Trapper and Girallon Tactics

These two monsters have nothing to do with each other except that (a) they’re the last two monsters from Volo’s Guide to Monsters that I planned to look at and hadn’t yet, and (b) neither one is all that interesting. Although, to my surprise, the one I thought would be more interesting turned out not to be interesting at all, while the one I thought would be less interesting turned out to be a little more so. Continue reading Trapper and Girallon Tactics

Cave Fisher Tactics

You see a name like “cave fisher,” and it doesn’t register with you at first, and as you study the stat block, you come to realize that the name is almost a perfectly literal description of what the creature that bears that name does: It sits in lightless caves, casts a line, waits for a meal to come to it, then reels it in.

A relative, perhaps, of the giant spider, the cave fisher is a human-size, wall-crawling arachnid with crablike claws. A solitary predator, with double proficiency in Stealth, the cave fisher is pretty dumb and inflexible, but it has one good trick up its sleeve: an extremely strong, extremely sticky filament that it can use to yank victims toward it from as much as 60 feet away. Coincidentally, I’m sure, 60 feet is the most common radius of darkvision, which means that if the cave fisher positions itself just right, it can lie in wait just beyond the ability of any prey, even prey with darkvision, to spot it. Even if it must lurk closer, expertise in Stealth plus disadvantage on targets’ Perception checks is a strong combo.

On top of that, it has Spider Climb, which allows it to move freely along walls and even across ceilings. This allows it to pull the dirtiest of tricks: hiding on the ceiling, then yanking its prey up to it, where if said prey manages to wriggle free of the cave fisher’s sticky strand, it has nowhere to go but straight down. Continue reading Cave Fisher Tactics

Tlincalli Tactics

The tlincalli (the name appears to be completely invented, not based in myth, but it looks Nahuatl to me, so I’m going to pronounce it tlhin-ky-yeenope! That’s a Spanish pronunciation. As reader Victor R. points out, in Nahuatl, each l is pronounced as a separate l, so it’s tlhin-KAHL-lee) is a centaur-like monstrosity with a humanoid torso topping a scorpioid body. Based on the illustration in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, its face is pretty awful as well, although details are hard to make out.

With very high Strength and Constitution and merely above-average Dexterity, tlincallis are brutes, unafraid of direct melee confrontation. Their Intelligence is below humanoid average, though not animal-level, while their Wisdom is above average, allowing them to pick out promising prey—the old, the young, the weak, the isolated and the oblivious—as well as to realize when a particularly dangerous opponent needs to be taken out.

The combination of proficiency in Perception and Stealth is indicative of an ambush attacker; proficiency in Survival adds the ability to track, which is consistent with the flavor text’s characterization of them as nomadic hunters. Tlincallis hot on the trail of desirable prey will pursue it aggressively until either they bag it or it fights back forcefully enough to deter them.

Continue reading Tlincalli Tactics

Shadow Mastiff Tactics

Shadow mastiffs are a nasty quasi-canine predators from the Shadowfell, valued as watchbeasts and hunting companions by the kinds of entities that would rather employ a monster for such purposes than pick up a nice puppy from the pound. Packs of them sometimes slip across the boundary between the Shadowfell and the material plane, roving and hunting for the joy of it.

With very high Strength and high Dexterity, shadow mastiffs are ambush attackers without the patience for a drawn-out fight. If they can’t take down their chosen target in two or three rounds of combat, there’s a good chance that they’ll give up and search for easier prey, and attacking from hiding is essential to their hunting pattern—they may not start a fight at all if they can’t gain surprise on the first round.

Five of their features—Shadow Blend, Sunlight Weakness, Keen Hearing and Smell, darkvision, and resistance to physical damage from normal weapons while in dim light or darkness—create such an overwhelming incentive for shadow mastiffs to stay out of sunlight and other areas of bright light that their entire hunting strategy revolves around exploiting the gloom of night. And since their Intelligence isn’t high enough for them to adapt to changing circumstances, lighting a torch or lantern or casting an illumination spell is an effective way for a target who survives their initial assault to get them to abandon their attack. Continue reading Shadow Mastiff Tactics

Pigeon Tactics

If you live in a major North American city (except, weirdly, Milwaukee), you’ve undoubtedly encountered pigeons on an almost daily basis. Like squirrels, they enjoy a commensal relationship with humans, benefiting greatly from our effect on the ecosystem without significantly helping us or harming us in any way. And you know they’re generally quite chill, unless your toddler runs directly at them, as toddlers invariably do.

