Volo Has Landed

What’s this under the tree? A Guide to Monsters? O, frabjous day! It’s gonna take me a couple of days to survey what’s on offer here (oh, goody . . . the flail snail is back), but look forward to some new monster tactics analyses along with some reexamining of previous analyses in light of new information.

In the meantime, I’m still working on myconids. Stay tuned.

Aboleth Tactics

From their description, you’d think aboleths were among the bossest of all boss monsters, but in fact, they have a challenge rating of just 10—well within the power of a party of medium-high-level adventurers to take on, assuming they have some way to reach the creatures’ underwater lairs.

The Monster Manual classes them as aberrations, but they don’t originate from some other plane of existence, despite having a connection to the Elemental Plane of Water. Rather, they predate all the gods and intelligent beings of the contemporary material world. They are the Old Ones. To me, it’s cool to think of them as the product of a different, much more ancient path of evolution, like holdovers from the world-sea of the Ordovician Period in our own history, 450 million years ago, and their connection to the Elemental Plane of Water as a way they discovered of perpetuating their existence over the eons.

Aboleths have high Constitution and extraordinary Strength, but it’s their exceptional mental abilities that define them. With their high Wisdom and exceptional Intelligence and Charisma, they’re schemers and manipulators par excellence, with superior situational awareness. Because they can’t be permanently slain, according to the MM flavor text, their self-preservation impulse doesn’t manifest the same way it would in an ordinary mortal creature.

As for their physical abilities, they fit the brute profile most closely, though not perfectly, their Constitution falling somewhat short of their Strength. They have no ranged attack and engage in melee without reluctance, but their preference is for a short and decisive battle, settled by their phenomenal Strength, over a drawn-out one. (more…)

Chuul Tactics

Believe it or not, until I cracked open the fifth-edition Monster Manual, I’d never heard of chuuls. I got into role-playing games with Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, back when God’s grandma was a little girl, and we didn’t have chuuls back then, not even in the Flumph Folio. According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, chuuls were introduced in the third edition. (Maybe not so all-knowing: it describes them as “extremely intelligent,” while according to the 5E MM, they have Intelligence 5.)

Chuuls are, more or less, enormous, semi-uplifted crayfish, servants of the mighty, ancient aboleths. They’re amphibious, chosen for their role because of their ability to survive on land as well as in the water. They’re larger than human-size and exceptionally strong and tough, predisposing them to be brute fighters. Although they’re not exceptionally dexterous, their chitin gives them an armor class of 16. They can sense magic, and we can infer from the flavor text that they’re drawn to it, obeying an ancient, instinctual command to gather powerful items for the aboleths that ruled them.

Chuuls have darkvision, suggesting that they move about on open land only at night and spend the rest of their time either underground or underwater. Judging from the flavor text, they don’t seem to have a lot of motivation to go wandering around but rather will stick close to locations that they feel some urge or duty to guard. They aren’t conscious of any such duty, however: with Intelligence 5, they operate strictly by instinct. (more…)

Naga Tactics

I’ve put off writing about nagas, because to be honest, they’re a pain to analyze: there are three different types, all of them are distinguished primarily by the spells they can cast, and the lists are long. Analyzing specific stats and features is easy. Analyzing the pros and cons of various spells is hard, or at the very least time-consuming. Plus, at least one of the types of naga is lawful good, so player characters won’t often encounter it as an enemy. But I received a request from a reader, and I live to serve.

To simplify as best I can, I’ll start by looking at what they all have in common:

  • They’re shock attackers. Their highest physical stats are Strength and Dexterity, with Constitution significantly lower in each case. This means that they’re melee fighters, but they’ll try to strike fast and do as much damage as they can on their first attack, because they don’t have as much staying power as a skirmisher or brute.
  • Their main weapon is their bite, which does only a modest amount of piercing damage but a lot of poison damage, and this is their default action in combat. They themselves are immune to poison, as well as to being charmed.
  • Their mental abilities are strong across the board, indicating good combat sense and willingness to parley, within reason. Once combat starts, they’ll focus their attacks on their most belligerent enemies, counting on their other opponents’ losing the will to fight once those most eager are taken down.
  • They have darkvision, indicating a preference for nighttime and/or subterranean activity. They won’t be encountered outdoors during the day, at least not randomly.
  • Nothing we can usually say about evolved creatures applies to them. Per the Monster Manual, “A naga doesn’t require air, food, drink or sleep.” On top of that, living nagas (the spirit and guardian varieties) can’t be slain without casting a wish spell: if you “kill” one, it returns to life, with full hit points, in just a few days. Thus, among other things, they never have any reason to flee.
  • Living nagas also have no reason to fear spellcasters, since on top of their already high ability scores, they have proficiency in all the big three saving throws, plus Charisma (guardian nagas have proficiency on Intelligence saving throws as well).

(more…)

Kraken Tactics

Release the kraken! A high-level boss monster that player characters won’t encounter until they’re masters of the realm (if you, as their dungeon master, have a shred of decency in you), the kraken isn’t so much a creature as it is a natural disaster.

Running a kraken, like running a dragon, requires keeping track of legendary actions and lair actions as well as regular and bonus actions and reactions. One consolation is that, of all boss monsters, the kraken is probably the most likely to be encountered outside its lair, unless the PCs are on a mission to slay it. On the other hand, if the kraken is encountered within six miles of said lair, its regional effects mean that PCs will have to run a gantlet of hostile crocodiles; swarming schools of quippers; giant crabs, frogs, seahorses; sharks of all kinds; and water elementals. They’ll also have to contend with torrential rain and storm-strength winds, imposing disadvantage on navigation checks, Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight or hearing, and ranged weapon attacks. In colder climes, they’ll have to make DC 10 Constitution checks against exhaustion every hour—and saving throws every minute if they fall in the frigid waters—unless they have natural or magical protection.

In its lair or out of it, the kraken is a juggernaut, with only average Dexterity but godlike Strength, Constitution and mental abilities. No, it’s not just a mindless engine of devastation. It’s smarter than anyone in your adventuring party and most likely wiser as well, and its massiveness and majesty are mesmerizing. Its decisions in combat should convey a sense of calculated malice and cruelty. It knows everyone’s weaknesses, and it doesn’t miss an opportunity to exploit them. If it chooses to communicate (via telepathy), it will be only to taunt, belittle and humiliate its victims; there’s nothing a kraken wants that the PCs can tempt it with. (more…)