Tag: undead

  • Jiangshi Tactics

    The jiangshi (pronounced chyahng-shr, with both syllables in level high tone) is a reanimated corpse from Chinese folklore, nicknamed the “hopping vampire” because of how it struggles to move within the limits of rigor mortis (translated literally, the name means “stiff corpse”). This limitation is reflected in its 20-foot movement speed, which is a key consideration in the jiangshi’s tactics: It’s not going to chase anyone down, and without proficiency in Stealth or Perception, it’s not an ambush attacker, either. The jiangshi has to seek out victims who are sleeping or otherwise immobile—or get next to them without their realizing what it is.

    With their exceptional Strength and Constitution (and miserable Dexterity), jiangshi are brute melee fighters, so they’re inclined toward melee combat to begin with, but their speed turns this preference into a necessity. The sine qua non of their combat tactics is their Multiattack, which comprises three Slam attacks and one use of Consume Energy. Consume Energy is their compulsion, the means by which they suck the life force out of living creatures. To get the most out of it, a jiangshi has to kill its victim with the necrotic damage it deals with this action. Therefore, the attacks it makes immediately beforehand have to bring their victim to the point of death.

  • Nosferatu Tactics

    “Nosferatu” is a word that looks like it ought to mean something but doesn’t seem to actually come from any language, let alone the one to which it’s attributed. Cited in the works of a couple of 19th-century German folklorists, and later made famous by Bram Stoker, the author of the seminal vampire novel Dracula, it can’t be authoritatively traced back to any standard Romanian word of the time. It might be from a nonstandard local dialect, it might be a mistranscription of a word now lost to time, or it might be that some Romanian wag was pulling the Germans’ legs. Etymologists aren’t sure of much when it comes to this word, but one thing they are sure of is that no-sferatu clearly doesn’t mean “un-dead,” the back-formed translation that Stoker proposed for it. But the German silent film director F. W. Murnau latched onto it and made it the title of his loose cinematic adaptation of Dracula, and it’s been synonymous with “vampire” ever since.

    The nosferatu in Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft is a degraded vampire whose compulsion to feed is utterly overpowering. Unlike the standard Monster Manual vampire, it’s too strung out to play the long game. Every night of its existence is a desperate scramble to find warm-blooded prey before daybreak. The nosferatu’s dependence takes its toll on its Intelligence, which is reduced to the level of an ape’s. Intriguingly, however, its Wisdom remains very high—the better to sniff out victims with—and even its Charisma is well above humanoid average.

    Its standout abilities, however, are the physical trio, particularly its extraordinary Strength and Constitution. The tough, stringy nosferatu is a dangerous brute, made more so by its proficiencies in Perception and Stealth—the profile of an ambush predator—and the Spider Climb trait, which it shares with other vampires.

  • Dullahan Tactics

    OK, I learned something cool today. As I read the description of the dullahan in Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft—“Dullahans are headless undead warriors—the remains of villains who let vengeance consume them. These decapitated hunters haunt the areas where they were slain, butchering innocents in search of their severed heads or to quench their thirst for revenge”—my thoughts immediately went to Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” in which the legendary “headless horseman” was said to be a former Hessian auxiliary soldier beheaded by a cannon shot during the American Revolution, prowling the area around the battlefield where he fell. But it turns out that this was already a longstanding mythical trope even in Irving’s time, found in tales from the Rhineland region of Germany (which includes the region of Hesse!) and the British Isles—and in the Irish version of the trope, the undead warrior is called a dulachán, anglicized as “dullahan.”

  • Vampiric Mind Flayer Tactics

    There’s a lot of fun to be found in mashing up creature types: crossing dragons and undead to create the dracolich, or fiends and constructs to create the hellfire engine, or—as Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons did—dragons and aberrations to create the eyedrake and the elder brain dragon. Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft gives us a few of these, including today’s featured creature, the vampiric mind flayer.

    Comparing and contrasting the vampiric mind flayer with the stat blocks of the stock vampire and the stock mind flayer is the obvious exercise. However, when you look at the flavor text and see how these beasties are created (summary: not vampirism-infected adult mind flayers, but vampirism-infected mind flayer larvae), vampire spawn seem like a better analogue than full-fledged vampires, so we need to throw them into the mix as well.

    The results of the comparison are … interesting. And a little odd. The result isn’t a simple average of the vampire (or vampire spawn) and the mind flayer, nor is it the sum of its parts. It’s both a little more and a little less than either.

  • Brain in a Jar Tactics

    The brain in a jar—literally, exactly what it is—poses several interesting problems, along with a few unanswered questions.

    For one thing, is the “natural armor” that gives it an Armor Class of 11 supposed to be the glass of the jar? We have to assume so, because a naked brain with a −4 Dexterity modifier would have to have some ankylosaurus-grade armor plating to give it AC 11. However, according to the Object Armor Class table in chapter 8 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, a glass jar ought to have AC 13. At the same time, 55 hp is absurdly durable for even a resilient object of Small size.


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