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.

Darkvision gives them the upper hand at night or underground, but the flavor text characterizes them as desert dwellers and dawn and dusk hunters (desert nights being uncomfortably cold for activity). If you want to play it close to the lore, go ahead—they do at least have other ways of gaining advantage on their attacks besides having blinded enemies to pick on—but fighting foes without darkvision in dim light doesn’t improve their attack rolls, only their Perception checks.

They have their own language but no proficiency in any social skill, and their Charisma is below-average. Parley is probably not going to be a feature of a combat encounter with tlincallis, except in the narrowest circumstances (e.g., a sorcerer using Distant Spell to cast tongues at a range of 30 feet), and even then, the tlincallis will be more surprised to hear another creature speaking their language than susceptible to persuasion or intimidation; they certainly aren’t going to try to get their way by talking. They’re evil creatures, so their default disposition will still be hostile.

Tlincallis initiate combat from hiding—the flavor text suggests that they bury themselves in loose sand—in order to gain advantage on their initial attack roll, along with surprise. But the order of their attacks depends on how close their targets wander.

A tlincalli’s Multiattack consists of one attack with either Longsword or Spiked Chain and one with Sting. Sting is by far its most powerful attack, dealing an average 20 damage on a hit with the potential of paralyzing its target on a saving throw super-fail. Given a choice, a hunting tlincalli wants to use Sting first, because the paralyzed condition is more devastating to the target than any other condition except being knocked completely unconscious, then wrap the target up with Spiked Chain and run off with it. But Sting’s reach is only 5 feet; Spiked Chain has a 10-foot reach. So if their targets don’t walk right by them—or over them—tlincallis have to use Spiked Chain first, for the extra reach, then close in and follow up with Sting.

If that first-round attack doesn’t bring its prey down, then the tlincalli concludes that it’s better to beat them unconscious before hauling them off. In this case, Sting/Longsword is the preferred way to go, but things don’t always go the way the tlincalli prefers. Befitting the tlincalli’s lowish Intelligence, the heuristic is simple:

  • If Sting paralyzes the target, follow up with Longsword for the greater damage. (Always one-handed, never two-handed, because the tlincalli’s other hand is full of spiked chain.)
  • If Sting fails to paralyze the target, follow up with Spiked Chain for the chance to grapple and restrain.
  • If the target is already paralyzed or restrained from a previous round’s attacks, lead with Sting, then follow up with Longsword regardless of the effects of Sting on the current turn.

Or is it? Commenter Luke suggests always using Spiked Chain before Sting in order to increase the chance of hitting with the more powerful attack, and it turns out that he’s right! So instead of the above heuristic, here’s what the tlincalli ought to do:

  • If the target is not already paralyzed or restrained from a previous round’s attacks, always lead with Spiked Chain, then follow up with Sting.
  • If the target is already paralyzed or restrained from a previous round’s attacks, use Longsword and Sting in whatever order you like; it won’t make a difference.

While a predatory beast usually flees when only moderately injured, preferring prey that doesn’t fight back, beasts are usually unaligned. Tlincalli are neutral evil, so they’ll keep fighting awhile longer out of natural truculence, sticking with it until they’re seriously injured (reduced to 34 hp or fewer). At that point, they use the Dash action to retreat.

Next: Cave fishers.

12 thoughts on “Tlincalli Tactics

  1. I think they originated in Maztica, which is the vaguely South American Faerun continent, so you probably made the right call on the pronunciation.

  2. The sources I can find say that Nahuatl uses “ll” as a long L sound, not like Spanish does, so… [t͡ɬin-KAL-li], I think.

    1. Also, if it’s Nahuatl, that _tl_ represents a single sound . . . which the average native English-speaker might or might not be able to figure out how to make.

  3. Spiked Chain is an awesome attack. It seems to make them great defenders, each creature occupying a 30 ft wide sphere of opportunity attacking goodness. Oh, and about those opportunity attacks: On a hit they automagically grapple and restrain you, preventing your crafty rogue from dashing to the backline Thri-Keen Chatchka throwers or Psionic casters.

    Which leads me to my question: Why wouldn’t one of these guys use Spiked Chain *before* Sting?

    You’re right, paralyzed is a terrible condition, so wouldn’t a Tlincalli use Spiked Chain to get advantage on the potentially paralyzing attack? (Let’s imagine advantage is otherwise unavailable, e.g. surprise, flanking.)

    1. That’s a good question. It boils down to two different philosophies: Do you use the weaker attack first to try to set up the strong one for a greater chance of success, or do you lead with the strong one, with the weak one as a backup? One thing that affects the choice in this case is that Longsword deals more damage than Spiked Chain, while Spiked Chain doesn’t offer anything that Sting doesn’t (except reach). If an initial Sting is successful, you don’t want or need to follow it up with Spiked Chain—you want to follow it up with Longsword, because paralyzed gives you everything that restrained does and more, while Longsword gives you another point of expected damage. To me, it seems straightforward. But I’ve been wrong about these things before (most notably with the kuo-toa), so I suppose I could take the time to create a big crunchy probability grid and see which combo really does pay off the most.

