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…)

Grung Tactics

I have to hand it to Volo’s Guide to Monsters for giving us grungs, undisputed winners of the Most Adorable Evil Creature title, formerly held by kobolds.

Clearly based on poison arrow frogs, grungs are arboreal rainforest dwellers, tribal and territorial. In the latter respect, their behavior in groups will therefore resemble that of lizardfolk, so I refer readers to my original article on them. Their amphibian nature also invites comparison to bullywugs.

Lizardfolk are brutes, but grungs are low-Strength, high-Dexterity, high-Constitution skirmishers. Their low Strength means they’re going to be encountered in large numbers; no fewer than half a dozen at a time, I’d say. If they’re going to initiate an encounter against your player characters, rather than vice versa, they’ll have to outnumber the party at least three to one.

Grungs share the Amphibious and Standing Leap features with bullywugs. This means they’ll often be found in swampy areas, around rivers and in other sorts of difficult terrain, which they can get around in easily by jumping. They’re quicker than bullywugs, though not as quick as most PCs, and since they can climb as well as jump, they’ll use their proficiency in Stealth to hide in trees and drop on their enemies from above. (more…)

Yuan-ti Revisited

Volo’s Guide to Monsters’ treatment of the yuan-ti is heavily lore-focused, with a section, useful to dungeon masters, on how to design a yuan-ti temple-city. From a tactical standpoint, the only additions are five new variants (!) and a brief subsection headed “Unusual Abilities.”

Unusual Abilities offers four traits that DMs can use to customize an individual yuan-ti or a group of them:

  • Acid Slime gives the yuan-ti a corrosive coating, lasting one minute, that inflicts 1d10 acid damage against a grappled opponent or one who strikes it with a close-range melee attack. It’s a bonus action, and yuan-ti don’t get any other bonus actions, so this is a free supplement to the yuan-ti’s action economy. It’s all benefit and no downside, so the yuan-ti will use this feature on its first turn.
  • Chameleon Skin is also a freebie: it’s a passive ability that grants advantage on Stealth Checks. No tactical implication; it just makes the yuan-ti better at what it already does.
  • Shapechanger, for the yuan-ti pureblood, comes with the same disadvantages as it has for the yuan-ti malison and yuan-ti abomination. Skip it.
  • Shed Skin is another all-benefit, no-downside feature, letting a grappled or restrained yuan-ti slip free without a skill or ability check. It costs only a bonus action, which is no cost at all, since the yuan-ti has no other bonus action to give up. A yuan-ti with this trait will use it anytime it applies.

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Gnolls Revisited

I hate to say it, but Volo’s Guide to Monsters has managed to make gnolls even less interesting to me than they were before.

That’s unfortunate. They were already an unsophisticated, “Rrrrraaaahhhh, stab stab stab” kind of monster, aside from the gnoll Fang of Yeenoghu, which at least had the brains to identify weaker party members and go out of its way to get them. Here’s what we learn about them from Volo’s:

  • They’re not evolved creatures, but rather hyenas transformed by the power of the demon lord Yeenoghu.
  • They’re driven solely by the desire to kill and eat.
  • That’s pretty much it.

And yet, inexplicably, Volo’s contains a section on “Gnoll Tactics.” It doesn’t provide any such section for goblinoids, whose features make possible some really interesting tactics. (In particular, hobgoblins are supposed to be savvy tacticians.) It provides one for kobolds, which is great, because kobold tactics aren’t obvious without a fair amount of analysis. But the “Gnoll Tactics” in Volo’s aren’t tactics so much as reiterations of gnolls’ fundamentally brutal and unimaginative nature. (They don’t set up permanent camps. They leave no survivors. They like weak, easy targets. They attack tougher creatures “only when the most powerful omens from Yeenoghu compel them to do so,” i.e., when the dungeon master decides they will.) (more…)