In yon days of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, TSR published every adventure “module” (as we called them then) with an alphanumeric code, and if you speak the code “S3” to a role-playing gamer of my generation, it’ll be met with a big grin and the reaction, “The one with the spaceship!” Yep, that’s Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, a D&D/science fiction crossover, in which the player characters explore the wreckage of a futuristic craft and stock up on assorted high-tech weaponry and loot.
One of the more memorable monsters from this module is the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing, a carnivorous, tentacled stump with a wiggly appendage at the top that resembles an adorable furry creature. Another—equally memorable but less fondly remembered—is the vegepygmy. Among my D&D friends, I think vegepygmies must have come in for more derision than any other D&D monster except the flumph and the flail snail, although thinking about it now, I couldn’t tell you exactly why we thought vegepygmies were so ridiculous. Maybe it was just the name. Anyway, the last paragraph of the vegepygmy entry in Volo’s Guide to Monsters contains a cheeky shout-out to their origin.
Vegepygmies, essentially, are fungus in a humanoid form, though they differ from myconids in . . . ways. For one thing, they do possess the power of speech, sort of. They’re not telepathic. They’re a little more peoply-looking. They propagate by infecting other creatures with russet mold spores, rather than independently. But ultimately, they’re still just another form of animate fungus. And like myconids, they’re categorized in Volo’s as plants, even though fungi, it turns out, are closer to animals than to plants in the taxonomic tree. As I suggested with myconids, you may choose to categorize them as humanoids or even aberrations instead, then let your players try to solve the riddle of their plant-related spells’ not working on beings that sure do look like plants. Continue reading Vegepygmy Tactics
Clearly, thri-kreen are meant to resemble some kind of eusocial insects, most likely ants or termites; I’m not entirely sure which one. (ETA: On Reddit, ghost_warlock kindly refers me to Wikipedia, where “the very first line . . . explains that they’re ‘mantis warriors.’ I am suitably shamed over not having thought to check Wikipedia for the answer.) However, these four-armed humanoids don’t possess the kind of hive mind or hive mentality you might attribute to them, based on their appearance. They’re not telepathic, nor are they even lawfully aligned. They don’t sleep, though, and they have the ultimate poker faces, betraying nary a hint of emotion.
Being chaotic neutral rather than chaotic evil, thri-kreen largely want to be left to their own business. The Monster Manual flavor text does say they “consider all other living creatures as potential nourishment,” and in the inevitable silly twist, “they love the taste of elf flesh in particular.” (Between thri-kreen and perytons, I’m getting the impression that elves must be delicious, like truffles or something.) But this seems to me to verge on evil, so I’d say that thri-kreen don’t attack other humanoids just to eat them unless they’re experiencing some kind of shortage of other foods. That being said, having already killed a humanoid for some other reason, they probably wouldn’t have any scruples about consuming the corpse.
Thri-kreen have high Dexterity and above-average Strength and Constitution. This gives them a bit of flexibility between brute melee combat and skirmishing, perhaps with a slight bias toward the latter, since they’re fast-moving (speed 40 feet per round). They also have proficiency in Perception and Stealth, plus Chameleon Carapace, which gives them advantage when trying to Hide. All these factors point toward ambush as a favored strategy. Continue reading Thri-kreen 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. Continue reading Duergar 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. Continue reading Xvart 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. Continue reading Sahuagin Tactics