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

Draegloth Tactics

The draegloth is part demon, part drow, sent by high priestesses to wreck face in their houses’ names. Strong and tough, it possesses some spellcasting ability, but that’s mostly peripheral to its vicious physical combat ability.

Brutes with extraordinary Strength, exceptional Constitution, and above-average but not otherwise remarkable Intelligence, draegloths are melee machines. With proficiency in Perception and Stealth, they possess decent ambush capability, but their real strength is their ability to engage enemies and keep fighting until the job is done. They’re resistant to cold, fire and lightning, giving them extra staying power against unimaginative enemy spellcasters who reflexively resort to these damage vectors first.

As the flavor text acknowledges, “Most are too impatient to bother with complicated tactics”; even if they had more patience, they lack the features and traits that would invite the use of more sophisticated techniques. But one aspect of their Innate Spellcasting caught my attention. Continue reading Draegloth Tactics

Molydeus Tactics

The molydeus is a demon of extraordinary power, on par with several named demon princes. The flavor text refers to various demon lords as “masters” of molydei, but there aren’t too many entities to which that word could apply, given that demons are chaotic evil and therefore not likely to take orders from anything less powerful than themselves. The Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes flavor text notwithstanding, unless and until new demon lords are crowned and their stat blocks published, there are only two that could indisputably command the obedience of a molydeus: Demogorgon and Orcus. (Graz’zt and Yeenoghu are only one challenge rating higher than the molydeus; I’m not sure that’s enough of a difference. Baphomet and Fraz-Urb’luu have the same CR as a molydeus, so even if one of them created a molydeus, I think it would tell them to buzz off, if not turn on them immediately.) For some unfathomable reason, I looked at that “CR 21” I don’t know how many times, and my brain processed it as “CR 23.” Yes, any demon lord is powerful enough to command a molydeus. SMH.

For a huge creature, the molydeus is speedy, with a movement speed of 40 feet. Its ability scores are all extraordinary, with Strength first and Constitution second—a brute. While it has Innate Spellcasting, it’s secondary to melee fighting. It has proficiency in four out of six saving throws, but one of the big three—Dexterity—is missing from the list, so in relative terms, this could stretchily be noted as a weakness. But it also has Magic Resistance and three uses of Legendary Resistance per day, so whenever it fails a Dex save . . . it doesn’t fail.

Typically for a demon, the molydeus is resistant to physical damage from nonmagical weapons, cold, fire and lightning and immune to poison; it can’t be blinded, charmed, deafened, frightened, poisoned or stunned. (It can, however, be paralyzed, knocked prone or restrained.) It has a truly bonkers +21 Perception modifier and passive Wisdom (Perception) 31. Player characters trying to sneak up on one, at a minimum, will need pass without trace. Continue reading Molydeus Tactics

Devil Tactics: Merregons and Narzugons

My own campaigns have never been very fiend-heavy, so I haven’t delved much into the ranks of devils, but as I’m looking at the merregon for the first time, I’m impressed by the idea that the souls of soldiers who served evil spend eternity fighting for the forces of hell without faces, only permanent iron masks. I can imagine Nazi footsoldiers being condemned to this fate, and I find the image satisfying.

Merregons are brutes, with exceptional Strength and Constitution; their Wisdom is above-average, but their Intelligence is ape-level. They’re immune to fire and poison; resistant to cold, to magic and to physical damage from nonmagical, non-silvered weapons; and mute. They can’t be frightened or poisoned. The only language they understand is Infernal. They have 60 feet of darkvision, which isn’t overwhelmed by the darkness spell, as darkvision usually is.

