Kuo-toa Tactics

Old-school Dungeons and Dragons players will recall that the kuo-toa made their debut in the venerated, if somewhat incoherent, D-series of adventure modules, which also introduced the drow. In the world of Greyhawk, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons’ original setting, they and the drow were fierce enemies. In fifth-edition D&D, however, the kuo-toa have been retconned into broken ex-subjects of an empire of mind flayers, their rivalry with the drow now mentioned only in passing.

“Many weapons of the kuo-toa are designed to capture rather than kill,” the Monster Manual flavor text informs us, but it leaves open the question of what they want to capture anyone for. Religious sacrifice, maybe? Interrogation? Found-art pieces? Regardless, I’m going to examine their tactics with the assumption that they are, in fact, trying to kill the player characters. (more…)

Githzerai Tactics

Like their cousins the githyanki, the githzerai are a rigidly disciplined people from another plane of existence. Unlike the warlike githyanki, the githzerai apply their discipline to asceticism and self-defense. Essentially, they’re psychic super-monks, bulwarks against chaos.

The githzerai monk has modestly above-average Strength and Constitution and high Dexterity, usually the physical ability contour of a sniper; a melee combatant with this profile generally has to use movement and surprise to compensate for its reduced ability to take damage and dish it out. The Monster Manual’s solution to this problem is curious: Rather than make the githzerai monk a skirmisher with abilities like Nimble Escape, the MM makes it, for all intents and purposes, a brute. That is, its abilities are tailored to toe-to-toe melee fighting. (more…)

Githyanki Tactics

Old-school Advanced Dungeons and Dragons players will remember the githyanki as the poster monster of the Fiend Folio, the first supplement to the original Monster Manual. (They’ll also remember the FF as the book that gave us the flumph, but let’s speak no more of that.) Githyanki aren’t native to the world the player characters inhabit but rather travel there from their original home on some other plane of existence, to raid and conquer. They share a common origin with the githzerai.

Githyanki warriors are shock troops, with high Strength and Dexterity. Their Intelligence and Wisdom are also above average. They have innate psionic ability (so far, treated in fifth-edition D&D as a form of spellcasting) that grants them at-will telekinesis in the form of the mage hand spell along with limited uses of jump, misty step and nondetection. They have proficiency bonuses to Constitution, Intelligence and Wisdom saving throws and a melee Multiattack.

What makes githyanki combat interesting is the intersection of their high damage-dealing capacity, low Constitution relative to their Strength and Dexterity (though it’s still above human average) and mobility spells. Githyanki should move fast, strike hard, then be somewhere else. The fact that misty step is a bonus action rather than a normal action is the key ingredient in this recipe, enabling combinations such as:

  • Move toward an opponent, Multiattack (action), misty step (bonus action) past the opponent.
  • Misty step (bonus action) toward an opponent, Multiattack (action) to finish the opponent off, move.
  • Multiattack (action), misty step (bonus action), move out of sight.

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Dragon Tactics, Part 2.5

The fifth-edition Monster Manual includes listings for two “dragons” that aren’t individual creatures per se but rather templates that can be overlaid on any chromatic or metallic dragon stat block. Shadow dragons are dragons that have made lairs in the Shadowfell—a parallel plane of existence full of negative energy, dreary and desolate—and suffered the sorts of effects you’d expect from living for decades or centuries in such a place. Dracoliches are dragons that, like humanoid liches, have turned themselves into undead horrors in the misguided pursuit of immortality.

Shadow dragons and dracoliches are created by applying certain modifications to the stat block of an adult or ancient dragon of another type, either chromatic or metallic. (Yes, it seems that even metallic dragons can become shadow dragons or dracoliches, supposing that they were subjected to some sort of sufficiently powerful corrupting influence or curse.) Let’s look at what effects these modifications might have on their combat tactics. (more…)

Dragon Tactics, Part 2

“Metallic” dragons are the good complements to the evil “chromatic” dragons. Looking just at their statistics, they’re identical in most ways: Their physical abilities follow the high-Strength, high-Constitution “brute” profile. They have proficiency bonuses on all of the “big three” saving throws, plus Charisma. They have blindsight, darkvision, flying movement and one alternative movement mode (burrowing, swimming or climbing)—although I have to put an asterisk by this last one, because the editors of the fifth-edition Monster Manual seem to have forgotten to give silver dragons an alternative movement mode. Adult and ancient metallic dragons have the same legendary actions as chromatic dragons of those ages, and they share the chromatic dragons’ Legendary Resistance and Frightful Presence features. In addition, young, adult and ancient metallic dragons have the same Claw/Claw/Bite Multiattack. And, of course, they all have breath weapons.

Metallic dragons differ from chromatic dragons in four ways:

  • Young, adult and ancient metallic dragons all have social skill proficiencies in addition to Perception and Stealth.
  • Ancient brass and copper dragons, and adult and ancient bronze, gold and silver dragons, can Change Shape.
  • Adult and ancient metallic dragons have only two lair actions available to them, rather than three.
  • Each metallic dragon has two types of breath weapon, one of which is nonlethal and can be used to subdue without injury.

Given that these are good creatures—most of the monsters we’ve looked at so far are either evil creatures or unaligned predators—an encounter with a metallic dragon is going to play out very differently from an encounter with a chromatic dragon. Rarely will it begin with the dragon attacking the player characters—or, for that matter, with the PCs attacking the dragon. (more…)