I have to hand it to Volo’s Guide to Monsters for giving us grungs, undisputed winners of the Most Adorable Evil Creature title, formerly held by kobolds.
Clearly based on poison arrow frogs, grungs are arboreal rainforest dwellers, tribal and territorial. In the latter respect, their behavior in groups will therefore resemble that of lizardfolk, so I refer readers to my original article on them. Their amphibian nature also invites comparison to bullywugs.
Lizardfolk are brutes, but grungs are low-Strength, high-Dexterity, high-Constitution skirmishers. Their low Strength means they’re going to be encountered in large numbers; no fewer than half a dozen at a time, I’d say. If they’re going to initiate an encounter against your player characters, rather than vice versa, they’ll have to outnumber the party at least three to one.
Grungs share the Amphibious and Standing Leap features with bullywugs. This means they’ll often be found in swampy areas, around rivers and in other sorts of difficult terrain, which they can get around in easily by jumping. They’re quicker than bullywugs, though not as quick as most PCs, and since they can climb as well as jump, they’ll use their proficiency in Stealth to hide in trees and drop on their enemies from above.
Grungs aren’t stupid. They have average Intelligence and Wisdom, so they’re not going to keep using a certain tactic if it’s not working, and they know when they’re beaten. Once they no longer outnumber their foes by at least two to one, or once a majority of them are seriously injured (reduced to 4 hp or fewer) or killed, they’ll Dash off toward the heart of their territory.
Ordinary grungs wield daggers. The problem with daggers as a ranged weapon is that once you throw a dagger, you don’t have it anymore. No one except a Sneak Attacking rogue should ever throw a dagger. Despite their size, grungs are necessarily melee fighters, which is why they need to outnumber their opponents and, ideally, surround them. (Use the optional flanking rule on page 251 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide.)
Fighting grungs should be like fighting popcorn. Anytime an opponent lands a hit on a grung, the first thing it does on its next turn should be to jump away, either off into the undergrowth or up into a tree. Either way, it will then have the opportunity to Hide, since its fellow grungs will be keeping whoever struck it occupied. Once it’s hidden, it will maneuver around until it can attack from hiding again. This assumes, of course, that the damage the grung took wasn’t enough to seriously wound it—in that case, it simply flees.
The Grung Poison variant suggests a variety of quasi-hallucinogenic side effects of failing the saving throw against grung poison. What’s not clear is whether this is meant to apply only to the toxin in the grung’s Poisonous Skin or the one on its dagger as well. If it includes the latter, an army of grung warriors will consist of green grungs, whose toxin limits a poisoned creature’s movement to climbing and standing jumps. Once an enemy is poisoned, the grungs stop attacking it and take it captive, to be enslaved.
If you’re not using the Grung Poison variant, capture is still the grungs’ ultimate goal. Two or more grungs that have knocked an enemy out will drag it back toward the heart of their territory; one alone would only be able to move at half speed, and since they’ll be moving across difficult terrain (rainforest), this would be half of half their full movement, or only 6 feet per turn. But I’d say the half-movement penalty for dragging a body doesn’t apply if two or more of them are cooperating to carry the body off, so the only applicable penalty is the terrain penalty, meaning they’ll move at 12 feet per turn.
The Poisonous Skin feature is an interesting one, because it describes what happens when another creature tries to grapple a grung but not what happens if a grung tries to grapple another creature. Should the same effect occur? I’d say yes. This will aid the grungs in their efforts to kidnap trespassers.
In summary, here’s how I see a grung combat encounter playing out:
- Green grung warriors hide in trees, scouting for trespassers. They attack when they outnumber the trespassers by three to one or more.
- On their first turn, they leap down upon their targets, attacking from hiding (advantage) with their daggers.
- On their second turn, if they’ve taken a light or moderate hit (up to 6 hp damage), they leap away (movement, possibly incurring an opportunity attack), Hide (action) and prepare to attack from hiding again. If they’ve taken a serious hit (7 hp damage or more), they Dash (action, possibly incurring an opportunity attack) back home. If they haven’t taken any damage, they attack one more time.