With their double Halberd Multiattack, merregons make effective, straightforward footsoldiers. But their effectiveness is increased dramatically when they fight in the presence of another fiend of challenge rating 6 or greater—for instance, a bone devil, erinys, pit fiend or amnizu. The two Halberd attacks in the merregons’ Multiattack become three, and if they’re adjacent to their superior, they soak up attacks meant for it. Continue reading Devil Tactics: Merregons and Narzugons

Yugoloth Tactics: Oinoloths

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes talks about “oinoloths,” e.g., “Oinoloths bring pestilence wherever they go.” But various (mostly older) sources, including the third-edition Manual of the Planes, refer to “the Oinoloth,” a singular individual, and even give the Oinoloth a name: Anthraxus, a highly apropos name for a lord of disease, though maybe not the most creative. (Also worth noting: The Oinoloth’s seat of power, the Wasting Tower of Khin-Oin, was situated originally in Hades, later in the Blood Rift, which begins in the Abyss and runs across the lower planes to the Nine Hells.)

Fifth-edition D&D seems to dispense with all that. The oinoloth’s listing in Mordenkainen’s refers to this fiend only in the plural and gives it a Challenge Rating of 12—exceeded by ultroloths’ CR 13. This hardly seems like the profile of an arch-ruler of yugoloths. Like the capital-M Minotaur, which D&D turned into a species of lowercase-m minotaurs, it appears that the capital-O Oinoloth has become a species of lowercase-o oinoloths—perhaps descendants of an earlier Oinoloth, although who’d want to produce offspring with an avatar of pestilence is a question probably best left unanswered.

The practical reason for considering this question is that if the oinoloth were a unique being, you’d only ever find one in any given combat encounter. But since fifth-edition oinoloths seem not to be unique, not only is it possible to run into multiple oinoloths at once, at very high levels of play it seems downright probable. Continue reading Yugoloth Tactics: Oinoloths

I Don’t Feel Like Arguing About Yugoloths

Before I delve into the oinoloth, I want to settle an issue regarding yugoloths—or at least, regarding my interpretation of yugoloths. The issue involves the question of what plane yugoloths are native to, and specifically, whether they can be killed (as opposed to just destroyed) on any plane other than Gehenna, the outer plane of “lawful evil neutrals.” My take, which differs from pure canon, is that yugoloths may be numerous in Gehenna, and some yugoloths may be native to that plane, but Hades has as strong a claim on them, if not stronger.

The fifth-edition Monster Manual says:

Back to Gehenna. When a yugoloth dies, it dissolves into a pool of ichor and reforms at full strength on the Bleak Eternity of Gehenna. Only on its native plane can a yugoloth be destroyed permanently. A yugoloth knows this and acts accordingly. When summoned to other planes, a yugoloth fights without concern for its own well-being. On Gehenna, it is more apt to retreat or plead for mercy if its demise seems imminent.

This paragraph isn’t as ironclad a statement that yugoloths are native to Gehenna, and only to Gehenna, as one might think. First, it doesn’t state explicitly what a yugoloth’s native plane is, only that if it’s killed somewhere other than its native plane, it re-forms in Gehenna. Another paragraph on the same page states, “Yugoloths are fickle fiends that inhabit the planes of Acheron, Gehenna, Hades, and Carceri” (the last of these, in AD&D, originally called “Tarterus,” a misspelling of “Tartarus”), implying that any of these planes could be a yugoloth’s native plane. Second, I reserve the right to declare occasionally that the Monster Manual flavor text is full of it, as in the case of the soldierly hobgoblin that for some reason instantly forgets all its training and abandons all its discipline if it happens to catch a glimpse of an elf, or the use of “efreeti” as a singular noun rather than “efreet.”

Before yugoloths were yugoloths, they were “daemons,” the neutral evil counterpart to lawful evil devils and chaotic evil demons. The first daemons to appear in a D&D sourcebook were the guardian daemon, mezzodaemon and nycadaemon in the Fiend Folio (the last two are now the mezzoloth and nycaloth). The guardian daemon’s home plane is unspecified, but the mezzodaemon and nycadaemon are described as inhabiting “the Lower Planes between the Abyssal Layers and the Hells—i.e., Tarterus, Hades, Gehenna” (idiosyncratic italics in original). Gehenna doesn’t even appear first in that list. Continue reading I Don’t Feel Like Arguing About Yugoloths

Yugoloth Tactics: Yagnoloths

The yagnoloth is bonkers. What’s more, it’s a very particular and distinctive kind of bonkers—so much so that if I hadn’t done my due diligence and found that it dates back to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual II, I’d be 100 percent convinced that it was a Chris Perkins invention. (Except I also have a strong hunch that Kate Welch is responsible for the flavor text phrase “its brutally powerful giant appendage.”)

