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

Yugoloth Tactics: Merrenoloths

The lowest-level of the yugoloths in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is the merrenoloth, and it’s something I haven’t come across before: a low-level monster that nevertheless has lair actions with regional effects. Merrenoloths normally pilot ferryboats on the River Styx (meaning, I suppose, that Charon is the head of their guild), but they can be summoned and hired to captain vessels on other planes. When a merrenoloth accepts such a contract, the vessel becomes its lair.

The lair actions don’t do much to protect the merrenoloth itself; rather, they protect the vessel under its command, allowing the merrenoloth to restore hit points to a damaged vessel, speed it away from pursuers (or toward another vessel it’s pursuing) or interfere with flying attackers. The merrenoloth itself, in fact, would rather not fight at all—it would rather just do its job. Consequently, it will never come to the aid of another creature. It engages in combat only if threatened directly.

When it is threatened, it defends itself partly by spellcasting and partly by striking with an oversize oar, which it seems to wield as a finesse weapon, judging by its attack bonus and damage. Its ability contour is interesting: part spellslinger, part melee shock attacker. But it doesn’t have much in the way of damaging ranged spells; its strongest offensive gambit is gust of wind, which it can use to try to shove enemies overboard. I say “try to,” because its spell save DC of 13 is not impressive; even low-level fighting classes will beat it at least half the time. On the other hand, it affect an area 60 feet long and 10 feet wide, so it’s usable against several foes at once, at least one of whom is likely to fail their save. Continue reading Yugoloth Tactics: Merrenoloths

Yugoloth Tactics

Finally, as promised! In Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, the neutral evil analogues to lawful evil devils and chaotic evil demons were daemons, but since midway through second-edition D&D—perhaps to avoid confusion with demons, or perhaps to avoid confusing Philip Pullman fans—they’ve been called “yugoloths.” Yugoloths are neither as obedient as devils nor as recalcitrant as demons: they have a mercenary mind-set, and in fact are often used as mercenary warriors by archdevils and demon lords, according to the Monster Manual flavor text.

There’s little reason for a yugoloth to be encountered in any other context, and therefore little likelihood that player characters will run into one on their home material plane. But I can imagine a scenario in which an evil ruler asks a court wizard to summon a yugoloth for aid in battle against a rival, figuring that it might be easier to control than a demon and less likely to demand something unacceptable in return than a devil.

There are four types of yugoloth listed in the MM. From weakest to strongest, they’re the mezzoloth, the nycaloth, the arcanaloth and the ultroloth. (Given this naming pattern, I’m not sure why they’re called “yugoloths” instead of just “loths.” The “yugo-” prefix is never explained.) However, even mezzoloths have a challenge rating of 5. These are not opponents for low-level adventurers. Continue reading Yugoloth Tactics