Reader Questions: Goblin Stealth and Retreating Monsters

Q: I recently purchased a copy of Live To Tell The Tale, and I must say, excellent work. But I was confused by all of the hiding and Stealth in the first scenario. There were times it seemed the goblins were moving, rolling Stealth, attacking, moving, rolling Stealth to Hide. What were all those Stealth rolls? And what about all of the Perception rolls that the players were doing during their turns? Do those count as part of their action?

A: A large part of that encounter has to do with the goblins’ Nimble Escape feature, which lets them Hide as a bonus action. In order to Hide successfully, a goblin has to (a) be out of view and (b) make a Stealth roll that exceeds every player character’s passive Perception. Once it’s made a successful Stealth check, it doesn’t have to keep making Stealth checks—it stays hidden until it does something that gives its position away, or until an opponent choosing the Search action finds it (which requires him or her to make a Perception check). Once it’s been seen, to Hide again requires another Stealth check, and so on. Continue reading Reader Questions: Goblin Stealth and Retreating Monsters

Hobgoblin Tactics: Devastator and Iron Shadow

As I mentioned in my last post, Volo’s Guide to Monsters introduces two new varieties of hobgoblin: the hobgoblin Devastator, a battle wizard, and the hobgoblin Iron Shadow, a rogue-monk-mage. Based on the flavor text descriptions of these hobgoblin variants, I’m going to analyze them from the assumption that hobgoblin Devastators will most often be encountered on the battlefield amid other hobgoblins, whereas a hobgoblin Iron Shadow will typically be encountered alone.

Like ordinary hobgoblins, Devastators are strong across all their physical attributes, with none standing dramatically apart from the others, although Constitution is the highest of them. What sets Devastators apart is their very high Intelligence and above-average Wisdom. These scores indicate that a Devastator can accurately assess enemies’ weaknesses and select targets accordingly, as well as recognize when it’s outmatched.

Army Arcana is a handy feature akin to an evocation wizard’s Sculpt Spells or a sorcerer’s Careful Spell, letting the hobgoblin Devastator lob area-effect spells without regard to whether it has allies in the area of effect. Arcane Advantage, meanwhile, gives the Devastator an extra 2d6 damage on ranged spell attacks against front-line enemies (note that this does not apply to spells that require saving throws, only to those that require attack rolls). Continue reading Hobgoblin Tactics: Devastator and Iron Shadow

Goblinoids Revisited

Since I started this blog with a look at goblins, I’ll start my examination of Volo’s Guide to Monsters with another look at goblinoids. But first, one observation: In my original analysis of goblin tactics, I stated that they’d Disengage when an opponent closed to within melee range. This was based on their Nimble Escape feature, which allows them to Disengage as a bonus action. However, while composing my later post, “Dodge, Dash or Disengage?” I learned that orderly retreats are risky moves that require discipline, a trait that goblins aren’t known for. So how do they possess this ability as a feature? I conclude that they’re innately slippery enough that they can scamper out of an opponent’s reach too quickly for the opponent to react. It’s not a disengagement in the true, military sense, just an ability of theirs that happens to have the same effect, from a game-mechanics perspective.

As it turns out, my analysis of goblins hit pretty close to the mark. Volo’s goes into more depth about goblin behavior and social structure, but the basic ambush principle holds. There’s a greater emphasis on traps, suggesting that encounters between player characters and goblins not led by more formidable goblinoids should often begin with the PCs walking into one of the goblins’ traps (or avoiding them in the nick of time). The “Goblin Lairs” section provides a nice scaffold for building a series of goblin encounters on if the PCs decide to go hunting goblins themselves, rather than vice versa. Continue reading Goblinoids Revisited

Dodge, Dash or Disengage?

My post–high school Advanced Dungeons and Dragons group had a running joke—OK, we had about 600 running jokes, but one of them was that for any given encounter situation, there were always a plan A and a plan B. Plan A was “Get ’em!” Plan B was “Run!”

Fifth-edition D&D, with its inclusion of opportunity attacks, has made it curiously challenging to execute plan B.

This isn’t a brand-new concept. It existed in D&D version 3.5 and fourth edition, and many other tactical games, both tabletop and computer, incorporate opportunity attacks. But because of the turn-based nature of these games, a combatant who wants to retreat is confronted with a difficult and unpleasant choice: If the combatant uses his or her action to Disengage, then uses his or her full movement speed to retreat, the opponent can use its full movement speed to close the distance again, then use its action to Attack. But if the combatant uses his or her action to Dash, he or she risks getting struck by an opportunity attack upon leaving the opponent’s zone of control.

Continue reading Dodge, Dash or Disengage?

Goblin Boss, Hobgoblin and Bugbear Tactics

In an earlier article, I examined the tactics of goblins, which turned out to be significantly more sophisticated than those of your average cannon-fodder humanoid monster. Goblins are low-level, though, and to present more of a challenge to intermediate-level players, large groups of goblins are often accompanied by more advanced goblinoids, such as goblin bosses, hobgoblins and bugbears.

The goblin boss is distinguished from ordinary goblins by its Multiattack and Redirect Attack features and by the fact that it doesn’t use a bow. Additionally, the Redirect Attack action is useful only in a context in which goblins are fighting side-by-side rather than in an ambush or skirmish. Based on this, I conclude that goblin bosses are found only in goblin lairs—caves, ruins, what have you—where large numbers of goblins will fight in close quarters.

By the way, have you read that Redirect Attack feature? The goblin boss uses its reaction to avoid a hit on itself and cause it to land on one of its goblin minions instead. What a jerk! Here’s a critter that’s better suited for fighting than most of its kind—stronger, better at absorbing damage and capable of landing more blows—and yet it possesses no notion of carrying the team. “Aw, sorry about that, Jixto! Send me a postcard from Hades!” Continue reading Goblin Boss, Hobgoblin and Bugbear Tactics

Goblin Tactics

I’m going to start with lower-level monsters and work my way up, and my first case study will be the monster that players beginning with the Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition starter set are likely to encounter first: goblins.

Here’s what we know about goblins from the Monster Manual: First, from the flavor text, they live in dark, dismal settings; congregate in large numbers; and employ alarms and traps. They’re low-Strength and high-Dexterity, with a very good Stealth modifier. Their Intelligence and Wisdom are in the average range. They possess darkvision and the Nimble Escape feature, which allows them to Disengage or Hide as a bonus action—very important to their action economy.

Because of their darkvision, goblins will frequently attack under cover of darkness, when their targets may be effectively blinded (attack rolls against a blinded creature have advantage, while the blinded creature’s attack rolls have disadvantage). They’ll also attack from hiding as much as possible, making use of their high Stealth modifier, and doing so in dim light decreases the likelihood that they’ll be discovered, since the many player characters will have disadvantage on Perception checks that rely on sight. (Important note for dungeon masters and players: Darkvision does not nullify the penalty to sight-based Perception checks in dim light. It only lets a creature see in darkness as if it were dim light, without being effectively blinded.) (The description of darkvision on pages 183–85 of the Players’ Handbook is incomplete: it implies that darkvision improves vision only in darkness. It improves vision in dim light as well, allowing a character with that feature to see without penalty.)

A picture of goblin combat is starting to coalesce, and at the center of it is a strategy of ambush.

Continue reading Goblin Tactics