Firenewts are quasi-humanoids adapted to conditions of extreme heat, and they display the corresponding fiery temperament: “aggressive, wrathful and cruel,” according to Volo’s Guide to Monsters. They’re raiders, slavers and zealots. If you encounter a small band of them, they’re probably looking for captives. If you encounter a horde, they’re on the warpath.
Firenewt warriors have above-average Dexterity and Constitution and merely average Strength. Despite this ability contour, they fight as brutes, because Dexterity is their primary offensive ability (they wield scimitars, a finesse weapon) and because they lack any feature that would adapt them especially well to skirmishing. They also wear medium armor and carry shields, and they have Multiattack.
They’re not bright. With an Intelligence of 7, they show no imagination or adaptability in their tactics, essentially fighting like primitives. Nor do they discriminate among targets. “’Tis always a fight to the death for them, so ’tis always one for ye,” says “Elminster” in Volo’s, but I’d consider this optional, not gospel. It’s true that they’re described as fanatics, so they may well fight to the death out of conviction. But their Wisdom of 11 is high enough that they can be presumed to have a normal survival instinct. I might split the difference and say that they’re more likely to fight to the death when they’re on some kind of mission, in the company of other firenewts; if they’re just minding their own business, they’ll Dash away if seriously wounded (reduced to 8 hp or fewer).
Firenewt warriors have two attacks: their scimitar Multiattack and the Spit Fire action. Spit Fire can be used only once per encounter, and it does more damage on average than the melee Multiattack, doing partial damage on a successful saving throw as well as full damage on a failed save. So the simple pattern of a firenewt warrior attack is to charge, use the Spit Fire action as soon as they come within 10 feet of their targets, then Multiattack for the remainder of the engagement. If a firenewt warrior is somehow captured, however, it will regain Spit Fire after an hour of inactivity, the equivalent of a short rest.
If you’ve got firenewt cavalry, they’ll be riding giant striders, basically beaked dinosaurs. These mounts move at 50 feet per round and have the recharging Fire Burst action, which they’ll use whenever it’s available against any two enemies who are within range and close enough together (20 feet apart or less). Otherwise, they’ll bite. Since their Dexterity modifier is the same as a firenewt warrior’s, I’d have both mount and rider act on the same initiative count.
Giant striders have only animal Intelligence, therefore no capacity for zealotry, so they’ll invariably Dash away if seriously wounded (reduced to 8 hp or fewer), taking their riders with them unless the riders are feeling fierce enough to dismount and keep fighting. (Let’s say they have to make a DC 15 Dexterity check to dismount without losing movement; if they fail, they fall prone and have to use half their movement to get back up.)
A platoon of firenewt warriors may be led by a firenewt warlock of Imix, the spellcasting variant of the firenewt. These, interestingly, fit the brute ability profile more closely than firenewt warriors do, and they attack with a melee weapon. Unless they’re surprised, they’ll always have mage armor cast upon themselves before initiating battle.
Firenewt warlocks have only two spell slots available to them, and at least one will always be saved for hellish rebuke, which is cast as a reaction to taking damage. As for the other slot:
- Flaming sphere requires a Dexterity save and does half damage on a success. It’s best against at least two targets but in practice often ends up being used against just one. It’s easy to avoid the initial burst—the damage is done at the end of the target’s turn, not when the spell is cast—but because the spell is also continuous, it can be used to chase an enemy around. The fact that it’s controlled as a bonus action enhances the caster’s action economy.
- Scorching ray is a ranged spell attack that can be cast at up to three targets; its chance to hit is 15 percentage points greater than the chance of hitting with a melee weapon. On a hit, each ray does an average of 7 points of damage, for a total of 21.
- Burning hands also requires a Dexterity save and does half damage on a success. On a failed save, a target takes an average of 14 points of damage. The 15-foot conical area of effect indicates use against at least two targets.
Here’s our heuristic, then: If one enemy stands out as obviously, exceptionally dangerous (the only way for firenewts to judge this is by their size, so to them, “obviously, exceptionally dangerous” equals the 6-foot-8-inch, bellowing barbarian, not the quiet wizard in the back), the firenewt warlock will cast flaming sphere as its first action and ram the sphere into that enemy as its bonus action on subsequent turns. If no such enemy stands out, but there are at least two front-line fighters or supporters close enough to one another and to the firenewt warlock that it can catch them in a 15-foot cone, it will cast burning hands; if it can’t do so this turn but will be able to do so on its second turn, it uses its first turn to position itself accordingly, also making a melee weapon attack if the opportunity presents itself. If the conditions aren’t right for either flaming sphere or burning hands, it will cast scorching ray at up to three opponents in the enemy backline.
The only other spell the firenewt warlock will cast is the cantrip fire bolt, a ranged alternative to its morningstar melee attack. This is a matter of battlefield positioning. Aside from its initial leveled spell, the firenewt warlock will generally favor melee fighting over ranged attacks, but if there’s no enemy close enough for it to engage with, or if the front line is too crowded for it to squeeze through, it will cast fire bolt at backline opponents instead.
Firenewt warlocks share the firenewt warrior ideology and will flee—or not—according to the same criteria.