Mind Flayers Revisited

“Mind flayers aren’t the real boss monster,” I wrote in my post on mind flayer tactics. “They usually live in colonies, not by themselves. The real boss monster is the elder brain.” And while the fifth-edition Monster Manual doesn’t include stats for elder brains, Volo’s Guide to Monsters does! Huzzah!

Unfortunately, Volo’s doesn’t solve the real problem with 5E mind flayers: that, as written, they simply aren’t powerful enough to carry out their psionic schemes with even a modicum of efficiency. And efficiency is important, because if they have to live near humanoid settlements in order to harvest the brains they live on, yet also have to conceal their presence in order to avoid discovery not just by their prey but also by vengeful gith, they’re gonna need a decent number of minions. (more…)

Hags Revisited, Part 2

As I mentioned in my last post, Volo’s Guide to Monsters offers three alternatives to the conventionally witchy hag coven spell repertoire. One is necromantic, one is nature-oriented, and one plays up the divination angle at the expense of the maledictory. These can be used with any variety of hag, although green hags and bheur hags seem more likely to form covens than the other three varieties, which strike me as more exclusively solitary.

Although the Prophecy list seems relatively benign compared with Death, Nature or the default list—and even Nature seems like it could go either way—hags are not your friends. Any prophetic services you get from a hag are going to come at a steep cost, and they’re going to enjoy watching you pay it.

The Prophecy list is distinctive in another way: It offers almost no tactical advantages or combinations. Arcane eye lets the coven hunt down a fleeing or hiding foe, perhaps, and dispel magic’s utility is straightforward, but bane and bless are low-power spells that have to be sustained (and why would a hag want to bless anybody, even one of its sister hags?), and all the other spells in this repertoire are either rituals or strictly divination. Not only are these coven spells more suited to social interaction encounters than combat encounters, a hag coven assembling for this purpose is probably doing so for reasons entirely their own, and they may not even be casting these spells in front of your player characters. (more…)

Hags Revisited, Part 1

Volo’s Guide to Monsters includes an extended treatment of hags, and it heavily emphasizes lore: their scheming and manipulation, their names, their personalities, their use of odd mounts and vehicles and keeping of strange “pets,” their fondness for weird objects. But it also presents two much more powerful varieties, along with new information with the potential to alter hag tactics: lair actions and alternative coven spells.

Arch-hags, called “grandmothers,” gain access to powerful lair actions, and their lairs have regional effects. As with dragons and other powerful enemies, the regional effects are mostly for flavor, and those that do actual damage do so whether the resident hags are present or not. But the lair actions include a few curveballs.

All grandmother hags have access to two of these lair actions. One allows them to pass through solid walls, doors, ceilings and floors. The other allows them to open or close doors and/or windows at will, and a closed door or window may be magically locked against any attempt to force it open. If a battle is taking place in a hag’s lair, this can allow the hag to trap weaker enemies inside the lair—or in a single room within the lair. Or enemies chasing the hag through its lair may be cut off from one another by the sudden slamming of a door (giving the hag—and, by extension, the dungeon master—incentive to create lairs that are mazes of small rooms connected by doors). Or, if a battle is going poorly for the hag, it can make its escape by fleeing through a wall, possibly leaving its would-be pursuers locked inside. (more…)

Yuan-ti Revisited

Volo’s Guide to Monsters’ treatment of the yuan-ti is heavily lore-focused, with a section, useful to dungeon masters, on how to design a yuan-ti temple-city. From a tactical standpoint, the only additions are five new variants (!) and a brief subsection headed “Unusual Abilities.”

Unusual Abilities offers four traits that DMs can use to customize an individual yuan-ti or a group of them:

  • Acid Slime gives the yuan-ti a corrosive coating, lasting one minute, that inflicts 1d10 acid damage against a grappled opponent or one who strikes it with a close-range melee attack. It’s a bonus action, and yuan-ti don’t get any other bonus actions, so this is a free supplement to the yuan-ti’s action economy. It’s all benefit and no downside, so the yuan-ti will use this feature on its first turn.
  • Chameleon Skin is also a freebie: it’s a passive ability that grants advantage on Stealth Checks. No tactical implication; it just makes the yuan-ti better at what it already does.
  • Shapechanger, for the yuan-ti pureblood, comes with the same disadvantages as it has for the yuan-ti malison and yuan-ti abomination. Skip it.
  • Shed Skin is another all-benefit, no-downside feature, letting a grappled or restrained yuan-ti slip free without a skill or ability check. It costs only a bonus action, which is no cost at all, since the yuan-ti has no other bonus action to give up. A yuan-ti with this trait will use it anytime it applies.

(more…)