NPC Tactics: Scouts and Spies

OK, here’s a quickie post in response to a reader who pointed out that I haven’t yet taken a look at two non-player characters from the Monster Manual: the scout and the spy.

Scouts are spotters and lookouts. With proficiency in Perception and Stealth, they could be effective ambush attackers, but that’s not their job. Their job is to gather information and return with it; combat is an undesirable complication. Consequently, if they attack at all, they prefer strongly to do so at range.

Eighty percent of the humanoids they encounter will have a speed of 30 feet. Of the remainder, most will have a speed of either 25 or 35 feet. Therefore, they don’t position themselves any closer than 75 feet to their targets unless they absolutely have to, and if they have a good view, they’re content to stay as far as 150 feet away. They can attack at these distances without disadvantage, but they’re not assassins. They attack only in self-defense.

Whether they do even this much depends on the speed of any foe who sees and pursues them. If the subjects of their reconnaissance have a speed of 30 feet or slower, they take potshots (Multiattack, Longbow × 2) at pursuers who are still more than 75 feet away at the start of the scouts’ turn. If the pursuers are closer or faster, scouts Dash away. If more than one opponent manages to get within melee reach, or if they can’t afford to take even a single hit, they Disengage—they have the training to do so.

Scouts only drop their bows and draw their swords when they’re surrounded, with no avenue of escape. If they have no reason to think they’ll be killed if they’re captured, they may choose to surrender rather than fight. Continue reading NPC Tactics: Scouts and Spies

Astral Dreadnought Tactics

Now that the holiday madness is over, it’s time to get back down to business, and the business of the day is the astral dreadnought, whose name tells you most of what you need to know: This fearless titan drifts through the astral plane, obliterating everyone and everything it comes across.

While its Strength and Constitution are epic, its Dexterity is dismal—a gargantuan beast like this doesn’t turn on a dime. Nor does it possess Intelligence beyond animal level. Its Wisdom is high, however, and its Charisma is exceptional—perhaps reflective of its ability to command awe. Despite its extremes, this is a straightforward brute ability contour, indicating a creature whose approach is to close in and maul.

Its resistances and immunities aren’t all that relevant, because (contra the flavor text in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes) its Intelligence is so low, it’s not going to bother to distinguish between one target and another. However, its relatively high Wisdom indicates a prudent, instinctual self-preservation impulse. The astral dreadnought is a creature so unaccustomed to resistance that any prey that can inflict a moderate wound against it (reduce it to 207 hp or fewer—yeah, that number’s not a typo) will give it pause. Continue reading Astral Dreadnought Tactics

Intelligent Enemy Tactics

About two months ago, I got an interesting query from reader Nick Seigal, asking about how to run a monster or villain more intelligent than oneself. When you think about it, it’s a challenge that runs throughout Dungeons & Dragons and every other roleplaying game that quantifies mental capacities: How do you roleplay any character or creature with greater intelligence, wisdom or charisma than you yourself possess? (For that matter, how do you play having significantly less? I’m reminded of the one good bit in the otherwise godawful Robert A. Heinlein book Friday, in which the main character, a covert agent, has to take an IQ test and hit a predetermined score exactly.) In social interaction skill checks, it can be handwaved—and often is—with a die roll in lieu of roleplaying. But combat, with its round-by-round mechanical decision-making, requires something more.

With respect to Intelligence (the ability) in particular, it behooves us to think about what we mean when we talk about intelligence (in general), and one important aspect of intelligence is something we might call “quickness of apprehension”: the ability to rapidly recognize the importance of what one sees or hears. This quality is one we see in great detectives of literature, such as Sherlock Holmes, who hoovers up every visual detail at a crime scene in moments, or Nero Wolfe, who pounces on an out-of-place phrase in a conversation which signifies consciousness of guilt. Any detective of ordinary or slightly above-average intelligence could find the same clues, but it would take hours of examining the crime scene or poring over a verbatim transcript of the conversation, and most would give up long before then.

In a D&D combat situation, this manifests in a highly intelligent creature’s being able to “read the room.” It can tell a fighter from a paladin, a wizard from a sorcerer, or a Life Domain cleric from a Light Domain cleric. It can get a sense of a character’s Strength by observing the force of their weapon strikes, their Dexterity by watching them dodge attacks, their Constitution by watching them take hits, their Intelligence and Wisdom by listening to them call out to their allies. It notes who’s got magical weapons and what they do. It pays attention to how badly injured its opponents are. It observes the opponents’ positioning, notices when someone has made a blunder and capitalizes on it. It’s mindful of its own weaknesses and the need to avoid, neutralize or eliminate opponents who might target those weaknesses. Continue reading Intelligent Enemy Tactics

Steel Predator Tactics

Manufactured by a rogue modron exiled from Mechanus, the steel predator is a construct custom-built for a customer who wants someone dead badly enough to send a CR 16 killbot after it.

I recently discussed the steel predator with Mike “Sly Flourish” Shea on the Don’t Split the Podcast Network’s DM’s Deep Dive stream. The analysis begins at 16:55 in the Twitch VOD (YouTube video to come embedded below!), but for readers who don’t have time to watch videos or who want easily skimmed text to refer back to, here it is in a nutshell: Continue reading Steel Predator Tactics

The Monsters Know on DM’s Deep Dive, Nov. 19

Things got real busy last week, and I never got around to posting a new monster analysis. But this week I have a special announcement: My next analysis will be on video, as I take a guest turn on Don’t Split the Podcast Network’s DM’s Deep Dive, hosted by Mike “Sly Flourish” Shea. I’ll analyze the steel predator from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes and also answer questions from Sly (and maybe viewers, if there’s time?). Drop by https://www.twitch.tv/dontsplitthepodcast at 8 PM U.S. Central Time for the live interview; I’ll post the video on this blog when it’s archived on YouTube.