Alhoon Tactics

Some time ago, a reader asked me to take a look at the alhoon, an undead, spellcasting mind flayer that’s almost a lich but not quite. Instead of becoming effectively immortal, the alhoon lengthens its lifespan through human(oid) sacrifice, tacking on however many years its victim has lived. (It seems to me that the alhoon should get however many years the victim has left, but whatever; I’m not a necromancer.)

Alhoons have a daunting array of features, so strap in—this is going to take a while to analyze. We’ll begin with their ability scores, which, like those of the ordinary mind flayer, are weighted toward the mental end, with Intelligence 19 leading the pack. However, unlike ordinary mind flayers, they also have a very high Constitution, along with proficiency in Constitution saving throws. This, combined with immunity (not resistance!) to physical damage from nonmagical attacks and advantage on saving throws against spells from Magic Resistance means their chief vulnerability is to magic weapons, with spells that require Dexterity saves to avoid damage a distant second. And not just any Dex-save spell: they’re also resistant to cold, lightning and necrotic damage and immune to poison. Fireball OK; lightning bolt bad.

In addition to various intellectual skills, alhoons have proficiency in Perception and Stealth, disposing them toward ambush. Their 120 feet of truesight means they probably know when you’re coming for them, and the first thing an alhoon does when it knows you’re coming is Hide. (more…)

The Flanking Rule: Why Many DMs Hate It and Why I’ll Still Use It

I never realized when I began writing this blog just how big a hot-button issue flanking is. Personally, being a longtime player of not just Dungeons and Dragons but also various war games, including quasi–war games like Sid Meier’s Civilization series, I thought using the optional flanking rule on page 251 of the fifth-edition Dungeon Master’s Guide was a no-brainer. Yeah, D&D is a game in which silly things happen on the regular, but given a choice, I still like to err on the side of verisimilitude, and it’s a simple fact of life that if you’re being attacked by someone in front of you and someone behind you, you’re going to get the tar kicked out of you.

But after getting some negative feedback to my advocacy of the flanking rule (including one Reddit poster who went so far as to say that as far as he was concerned, it invalidated everything else I say!), I decided to put some feelers out to learn why, exactly, some players are vehemently against granting advantage on attacks against a flanked enemy.

The rules of D&D 5E are written with considerable care and meant to be taken absolutely literally, so instead of glossing as I usually do, I’m going to reproduce the exact wording of this rule, in its entirety: (more…)

Yeti Tactics

Scourges of the arctic peaks, yetis are reclusive apex predators renowned for their bloodlust. Being impervious to the cold and having a keen sense of smell, they may be encountered wandering the foggy terrain around a white dragon lair or venturing out to hunt in a swirling blizzard.

With exceptional Strength and Constitution and merely above-average Dexterity, yetis are brute melee fighters, but they do have a couple of features they gain an edge from. One is their proficiency in Stealth, which combined with their Keen Smell and Snow Camouflage features gives them tremendous incentive to ambush prey in low-visibility conditions, such as the darkness of night or the whiteout of a snowstorm. The other is Chilling Gaze, which is part of its Multiattack.

Chilling Gaze requires the yeti to be within 30 feet of its target, so it has to exercise patience, staying hidden until its prey is close enough for it to strike—but that doesn’t mean it leaves this to chance. Yetis have Wisdom 12, high enough for them to exercise care in choosing their targets, and like other predators hunting for a meal, they favor the young, the old, the weak, the isolated and the oblivious. They’ll actively maneuver to bring themselves within strike range of such a target, counting on the combination of their Stealth proficiency, their Snow Camouflage and vision-obscuring conditions to keep themselves from being seen. (more…)

Displacer Beast Tactics

An old-school monster dating all the way back to the 1974 Greyhawk supplement, the displacer beast is a panther-like creature that walks on six legs but attacks with a pair of long, sinuous tentacles emerging from its shoulders. Its name comes from its power to make itself appear to be several feet from where it actually is.

Aside from this passive feature, there’s not much in the displacer beast’s stat block to make it anything but a straightforward brute. Its primary physical abilities are Strength and Constitution, its 40-foot movement speed makes charging a snap, and it has no feature that allows or encourages a unique method of attack.

So to find a displacer beast fighting style that differs at all from that of other “Rrrrahhhh, bash bash bash” brutes, we have to look to three things: its armor class, its reach and the Monster Manual flavor text. (more…)

Modron Tactics

I was a huge math nerd as a kid. I think I must have been just 5 or 6 years old when I first got my hands on Flatland, and I drank it up like a parched man in a hot desert (having no idea until many years later that it was an allegory for classism and sexism in Victorian England), and the discovery of a quasi-sequel called Sphereland (sadly, not in print right now) delighted me even further.

So maybe you’d expect me to be more into modrons than I am. But when a reader recently told me he planned to run a campaign in Mechanus, the plane of pure law, and thought he wasn’t doing the modrons justice, I had to confess: I hate them. I have a great appreciation for silliness, but modrons have always struck me as just too silly, like whoever came up with the idea of Mechanus envisioned it as something out of The Phantom Tollbooth or Donald in Mathmagic Land.

Modrons are constructs, automata with vaguely mathematically inspired bodies and weirdly humanoid faces (with, in the illustrations of the fifth-edition Monster Manual, disturbingly full lips). The more advanced the modron, the more it can multitask, and the more authority it has over other modrons. All modrons possess natural armor, above-average Dexterity, 120 feet of truesight, and the features Axiomatic Mind and Disintegration.

One of the many peculiarities of modrons is that they’re denizens of an outer plane, yet their challenge ratings top out at 2. How many low-level adventurers are going to travel to Mechanus? I wonder whether these creatures must exist at least primarily for the sake of background decoration. They’re not going to pose a challenge to the player characters who encounter them except in great numbers—legions. (more…)