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…)

Drider Tactics

I’ll wrap up “Drow Week” with the drider, a centaur-like monstrosity with the head and torso of a drow and the thorax and abdomen of a giant spider. (In both centaurs and driders, the torso of the humanoid replaces the head of the beast, creating a creature with, presumably, two whole cardiopulmonary systems. We’re probably better off not thinking about this too much.)

Driders, according to the Monster Manual flavor text, are debased creations of the goddess Lolth, presumably produced with some frequency as pious drow fail the challenges of the Demonweb Pits. The text says nothing about whether driders reproduce to create new generations of driders; I’m going to go on the assumption that they don’t, meaning that they’re not evolved creatures. Because of the means of their creation, they may or may not have a strong self-preservation impulse—some of them may even have a death wish.

Driders are fighting machines. They have high Strength, high Dexterity and exceptional Constitution, suiting them for any sort of combat—ranged or melee, ambush or assault, swift or prolonged. They have a triple Multiattack with either longsword or longbow and can replace one of either of those attacks with a poisonous bite. However, based on their proficiency in Stealth, let’s say they prefer to start combat with a surprise attack. Their Spider Climb ability allows them to maneuver along walls and ceilings, and their Web Walker ability lets them ignore movement penalties from the webs of giant spiders. (They do not, however, have the ability to create webs themselves. Why not, I wonder?) They’re strictly nocturnal and/or subterranean, having both 120-foot darkvision and Sunlight Sensitivity.

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