Medusa Tactics

Medusa: the snake-haired quarry of Herakles, the horror with the petrifying gaze. In the fifth-edition Monster Manual, this unnatural being is explained as one who made an infernal bargain for immortality and beauty, then paid the price when the latter wore off but the former didn’t. There’s no satisfactory natural explanation for the medusa, so in this case, evolutionary imperatives don’t necessarily apply; the medusa seems more like a being driven by compulsion, as undead creatures are.

Medusas have high Dexterity and Constitution, typical of a skirmisher. They have enough Intelligence to plan and lay traps, enough Wisdom to choose targets carefully and avoid battles it won’t win, and more than enough Charisma to parley when it’s advantageous. These abilities are paired with proficiency in Deception and Insight, along with Stealth. Thus, a medusa stays hidden from threats and uses its wiles to lure trespassers to their doom. (The flavor text describes a medusa’s lair as “shadowy ruins . . . riddled with obstructions and hiding places,” meaning it contains lots of places of concealment to take advantage of.)

The medusa has two distinctive features, Petrifying Gaze and Snake Hair. The latter is a simple melee attack that does some poison as well as piercing damage. Petrifying Gaze is more complicated and demands closer examination. (more…)

Harpy Tactics

After all this talk of elementals, fiends and fey, it’s nice to get back to garden-variety monsters. Today I examine the harpy, a foul-tempered predator with an alluring voice. As with all monstrosities, I’m going to assume that it uses its abilities to survive in accordance with evolutionary imperatives.

The harpy has a balanced physical ability profile, with slightly but not significantly higher Dexterity than Strength or Constitution, and it has no ranged attack. Instead, it uses the long-range ability Luring Song to bring prey into melee attack range.

Its Intelligence of 7 indicates that the harpy is instinct-driven, and its Wisdom of 10 indicates that it’s indiscriminate in target selection but knows when to flee. This is consistent with one part of the Monster Manual flavor text: “If a fight turns against a harpy, it lacks the cunning to adapt and will flee and go hungry.” It’s less consistent with this part: “A harpy takes its time dismembering a helpless foe and can spend days torturing a victim.” If this were instinctual to the harpy, it would be disadvantageous to its chances of survival. Granted, Intelligence 7 is the upper bound of instinctual behavior, so I suppose it’s possible that a harpy might toy with its prey or lure it into natural hazards before attacking it. But these feel too sophisticated to me. (more…)

Chimera Tactics

The chimera is a large, mid-level monstrosity whose conglomerate nature is reflected by behavior that thumbs its nose at evolutionary imperatives. According to the Monster Manual flavor text, it has “a vicious, stubborn streak that compels it to fight for the death”; it “often toys with its prey, breaking off an attack prematurely and leaving a creature wounded and terrified before returning to finish it off”; and yet, despite being unable to speak itself and understanding only Draconic, “if offered food and treasure, a chimera might spare a traveler.” Want a monster that puts the “chaotic” in “chaotic evil”? Here you go!

With exceptionally high Strength and Constitution yet merely average Dexterity, the chimera is an out-and-out brute that will close to melee range as quickly as it can; this is reinforced by its Fire Breath feature, which has a range of only 15 feet. Stealth is not in its repertoire, but don’t try to sneak up on it, either: it has a +8 Perception modifier. It has darkvision, so it will often attack at dusk or at night; it may also dwell underground.

Chimeras are stupid (Intelligence 3) as well as brutal. They aren’t the slightest bit choosy about their targets, nor do they recognize whether one player character seems to pose a greater threat than another. They attack whatever happens to be in front of them. That being said, when they first enter combat—with a flying speed of 60 feet—they’ll position themselves, if possible, to catch as many targets as they can within the 15-foot cone of their Fire Breath. If they can’t get at least two, it’s hardly worth it. (more…)

Manticore Tactics

I didn’t realize when I chose it—to be honest, if I don’t have a theme I’m following or a request to fulfill, I choose these monsters more or less at random, although I tend to favor the old-school ones—but the manticore is the first creature I’ve encountered whose tactics are already laid out in the Monster Manual flavor text:

A manticore begins its attack with a volley of tail spikes, then lands and uses its claws and bite. When outdoors and outnumbered, it uses its wings to stay aloft, attacking from a distance until its spikes are depleted.

Given the manticore’s stat and feature profile, these tactics make sense. The Tail Spike is a strong attack with good damage and a generous range, and the manticore can hurl three in a single Multiattack action. Its Strength, Dexterity and Constitution are all very high, suiting it equally for ranged and close-in combat. It stands to reason that it would use its strongest, safest attack first, then close in to finish off injured enemies. (more…)

Gorgon Tactics

The gorgon is an underutilized monster, a good enemy for intermediate-level parties. Thematically, it fits in well alongside golems and other constructs. Yet it’s categorized as a monstrosity, and reading between the lines of the Monster Manual flavor text, it’s evidently meant to be an evolved creature, so it will have the same survival instinct as any other monstrous beast.

Gorgons are high-Strength, high-Constitution brutes, and their Intelligence is animal-level low, so they’re indiscriminate brutes. Their senses are keen, though (Perception +4), so it’s hard to slip past one unnoticed. They feed by petrifying their prey, then smashing it into gravelly Grape-Nuts that it can consume. They’re not evil per se, but they are apex predators, and once they’ve locked on to potential prey, it takes a lot of damage to get them to reconsider their plan.

The gorgon attacks when the distance between itself and its target closes to between 30 and 40 feet. At that moment, it charges forth (movement) and makes a Gore Attack (action), using the Trampling Charge feature to try to knock its target prone. If it succeeds, it gets to strike again with its hooves as a bonus action. (more…)