The kirin (inexplicably hyphenated “ki-rin” in Dungeons and Dragons products going all the way back to the original D&D book Eldritch Wizardry, which preceded even Advanced Dungeons and Dragons—kirin, unhyphenated, is a Japanization of the Chinese 麒麟 qílín) is a mythical creature whose appearance portends the births and deaths of great rulers and sages. A deerlike beast with scaly skin, grand antlers and dragonish facial features, the kirin is often characterized in Western writing as the “Japanese unicorn” or “Chinese unicorn” because of its virtuousness and standoffishness and because it’s sometimes depicted as having a single horn rather than a pair of antlers. The link is reinforced in fifth-edition D&D, as both unicorns and kirin are categorized as celestials.
Kirin are reclusive, and being lawful good, they prefer to avoid violent encounters. Combat with a kirin is going to take place in only two instances: Either a player character has attacked the kirin, or the kirin is fending off an intrusion by an intrinsically evil creature, such as a fiend or undead.
A kirin’s extraordinary Strength is nearly matched by its Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma, making it one of the few creatures that’s equally well-suited to melee combat and spellcasting. With proficiency in Perception, it’s hard to catch by surprise, and with proficiency in Insight, it knows which of its opponents are genuinely hostile and which are simply misguided.
Kirin have Legendary Resistance, but unlike most creatures with this feature, it doesn’t have proficiency in any saving throw, and neither its Dexterity nor its Constitution is exceptionally high, so it has to be more judicious with its uses of it. How should it decide? Consider it a matter of damage mitigation. A kirin will always use Legendary Resistance to avoid being incapacitated, restrained, paralyzed, petrified, stunned or knocked unconscious. Other debilitating effects concern it less, and it will willingly absorb damage as long as it’s not moderately wounded or worse (reduced to 106 hp or fewer). If it is moderately wounded or worse, it will use Legendary Resistance to avoid damage. Aside from these cases, kirin will generally allow effects that don’t damage them, with one exception: they won’t let themselves be banished. Kirin also have Magic Resistance, so that helps with many saving throws, too.
The kirin’s melee Multiattack action is simple: two hooves, one horn. Clomp, clomp, stab. But its spellcasting ability is wildly complicated, and analyzing it requires looking at every spell in its repertoire—some of which it can cast innately, others of which it casts as other spellcasters do.
First, the innate spells:
- Create food and water is a boon the kirin can grant to PCs. No combat effect, obviously, so not of any tactical importance.
- Gaseous form is a potential escape hatch, though plane shift works better for this purpose. More likely, a kirin will cast gaseous form simply to make it harder for an enemy it doesn’t want to fight to hurt it, or to pass under doors or whatnot.
- Major image is harmless, and kirin aren’t malicious or deceitful, so a kirin will cast this spell only to show other characters things it wants them to see.
- Wind walk has a 1 minute casting time, so it won’t be casting this spell in combat. This is more of a “Climb on my back, and I shall bear you there” spell.
Next, the conventionally cast spells:
- True resurrection is a favor, not a combat tactic.
- Control weather takes 10 minutes to cast, so also not a combat tactic.
- Plane shift is the classic escape spell, which a kirin will use to decamp when seriously injured (reduced to 60 hp or fewer).
- Etherealness is an oddity, because it’s the same level as plane shift and offers nothing that the other spell doesn’t, combat-wise, other than not requiring a material component. And come on, who’s going to require a creature with hooves rather than hands to expend a material component to cast a spell? The only application this spell seems to have that plane shift doesn’t is the ability to contact a being lurking in the Border Ethereal. Meh. Disregard it.
- Heroes’ feast is a favor and takes 10 minutes to cast. Not a combat tactic.
- True seeing is something a prescient kirin will cast before combat begins if it has any reason to suspect the presence of invisible enemies or wily illusionists.
- Greater restoration is a favor, not a combat tactic. A pattern appears to be emerging.
- Mass cure wounds is an important option if a kirin is fighting alongside allies against evil beings. It will cast this spell when all its allies (within the 30-foot radius of the spell) have taken at least 14 points of damage and at least one is moderately wounded (reduced to 70 percent of its maximum hit points or fewer).
- Scrying is a favor and takes 10 minutes to cast. Say it with me . . .
- Banishment is a useful option if a single evil enemy poses an outsize threat compared with its minions. If there are two such enemies, a kirin will attempt once to banish them both by casting this spell using a 5th-level spell slot, but not more than once if it fails. Requires concentration.
- Freedom of movement can be used in combat to free a restrained or paralyzed ally; outside of combat, it can be cast as a favor to aid travel over difficult terrain, but since the kirin has only three 4th-level spell slots and only three 5th-level spell slots (which it will need once it’s out of 4th-level slots—unfortunately, freedom of movement can’t be boosted), the PCs had better not be asking for anything else today.
- Guardian of faith is a beaut—one action in exchange for 60 points of free radiant damage against enemies on their own turns. This will be one of the kirin’s first actions in combat if it has a PC or non-player character under its protection, or if it has reason to believe itself to be seriously threatened by its opponents.
