Hobgoblin Tactics: Devastator and Iron Shadow

As I mentioned in my last post, Volo’s Guide to Monsters introduces two new varieties of hobgoblin: the hobgoblin Devastator, a battle wizard, and the hobgoblin Iron Shadow, a rogue-monk-mage. Based on the flavor text descriptions of these hobgoblin variants, I’m going to analyze them from the assumption that hobgoblin Devastators will most often be encountered on the battlefield amid other hobgoblins, whereas a hobgoblin Iron Shadow will typically be encountered alone.

Like ordinary hobgoblins, Devastators are strong across all their physical attributes, with none standing dramatically apart from the others, although Constitution is the highest of them. What sets Devastators apart is their very high Intelligence and above-average Wisdom. These scores indicate that a Devastator can accurately assess enemies’ weaknesses and select targets accordingly, as well as recognize when it’s outmatched.

Army Arcana is a handy feature akin to an evocation wizard’s Sculpt Spells or a sorcerer’s Careful Spell, letting the hobgoblin Devastator lob area-effect spells without regard to whether it has allies in the area of effect. Arcane Advantage, meanwhile, gives the Devastator an extra 2d6 damage on ranged spell attacks against front-line enemies (note that this does not apply to spells that require saving throws, only to those that require attack rolls). (more…)

Goblinoids Revisited

Since I started this blog with a look at goblins, I’ll start my examination of Volo’s Guide to Monsters with another look at goblinoids. But first, one observation: In my original analysis of goblin tactics, I stated that they’d Disengage when an opponent closed to within melee range. This was based on their Nimble Escape feature, which allows them to Disengage as a bonus action. However, while composing my later post, “Dodge, Dash or Disengage?” I learned that orderly retreats are risky moves that require discipline, a trait that goblins aren’t known for. So how do they possess this ability as a feature? I conclude that they’re innately slippery enough that they can scamper out of an opponent’s reach too quickly for the opponent to react. It’s not a disengagement in the true, military sense, just an ability of theirs that happens to have the same effect, from a game-mechanics perspective.

As it turns out, my analysis of goblins hit pretty close to the mark. Volo’s goes into more depth about goblin behavior and social structure, but the basic ambush principle holds. There’s a greater emphasis on traps, suggesting that encounters between player characters and goblins not led by more formidable goblinoids should often begin with the PCs walking into one of the goblins’ traps (or avoiding them in the nick of time). The “Goblin Lairs” section provides a nice scaffold for building a series of goblin encounters on if the PCs decide to go hunting goblins themselves, rather than vice versa. (more…)

Lycanthrope Tactics

Werebeasts, a.k.a. lycanthropes, are wonderful enemies. A werebeast encounter can be awesome action or tragic drama. Werebeasts lend themselves perfectly to horror-mystery adventures, in which the players have no idea which of the villagers is the true villain. They threaten to transmit their lycanthropic curse to any character who fights them hand-to-hand—monsters who can make the player characters into monsters themselves. Practically by definition, werebeast encounters take place at night, when everything is scarier. And if the werewolf ever seems too clichéd an enemy, werebeasts come in four other varieties.

All werebeasts have proficiency in Perception and immunity to physical damage from nonmagical, nonsilvered weapons. They also have human forms, beast forms and hybrid forms; their human forms are their “true” forms. My sense as a dungeon master is that they take their beast forms to run around and hunt in the wild, but among people, they take their hybrid forms when their curse is upon them—at any rate, the hybrid form makes for more interesting and challenging combat encounters than the beast form, because it allows them to use their Multiattack action feature. (The exception to this pattern is the werebear, which has Multiattack in all its forms.) But if you want to conceal the fact that the PCs are fighting a lycanthrope and not simply a big, ferocious beast, you may opt for the beast form after all, trading a reduction in damage for the increase in likelihood that the PCs will carelessly let themselves fall afoul of the lycanthropic curse.

Although the Shapechanger feature, common to all werebeasts, states that they can use an action to polymorph from one form to another, I’d disregard this, for two reasons. First, there’s generally no advantage to it: any equipment they’re carrying isn’t transformed, so, for example, a humanoid wearing armor and carrying a sword turns into a beast standing in a pile of armor and staring at a sword on the ground; or a hybrid with natural armor turns into a naked, unarmored, unarmed humanoid. Meanwhile, it’s just spent a whole combat round transforming when it could have been, I don’t know, attacking or running away? And second, isn’t the whole point of lycanthropy that the afflicted individual has little or no control over his or her transformations? High opportunity cost, no obvious benefit, contradicts werebeast lore: there’s only one logical situation in which to use this action, and that’s at nightfall or daybreak, when the lycanthrope changes involuntarily. (more…)

Bullywug Tactics

Bullywugs are petty, bad-tempered humanoid frogs, native to swampy areas. The fifth-edition Monster Manual flavor text describes them as “struck with a deep inferiority complex . . . desperately crav[ing] the fear and respect of outsiders” and says they’ll generally prefer to capture trespassers rather than kill them outright, hauling them back to win favor with their rulers first. One way they do this is by taming giant frogs and having them swallow victims whole; however, this works only on Small or Tiny targets, meaning that unless a party of player characters is made up entirely of halflings or gnomes, this isn’t a strategy they can rely on in a typical encounter.

For a creature with only two hit dice, bullywugs aren’t too shabby in combat. All their physical abilities are modestly above average; they have proficiency in Stealth and the Swamp Camouflage feature, which grants them advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks in swampy terrain. It’s fair to say, therefore, that bullywugs won’t venture outside such areas—not when they have such a natural advantage on their home turf.

Moreover, their Standing Leap ability lets them move their full speed of 20 feet per turn as a long jump, when the jumping rule would normally allow them to leap only 6 feet. This allows them to cover distance in difficult marshy terrain without having to halve their movement speed. If you want to be nitpicky about it, you can require them to succeed on a DC 10 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check when they land, per page 182 of the Player’s Handbook, but personally, I’d say that bullywugs, whose natural habitat is the swamp, shouldn’t have to make that check when landing. And for the sake of flavor, I like the idea of having bullywugs bouncing around like a bunch of ornery little superballs during combat rather than trudging around in 2-D as we landbound humanoids must. (Mind you, this does not exempt them from opportunity attacks when they jump out of PCs’ reach.) (more…)

Kuo-toa Tactics

Old-school Dungeons and Dragons players will recall that the kuo-toa made their debut in the venerated, if somewhat incoherent, D-series of adventure modules, which also introduced the drow. In the world of Greyhawk, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons’ original setting, they and the drow were fierce enemies. In fifth-edition D&D, however, the kuo-toa have been retconned into broken ex-subjects of an empire of mind flayers, their rivalry with the drow now mentioned only in passing.

“Many weapons of the kuo-toa are designed to capture rather than kill,” the Monster Manual flavor text informs us, but it leaves open the question of what they want to capture anyone for. Religious sacrifice, maybe? Interrogation? Found-art pieces? Regardless, I’m going to examine their tactics with the assumption that they are, in fact, trying to kill the player characters. (more…)