Tag: CR 8

  • Unspeakable Horror Tactics

    Sorry for my silence the last couple of weeks—when the kid gets sick, everyone in the house gets sick, and nothing gets done. Also, thanks to the vigilant readers who’ve pointed out the ways this site has acted weird and buggy lately. Fixing the security hole, which was the most important thing, seems to have spawned a glitch in how the first article of text displays on the home page. I’m hoping that posting a new article clears that up. (ETA: It didnt. Grrrr.) (ETA: Found a fix!)

    Fittingly, I left off at unspeakable horrors, intentionally vague and broadly customizable weirdies that can be dropped into any horror setting—or, even better, in the howling voids between them. These creatures exist for one purpose and one purpose only: to give flesh to their victims’ fears. Categorizing them as monstrosities feels a bit off to me, somehow, but it’s not clear what other category fits them better. Calling them aberrations is equally awkward, and they clearly aren’t undead, fiends or anything else. Monstrosities it is, then.

    With ability peaks in Strength and Constitution, unspeakable horrors are melee brutes, boldly zeroing in on foes to whomp them with their limbs. Their animal-level Intelligence precludes them from coming up with any other plan. Of its four body composition options (Aberrant Armor, Loathsome Limbs, Malleable Mass or Oozing Organs) and its four limb modification options (Bone Blade, Corrosive Pseudopod, Grasping Tentacle and Poisonous Limb), only Loathsome Limbs offers any kind of tactically beneficial modification to this approach, and the accompanying Relentless Stride trait, which provides that benefit, seems in part redundant.

  • Nosferatu Tactics

    “Nosferatu” is a word that looks like it ought to mean something but doesn’t seem to actually come from any language, let alone the one to which it’s attributed. Cited in the works of a couple of 19th-century German folklorists, and later made famous by Bram Stoker, the author of the seminal vampire novel Dracula, it can’t be authoritatively traced back to any standard Romanian word of the time. It might be from a nonstandard local dialect, it might be a mistranscription of a word now lost to time, or it might be that some Romanian wag was pulling the Germans’ legs. Etymologists aren’t sure of much when it comes to this word, but one thing they are sure of is that no-sferatu clearly doesn’t mean “un-dead,” the back-formed translation that Stoker proposed for it. But the German silent film director F. W. Murnau latched onto it and made it the title of his loose cinematic adaptation of Dracula, and it’s been synonymous with “vampire” ever since.

    The nosferatu in Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft is a degraded vampire whose compulsion to feed is utterly overpowering. Unlike the standard Monster Manual vampire, it’s too strung out to play the long game. Every night of its existence is a desperate scramble to find warm-blooded prey before daybreak. The nosferatu’s dependence takes its toll on its Intelligence, which is reduced to the level of an ape’s. Intriguingly, however, its Wisdom remains very high—the better to sniff out victims with—and even its Charisma is well above humanoid average.

    Its standout abilities, however, are the physical trio, particularly its extraordinary Strength and Constitution. The tough, stringy nosferatu is a dangerous brute, made more so by its proficiencies in Perception and Stealth—the profile of an ambush predator—and the Spider Climb trait, which it shares with other vampires.

  • Eyedrake and Elder Brain Dragon Tactics

    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.


  • Hoard Scarab and Hoard Mimic Tactics

    Your party took a tremendous beating, but you slew the dragon. Huzzah! Bruised, bloody and weary, you’re out of healing potions and scraping the bottom of the mojo barrel, but lo—look at all the shiny loot! A balm for the adventurous soul, the hard-earned reward at the end of a brutal adventu—ow! What is that? Ow ow ow ow make it stop!

    To the Dungeon Master who never tires of playing dirty tricks on their players, Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons offers the hoard scarab and the hoard mimic, two monstrosities that disguise themselves as treasure and feed off dragons’ casualties like pilot fish or crocodile birds. You thought your encounter day was over? Think again, suckers!


  • Dragon Follower and Dragonborn Champion Tactics

    Tyranny of Dragons (Hoard of the Dragon Queen plus The Rise of Tiamat) was the first full-length campaign I ran for my fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons group, after putting them through The Lost Mine of Phandelver. It was the right campaign for the moment, and its linear nature and geographic jumping around made it easy to insert character-specific side quests, which I appreciated. It also had many flaws, though, and a big one is that the dragon cultists just weren’t that interesting or memorable as opponents. (There’s also all of “Mission to Thay,” chapter 8 of Rise of Tiamat, which … whoo, boy, don’t get me started on that.)

    Might the insertion of some dragon followers or dragonborn champions from Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons have livened up Tyranny? Maybe, but not without some fiddling.


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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

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“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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