Elemental Tactics

Elementals are spirits of air, fire, water and earth, usually summoned to do a spellcaster’s bidding. Each is physically powerful in some way, not too bright, able to see in the dark, capable of two melee attacks in a turn, resistant to physical damage from nonmagical weapons, and immune to exhaustion, paralysis, petrifaction, poisoning and unconsciousness. Beyond that, the elements they’re generated from grant them additional powers and influence their manner of movement and fighting.

Elementals are summoned spirits, not evolved creatures. They have no particular survival instinct—on the contrary, they’re bound to the will of their summoners and peevish about it, and what they want more than anything is to get back to the plane they came from. If they’re destroyed, they get exactly what they want. Consequently, elementals will fight to the death with zero concern for damage to themselves. They’re also indiscriminate in their target selection and may or may not keep attacking the same opponent round after round. Continue reading Elemental Tactics

Slaad Tactics

Slaadi are beings of pure chaos, native to the outer plane of Limbo, vaguely resembling humanoid salamanders. There’s no good reason for them to be hanging out on the prime material plane, but being beings of pure chaos, they don’t need a good reason to be doing anything.

Slaadi come in a variety of colors, tied to their bizarre reproductive cycle. Red slaadi deposit eggs that hatch into slaad tadpoles (I think the writers missed a great opportunity by not calling them “slaadpoles”), which grow up into blue or green slaadi. Blue slaadi, in turn, infect victims with a bacteriophage that transforms them into red or green slaadi. Green slaadi are more powerful and intelligent than red and blue slaadi, and they eventually metamorphose into gray slaadi, which in turn can metamorphose into death slaadi by eating the corpses of other death slaadi.

Being aberrations, slaadi should behave—and fight—in ways that reflect their origin on the plane of chaos, a factor that has to be considered alongside their abilities and features. Slaadi are high-challenge monsters, so as tempting as it may be to ramp up the chaos they create by having the player characters encounter many of them at once, it can be deadly to throw more than one slaad at a party of low- or even intermediate-level PCs. Moreover, their ability to reproduce by turning humanoids into slaadi and slaad hosts can have exponential effects, so even one slaad is a threat that needs to be squelched pronto. Continue reading Slaad Tactics

Succubus/Incubus Tactics

What teenage Advanced Dungeons and Dragons player wasn’t fascinated and titillated by the succubus, that naked sex demon leering off the page of the Monster Manual? Mind you, this was the same era when a “harlot encounter table” in the Dungeon Master’s Guide allowed you to determine whether a randomly encountered prostitute was a “saucy tart,” a “cheap strumpet” or a “slovenly trull,” which was great for vocabulary building but not so much for encouraging a healthy understanding of sex roles and interpersonal relationships. You’ve come a long way, D&D. (Now let’s work on the ill-considered conflation of race with personality traits, ’K?)

Originating as a mythological explanation for erotic dreams (and, possibly, sleep paralysis episodes as well), the succubus and its masculine counterpart, the incubus, were imagined as devils who tempted people in their dreams. What did they want? The same thing devils always want: to lay claim to your soul, in their case by getting you to corrupt it of your own free will by giving in to the deadly sin of lust.

Despite including some of the trappings, D&D doesn’t share Christianity’s religious cosmology, but the flavor text in the fifth-edition MM assigns succubi and incubi essentially the same mission: “[W]hen a succubus or incubus has corrupted a creature completely . . . the victim’s soul belongs to the fiend. . . . After successfully corrupting a victim, the succubus or incubus kills it, and the tainted soul descends into the Lower Planes.”

Therefore, we have to take a bigger-picture view of succubus and incubus tactics. They’re not about simply gaining an edge in a happenstance combat encounter. They don’t have happenstance combat encounters. Rather, these tactics are steps toward the fiends’ final goal. Continue reading Succubus/Incubus Tactics

Shambling Mound Tactics

The shambling mound is an old-school classic: veteran Advanced Dungeons and Dragons players will remember the Monster Manual illustration that looked like a Christmas tree with a carrot for a nose. Viny quasi-zombies of the swamps and rainforests, shambling mounds are brutes that tramp around indiscriminately ingesting whatever organic matter they come across, vegetable or animal. Oh, and also beating people up.

Oddly for such a large, ungainly creature, the shambling mound has proficiency in Stealth, which I have to attribute to its natural camouflage. Being a plant without normal senses, it’s immune to blindness and deafness, along with exhaustion. It has blindsight in a 60-foot radius, is resistant to cold and fire damage (that’s one hardy plant), and not only is immune to lightning but actually absorbs the electrical energy and uses it to regenerate.

According to the Monster Manual flavor text, shambling mounds don’t pursue prey but rather wait for prey to come within reach, but for creatures that must feed all the time—and also have “shambling” in their name—this seems like a dull way to play them. It may not move around much, but why wouldn’t a shambling mound be trudging through the woods when the player characters encounter it? Of course, whether it’s waiting or walking, it does so as stealthily as it can, in order to gain the element of surprise against its prey. Continue reading Shambling Mound Tactics

Will-o’-Wisp Tactics

In my earlier series on undead creatures, I skipped over the will-o’-wisp, the “devil lights” of swamps, marshes and desolate battlefields. In building will-effective o’-wisp encounters, it’s necessary to bear in mind the prime directive of horror: fear of the unknown. To create suspense, it’s best never to name the enemy that the heroes are facing, and to keep them in the dark about what it can do for as long as possible. The No. 1 way to spoil a will-o’-wisp encounter is to tell the players they see will-o’-wisps.

Will-o’-wisps are like fantasy UFOs: they can bob and hover in one place or move up to a zippy 50 feet per round. They’re immune to exhaustion, grappling, paralysis, poison, falling prone, restraint, unconsciousness and lightning damage, and they’re resistant to physical damage from nonmagical weapons along with several types of elemental damage. They have darkvision out to a range of 120 feet but shed their own light out to a range of between 10 and 40 feet, although they can also wink in and out of visibility.

Will-o’-wisps have no physical attack. Their Shock attack is a melee spell attack (Wisdom-based, by mathematical inference), and against unconscious opponents, they can follow it up with the nasty Consume Life feature, which has the potential to kill a player character outright. However, between their many resistances and immunities and their Dexterity of 28, which gives them an armor class of 19, they have nothing to fear from a melee attacker. They’re the rare high-Dex, low-Strength, average-Constitution monster that isn’t a ranged sniper and doesn’t need or even want to be. Continue reading Will-o’-Wisp Tactics