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, dinosaurs, 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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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

Drow Tactics: Inquisitors

Looking at the ability contour of the drow inquisitor, a high-level cleric, we see a heavy emphasis on the mental abilities, particularly Wisdom and Charisma, which are extraordinary. Intriguingly, reverse-engineering its Death Lance attack, it appears that this attack is made using either Wisdom or Charisma rather than Strength or Dexterity, so the usual rules of thumb governing fighting style don’t apply. If we take Dexterity, the highest of the inquisitor’s physical ability scores, as its primary defensive ability, we get a spellcasting quasi–shock attacker. Combine this with the obligatory drow proficiency in Perception and Stealth and 120 feet of darkvision, and we have the makings of a nasty ambush.

The drow inquisitor is unafraid of spellcasters, having Magic Resistance, Fey Ancestry, and proficiency in two of the “big three” saving throws (Constitution and Wisdom), plus Charisma. Which opponents does it prioritize, then? For ideological reasons, devout worshipers of gods other than Lolth, along with non-drow elves; for resource competition reasons, dwarves; and for practical reasons, anyone who’s showing him- or herself to be particularly dangerous. Drow inquisitors are adaptable.

They also have proficiency in Insight, so if the odds of victory don’t look so hot, inquisitors won’t hesitate to parley—even if it means giving up an ambush opportunity. Why launch an ambush if even that isn’t enough to give your side a comfortable advantage? The inquisitor isn’t uniquely good at getting others to do what it wants, but it’s very good at figuring out what others want—and whether this is compatible with its own interests. This ability is enhanced by Discern Lie, a trump card it can play on any attempt at Deception. Continue reading Drow Tactics: Inquisitors

Drow Tactics: Shadowblades

Drow shadowblades are spies and assassins, trained to strike from hiding. With extraordinary Dexterity serving as both their primary offensive ability and primary defensive ability, they’re shock attackers, striking swiftly and hard with the goal of taking out their targets as fast as possible. Their Constitution is high enough that they can handle a protracted battle, but they’d rather not.

With proficiency in all of the “big three” saving throws (Dexterity, Constitution and Wisdom) and with innate advantage against being charmed, shadowblades have little to fear from enemy spellcasters and can assail their desired targets without distraction. Like all drow, they have long-range darkvision plus Sunlight Sensitivity, confining them to nighttime and (more likely) subterranean operations. They also have the standard drow spell package of dancing lights plus one daily casting each of darkness, faerie fire and levitate.

In addition, as a bonus action, shadowblades can use the Shadow Step feature to teleport up to 60 feet between one dimly lit or dark location and another; doing so also grants advantage on “the first melee attack it makes before the end of the turn.” The wording is crucial, because it dictates shadowblades’ turn sequence and mode of striking: the bonus action must be taken before the attack, and the attack must be a melee attack, i.e., either Shadow Sword, grapple or shove. Continue reading Drow Tactics: Shadowblades

Drow Tactics: Arachnomancers

Gonna do my best here with the drow arachnomancer, but please forgive me if I screw up, like, half a dozen different things. I’m operating with two levels of exhaustion, and I’m not even the one doing most of the work. My wife is a boss.

Arachnomancers are drow warlocks that can shapeshift into or out of a Large giant spider form as a bonus action and can continue to speak and cast spells in their spider form. Because they’re warlocks, unlike most monsters with spellcasting ability, they cast all their spells as if using a 5th-level spell slot, but they’re also limited to three leveled spells per encounter (not counting darkness, dominate monster, etherealness, eyebite, faerie fire and levitate, each of which they can cast once per day without spending a slot, and dancing lights, which they can cast at will). Concentration, of course, is going to govern which of these spells they can cast, so we’re going to look for sustained spells that synergize with multiple instantaneous spells.

Also, since these are warlocks we’re talking about, we want to find out what works well with eldritch blast. Although it isn’t stated explicitly in the stat block, because the drow arachnomancer is a 16th-level spellcaster, eldritch blast fires three bolts per casting, for a total of 3d10 force damage. In terms of damage dealt, this can’t compete with either its humanoid-form Poisonous Touch attack or its spider-form Bite attack. However, based on its ability contour—extraordinary Intelligence, very high Dexterity and Charisma, merely above-average Constitution, average Strength—we can infer that the arachnomancer is a long-distance spellslinger that would much prefer to stay out of melee if it can. Thus, Poisonous Touch and Bite are primarily self-defense measures, secondarily shock attacks. Continue reading Drow Tactics: Arachnomancers