Bone Knight Tactics

I’ve been excited to dig into the Eberron setting for a long time, and I’m kicking things off with the bone knight—not an undead, as one might guess from the name, but a humanoid non-player character who can be of any folk. Champions of the Order of the Emerald Claw, a group of fanatical lost-cause nationalists led by a lich, bone knights get their name from their practice of forging armor from the bones of fallen foes. (Judging from the illustration in Eberron: Rising From the Last War, I think they like to sneak a little Punisher imagery in there, too.)

The ability contour of the bone knight isn’t cut-and-dried, since their two outstanding ability scores are Strength and Charisma. Their Constitution edges out their Dexterity, but just barely, and neither is unusually high. What this reminds me of more than anything else is a paladin whose player didn’t get the third high die roll he was hoping for and decided to go all in on offense. I conclude that bone knights fight like brutes, cast self-buffing and control spells from the front line, and compensate for their slightly lackluster Constitution with their bonecraft armor, which gives them a formidable AC 20. They have the Intelligence to plan and adapt, and the Wisdom to choose their targets and their battles.

Their Charisma is high enough that an encounter will probably involve some measure of parley, and maybe only parley—they understand, after all, that it’s better to get what you want without fighting if you can—but their social skill proficiencies are in Intimidation and Deception, so we’re not talking about good-faith negotiation here. Instead, this combination suggests to me that they’re about trying to get their opponents to capitulate, through a combination of outright bullying and more subtle manipulation. Any rhetorical maneuver an abuser might use is right up the bone knight’s alley: direct and indirect threats; negative reinforcement; false accusations; gaslighting; DARVO; demonstrations of explosive anger and sudden, unpredictable violence; dividing enemies by singling out individuals among them for particular blame; and so on. Continue reading Bone Knight Tactics

Tlincalli Tactics

The tlincalli (the name appears to be completely invented, not based in myth, but it looks Nahuatl to me, so I’m going to pronounce it tlhin-ky-yeenope! That’s a Spanish pronunciation. As reader Victor R. points out, in Nahuatl, each l is pronounced as a separate l, so it’s tlhin-KAHL-lee) is a centaur-like monstrosity with a humanoid torso topping a scorpioid body. Based on the illustration in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, its face is pretty awful as well, although details are hard to make out.

With very high Strength and Constitution and merely above-average Dexterity, tlincallis are brutes, unafraid of direct melee confrontation. Their Intelligence is below humanoid average, though not animal-level, while their Wisdom is above average, allowing them to pick out promising prey—the old, the young, the weak, the isolated and the oblivious—as well as to realize when a particularly dangerous opponent needs to be taken out.

The combination of proficiency in Perception and Stealth is indicative of an ambush attacker; proficiency in Survival adds the ability to track, which is consistent with the flavor text’s characterization of them as nomadic hunters. Tlincallis hot on the trail of desirable prey will pursue it aggressively until either they bag it or it fights back forcefully enough to deter them.

Continue reading Tlincalli Tactics

Spawn of Kyuss Tactics

A couple of months ago, a reader asked me to take a look at the spawn of Kyuss in Volo’s Guide to Monsters. Reader, I hope you’re not too disappointed.

Both the flavor text and the ability contour tell us the same thing: The spawn of Kyuss is a largely mindless brute. Its Strength is very high; its Constitution exceptional; its Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma dismal. This is a creature without any flexibility or independent judgment, or even much of a self-preservation instinct.

As an undead being, the spawn of Kyuss is driven by a compulsion—in its case, the desire to spread its parasitic infection to other beings. This is all the spawn of Kyuss does; it’s all it can do. Other than its attack actions, all of its traits are passive. One of its attacks, Claw, is just an ordinary melee attack that happens to do some extra necrotic damage. The other, Burrowing Worm, is an attempt to infect another creature by propelling a parasitic maggot at them. If the target fails their saving throw, the Burrowing Worm continues to deal damage to them. The spawn of Kyuss’s Multiattack action comprises two Claw attacks and one use of Burrowing Worm.

