Tag: CR 4

  • Carrion Stalker and Strigoi Tactics

    It’s a curious thing—and, to be frank, the thing that’s allowed me to support my family by writing analyses like these—that fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons’ format for presenting monsters, comprising flavor text alongside a stat block, does so little to explain how a given monster uses the abilities it’s got. Which makes it all that much more curious when the flavor text bucks the trend and does explain how a monster uses the abilities it’s got, precisely and accurately. The manticore, in the Monster Manual, is one of these instances. The carrion stalker, in Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft, is another.

    Even if it didn’t, however, this stat block is an easy lift. All the parts fit together neatly, without complication. The carrion stalker is a Tiny monstrosity with Stealth proficiency, burrowing movement and tremorsense, so obviously it sits quietly out of sight, waiting for something to jostle its substrate, then bursts out and attacks. Its Multiattack consists of either three Tentacle attacks or, if it’s attached to something, two Tentacle attacks and a Larval Burst. “Attached,” in this case, comes from a rider on its Tentacle attack which functions as a sort of reverse grapple (or perhaps an automatic Climb Onto a Bigger Creature—see Dungeon Master’s Guide, chapter 9, “Action Options”): Rather than immobilize the target on a hit, the carrion stalker affixes itself to the target and goes wherever they go. Being attached to a target also grants it advantage on attack rolls against them, although—unlike the restrained condition—it doesn’t impose disadvantage on the target’s counterattacks. Finally, the Larval Burst is the carrion stalker’s pièce de résistance, an area-effect action that hurls maggots 10 feet in all directions, which is best used when there’s at least one living creature other than the target within range, and preferably two or more (see DMG, chapter 8, Targets in Area of Effect table).

  • Variant Zombie Tactics

    The Monster Manual zombie isn’t a complicated or sophisticated attacker, but it possesses one trait that makes it memorable: Undead Fortitude, which allows it to pop back up and keep fighting even after it’s reduced to 0 hp. You never know how many hits it will ultimately take to stop a zombie. Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft additionally (and accurately) notes, “The horror of the shambling dead lies not in their individual menace … but [in] their numbers, their persistence, and their disregard for their own well-being.” One zombie, in the right circumstances, can be played for laughs; many zombies are legitimately unnerving, regardless of context.

    Even so, after a while, zombie fights can become ho-hum affairs—especially past level 5, when clerics’ Destroy Undead feature can clear them out en masse. How can a Dungeon Master keep the thrill alive?

    We can find part of the answer by looking to an unrelated monster: the troll. A troll, out of the box, is nothing but a hard-to-kill brute. However, the Loathsome Limbs variant, which allows the troll’s severed limbs to keep fighting independently, turns a troll encounter into something special. In a similar vein, suppose that a town’s response to an invading zombie horde was to make absolutely sure they didn’t get up again by hacking the corpses to pieces—and even that didn’t work. That’s one way you might end up with a swarm of zombie limbs.

  • Draconic Elemental, Construct and Ooze Tactics

    Time to put the wraps on Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons with a roundup of the last several creatures remaining: animated breath, metallic sentinels, dragonbone golems and dragonblood ooze. (That’s right—a draconic ooze!)

  • Draconian Tactics

    You thought I was salty in “Derro Tactics”? This is where I get really salty. This is where I share one of my most unpopular of unpopular Dungeons & Dragons opinions:

    I am not nostalgic for Dragonlance. At. All.

    Even as a high schooler, reading the first two Dragonlance trilogies, I recognized that those books were not good books. They were all right. They were beach reading for nerds. That was OK for me then, because I was a nerd who wanted some beach reading. From the very beginning, though, I hated the concept of the kender, which were clearly ersatz halflings free of any even marginally actionable link back to the J.R.R. Tolkien estate, distinguished by the most annoying traits the authors could come up with to assign them. Also, looking back, the depiction of gully dwarves is beyond cringeworthy.

    For me, two trilogies were plenty; the story, such as it was, felt complete. I didn’t doubt that more Dragonlance novels had been published, but my jaw dropped recently when Teos “Alphastream” Abadía posted on Twitter that there had been more than 190. (I’ve since counted the titles on the list on Wikipedia and come up with only 189 published novels, plus two more unreleased, but also another 20 short story anthologies, for a total of 209 published works.) No way does the world need that much Dragonlance.

    So, naturally, it’s going to be re-released later this year. I guess the fact that readers bought 209 Dragonlance books makes it a hot property.

    My general attitude toward the revival of old official campaign settings, with the exception of Eberron, is that I’d much rather see something entirely new. We get a little of that with Ravnica and Theros, although those are technically borrowed from another Wizards of the Coast property, Magic: The Gathering. But all the excited anticipation surrounding Planescape, Dark Sun, Spelljammer? I don’t feel it. And I especially don’t feel it about Dragonlance, which in my opinion has aged like fine milk.

    That’s all preface to the fact that this post is about draconians, a monstrous folk native to the Dragonlance setting. In that setting, as you might expect, they’re evil, but in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons, they can be of any alignment, despite also being described as “bipedal monsters born from dragon eggs that have been corrupted or warped by powerful magic.” Five varieties are statted out: the foot soldier, the mage, the infiltrator, the dreadnought and the mastermind. None has an especially high challenge rating, but that’s a good thing, since they’re meant to be encountered in hordes.


  • Monsters of the Multiverse: Fiends, Part 3

    Aside from devils and demons (and their lawful and chaotic fiend-kin), there remain four neutral evil fiends that receive significant updates in Monsters of the Multiverse: three types of yugoloths (hydroloths, yagnoloths and oinoloths) and barghests.


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Praise for The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters

“I’ve always said, the Dungeon Master is the whole world except for his players, and as a result, I spend countless hours prepping for my home group. What Keith gets is that the monsters are the DM’s characters, and his work has been super helpful in adding logic, flavor, and fun in my quest to slaughter my players’ characters and laugh out the window as they cry in their cars afterward.” —Joe Manganiello

“The best movie villains are the ones you fall in love with. Keith’s book grounds villains in specificity, motivation, and tactics—so much so that players will love to hate ’em. This book will enrich your game immeasurably!” —Matthew Lillard

“This book almost instantly made me a better Dungeon Master. If you’re running games, it is a must-have enhancement. I gave copies to the two others in our group who share in the Dungeon Mastering, and both of them came back the next time grinning rather slyly. Keith is a diabolical genius, and I say that with the utmost respect!” —R.A. Salvatore

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