The standard pigeon in fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons is no different. A small, unthreatening thing, it’s disinclined to fight at all and relies heavily on its Hypervigilant Flight reaction, which allows it to move up to half its speed as a reaction—without provoking an opportunity attack—if another creature moves within 5 feet of it. Pigeons are prey creatures, not predators, and the only way you’re likely to suffer a Beak attack from one is if you somehow manage to grab it.

A swarm of pigeons behaves similarly to a single pigeon, but not exactly the same. It still spooks easily, and it rarely attacks, preferring simply to use Hypervigilant Flight to retreat to a safe distance and, if pursued, to Dash to a safe perch out of reach. However, sometimes a swarm of pigeons chooses an empty, elevated location to roost in, such as an upper floor of an abandoned building. Particularly if this roost is home to eggs or squabs, a swarm of pigeons may become aggressive toward anyone who intrudes.

The first action it generally takes against a trespasser is Evacuate, more as a scare response than a calculated attempt to debilitate. If the target subsequently moves, so does the swarm, using Hypervigilant Flight. However, if the target doesn’t leave, the swarm then swoops back down and attacks with its Beaks. It continues to attack until the intruder is driven off or the swarm is reduced to 10 hp or fewer.

The giant pigeon is another matter, because unlike its Tiny cousins, it doesn’t scare. Cheeky and undauntable in its pursuit of food, it disregards other creatures as long as they leave it alone. Even snatching food away from it doesn’t provoke it to fight; it simply continues to try to get the food back, with greater determination. (You can use the Disarm action, from “Action Options” in chapter 9 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, to represent the giant pigeon’s attempts to snatch food back from a character who’s holding it.) If and when one does actual harm to it, however, it fights back, doing its best to drive the aggressor away. Continue reading Pigeon Tactics

Leucrotta Tactics

Given a choice between looking at a completely new monster and one from the good ol’ days, I have a strong tendency to gravitate toward the latter, and when I wrote up a list of creatures from Volo’s Guide to Monsters and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes that I haven’t examined yet, one name jumped out at me: the leucrotta, which appeared in the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual along with a much handsomer illustration than it’s given in Volo’s—but not nearly as hilarious a description. (Volo’s: “A leucrotta is what you would get if you took the head of a giant badger, the brain of a person who likes to torture and eat people, the legs of a deer, and the body of a large hyena, put them together, and reanimated them with demon ichor without bothering to cover up the stink of death.”)

I don’t recall leucrottas’ being associated closely with gnolls in the earliest days of the game, but in fifth-edition D&D, the connection is explicit: they’re another creation of the demon lord Yeenoghu. They’re smarter than the average gnoll and even smarter than gnoll pack lords, though not quite up to the level of a gnoll Fang of Yeenoghu. But they’re also less social, associating with gnolls mainly out of convenience and treating them as pawns when they do.

Leucrottas are large, fast, strong and tough—brutes, but unusually swift ones. They’re predators, but they lack proficiency in Stealth, which necessitates some creativity in their hunting pattern. How does a predator capture prey when it’s not good at hiding? Continue reading Leucrotta Tactics

Astral Dreadnought Tactics

Now that the holiday madness is over, it’s time to get back down to business, and the business of the day is the astral dreadnought, whose name tells you most of what you need to know: This fearless titan drifts through the astral plane, obliterating everyone and everything it comes across.

While its Strength and Constitution are epic, its Dexterity is dismal—a gargantuan beast like this doesn’t turn on a dime. Nor does it possess Intelligence beyond animal level. Its Wisdom is high, however, and its Charisma is exceptional—perhaps reflective of its ability to command awe. Despite its extremes, this is a straightforward brute ability contour, indicating a creature whose approach is to close in and maul.

