Ettercap Tactics

Ettercaps are arachnid-humanoid hybrids, and not the adorkable, crime-fighting type. They live in forests, herd spiders, and generally lend an air of gloom and despair to wherever they live. Anytime a party of adventurers encounters an ettercap, it will be accompanied by at least a few giant spiders.

Ettercaps are robust in all their physical abilities, with Dexterity leading by a nose. They’re not afraid of a toe-to-toe confrontation, but considering their high Dexterity, combined with their Stealth and Survival skills, an ambush scenario is more likely, perhaps with the ettercaps beginning the encounter hiding in trees (thanks to their Spider Climb skill). They also have darkvision, Web Sense and Web Walker, making it advantageous for them to blanket dimly lit parts of thick forests with webs and wait for hapless travelers to get stuck in them. Alternatively, if there’s a road or trail that passes through their forest, they may lay webs across the path which even travelers who notice them and aren’t caught in them will still be stopped by, giving the ettercaps an opportunity to attack. An adventuring party that makes camp in the woods may wake in the morning to find its campsite entirely encircled by webs.

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Peryton Tactics

The peryton is a monstrosity with the body of an enormous bird of prey and the head of a stag, albeit a carnivorous stag with nasty incisors. Perytons roost in mountains and rocky hills near settled areas where they can find prey. According to the Monster Manual, they favor humanoids in general and humans and elves in particular, and they’ll often try to rip out their prey’s heart and carry it off. “When attacking a humanoid,” the MM says, “a peryton is single-minded and relentless, fighting until it or its prey dies.” This is the behavioral oddity that distinguishes it, as a monstrosity, from an ordinary evolved creature.

All of a peryton’s physical abilities are above average, but its Strength is especially high, so it’s going to go for big-damage attacks, either by dive-bombing its prey or in a close-quarters scrap. Its features include Dive Attack and Flyby: the former is an aerial charge that deals additional damage, while the latter exempts it from opportunity attacks when it flies out of an enemy’s reach. The peryton has a flying speed of 60 feet, and its Dive Attack requires it to fly 30 feet to gain the extra damage.

This combination makes the peryton’s preferred attack tactic obvious: Its first attack will always be a Dive Attack, from a distance of exactly 30 feet if possible. It uses 30 feet of its move to conduct this attack; Multiattacks (action) with Talons and Gore, gaining Dive Attack damage on both of these; then, if its target is still alive and kicking, uses the other 30 feet of its move to fly away again. As long as its prey lives, it will repeat this half-move/Dive Attack/half-move combination.

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Owlbear Tactics

In fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons, “monstrosities” are monsters that don’t fit neatly into another category: they’re not beings from other planes, they’re not magically animated objects, they’re not animals or ambulatory plants, they’re not humanoids, they’re not giants or dragons, and they’re not undead. Mostly, they’re magically created beings, or they were at some point far back in time. In some respects, they behave like evolved creatures (the more so the longer they’ve been around), but they may retain oddities of behavior that reflect their unnatural origins.

The first monstrosity I’ll examine is another D&D classic, the owlbear: a creature of grizzly bear–like size and shape (and temperament) with an owl-like head. Applying my usual Str-Dex-Con analysis to it places it in the category of “brute”—high Constitution, extremely high Strength, relatively low (though still above-average) Dexterity—which means its preferred fighting style will be direct assault. Owlbears are dumb (Intelligence 3) and won’t prioritize one target over another. They’re not stealthy, but they’re also hard to fool with stealth, having Perception +3 and advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks based on sight or smell. They’re pretty fast as well, able to outrun most player characters. Finally, they have standard darkvision, so we can assume that they’re active primarily at night and/or underground. An owlbear encountered in its lair during daytime hours will be sleeping, or at least resting, though the presence of other creatures may wake it up.

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Beholder Tactics

Our current Dungeons and Dragons group got together after one of my wife’s coworkers cattily referred to a client as “someone who looks like he’d play Dungeons and Dragons in his mom’s basement,” and another of them retorted, “I would totally play Dungeons and Dragons.” He ended up being the host of our weekly sessions.

Why do I mention this? Because the beholder is such an iconic D&D monster that our host—who knew hardly anything about the game before we began playing—told me near the beginning of our campaign, “All I want is to run into an ‘eye of the beholder,’ and I’ll be happy.”

The beholder is an aberration—a magically summoned creature of extraplanar origin—with a hateful, avaricious and territorial temperament. It has little purpose in life beyond guarding its chosen turf. Though not strong, it has powerful mental abilities along with a high Dexterity and very high Constitution, protecting it against all of the “big three” types of saving throws. As you’d expect from a floating blob with a giant central eye, its Perception skill is through the roof; it also has darkvision out to 120 feet. It has an innate ability to hover, so it can never be knocked prone.

At melee range, it has a bite attack, but the beholder’s trump card is its Eye Rays, which emanate from the many smaller eyes at the end of stalks extending from its body. These rays have a range of 120 feet, enough to keep trespassers at a distance for two to five combat rounds. It can also project an Antimagic Cone from its central eye, but this ability is problematic, as we’ll see in a moment.

Finally, a beholder in its lair has access to three lair actions: slippery slime on the floor, grasping appendages flailing from the walls and random beholder eyes appearing on nearby surfaces. And a beholder encounter almost always happens in its lair.

The beholder is aggressive, malicious and antisocial, so when trespassers appear, it’s not going to indulge any attempt to negotiate passage—it’s going to attack immediately.

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Nothic Tactics

In fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons, “aberrations” are monsters that come from somewhere other than the material world that the player characters inhabit—from other planes or even other universes. We can still presume that they’ve evolved, although the conditions they’ve evolved in may be very different from our own, and that they still behave in ways that further their own survival, whatever powers or alien thought processes they may possess.

The nothic is categorized in the 5E Monster Manual as an aberration, although based on its flavor text, it seems like it belongs more in the category of “monstrosity,” which includes beings created by magic: nothics are described as onetime wizards whose avarice for secret knowledge led to their being cursed by the lich Vecna. This “origin story” seems to make them cousins to the undead as well. Since monstrosities and undead are not evolved creatures, it’s hard to say whether nothics should play by the usual rules of natural selection or not. I’m going to examine them as weird hybrids that follow those rules sometimes but are also subject to undead-esque compulsion.

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