Drow Tactics: Favored Consorts

The drow favored consort—emphasis on “favored”—is not just arm candy but also an adviser with advanced arcane abilities. While the favored consort occupies a privileged place in drow society, it’s not part of the ruling hierarchy; it’s still effectively a second-class citizen, high-status only as second-class citizens go. One likely upshot of this is that it’s not going to share the zealotry of broader drow society. Unlike, say, a drow inquisitor, which has an example to set and will fight to the death in the line of duty, a drow favored consort is quite keen to preserve its existence, which is probably the only reason it took the job of favored consort in the first place.

The recurring Perception-Stealth proficiency combo is here, along with the drow-standard long-range darkvision, Fey Ancestry and Innate Spellcasting. All its ability scores are well above average, but in particular, its Dexterity is extraordinary, and its Intelligence and Charisma are exceptional. Because its Dex is higher than its mental abilities, we have an interesting hybrid of long-range spellcaster, sniper, and shock attacker, and we should look for ways in which the favored consort can easily slip into and out of melee. Its advanced proficiency in Acrobatics and Athletics may help with that; we’ll see.

Looking over its extensive list of spells for mobility enhancements, we find only two: haste and misty step. Haste requires concentration—and this is interesting, because the drow favored consort is one of very few high-level spellcasting monsters I’ve looked at that aren’t heavily laden with concentration-required spells. In fact, aside from mage hand and its innate spells, the only other two I find are gust of wind and Otiluke’s resilient sphere. So there’s very little reason for the favored consort not to cast haste right out of the gate, unless it has a specific reason to want to trap an enemy with resilient sphere—maybe its priestess has commanded it—or is being blitzed by melee fighters and needs to throw on some mage armor. (A favored consort that has reason to anticipate a combat encounter will always have cast this spell already, putting it one 1st-level spell slot down.) However, the favored consort may not necessarily cast haste on itself—not if there’s a drow shadowblade, house captain or elite warrior in its group, or perhaps a yochlol already on the scene.

But suppose it does choose to cast haste on itself. Haste doesn’t allow the favored consort to cast a second spell in the same turn: it can only Attack, Dash, Disengage, Hide or Use an Object as its second action. Disengage is obviously useful when leaving melee, but Dashing into melee usually isn’t practical if it can’t be followed up immediately with an attack. Attack doesn’t necessarily have to be a melee attack: it can be an attack with the favored consort’s poisoned hand crossbow. DC 13 isn’t a high bar to clear, but a failure inflicts the poisoned condition, rendering the target less effective at fighting back, and has a small chance of taking the target out of the fight entirely by knocking it unconscious. And on the turn when it casts haste, the favored consort gets to make two additional attacks, not just one, thanks to the War Magic trait: one as an additional action conferred by haste, the other as a bonus action. Even the hand crossbow can be used twice this way, because the loading property grants one shot per action or bonus action: here, the favored consort is using one of each.

Misty step is a bonus action, which means it doesn’t work with War Magic, which requires a spell to be cast as an action. It also prevents the favored consort from using its action to cast a different leveled spell in the same turn. However, while affected by haste, a favored consort can cast misty step, use its action to Multiattack, and still have a second action available for either one more attack or a Disengage action followed by movement. Or it can use its Multiattack action, then make an additional single attack, then misty step away; or Multiattack, misty step away, then Hide.

The scimitar Multiattack is the drow favored consort’s true shock attack: a triple attack, each hit slathering 4d8 poison damage on top of the already substantial base damage of the blade. (The favored consort does not come to play.) Under a haste spell, however, Multiattack can only be the favored consort’s main action, not its additional action. Nowhere is it written that the main action must come first (except when the spell is first cast, when, implicitly, the main action is to cast the spell), so as early as the second round of a haste spell, the favored consort can Dash up to an enemy, then Multiattack; or Disengage from one enemy, use its full movement to run up on another, then Multiattack that one; or Hide (in fog or pitch-blackness), use its movement to get within reach of an enemy, then Multiattack with unseen-attacker advantage.

The drow favored consort’s Scimitar attack also imposes disadvantage on the target’s next saving throw against a spell cast by the favored consort before the end of its next turn. These are the spells against which the target might have to make such a save: chain lightning, cone of cold, Otiluke’s resilient sphere, fireball, gust of wind, shatter, burning hands, faerie fire. All of these except resilient sphere are area-effect spells. Thus, we’re not necessarily likely to see the favored consort follow up a scimitar Multiattack by immediately casting a nasty spell against its target while they’re at a disadvantage to resist it. The only real candidate for this maneuver is burning hands, whose area of effect is fairly small—a 15-foot cone, unlikely ever to encompass more than two enemies—but which does far less damage, on average, than a single scimitar hit. (Or, I guess, resilient sphere, but if the favored consort were going to do that, it probably would have done it already.) Instead, the favored consort casts spells when it casts them, and the scimitar-induced disadvantage just happens to make things worse for that one target.

