Now we get into the real weirdies—the dragon-adjacent aberrations, elementals, constructs and oozes. And since beholders and mind flayers contend with dragons for the title of Most Iconic Monsters of Dungeons & Dragons, it’s not surprising that Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons contains two creatures that represent the overlap between these creatures’ spheres of influence and that of dragons.
It’s been my longtime policy not to post analyses of the stat blocks of unique villains on this blog, because I’d be a fool to think players don’t read it, too—in fact, I’ve encouraged them to—and going through every part of a BBEG’s kit is about as spoilery as it gets. Which is why the tactics of archdevils and demon lords are content exclusive to MOAR! Monsters Know What They’re Doing.
But there’s a problem, isn’t there? The content of MOAR! Monsters, at this point, is locked in, and it refers to the archfiends and their stat blocks as they’re described in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. The only place you’ll find updates reflecting the changes in Monsters of the Multiverse is right here. However, all the archfiends are changed in some way or another, and I can’t ignore them.
To resolve this conflict, I’m taking two measures:
- I’ve placed every section of this post and the next referring to a particular archfiend behind a spoiler box, which you have to open to read. There won’t be any accidental spoilers.
- As much as possible—and with more assiduity than I’ve bothered showing in my prior Monsters of the Multiverse updates—I’m going to confine my comments to precisely how these tactics differ from those in MOAR! Monsters.
With that out of the way, let’s start with the archdevils.
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”
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?
“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”