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…)

Water Weird, Galeb Duhr and Invisible Stalker Tactics

Mea culpa. In my last post, I said I’d be looking next at “minor elementals.” However, of the three elemental creatures I’m looking at today—the water weird, the galeb duhr and the invisible stalker—the latter two are actually more powerful than pure elementals are, and none of them can be called with the conjure minor elementals spell.

You’ll note that one of the four classical elements, fire, is missing from this group. For some reason, the fifth-edition Monster Manual doesn’t offer a true igneous equivalent to these three creatures, all of which are specifically described as beings that can be summoned from their home elemental planes. The nearest equivalent—which technically can be summoned with conjure elemental, though this fact is mentioned nowhere in its flavor text—is the salamander. However, salamanders are neutral evil and, by their description, very much independent agents. Water weirds, galeb duhrs and invisible stalkers are neutral and (usually) compliant. (more…)

Banshee Tactics

Banshees are curious creatures: accursed undead elves, without any clear explanation of who did the cursing. They’re the “mean girls” of elvenkind, beautiful but cold, shallow and manipulative, who instead of remaining eternally youthful become more and more debased and drained of vitality, and end up wallowing in empty alienation forever.

Banshees have no physical form, so their only movement is flying, at a brisk 40 feet per round. They have above-average Dexterity and very high Charisma, but owing to their lack of substance, they have virtually no Strength. Thus, it’s unlikely that they’ll ever engage in prolonged, toe-to-toe melee combat; instead, they’ll use their ranged powers first, then make hit-and-run attacks. They’re not worried about opportunity attacks, because they’re resistant to physical damage from nonmagical weapons.

In addition to laughing at mundane iron and steel, banshees are also resistant to acid, fire, lightning and thunder damage and outright immune to cold, necrotic and poison damage, along with the vast majority of debilitating conditions. Thus, they have as little to fear from spellcasters as they do from loutish fighters. A magic weapon, on the other hand, puts them on red alert. (more…)

Hydra Tactics

A reader recently asked me to look at the hydra, but the hydra isn’t a particularly complicated monster. A straightforward brute, with extraordinary Strength and Constitution, it’s extremely stupid and not discriminating when it comes to target selection. It also has only one method of attack: one bite for each of its multiple heads, of which it initially has five.

Running a hydra encounter is primarily a matter of accounting: tracking how much damage has been done to it; whether any of that was fire damage; and how many heads it has at the moment, since (a) destroying one head without cauterizing it causes two to sprout back in its place, and (b) it gets an additional opportunity attack for every extra head.

The only question you have to answer, round by round, is where the hydra is going to position itself, and the answer is, wherever it can attack as many targets as possible, up to the number of heads it has. In other words, if possible, a five-headed hydra will try to position itself where it can reach five targets; a seven-headed hydra will go where it can attack as many as possible, up to seven; and so on. It doesn’t have to be immediately adjacent to these targets, since its heads have a reach of 10 feet: a target is still within reach if there’s a single square or hex between the target and the hydra, even if there’s another creature in that square or hex. (Because of the hydra’s size, an interposed Medium-size ally doesn’t give a humanoid creature any cover.) (more…)

Froghemoth Tactics

With the froghemoth, we witness another one of the authors’ odd classification decisions: the flavor text describes froghemoths as “creatures not of this world,” who first emerged from “strange, cylindrical chambers of metal buried in the ground,” but they’re categorized as monstrosities, not as aberrations. Then again, it may not matter much, since even aberrations behave as evolved creatures—they’ve simply evolved in conditions too alien for humanoids to comprehend. And monstrosities should always behave as evolved creatures unless there’s some specific reason to think they shouldn’t, such as being created through some kind of fiendish curse.

Pure brutes, froghemoths nevertheless have proficiency in Stealth, indicating that they’re ambush predators. If at all possible, they hide underwater and strike with surprise. Once they’ve attacked, however, they overwhelm their opponents with their extraordinary Strength and Constitution.

I notice two details tucked into the top half of their stat block. The first is that they have proficiency in Constitution and Wisdom saving throws—two of the big three—but not in the third, Dexterity, and their Dexterity is above-average but far from extraordinary. In general, therefore, they’re not afraid of spellcasters per se. But a spellcaster slinging damaging Dex-save spells will annoy them greatly, and in particular (this is the second detail), lightning bolt or any other spell dealing lightning damage will alarm and enrage them. (more…)

Nightmare Tactics

When I picked the nightmare to look at in this post, I was thinking back to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, in which it was simply the equine equivalent of the hell hound—an infernal horse, ridden by devils. Apparently, the lore has changed. Have you read the fifth-edition Monster Manual’s description of the nightmare? It’s not just some devil-horse anymore—now it’s what you get when you rip the wings off a pegasus. Seriously. That’s some sick stuff, man.

Give me a few minutes for the ick to wear off.

OK . . . whichever origin story you prefer, nightmares are clearly not evolved creatures, so they’re not going to possess the same survival instincts as most other monsters. They’re not undead, either, so there’s not necessarily any compulsion driving them. They’re categorized as fiends, so their primary motivation, underlying any other they may have, is malevolence. Their job is to transport devils and demons, and it suits them. (more…)