Drow Tactics: Inquisitors

Looking at the ability contour of the drow inquisitor, a high-level cleric, we see a heavy emphasis on the mental abilities, particularly Wisdom and Charisma, which are extraordinary. Intriguingly, reverse-engineering its Death Lance attack, it appears that this attack is made using either Wisdom or Charisma rather than Strength or Dexterity, so the usual rules of thumb governing fighting style don’t apply. If we take Dexterity, the highest of the inquisitor’s physical ability scores, as its primary defensive ability, we get a spellcasting quasi–shock attacker. Combine this with the obligatory drow proficiency in Perception and Stealth and 120 feet of darkvision, and we have the makings of a nasty ambush.

The drow inquisitor is unafraid of spellcasters, having Magic Resistance, Fey Ancestry, and proficiency in two of the “big three” saving throws (Constitution and Wisdom), plus Charisma. Which opponents does it prioritize, then? For ideological reasons, devout worshipers of gods other than Lolth, along with non-drow elves; for resource competition reasons, dwarves; and for practical reasons, anyone who’s showing him- or herself to be particularly dangerous. Drow inquisitors are adaptable.

They also have proficiency in Insight, so if the odds of victory don’t look so hot, inquisitors won’t hesitate to parley—even if it means giving up an ambush opportunity. Why launch an ambush if even that isn’t enough to give your side a comfortable advantage? The inquisitor isn’t uniquely good at getting others to do what it wants, but it’s very good at figuring out what others want—and whether this is compatible with its own interests. This ability is enhanced by Discern Lie, a trump card it can play on any attempt at Deception.

At the top of the drow inquisitor’s spell repertoire are two 6th-level spells, harm and true seeing—but only one 6th-level spell slot, so it can’t cast both. Prudence dictates that it has to wait to spend this slot until it can judge whether true seeing is necessary, e.g., if an enemy goes invisible or ethereal. The inquisitor also knows better than to cast harm against an enemy who looks too tough.

At 5th level, the inquisitor has three choices—contagion, dispel evil and good and insect plague—of which it can choose two. Insect plague requires concentration and covers a circular area with a 20-foot radius, suiting it for use against four or more enemies (per “Targets in Area of Effect” in chapter 8 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide). Assuming they don’t have exceptionally high Constitution, 4d10 damage against four enemies, halved on a saving throw, produces a total of 66 expected damage. Dispel evil and good doesn’t do much against player characters, only against conjured allies. That leaves contagion, which is most useful against low-to-average-Constitution enemies making weapon or spell attacks. Slimy Doom can increase susceptibility to insect plague, harm or blindness/deafness, but combat may well be over before the disease takes effect, so for other reasons, the inquisitor may opt for a different disease that saps the enemy’s primary offensive ability, at which it makes an educated guess.)

Second through 4th level are the inquisitor’s more fungible spell slots. Spiritual weapon is a no-brainer, cast at 4th level because why not? (It takes the form of a dagger with a spider-shaped pommel.) Banishment, bestow curse and silence all require concentration, making them incompatible with insect plague (and one another). Silence can’t be boosted, and there’s not much point in boosting bestow curse only to 4th level. Banishment is only good for bouncing one extremely troublesome or reviled enemy, and bestow curse is only good against a single opponent, so the inquisitor will consider these only if its enemies simply refuse to group up so that they can get eaten alive by locusts; silence, meanwhile, has the same area of effect as insect plague, so there just isn’t all that much to recommend it in combat. If anything, it’s better before combat—to further conceal an ambush party.

Freedom of movement is situational, and the drow inquisitor will keep one 4th-level slot in reserve for it, just in case it becomes necessary. Otherwise, it tries to save at least one 3rd-level and one 4th-level slot for dispel magic, the most crucial all-purposes defensive spell it has in this power range. Since magic circle is a ritual and divination has no combat application, this leaves blindness/deafness as the default application for its remaining 2nd-level spell slots. However, this isn’t really a spell that one wants or needs to cast more than once in a combat encounter.

As it happens, we have a couple of 1st-level spells—cure wounds and inflict wounds—that benefit from being boosted. But why cast inflict wounds at all when you have a Death Lance Multiattack, which is so much better? As for bane, even though it’s a good spell, monopolizing the drow inquisitor’s concentration with it is a waste of power. The same is true of the inquisitor’s Innate Spellcasting repertoire; its drow allies can handle those responsibilities. (The exception is suggestion, which it uses during parley rather than combat.)

