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…)

Treant Tactics

Treants are, of course, ents. I can only assume they’re called “treants” for the same reason that the humanoid creatures who are obviously hobbits are called “halflings”: a dispute over usage rights with the Tolkien estate. (This may also be why Dungeons and Dragons has always spelled “warg” with an o instead of an a.)

Treants are chaotic good, and good usually means “friendly,” but not always. Evil displeases them mightily, but so does any kind of civilization encroaching on their turf. Even if one doesn’t do anything to hurt them or the trees and forests they care for, they still may get annoyed enough with trespassers to want to teach them a lesson about treading where they oughtn’t. In this last case, their primary goal is deterrence, and if they can’t drive the trespassers out, they’ll attack to subdue, then take out the trash themselves.

Another thing to like about treants is that they’re resistant to bludgeoning and piercing damage but not to slashing damage. Anytime fifth-edition D&D bothers to distinguish among the three different types of physical damage, it gets a thumbs-up from me. Note also that treants are resistant to any kind of bludgeoning or piercing damage, even if it comes from a magical weapon. (more…)

Skull Lord Tactics

I’ve been procrastinating on analyzing the skull lord, because it’s another damn monster with a spellbook three inches thick. Spells are all right, but if you ask me, the way to make a monster interesting is to give it interesting features. A plethora of spells just creates analysis paralysis.

So what makes a skull lord different from a lich? Quite a lot, actually, but let’s start with the lore. Liches are megalomaniacal wizards who became undead in the pursuit of immortality and boundless power. Skull lords aren’t wizards but warlords—more correctly, agglomerations of warlords, former squabbling rivals now forced to share a single wasted body with three skinless heads.

Undead creatures are driven by compulsions, not survival instincts or rational motives. To run one, you have to know what its compulsion is. Here, it seems, the lore indicates two compulsions: to conquer and . . . to bicker. We’re gonna have some fun with this one. (more…)

Elite Githzerai Tactics

The githzerai monk has the ability profile of a shock attacker, but it lacks the mobility to get in and out of combat easily. The githzerai enlightened is the more fully developed version of this build concept, differing from the githzerai monk in three ways: higher ability scores, the Temporal Strike action, and a package of mobility- and defense-enhancing psionic “spells”: blur, expeditious retreat, haste, plane shift and teleport.

Getting the best use out of these abilities is going to require paying close attention to action economy and “spell” duration. Let’s break it down! (more…)

Elite Githyanki Tactics

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes goes into gith lore in considerable depth and offers stat blocks for five new gith variations: the githyanki gish, kith’rak and supreme commander, and the githzerai enlightened and anarch. To recap, githyanki and githzerai are divergent lines of the same race, once enslaved by mind flayers. Upon seizing their freedom, the githyanki claimed license to pillage and enslave in the mind flayers’ stead, whereas the githzerai retreated into pacifist isolationism and monastic reflection. Both lines possess psionic abilities.

The githyanki gish is a sort of eldritch knight or war mage, both a fierce shock attacker and a potent spellcaster, with high ability scores across the board. (This variant was introduced in edition 3.5 and has become an archetypal example of the fighter/magic-user multiclass combo, so that any such character is often referred to as a “gish.”) With proficiency in Perception and Stealth, it also excels at ambush. And its proficiency in Constitution saving throws dramatically improves its chances of maintaining concentration on sustained spells while taking damage.

Since psionics exist in fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons as reskinned magic, the githyanki gish has a number of “spells” it can cast innately alongside its conventional wizard-spell repertoire: mage hand (essentially telekinesis lite), jump, misty step, nondetection, plane shift and telekinesis, of which misty step, plane shift and telekinesis are the most broadly useful. (more…)

Rot Grub ‘Tactics’

Rot grubs are nearly mindless creatures that exist primarily in swarms, a stat block for which is provided in Volo’s Guide to Monsters. They’re a nasty surprise for any adventurer who stumbles across them, since the only way to fight them off once they’ve burrowed into you is to intentionally burn yourself. However, to talk about their having “tactics” is to give them too much credit, and I’m only bothering to write them up because a reader requested it.

A swarm of rot grubs is easy to hit, having an armor class of only 8, but not so easy to destroy. The swarm is resistant to piercing and slashing damage, reflecting the fact that you can kill a lot more grubs with a broad bashing weapon than with a thin cutting edge or poking point. The swarm is also immune to most debilitating conditions, stunned and unconscious being two standout exceptions. The swarm can be blinded, but that doesn’t mean much, since it has 10 feet of blindsight. Except for its Constitution, which is average, the swarm’s ability scores are pitifully low.

The swarm has only one attack, a bite that does only indirect damage. Rather than take place at the moment of attack, the damage occurs at the start of the target’s turn, and it varies in proportion to the number of grubs that have burrowed into the target’s flesh (1d4 per hit). The target must cauterize the bite wound on this turn, or the burrowing grubs will do continuous round-by-round damage until the target is either cured of the infestation or dead. (more…)