Duergar Tactics

I confess that this blog is substantially shaped by my own biases. I’m not a fan of underground dungeon crawls, so I tend to give less attention to monsters that are found only, or predominantly, in the Underdark. Also, I find it more interesting to write about monsters whose features interact in complex ways, meaning I’m more likely to gloss over simple brute fighters.

For both these reasons, I haven’t touched the duergar yet. Their ability scores follow an unambiguous brute profile, their Duergar Resilience and Sunlight Sensitivity features are passive, and they’re armed with ordinary melee and ranged weapons. Generally speaking, their “tactics” are going to consist of charging, bashing and stabbing.

But a reader recently wrote, “I can never figure out when to Enlarge and when to turn invisible, especially when using them in groups.” These two specific questions are worth examining. Unfortunately, the former, in particular, demands math. (more…)

Rust Monster Tactics

Back when God’s grandma was a little girl, Dungeons and Dragons’ focus was emphatically on the dungeons—and by “dungeons,” it meant not just dank, subterranean lockups but vast underground complexes containing entire societies and ecosystems. Player characters spent a lot of time exploring these networks of caverns, and there was little or no opportunity to pop back up to the nearest village and replenish supplies.

So when your front-line fighter got cocky and armored himself up like a Panzer IV, the Monster Manual provided a way to cut him down to size: the rust monster, whose sole raison d’être was the annihilation of plate mail when it was neither cheap nor convenient to replace.

This cheese beast lives on in fifth-edition D&D, and despite the absurdity of a creature nourishing itself on a pre-oxidized, chemically stable substance, we have to look at this unaligned monstrosity as an evolved creature, because any other explanation of its existence is just too meta. (more…)

Vargouille Tactics

So imagine that you’re talking to someone, and as you’re talking to him, his face sprouts horns, his mouth sprouts fangs, and his ears transform into bat wings, and they start flapping, and his head tears right off its body, turns around and starts drinking the blood that’s fountaining from his former neck-place. You’ve just witnessed the birth of a vargouille, a silly and horrible little fiend that’s the extraplanar personification of cooties.

Vargouilles are stupid and possess an underdeveloped survival instinct. Though birthed in solitude, they flock together as quickly as possible for the safety of numbers. They can drag themselves along the ground only feebly, but they can fly faster than the average humanoid can jog. They’re resistant to cold, fire and lightning damage and immune to all forms of poison, including the poisoned condition. They have 60 feet of darkvision and detest sunlight (although it doesn’t do them any actual harm, as it does to, say, kobolds).

With above-average Dexterity and Constitution (and nothing else), vargouilles are skirmishers; moreover, they’re flying skirmishers, which means they’ll often keep station 10 or 15 feet in the air, fly down to attack, then fly back out of reach. This makes them subject to opportunity attacks, which should matter, but with a Wisdom of only 7, they’re not prudent enough to try to avoid it. (more…)

Vampire Warrior and Spellcaster Tactics

A reader gently reminds me that I made a promise a long time ago that I haven’t fulfilled yet: I analyzed vampires, but I never did get around to analyzing the variant warrior vampire and spellcaster vampire. How do they differ from the stock vampire?

To recap, vampires are highly intelligent and prudent apex predators, both highly attached to and highly dependent on their lairs—of which they maintain several, just in case. They employ multiple levels of security in these lairs and will parley with intruders to size them up, stall for time and look for an opportunity to Charm one or more of them. They use a combination of Unarmed Strike (to grapple) and Bite to subdue opponents, draw sustenance from them and, potentially, transform them into vampire spawn. They value their continued existence very highly and are not going to engage in acts of stupid bravery; if the situation calls for it, they’ll tactically retreat without hesitation. When hunting, they prey on the weak, vulnerable and isolated. (more…)

Neogi Tactics

Neogi have the bodies of spiders, the heads of some kind of sharp-toothed worm-thing and the hyper-hierarchical worldview of an 18th-century aristocrat. Nearly all their relations—with other species and with one another—revolve around power. Anything other than deference to the powerful and domination of the powerless is foreign to their way of thinking.

However, neogi are physically weak: their power comes from their psychic abilities. In terms of their ability scores, a neogi’s high Dexterity and Constitution, combined with its low Strength, indicates a preference for skirmishing and for outnumbering opponents. However, neogi of equal status will cooperate only under the command of a higher-status neogi; a lone neogi must fend for itself, and will strive to avoid any engagement in which it doesn’t have a clear advantage.

Neogi have darkvision (the standard 60 feet) and proficiency in Perception, so it’s to their advantage to engage either at night or underground. They also have proficiency in Intimidation; this plus their above-average Wisdom suggests that when they’re outmatched, they’ll try to bluff and bluster their way out of having to fight. (more…)