Its resistances and immunities aren’t all that relevant, because (contra the flavor text in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes) its Intelligence is so low, it’s not going to bother to distinguish between one target and another. However, its relatively high Wisdom indicates a prudent, instinctual self-preservation impulse. The astral dreadnought is a creature so unaccustomed to resistance that any prey that can inflict a moderate wound against it (reduce it to 207 hp or fewer—yeah, that number’s not a typo) will give it pause. Continue reading Astral Dreadnought Tactics

Chitine and Choldrith Tactics

Today I look at two related creatures from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, the chitine and the choldrith, part-elf, part-spider abominations created by magic as servitors of the spider goddess Lolth, patron of the drow. Based on their descriptions in the lore, even though they’ve produced offspring for many generations, the manner of their creation and the strong connection to their demonic mistress’s will suggests that they haven’t evolved; rather, they remain much as they were when they were created. Which implies two things: that they don’t necessarily have the same survival instincts that evolved creatures do, and that they may occasionally behave in suboptimal ways.

Chitines—hairy bipeds with multiple additional arms and eyes—are the more humanoid of the monstrous pair. They’re also the weaker, with a challenge rating of just 1/2. Largely, they’re uncomplicated ambush attackers. Their Web Sense and Web Walker traits strongly suggest that they’re usually encountered in the company of creatures that spin webs, such as their choldrith cousins, giant spiders or ettercaps; they may also be minions of a drow arachnomancer. But while spinning webs isn’t part of their combat repertoire, it is something they can do on their own time, according to the flavor text, so they don’t need these other creatures to have a webbed-up field to fight on. Fighting in webs and pitch darkness gives them a big comparative advantage. Their Stealth proficiency and climbing movement suggest not only that they lurk in the dark, waiting to pounce, but that they lurk in the dark on the ceiling.

With Intelligence and Wisdom of only 10, chitines aren’t particularly choosy about their targets. Their above-average Dexterity and Constitution suggest a preference for skirmishing, but really, Dexterity is both their primary offensive ability and their primary defensive ability, and they lean heavily on their Multiattack. Even when engaged with one melee opponent, they’re happy to ditch them to go after another who seems more vulnerable, judging by size, age, relative isolation, whether a they seem to have a hard time seeing in the dark, and/or whether they’re under a debilitating condition, such as being restrained by sticky webs. They’re not quite smart or disciplined enough to know how to Disengage, so they’ll often provoke opportunity attacks against themselves while darting from opponent to opponent. But they can—and do—minimize these by climbing up walls, skittering across ceilings to get past enemies they don’t want to engage with, then dropping down on those they do want to engage. Continue reading Chitine and Choldrith Tactics

Kruthik Tactics

Kruthiks are a refreshing change of pace: a straight-up monster that just wants to eat, have babies and otherwise be left alone. They come in various sizes, but all of them have in common a high armor class, burrowing and climbing movement, darkvision, tremorsense, and the features Keen Smell, Pack Tactics and Tunneler.

Ordinary young and adult kruthiks have a balanced ability contour favoring Dexterity. This would normally indicate a bias toward ranged combat, but young kruthiks lack a ranged attack, and in adult kruthiks, the bias is slight, almost insignificant. Thus, they don’t fit neatly into any one single combat profile. On the other hand, their Intelligence isn’t high enough to indicate tactical flexibility. I’m going to interpret this to mean that they may start combat in any number of ways—brute melee fighting, ranged sniping, scrappy skirmishing, hard-and-fast shock attacks—but whichever of these they choose, they generally don’t deviate from.

Because their ability contours offer so few clues about their fighting styles, the importance of their burrowing and climbing movement and their Pack Tactics and Tunneler features is magnified. Young kruthiks are disinclined to fight enemies they don’t outnumber—at least 3 to 1. Adult kruthiks don’t necessarily have to outnumber their enemies, but they’ll never fight in a group of fewer than three, and four or five is a more typical squad size. Since young kruthiks have only melee attacks, they have to swarm their enemies; adult kruthiks can combine melee Stab attacks with ranged Spike attacks (akin to a porcupine throwing its quills) and gain the benefit of Pack Tactics as long as least one of them is engaged in melee with a foe. Continue reading Kruthik 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