A reader asked me to look into the shoosuva, and I just now notice that it shares an entry in Volo’s Guide to Monsters with the babau and the maw demon, so congrats, readers, today you get three for the price of one.
Shoosuvas, creations of the demon lord Yeenoghu, are fiends that function sort of like a ranger’s beast companion, except for gnolls that have distinguished themselves in battle with exceptional ferocity. They’re big and brutish, with exceptional Strength and Constitution and high Wisdom, indicating some shrewdness in target selection. They hold the rare distinction of being proficient in all of the “big three” saving throws: Dexterity, Constitution and Wisdom. They’re immune to poison, can’t be charmed or frightened, and are resistant to cold, fire, lightning and physical damage from mundane weapons. Although their low Intelligence indicates a lack of adaptability and a reliance on instinctive behavior, they can speak, both normally (in Abyssal and Gnoll) and telepathically. A chaotic evil monster that can speak is a monster that taunts. Going up against one of these should terrify your players.
The shoosuva’s basic attack is a bite–tail stinger combo. The bite is a straightforward melee attack, but one that does unbelievable damage—like being bitten by a mouthful of glaives. The tail stinger does base damage more in line with what you’d expect from a Large creature, but it also delivers a venom that paralyzes targets who fail their saving throws, and it has a reach of 15 feet, allowing it to strike a second enemy farther away.
The flavor text in Volo’s indicates that biting one foe, then stinging another is its standard behavior. Despite its low Intelligence, I think its Wisdom is high enough to allow some variation, especially when you consider that intelligent evil creatures love to prey on the weak. Let’s posit three basic approaches:
- The shoosuva engages a strong, front-line enemy in melee and strikes it with both its bite and its tail stinger. In this instance, the shoosuva uses the tail stinger first, because if it succeeds in paralyzing its target, the follow-up bite attack has advantage and is an automatic critical hit if it succeeds. (Danke schön to reader James for reminding me of this!)
- The shoosuva engages a strong, front-line enemy in melee but uses its tail to strike a weaker enemy within reach—preferably one that looks like it might fail its Constitution save.
- The shoosuva engages a strong, front-line enemy in melee but uses its tail to deal with any pesky skirmisher that thinks he or she can take advantage of its distraction. “Nope [whap]!”
In fact, not only does the shoosuva use its tail to deal with auxiliary threats, this is more or less how it behaves itself with respect to its gnoll master: While the gnoll focuses on fighting its primary foe, the shoosuva engages anyone else who tries to insert him- or herself into the duel.
Like other creatures in the gnoll family, the shoosuva has Rampage, which lets it move up to 20 feet and make a bite attack against another creature anytime it finishes one off on its own turn. However, as worded, it can use this feature only against an enemy who’s already within that radius—it can’t simply run 20 feet toward an enemy that it can’t reach to engage in melee. Besides, it never strays far from its master’s side.
Being a demonic creature, not an evolved one, and a manifestation of fiendish ideology at that, a shoosuva never flees, no matter how much damage it takes.
Like shoosuvas, maw demons are also creations of Yeenoghu that travel with gnoll war bands. They have the same resistances and immunities as shoosuvas, except that normal, nonmagical weapons do the usual amount of damage to them. They have above-average Strength and Constitution but low everything else. They’re brutes, but they’re not especially formidable ones, certainly not in comparison to shoosuvas. They’re basically just lumbering inflicters of bite damage which look scarier than they really are. They bumble across the battlefield, chomping on whatever they happen to bump into until someone or something kills them.
Yeenoghu’s patronage of gnolls is imperfectly paralleled by Graz’zt’s patronage of lamias. If your players encounter a babau—a creation of Graz’zt—on the material plane, it will probably be in the context of an encounter with a lamia. Perhaps the babau will be serving as one of her minions, albeit one that won’t appear until things are already getting hairy.
Babaus are an awesome physical presence, despite being only Medium-size: with very high Dexterity and Constitution, extraordinary Strength, they’re part brute, part shock attacker, all melee. With proficiency in Stealth and expertise in Perception, they’re optimized for ambush attack. They can’t be poisoned and are resistant to cold, fire, lightning and physical damage from mundane weapons. They have darkvision out to 120 feet, but not blindsight; this complicates their use of the darkness spell, which they can cast innately. Their spell save DC is also nothing to write home about, so dispel magic and levitate are to be favored over the other spells in their repertoire.
