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…)

Vargouille Tactics

So imagine that you’re talking to someone, and as you’re talking to him, his face sprouts horns, his mouth sprouts fangs, and his ears transform into bat wings, and they start flapping, and his head tears right off its body, turns around and starts drinking the blood that’s fountaining from his former neck-place. You’ve just witnessed the birth of a vargouille, a silly and horrible little fiend that’s the extraplanar personification of cooties.

Vargouilles are stupid and possess an underdeveloped survival instinct. Though birthed in solitude, they flock together as quickly as possible for the safety of numbers. They can drag themselves along the ground only feebly, but they can fly faster than the average humanoid can jog. They’re resistant to cold, fire and lightning damage and immune to all forms of poison, including the poisoned condition. They have 60 feet of darkvision and detest sunlight (although it doesn’t do them any actual harm, as it does to, say, kobolds).

With above-average Dexterity and Constitution (and nothing else), vargouilles are skirmishers; moreover, they’re flying skirmishers, which means they’ll often keep station 10 or 15 feet in the air, fly down to attack, then fly back out of reach. This makes them subject to opportunity attacks, which should matter, but with a Wisdom of only 7, they’re not prudent enough to try to avoid it. (more…)

Vampire Warrior and Spellcaster Tactics

A reader gently reminds me that I made a promise a long time ago that I haven’t fulfilled yet: I analyzed vampires, but I never did get around to analyzing the variant warrior vampire and spellcaster vampire. How do they differ from the stock vampire?

To recap, vampires are highly intelligent and prudent apex predators, both highly attached to and highly dependent on their lairs—of which they maintain several, just in case. They employ multiple levels of security in these lairs and will parley with intruders to size them up, stall for time and look for an opportunity to Charm one or more of them. They use a combination of Unarmed Strike (to grapple) and Bite to subdue opponents, draw sustenance from them and, potentially, transform them into vampire spawn. They value their continued existence very highly and are not going to engage in acts of stupid bravery; if the situation calls for it, they’ll tactically retreat without hesitation. When hunting, they prey on the weak, vulnerable and isolated. (more…)

Neogi Tactics

Neogi have the bodies of spiders, the heads of some kind of sharp-toothed worm-thing and the hyper-hierarchical worldview of an 18th-century aristocrat. Nearly all their relations—with other species and with one another—revolve around power. Anything other than deference to the powerful and domination of the powerless is foreign to their way of thinking.

However, neogi are physically weak: their power comes from their psychic abilities. In terms of their ability scores, a neogi’s high Dexterity and Constitution, combined with its low Strength, indicates a preference for skirmishing and for outnumbering opponents. However, neogi of equal status will cooperate only under the command of a higher-status neogi; a lone neogi must fend for itself, and will strive to avoid any engagement in which it doesn’t have a clear advantage.

Neogi have darkvision (the standard 60 feet) and proficiency in Perception, so it’s to their advantage to engage either at night or underground. They also have proficiency in Intimidation; this plus their above-average Wisdom suggests that when they’re outmatched, they’ll try to bluff and bluster their way out of having to fight. (more…)

Morkoth Tactics

What do you get when you cross a dragon, a kraken and a beholder? You get a morkoth, a weird, paranoid, tentacled beastie that drifts through the planes on its own private island, which might be aquatic but might also be airborne, and hoards living beings as well as treasure.

By default, a morkoth’s lair is immersed in water, although the morkoth can make that water clear and/or breathable at will—as well as the reverse. This water is just one of many advantages the morkoth has in its own lair, since it has a swimming speed of 50 feet, twice its land speed. It can breathe equally well in air and water, so the breathability (or lack thereof) of the water in its lair is an amenity it can offer to guests and a weapon it can use against intruders.

Morkoths, despite their many hit points and high armor class, aren’t all that physically formidable. Their Strength, Dexterity and Constitution are all modestly above average. Their standout ability is Intelligence, which is also their spellcasting ability, so while they do possess a respectable Multiattack that can also restrain one enemy, they’ll reserve it for enemies who get right up in their beaky faces. They’d much rather attack with spells. (more…)

Wood Woad Tactics

Wood woads are lawful neutral living plants, basically meaning, don’t start none, won’t be none. The only way you’re going to get in a fight with one is either to trespass on the territory it guards and initiate ruckus, or to attack it outright. Otherwise, they’re likely to remain indifferent to your presence. Not friendly—indifferent.

Wood woads are tough. They have 10 hit dice, exceptionally high Strength and Constitution, and a two-swing Multiattack with a Magic Club that does considerable whomp damage. However, they also have proficiency in Perception and Stealth—and advantage on Stealth checks in “terrain with ample obscuring plant life,” i.e., any kind of forest, wild or cultivated, or even a tall-grass prairie—so they won’t run straight at you as soon as they see you. Instead, they’ll blend in quietly, waiting to attack until trespassers come within reach—or, if they need to put an immediate end to a disturbance, closing the distance with Tree Stride, then attacking. Thus, their first attack will always be an ambush, with unseen-attacker advantage.

However, this ambush won’t necessarily be an attack with intent to harm. They’re lawful neutral, not lawful evil. They have proficiency in Athletics as well, and in combat, that usually means grappling or shoving. If they’re not outnumbered, rather than try to pummel trespassers, they may simply try to bounce them: grapple them, carry them to the edge of their territory and dump them there. Or they might shove a trespasser into a pit or trap, but chances are, it won’t be they who’ll dig that pit or build that trap. Shoving is a tactic they’ll generally use only when they’re henchmen of something or somebody else—though a roaming wood woad, if antagonized, might choose to shove an enemy into a ravine, if one happened to be nearby. (more…)