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…)

Gibbering Mouther Tactics

Today we continue our look at the spawn of the Far Realm with the gibbering mouther, a weird and horrifying denizen of places no one in his or her right mind would go, and where no one stays in his or her right mind for long. An oozing blob dotted with mouths full of teeth and horrifying noises, the gibbering mouther offers an interesting analytical challenge, as its stat block looks unlike anything we’ve examined so far.

The gibbering mouther has average Strength, very high Constitution and low Dexterity, an atypical ability contour. It’s not strong enough to be a brute, it’s not fast enough to be scrappy, and it has no aptitude for stealth. Its low Dexterity suggests that, since its ability to avoid damage is poor, it will need some kind of compensatory advantage to make combat worthwhile, and simply being able to soak up damage isn’t enough; we’ll have to look for this advantage among its other features.

Its mental abilities are typical of an animal: average Wisdom (reflecting little except its perceptive ability), low Charisma and very low Intelligence. Entirely instinct-bound, it makes no distinctions of any kind between potential targets; one is as good as another. It may sometimes retreat when injured, but that’s the extent of its ability to adapt to changed circumstances. (more…)

Grell Tactics

Need something to go with your walking brain? How about a hovering brain with stinging tentacles? OK, technically, a grell’s body only looks like a big brain, according to game lore, but it does originate from the Far Realm—also the home plane of the mind flayer and the intellect devourer—so if you need another aberration to round out an encounter with these psionic nemeses, the grell is a good fit.

Grells are above average in all their physical abilities, but the balance is tipped toward Strength, with Dexterity coming in second, suggesting a hit-and-run attacker. Their primary mode of movement is flying, with the ability to hover, and they have high proficiency in Stealth.

One thing they don’t have, however, is much flexibility. Beyond its unexplained immunity to lightning and its ability to sense without eyes, the grell’s features are limited to a simple Multiattack comprising one attack with its beak and one with its tentacles. (more…)

Mind Flayer Tactics

Mind flayers are like classic pulp supervillains: brilliant, twisted, scheming, always wanting to take over the world—but first, they have things they want to do your brain. They even wear outfits straight out of Flash Gordon. And yet the fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons mind flayer feels unsatisfying to me, maybe because, as written, it just isn’t very efficient.

The Monster Manual flavor text characterizes them as “psionic commanders,” declaring, “Mind flayers possess psionic powers that enable them to control the minds of creatures such as troglodytes, grimlocks, quaggoths and ogres.” And the feature they use to accomplish this is . . . dominate monster, which they can use once per day, and which affects one creature, requires concentration and lasts for one hour?

This is paltry. It’s unworthy of a supervillain. I’ll talk about the tactics of the mind flayer as written, but then I’ll go on to talk about how to make a mind flayer capable of enthralling, and keeping enthralled, more than one minion at a time. (more…)

Intellect Devourer Tactics

It’s a brain! With feet! What’s not to love? Well, the fact that it feeds on your consciousness and takes over your body, for one thing.

Old-school players of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons will remember the intellect devourer as one of the two most memorable monsters with psionics—that strange, complicated supplementary rule set that allowed for telepathy, telekinesis and neural combat. Fifth-edition D&D has dispensed with all that. Psionic power is now treated as either a special trait, a form of spellcasting or both. In the 5E intellect devourer, this is encapsulated in its telepathy and its Detect Sentience, Devour Intellect and Body Thief features.

According to the 5E Monster Manual  flavor text, intellect devourers are aberrations, created to serve the interests of mind flayers. They’re not independent creatures. You’re not going to randomly run into one in the woods. Rather, any intellect devourer your player characters encounter will be on some kind of mission. That will affect who it uses its powers on and when. (more…)