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 Aren’t lots of players condemning alignment as outdated?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

Warforged Titan and Colossus Tactics

It’s funny, but everyone I know who’s created a warforged player character, including myself, has chosen to make them a cleric, druid or monk. In the lore of their creation, the warforged were purpose-built to be soldiers. Yet it seems to be a universal impulse—at least, among the kind of people I interact with—to have them turn away from that path and toward one of introspection.

If you’re looking for any of that in the stat blocks of the warforged titan and the warforged colossus, you may as well stop looking, because you’re not going to find it. The titan is a barely sentient brute; the colossus, a barely sentient mega-brute. Continue reading “Warforged Titan and Colossus Tactics”

Dusk Hag Tactics

The dusk hag needs a warning label. There’s some interesting stuff going on in this stat block, but there are also some hidden dangers.

Here’s the crux: Dusk hags are all about exploiting the unconscious condition, but they gain the most benefit when their targets aren’t unconscious as a result of having been reduced to 0 hp. That’s what makes this stat block interesting.

Its mental abilities very good to exceptional, with Charisma on top; its physical abilities are middling, other than a high Dexterity. Dusk hags are distance casters, allergic to melee. However, despite this contour, their attack actions are all melee-based. To resolve this contradiction, I posit that a dusk hag only attacks targets who can’t fight back. That, combined with the bias toward unconscious targets, is what makes it dangerous.

Based on their Intelligence and Wisdom, dusk hags are skillful planners, wise to their targets’ weaknesses and averse to fights they’re not likely to win. This combination makes them nasty opponents, because it means a dusk hag won’t pick a fight against a party of player characters unless the encounter would be a Deadly one. What does that mean in level terms? Against a party of four, a CR 6 dusk hag should pick on level 4 PCs but not level 5; against a party of five, level 3 but not level 4; against a party of six, level 2 but not level 3. As we’ll see, though, this calculation has certain … repercussions. Continue reading “Dusk Hag Tactics”

Howler Tactics

Howlers are pack-hunting predators from Pandemonium, a peril suitable only for top-tier adventurers to deal with. That’s because, according to the lore in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, these CR 8 fiends never appear alone. Either they’re accompanied by others of their kind, or they’re trained to the service of a more powerful fiend or other evil master and fighting by its side.

Theirs is a nasty ability contour: very high physical ability scores across the board, with an extraordinary peak in Wisdom. This outlier score both powers their Mind-Breaking Howl action and gives them keen hunting senses. (Although it’s not listed in the Mordenkainen’s errata, with a Perception modifier of +8, their passive Perception should be 18, not 15, as published.) But since they lack spellcasting ability, their primary attack is Strength-based, and their top non-Wisdom scores are Strength and Dexterity, I’m going to classify them as shock attackers. Move fast, hit hard.

Howlers have darkvision and therefore attack between dusk and dawn. They’re resistant to cold, fire and lightning damage on top of physical damage from nonmagical attacks, so they’re not going to pay particular attention to a spellslinger who doesn’t think outside the box. Acid or thunder damage will get their attention, but necrotic, radiant, psychic or force damage is what really draws their ire. (Shout-out to James Haeck for laying out the tiers of damage types in a way I hadn’t actively considered before in his editor’s note on this D&D Beyond post by Melissa “MellieDM” Doucette.) Continue reading “Howler Tactics”

Corpse Flower Tactics

The corpse flower is a horrible ambulatory plant that scavenges the remains of the dead and occasionally belches one of them back out as a zombie. As such, particularly given its slow speed, it’s not a predator that might pursue a party of player characters, but rather a noxious nuisance that the PCs might be called to eliminate.

It has a weird ability contour: peaks in Constitution and Wisdom, with high Strength and Dexterity as well. It has no Wisdom-based offensive action, and while its Strength and Dex are equal, its Tentacle attack is clearly Strength-based. What we have here, I think, is a creature that’s mostly brute but that also has a touch of the skirmisher to it. It’s not fast, but it can climb, so that’s going to add a wrinkle to its behavior.

The corpse flower’s Intelligence is just barely within the range of sentience. Though able to grasp what’s going on around it, it’s still extremely instinct-driven and inflexible, locked into one mode of behavior. What about that high Wisdom, though? Normally it would suggest a creature that’s good at sizing up threats and reluctant to pick fights it can’t easily win. However, the corpse flower is utterly reliant on its blindsight to sense danger. It’s not able to pick up on clues such as a character’s confidence or the quality of their equipment to read them as presenting an above-average threat. Any reaction to the danger an opponent poses is going to have to occur after a demonstration of that danger. Continue reading “Corpse Flower Tactics”