Undying Tactics

The undying of Eberron are a fascinating invention: undead creatures aligned with good. While other undead are either raised by necromancy, kept from eternal rest by trauma or malevolent entities attempting to cheat death, the undying exist beyond the mortal veil simply because they’re so beloved, the world can’t bear to part with them. Awwww!

Undying soldiers are mostly elite guards. They have very high Strength along with high Constitution and, interestingly, Charisma—although the latter doesn’t seem to power any of their abilities, so we can slot them into the regular brute role. They have ordinary Intelligence and above-average Wisdom, so they’ll talk before fighting and make prudent targeting decisions. They’re vulnerable to necrotic damage, resistant to radiant damage and less susceptible to damage from off-the-rack weapons than from ones that are magical or merely silvered.

Illumination is an interesting feature in light (har) of the fact that undying soldiers have 60 feet of darkvision. What does shedding bright light for 10 feet and dim light for 10 feet beyond that gain them? It depends who or what they’re fighting; the first thing that comes to my mind is that a Way of Shadow monk can’t use Shadow Step to get within reach of them. That’s a pretty niche benefit, though. A somewhat broader benefit is that each undying soldier exists in a darkness-proof bubble. The spell snuffs out any light-creating spell of 2nd level or lower, but Illumination isn’t a spell, so it persists; plus, its radius is greater. If an undying soldier is attacked at night from a distance of greater than 60 feet, however, Illumination just makes it a more conspicuous target, so I would assume that this feature is on by default only indoors. Outdoors, undying soldiers are better off turning it on only when they need it. Continue reading Undying Tactics

Tarkanan Assassin Tactics

The Tarkanan assassin is a hired killer, but that (plus their Dexterity and their Armor Class) is where their resemblance to the standard assassin in the Monster Manual ends. Most conspicuously, they don’t have the Assassinate trait—or even Sneak Attack! Clearly, this non-player character requires a fresh approach.

As one might expect, the Tarkanan assassin is a shock attacker, with a decent enough Constitution to put up with a bit of a scuffle but primarily interested in getting in and out of combat quickly. Proficient in Athletics instead of Acrobatics, they’re more likely to tackle their target than shoot them while hanging upside-down outside a window. They’re also proficient in Sleight of Hand, perhaps for slipping poison into someone’s drink—it’s not enough by itself to conceal spellcasting. Deception proficiency suggests an aptitude for disguise, and Perception plus Stealth is the hallmark of the ambush attacker.

Tarkanan assassins have darkvision, which is interesting, because House Tarkanan, according to the lore in Eberron: Rising From the Last War (chapter 4, “Crime in Sharn: House Tarkanan”), comprises members of many races, not just those with darkvision. Does this mean that House Tarkanan doesn’t employ humans, halflings or changelings as assassins (and why wouldn’t you hire changelings to perform all your asassinations?), do they somehow acquire darkvision as part of their initiation into the order of assassins, or is it an unmentioned side effect of their aberrant dragonmarks? The book doesn’t say. Choose your own favorite explanation. Continue reading Tarkanan Assassin Tactics

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

Kruthik Tactics

Kruthiks are a refreshing change of pace: a straight-up monster that just wants to eat, have babies and otherwise be left alone. They come in various sizes, but all of them have in common a high armor class, burrowing and climbing movement, darkvision, tremorsense, and the features Keen Smell, Pack Tactics and Tunneler.

Ordinary young and adult kruthiks have a balanced ability contour favoring Dexterity. This would normally indicate a bias toward ranged combat, but young kruthiks lack a ranged attack, and in adult kruthiks, the bias is slight, almost insignificant. Thus, they don’t fit neatly into any one single combat profile. On the other hand, their Intelligence isn’t high enough to indicate tactical flexibility. I’m going to interpret this to mean that they may start combat in any number of ways—brute melee fighting, ranged sniping, scrappy skirmishing, hard-and-fast shock attacks—but whichever of these they choose, they generally don’t deviate from.

Because their ability contours offer so few clues about their fighting styles, the importance of their burrowing and climbing movement and their Pack Tactics and Tunneler features is magnified. Young kruthiks are disinclined to fight enemies they don’t outnumber—at least 3 to 1. Adult kruthiks don’t necessarily have to outnumber their enemies, but they’ll never fight in a group of fewer than three, and four or five is a more typical squad size. Since young kruthiks have only melee attacks, they have to swarm their enemies; adult kruthiks can combine melee Stab attacks with ranged Spike attacks (akin to a porcupine throwing its quills) and gain the benefit of Pack Tactics as long as least one of them is engaged in melee with a foe. Continue reading Kruthik Tactics

Ogre Tactics

Recently, I was asked by a reader to look at ogre tactics. There’s a reason why I haven’t touched on ogres before now, and that’s that ogres basically have no tactics. They’re dumb, simple brutes. With many monsters, simply throwing them at player characters and having them go “Rrrraaaahhhh, stab stab stab” (or in this case, “bash bash bash”) falls far short of what those monsters are capable of at their best. With ogres, at least ordinary ones, it’s all they’re capable of.

But Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes includes several ogre variants that are, in fact, worth examining. What you have to remember, though, is that these ogres are never going to appear on their own, nor solely in the company of other ogres. These are semi-domesticated ogres used by other species as trained warbeasts. They use their special features only when commanded to. Thus, it’s the Intelligence of the trainer, not of the ogre, that influences how effectively they’re used.

In the stat block of the basic ogre, there are only two details that a dungeon master not accustomed to tactical thinking might overlook (by now, they should be obvious to any regular reader of this blog). Continue reading Ogre Tactics

Centaur Tactics

Centaurs are the half-horse, half-human hybrids of Greek myth for which, it has been observed, no one has yet come up with a definitive way to design trousers. Which to me clearly indicates that they don’t wear any. Don’t come to me with your hang-ups, man.

In the Harry Potter series, centaurs are standoffish, territorial and even a bit malicious, but in Dungeons and Dragons, as far back as I can remember, they’ve been labeled good creatures—although I’m pretty sure they were originally chaotic good rather than neutral good, which makes more sense to me. Anyway, the upshot is, centaurs are unlikely to attack unprovoked and may prefer to try to subdue and capture their enemies rather than kill them. Doesn’t mean they can’t give you a good hoof-clout, though.

With a single-peak ability contour—exceptional Strength, but merely above-average Dexterity and Constitution—centaurs are also another sort of hybrid, between a brute and a shock attacker. As I use the terms, shock attackers hit fast and hard, then get out, because they’re not cut out for prolonged melee engagement; brutes engage and tank it out until their enemies are dead. With centaurs, we’re maybe looking at something in between: a creature that engages for just two or three rounds, then disengages. Continue reading Centaur Tactics