Drow Tactics: Shadowblades

Drow shadowblades are spies and assassins, trained to strike from hiding. With extraordinary Dexterity serving as both their primary offensive ability and primary defensive ability, they’re shock attackers, striking swiftly and hard with the goal of taking out their targets as fast as possible. Their Constitution is high enough that they can handle a protracted battle, but they’d rather not.

With proficiency in all of the “big three” saving throws (Dexterity, Constitution and Wisdom) and with innate advantage against being charmed, shadowblades have little to fear from enemy spellcasters and can assail their desired targets without distraction. Like all drow, they have long-range darkvision plus Sunlight Sensitivity, confining them to nighttime and (more likely) subterranean operations. They also have the standard drow spell package of dancing lights plus one daily casting each of darkness, faerie fire and levitate.

In addition, as a bonus action, shadowblades can use the Shadow Step feature to teleport up to 60 feet between one dimly lit or dark location and another; doing so also grants advantage on “the first melee attack it makes before the end of the turn.” The wording is crucial, because it dictates shadowblades’ turn sequence and mode of striking: the bonus action must be taken before the attack, and the attack must be a melee attack, i.e., either Shadow Sword, grapple or shove. Continue reading Drow Tactics: Shadowblades

Drow Tactics: Arachnomancers

Gonna do my best here with the drow arachnomancer, but please forgive me if I screw up, like, half a dozen different things. I’m operating with two levels of exhaustion, and I’m not even the one doing most of the work. My wife is a boss.

Arachnomancers are drow warlocks that can shapeshift into or out of a Large giant spider form as a bonus action and can continue to speak and cast spells in their spider form. Because they’re warlocks, unlike most monsters with spellcasting ability, they cast all their spells as if using a 5th-level spell slot, but they’re also limited to three leveled spells per encounter (not counting darkness, dominate monster, etherealness, eyebite, faerie fire and levitate, each of which they can cast once per day without spending a slot, and dancing lights, which they can cast at will). Concentration, of course, is going to govern which of these spells they can cast, so we’re going to look for sustained spells that synergize with multiple instantaneous spells.

Also, since these are warlocks we’re talking about, we want to find out what works well with eldritch blast. Although it isn’t stated explicitly in the stat block, because the drow arachnomancer is a 16th-level spellcaster, eldritch blast fires three bolts per casting, for a total of 3d10 force damage. In terms of damage dealt, this can’t compete with either its humanoid-form Poisonous Touch attack or its spider-form Bite attack. However, based on its ability contour—extraordinary Intelligence, very high Dexterity and Charisma, merely above-average Constitution, average Strength—we can infer that the arachnomancer is a long-distance spellslinger that would much prefer to stay out of melee if it can. Thus, Poisonous Touch and Bite are primarily self-defense measures, secondarily shock attacks. Continue reading Drow Tactics: Arachnomancers

Drow Tactics: House Captains

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes introduces a whole passel of drow variants, all of them boss-grade, one of them legendary, the weakest of them having a challenge rating of 9. Not only that, four of the five have extensive spell repertoires, and even the fifth can cast the same few spells that all drow know. This means a lot of variables to look at, so my examination of these variant drow is going to be spread over multiple posts.

At CR 9, suitable for mid-level player characters, we have the drow house captain. This is a finesse fighter with decent staying power and an unusual Multiattack that combines two melee weapon attacks with either a ranged crossbow attack or attack with a whip. The whip attack is also unusual, because it seems designed to be used against the captain’s allies!

With their high Wisdom, drow house captains are keen assessors of their enemies’ threat level, and they have the Charisma to parley as needed, though no particular aptitude with any social skill. Aside from their Multiattack, which incidentally implies that they always wield a weapon in each hand, their most distinctive features are Battle Command, Parry (which we also see in the comparable knight and hobgoblin warlord) and their proficiency in all of the “big three” saving throws. This last feature implies a lesser degree of fear of enemy spellcasters. Continue reading Drow Tactics: House Captains

Elite Githzerai Tactics

The githzerai monk has the ability profile of a shock attacker, but it lacks the mobility to get in and out of combat easily. The githzerai enlightened is the more fully developed version of this build concept, differing from the githzerai monk in three ways: higher ability scores, the Temporal Strike action, and a package of mobility- and defense-enhancing psionic “spells”: blur, expeditious retreat, haste, plane shift and teleport.

Getting the best use out of these abilities is going to require paying close attention to action economy and “spell” duration. Let’s break it down! Continue reading Elite Githzerai Tactics

Elite Githyanki Tactics

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes goes into gith lore in considerable depth and offers stat blocks for five new gith variations: the githyanki gish, kith’rak and supreme commander, and the githzerai enlightened and anarch. To recap, githyanki and githzerai are divergent lines of the same race, once enslaved by mind flayers. Upon seizing their freedom, the githyanki claimed license to pillage and enslave in the mind flayers’ stead, whereas the githzerai retreated into pacifist isolationism and monastic reflection. Both lines possess psionic abilities.

The githyanki gish is a sort of eldritch knight or war mage, both a fierce shock attacker and a potent spellcaster, with high ability scores across the board. (This variant was introduced in edition 3.5 and has become an archetypal example of the fighter/magic-user multiclass combo, so that any such character is often referred to as a “gish.”) With proficiency in Perception and Stealth, it also excels at ambush. And its proficiency in Constitution saving throws dramatically improves its chances of maintaining concentration on sustained spells while taking damage.

Since psionics exist in fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons as reskinned magic, the githyanki gish has a number of “spells” it can cast innately alongside its conventional wizard-spell repertoire: mage hand (essentially telekinesis lite), jump, misty step, nondetection, plane shift and telekinesis, of which misty step, plane shift and telekinesis are the most broadly useful. Continue reading Elite Githyanki Tactics