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…)

Xvart Tactics

Xvarts are tricky to devise tactics for, because their ability scores, their features and their Volo’s Guide to Monsters flavor text all seem to be at odds with one another. Their ability scores suggest Dexterity-focused sniping and shock attacks. Their Overbearing Pack feature suggests a reliance on shoving opponents prone, presumably to be followed up with melee attacks (both of which depend on Strength). And the flavor text states that they attack primarily to abduct, which implies grappling. There is a solution, but it’s tricky.

Xvarts move at the normal humanoid speed of 30 feet per round. Their Strength is low, and their Constitution merely average, so they’re anti-brutes—averse to melee slugfests. Xvarts will necessarily seek strength in numbers—and allies, specifically giant rats and giant bats. Giant rats make particularly good allies for xvarts, because of their Pack Tactics feature; giant bats, however, are tougher and more challenging. A xvart encounter should include, at a minimum, two xvarts per player character, plus an animal ally for every two xvarts.

Xvarts are neither smart nor wise. They have no ability to adapt if their favored strategy doesn’t work, and they may not be particularly quick to notice that it isn’t working. However, unlike the usual low-Wisdom monster, which waits too long to run away, xvarts are cowardly; if anything, they’ll run away prematurely from encounters that actually favor them. The Low Cunning feature gives them Disengage as a bonus action, but this represents instinctive evasive ability, not discipline. (more…)

Sahuagin Tactics

Sahuagin are fierce, amphibious fish-men that live underwater but emerge periodically to raid coastal settlements. Although the Monster Manual says they “dwell in the deepest trenches of the ocean,” that’s a bit far for even a creature with a 40-foot swimming speed. Those ocean trenches are as far from the coasts as the highest mountains are, and you don’t often hear about the yeti of the Himalayas spending an afternoon staging a raid on Kolkata, or the Tatzelwürmer of the Alps popping down to Genoa for some late-night ravaging. These are distances of hundreds of miles we’re talking about. So chances are, any sahuagin that player characters encounter are going to be denizens of shallower depths. Maybe they’re the border reivers of the ocean kingdom.

When they come ashore to raid, they do so at night, as implied by their 120 feet of darkvision. They can’t come far inland, since their Limited Amphibiousness gives them only four hours of air breathing before they have to return to the water. Unlike, say, merrows, sahuagin can move about on land as easily as any other humanoid.

In this environment, they’re basic brutes. Their Multiattack gives them one weapon or claw attack and one bite attack. Since their armor class doesn’t include a shield, we can presume that they wield their spears two-handed for the greater damage. (more…)

Firenewt Tactics

Firenewts are quasi-humanoids adapted to conditions of extreme heat, and they display the corresponding fiery temperament: “aggressive, wrathful and cruel,” according to Volo’s Guide to Monsters. They’re raiders, slavers and zealots. If you encounter a small band of them, they’re probably looking for captives. If you encounter a horde, they’re on the warpath.

Firenewt warriors have above-average Dexterity and Constitution and merely average Strength. Despite this ability contour, they fight as brutes, because Dexterity is their primary offensive ability (they wield scimitars, a finesse weapon) and because they lack any feature that would adapt them especially well to skirmishing. They also wear medium armor and carry shields, and they have Multiattack.

They’re not bright. With an Intelligence of 7, they show no imagination or adaptability in their tactics, essentially fighting like primitives. Nor do they discriminate among targets. “’Tis always a fight to the death for them, so ’tis always one for ye,” says “Elminster” in Volo’s, but I’d consider this optional, not gospel. It’s true that they’re described as fanatics, so they may well fight to the death out of conviction. But their Wisdom of 11 is high enough that they can be presumed to have a normal survival instinct. I might split the difference and say that they’re more likely to fight to the death when they’re on some kind of mission, in the company of other firenewts; if they’re just minding their own business, they’ll Dash away if seriously wounded (reduced to 8 hp or fewer). (more…)

Jackalwere Tactics

I was asked about jackalweres in conjunction with my post on lamia tactics. I’m going to look at them in isolation, though, because generally speaking, the company a monster keeps isn’t going to influence its tactics substantially (goblins being an exception when they’re bossed around by hobgoblins).

As the name implies, jackalweres—not “werejackals”—aren’t your ordinary lycanthrope. Rather than humanoids tainted with a bestial curse, they’re jackals tainted with a human curse. Like lycanthropes, however, they typically adopt a hybrid form during combat.

Jackalweres have an unusual ability contour: high Dexterity but merely average Strength and Constitution, combined ith above-average Intelligence. This is a contour you’d usually associated with a sniper or a spellcaster, but jackalweres’ attacks are largely melee-based. This suggests three things. First, jackalweres are highly unsuited to drawn-out combat and will abandon a fight quickly if they don’t immediately get the upper hand. Second, they’ll rely heavily on guile. And third, the successful use of their Sleep Gaze feature—the closest thing they have to “spellcasting”—will figure prominently in their strategy. (more…)