Kirin Tactics

The kirin (inexplicably hyphenated “ki-rin” in Dungeons and Dragons products going all the way back to the original D&D book Eldritch Wizardry, which preceded even Advanced Dungeons and Dragons—kirin, unhyphenated, is a Japanization of the Chinese 麒麟 qílín) is a mythical creature whose appearance portends the births and deaths of great rulers and sages. A deerlike beast with scaly skin, grand antlers and dragonish facial features, the kirin is often characterized in Western writing as the “Japanese unicorn” or “Chinese unicorn” because of its virtuousness and standoffishness and because it’s sometimes depicted as having a single horn rather than a pair of antlers. The link is reinforced in fifth-edition D&D, as both unicorns and kirin are categorized as celestials.

Kirin are reclusive, and being lawful good, they prefer to avoid violent encounters. Combat with a kirin is going to take place in only two instances: Either a player character has attacked the kirin, or the kirin is fending off an intrusion by an intrinsically evil creature, such as a fiend or undead.

A kirin’s extraordinary Strength is nearly matched by its Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma, making it one of the few creatures that’s equally well-suited to melee combat and spellcasting. With proficiency in Perception, it’s hard to catch by surprise, and with proficiency in Insight, it knows which of its opponents are genuinely hostile and which are simply misguided. (more…)

Couatl Tactics

The couatl is rarely encountered in Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, partly because of its distinctly Mesoamerican flavor (most campaign settings remain hardily quasi-European) and partly because of its lawful good alignment (good monsters make bad enemies), but the winged, feathered serpent has been part of the game since the first Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual. In fifth edition, it’s categorized as a celestial.

Couatls have exceptional ability scores across the board, but their Dexterity and Wisdom are especially extraordinary. Their mental ability scores are higher on average than their physical ability scores, suggesting a preference for spellcasting over messy tooth-and-claw conflict (though their spell repertoire turns out not to support this preference especially well). Their 30-foot slithering speed is put to shame by their 90-foot flying speed; this, plus an awesome natural armor class of 19 and an immunity to physical damage from nonmagical weapons, implies that if they do engage in physical combat, they’ll most often hover in the air, dive-bomb their targets, then fly back out of reach without concern for opportunity attacks. (more…)

Unicorn Tactics

“Are there unicorns in these woods? I want to see a unicorn!” Venture into any idyllic forested setting, and you’re sure to hear this request from one of your players.

Unicorns are elusive beasts—actually, not beasts, according to fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons’ classification system, but celestials. They’re gentle, exuding a spirit of tranquility that extends to the other creatures that dwell in their vicinities, but also alert defenders of their domains. A unicorn may choose to reveal itself to a good-hearted creature, but any character who takes ill advantage of a unicorn’s good nature will be made to regret it.

I’m actually surprised and impressed by how formidable 5E unicorns are. I’d intended to draw on the suggestion I made in my earlier article on vampire tactics, about taking familiar monsters and giving them unexpected powers, and write a comical post about how unicorns could summon hordes of angry woodland creatures, disappear by running behind a tree and reappear behind another one, fire trebuchets, and rear up on their hind legs and deliver stunning roundhouse kicks like Chuck Norris. The incredible thing is, I don’t need to! Unicorns are pretty tough already. (more…)

Angel Tactics

Who gets in a fight with an angel? “Evil characters” is the obvious answer, but it’s not the only answer. Angels being lawful good, a dedicated group of chaotic player characters could find just as much reason to beef with them—and even PCs who are neutral on either the good-to-evil spectrum, the law-to-chaos spectrum or both, and who find themselves gadding about on Mount Celestia (or the Seven Heavens, as we called them back in the day), might somehow run afoul of the ruling authority in a way that needs to be kiboshed.

Angels, in fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons, come in three levels: devas, planetars and solars. These qualify as boss opponents for mid-level, high-level and top-level adventurers, but realistically, players are rarely going to run across them before they acquire access to the 7th-level spell plane shift, and that doesn’t happen until level 13. Lower-level PCs might journey to the Outer Planes through the use of a magic item that allows them to cast plane shift or a portal created by the gate spell, or they might manage to summon an angel to serve them using planar binding or planar ally. Even so, we’re still talking level 9 and up. (more…)

Empyrean Tactics

The fifth-edition Dungeon Master’s Guide describes four tiers of play, based on player character level. From level 1 to level 4, PCs are “local heroes,” saving one village at a time. At levels 5 through 10, they’re “heroes of the realm,” regionally renowned. At levels 11 through 16, they’re “masters of the realm,” on whose deeds the fates of kingdoms turn. And at levels 17 through 20, they’re “masters of the world,” the ones who wind up as protagonists in books by R.A. Salvatore.

If your PCs are coming face-to-face with an empyrean, they’d better either be masters of the world already or have very good health insurance coverage. They are, essentially, demigods. Titans. Boss monsters on par with the most ancient dragons. Most of them are chaotic good, residing on the plane of Arvandor, Arboria or Olympus, depending on how old-school you like your cosmology. But sometimes they go on a spring break bender in Tartarus or something (excuse me—Carceri), and they’re not the same when they come back. These depraved empyreans end up exiled to the material plane, where they take over kingdoms as a hobby. (If a 20-foot-tall god-child can’t make Posleslavny great again, who can, am I right?) (more…)