Shadow Mastiff Tactics

Shadow mastiffs are a nasty quasi-canine predators from the Shadowfell, valued as watchbeasts and hunting companions by the kinds of entities that would rather employ a monster for such purposes than pick up a nice puppy from the pound. Packs of them sometimes slip across the boundary between the Shadowfell and the material plane, roving and hunting for the joy of it.

With very high Strength and high Dexterity, shadow mastiffs are ambush attackers without the patience for a drawn-out fight. If they can’t take down their chosen target in two or three rounds of combat, there’s a good chance that they’ll give up and search for easier prey, and attacking from hiding is essential to their hunting pattern—they may not start a fight at all if they can’t gain surprise on the first round.

Five of their features—Shadow Blend, Sunlight Weakness, Keen Hearing and Smell, darkvision, and resistance to physical damage from normal weapons while in dim light or darkness—create such an overwhelming incentive for shadow mastiffs to stay out of sunlight and other areas of bright light that their entire hunting strategy revolves around exploiting the gloom of night. And since their Intelligence isn’t high enough for them to adapt to changing circumstances, lighting a torch or lantern or casting an illumination spell is an effective way for a target who survives their initial assault to get them to abandon their attack. Continue reading Shadow Mastiff Tactics

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

Conjured Creature Tactics

Today’s post is as much for players as it is for Dungeon Masters, because creatures summoned by conjure animals are as often found fighting alongside player characters as against them. And, in fact, the tactics relating to conjured creatures are player tactics as much as they are creature tactics, if not more so.

Conjure animals—along with the closely related spells conjure woodland beings and conjure minor elementals—is sometimes referred to as a “broken” spell. It’s not necessarily that the spell is excessively powerful; in fact, as we’ll see, it comes with a built-in hitch that can have just the opposite effect. Rather, it’s the fact that this hitch encourages casters to summon as many creatures as possible, causing combat to bog down badly—over and over and over again. So one of the things I’ll talk about is how to keep this from happening.

It behooves any player whose PC learns conjure animals (or conjure woodland beings or conjure minor elementals) to read the spell description very closely, because it doesn’t necessarily do what you think it does. Unlike, say, find familiar, these spells don’t give you the privilege of choosing what kind of creature shows up. They don’t even let you dictate how powerful the summoned creature(s) will be. The only thing you’re assured of is how many creatures show up. Continue reading Conjured Creature Tactics

Duergar Tactics: Mordenkainen’s Duergar, Part 2

Moar duergar! The duergar mind master is the last of the CR 2 duergar, the one with the ability contour of a spellcaster but no actual spells. What it does have is Mind Mastery, a feature with a 60-foot range which requires an Intelligence saving throw to resist. More to the point, it targets one creature within 60 feet and requires a DC 12 Intelligence save to resist.

This feature, frankly, is terrible. Even a level 1 PC who’s dumped Intelligence still has a 40 percent chance of succeeding on this saving throw. It’s a straight-up waste of an action in any circumstance save one: as part of an ambush. In this instance, a hidden mind master can use Mind Mastery against a target without giving away its position or even its presence if it fails, since Mind Mastery is technically neither an attack nor a spell. If it succeeds, it gets to force an opponent to sucker-punch one of their own allies—or, depending on the local terrain, walk directly into a chasm or a river of lava or something. With Intelligence 15, a mind master is smart enough to know not to bother using this feature in open combat.

So forget treating it as a spellcaster; we’ll pretend that its Intelligence is nothing special after all and it’s just another shock trooper, using Dexterity for offense as well as defense. Continue reading Duergar Tactics: Mordenkainen’s Duergar, Part 2

Duergar Tactics: Mordenkainen’s Duergar, Part 1

The central question in running duergar—which otherwise are simple and straightforward brute fighters—is when to use Enlarge and when to use Invisibility, the complication being that Enlarge both breaks invisibility and takes an action to execute, preventing a duergar from attacking on the same turn. Thus, any additional damage it deals from being Enlarged has to make up for the round in which it deals no damage at all. As I note in an earlier post, the break-even point for ordinary duergar is in the third round of combat. Over just one or two rounds, Enlarging doesn’t add enough damage to make up for the lost round. Over four or more, it offers a clear advantage. Thus, the more likely a fight is to drag out—in other words, the more evenly matched the two sides—the greater the benefit of Enlarge. Invisibility, meanwhile, is really useful only for either ambush or flight, since it’s a once-per-combat feature that’s disrupted by attacking, casting a spell or Enlarging.

Interestingly, not all the duergar in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes possess Enlarge and Invisibility. In fact, only four of the seven duergar variants in Mordenkainen’s have these two features, and one of them has Invisibility on a 4–6 recharge, resulting in a big increase in the breadth of its usefulness. Also, while most of the variant duergar are also brutes, one is a quasi-spellcaster (it has no spells to cast, but it does have an Intelligence-based long-distance offensive ability), and one is a shock trooper. Finally, alongside those seven variants, there are two profiles of constructs that duergar employ. As I go through the various stat blocks, I’m going to focus primarily on how these variants differ from run-of-the-mill duergar. Continue reading Duergar Tactics: Mordenkainen’s Duergar, Part 1