Yagnoloths are daemonic contract lawyers and commanders of lower-level yugoloths. Although they’re Large creatures, they possess asymmetrical, mismatched arms, one of them Medium and the other Huge. Ability-wise, they have no real weakness: the nadir of their ability contour is their Dexterity, which is still well above humanoid average. Their Strength and Constitution are highest, making them brutes, but they also possess exceptional Charisma and very high Intelligence. They cast their spells from the front line.

They’re as potent in social interaction as they are in combat, with Deception, Persuasion and Insight modifiers equal to their attack bonuses, and they shamelessly use suggestion, which they can cast innately and at will, to try to compel other parties to accept less-than-favorable terms. Like all yugoloths, they’re immune to acid and poison damage and resistant to cold, fire and lightning damage along with physical damage from nonmagical weapons. They have advantage on saving throws against magic, they can’t be poisoned, they have overlapping blindsight and darkvision, and unless you speak Abyssal or Infernal, they talk directly into your thoughts. Continue reading Yugoloth Tactics: Yagnoloths

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

Yugoloth Tactics: Canoloths

Canoloths are quadrupedal, weirdly doglike yugoloths whose function, like many other dogs, is to stand guard. They have expertise in Perception and Investigation, 120 feet of truesight, and immunity to surprise (unless they happen to be incapacitated), and their very presence suppresses teleportation out to a radius of 60 feet. Good luck sneaking up on these beasties.

They have exceptional Strength, Constitution and Wisdom, but their Wisdom influences only their senses, not their combat abilities; they’re not spellcasters. Really, therefore, they’re just brutes that happen to have exceptionally high Perception—and, perhaps, a particular knack for knowing how much threat an enemy or group of enemies poses. However, with their low Intelligence, they can’t do much with this information—it’s not going to have a meaningful effect on how they act.

Normally, the modus operandi of a brute is to charge and engage. But if it were so easy to entice a fairly stupid guard fiend away from whatever it was guarding, it wouldn’t be much of a guard. Thus, rather than leave its post to charge intruders, a canoloth lashes out at them with a spiky, prehensile tongue—with a 30-foot reach!—and yanks them into melee range. Continue reading Yugoloth Tactics: Canoloths

Yugoloth Tactics: Dhergoloths

Dhergoloths are the riot cops of Gehenna, fiends with a unique knack for mowing down mobs. Creatures of instinct, they show little independent judgment and no flexibility; if you start them up, they never stop.

Their exceptional Strength and Constitution stand out among their other, very unexceptional ability scores. They’re brutes, and they wouldn’t make ranged attacks even if they had any ability to do so. Their bodies are organic riot gear, resistant to physical damage from nonmagical weapons, cold, fire and lightning, and fully immune to acid and poison. They have 60 feet of darkvision and 60 feet of blindsight (I’m not sure why they have darkvision when they also have blindsight with the same range, which obviates the need for darkvision), which, as we’ll see, is key to their approach to combat.

Dhergoloths can cast darkness and fear at will. Darkness is often a problematic spell: since it thwarts darkvision, a character or creature that casts it inconveniences itself as well as its opponents, unless it has blindsight. But dhergoloths do have blindsight, so darkness works well for them indeed. Fear can also be problematic if you want to kill your foes rather than simply make them go away, and this is as true for dhergoloths as it is for most creatures. Given that both fear and darkness require concentration, and thus can’t be used at the same time, darkness is nearly always the better choice—and dhergoloths don’t have the Intelligence to recognize situational exceptions. They’ll cast fear only if ordered to, and not always then. Continue reading Yugoloth Tactics: Dhergoloths