Orthon Tactics

The first thing that leaps out at me about orthons—described in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes as “infernal bounty hunters”—is that they’re proficient in all of the “big three” saving throws: Dexterity, Constitution and Wisdom. I run across monsters with two of these three saving throw proficiencies fairly often, especially when looking at monsters with higher challenge ratings, but I’m not sure when I last saw a monster with all three of them. Put these together with Magic Resistance, and the takeaway is that orthons are utterly unafraid of spellcasters. They don’t even go out of their way to take spellcasters out quickly. They’re indifferent to them, which, if anything, is scarier.

Orthons are called into play when an archdevil wants an enemy dealt with, dead or alive. They’re brutes, with extraordinary Strength and Constitution, but their Dexterity and mental abilities are far from shabby. They’re expert in Perception, Stealth and Survival—consummate ambush attackers. They’re immune to fire and poison, can’t be charmed, never tire, and are resistant to cold and to physical damage from nonmagical, nonsilvered weapons.

They have 120 feet of darkvision and 30 feet of truesight, so they prefer strongly to attack at night or in a darkened location. But even in daylight, they have the Invisibility Field feature, which lets them turn invisible as a bonus action! An orthon will always use this feature before launching an attack in anything less than total darkness—and even in darkness, if its target has darkvision. Thus, it will always make its first attack with unseen-attacker advantage.

As a rule, brutes prefer melee engagement over ranged attacks. The orthon has one melee attack, the Infernal Dagger, and one ranged attack, the Brass Crossbow. The Infernal Dagger does more reliable, raw damage, but the Brass Crossbow has a variety of interesting, highly specific side effects for the orthon to choose from. Fortunately for the orthon (and unfortunately for its target), with an Intelligence of 15, it’s not going to be locked in to a single mode of fighting. It will adapt smoothly and efficiently on the fly.

  • The acid effect does big blast of additional raw damage. This one’s for the two edge cases: the extremely tough, high–hit point target who needs to be worn down quickly (even though he or she probably has a high Constitution and a good chance of making the saving throw—half of 5d6 is still meaningful), and the fragile target who might be taken down in a single turn with a big enough burst attack.
  • The blindness effect does a small amount of damage but, more importantly, has a chance of blinding the target and all other creatures in a 20-foot radius. This is best used against a cluster of four or more opponents, and it has the greatest effect either when visibility is good to begin with or when those opponents have compensatory darkvision. It’s limited to one use per day, an indicator of how powerful it can be under the right circumstances.
  • The concussion effect is straight area-effect damage, best used against a cluster of four or more opponents when the aforementioned circumstances don’t apply.
  • The entanglement effect is reserved for the orthon’s particular quarry, specifically, when that quarry poses a flight risk. Perhaps he or she is already trying to flee, or perhaps the orthon is preemptively making sure that doesn’t happen. In addition to restraining the target, granting advantage to the orthon’s subsequent attacks, it ensures that the target’s friends can’t easily come to his or her aid.
  • The paralysis effect, as it says on the label, imposes the devastating paralyzed condition (with its “every melee hit a crit” effect) in addition to dealing a heap of lightning damage. It targets Constitution, whereas the entangle effect targets Dexterity. Thus, the orthon has an incentive to use entanglement against tougher, slower targets and the paralysis effect against nimbler, squishier targets. If the target is a high-Dex, high-Con skirmisher, the orthon will err on the side of paralysis, because that condition is more severe than mere restraint. The fact that it’s limited to one use per day is an indicator of how powerful it is.
  • The tracking effect is the orthon’s parting shot, when its quarry is about to get away and the orthon doesn’t have a chance of catching up. Unlike entanglement, which the target might resist, the tracking effect is automatic.

