Undead Tactics: Demiliches

A couple of months ago, a reader noted that I’d analyzed liches but not “their degraded selves,” demiliches. I have to confess, I’ve been putting it off, because analyzing liches was a lot of work. Fortunately, demiliches don’t have such a large repertoire of spells to analyze, so that reduces the complexity.

Demiliches have the same compulsion—the will to power and immortality—as liches, but unless they’ve shed their bodies willingly, there’s an additional element to their character: frustration. They’ve forgotten to feed their phylacteries, or they’ve been prevented somehow from doing so. As a result, the immortality they worked so hard to attain has cheapened. They’ve lost their sense of purpose and their ability to cast spells. They may even have forgotten that they can regain their physicality by feeding new souls to their phylacteries. If reminded of this fact, they’ll forget every other concern and fixate on restoring themselves to lichdom. (Strangely, neither the demilich’s stat block nor its flavor text explains how a soul is fed to its phylactery. Seems like kind of an important omission.) As long as this memory is lost to them, however, they’ll act with malice, tinged with the occasional random miscalculation that stress produces.

Aside from the lack of spellcasting, a demilich differs from a lich in the following ways: (more…)

Cloaker Tactics

For some reason I thought I recalled the cloaker from the original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual, but I must have gotten it confused with the lurker, because according to the cloaker’s Wikipedia biography, its first appearance in a core book was in the second-edition Monstrous Compendium, in which it was (hilariously) described as “impossible to distinguish from a common black cloak.” Fashion mimic! Wisely, later editions have depicted it in more evolutionarily plausible terms, although it’s still categorized as an aberration rather than a monstrosity.

Cloakers have exceptionally high Strength and high Dexterity but merely above-average Constitution, a rare contour that I generally associate with shock attacks; combined with their proficiency in Stealth and their False Appearance feature, this contour indicates an ambush predator that seeks to take down its prey in a single strike, if possible. A fight that lasts more than a couple of rounds won’t be to a cloaker’s liking.

Their Intelligence and Wisdom are above-average, but not unusually so, so while they’re selective about their targets, their judgment may sometimes be off. (And then there’s that strangely high Charisma. What’s that for? Resistance to banishment? I have no good explanation.) They have 60 feet of darkvision and Light Sensitivity and speak Deep Speech and Undercommon, so obviously, they’re subterranean dwellers that have little or no reason to venture aboveground. (more…)

Demon Tactics: Shoosuvas, Maw Demons and Babaus

A reader asked me to look into the shoosuva, and I just now notice that it shares an entry in Volo’s Guide to Monsters with the babau and the maw demon, so congrats, readers, today you get three for the price of one.

Shoosuvas, creations of the demon lord Yeenoghu, are fiends that function sort of like a ranger’s beast companion, except for gnolls that have distinguished themselves in battle with exceptional ferocity. They’re big and brutish, with exceptional Strength and Constitution and high Wisdom, indicating some shrewdness in target selection. They hold the rare distinction of being proficient in all of the “big three” saving throws: Dexterity, Constitution ahnd Wisdom. They’re immune to poison, can’t be charmed or frightened, and are resistant to cold, fire, lightning and physical damage from mundane weapons. Although their low Intelligence indicates a lack of adaptability and a reliance on instinctive behavior, they can speak, both normally (in Abyssal and Gnoll) and telepathically. A chaotic evil monster that can speak is a monster that taunts. Going up against one of these should terrify your players.

The shoosuva’s basic attack is a bite–tail stinger combo. The bite is a straightforward melee attack, but one that does unbelievable damage—like being bitten by a mouthful of glaives. The tail stinger does base damage more in line with what you’d expect from a Large creature, but it also delivers a venom that paralyzes targets who fail their saving throws, and it has a reach of 15 feet, allowing it to strike a second enemy farther away. (more…)

Phase Spider Tactics

I’m puzzled as to why certain creatures are included in the “Miscellaneous” Appendix A of the fifth-edition Monster Manual, which consists mostly—but not entirely—of regular animals, such as apes, bears, crocodiles and so forth. Why, alongside this menagerie of mundane beasts and their oversize cousins, do we also find awakened trees and shrubs, blink dogs, death dogs, wargs (excuse me, “worgs”) and phase spiders? Why didn’t these monsters (none of them is categorized as a “beast”) rate their own listings in the body of the book? So odd.

Phase spiders differ from giant spiders in a variety of minor respects and two significant ones. First, while they have the Web Walker feature, they don’t spin webs. This struck me as so peculiar that I checked the MM errata to confirm that it wasn’t a mistake. Second, they have the Ethereal Jaunt feature, which lets them phase back and forth between the material plane and the ethereal plane.

I’m going to take a quick look at its other traits and then come back to these, because I think the phase spider is in need of some flavor text that explains what it’s all about. (more…)

Stirge Tactics

Stirges are flying, bloodsucking parasites. One alone is a pest, but a flock of them constitutes a threat, and this is how they’ll nearly always be encountered.

Their Strength is pitiful, but their Dexterity is high. This makes them hit-and-run attackers, or rather hit-and-fly attackers, since they waddle along at a laughable 10 feet per turn but fly at a brisk 40. With a Wisdom of only 8, they’re indiscriminate in their target selection, attacking whoever comes closest to them; and with a barely cognizant Intelligence of 2, they know only one way to attack and stick with it regardless of circumstances.

This attack revolves around the use of their Blood Drain feature. Starting from a position in the air above its victim, a stirge dives down to bite with its mosquito-like proboscis. If it hits, it latches on. At the start of each subsequent turn, if its victim hasn’t yanked it loose, it automatically drains another 1d4 + 3 hp from him or her. Keep track of this number for each stirge individually, because once it’s drained 10 hp from its prey, a stirge is sated, and it detaches and flies away at normal speed (potentially incurring one or more opportunity attacks as it departs). (more…)