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…)

Orcs Revisited

Volo’s Guide to Monsters gives us fantastic resources to use when designing lairs for kobolds and planning out how they’ll behave in a combat encounter. When it comes to orcs, though, Volo’s cops out on these topics, instead giving us an anthropological (orcological?) overview of the highly theocentric structure of orc society. This offers some guidance on encounter building, but nothing here offers any new insight on how orcs might behave during a fight, save one detail: war wagons.

We can surmise that a group of orcs escorting a war wagon will be less likely to charge Aggressively if doing so means leaving the war wagon unattended. Also, as reluctant as orcs are to retreat to begin with, they’ll be even more reluctant if doing so means abandoning a war wagon. To allow a well-laden war wagon to fall into the hands of an enemy by fleeing would be unforgivably disgraceful. Orcs are so hung up on pride and valor, they won’t even use the war wagon for cover if they’re seriously wounded. If they have 1 hp left, they’ll place that 1 hp between the enemy and the war wagon.

What Volo’s does offer are five (!) new varieties of orc, two of which are spellcasters, all of which build on the orcish pantheon of the Forgotten Realms setting. (more…)

Kobolds Revisited

Reading the section on kobolds in Volo’s Guide to Monsters gives me a much greater appreciation for kobolds. My own original assessment of kobolds was that they rely on ambush, will never fight an enemy hand-to-hand alone, and will retreat and regroup—or just retreat—if injured or isolated. Volo’s concurs, but it goes so much further. My hat is off to Volo’s.

“Because they are physically weak individually, kobolds know they have to use superior numbers and cunning to take down powerful foes,” it says. “Cunning” may be giving too much credit to a species with an average Intelligence of 8 and Wisdom of 7, but what I like about the section of Volo’s on kobold tactics (something it doesn’t offer for goblinoids) is that it takes the evolutionary perspective one step further than I did and presents kobolds as having evolved a highly cooperative society. Unlike goblins, forever squabbling and looking out for themselves, kobolds instinctively work together, even without having to discuss what they’re doing. (more…)

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…)