Drow Tactics, Part 1

In my article on commoners, I touched superficially on how a drow commoner might fight, based solely on racial modifiers: they’d seek safety in numbers; snipe at range, using hand crossbows; and be nocturnal and/or subterranean. But the fifth-edition Monster Manual has an entire listing for drow, including three variants: the drow elite warrior, the drow mage and the drow priestess of Lolth. And the basic drow is stronger, across the board, than my hypothetical drow commoner. So let’s say that the MM drow is something more akin to a drow guard—a trained, regular fighter or scout.

The contour of its ability scores is the same: Dexterity is the drow’s highest stat, followed by Charisma. Its Strength and Constitution are average, its Intelligence and Wisdom only marginally higher (not enough even to get a plus to their modifiers). This is the profile of a sniper. Drow are armed with both shortswords (thrusting weapons akin to a Greek xiphos) and hand crossbows, but their lower Constitution relative to their Dexterity strongly suggests a preference for the ranged weapon over the melee weapon. They have proficiency in Stealth, marking them as ambush fighters.

They also have the innate ability to cast dancing lights at will and darkness and faerie fire once per day each. The combination of double-range darkvision and Sunlight Sensitivity implies a creature that not only gets around well in darkness but is averse to light, so why on earth would a drow want to cast dancing lights or faerie fire?

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Goblin Boss, Hobgoblin and Bugbear Tactics

In an earlier article, I examined the tactics of goblins, which turned out to be significantly more sophisticated than those of your average cannon-fodder humanoid monster. Goblins are low-level, though, and to present more of a challenge to intermediate-level players, large groups of goblins are often accompanied by more advanced goblinoids, such as goblin bosses, hobgoblins and bugbears.

The goblin boss is distinguished from ordinary goblins by its Multiattack and Redirect Attack features and by the fact that it doesn’t use a bow. Additionally, the Redirect Attack action is useful only in a context in which goblins are fighting side-by-side rather than in an ambush or skirmish. Based on this, I conclude that goblin bosses are found only in goblin lairs—caves, ruins, what have you—where large numbers of goblins will fight in close quarters.

By the way, have you read that Redirect Attack feature? The goblin boss uses its reaction to avoid a hit on itself and cause it to land on one of its goblin minions instead. What a jerk! Here’s a critter that’s better suited for fighting than most of its kind—stronger, better at absorbing damage and capable of landing more blows—and yet it possesses no notion of carrying the team. “Aw, sorry about that, Jixto! Send me a postcard from Hades!” Continue reading Goblin Boss, Hobgoblin and Bugbear Tactics

Gnoll Tactics

I don’t know about your campaigns, but I think I’ve literally gone my entire Dungeons and Dragons–playing life so far without ever once either using (as a dungeon master) or encountering (as a player) a gnoll. So I’m coming at the final monster in my initial series on humanoids with fresh eyes.

Gnolls are described in the Monster Manual as rapacious raiders, scavengers and nomads with hyena-like heads. They have high Strength and low Intelligence; their behavior is driven by their violent and destructive instincts. Like many other humanoid D&D monsters, they have darkvision. They wield spears and longbows, according to the MM, and they have one distinguishing feature, Rampage, which allows them to move half their speed and make a bonus bite attack after reducing a foe to 0 hp in melee.

Honestly, I’d dispense with the longbow—it doesn’t make sense in the context of what else the MM says about gnolls. Their Strength is high enough that they gain little advantage from using one. They aren’t smart enough to craft one or social enough to barter for one. According to the flavor text, gnolls prefer to strike at easy targets; longbows are designed to puncture armor. And gnolls’ single unique feature is melee-oriented.

So my vision of the gnoll is strictly a hand-to-hand fighter. As creatures with high Strength, high-average Dexterity, average Constitution and a respectable five hit dice, gnolls are shock troops. When they spot a vulnerable target, most likely during a nighttime patrol (darkvision provides advantage against PCs who don’t have it), they strike at once. Despite the premise of this blog—that monsters don’t just go “Rrrraaaahhhh, stab stab stab” all the time—this is exactly what gnolls do. They’re fearless and aggressive, using their full movement speed to approach their targets, then Attacking (action) with spears; if one such attack reduces an enemy to 0 hp, the gnoll Rampages toward another enemy within 15 feet and bites it (bonus action).

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Lizardfolk Tactics

With lizardfolk, we get into the territory of generic humanoid monsters that are more than mere cannon fodder. They’re not sophisticated, but they are significantly tougher than goblins, kobolds and orcs. According to the Monster Manual flavor text, their most salient behavioral trait is their territoriality, followed by their generally acting like South Seas cannibals in a movie from the 1940s. On the flip side, the text does acknowledge that lizardfolk may occasionally form alliances with outsiders, but we’ll set that aside, since it’s not going to influence their combat tactics.

Lizardfolk, like orcs, are brutes: average Dexterity, high Strength and Constitution. They’re also proficient in Perception and Stealth, and they’re more or less amphibious—they can’t breathe underwater, but they can hold their breath for up to 15 minutes, and they can swim as fast as they can move on land.

Based on this information, the most likely lizardfolk encounter scenario will be with a group of scouts patrolling the outskirts of their territory. They’ll be alert to intruders—it’s why they’re out there. Once they notice intruders, they’ll start stalking them (either from cover to cover, if on land, or underwater, if in a swamp), until they’re close enough to attack. Then they’ll strike first, with surprise.

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Orc Tactics

With orcs, I continue my examination of the cannon-fodder humanoid monsters of Dungeons & Dragons. Actually, orcs have always been somewhat tougher than goblins and kobolds, but they remain one of the undistinguished stock foes of low-level D&D parties. How does the fifth edition of D&D make orcs unique?

Unlike goblins and kobolds, orcs are strong and tough. They’re not very smart—their behavior is largely driven by instinct—but they possess average Wisdom and decent Dexterity. They have the Aggressive feature, which allows them to move their full speed toward a hostile creature as a bonus action, effectively allowing them to Dash, then Attack. And, curiously, they possess a social skill (Intimidation +2). Their standard melee weapon, the greataxe, deals damage that can be deadly to a level 1 character.

These are no hit-and-run skirmishers or snipers. Orcs are brutes. They’ll charge, they’ll fight hand-to-hand, and they’ll retreat only with the greatest reluctance when seriously wounded. (Being fanatical valuers of physical courage, orcs—unlike most creatures—are more willing to fight to the death.)

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