Sphinx Tactics

Sphinxes are bosses. Probably somewhat underutilized bosses, since you can only employ the solve-the-riddle, access-the-vault trope so many times before it gets tiresome (and that number of times is generally one, if not zero), so the first challenge you have to overcome as a dungeon master, before dealing with its tactics, is figuring out a way to make a sphinx encounter feel fresh. I’ll be honest: I have no useful advice on this. If you have any, share it in the comments below.

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons had four varieties of sphinx; the number peaked in version 3.5 (the “More is always better” edition) at nine. But the fifth-edition Monster Manual includes only two: the androsphinx and the gynosphinx. The androsphinx remains the more powerful of the two, because patriarchy. (The gynosphinx, strangely, seems to have a mane, although on closer inspection, it may just be a wig.)

Androsphinxes and gynosphinxes have many features in common. Physically, they’re brute fighters; mentally, they’re champs across the board, though the masculine androsphinxes have less Intelligence and more Charisma. (If you think this makes them sound like the types who typically get promoted to management, you’re not alone.) They’re hyper-Perceptive, with 120 feet of truesight; they can’t be charmed or frightened, and they’re immune to psychic damage. At a minimum, they’re resistant to physical damage from nonmagical weapons (androsphinxes are fully immune). They can fly, at a speed greater than their normal movement. Their claw attacks are magical, and they get two per action. They have three legendary actions, which they take on other creatures’ turns: a single claw attack, teleportation and casting one spell. (Since this last costs three actions, they’ll use it only in case of dire emergency.) They have the Inscrutable feature, an ability primarily applicable to social interaction, which shields them from mind-reading. And they have a repertoire of spells they can cast at high levels. Continue reading Sphinx Tactics

Cambion Tactics

The more I leaf through the Monster Manual looking for material, the less interested I am in monsters that follow a straightforward brute profile (high Strength, high Constitution) and have no distinctive feature that gives them a reason to do anything other than run up and munch you. For this reason, the cambion deserves some attention. Even though the concept of the cambion, as a creature, isn’t that appealing to me (offspring of a fiend and a humanoid, naughty by nature), its particular combination of abilities and features is intriguing. This is not a straightforward monster. On the contrary, it offers more flexibility than most.

First, although its physical abilities are all very high, its two highest are Strength and Dexterity. The cambion is neither a stereotypical brute (Strength and Constitution) nor a stereotypical skirmisher (Dexterity and Constitution) but rather a shock attacker, optimized for moving fast and hitting hard, for quick and decisive battles rather than drawn-out slugfests. But it also has high Intelligence and even higher Charisma, meaning it has the option to talk its way out of a fight that’s dragging on too long—and so do its opponents.

It has proficiency in several saving throws, but of them, only Constitution is one of the big three—the ones that most damaging or debilitating spells require. It’s got a good enough Dexterity to compensate, maybe, but not Wisdom. So despite its other advantages, the cambion does have reason to be apprehensive around spellcasters, especially bards, sorcerers and wizards with a lot of mind-controlling or restraining spells in their repertoires. Continue reading Cambion Tactics

Reader Questions: Flying Tactics and Opportunity Attacks

Q: What are the generic tactics of any flying character?

A: Any mode of movement other than moving normally over land offers the advantage of being able to go where one’s opponent(s) can’t. A creature with climbing movement, for example, can scale a vertical surface without being subject to any speed penalty or having to succeed on an ability check. In the case of flying, a creature has access to the air. It can hover out of reach; it can also launch itself airborne in order to flee.

Since the reach of most humanoids, armed or unarmed, is only 5 feet, a creature with 30 feet of flying movement can station itself 15 feet above its opponents’ heads, fly down, attack and fly back up using just its normal movement and action. A creature like the peryton, which has the complementary Dive Attack and Flyby features, will always use a tactic like this, because the combination does extra damage, and the peryton isn’t subject to an opportunity attack when it does so.

Opportunity attacks are the hitch with this tactic. Whenever a creature leaves its opponent’s reach, that opponent may use its reaction (if available) to make an opportunity attack against it. If the peryton didn’t have Flyby, for example, then every time it dove, its victim might get a free swing at it. Continue reading Reader Questions: Flying Tactics and Opportunity Attacks

Oni Tactics

Oni are cousins to ogres, more intelligent, with innate spellcasting ability and capable of regeneration. Unlike, say, trolls, which can be prevented from regenerating by burning them with fire or acid, oni regenerate regardless of what kind of damage they take or how much, short of killing them.

Physically, oni have the typical brute ability contour of very high Strength and Constitution relative to their Dexterity, which is merely average. The fact that they excel at toe-to-toe melee fighting, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s always their first choice. They also have high Intelligence and Charisma, and even their Wisdom is above-average. This means that they can plan, assess their opponents’ weaknesses accurately, use this information to select the targets of their various abilities, and employ deceit as well as raw strength in order to achieve victory. Oni also have proficiency on all of the big three saving throws—Dexerity, Constitution and Wisdom—making them highly resistant to magic, despite not having the Magic Resistance feature per se. And they can fly!

The timing of their abilities may be an issue, though, because despite their various advantages, one thing they lack is any feature that enhances their action economy. Just the opposite, in fact: Their Change Shape feature costs them an action, during which they can do nothing else. On the other hand, being able to cast invisibility at will gives them a way to avoid detection, and by extension damage, while setting up for other things. Oni’s Regeneration makes them masters of attrition fighting: the longer they can drag a battle out, the better. Their opponents have to hit hard and end the battle as fast as possible, or the oni will wear them down. Continue reading Oni Tactics

Gibbering Mouther Tactics

Today we continue our look at the spawn of the Far Realm with the gibbering mouther, a weird and horrifying denizen of places no one in his or her right mind would go, and where no one stays in his or her right mind for long. An oozing blob dotted with mouths full of teeth and horrifying noises, the gibbering mouther offers an interesting analytical challenge, as its stat block looks unlike anything we’ve examined so far.

The gibbering mouther has average Strength, very high Constitution and low Dexterity, an atypical ability contour. It’s not strong enough to be a brute, it’s not fast enough to be scrappy, and it has no aptitude for stealth. Its low Dexterity suggests that, since its ability to avoid damage is poor, it will need some kind of compensatory advantage to make combat worthwhile, and simply being able to soak up damage isn’t enough; we’ll have to look for this advantage among its other features.

Its mental abilities are typical of an animal: average Wisdom (reflecting little except its perceptive ability), low Charisma and very low Intelligence. Entirely instinct-bound, it makes no distinctions of any kind between potential targets; one is as good as another. It may sometimes retreat when injured, but that’s the extent of its ability to adapt to changed circumstances. Continue reading Gibbering Mouther Tactics