Shadar-kai Tactics

If eladrin are the elf-kin with the strongest remaining connection to the Feywild, shadar-kai are those whose nature has been shaped by the grim Shadowfell. Three types are described in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes: the shadow dancer, gloom weaver and soul monger.

Shadow dancers are shock troops optimized for operations in darkness. They can function in dim light, but bright light hobbles them severely, so they’ll never willingly choose to fight in daylight or comparable illumination. Dexterity is their one outstanding ability, which they rely on for both offense and defense, and they’re proficient in Stealth, predisposing them to ambush.

Although they’re tough, their stat block is short, not especially complex and mostly passive. Their two standout features are Shadow Jump and Spiked Chain (which they can use three times as a Multiattack action).

Shadow Jump is a mobility feature and action economy enhancer that lets shadow dancers teleport from one dark or dimly lit point to another up to 30 feet away. Depending on the environment and the positioning of combatants, they can use this trait either to engage in melee or to disengage from it. Shadow Jumping to engage is a more desirable tactic when fighting in total darkness, as we’ll see in a moment. Continue reading Shadar-kai 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

Frost Salamander Tactics

Cousins to salamanders, elemental beings of fire, frost salamanders are elemental beings of ice—in Dungeons & Dragons lore, a conjunction of water and air. They aren’t simply salamanders reskinned to deal cold damage, though. There are major differences between the two:

  • Salamanders are Large; frost salamanders are Huge.
  • Salamanders can travel only across solid ground; frost salamanders can burrow and climb.
  • Both salamanders and frost salamanders are brutes, but salamanders are as intelligent as sentient humanoids are. Frost salamanders are smarter than apes, but just barely, and they don’t have much personality.
  • In addition to their burrowing movement, frost salamanders have tremorsense, allowing them to lie in wait beneath the surface of the ground and spring out to attack prey, like a remorhaz.
  • Salamanders wield weapons and can use their tails to grapple and restrain. Frost salamanders just mess you up with their teeth and claws.
  • The heat of a salamander’s body deals fire damage to anyone who comes in contact with it. Frost salamanders don’t have equivalent contact damage. However . . .
  • Frost salamanders have a breath weapon, Freezing Breath, whose effects lie somewhere between the Cold Breaths of young and adult white dragons. It recharges only on a roll of 6—or when it takes fire damage, thanks to its Burning Fury trait.

Continue reading Frost Salamander Tactics

Yugoloth Tactics: Hydroloths

On to the hydroloth, toadlike denizens of the River Styx that presumably show up from time to time in the water features of the material world. They’re technically Amphibious, able to breathe both water and air, but they have very little reason ever to want to come out of the water, because that’s where all their advantages lie.

Hydroloths have an unusual ability contour: extraordinary Dexterity (first) and Intelligence (second), with very high Constitution coming in third. What to make of this? It seems like first and foremost they’re designed for fast melee assault, since they don’t have any ranged weapon attack that could take advantage of that Dex. Secondarily, they rely on magic, in the form of Innate Spellcasting and Steal Memory. Finally, if they need to tank it out for a bit, they have the Constitution to do that; they prefer to settle a fight quickly and decisively, but they’ll settle for an attrition battle if they must. They’re extremely good at assessing the specific weaknesses of their opponents—good enough to read stats off a character sheet—but with a Wisdom of only 10, they tend to be indiscriminate in their target selection and slow to figure out when they’re outmatched.

Hydroloths are immune to acid and poison and resistant to cold, lightning and physical damage from normal weapons. They’re vulnerable to fire, but whether they avoid it or go berserk in its presence will require more analysis. Like dhergoloths and merrenoloths, they have overlapping darkvision and blindsight, making darkness (which they can cast at will) particularly advantageous for them, without the usual problem of being unable to see through it oneself. They have Magic Resistance, and therefore no particular fear of spellcasters, and they’re immune to the memory-wiping effects of the Styx, as well as to mind-reading. Continue reading Yugoloth Tactics: Hydroloths

Drow Tactics: House Captains

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes introduces a whole passel of drow variants, all of them boss-grade, one of them legendary, the weakest of them having a challenge rating of 9. Not only that, four of the five have extensive spell repertoires, and even the fifth can cast the same few spells that all drow know. This means a lot of variables to look at, so my examination of these variant drow is going to be spread over multiple posts.

At CR 9, suitable for mid-level player characters, we have the drow house captain. This is a finesse fighter with decent staying power and an unusual Multiattack that combines two melee weapon attacks with either a ranged crossbow attack or attack with a whip. The whip attack is also unusual, because it seems designed to be used against the captain’s allies!