That’s it. Continue reading Spawn of Kyuss Tactics

Ulitharid and Mindwitness Tactics

Ulitharids are elite, extra-large mind flayers with better ability scores, a couple of additional traits, several extra psionic “spells,” telepathy that extends to a range of 2 miles, and moar tentacles. They work in conjunction with elder brains to extend the influence of mind flayer colonies over a greater distance. In fact, their Psionic Hub trait assumes and requires a connection with an elder brain, so without a mind flayer colony built around one, there’s not much reason to write an ulitharid into your adventure.

An ulitharid’s Strength and Constitution are significantly higher than those of a normal mind flayer, but these are still outweighed by its extraordinary mental abilities, which predispose it toward spellcasting and Mind Blast rather than melee attacks. However, since its Constitution is higher than its Dexterity, it’s more willing than the average mind flayer to charge forward in order to make use of these psionic powers. An ulitharid leads from the front.

The one thing an ulitharid lacks that an ordinary mind flayer possesses is proficiency in Deception and Persuasion. As part of their mind-control schemes, mind flayers may try to tempt victims with rewards, either real or imaginary; ulitharids aren’t about that. They’re the muscle, not the face. Continue reading Ulitharid and Mindwitness Tactics

Clockwork Tactics

The clockwork constructs in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes are a collection of machines used by rock gnomes to defend their turf. Combining trickery with extraordinary durability and disproportionate damage-dealing capacity, they share a range of condition and damage immunities along with darkvision and the ability to understand their controllers’ commands—but also a rigidity in their behavior that can only be compensated for by active, real-time control. If they’re sent off to do their work on their own, they do it mechanistically, with no adaptation to what’s going on around them.

First up is the bronze scout, which isn’t particularly strong, but it doesn’t need to be, because it’s basically a self-guided mobile land mine. The key things to note are its burrowing movement, its double proficiency in Stealth, its Earth Armor trait, its Lightning Flare action, and one more trait that’s mentioned in the flavor text but unpardonably omitted from its stat block: “telescoping eyestalks” that let it see aboveground while it burrows below. These eyestalks are crucial, because the bronze scout lacks tremorsense or any other listed way to detect the presence of creatures above it.

This combination of features makes the bronze scout the ideal ambush initiator: Using Stealth to muffle its approach, it scuttles along the ground until it sees movement, then tunnels into the earth and heads toward it. Once it’s approximately in position, it pokes its eyestalks up and looks around, checking to see if its position is correct—that is, if at least three enemies are within 15 feet of it (see “Targets in Area of Effect,” Dungeon Master’s Guide, chapter 8). If it’s not, it retracts its eyestalks and repositions. If it is, it sets off its Lightning Flare, whereupon its waiting allies launch their attack. Since it’s immune to physical damage from nonmagical, non-adamantine weapons, it can take a hell of a beating, Biting back at whatever attacks it. But if it’s seriously damaged (reduced to 7 hp or fewer), it dives back underground, provoking no opportunity attack thanks to Earth Armor, and scuttles away.

The bronze scout doesn’t have to be used in this way, though. It can be used, as its name suggests, simply as a scout, which doesn’t attack at all unless it’s discovered. In this instance, the bronze scout Readies the Lightning Flare action, with the triggering condition “when any creature winds up to make a melee attack against it.” Including the wind-up in the trigger condition is key, because it’s a perceivable circumstance allows the bronze scout to use Lightning Flare as an interrupt, occurring before the opponent follows through with the attack, whereas if the condition were “when any creature makes a melee attack,” the reaction would have to wait until after the attack either hit or missed. Continue reading Clockwork Tactics

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

NPC Tactics: Kraken Priests

Despite several reader requests, I kept putting off analyzing the kraken priest because it’s always kind of a pain to analyze creatures with large spell repertoires. Turns out the KP’s repertoire isn’t as big as I thought it was, so my bad.

