Drow Tactics: House Captains

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes introduces a whole passel of drow variants, all of them boss-grade, one of them legendary, the weakest of them having a challenge rating of 9. Not only that, four of the five have extensive spell repertoires, and even the fifth can cast the same few spells that all drow know. This means a lot of variables to look at, so my examination of these variant drow is going to be spread over multiple posts.

At CR 9, suitable for mid-level player characters, we have the drow house captain. This is a finesse fighter with decent staying power and an unusual Multiattack that combines two melee weapon attacks with either a ranged crossbow attack or attack with a whip. The whip attack is also unusual, because it seems designed to be used against the captain’s allies!

With their high Wisdom, drow house captains are keen assessors of their enemies’ threat level, and they have the Charisma to parley as needed, though no particular aptitude with any social skill. Aside from their Multiattack, which incidentally implies that they always wield a weapon in each hand, their most distinctive features are Battle Command, Parry (which we also see in the comparable knight and hobgoblin warlord) and their proficiency in all of the “big three” saving throws. This last feature implies a lesser degree of fear of enemy spellcasters.

Like all drow, the house captain is an ambush attacker—in this case, a leader of ambush attackers—with long-range darkvision and proficiency in Perception and Stealth. Although it can cast dancing lights, darkness, faerie fire and levitate the same as any other drow, it’s inclined to leave the casting of these spells to one of its underlings, since its Multiattack offers it more bang for its action buck; also, compared with other drow spellcasters, its Charisma isn’t especially impressive.

Battle Command is an enhancement to the drow house captain’s action economy—or, more correctly, an enhancement to the action economy of the house captain’s side, since the bonus action the house captain spends is used by one of its allies. The Hide option is conferred on an allied ranged attacker that’s in a good position to attack from hiding on its next turn. The melee attack option has to be conferred on an allied melee attacker, obviously. The Dodge option is conferred on an allied melee attacker that’s engaged with multiple enemies or with one enemy who has Extra Attack; or on an allied ranged attacker that’s being focused down by multiple ranged attacks itself.

Positioning-wise, the drow house captain leads from front and center: Battle Command is a passive, area-effect feature centered on the house captain, so it benefits the captain to have allies to either side as well as behind it; and its Multiattack and Parry features presume melee engagement.

As dungeon master, you should have some sense of what kind of leader your drow house captain is: a champion that leads by example, or a tyrannical martinet? If it’s the former, give it the hand crossbow and have it take potshots at enemy spellslingers and marksmen. If it’s the latter, give it the whip. I have to say, I think this is the most unexpected thing I’ve ever found in a stat block: The drow house captain’s Whip action stipulates, “If the target is an ally, it has advantage on attack rolls until the end of its next turn.” (My wife: “You mean it can beat someone into fighting better?” Me: “Yes!” My wife: “I don’t particularly want to be in the lower hierarchy of the drow, then.”)

Any ally will do for the purposes of this feature, but if you want to be wickedly clever, try to anticipate which of the drow’s melee foes may try to relocate without Disengaging, and give the Whip advantage to whichever drow is fighting that foe. This way, the drow may get to use its reaction to make an opportunity attack before it takes its own turn, giving it two opportunities to attack with advantage rather than just one. Also, if the house captain’s side includes other drow with Multiattack, giving the Whip advantage to one of those drow will increase its value, since the advantage will apply to every attack roll it makes on (or before) its turn.

The drow house captain is a savvy judge of odds. It won’t launch an attack unless it believes its side’s chances are very good, meaning that encounters with groups of drow that include a house captain should always be Deadly (although you can cut your players some slack by including terrain or other environmental features that the PCs can exploit). Drow tend to be zealots to begin with, and drow house captains, according to the flavor text, are selected based on family connections and given extensive military training. Thus, while a drow house captain might order a retreat if its side starts to take major losses (say, half or more of its number seriously wounded), the house captain itself will never retreat based on its own injuries alone.

Next: drow arachnomancers.

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