The best way for a babau to enter a combat encounter, it seems to me, is for it to lie in wait until combat has already begin, then attack from hiding with advantage. In doing so, it will try to take out a spellcaster or shock attacker—someone relatively fragile who can nevertheless put out a lot of damage. It will try to finish this enemy off, then deal with any melee opponents who come running to his or her rescue.
A babau’s Multiattack includes two melee attacks and a Weakening Gaze attack. It can either Gaze/melee/melee or melee/melee/Gaze, but it can’t melee/Gaze/melee. It’s not clear to me that the order really matters, except in one instance: Against a Battle Master fighter with the Riposte maneuver, it would be desirable to weaken the target before striking. But the babau’s Intelligence and Wisdom aren’t high enough for it to be able to “read” an opponent and infer whether he or she has this ability. So I wouldn’t sweat the order.
There’s an irony about Weakening Gaze: its save DC is rather low, but it’s only useful against enemies who primarily employ Strength-based weapon attacks, and they’re likely to have high Constitutions (and maybe even proficiency in Con saves) as well. Shock attackers such as rogues and monks tend to use Dexterity, not Strength, as their melee weapon attack ability. This is kind of a no-win situation for the babau. It has to keep using this ability over and over against the melee opponents it engages with, hoping that they’ll flub a roll. But for what it’s worth, its best chances of succeeding are against paladins and fighting clerics, who may have robust Constitutions but who at least don’t have proficiency in saving throws with that ability. Given a choice, therefore, it’ll aim its gaze at these classes.
Whether it uses a spear or its claws is a six-of-one, half-dozen-of-the-other matter: either way, it does 1d8 + 4 damage, and there’s no functional difference between slashing and piercing. (I still don’t know why fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons bothers to differentiate bludgeoning, piercing and slashing when there are so few instances in which the difference matters at all.) It can throw a spear, but then it doesn’t have it anymore. I guess you could say that a babau carries a spear and uses it in melee until it has to hurl it (which does less damage than wielding it two-handed in melee does) to deal with a pesky marksman or spellslinger, after which it just uses its claws. Or . . . it could just use its claws.
Levitate allows the babau to hold station in the air between its turns, fly down to attack a melee opponent, then fly back up out of reach; its resistance to physical damage from nonmagical weapons reduces its concern for opportunity attacks, though it won’t willingly fly into two or more opponents’ reach to strike in this way. Dispel magic is good for nullifying the good guys’ buffs. But with a DC of only 11, fear is too likely to fail; there’s no good reason to waste an action on it when the babau can spend that action to make two highly effective melee attacks and use its Weakening Gaze. To an extent, that also holds true for levitate. If the babau can’t cast levitate before anyone knows it’s there, it may as well not bother, unless the opposing side is disproportionately melee-dependent.
Heat metal is an interesting option. On average, it does just over half the damage of two successful spear or claw hits. But it’s also a sustained spell. In a situation where the babau has no good target for its Weakening Gaze, it might instead choose to cast heat metal on one of its melee opponents. This will inflict a little less damage in the first round, but in the second, if its concentration hasn’t been disrupted, the babau gets to make its two claw or spear strikes and use its bonus action to inflict another 2d8 of fire damage and take a Hail Mary on its Withering Gaze. If it manages to keep it up for a third round, that’s yet another 2d8 of bonus fire damage. Basically, it’s spending one melee weapon attack in the hope of recouping two or even four attacks’ worth of equivalent damage in subsequent rounds. That’s a good investment. And in this instance, the low DC is almost a feature rather than a bug, because the target is more likely to hold onto his or her weapon and keep taking damage rather than drop it! (Muchas gracias to reader Latham for reminding me of this.)
Babaus are bloodthirsty fiends, but they’re not immortal. They’re also blinded by their own darkness spells when they cast it. Thus, the only practical use for this spell is to cover an escape, which they’ll do when seriously wounded (reduced to 32 hp or fewer). “Oh, Miz Lamia, ma’am, you were expecting me to fight to the death for you? Yeah, no. Sorry-not-sorry about that.”