Monsters of the Multiverse: Demon Lords

Time to wrap up my survey of Monsters of the Multiverse with the final category: demon lords. My look at archdevils went so quickly, I was tempted to go ahead and lump both groups of archfiends into one post, but demon lords turned out to be more complicated. As with the archdevils, I’ve placed these notes behind spoiler tags.

One note that applies across the board is that references to insanity have been eliminated, so that any regional effect of a lair characterized as “Madness of X” is now called “Beguiling Realm” or “Corrupted Nature” and given the simple effect of imposing advantage or disadvantage on certain skill checks, or it’s simply deleted. Regional effects usually kick in before combat begins, so these changes mostly apply to situations occurring before or after a battle, but they can also alter the outcome of a mid-combat parley or keep an unconscious and dying character from being stabilized.

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Dragon Tactics, Part 3: Gem Dragons

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 Aren’t lots of players condemning alignment as outdated?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”

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?

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Empyrean Tactics

The fifth-edition Dungeon Master’s Guide describes four tiers of play, based on player character level. From level 1 to level 4, PCs are “local heroes,” saving one village at a time. At levels 5 through 10, they’re “heroes of the realm,” regionally renowned. At levels 11 through 16, they’re “masters of the realm,” on whose deeds the fates of kingdoms turn. And at levels 17 through 20, they’re “masters of the world,” the ones who wind up as protagonists in books by R.A. Salvatore.

If your PCs are coming face-to-face with an empyrean, they’d better either be masters of the world already or have very good health insurance coverage. They are, essentially, demigods. Titans. Boss monsters on par with the most ancient dragons. Most of them are chaotic good, residing on the plane of Arvandor, Arboria or Olympus, depending on how old-school you like your cosmology. But sometimes they go on a spring break bender in Tartarus or something (excuse me—Carceri), and they’re not the same when they come back. These depraved empyreans end up exiled to the material plane, where they take over kingdoms as a hobby. (If a 20-foot-tall god-child can’t make Posleslavny great again, who can, am I right?) Continue reading “Empyrean Tactics”

Kraken Tactics

Release the kraken! A high-level boss monster that player characters won’t encounter until they’re masters of the realm (if you, as their dungeon master, have a shred of decency in you), the kraken isn’t so much a creature as it is a natural disaster.

Running a kraken, like running a dragon, requires keeping track of legendary actions and lair actions as well as regular and bonus actions and reactions. One consolation is that, of all boss monsters, the kraken is probably the most likely to be encountered outside its lair, unless the PCs are on a mission to slay it. On the other hand, if the kraken is encountered within six miles of said lair, its regional effects mean that PCs will have to run a gantlet of hostile crocodiles; swarming schools of quippers; giant crabs, frogs, seahorses; sharks of all kinds; and water elementals. They’ll also have to contend with torrential rain and storm-strength winds, imposing disadvantage on navigation checks, Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight or hearing, and ranged weapon attacks. In colder climes, they’ll have to make DC 10 Constitution checks against exhaustion every hour—and saving throws every minute if they fall in the frigid waters—unless they have natural or magical protection.

In its lair or out of it, the kraken is a juggernaut, with only average Dexterity but godlike Strength, Constitution and mental abilities. No, it’s not just a mindless engine of devastation. It’s smarter than anyone in your adventuring party and most likely wiser as well, and its massiveness and majesty are mesmerizing. Its decisions in combat should convey a sense of calculated malice and cruelty. It knows everyone’s weaknesses, and it doesn’t miss an opportunity to exploit them. If it chooses to communicate (via telepathy), it will be only to taunt, belittle and humiliate its victims; there’s nothing a kraken wants that the PCs can tempt it with. Continue reading “Kraken Tactics”