Tarrasque Tactics

In all of fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons, there are only six creatures with a higher challenge rating than an ancient red or gold dragon. Four of them are archdemons. One of them is Tiamat, the five-headed dragon goddess herself. The other one—equal to Tiamat, and superior to Yeenoghu, Orcus or Demogorgon—is the tarrasque.

And yet I got an intriguing e-mail from a reader recently: “In previous editions, people said the tarrasque was actually easy to deal with, so I’m curious to see your take”!

Easy? Let’s see how plausible this is—and figure out whether 5E has turned up the heat. (more…)

Rakshasa Tactics

Hands down, the rakshasa had the coolest illustration in the original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual; I can’t help but think that the current illustration is in part a tribute to that original David A. Trampier drawing. Rakshasas were rarely encountered, but when they were, you knew the encounter would be memorable, because it had to live up to that illustration.

The fifth-edition rakshasa is likely to be another rarity, because its challenge rating is a high 13—too difficult a boss for low- or mid-level player characters. Rakshasas aren’t on the level of fully grown dragons, but they’re as tough as a beholder or master vampire, and tougher than genies, which should give you a sense of the kind of status they should have in a campaign.

The rakshasa’s highest physical ability scores are Dexterity and Constitution, but these are exceeded by its Charisma. What we have here is a creature that, while built to survive a battle of attrition, would rather fight using magic than using its claws. But that doesn’t mean it gets its way. (more…)

Reader Questions: Goblin Stealth and Retreating Monsters

Q: I recently purchased a copy of Live To Tell The Tale, and I must say, excellent work. But I was confused by all of the hiding and Stealth in the first scenario. There were times it seemed the goblins were moving, rolling Stealth, attacking, moving, rolling Stealth to Hide. What were all those Stealth rolls? And what about all of the Perception rolls that the players were doing during their turns? Do those count as part of their action?

A: A large part of that encounter has to do with the goblins’ Nimble Escape feature, which lets them Hide as a bonus action. In order to Hide successfully, a goblin has to (a) be out of view and (b) make a Stealth roll that exceeds every player character’s passive Perception. Once it’s made a successful Stealth check, it doesn’t have to keep making Stealth checks—it stays hidden until it does something that gives its position away, or until an opponent choosing the Search action finds it (which requires him or her to make a Perception check). Once it’s been seen, to Hide again requires another Stealth check, and so on. (more…)

Catoblepas Tactics

So it turns out that catoblepas comes to us by way of Latin catōblepās from Ancient Greek katôbleps or katôblepon, and its plural in Latin is catōblepae, while its Ancient Greek plural is either katôblepes or katôblepones. Of all these, I like “catoblepes” best—much more than “catoblepases.” I’m going with it. Also, the accent is on the o: ca-toh­-bleh-pahs, ca-toh-bleh-peez. And that’s one to grow on!

The catoblepas is largely a scavenger, whose loathsome presence befouls the environment around it; I guess it likes its food somewhat pre-decomposed. The foul-tempered monstrosity extends this preference to any edible trespasser who wanders into its territory—thus its Death Ray feature, which inflicts considerable necrotic damage on its target, enough to kill even a level 2 or 3 player character on a successful Constitution saving throw.

Catoblepes are classified as monstrosities, but they’re unaligned and have only beast-level Intelligence, around the level of a cat or dog. Their Strength and Constitution, however, are extraordinary, and their Dexterity is above-average as well. Their darkvision suggests that they’re crepuscular and/or nocturnal; you’re not likely to run across one in broad daylight. They combine above-average passive Perception with Keen Smell, giving them an effective passive Perception of 17 if you’re upwind of them. (more…)

Duergar Tactics

I confess that this blog is substantially shaped by my own biases. I’m not a fan of underground dungeon crawls, so I tend to give less attention to monsters that are found only, or predominantly, in the Underdark. Also, I find it more interesting to write about monsters whose features interact in complex ways, meaning I’m more likely to gloss over simple brute fighters.

For both these reasons, I haven’t touched the duergar yet. Their ability scores follow an unambiguous brute profile, their Duergar Resilience and Sunlight Sensitivity features are passive, and they’re armed with ordinary melee and ranged weapons. Generally speaking, their “tactics” are going to consist of charging, bashing and stabbing.

But a reader recently wrote, “I can never figure out when to Enlarge and when to turn invisible, especially when using them in groups.” These two specific questions are worth examining. Unfortunately, the former, in particular, demands math. (more…)