The kraken priest’s ability contour is highest in Constitution, second-highest in Wisdom, with Strength and Dexterity a good ways behind. This non-player character is a spellcaster first and foremost, and arguably a support spellcaster first and foremost, rather than a spellslinger hiding way in the back. Charisma is also high; Intelligence, merely average.

Presumably through the kraken’s influence, the KP has resistance to physical damage from nonmagical weapons and can breathe underwater. That’s pretty much it in the way of distinctive passive features. Aside from spellcasting—which isn’t all that unusual for, you know, a priest—the KP’s only distinctive features are the actions Thunderous Touch and Voice of the Kraken. Continue reading NPC Tactics: Kraken Priests

Star Spawn Tactics, Part 1

Star spawn are new arrivals in the Dungeons and Dragons universe. The name seems to be borrowed from H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, but according to the Powers That Be, star spawn aren’t native to the Far Realm specifically. Some of them are from the Far Realm, but others are associated with “Elder Evils” that inhabit other planes, such as the Shadowfell, the Gray Waste and the Abyss. They understand and speak Deep Speech, which is not the same as Undercommon, but rather a language associated with the Far Realm; it’s also spoken by neogi, mind flayers, beholders and aboleths.

There’s a variety of star spawn for every level of play, from the lowly grue to the boss-level larva mage. Continue reading Star Spawn Tactics, Part 1

Oblex Tactics

More from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes: After the abishai, the next two requests I got were for the oblex, a slime-creature created out of mind flayer experimentation which feeds off humanoids’ memories. On D&D Beyond, Jeremy Crawford recently characterized the oblex as “D&D’s new scariest monster.” Is it? I’m not convinced that it’s the scariest, in terms of the degree of threat it poses—but I would say it’s one of the creepiest.

The main reason I think oblexes (I feel like the plural should be “oblices”) are more creepy than scary is that they don’t need to kill their victims to consume their memories. They can kill their victims, but they don’t need to. Furthermore, it’s not clear that they have any compelling reason to. It’s the memories that power them, not the physical substance of their victims. There’s also a curious choice of wording in the Eat Memories feature that makes me wonder whether an oblex has any good reason to use it more than once per target. But more on that below.

Oblexes/oblices have an unusual ability contour, with peaks in Dexterity, Constitution and Intelligence. Dexterity plus Constitution usually means “skirmisher,” but oozes can’t move fast enough to skirmish. What they really are is quasi-brutes with Dexterity- and Intelligence-based rather than Strength-based attacks and a keen sense of their opponents’ weaknesses. Continue reading Oblex Tactics

Banderhobb Tactics

My apologies, readers: Between putting out the second edition of Live to Tell the Tale, going car-buying, and then coming down with some not-the-flu-yet-still-distinctly-flu-like bug, I haven’t had a very productive March, blog-wise. But let’s see what I can still jam out under the wire.

I’ve got quite a few reader requests queued up, and the one that’s been in the queue the longest is the banderhobb, yet another monster that supports Sam Sykes’ dictum, “Frogs are seriously bad news, man.” The banderhobb’s froglike appearance is a little misleading, since it’s not amphibious, nor can it leap, although it can attack targets with its tongue. Instead, it’s a deadly combination of powerful brute and relentless hunter, which stalks its prey in the dark.

And don’t let the term “brute” fool you: even though it possesses extraordinary Strength and Constitution, it doesn’t lack Intelligence and in fact has a fairly high Wisdom, high enough for it to choose its battles and its moments. It’s also expert in Stealth, and it has 120 feet of darkvision. These traits, plus its Shadow Stealth and Shadow Step features, indicate that it strikes from hiding rather than charging brazenly into battle.

According to the lore in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, a banderhobb is the creation of a malicious mage or fey creature, called to serve as a thief, kidnapper or assassin. It doesn’t live very long and so, despite its high Wisdom, has no survival instinct to speak of; it exists only to fulfill its orders. If a group of player characters encounters one, it will be on the hunt, its quarry either a non-player character or one of the PCs themselves. (In rare instances, it may be hunting an object rather than a person.) Continue reading Banderhobb Tactics