Gamehole Con analysis should be of the ghost dragon, a wyrm with unfinished business—which is to say, one that’s not done having stuff yet. At first blush, it seems odd that the fact of the ghost dragon’s refusal to pass beyond the veil makes it less legendary than it was before, rather than more, but the absence of legendary and lair actions is deceiving. A ghost dragon is as challenging a foe as any other adult dragon, if not even more so.

Ghost dragons can no longer burrow, climb or swim, but they don’t need to: they’re incorporeal now, and they can fly just as swiftly as they ever did. As in life, they’re brutes, with extraordinary Strength, Constitution and Charisma, not to mention high Intelligence and Wisdom as well. They’re resistant to physical damage—even from magic weapons!—and outright immune to acid, cold, necrotic and poison damage, plus a host of debilitating conditions. They gain expertise in Stealth, good for popping out of apparently unattended treasure piles and going, “Boo!” (They shouldn’t actually hide in the treasure pile, though, because that would cause them to take force damage each turn they were in there.)

But here are the really brutal features: Bite and Terrifying Breath. What’s so brutal about a Bite attack? Seems pretty quotidian, right? Ah, but this Bite attack deals 23 percent more damage on average than the Bite of an adult red dragon and 52 percent more than that of an adult white … and it also slows the target down to half speed on a hit.

Terrifying Breath, meanwhile, deals cold damage in a 90-foot cone—the standard breath weapon area of effect for an ancient dragon, not an adult dragon, as the ghost dragon evidently used to be, based on its size—and causes the frightened condition in targets that failed their saves, à la Frightful Presence. But there’s one more thing: Creatures frightened by Terrifying Breath are also paralyzed. That’s the real killer, right there. In fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, paralyzed is about the worst thing you can be, next to unconscious or dead.

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Draconic Shard Tactics

It’s a throwaway line, but the draconic shard stat block in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons contains one of the low-key coolest tidbits I’ve come across: “Armor Class 17 (Deflection).” Never mind armor, natural or otherwise; a draconic shard simply redirects that blow that should have hit. Wicked!

The concept of the draconic shard, despite being tied to the concept of gem dragons, is considerably cooler than gem dragons themselves are. The idea is that the gem dragon has such irrepressible force of will that even when its body is slain, its spirit goes right on existing like nothing happened—and because it no longer has a body, it’s even tougher to destroy. Now that’s legendary.

Draconic shards have the unusual ability contour of extraordinary mental abilities (both Intelligence and Charisma, with exceptional Wisdom to boot) paired with exceptional Constitution, an in-your-face spellcasting combination usually associated with support casters. In the draconic shard’s case, however, this combo simply means that it has no qualms about getting up close and personal with its foes. It can keep its distance, but it doesn’t need to.

Moreover, despite having an appropriately dragonish 80-foot flying speed, the draconic shard is perfectly happy to sit tight inside an object that it possesses—meant not in the usual “hoard of loot” sense but in the spiritual sense. If it starts to feel restless, however, no problem: It can make the object fly!

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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.

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Monsters of the Multiverse Humanoids, Part 2

Today I finish up the humanoids in Monsters of the Multiverse by looking at significant changes to shadar-kai, drow, gith and nagpas. As a reminder, I’m only examining creatures whose tactics might differ because of changes to their traits and actions in Multiverse. If I don’t mention a creature, my tactics for that creature are unchanged.

The shadow dancer, now explicitly called the shadar-kai shadow dancer, was already a powerful fighter in darkness, thanks to its Shadow Jump bonus action. It’s even more powerful now that its Multiattack includes an additional use of Shadow Jump. Having one use of this ability as a bonus action and a second one in its Multiattack means the shadow dancer no longer has to choose between using it to engage in melee and using it to disengage; it can do both in a single turn. Since it can now return to darkness at the end of every turn, it can always gain advantage on the first of its three Spiked Chain attacks against a target without darkvision, increasing its expected damage by roughly half. There’s no longer any reason for this shock attacker to stay within its opponent’s melee reach between turns.

The most significant changes to the gloom weaver, now called the shadar-kai gloom weaver, are to its Spellcasting, but in addition, its Multiattack now allows it to make a third Shadow Spear attack rather than cast a spell, the spear comes back when thrown, and all elves, not just shadar-kai, are exempted from Burden of Time. Taken together, these changes are great enough to require a total rethinking of gloom weaver tactics. (There’s also a slight chance that Misty Escape will recharge and allow a second use of it, but that chance isn’t good enough that the gloom weaver should take a chance and use it when it wouldn’t have done so before.)

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Nagpa Tactics

Thought I might be able to tackle something easy after the drow matron mother, but no—you guys want me to look at the nagpa, another monster with eleventy billion spells. (OK, it’s got 26. That’s still a lot.)

It’s not like you’ll even find nagpas running around all over the place. According to Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, there are only 13 of them—a coterie of conniving wizards cursed by the Raven Queen and turned into skulking vulture-people scavenging the remnants of lost civilizations for scraps of arcane lore.

Unsurprisingly, nagpas’ ability contour is that of a long-range spellcaster, with extraordinary Intelligence and Charisma, exceptional Wisdom and very high Dexterity. They carry staves, which they somehow are able to use as finesse weapons and deal two dice of damage with, but melee engagement really isn’t their style. If they do get into melee, they want to get back out of it quickly.

They have proficiency in all the mental saving throws, but their Dexterity and Constitution save modifiers are unremarkable. Thus, they don’t have a lot to fear from bards, whose spells tend to emphasize enchantment, illusion and crowd control; but casters who sling damaging evocation, transmutation and necromancy spells pose a threat that they need to neutralize quickly. Taking out these foes is even more important to them than taking out melee fighters.

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