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…)

Thri-kreen Tactics

Clearly, thri-kreen are meant to resemble some kind of eusocial insects, most likely ants or termites; I’m not entirely sure which one. (ETA: On Reddit, ghost_warlock kindly refers me to Wikipedia, where “the very first line . . . explains that they’re ‘mantis warriors.’ I am suitably shamed over not having thought to check Wikipedia for the answer.) However, these four-armed humanoids don’t possess the kind of hive mind or hive mentality you might attribute to them, based on their appearance. They’re not telepathic, nor are they even lawfully aligned. They don’t sleep, though, and they have the ultimate poker faces, betraying nary a hint of emotion.

Being chaotic neutral rather than chaotic evil, thri-kreen largely want to be left to their own business. The Monster Manual flavor text does say they “consider all other living creatures as potential nourishment,” and in the inevitable silly twist, “they love the taste of elf flesh in particular.” (Between thri-kreen and perytons, I’m getting the impression that elves must be delicious, like truffles or something.) But this seems to me to verge on evil, so I’d say that thri-kreen don’t attack other humanoids just to eat them unless they’re experiencing some kind of shortage of other foods. That being said, having already killed a humanoid for some other reason, they probably wouldn’t have any scruples about consuming the corpse.

Thri-kreen have high Dexterity and above-average Strength and Constitution. This gives them a bit of flexibility between brute melee combat and skirmishing, perhaps with a slight bias toward the latter, since they’re fast-moving (speed 40 feet per round). They also have proficiency in Perception and Stealth, plus Chameleon Carapace, which gives them advantage when trying to Hide. All these factors point toward ambush as a favored strategy. (more…)

Tarrasque Tactics

In all of fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons, there are only six creatures with a higher challenge rating than an ancient red or gold dragon. Four of them are archdemons. One of them is Tiamat, the five-headed dragon goddess herself. The other one—equal to Tiamat, and superior to Yeenoghu, Orcus or Demogorgon—is the tarrasque.

And yet I got an intriguing e-mail from a reader recently: “In previous editions, people said the tarrasque was actually easy to deal with, so I’m curious to see your take”!

Easy? Let’s see how plausible this is—and figure out whether 5E has turned up the heat. (more…)

Rakshasa Tactics

Hands down, the rakshasa had the coolest illustration in the original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual; I can’t help but think that the current illustration is in part a tribute to that original David A. Trampier drawing. Rakshasas were rarely encountered, but when they were, you knew the encounter would be memorable, because it had to live up to that illustration.

The fifth-edition rakshasa is likely to be another rarity, because its challenge rating is a high 13—too difficult a boss for low- or mid-level player characters. Rakshasas aren’t on the level of fully grown dragons, but they’re as tough as a beholder or master vampire, and tougher than genies, which should give you a sense of the kind of status they should have in a campaign.

The rakshasa’s highest physical ability scores are Dexterity and Constitution, but these are exceeded by its Charisma. What we have here is a creature that, while built to survive a battle of attrition, would rather fight using magic than using its claws. But that doesn’t mean it gets its way. (more…)

Reader Questions: Goblin Stealth and Retreating Monsters

Q: I recently purchased a copy of Live To Tell The Tale, and I must say, excellent work. But I was confused by all of the hiding and Stealth in the first scenario. There were times it seemed the goblins were moving, rolling Stealth, attacking, moving, rolling Stealth to Hide. What were all those Stealth rolls? And what about all of the Perception rolls that the players were doing during their turns? Do those count as part of their action?

A: A large part of that encounter has to do with the goblins’ Nimble Escape feature, which lets them Hide as a bonus action. In order to Hide successfully, a goblin has to (a) be out of view and (b) make a Stealth roll that exceeds every player character’s passive Perception. Once it’s made a successful Stealth check, it doesn’t have to keep making Stealth checks—it stays hidden until it does something that gives its position away, or until an opponent choosing the Search action finds it (which requires him or her to make a Perception check). Once it’s been seen, to Hide again requires another Stealth check, and so on. (more…)

Catoblepas Tactics

So it turns out that catoblepas comes to us by way of Latin catōblepās from Ancient Greek katôbleps or katôblepon, and its plural in Latin is catōblepae, while its Ancient Greek plural is either katôblepes or katôblepones. Of all these, I like “catoblepes” best—much more than “catoblepases.” I’m going with it. Also, the accent is on the o: ca-toh­-bleh-pahs, ca-toh-bleh-peez. And that’s one to grow on!

The catoblepas is largely a scavenger, whose loathsome presence befouls the environment around it; I guess it likes its food somewhat pre-decomposed. The foul-tempered monstrosity extends this preference to any edible trespasser who wanders into its territory—thus its Death Ray feature, which inflicts considerable necrotic damage on its target, enough to kill even a level 2 or 3 player character on a successful Constitution saving throw.

Catoblepes are classified as monstrosities, but they’re unaligned and have only beast-level Intelligence, around the level of a cat or dog. Their Strength and Constitution, however, are extraordinary, and their Dexterity is above-average as well. Their darkvision suggests that they’re crepuscular and/or nocturnal; you’re not likely to run across one in broad daylight. They combine above-average passive Perception with Keen Smell, giving them an effective passive Perception of 17 if you’re upwind of them. (more…)