      1. I wouldn’t even know where to begin on working the math out on that!

        My logic relies on two things: A) Chain’s restraint just *works* on a hit, while the poison or paralysis requires multiple failures, and B) poison/paralysis are saves at the end of a turn, while escaping grapple is just an action. Maybe you could check my math on this?

        I was thinking of a paladin with ac 18 & +2 Con. For the opening attack, this gives us:
        a 45% (hit on 12+) chance for Chain to grant advantage,
        a ~25% (45% hit * 55% fail) chance for Sting to impose disadvantage, and
        a ~16% (45% hit * 35% fail by 5) chance for Sting to paralyze.

        If Sting has advantage though, the chance to poison increases to ~38.5%, and paralyze goes up to ~24.5% (45% to hit increases to ~70% with adv).

        Now, if the paladin is only restrained, they can use their action to escape the grapple and then run away on their turn or whatever. If the Paladin is poisoned, they have to make the escape ability check with disadvantage. If they’re paralyzed, they don’t get the escape attempt at all, even if they succeed on the save to shake off the poison. If the Tlincalli’s turn rolls around and the paladin is still restrained, whether from a failed escape check or having been paralyzed, now we get a round of Sting and longsword attacks with advantage. Since saving against this poison doesn’t grant temporary immunity, this Advantage Sting could re-poison or paralyze the paladin.

        Combine these two things and it seems like the Tlincalli has a better chance to permanently lock down its target if it uses Chain first. Even if creature damage per round goes down a bit, increasing the odds of sending PC damage per round to 0 seems like the play.

      2. To save trouble, I’m only looking at three combos: Sting > Longsword, Sting > Spiked Chain and Spiked Chain > Sting. Keep in mind that by the heuristic I laid out, if Sting paralyzes, the tlincalli follows with Longsword, whereas if it misses or fails to paralyze, it follows with Spiked Chain. I’m arbitrarily assuming target AC 15 and a +3 save mod.

        Case 1: Lead w/Sting
        Total expected damage: 17.6. Chance to paralyze: 15 percent. Chance to restrain but not paralyze: 51 percent. Total chance to paralyze or restrain: 66 percent.

        Case 2: Lead w/Spiked Chain
        Total expected damage: 19.152. Chance to paralyze: 18.6 percent. Chance to restrain but not paralyze: 47.4 percent. Total chance to paralyze or restrain: 66 percent.

        Well, I’ll be darned—you’re right. It’s not hugely better, but it is better: slightly more damage and a slightly higher chance to paralyze.

        What happens if the target AC or saving throw modifier is significantly lower or higher? Against lower ACs, leading with Spiked Chain is always better. Against higher ACs, leading with Sting eventually deals more damage (the inflection point is between AC 18 and 19), although the chance to paralyze remains consistently better when leading with Spiked Chain. Saving throw modifier makes no difference until +8, at which point it becomes impossible to paralyze at all.

        Looks like a revised heuristic is in order! Of course, this does leave us with the question, is there ever any reason to use Longsword at all? I’ve done enough number crunching today, so I’m just going to declare that Longsword makes sense, either to lead with or to follow with, when a target is still restrained or paralyzed from the previous round’s attacks, since no further advantage is needed. Anyone who thinks otherwise is welcome to prove me wrong. 😉

        1. Well, presumably if someone’s grappled with the spiked chain, the Tlincalli couldn’t use it again, so that’s one thing that makes sense to me — chain / sting until the chain has grappled someone, then sting / longsword until they get loose.

          I’d actually suggest that they’d use the chain *even if* the target is already paralyzed, because the save vs. poison is free, but getting loose from the chain costs an action. A grappled target can also be dragged away, and a paralyzed grappled target can be easily dragged away.

          This also has the virtue of simplifying their options a little.

          Now, what’s unclear to me is, if you’re grappled by chains from two Tlincalli, do you need to take an action to free yourself from each one?

          1. You do in fact need to take an action to free yourself from each grapple. This helps highlight how incredibly useful teleport abilities are, as well as thunderwave.

            Two tlincallis dragging in opposite directions is how you get your PC drawn and halved. Throw in two more and it’s a medieval classic.

    2. Thri-Keen and Tlincalli probably would fight to each other. Tlincalli are scorpions, and the Thri-Keen are a crickets, Thri-Keen are chaotic neutral, and Tlincalli are neutral evil. Both Tlincalli and Thri-Keen don’t like outsiders, and for them, each of them is outsider.

  4. I know that the origins of this thing in the Forgotten Realms are more South American, but believe it or not, the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia (Sumer, Babylon, Akadia, Assyria, etc.) actually had a race of scorpion folk called Girtablullu that was said to be the offspring of Tiamat.

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