Balhannoth Tactics

A couple of readers asked me to look at the balhannoth, and I have to say, this is one of the strangest stat blocks I’ve ever looked at. Not necessarily because it has the most peculiar abilities—although a couple of its abilities are unique and quite interesting—but because it almost seems like two different monsters in one, each with a completely different modus operandi.

Going by its ability scores and its attack actions, the balhannoth is a straightforward brute, with exceptional Strength and Constitution. Its Bite action is a basic melee attack that deals a ferocious four dice of piercing damage at close range. Its Tentacle action does bludgeoning damage (which can be read as “constricting” as well as “whomping”) and also grapples and restrains on a hit. Additionally, the grappled target “is moved up to 5 feet toward the balhannoth.” “Up to 5” includes zero, and this gives the balhannoth the option of either reeling a target in to Bite them or holding them at a safe distance, out of melee attack reach. A balhannoth can grab up to four targets this way.

Its Multiattack offers two choices: Tentacle/Tentacle/Bite (or Tentacle/Bite/Tentacle) and Tentacle × 4. If opponents are rushing the balhannoth, or if they’re clustered too closely together, the latter lets it seize several of them at once. If only a couple of enemies are within reach, it can grab and Bite right away. Continue reading Balhannoth Tactics

Nagpa Tactics

Thought I might be able to tackle something easy after the drow matron mother, but no—you guys want me to look at the nagpa, another monster with eleventy billion spells. (OK, it’s got 26. That’s still a lot.)

It’s not like you’ll even find nagpas running around all over the place. According to Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, there are only 13 of them—a coterie of conniving wizards cursed by the Raven Queen and turned into skulking vulture-people scavenging the remnants of lost civilizations for scraps of arcane lore.

Unsurprisingly, nagpas’ ability contour is that of a long-range spellcaster, with extraordinary Intelligence and Charisma, exceptional Wisdom and very high Dexterity. They carry staves, which they somehow are able to use as finesse weapons and deal two dice of damage with, but melee engagement really isn’t their style. If they do get into melee, they want to get back out of it quickly.

They have proficiency in all the mental saving throws, but their Dexterity and Constitution save modifiers are unremarkable. Thus, they don’t have a lot to fear from bards, whose spells tend to emphasize enchantment, illusion and crowd control; but casters who sling damaging evocation, transmutation and necromancy spells pose a threat that they need to neutralize quickly. Taking out these foes is even more important to them than taking out melee fighters.

Continue reading Nagpa Tactics

Drow Tactics: Matron Mothers

Deepest apologies to all my impatient readers. Between doing revisions on The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters and taking care of a daughter who’s just starting to get the hang of a nap schedule, I haven’t had time for blogging. And this particular post is a mother.

Literally.

The drow matron mother, CR 20, is second only to Lolth herself in the drow boss hierarchy. She’s a spellcaster first, a skirmisher second, certain to be surrounded by a multitude of minions. She’s also a legendary creature, with legendary actions—one of which she can turn over to a demon ally for its own use, sort of a drowish Commander’s Strike.

Like all drow, the matron mother has Fey Ancestry (passive), Sunlight Sensitivity (no going outside, especially during the day), and the innate spells dancing lights, darkness, faerie fire and levitate. However, she’s got a few additional tricks up her sleeve: She can cast detect magic at will, and once per day, she can cast clairvoyance, detect thoughts, dispel magic and suggestion.

Note that the matron mother can cast dispel magic with or without using a spell slot, but when she casts it innately, it works only against spells of 3rd level or lower. Since she can cast it this way only once per day, she’s going to be finicky about what spells she dispels with it, saving it only for the most important. A very good candidate is invisibility, since dispel magic affects “one creature, object or magical effect” within 120 feet and doesn’t require her to be able to see the target, only to know they’re there. Pop! Haste, slow, hypnotic pattern, enlarge/reduce and spiritual weapon are also top choices. If she wants to dispel anything else, she’ll spend a spell slot on it.

Continue reading Drow Tactics: Matron Mothers

The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters, Available for Pre-Order

Since I started writing this blog, a number of readers have asked whether I planned to compile The Monsters Know What They’re Doing’s monster tactics into a book, and the answer I gave was always no.

Then I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse.

The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters is due to be published Dec. 3, 2019, by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, and is now available for pre-order!

The Monsters Know What They're Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters
Cover illustration by Lily Pressland

This book will feature all the creatures I’ve analyzed from the Monster Manual, along with exclusive analyses of un-blogged monsters including aarakocra, basilisks, cockatrices, griffons and hippogriffs, kenku, merfolk, quaggoths and xorn, and will be available in both hardcover and e-book formats.

Click here to pre-order The Monsters Know What They’re Doing from your favorite independent bookseller.IndieBound I’m a strong believer in independent booksellers as community anchors, promoting the free expression and sharing of ideas, enriching the cultural life of communities, and keeping money circulating in the local economy. If you don’t already have a favorite independent bookseller, maybe it’s time to get to know one!

Or, I guess, you could pre-order from one of these online retailers:

Amazon
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Books-a-Million
iBooks
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Drow Tactics: Favored Consorts

The drow favored consort—emphasis on “favored”—is not just arm candy but also an adviser with advanced arcane abilities. While the favored consort occupies a privileged place in drow society, it’s not part of the ruling hierarchy; it’s still effectively a second-class citizen, high-status only as second-class citizens go. One likely upshot of this is that it’s not going to share the zealotry of broader drow society. Unlike, say, a drow inquisitor, which has an example to set and will fight to the death in the line of duty, a drow favored consort is quite keen to preserve its existence, which is probably the only reason it took the job of favored consort in the first place.

The recurring Perception-Stealth proficiency combo is here, along with the drow-standard long-range darkvision, Fey Ancestry and Innate Spellcasting. All its ability scores are well above average, but in particular, its Dexterity is extraordinary, and its Intelligence and Charisma are exceptional. Because its Dex is higher than its mental abilities, we have an interesting hybrid of long-range spellcaster, sniper, and shock attacker, and we should look for ways in which the favored consort can easily slip into and out of melee. Its advanced proficiency in Acrobatics and Athletics may help with that; we’ll see.

Looking over its extensive list of spells for mobility enhancements, we find only two: haste and misty step. Haste requires concentration—and this is interesting, because the drow favored consort is one of very few high-level spellcasting monsters I’ve looked at that aren’t heavily laden with concentration-required spells. In fact, aside from mage hand and its innate spells, the only other two I find are gust of wind and Otiluke’s resilient sphere. So there’s very little reason for the favored consort not to cast haste right out of the gate, unless it has a specific reason to want to trap an enemy with resilient sphere—maybe its priestess has commanded it—or is being blitzed by melee fighters and needs to throw on some mage armor. (A favored consort that has reason to anticipate a combat encounter will always have cast this spell already, putting it one 1st-level spell slot down.) However, the favored consort may not necessarily cast haste on itself—not if there’s a drow shadowblade, house captain or elite warrior in its group, or perhaps a yochlol already on the scene. Continue reading Drow Tactics: Favored Consorts