Once combat kicks off, the drow inquisitor immediately casts spiritual weapon as a bonus action. Its action depends on whether or not it can close and engage in melee with an opponent. If it can, it may as well Multiattack as well. If not, it can try poison spray (for 3d12 poison damage, thanks to the inquisitor’s level), Dodge, Search for a hidden enemy or Help an ally.

In round 2, the inquisitor must choose between casting a spell or engaging in melee. With +10 to hit, it has an 80 percent chance of hitting an AC 15 opponent, so its triple Multiattack does an expected 79.5 damage! That’s impressive, even more so than insect plague. Combined with spiritual weapon, this is such a good nova attack that the inquisitor uses it without a second thought against an opponent wearing any less armor than chain mail and a shield, unless its foes are grouped up so neatly as to make insect plague irresistible.

The usual modus operandi of a shock attacker is to strike, then slip away, but the inquisitor’s is slightly different. Lacking any unique escape ability such as misty step, the inquisitor simply does its ridiculous damage, then remains engaged, as if to say, “You want some more?” Rather than move away itself, it counts on its opponent’s moving to get away from it, potentially giving it a chance to add insult to injury with an opportunity attack.

Because of true seeing, if there’s an invisible or ethereal opponent on the field, the drow inquisitor takes on the responsibility of hunting him or her down. If not, and if there’s a particularly troublesome enemy to deal with, the inquisitor may cast harm as its round 2 or 3 action, intending to follow up with a Multiattack in the next round. Alternatively, if its allies are handling the more lightly armored opposition just fine and the inquisitor has to go after a foe in a tin can, it casts bestow curse before closing with him or her, choosing the wasted action option, since a heavily armored front-line fighter is almost certain to have Extra Attack, and the possibility of an entirely wasted action has a much greater effect on the action economy of an opponent who can attack more than once in a single action than it does on one who can’t.

The drow inquisitor, as astute as it is, is a zealot among zealots. It fights to the death, if that’s where things are headed. It simply knows better than to start a fight in which this is a likely outcome.

Next: drow favored consorts.

7 thoughts on “Drow Tactics: Inquisitors

  1. Great writeup! Just curious, in a scenario where enemies refuse to group up for an Insect Plague, how do you feel about a boosted 5th-level Bestow Curse vs Contagion? The effects of Contagion are generally more powerful, but Bestow Curse is harder to shake off if the victim fails their initial save.

    1. Because there are only two 5th-level spell slots, I’d reserve them for the 5th-level spells. That being said, a 5th-level bestow curse is quite nasty, since it lasts for 8 hours and doesn’t require concentration to sustain. I have green hag covens employ bestow curse in this fashion.

  2. On True Seeing: The thing aboot Inquisitors is that they’re in a position of authority. They’d send mooks at the party to get a sense of them. Some mooks will retreat and report back the tactics the party employs. If they say the party has a preference for Illusion magics/invisibility/shapechanging/whatever, then the Inquisitor will know to cast it ahead of time since it’s 1 hour non-con. Since they have perception and stealth, and their MO keeps them on their home turf, you’re not getting the drop on them, they’ll be prepared for the fight. They can cast it ahead of time since action economy is king.

    As a note, yes most zealots fight to the death, but Inquisitors are zealot’s of Lolth, a goddess whose overriding philosophy is “screw you, I’ve got mine”. All Drow (Especially Inquisitors) are expected to preserve their own hide, especially if they can screw over others in the process.

    1. The recon is a good point, although the intelligence brought back may be imperfect. As for self-preservation and treachery, that reasoning would fly for most drow, but not inquisitors, who are the enforcers of loyalty and thus have a standard to uphold.

  3. On true sight, it can see through magical darkness as suggested in the PHB, pg. 185. That means that this spell is a no-brainer to cast while one minion casts darkness on one of the inquisitor’s items or once she closes the distance on the party to ensure that the inquisitor gets advantage on her to hit. She takes no damage from range this way, can move around without AoO and has a good chance against armoured foes and an almost guaranteed tripple nova hit on lightly armoured foes.

    As true sight and freedom of movement are both 1 hour duration spells without concentration, she will probably cast both on herself in the few turns before combat even starts. Especially if she has a posse that webs up the area.

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