- On their third turn, assuming they still outnumber their enemies by at least two to one, half of them try to grapple their targets (Attack action), while the other half Help (action), giving the grapplers advantage on their attack rolls. (Wonk note: This gives the grungs the same number of die rolls as if they’d all rolled to grapple, whereas each target gets only one roll to resist being grappled, rather than two.) A successful grapple requires the target to make a DC 12 Constitution saving throw against being poisoned. The poisoned condition gives the target disadvantage on all attack rolls and ability checks; in addition, if you’re using the Grung Poison variant, the target can no longer move except to climb or make standing jumps.
- On their fourth turn, those grungs that have successfully grappled their opponents haul them off, while those that haven’t keep trying until their opponents are subdued or their numbers are too badly reduced for them to keep fighting.
- If a grung fails two grapple attempts in a row against a particular target, it gives up on this tactic and goes back to attacking with its dagger.
Grung wildlings have spellcasting ability, and this ability is nastier than it looks at first, because of how their spells can be combined. Specifically, spike growth plus plant growth is a killer combination. Plant growth instantaneously causes all normal plants within a 100-foot radius to grow so thick that movement is slowed by a factor of four. (This doesn’t inhibit the grungs’ movement, since they can jump over the growth rather than have to slog through it.) Spike growth, meanwhile, does piercing damage to any creature moving into or through its area of effect. Because plant growth gives not only a grung wildling but also all its allies a comparative advantage over their foes, a wildling will cast this spell on its first turn (Readying the casting until its allies have launched their assault, if the wildling’s turn happens to come up before theirs) and follow up with spike growth on its second, casting it where it can catch at least four enemies in the area of effect. If the wildling’s enemies are too spread out for it to target four of them with spike growth, it uses its second turn to cast barkskin on itself instead. (It can’t sustain both of these spells at the same time.)
On its third turn and thereafter, the grung wildling supports its team, shooting into the melee with its shortbow. If at any time it needs to jump away, it does so with the help of the jump spell, which allows it to jump a distance of 75 feet (and remains in effect for a full minute, without concentration). It uses cure wounds only to support an elite warrior, if one is present.
Grung wildlings are red grungs, and a creature affected by their toxin is overcome by hunger and uses its action to eat any food it can get at.
A grung elite warrior has the same combat abilities as an ordinary grung, only better, plus the Mesmerizing Chirr action. This feature stuns non-grungs within earshot who fail their saving throws, so that they can’t take actions or reactions and automatically fail Strength and Dexterity saves, and attacks against them have advantage. If a PC spots the grungs before they launch their attack from hiding, the grung elite warrior uses this feature right away, to try to regain the advantage denied by their blown cover. Otherwise, it uses it on its second turn, and again as soon as it recharges.
Aside from this, the grung elite warrior fights as a normal grung, with a couple of exceptions.
First, the elite warrior can take a lot more hits than an ordinary grung can, so it doesn’t leap away when it takes one, unless that hit seriously wounds it (reduces it to 19 hp or fewer).
Second, in that instance, it calls a retreat and takes the Disengage action rather than the Dash action, fighting as a rearguard while its allies disperse; it only leaps away itself once all its allies are safely gone.
Third, grung elite warriors are orange grungs. Their Grung Poison causes the victim to be frightened of his or her allies. A close reading of the frightened condition is important here: “A frightened creature has disadvantage on ability checks and attack rolls while the source of its fear is within line of sight” (Player’s Handbook, page 290, emphasis mine). This is easily distorted by imperfect memory into having disadvantage on attack rolls against whatever the frightened creature is frightened of; in fact, a PC who’s frightened of one of his or her own allies has disadvantage on all attack rolls, including against enemies, as long as that ally is visible. Thus, once a grung elite warrior grapples an enemy, if that enemy fails his or her save against being poisoned, he or she has disadvantage on attempts to break the grapple as long as any of his or her own allies is still in view. And if the grungs are carrying the whole party off together . . .
Fourth, key locations within the grungs’ territory may be heavily guarded by elite warriors. These grungs don’t mess around with the kidnapping shtick. They just stand at a distance and pincushion intruders with poisoned arrows.