Deathlock Tactics

Pacts formed with supernatural patrons tend not to have escape clauses, and the penalties for breaking them can be unpleasant. Did you make a pact with an archfiend to do its bidding in exchange for occult powers and fail to live up to the terms? No “till death do us part” in this vow—that archfiend owns you after death, as well. You’re a deathlock, Harry! Free will? No longer an issue. You’re undead now, and your compulsion is to serve your patron—and to do a better job of it than you did when you were alive.

I got my first request to look at the deathlock a fairly long time ago, but just yesterday a reader noticed that it was finally coming up in the queue and asked: “The deathlock only gets two spell slots. What does it do afterward? [Player character] warlocks are built around recharging with a short rest every battle, but enemies rarely survive to return for a second battle, and with its pathetic stats, the only way it’s going to survive is by casting invisibility—and if it saves a spell slot for that, it’s down to one spell slot.”

Well, first of all, let’s look at whether the premises of this question are true. The deathlock’s ability contour peaks in Charisma and Dexterity, which is exactly what you’d expect of a spellslinger in general and a warlock in particular; its Intelligence is also above average. Its 36 average hit points (which you can nudge up, incidentally, if you feel like it needs more staying power) aren’t out of line for a challenge rating 4 foe. Plus, it has resistance to physical damage from nonmagical, non-silvered weapons, so unless you’re handing out magic items like candy, there’s a decent chance that your mid-level adventurers will do only half damage to it. (It’s also resistant to necrotic damage and immune to poison damage and the poisoned condition, but these are less significant.) Continue reading Deathlock Tactics

Nightwalker Tactics

It took me a couple of tries to get through the flavor text on the nightwalker in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, but here’s what it seems to boil down to: If some schmuck is dumb enough to try to visit the Negative Plane, which has even less to recommend it as a destination than Philadelphia International Airport, the tradeoff is that a nightwalker is released into the material plane, and the visitor can’t leave the Negative Plane until the nightwalker is somehow persuaded to go back. How can it be persuaded to go back? “By offerings of life for it to devour.” How many such offerings are necessary? It doesn’t say. What do nightwalkers want? “To make life extinct.” So the idea here is to convince a nightwalker to abandon the place where it has plenty of life energy to devour by giving it life energy to devour? Try throwing bagels to raccoons and see how quickly they go away.

As if this arrangement weren’t bad enough for our traveler, destroying the nightwalker traps the traveler on the Negative Plane forever. In short, in an entire universe of bad ideas, going to the Negative Plane for any reason is quite possibly the worst. If you’re creating a nightwalker encounter, though, someone went through with this execrable half-baked plan, and now your player characters are the ones who have to deal with the consequences.

With extraordinary Strength and Constitution, nightwalkers are brutes, but they’re some of the nimblest brutes in the Dungeons and Dragons menagerie: their Dexterity is also extraordinary, though not quite as high as their Strength and Con. Their mental abilities, in contrast, are weak, with below-average Wisdom the highest of the three. They’re indiscriminate in their target selection and operate on instinct, without any flexibility in their tactics. Continue reading Nightwalker Tactics

Eidolon Tactics

Eidolons are intriguing creatures, because despite being undead, they’re not necessarily evil—they may even be good. Spirits honored by the gods for their zealous devotion, eidolons spend their afterlives guarding those gods’ sacred places and protecting them from defilers. Their compulsion—which every undead creature must have—is to protect. Not necessarily a bad thing!

Even more intriguing is that eidolons can hop into inanimate objects and animate them for the purpose of carrying out their eternal mission. Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes offers, as an example, a stat block for an animated statue.

But first, let’s look at what an eidolon can do on its own. The flavor text says, “An eidolon has few methods for protecting itself beyond its ability to awaken its sacred vessels.” How true is this? Continue reading Eidolon Tactics

Boneclaw Tactics

What if you’re a wizard with the ego, ambition and power to pursue immortality through self-enlichment, and you start the grueling process but fail to pace yourself properly? You could end up as a boneclaw, the powerful undead servant of a random individual who certainly didn’t ask for one and may or may not have any use for it.

Figuring that only the most brilliant mages even have a chance at becoming liches, the boneclaw’s Intelligence of 13 is surprisingly low, and I ascribe this to the trauma of failure. Something about the process of becoming a boneclaw damages the erstwhile wizard’s intellect, surely a sore spot. It’s not stupid by any stretch, just unable to soar to its previous heights of brilliance. Its Intelligence is now outshone by its extraordinary Strength and very high Dexterity, Constitution and Wisdom.

Those latter three high stats are accompanied by proficiencies in their respective saving throws, meaning that the boneclaw possesses exceptional resistance to the vast majority of attacks that require saving throws to resist. It may not be able to perform the kind of magic it once did, but your magic isn’t going to impress it one bit. Continue reading Boneclaw Tactics

Skull Lord Tactics

I’ve been procrastinating on analyzing the skull lord, because it’s another damn monster with a spellbook three inches thick. Spells are all right, but if you ask me, the way to make a monster interesting is to give it interesting features. A plethora of spells just creates analysis paralysis.

So what makes a skull lord different from a lich? Quite a lot, actually, but let’s start with the lore. Liches are megalomaniacal wizards who became undead in the pursuit of immortality and boundless power. Skull lords aren’t wizards but warlords—more correctly, agglomerations of warlords, former squabbling rivals now forced to share a single wasted body with three skinless heads.

Undead creatures are driven by compulsions, not survival instincts or rational motives. To run one, you have to know what its compulsion is. Here, it seems, the lore indicates two compulsions: to conquer and . . . to bicker. We’re gonna have some fun with this one. Continue reading Skull Lord Tactics