With only one 6th-level spell slot, the drow favored consort uses it to cast chain lightning and only chain lightning. Similarly, it uses its two 5th-level spell slots only for cone of cold—unless it knows that its targets are resistant or immune to cold damage. It has Intelligence 18, so this is something it might know in advance and certainly will know once it sees how they react to its first cone of cold spell. If this is the case, and only if this is the case, it will use one or both of its 5th-level slots to boost fireball.

These are spells that cover a lot of area: cone of cold is best against six or more opponents, fireball against four or more, per “Targets in Area of Effect” (Dungeon Master’s Guide, chapter 8); and chain lightning against exactly four, per that table and also how chain lightning works. Using any of these against just two or three targets, let alone one, is massive overkill. That’s where shatter comes in. It’s ideal for use against two—and also targets Constitution rather than Dexterity, in case the favored consort’s enemies are more slippery than tough.

A drow favored consort that’s sustaining a haste spell on an ally, rather than on itself, is more limited in what it can do, but it still has strong options. It can still combine misty step (bonus action) with Multiattack (action); or, thanks to War Magic, make a single weapon attack of either type (bonus action) and then vanish with invisibility (action); or accompany a hand crossbow shot (bonus action) with a magic missile entourage (action). (It could also Scimitar/magic missile, for that matter, but that would be inferior to Multiattack.)

Counterspell and shield are applied in the usual fashion for the usual reasons, and the favored consort makes an effort to keep spell slots in reserve for them; gust of wind is useful only for blowing out torches and deterring pursuit; and dimension door is the favored consort’s emergency exit. It always reserves one 4th-level spell slot for this spell, but if it’s not going to cast Otiluke’s resilient sphere, it can use its other two 4th-level slots to boost fireball, shatter or (if need be) counterspell.

As for innate spells, it’s unlikely that a drow favored consort will ever have reason to cast faerie fire, because all drow can cast this spell, and one of its allies is sure to do so, if not more than one. Similarly, forget darkness and levitate: they require concentration and offer the favored consort no tactical benefit, and darkness can also be cast by other drow. And the favored consort has better things to do than to cast dancing lights, even if it can do so at no cost except to its action economy.

Because it can shift smoothly from spellcasting to sniping to hard-hitting melee—and even engage in more than one of these at a time—the astute favored consort takes careful note of what every one of its enemies does in the first round of combat and plans accordingly. It uses chain lightning and fireball against tanky fighters and their support casters; shatter against more fragile targets, along with any constructs its enemies command; its melee Multiattack against glass-cannon spellcasters and archers in the back row; its hand crossbow against enemies who are themselves hard to pin down; and cone of cold against, well, everybody, if possible.

I mentioned at the start of this analysis that the drow favored consort is emphatically not a zealot, just an underling doing what it takes to survive. That extends to combat. The favored consort is all about playing it safe, dealing as much damage as possible while exposing itself to as little blowback as possible. When a favored consort is moderately wounded (reduced to 157 hp or fewer), it casts dimension door and decamps as soon as there’s no more important drow watching it. Favored consorts are also quite amenable to parley, although they won’t initiate it themselves, and will sell their side out in a heartbeat for a deal that offers them protection, along with enough additional incentive, in return. Even house slaves can be tempted by the prospect of escape.

Next: drow matron mothers.

4 thoughts on “Drow Tactics: Favored Consorts

  1. I don’t have the book open in front of me so I can’t be sure, but it seems like there’s a powerful combo with the Scimitar multiattack: a successful Scimitar hit inflicts a nasty disadvantage vs the Favored Consort’s next spell, and it gets 3 attacks with its Multiattack.

    Wouldn’t it have a strategy that involves attacking 3 *different* targets 1 turn, giving them all disadvantage vs its spells, and then following up next turn with a Chain Lightning to capitalize?

    Love your analysis, as always! You show your work behind every reasoning and it helps so much for me to take that next step “getting into the monster’s head.” The way a single ability affects a creature’s entire strategy is such an important part of your breakdowns, and it’s helped me to see those defining strategies for myself! Thanks again for all you do.

    1. Good job, sir. I think you’ve found the missing link. Of course, the targets have to be close enough together for it to reach them all without exceeding its ability to Disengage and/or misty step.

  2. Just to note, but it would be unlikely for the favored consort to cast invisibility on itself if they are already concentrating on haste for another drow. So the bonus action Attack and then Invisibility would not probably work.

  3. On the subject of Drow stealth, I should bring up the stealth rules. You can hide from an enemy who cannot see you. If you are in darkness beyond the range of their darkvision they cannot see you.
    This means that unless the enemy group has an Underdark race (Duregar, Svirfnefblin, Drow) in it that if he keeps a distance of 65 feet and doesn’t carry a torch he’s effectively invisible and can hide as needed. All Drow will take efforts to fight beyond 60 feet against non-Underdark races.

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