Molydeus Tactics

The molydeus is a demon of extraordinary power, on par with several named demon princes. The flavor text refers to various demon lords as “masters” of molydei, but there aren’t too many entities to which that word could apply, given that demons are chaotic evil and therefore not likely to take orders from anything less powerful than themselves. The Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes flavor text notwithstanding, unless and until new demon lords are crowned and their stat blocks published, there are only two that could indisputably command the obedience of a molydeus: Demogorgon and Orcus. (Graz’zt and Yeenoghu are only one challenge rating higher than the molydeus; I’m not sure that’s enough of a difference. Baphomet and Fraz-Urb’luu have the same CR as a molydeus, so even if one of them created a molydeus, I think it would tell them to buzz off, if not turn on them immediately.) For some unfathomable reason, I looked at that “CR 21” I don’t know how many times, and my brain processed it as “CR 23.” Yes, any demon lord is powerful enough to command a molydeus. SMH.

For a huge creature, the molydeus is speedy, with a movement speed of 40 feet. Its ability scores are all extraordinary, with Strength first and Constitution second—a brute. While it has Innate Spellcasting, it’s secondary to melee fighting. It has proficiency in four out of six saving throws, but one of the big three—Dexterity—is missing from the list, so in relative terms, this could stretchily be noted as a weakness. But it also has Magic Resistance and three uses of Legendary Resistance per day, so whenever it fails a Dex save . . . it doesn’t fail.

Typically for a demon, the molydeus is resistant to physical damage from nonmagical weapons, cold, fire and lightning and immune to poison; it can’t be blinded, charmed, deafened, frightened, poisoned or stunned. (It can, however, be paralyzed, knocked prone or restrained.) It has a truly bonkers +21 Perception modifier and passive Wisdom (Perception) 31. Player characters trying to sneak up on one, at a minimum, will need pass without trace. Continue reading Molydeus Tactics

Clockwork Tactics

The clockwork constructs in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes are a collection of machines used by rock gnomes to defend their turf. Combining trickery with extraordinary durability and disproportionate damage-dealing capacity, they share a range of condition and damage immunities along with darkvision and the ability to understand their controllers’ commands—but also a rigidity in their behavior that can only be compensated for by active, real-time control. If they’re sent off to do their work on their own, they do it mechanistically, with no adaptation to what’s going on around them.

First up is the bronze scout, which isn’t particularly strong, but it doesn’t need to be, because it’s basically a self-guided mobile land mine. The key things to note are its burrowing movement, its double proficiency in Stealth, its Earth Armor trait, its Lightning Flare action, and one more trait that’s mentioned in the flavor text but unpardonably omitted from its stat block: “telescoping eyestalks” that let it see aboveground while it burrows below. These eyestalks are crucial, because the bronze scout lacks tremorsense or any other listed way to detect the presence of creatures above it.

This combination of features makes the bronze scout the ideal ambush initiator: Using Stealth to muffle its approach, it scuttles along the ground until it sees movement, then tunnels into the earth and heads toward it. Once it’s approximately in position, it pokes its eyestalks up and looks around, checking to see if its position is correct—that is, if at least three enemies are within 15 feet of it (see “Targets in Area of Effect,” Dungeon Master’s Guide, chapter 8). If it’s not, it retracts its eyestalks and repositions. If it is, it sets off its Lightning Flare, whereupon its waiting allies launch their attack. Since it’s immune to physical damage from nonmagical, non-adamantine weapons, it can take a hell of a beating, Biting back at whatever attacks it. But if it’s seriously damaged (reduced to 7 hp or fewer), it dives back underground, provoking no opportunity attack thanks to Earth Armor, and scuttles away.

