Live to Tell the Tale: An Introduction to Combat Tactics for Dungeons and Dragons Players, Second Edition

The Second Edition of Live to Tell the Tale is on sale now!

Now including information on class archetypes from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, a new section on managing resources between rests, and a looser, easier-to-read layout!

In writing this blog, I’ve unleashed a wave of clever, highly evolved monsters upon the D&D world. It’s only fair that I now give players the tools they need to fight back . . . and live.

Live to Tell the Tale: An Introduction to Combat Tactics for Dungeons and Dragons Players is a 77-page e-book that examines combat roles, class features, party composition, positioning, debilitating conditions, attacking combinations, action economy, and the ever-important consideration of the best ways to run away. If you’re a beginning D&D player unsure what to do when you get into a fight, this e-book will point you in the right direction; if you’re an intermediate player, it will help you win more and die less. If you’re a dungeon master with a group of new players, buy a copy and share it with them. Although it’s a PDF download, it’s formatted to be printed as a booklet, if you care to do that. (In Adobe Reader’s Print menu, under Page Sizing and Handling, select Booklet.)

One thing I want to be clear about: This is not a book about how to create a fully optimized character from square one. Just the opposite. “Real roleplayers” are my people. If you want to create an idiot savant sorcerer, a half-orc cleric/bard or a gnome ranger, I wholeheartedly support that. Do what you love. But, that being said, if you love that character, you need to keep him or her alive!

Here’s the secret: Viability doesn’t depend on stats. It depends on behavior. That’s what this book is about: how to get the most from your creation in combat, so that he or she lives long enough to retire and tell boring stories about the old days. (more…)

What Monsters Want

We interrupt our irregularly scheduled monster tactics to share a bowl of mind-flakes that spilled out of my head yesterday morning.

This blog, generally speaking, is dedicated to examining the round-by-round tactics of monsters, with the goal of helping dungeon masters make decisions about monster behavior ahead of time rather than in the moment, under pressure. (And if you need an illustration of the importance of that, how about

Click to reveal spoiler relating to a well-known actual-play stream.

DM Matthew Mercer’s recent loss of a beloved big bad who was supposed to be a recurring villain because he forgot to move it out of reach of a player character who could stun it


But I found myself thinking about encounter building, in the context of trying to develop premises for new adventures, and this led me to the broader strategic question of what monsters’ overarching goals are. And it occurred to me that a monster’s type is an excellent proxy for its strategic goals. (more…)

Centaur Tactics

Centaurs are the half-horse, half-human hybrids of Greek myth for which, it has been observed, no one has yet come up with a definitive way to design trousers. Which to me clearly indicates that they don’t wear any. Don’t come to me with your hang-ups, man.

In the Harry Potter series, centaurs are standoffish, territorial and even a bit malicious, but in Dungeons and Dragons, as far back as I can remember, they’ve been labeled good creatures—although I’m pretty sure they were originally chaotic good rather than neutral good, which makes more sense to me. Anyway, the upshot is, centaurs are unlikely to attack unprovoked and may prefer to try to subdue and capture their enemies rather than kill them. Doesn’t mean they can’t give you a good hoof-clout, though.

With a single-peak ability contour—exceptional Strength, but merely above-average Dexterity and Constitution—centaurs are also another sort of hybrid, between a brute and a shock attacker. As I use the terms, shock attackers hit fast and hard, then get out, because they’re not cut out for prolonged melee engagement; brutes engage and tank it out until their enemies are dead. With centaurs, we’re maybe looking at something in between: a creature that engages for just two or three rounds, then disengages. (more…)

Wyvern Tactics

The wyvern, a none-too-bright, beast-grade member of the dragon family, is in most respects a basic brute. But there’s a subtlety in its constellation of features that’s easy to overlook.

Wyverns have a basic “walking” speed of 20 feet per turn but a flying speed of 80 feet. With that kind of gap, there’s no reason for it to hold still and engage in stationary melee, as other high-Strength, high-Constitution brutes are happy to do. Wyverns are melee fighters, but they’re strafing melee fighters that never touch the ground if they can help it, nor do they remain within reach (and therefore engagement range) of their enemies.

In addition to their teeth and claws, wyverns have scorpioid venomous stingers in their tails, which can do massive poison damage on top of their typical-for-a-Large-creature piercing damage. That’s a no-brainer: A wyvern will always try to get at least one stinger attack in. But the wyvern’s Multiattack action offers the option of substituting a claw attack for either element of the basic bite/sting combo. (more…)

Orthon Tactics

The first thing that leaps out at me about orthons—described in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes as “infernal bounty hunters”—is that they’re proficient in all of the “big three” saving throws: Dexterity, Constitution and Wisdom. I run across monsters with two of these three saving throw proficiencies fairly often, especially when looking at monsters with higher challenge ratings, but I’m not sure when I last saw a monster with all three of them. Put these together with Magic Resistance, and the takeaway is that orthons are utterly unafraid of spellcasters. They don’t even go out of their way to take spellcasters out quickly. They’re indifferent to them, which, if anything, is scarier.

Orthons are called into play when an archdevil wants an enemy dealt with, dead or alive. They’re brutes, with extraordinary Strength and Constitution, but their Dexterity and mental abilities are far from shabby. They’re expert in Perception, Stealth and Survival—consummate ambush attackers. They’re immune to fire and poison, can’t be charmed, never tire, and are resistant to cold and to physical damage from nonmagical, nonsilvered weapons.

They have 120 feet of darkvision and 30 feet of truesight, so they prefer strongly to attack at night or in a darkened location. But even in daylight, they have the Invisibility Field feature, which lets them turn invisible as a bonus action! An orthon will always use this feature before launching an attack in anything less than total darkness—and even in darkness, if its target has darkvision. Thus, it will always make its first attack with unseen-attacker advantage. (more…)

Sorrowsworn Tactics

In the Feywild, creatures spring into existence that are the manifestations of the feelings of mortals. In the Shadowfell, this happens, too, but only for the really bad feelings. These creatures are the sorrowsworn.

The intriguing thing about the sorrowsworn is that they literally feed off negative emotions. Doing violence to the Angry, for instance, makes its attacks more effective, while refusing to do violence to it reduces its effectiveness.

All sorrowsworn have 60 feet of darkvision—good for the gloom of the Shadowfell—and are resistant to physical damage from any type of weapon, not just nonmagical weapons, while out of bright light. (more…)