Live to Tell the Tale: An Introduction to Combat Tactics for D&D Players

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 67-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…)

The Flanking Rule: Why Many DMs Hate It and Why I’ll Still Use It

I never realized when I began writing this blog just how big a hot-button issue flanking is. Personally, being a longtime player of not just Dungeons and Dragons but also various war games, including quasi–war games like Sid Meier’s Civilization series, I thought using the optional flanking rule on page 251 of the fifth-edition Dungeon Master’s Guide was a no-brainer. Yeah, D&D is a game in which silly things happen on the regular, but given a choice, I still like to err on the side of verisimilitude, and it’s a simple fact of life that if you’re being attacked by someone in front of you and someone behind you, you’re going to get the tar kicked out of you.

But after getting some negative feedback to my advocacy of the flanking rule (including one Reddit poster who went so far as to say that as far as he was concerned, it invalidated everything else I say!), I decided to put some feelers out to learn why, exactly, some players are vehemently against granting advantage on attacks against a flanked enemy.

The rules of D&D 5E are written with considerable care and meant to be taken absolutely literally, so instead of glossing as I usually do, I’m going to reproduce the exact wording of this rule, in its entirety: (more…)

Yeti Tactics

Scourges of the arctic peaks, yetis are reclusive apex predators renowned for their bloodlust. Being impervious to the cold and having a keen sense of smell, they may be encountered wandering the foggy terrain around a white dragon lair or venturing out to hunt in a swirling blizzard.

With exceptional Strength and Constitution and merely above-average Dexterity, yetis are brute melee fighters, but they do have a couple of features they gain an edge from. One is their proficiency in Stealth, which combined with their Keen Smell and Snow Camouflage features gives them tremendous incentive to ambush prey in low-visibility conditions, such as the darkness of night or the whiteout of a snowstorm. The other is Chilling Gaze, which is part of its Multiattack.

Chilling Gaze requires the yeti to be within 30 feet of its target, so it has to exercise patience, staying hidden until its prey is close enough for it to strike—but that doesn’t mean it leaves this to chance. Yetis have Wisdom 12, high enough for them to exercise care in choosing their targets, and like other predators hunting for a meal, they favor the young, the old, the weak, the isolated and the oblivious. They’ll actively maneuver to bring themselves within strike range of such a target, counting on the combination of their Stealth proficiency, their Snow Camouflage and vision-obscuring conditions to keep themselves from being seen. (more…)

Displacer Beast Tactics

An old-school monster dating all the way back to the 1974 Greyhawk supplement, the displacer beast is a panther-like creature that walks on six legs but attacks with a pair of long, sinuous tentacles emerging from its shoulders. Its name comes from its power to make itself appear to be several feet from where it actually is.

Aside from this passive feature, there’s not much in the displacer beast’s stat block to make it anything but a straightforward brute. Its primary physical abilities are Strength and Constitution, its 40-foot movement speed makes charging a snap, and it has no feature that allows or encourages a unique method of attack.

So to find a displacer beast fighting style that differs at all from that of other “Rrrrahhhh, bash bash bash” brutes, we have to look to three things: its armor class, its reach and the Monster Manual flavor text. (more…)

Modron Tactics

I was a huge math nerd as a kid. I think I must have been just 5 or 6 years old when I first got my hands on Flatland, and I drank it up like a parched man in a hot desert (having no idea until many years later that it was an allegory for classism and sexism in Victorian England), and the discovery of a quasi-sequel called Sphereland (sadly, not in print right now) delighted me even further.

So maybe you’d expect me to be more into modrons than I am. But when a reader recently told me he planned to run a campaign in Mechanus, the plane of pure law, and thought he wasn’t doing the modrons justice, I had to confess: I hate them. I have a great apprfiveeciation for silliness, but modrons have always struck me as just too silly, like whoever came up with the idea of Mechanus envisioned it as something out of The Phantom Tollbooth or Donald in Mathmagic Land.

Modrons are constructs, automata with vaguely mathematically inspired bodies and weirdly humanoid faces (with, in the illustrations of the fifth-edition Monster Manual, disturbingly full lips). The more advanced the modron, the more it can multitask, and the more authority it has over other modrons. All modrons possess natural armor, above-average Dexterity, 120 feet of truesight, and the features Axiomatic Mind and Disintegration.

One of the many peculiarities of modrons is that they’re denizens of an outer plane, yet their challenge ratings top out at 2. How many low-level adventurers are going to travel to Mechanus? I wonder whether these creatures must exist at least primarily for the sake of background decoration. They’re not going to pose a challenge to the player characters who encounter them except in great numbers—legions. (more…)

Thri-kreen Tactics

Clearly, thri-kreen are meant to resemble some kind of eusocial insects, most likely ants or termites; I’m not entirely sure which one. (ETA: On Reddit, ghost_warlock kindly refers me to Wikipedia, where “the very first line . . . explains that they’re ‘mantis warriors.’ I am suitably shamed over not having thought to check Wikipedia for the answer.) However, these four-armed humanoids don’t possess the kind of hive mind or hive mentality you might attribute to them, based on their appearance. They’re not telepathic, nor are they even lawfully aligned. They don’t sleep, though, and they have the ultimate poker faces, betraying nary a hint of emotion.

Being chaotic neutral rather than chaotic evil, thri-kreen largely want to be left to their own business. The Monster Manual flavor text does say they “consider all other living creatures as potential nourishment,” and in the inevitable silly twist, “they love the taste of elf flesh in particular.” (Between thri-kreen and perytons, I’m getting the impression that elves must be delicious, like truffles or something.) But this seems to me to verge on evil, so I’d say that thri-kreen don’t attack other humanoids just to eat them unless they’re experiencing some kind of shortage of other foods. That being said, having already killed a humanoid for some other reason, they probably wouldn’t have any scruples about consuming the corpse.

Thri-kreen have high Dexterity and above-average Strength and Constitution. This gives them a bit of flexibility between brute melee combat and skirmishing, perhaps with a slight bias toward the latter, since they’re fast-moving (speed 40 feet per round). They also have proficiency in Perception and Stealth, plus Chameleon Carapace, which gives them advantage when trying to Hide. All these factors point toward ambush as a favored strategy. (more…)