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…)

Roper Tactics

Another monster classic, the roper is a dungeon predator/scavenger that nabs its prey by camouflaging itself as a stalagmite or stalactite. The latter is rarer, probably because in every instance I can recall, the roper has always been depicted pointy side up; perhaps dungeon masters never consciously consider that ropers can also adhere to cave ceilings.

Ropers have enormous, toothy maws and sticky tentacles that lash out and seize their prey. Although their exceptional Strength and Constitution and below-average Dexterity suggest a brute fighter, ropers are ambush attackers, using their fast and flexible tendrils to compensate for their lack of mobility (their speed is only 10 feet per round, whether crawling or climbing).

Despite their low Dexterity, ropers have double proficiency in Stealth, along with the False Appearance feature, which allows it to blend in perfectly with its surroundings. I understand this to mean that passive Perception—and even Searching—will never reveal a roper for what it is as long as it’s holding still. Its Stealth skill comes into play only if it’s moving. Thus, a stationary roper will always take its opponents by surprise, as long as its eye is closed and its tendrils retracted until it strikes. (more…)

Roc Tactics

There aren’t too many gargantuan creatures in the Monster Manual. Ancient dragons grow to gargantuan size; aside from that, you’ve got your kraken, your tarrasque and your roc, a monstrous avian whose name, curiously, shares an etymology with “rook,” the chess piece (from Persian rukh, by way of Arabic) but not with “rook,” the corvid bird (from Old English, an imitation of its croaking call).

This terror with a 200-foot wingspan—roughly the size of a Boeing 747—hunts big, slow-moving game, snatching up an elk, a buffalo or even a giant as easily as a hawk or owl would seize a squirrel. It’s unaligned and has only bestial Intelligence. Its Strength and Constitution are extraordinary; its Dexterity, as ordinary as you can get.

Rocs are fearless. Aside from their enormous pool of hit points, they have proficiency in all of the big three saving throws (Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom), plus Charisma. Magic doesn’t scare them, and it takes massive damage to even deter them: From their maximum of 248 hp, they’ll need to be reduced to 99 hp or fewer to be driven off. (more…)

Behir Tactics

The behir is, simply, a predator. A huge monstrosity, in the neighborhood of 15 feet long, it’s fast, tough and strong, able to run as fast as a lion and to climb faster than most humanoids can run. Its Intelligence is at the upper end of animal range, and it’s a good judge of prey. It’s also surprisingly stealthy, able to strike from ambush and do spectacular damage to its victims.

But all this power comes at a cost: Behirs get sleepy as they digest their prey. Because of this, once a behir strikes and swallows its prey, it immediately breaks off and retreats to its lair or some other hiding place so that it can absorb its meal in peace.

Normally, a creature with a recharge ability prefers it over any other method of attack, but in the case of behirs, Lightning Breath is an oddly limited-use feature. Its range is only 20 feet, meaning that in most cases, it’s only likely to strike a single target (see “Targets in Area of Effect,” Dungeon Master’s Guide, page 249), and while the damage it does is substantial—about 50 points of expected damage—it doesn’t help the behir eat anything.

In contrast, the behir’s Multiattack comprises a Constrict action, which does an average of 34 points of damage and restrains its target on a hit, and a Bite action, which does an average of another 22 points of damage, with advantage on the attack if the target is restrained. That’s 56 points of damage right there, and the behir’s chance to hit is extremely high, compared with its chance of doing full damage with its Lightning Breath. Finally, on its next turn, it can Swallow the creature it’s restraining, which is what it came for. (more…)