Lycanthrope Tactics

Werebeasts, a.k.a. lycanthropes, are wonderful enemies. A werebeast encounter can be awesome action or tragic drama. Werebeasts lend themselves perfectly to horror-mystery adventures, in which the players have no idea which of the villagers is the true villain. They threaten to transmit their lycanthropic curse to any character who fights them hand-to-hand—monsters who can make the player characters into monsters themselves. Practically by definition, werebeast encounters take place at night, when everything is scarier. And if the werewolf ever seems too clichéd an enemy, werebeasts come in four other varieties.

All werebeasts have proficiency in Perception and immunity to physical damage from nonmagical, nonsilvered weapons. They also have human forms, beast forms and hybrid forms; their human forms are their “true” forms. My sense as a dungeon master is that they take their beast forms to run around and hunt in the wild, but among people, they take their hybrid forms when their curse is upon them—at any rate, the hybrid form makes for more interesting and challenging combat encounters than the beast form, because it allows them to use their Multiattack action feature. (The exception to this pattern is the werebear, which has Multiattack in all its forms.) But if you want to conceal the fact that the PCs are fighting a lycanthrope and not simply a big, ferocious beast, you may opt for the beast form after all, trading a reduction in damage for the increase in likelihood that the PCs will carelessly let themselves fall afoul of the lycanthropic curse.

Although the Shapechanger feature, common to all werebeasts, states that they can use an action to polymorph from one form to another, I’d disregard this, for two reasons. First, there’s generally no advantage to it: any equipment they’re carrying isn’t transformed, so, for example, a humanoid wearing armor and carrying a sword turns into a beast standing in a pile of armor and staring at a sword on the ground; or a hybrid with natural armor turns into a naked, unarmored, unarmed humanoid. Meanwhile, it’s just spent a whole combat round transforming when it could have been, I don’t know, attacking or running away? And second, isn’t the whole point of lycanthropy that the afflicted individual has little or no control over his or her transformations? High opportunity cost, no obvious benefit, contradicts werebeast lore: there’s only one logical situation in which to use this action, and that’s at nightfall or daybreak, when the lycanthrope changes involuntarily. (more…)

Bullywug Tactics

Bullywugs are petty, bad-tempered humanoid frogs, native to swampy areas. The fifth-edition Monster Manual flavor text describes them as “struck with a deep inferiority complex . . . desperately crav[ing] the fear and respect of outsiders” and says they’ll generally prefer to capture trespassers rather than kill them outright, hauling them back to win favor with their rulers first. One way they do this is by taming giant frogs and having them swallow victims whole; however, this works only on Small or Tiny targets, meaning that unless a party of player characters is made up entirely of halflings or gnomes, this isn’t a strategy they can rely on in a typical encounter.

For a creature with only two hit dice, bullywugs aren’t too shabby in combat. All their physical abilities are modestly above average; they have proficiency in Stealth and the Swamp Camouflage feature, which grants them advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks in swampy terrain. It’s fair to say, therefore, that bullywugs won’t venture outside such areas—not when they have such a natural advantage on their home turf.

Moreover, their Standing Leap ability lets them move their full speed of 20 feet per turn as a long jump, when the jumping rule would normally allow them to leap only 6 feet. This allows them to cover distance in difficult marshy terrain without having to halve their movement speed. If you want to be nitpicky about it, you can require them to succeed on a DC 10 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check when they land, per page 182 of the Player’s Handbook, but personally, I’d say that bullywugs, whose natural habitat is the swamp, shouldn’t have to make that check when landing. And for the sake of flavor, I like the idea of having bullywugs bouncing around like a bunch of ornery little superballs during combat rather than trudging around in 2-D as we landbound humanoids must. (Mind you, this does not exempt them from opportunity attacks when they jump out of PCs’ reach.) (more…)

Kuo-toa Tactics

Old-school Dungeons and Dragons players will recall that the kuo-toa made their debut in the venerated, if somewhat incoherent, D-series of adventure modules, which also introduced the drow. In the world of Greyhawk, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons’ original setting, they and the drow were fierce enemies. In fifth-edition D&D, however, the kuo-toa have been retconned into broken ex-subjects of an empire of mind flayers, their rivalry with the drow now mentioned only in passing.

“Many weapons of the kuo-toa are designed to capture rather than kill,” the Monster Manual flavor text informs us, but it leaves open the question of what they want to capture anyone for. Religious sacrifice, maybe? Interrogation? Found-art pieces? Regardless, I’m going to examine their tactics with the assumption that they are, in fact, trying to kill the player characters. (more…)

Githzerai Tactics

Like their cousins the githyanki, the githzerai are a rigidly disciplined people from another plane of existence. Unlike the warlike githyanki, the githzerai apply their discipline to asceticism and self-defense. Essentially, they’re psychic super-monks, bulwarks against chaos.

The githzerai monk has modestly above-average Strength and Constitution and high Dexterity, usually the physical ability contour of a sniper; a melee combatant with this profile generally has to use movement and surprise to compensate for its reduced ability to take damage and dish it out. The Monster Manual’s solution to this problem is curious: Rather than make the githzerai monk a skirmisher with abilities like Nimble Escape, the MM makes it, for all intents and purposes, a brute. That is, its abilities are tailored to toe-to-toe melee fighting. (more…)

Githyanki Tactics

Old-school Advanced Dungeons and Dragons players will remember the githyanki as the poster monster of the Fiend Folio, the first supplement to the original Monster Manual. (They’ll also remember the FF as the book that gave us the flumph, but let’s speak no more of that.) Githyanki aren’t native to the world the player characters inhabit but rather travel there from their original home on some other plane of existence, to raid and conquer. They share a common origin with the githzerai.

Githyanki warriors are shock troops, with high Strength and Dexterity. Their Intelligence and Wisdom are also above average. They have innate psionic ability (so far, treated in fifth-edition D&D as a form of spellcasting) that grants them at-will telekinesis in the form of the mage hand spell along with limited uses of jump, misty step and nondetection. They have proficiency bonuses to Constitution, Intelligence and Wisdom saving throws and a melee Multiattack.

What makes githyanki combat interesting is the intersection of their high damage-dealing capacity, low Constitution relative to their Strength and Dexterity (though it’s still above human average) and mobility spells. Githyanki should move fast, strike hard, then be somewhere else. The fact that misty step is a bonus action rather than a normal action is the key ingredient in this recipe, enabling combinations such as:

  • Move toward an opponent, Multiattack (action), misty step (bonus action) past the opponent.
  • Misty step (bonus action) toward an opponent, Multiattack (action) to finish the opponent off, move.
  • Multiattack (action), misty step (bonus action), move out of sight.