Pigeon Tactics

If you live in a major North American city (except, weirdly, Milwaukee), you’ve undoubtedly encountered pigeons on an almost daily basis. Like squirrels, they enjoy a commensal relationship with humans, benefiting greatly from our effect on the ecosystem without significantly helping us or harming us in any way. And you know they’re generally quite chill, unless your toddler runs directly at them, as toddlers invariably do.

The standard pigeon in fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons is no different. A small, unthreatening thing, it’s disinclined to fight at all and relies heavily on its Hypervigilant Flight reaction, which allows it to move up to half its speed as a reaction—without provoking an opportunity attack—if another creature moves within 5 feet of it. Pigeons are prey creatures, not predators, and the only way you’re likely to suffer a Beak attack from one is if you somehow manage to grab it.

A swarm of pigeons behaves similarly to a single pigeon, but not exactly the same. It still spooks easily, and it rarely attacks, preferring simply to use Hypervigilant Flight to retreat to a safe distance and, if pursued, to Dash to a safe perch out of reach. However, sometimes a swarm of pigeons chooses an empty, elevated location to roost in, such as an upper floor of an abandoned building. Particularly if this roost is home to eggs or squabs, a swarm of pigeons may become aggressive toward anyone who intrudes.

The first action it generally takes against a trespasser is Evacuate, more as a scare response than a calculated attempt to debilitate. If the target subsequently moves, so does the swarm, using Hypervigilant Flight. However, if the target doesn’t leave, the swarm then swoops back down and attacks with its Beaks. It continues to attack until the intruder is driven off or the swarm is reduced to 10 hp or fewer.

The giant pigeon is another matter, because unlike its Tiny cousins, it doesn’t scare. Cheeky and undauntable in its pursuit of food, it disregards other creatures as long as they leave it alone. Even snatching food away from it doesn’t provoke it to fight; it simply continues to try to get the food back, with greater determination. (You can use the Disarm action, from “Action Options” in chapter 9 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, to represent the giant pigeon’s attempts to snatch food back from a character who’s holding it.) If and when one does actual harm to it, however, it fights back, doing its best to drive the aggressor away. Continue reading Pigeon Tactics

Draegloth Tactics

The draegloth is part demon, part drow, sent by high priestesses to wreck face in their houses’ names. Strong and tough, it possesses some spellcasting ability, but that’s mostly peripheral to its vicious physical combat ability.

Brutes with extraordinary Strength, exceptional Constitution, and above-average but not otherwise remarkable Intelligence, draegloths are melee machines. With proficiency in Perception and Stealth, they possess decent ambush capability, but their real strength is their ability to engage enemies and keep fighting until the job is done. They’re resistant to cold, fire and lightning, giving them extra staying power against unimaginative enemy spellcasters who reflexively resort to these damage vectors first.

As the flavor text acknowledges, “Most are too impatient to bother with complicated tactics”; even if they had more patience, they lack the features and traits that would invite the use of more sophisticated techniques. But one aspect of their Innate Spellcasting caught my attention. Continue reading Draegloth Tactics

Yeth Hound Tactics

The yeth hound originates in Devonian myth as the local spin on the “black dog” motif prevalent across British and Northern European folklore as a harbinger of doooooom. In fifth-edition D&D, they’re evil fey predators that hunt at night, their howls echoing through the darkness.

To run a yeth hound, you’re going to need to familiarize yourself with the chase rules in chapter 8 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, because they’re a major component of how this creature hunts, as indicated by the first paragraph of flavor text in Volo’s Guide to Monsters: “Yeth hounds fly in pursuit of their prey, often waiting until it is too exhausted to fight back.”

But first, the usual breakdown. Yeth hounds have a ferocious ability contour: exceptional Strength, very high Dexterity and Constitution, making them both brutes and shock attackers. Their goal is to make the first hit count, but if that’s not enough to slay their prey, they’re tough enough to stick around and finish the job. Their Intelligence is lower than that of an ape, but higher than that of an ordinary dog; they can understand speech but can’t speak. They’re immune to physical damage from nonmagical, nonsilvered weapons, and they can’t be charmed, exhausted or frightened. Continue reading Yeth Hound Tactics

Slithering Tracker Tactics

Time for another oldie but goodie: the slithering tracker, one of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual’s original oozes. Mind you, back then, “ooze” wasn’t a monster category; certain monsters simply happened to be oozy by nature. Also, it was smaller: only 2½ feet long. (It’s Medium-size now.)

A curious thing about the slithering tracker is that its lore has also been changed: it’s no longer a mere denizen of the underdark but the product of a nasty magical transformation, the sort that usually produces something undead, and rather than simply hunt prey to consume, it actively seeks vengeance. However, unlike, say, a revenant, once a slithering tracker sucks the life out of its target, it doesn’t consider its mission fulfilled. Instead, it keeps compulsively sucking life from whatever other beings it can suck life from until it’s put out of its misery.

For this reason, you can’t treat a slithering tracker like any other ooze. It’s much more akin to the undead, in the sense that it’s driven by a compulsion that it can’t control and that overrides its survival instinct, despite its high Wisdom. Continue reading Slithering Tracker Tactics

Cranium Rat Tactics

Cranium rats are minions of mind flayers, created “by bombarding normal rats with psionic energy” (and also, it seems from the illustration, delicately removing the top layers of their scalp and skull). Mind flayer colonies use them as forward observers; although the range of their telepathy is short (only 30 feet), the 120-foot telepathic range of a mind flayer extends their link to a more practical distance, and the 5-mile range of an elder brain increases their effectiveness by several orders of magnitude.

A lone cranium rat can’t do much. It’s extremely weak, with only 2 hp and 30 feet of darkvision. Its Bite attack is inconsequential. It can cause its brain to glow, emitting eerie dim light to a range of 5 feet, but that’s not very useful. If its range were 30 feet, it could combine this illumination with its darkvision to eliminate its Perception penalty within that radius. Since its passive Perception is only 10, that would be fairly useful. At only 5 feet, though, all a single cranium rat can do with this glow is give itself away.

However, a cranium rat that’s actively spying for a mind flayer colony might be ordered to use Illumination because a mind flayer or elder brain wanted to get a good, clear look at someone or something that the cranium rat had approached in the dark. In this scenario, the cranium rat is effectively doomed to die, providing a brief moment of extreme creepiness before it succumbs to an opportunity attack. If that attack should somehow miss, the cranium rat snuffs its light and Dashes away, hopefully to safety. Continue reading Cranium Rat Tactics