With their high Wisdom, drow house captains are keen assessors of their enemies’ threat level, and they have the Charisma to parley as needed, though no particular aptitude with any social skill. Aside from their Multiattack, which incidentally implies that they always wield a weapon in each hand, their most distinctive features are Battle Command, Parry (which we also see in the comparable knight and hobgoblin warlord) and their proficiency in all of the “big three” saving throws. This last feature implies a lesser degree of fear of enemy spellcasters. Continue reading Drow Tactics: House Captains

Treant Tactics

Treants are, of course, ents. I can only assume they’re called “treants” for the same reason that the humanoid creatures who are obviously hobbits are called “halflings”: a dispute over usage rights with the Tolkien estate. (This may also be why Dungeons and Dragons has always spelled “warg” with an o instead of an a.)

Treants are chaotic good, and good usually means “friendly,” but not always. Evil displeases them mightily, but so does any kind of civilization encroaching on their turf. Even if one doesn’t do anything to hurt them or the trees and forests they care for, they still may get annoyed enough with trespassers to want to teach them a lesson about treading where they oughtn’t. In this last case, their primary goal is deterrence, and if they can’t drive the trespassers out, they’ll attack to subdue, then take out the trash themselves.

Another thing to like about treants is that they’re resistant to bludgeoning and piercing damage but not to slashing damage. Anytime fifth-edition D&D bothers to distinguish among the three different types of physical damage, it gets a thumbs-up from me. Note also that treants are resistant to any kind of bludgeoning or piercing damage, even if it comes from a magical weapon. Continue reading Treant Tactics

Sorrowsworn Tactics

In the Feywild, creatures spring into existence that are the manifestations of the feelings of mortals. In the Shadowfell, this happens, too, but only for the really bad feelings. These creatures are the sorrowsworn.

The intriguing thing about the sorrowsworn is that they literally feed off negative emotions. Doing violence to the Angry, for instance, makes its attacks more effective, while refusing to do violence to it reduces its effectiveness.

All sorrowsworn have 60 feet of darkvision—good for the gloom of the Shadowfell—and are resistant to physical damage from any type of weapon, not just nonmagical weapons, while out of bright light. Continue reading Sorrowsworn Tactics

Golem Tactics

OK, I’m back. Let’s talk golems—living statues, animated through magic. (Specifically, according to legend, by hacking the divine power by which life was created; according to the Monster Manual, by summoning an animating spirit from the Elemental Plane of Earth.) Golems are fashioned to be servants, with great strength, limited intellect and no free will. A golem severed from the command of its creator may be either inert and harmless (if it could fulfill its last command) or dangerously berserk (if it couldn’t).

There are four types of golems in fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons: clay, stone, iron and flesh. One of these things is not like the others. The flesh golem is, for all intents and purposes, Frankenstein’s monster, and of all the types of golems, it has the most unfit vessel for its life force and the most existential angst. The clay golem, on the other hand, is the direct conceptual descendant of the Golem of Prague, and the stone and iron golems are stronger variations on this theme.

All golems are straightforward brutes, with exceptional (and in most cases extraordinary) Strength and Constitution and below-average Dexterity. If anything, they’re even more brutish than the average brute, because of their immunities to normal weapons and to many debilitating conditions (they can be incapacitated, knocked prone, restrained or stunned, but not charmed, frightened, paralyzed, petrified or poisoned). Any variation in behavior is going to come from their special features, so I’m going to focus largely on these. Continue reading Golem Tactics

Giant Tactics

Going solely by their extraordinary Strength and Constitution, it would be easy to lump all giants together as brute fighters. If we want encounters with giants to be more than boring bash-fests, we have to look for clues not just in their stat blocks but also in the Monster Manual flavor text.

Take the matter of rock throwing. Every race of giants has this ranged attack alongside its melee attack, and on average, it does more damage. Yet every race of giants also has a Strength much, much higher than its Dexterity, so based on the assumptions I’ve been using all along, they should consistently prefer engaging in melee to attacking from a distance. Also, giants’ Multiattacks apply only to their melee attacks, not to throwing rocks. So why include a ranged attack at all? Continue reading Giant Tactics

NPC Tactics: Magical Specialists

Volo’s Guide to Monsters includes stat blocks for 11 different magic-using specialists: wizards from eight different schools and warlocks of three different patrons. The wizards are all at least level 7; the warlocks, even higher. There are also a level 9 war priest, a level 10 blackguard (antipaladin) and a level 18 archdruid. Every one of these spellcasters has a different repertoire of spells. To come up with individual tactics for each of them would take me the next two weeks.

Rather than tackle each one separately, then, I’m going to share some rules of thumb for developing tactics for a spellcasting NPC. Continue reading NPC Tactics: Magical Specialists