Tag: monstrosities

  • Gem Stalker Tactics

    Gem stalkers are odd, and that’s not just my bias against gem dragons talking. They’re kind of a jumble, even for unevolved creatures—which they are, being created by gem dragons out of the leftover organic material of liquidated aberrations.

    Let’s start with their ability contour: highest in Strength, with high Dexterity, Intelligence and Constitution to go with it. Their Dex is a smidge higher than their Con, although the modifier is the same, so while there’s a slight bias toward shock attacks over brute melee fighting here, they can flex in a pinch. Proficiency in Perception and Stealth indicates a predilection for ambush, harmonious with the shock attacker role, and their climbing ability (climbing speed plus Spider Climb) fits into this schema nicely as well.

    But then we get into the strange stuff. Their Multiattack is savage: four Claw attacks, each of which deals an average 10 damage. Melee, yes, please! Shock attacker and brute are both melee-intensive roles. What’s this, though? A bonus action ranged spell attack, Crystal Dart? That’s not useful in melee. If a gem stalker is engaged in close combat with a target, it’s going to have disadvantage on ranged attacks—all ranged attacks, whether against the same target or a different one. This bonus action clashes with the gem stalker’s melee Multiattack, suggesting that it’s always used before the gem stalker closes and engages. (There’s also the fact that Crystal Dart includes one of five different riders, depending on the type of gem dragon that created the gem stalker, but more on that in a moment.)

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  • Dragonflesh Grafter and Abomination Tactics

    As far as I can tell, dragonflesh grafters and dragonflesh abominations are newly introduced in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons, and I think they’re one of the more interesting additions to be found in this book, at least concept-wise. When you have access to (a) magic and (b) dragon parts, why wouldn’t you experiment with whether you could make yourself more powerful by combining the two? (I mean, aside from basic common sense.)

    The dragonflesh grafter is the unfinished version, still recognizably humanoid in origin, though enlarged by draconic magic and incorporating pieces of dragon anatomy, which grant it several Armor Class points’ worth of natural armor. It’s a brute, with very high Strength and high Constitution; its Charisma is low, owing to its repugnant, unnatural fusion of incompatible biologies. (Given its origin, I feel like it ought to have a higher Intelligence and a lower Wisdom: It had to be smart enough to figure out how to graft dragon flesh onto itself and foolish enough to actually do it.)

    Tactically, it’s not complicated. It has a weapon attack (as written, a greatclub, but you could swap in anything you wanted to) and a natural weapon (Claw), and its Multiattack lets it attack once with each per turn. These have a 10-foot reach, so it doesn’t approach any nearer before attacking, although its opponents may choose to move in closer in order to return the favor. It also has a quasi–breath weapon, Acid Retch, which affects a 30-foot cone and recharges as dragons’ breath weapons do. The application of this ability is the same: The dragonflesh grafter uses it whenever it’s available, provided it can target at least three enemies in the area of effect (per the Targets in Area of Effect table, Dungeon Master’s Guide, chapter 8). The grafter can’t fly, nor does it have any easy way to avoid opportunity attacks, so unlike dragons, which optimize their positioning before using their breath weapons, it has to decide whether or not to use Acid Retch based on whom it can affect from where it is.

    As written, its average Wisdom lets it retain a normal self-preservation instinct, and it flees when seriously injured (reduced to 20 hp or fewer), Dashing as it retreats and potentially provoking one or more opportunity attacks in the process. A dragonflesh grafter with a lower Wisdom, however, might be driven slightly berserk by its transformation and fight to the death.

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  • Egg Hunter Tactics

    I’m a big fan of multilateral combat encounters, and the egg hunters in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons are a sly way to throw in an extra dimension of conflict: parasites that feed on dragon embryos and lay their own eggs in the emptied shells.

    To a dragon defending a clutch of eggs—like the black dragon Mundirostrix in Live to Tell the Tale—a party of bloodthirsty adventurers may pose a clear and present danger, but all that will be forgotten in an instant if the dragon spies an egg hunter skulking around. The horror and revulsion, fear and fury that these minuscule monstrosities evoke in dragons overwhelms all other considerations. First, the dragon will try to whisk its eggs out of the egg hunter’s reach; second, it will turn all its attention and efforts toward obliterating the parasite.

    This distraction may allow a party of player characters to punch above their weight, taking on a dragon that would normally be too much for them to handle. Don’t assume, however, that just because the PCs are enemies of the dragon, an egg hunter—or its hatchlings—are friendly to them.

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  • Hoard Scarab and Hoard Mimic Tactics

    Your party took a tremendous beating, but you slew the dragon. Huzzah! Bruised, bloody and weary, you’re out of healing potions and scraping the bottom of the mojo barrel, but lo—look at all the shiny loot! A balm for the adventurous soul, the hard-earned reward at the end of a brutal adventu—ow! What is that? Ow ow ow ow make it stop!

    To the Dungeon Master who never tires of playing dirty tricks on their players, Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons offers the hoard scarab and the hoard mimic, two monstrosities that disguise themselves as treasure and feed off dragons’ casualties like pilot fish or crocodile birds. You thought your encounter day was over? Think again, suckers!

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  • Dragonnel and Liondrake Tactics

    Gen Con has wrapped. I took my first vacation since 2015. Now I’m back, ready to talk about Spelljammer erm, well, I thought that everyone was going to expect me to jump right into Spelljammer, but it turns out that what folks really want is for me to keep going with Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons! Very well, then. Let’s get a couple of easy ones out of the way: dragonnels and liondrakes (a.k.a. dragonnes).

    Dragonnes actually came first: They were originally published in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (with a David A. Trampier illustration, always a mark of honor!). Dragonnels came later, debuting in the third-edition Draconomicon. According to this article, dragonnes were renamed “liondrakes” in the fourth edition, and the name change was kept in order to avoid having two nearly identical names appearing on facing pages in Fizban’s.

    Which, OK, as a former editor, I understand that impulse entirely. But as a longtime D&D player, I wish the dragonne had gotten to keep its name. It was there first.

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Praise for The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters

“I’ve always said, the Dungeon Master is the whole world except for his players, and as a result, I spend countless hours prepping for my home group. What Keith gets is that the monsters are the DM’s characters, and his work has been super helpful in adding logic, flavor, and fun in my quest to slaughter my players’ characters and laugh out the window as they cry in their cars afterward.” —Joe Manganiello

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