All right, so here’s the picture that’s coming together: The orthon likes melee combat, but what it likes even better is melee combat in which it enjoys every possible advantage. Therefore it initiates combat while invisible, to gain advantage on its attack and maximize the chance of catching its foes by surprise. If its prospective opponents, including its quarry, are clustered in a 20-foot radius, it leads with a crossbow shot at its quarry, plus the blindness effect. If they’re not clustered, it opts for the paralysis effect against a shock attacker, skirmisher, marksman or spellslinger; against a front-liner or support spellcaster, it opts for the entanglement effect instead. It makes this attack from as close as it can get without giving itself away, but no closer than 25 feet, because it doesn’t want to get caught in its own blast radius. After attacking, it immediately uses its bonus action to turn invisible.

Once its target is blinded, restrained or paralyzed, it moves in to attack with its dagger. Ideally, it can cover this distance in one turn’s movement, but if it had to make its first attack from farther than 30 feet away, or if its quarry moved away, it may not be able to get within melee range. In that case, it simply makes another crossbow attack, with the concussion effect if four or more of its opponents are silly enough to have stayed in a cluster around the quarry, acid effect otherwise—and then turns invisible again.

There’s no downside that I can see to the orthon’s using its bonus action to turn invisible at the end of every turn. It has no other bonus action to compete with Invisibility Field, so not using it would be a waste of the orthon’s action economy. Even if one of its enemies casts see invisible or true seeing or has some other means of seeing invisible creatures, that’s just one enemy; its invisibility still gives it an edge over the rest of them. Aside from the quarry’s being the one who can see it, the only other thing that might negate the value of Invisibility Field to the orthon is getting dinged with faerie fire—but the player character who casts that had better be careful, because it’s an area-effect spell, not a targeted attack, and the orthon seeks to close quickly with its enemies, so “friendly faerie fire” is a real risk.

Once engaged in melee, the orthon does its best to maintain that engagement, and because of its ability to turn invisible and its wide-spectrum damage resistances, it doesn’t worry too much about being struck by incoming attacks from other melee opponents. Rather than Disengage and reposition, it would rather use its action to keep attacking. If the PCs want to be aggressive, the orthon is fine with that. This is because of its Explosive Retribution feature, a spiteful parting shot against everyone within 30 feet.

If the orthon finds itself no longer in melee, it’s more probably because its foes have run away from it. What it does next in this instance depends on whether it still has advantage on its attacks, whether it can close the distance with its quarry again and how mobile its quarry is. In order of preference:

  • Paralysis if this effect is still available, even if the target is a fighter or barbarian. Neutralizing the action economy of a target with Extra Attack (which the orthon will have observed by now) is just too good a payoff not to take the chance.
  • Blindness if this effect is still available and at least three other opponents are within a 20-foot radius of the target.
  • Tracking if, given observable facts, the target is likely to escape on its next turn.
  • Entanglement if the target’s Con save modifier is greater than its Dex save modifier.
  • Close to melee range again and attack with Infernal Dagger if the target is within 40 feet (the orthon has a 30-foot move and a 10-foot reach) and the orthon will have advantage on the attack.
  • Acid if the target is either seriously wounded or completely unwounded.
  • Concussion if at least three other opponents are within a 20-foot radius of the target.
  • Acid (again) if none of the other criteria above are met.

The orthon is single-minded, duty-bound and effectively immortal on any plane except the Nine Hells. It doesn’t flee, even when seriously wounded, but it may, er, tactically vanish if it’s seriously wounded and there’s no way it can get close enough to its quarry to make good use of Explosive Retribution. By “good use,” I mean that, ideally, the 30-foot radius around the orthon (not around the quarry) includes both the quarry and either all its allies or at least five of them, if there are more.

If this is impossible, the orthon aims a tracking shot at its quarry, uses its bonus action to turn invisible, retreats to a safe distance and doesn’t appear again until it’s had a chance to heal up. If none of its opponents can see it, however, rather than take advantage of its invisibility to flee, it may instead take advantage of its invisibility to slip into their midst and self-detonate after they think it’s gone.

Next: wyverns, a longtime oversight that it’s time for me to rectify.

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