Catoblepas Tactics

So it turns out that catoblepas comes to us by way of Latin catōblepās from Ancient Greek katôbleps or katôblepon, and its plural in Latin is catōblepae, while its Ancient Greek plural is either katôblepes or katôblepones. Of all these, I like “catoblepes” best—much more than “catoblepases.” I’m going with it. Also, the accent is on the o: ca-toh­-bleh-pahs, ca-toh-bleh-peez. And that’s one to grow on!

The catoblepas is largely a scavenger, whose loathsome presence befouls the environment around it; I guess it likes its food somewhat pre-decomposed. The foul-tempered monstrosity extends this preference to any edible trespasser who wanders into its territory—thus its Death Ray feature, which inflicts considerable necrotic damage on its target, enough to kill even a level 2 or 3 player character on a successful Constitution saving throw.

Catoblepes are classified as monstrosities, but they’re unaligned and have only beast-level Intelligence, around the level of a cat or dog. Their Strength and Constitution, however, are extraordinary, and their Dexterity is above-average as well. Their darkvision suggests that they’re crepuscular and/or nocturnal; you’re not likely to run across one in broad daylight. They combine above-average passive Perception with Keen Smell, giving them an effective passive Perception of 17 if you’re upwind of them. (more…)

Rust Monster Tactics

Back when God’s grandma was a little girl, Dungeons and Dragons’ focus was emphatically on the dungeons—and by “dungeons,” it meant not just dank, subterranean lockups but vast underground complexes containing entire societies and ecosystems. Player characters spent a lot of time exploring these networks of caverns, and there was little or no opportunity to pop back up to the nearest village and replenish supplies.

So when your front-line fighter got cocky and armored himself up like a Panzer IV, the Monster Manual provided a way to cut him down to size: the rust monster, whose sole raison d’être was the annihilation of plate mail when it was neither cheap nor convenient to replace.

This cheese beast lives on in fifth-edition D&D, and despite the absurdity of a creature nourishing itself on a pre-oxidized, chemically stable substance, we have to look at this unaligned monstrosity as an evolved creature, because any other explanation of its existence is just too meta. (more…)

Merrow Tactics

Not to be confused with ordinary merfolk, merrows are larger-than-humanoid monstrosities, the descendents of merfolk warped by demonic influence in the ancient past. Since they’ve bred and survived since then, we can consider them evolved creatures despite their supernatural origin.

Merrows are water-dwelling creatures, drawn to coastal areas with a lot of marine traffic, where they prey on anyone and anything weaker than themselves. While they can breathe both air and water, they flounder about at a pitiable 10 feet per turn on land, but in water, they swim at a brisk 40. Their exceptional Strength and very high Constitution place them in the brute category, eager to get up close and personal with their prospective victims. They’re not that bright, but they can tell when they’re getting beaten. They also have darkvision, so the hours from twilight to dawn are particularly dangerous times to be messing about in boats where merrows roam.

Most humanoids are strongest on land and weak in the water; merrows are strongest in the water and weak on land. It’s a given, therefore, that when merrows attack, their first and foremost goal is to pull their opponents into the water. (more…)

Hydra Tactics

A reader recently asked me to look at the hydra, but the hydra isn’t a particularly complicated monster. A straightforward brute, with extraordinary Strength and Constitution, it’s extremely stupid and not discriminating when it comes to target selection. It also has only one method of attack: one bite for each of its multiple heads, of which it initially has five.

Running a hydra encounter is primarily a matter of accounting: tracking how much damage has been done to it; whether any of that was fire damage; and how many heads it has at the moment, since (a) destroying one head without cauterizing it causes two to sprout back in its place, and (b) it gets an additional opportunity attack for every extra head.

The only question you have to answer, round by round, is where the hydra is going to position itself, and the answer is, wherever it can attack as many targets as possible, up to the number of heads it has. In other words, if possible, a five-headed hydra will try to position itself where it can reach five targets; a seven-headed hydra will go where it can attack as many as possible, up to seven; and so on. It doesn’t have to be immediately adjacent to these targets, since its heads have a reach of 10 feet: a target is still within reach if there’s a single square or hex between the target and the hydra, even if there’s another creature in that square or hex. (Because of the hydra’s size, an interposed Medium-size ally doesn’t give a humanoid creature any cover.) (more…)

Froghemoth Tactics

With the froghemoth, we witness another one of the authors’ odd classification decisions: the flavor text describes froghemoths as “creatures not of this world,” who first emerged from “strange, cylindrical chambers of metal buried in the ground,” but they’re categorized as monstrosities, not as aberrations. Then again, it may not matter much, since even aberrations behave as evolved creatures—they’ve simply evolved in conditions too alien for humanoids to comprehend. And monstrosities should always behave as evolved creatures unless there’s some specific reason to think they shouldn’t, such as being created through some kind of fiendish curse.

Pure brutes, froghemoths nevertheless have proficiency in Stealth, indicating that they’re ambush predators. If at all possible, they hide underwater and strike with surprise. Once they’ve attacked, however, they overwhelm their opponents with their extraordinary Strength and Constitution.

I notice two details tucked into the top half of their stat block. The first is that they have proficiency in Constitution and Wisdom saving throws—two of the big three—but not in the third, Dexterity, and their Dexterity is above-average but far from extraordinary. In general, therefore, they’re not afraid of spellcasters per se. But a spellcaster slinging damaging Dex-save spells will annoy them greatly, and in particular (this is the second detail), lightning bolt or any other spell dealing lightning damage will alarm and enrage them. (more…)