The bronze scout doesn’t have to be used in this way, though. It can be used, as its name suggests, simply as a scout, which doesn’t attack at all unless it’s discovered. In this instance, the bronze scout Readies the Lightning Flare action, with the triggering condition “when any creature winds up to make a melee attack against it.” Including the wind-up in the trigger condition is key, because it’s a perceivable circumstance allows the bronze scout to use Lightning Flare as an interrupt, occurring before the opponent follows through with the attack, whereas if the condition were “when any creature makes a melee attack,” the reaction would have to wait until after the attack either hit or missed. Continue reading Clockwork Tactics

Frost Salamander Tactics

Cousins to salamanders, elemental beings of fire, frost salamanders are elemental beings of ice—in Dungeons & Dragons lore, a conjunction of water and air. They aren’t simply salamanders reskinned to deal cold damage, though. There are major differences between the two:

  • Salamanders are Large; frost salamanders are Huge.
  • Salamanders can travel only across solid ground; frost salamanders can burrow and climb.
  • Both salamanders and frost salamanders are brutes, but salamanders are as intelligent as sentient humanoids are. Frost salamanders are smarter than apes, but just barely, and they don’t have much personality.
  • In addition to their burrowing movement, frost salamanders have tremorsense, allowing them to lie in wait beneath the surface of the ground and spring out to attack prey, like a remorhaz.
  • Salamanders wield weapons and can use their tails to grapple and restrain. Frost salamanders just mess you up with their teeth and claws.
  • The heat of a salamander’s body deals fire damage to anyone who comes in contact with it. Frost salamanders don’t have equivalent contact damage. However . . .
  • Frost salamanders have a breath weapon, Freezing Breath, whose effects lie somewhere between the Cold Breaths of young and adult white dragons. It recharges only on a roll of 6—or when it takes fire damage, thanks to its Burning Fury trait.

Continue reading Frost Salamander Tactics

Deathlock Tactics

Pacts formed with supernatural patrons tend not to have escape clauses, and the penalties for breaking them can be unpleasant. Did you make a pact with an archfiend to do its bidding in exchange for occult powers and fail to live up to the terms? No “till death do us part” in this vow—that archfiend owns you after death, as well. You’re a deathlock, Harry! Free will? No longer an issue. You’re undead now, and your compulsion is to serve your patron—and to do a better job of it than you did when you were alive.

I got my first request to look at the deathlock a fairly long time ago, but just yesterday a reader noticed that it was finally coming up in the queue and asked: “The deathlock only gets two spell slots. What does it do afterward? [Player character] warlocks are built around recharging with a short rest every battle, but enemies rarely survive to return for a second battle, and with its pathetic stats, the only way it’s going to survive is by casting invisibility—and if it saves a spell slot for that, it’s down to one spell slot.”

Well, first of all, let’s look at whether the premises of this question are true. The deathlock’s ability contour peaks in Charisma and Dexterity, which is exactly what you’d expect of a spellslinger in general and a warlock in particular; its Intelligence is also above average. Its 36 average hit points (which you can nudge up, incidentally, if you feel like it needs more staying power) aren’t out of line for a challenge rating 4 foe. Plus, it has resistance to physical damage from nonmagical, non-silvered weapons, so unless you’re handing out magic items like candy, there’s a decent chance that your mid-level adventurers will do only half damage to it. (It’s also resistant to necrotic damage and immune to poison damage and the poisoned condition, but these are less significant.) Continue reading Deathlock Tactics

Devil Tactics: Merregons and Narzugons

My own campaigns have never been very fiend-heavy, so I haven’t delved much into the ranks of devils, but as I’m looking at the merregon for the first time, I’m impressed by the idea that the souls of soldiers who served evil spend eternity fighting for the forces of hell without faces, only permanent iron masks. I can imagine Nazi footsoldiers being condemned to this fate, and I find the image satisfying.

Merregons are brutes, with exceptional Strength and Constitution; their Wisdom is above-average, but their Intelligence is ape-level. They’re immune to fire and poison; resistant to cold, to magic and to physical damage from nonmagical, non-silvered weapons; and mute. They can’t be frightened or poisoned. The only language they understand is Infernal. They have 60 feet of darkvision, which isn’t overwhelmed by the darkness spell, as darkvision usually is.

With their double Halberd Multiattack, merregons make effective, straightforward footsoldiers. But their effectiveness is increased dramatically when they fight in the presence of another fiend of challenge rating 6 or greater—for instance, a bone devil, erinys, pit fiend or amnizu. The two Halberd attacks in the merregons’ Multiattack become three, and if they’re adjacent to their superior, they soak up attacks meant for it. Continue reading Devil Tactics: Merregons and Narzugons