Devil Tactics: Greater Devils

Yesterday I looked at the lesser devils. Today I’ll look at the greater devils: horned devils, erinyes, ice devils and pit fiends. (The fifth-edition Monster Manual doesn’t include stat blocks for archdevils.)

Like the lesser devils, all the greater devils have certain features in common. They have darkvision out to 120 feet and the Devil’s Sight feature, indicating a preference for operating in darkness. They’re immune to fire and poison and resistant to cold (except ice devils, which are immune to cold as well), magical effects, and physical damage from normal, unsilvered weapons. And they all tend toward a brute ability profile—high Strength and Constitution—indicating a preference for melee combat.

Finally, since it’s in the nature of devils to obey those with power over them, a devil fighting in the course of carrying out an assigned duty will never flee from combat, no matter how badly injured it is. (more…)

Devil Tactics: Lesser Devils

So far, I’ve steered clear of what fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons categories as “fiends,” and now it’s finally time to dive in. Most fiends fall into one of three groups, depending on their alignments: Devils, belonging to the infernal hierarchy of the Nine Hells, are lawful evil. Demons, inhabitants of the tumultuous Abyss, are chaotic evil. And yugoloths, whose name comes from a Slavic phrase meaning “southern loths,” are what AD&D referred to as “daemons”: neutral evil fiends from the gray waste of Hades. Or Gehenna. Or the “Blood Rift.” Or all the evil Outer Planes. The publishers of D&D can’t seem to make up their minds.

I’ll begin with devils, the embodiment of tyranny and ruthlessness. The driving motivation of a devil is to dominate. In the hierarchy of the Nine Hells, authority is absolute, rules are binding, and obedience is imperative—but within those rules, every devil seeks to maximize its advantage, elevate its position and increase its power over others. Every devil’s bargain looks fair, but no devil will ever accept an agreement that is fair. Agreements between devils, or between a devil and another creature, always contain exploitable loopholes that a devil can use to ensnare the sap foolish enough to accept its terms.

Generally speaking, devils stick to the Nine Hells and their own infernal rat race. Devils encountered on the material plane where the player characters live their lives are there for one of two reasons: either they’ve been summoned magically by some idiot who thinks he or she can benefit from dealing with them, or they’re working to advance the interests of a higher-level devil. (more…)

Hag Tactics

Hags, as monsters, never interested me much, but fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons has made it possible to build some very cool encounters around them. Evil fey creatures, hags rely on magic and deceit to befoul everything and destroy everyone around them. In many cases, by the time players realize that one or more hags are what their characters are up against, it’s already too late to avoid the encounter.

All hags possess very high Strength and Constitution, and they can do fierce damage with their claws, suggesting that they won’t shy away from toe-to-toe melee combat. When they come together in covens, they also gain access to a powerful repertoire of spells. To cast these spells, they must all be within 30 feet of one another, which limits their mobility somewhat. So that they’re not forced to retreat out of range, we can suppose that they fight facing outward, their backs toward one another. Thus, if they’re knocked back, for instance, they fall toward the others rather than away from them. This leaves them vulnerable to being surrounded, but it also offers some protection against flanking, since most player characters won’t want to run right into the midst of the trio.

Hag covens can also create hag eyes, little surveillance cameras they can all see through. The Monster Manual flavor text says a hag eye “is usually entrusted to a minion for safekeeping and transport,” but it can also be hung in an unobtrusive location that allows a hag coven to spot creatures approaching its lair. If they do this, however, they’ll be careful to conceal it, because if it’s destroyed, they’ll not only suffer minor to moderate damage but also be temporarily blinded. (more…)

Succubus/Incubus Tactics

What teenage Advanced Dungeons and Dragons player wasn’t fascinated and titillated by the succubus, that naked sex demon leering off the page of the Monster Manual? Mind you, this was the same era when a “harlot encounter table” in the Dungeon Master’s Guide allowed you to determine whether a randomly encountered prostitute was a “saucy tart,” a “cheap strumpet” or a “slovenly trull,” which was great for vocabulary building but not so much for encouraging a healthy understanding of sex roles and interpersonal relationships. You’ve come a long way, D&D. (Now let’s work on the ill-considered conflation of race with personality traits, ’K?)

Originating as a mythological explanation for erotic dreams (and, possibly, sleep paralysis episodes as well), the succubus and its masculine counterpart, the incubus, were imagined as devils who tempted people in their dreams. What did they want? The same thing devils always want: to lay claim to your soul, in their case by getting you to corrupt it of your own free will by giving in to the deadly sin of lust.

Despite including some of the trappings, D&D doesn’t share Christianity’s religious cosmology, but the flavor text in the fifth-edition MM assigns succubi and incubi essentially the same mission: “[W]hen a succubus or incubus has corrupted a creature completely . . . the victim’s soul belongs to the fiend. . . . After successfully corrupting a victim, the succubus or incubus kills it, and the tainted soul descends into the Lower Planes.”

Therefore, we have to take a bigger-picture view of succubus and incubus tactics. They’re not about simply gaining an edge in a happenstance combat encounter. They don’t have happenstance combat encounters. Rather, these tactics are steps toward the fiends’ final goal. (more…)

Gnoll Tactics

I don’t know about your campaigns, but I think I’ve literally gone my entire Dungeons and Dragons–playing life so far without ever once either using (as a dungeon master) or encountering (as a player) a gnoll. So I’m coming at the final monster in my initial series on humanoids with fresh eyes.

Gnolls are described in the Monster Manual as rapacious raiders, scavengers and nomads with hyena-like heads. They have high Strength and low Intelligence; their behavior is driven by their violent and destructive instincts. Like many other humanoid D&D monsters, they have darkvision. They wield spears and longbows, according to the MM, and they have one distinguishing feature, Rampage, which allows them to move half their speed and make a bonus bite attack after reducing a foe to 0 hp in melee.

Honestly, I’d dispense with the longbow—it doesn’t make sense in the context of what else the MM says about gnolls. Their Strength is high enough that they gain little advantage from using one. They aren’t smart enough to craft one or social enough to barter for one. According to the flavor text, gnolls prefer to strike at easy targets; longbows are designed to puncture armor. And gnolls’ single unique feature is melee-oriented.

So my vision of the gnoll is strictly a hand-to-hand fighter. As creatures with high Strength, high-average Dexterity, average Constitution and a respectable five hit dice, gnolls are shock troops. When they spot a vulnerable target, most likely during a nighttime patrol (darkvision provides advantage against PCs who don’t have it), they strike at once. Despite the premise of this blog—that monsters don’t just go “Rrrraaaahhhh, stab stab stab” all the time—this is exactly what gnolls do. They’re fearless and aggressive, using their full movement speed to approach their targets, then Attacking (action) with spears; if one such attack reduces an enemy to 0 hp, the gnoll Rampages toward another enemy within 15 feet and bites it (bonus action).