- Dispel magic makes annoying enemy spells go poof. A kirin will boost this spell as high as 5th level if it needs to, but it generally won’t bother dispelling magic that doesn’t actually hurt it.
- Remove curse is a favor, unless an opponent is casting bestow curse—but for that purpose, dispel magic works just as well.
- Sending . . . no comment needed, really.
- Calm emotions requires concentration, and its only significant combat application is snapping a charmed or frightened character out of it.
- Lesser restoration is a favor, not a combat tactic.
- Silence is a good way to shut down several pesky enemy spellcasters, as long as they all stay within 20 feet of the center of the spell.
- Command offers a variety of tactical exploits—most of which a kirin would consider beneath it to take advantage of. Instead, it’s more likely to command an enemy, “Cease!” thereby forcing it to stop whatever it’s doing, including attacking. Of course, it only lasts a round, but in the meantime, the kirin will have one more turn to follow up.
- Cure wounds is the low-level alternative to mass cure wounds, for when one ally is seriously wounded (reduced to 40 percent of its maximum hit points or fewer). In this instance, it will cast this spell using the highest-level spell slot it hasn’t spent any of yet, up to 5th level. (This isn’t something I’d normally have a monster do, because of the scarcity of higher-level spell slots, but for the kirin, it fits.)
- Detect evil and good is no longer needed once combat has already broken out.
- Protection from evil and good, on the other hand, is useful when battling fiends or undead, though it requires concentration and can be applied to only one target. If the kirin is guarding a single character, that character is the recipient of the spell; otherwise, the kirin casts this spell on itself immediately upon seeing that it’s up against such enemies, unless it seems like banishment is a better bet.
- Sanctuary, a bonus action, is another spell a kirin can cast on a character it’s protecting; however, the kirin can’t cast another leveled spell along with it in the same turn. Thus, it will cast this spell—which is stronger at preventing direct attacks than protection is—in its first combat turn, and if it casts protection from evil and good as well, it will do that on its second.
- Light is unnecessary for the kirin, which has 30 feet of blindsight and 120 feet of darkvision. It casts this spell only as a favor.
- Mending . . . come on, seriously.
- Sacred flame can do a whopping 4d8 radiant damage, because the kirin is an 18th-level spellcaster. This spell can be combined with sanctuary, if necessary, because it’s only a cantrip. However, since it’s a cantrip, it’s all-or-nothing damage, voided completely on a successful saving throw.
- Spare the dying can (and will) be used on an ally who bites the dust.
- Thaumaturgy seems unnecessary for a celestial dragon-corn.
Whooo. That’s a lot. But pare away all the noncombat spells, and the list is much shorter: plane shift (7th level); mass cure wounds (5th level); banishment, freedom of movement, guardian of faith (4th level); dispel magic (3rd level); silence (2nd level); command, cure wounds, protection from evil and good, sanctuary (1st level); sacred flame, spare the dying (cantrips). This means, among other things, that a kirin can boost a mass cure wounds spell all the way up to 8th level if it wants, healing 6d8 + 5 hp on each target of the spell, then cast it again with a 6th-level slot—and still have three 5th-level slots left if it needs to cast it again. It’s good to have a kirin for a friend—and bad to have one for an enemy.
In addition, kirin are legendary creatures whose remote lairs generate regional effects; they also have access to legendary actions on other creatures’ turns. These are Detect (a Perception or Insight check), Smite (a free hoof or sacred flame attack) and Move (an extra 30 feet of ground movement or 60 feet of flying movement, free from opportunity attacks).
It should go without saying, since the kirin’s flying speed is twice its regular movement speed, that it moves around by flying leaps rather than conventional four-legged locomotion. Also, since it can hover, it really has no reason to fight on the ground when it can just as easily hold station in the air and either cast spells from on high or swoop down to attack. With an armor class of 20, it laughs at opportunity attacks, and if it really wants to make its opponents look silly, it may forgo attacking altogether and simply choose the Dodge action turn after turn, giving its opponents disadvantage on every attack roll.
The kirin saves its melee Multiattack for direct confrontation with fiends, undead, or evil PCs or NPCs, after laying down its various defenses. It flies down, strikes with its hooves and its horn, then flies back up out of melee weapon reach. If an enemy flies up to meet it, it uses its Smite legendary action to strike again with its hoof, and it does so again on other creatures’ turns if the enemy remains within its reach.
Like other celestials, kirin target chaotic evil enemies first, beginning with the most powerful. They then move on to neutral evil enemies, then lawful evil enemies. Kirin aren’t as concerned with chaotic characters as angels are—as reclusive as they are, there’s rarely any rabble around to rouse, nor any ruckus worth raising. Their extraordinary Intelligence and Wisdom give them effective omniscience with respect to their opponents’ (and allies’) stats, strengths and weaknesses, and as for the positions of skulking foes, its Perception proficiency and Detect legendary action are most likely sufficient to reveal them. Kirin always know when they should be using Detect to look for a hidden enemy.
Once all evil characters have been destroyed or neutralized, a kirin pauses to parley with any remaining opponents, who hopefully can be reasoned with now that their evil companions are out of the picture. As mentioned above, a kirin flees back to Mount Celestia using plane shift when seriously injured (reduced to 60 hp or fewer).