NPC Tactics: Scouts and Spies

OK, here’s a quickie post in response to a reader who pointed out that I haven’t yet taken a look at two non-player characters from the Monster Manual: the scout and the spy.

Scouts are spotters and lookouts. With proficiency in Perception and Stealth, they could be effective ambush attackers, but that’s not their job. Their job is to gather information and return with it; combat is an undesirable complication. Consequently, if they attack at all, they prefer strongly to do so at range.

Eighty percent of the humanoids they encounter will have a speed of 30 feet. Of the remainder, most will have a speed of either 25 or 35 feet. Therefore, they don’t position themselves any closer than 75 feet to their targets unless they absolutely have to, and if they have a good view, they’re content to stay as far as 150 feet away. They can attack at these distances without disadvantage, but they’re not assassins. They attack only in self-defense.

Whether they do even this much depends on the speed of any foe who sees and pursues them. If the subjects of their reconnaissance have a speed of 30 feet or slower, they take potshots (Multiattack, Longbow × 2) at pursuers who are still more than 75 feet away at the start of the scouts’ turn. If the pursuers are closer or faster, scouts Dash away. If more than one opponent manages to get within melee reach, or if they can’t afford to take even a single hit, they Disengage—they have the training to do so.

Scouts only drop their bows and draw their swords when they’re surrounded, with no avenue of escape. If they have no reason to think they’ll be killed if they’re captured, they may choose to surrender rather than fight. Continue reading NPC Tactics: Scouts and Spies

Conjured Creature Tactics

Today’s post is as much for players as it is for Dungeon Masters, because creatures summoned by conjure animals are as often found fighting alongside player characters as against them. And, in fact, the tactics relating to conjured creatures are player tactics as much as they are creature tactics, if not more so.

Conjure animals—along with the closely related spells conjure woodland beings and conjure minor elementals—is sometimes referred to as a “broken” spell. It’s not necessarily that the spell is excessively powerful; in fact, as we’ll see, it comes with a built-in hitch that can have just the opposite effect. Rather, it’s the fact that this hitch encourages casters to summon as many creatures as possible, causing combat to bog down badly—over and over and over again. So one of the things I’ll talk about is how to keep this from happening.

It behooves any player whose PC learns conjure animals (or conjure woodland beings or conjure minor elementals) to read the spell description very closely, because it doesn’t necessarily do what you think it does. Unlike, say, find familiar, these spells don’t give you the privilege of choosing what kind of creature shows up. They don’t even let you dictate how powerful the summoned creature(s) will be. The only thing you’re assured of is how many creatures show up. Continue reading Conjured Creature Tactics

Chitine and Choldrith Tactics

Today I look at two related creatures from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, the chitine and the choldrith, part-elf, part-spider abominations created by magic as servitors of the spider goddess Lolth, patron of the drow. Based on their descriptions in the lore, even though they’ve produced offspring for many generations, the manner of their creation and the strong connection to their demonic mistress’s will suggests that they haven’t evolved; rather, they remain much as they were when they were created. Which implies two things: that they don’t necessarily have the same survival instincts that evolved creatures do, and that they may occasionally behave in suboptimal ways.

Chitines—hairy bipeds with multiple additional arms and eyes—are the more humanoid of the monstrous pair. They’re also the weaker, with a challenge rating of just 1/2. Largely, they’re uncomplicated ambush attackers. Their Web Sense and Web Walker traits strongly suggest that they’re usually encountered in the company of creatures that spin webs, such as their choldrith cousins, giant spiders or ettercaps; they may also be minions of a drow arachnomancer. But while spinning webs isn’t part of their combat repertoire, it is something they can do on their own time, according to the flavor text, so they don’t need these other creatures to have a webbed-up field to fight on. Fighting in webs and pitch darkness gives them a big comparative advantage. Their Stealth proficiency and climbing movement suggest not only that they lurk in the dark, waiting to pounce, but that they lurk in the dark on the ceiling.

With Intelligence and Wisdom of only 10, chitines aren’t particularly choosy about their targets. Their above-average Dexterity and Constitution suggest a preference for skirmishing, but really, Dexterity is both their primary offensive ability and their primary defensive ability, and they lean heavily on their Multiattack. Even when engaged with one melee opponent, they’re happy to ditch them to go after another who seems more vulnerable, judging by size, age, relative isolation, whether a they seem to have a hard time seeing in the dark, and/or whether they’re under a debilitating condition, such as being restrained by sticky webs. They’re not quite smart or disciplined enough to know how to Disengage, so they’ll often provoke opportunity attacks against themselves while darting from opponent to opponent. But they can—and do—minimize these by climbing up walls, skittering across ceilings to get past enemies they don’t want to engage with, then dropping down on those they do want to engage. Continue reading Chitine and Choldrith Tactics

Rot Grub ‘Tactics’

Rot grubs are nearly mindless creatures that exist primarily in swarms, a stat block for which is provided in Volo’s Guide to Monsters. They’re a nasty surprise for any adventurer who stumbles across them, since the only way to fight them off once they’ve burrowed into you is to intentionally burn yourself. However, to talk about their having “tactics” is to give them too much credit, and I’m only bothering to write them up because a reader requested it.

A swarm of rot grubs is easy to hit, having an armor class of only 8, but not so easy to destroy. The swarm is resistant to piercing and slashing damage, reflecting the fact that you can kill a lot more grubs with a broad bashing weapon than with a thin cutting edge or poking point. The swarm is also immune to most debilitating conditions, stunned and unconscious being two standout exceptions. The swarm can be blinded, but that doesn’t mean much, since it has 10 feet of blindsight. Except for its Constitution, which is average, the swarm’s ability scores are pitifully low.

The swarm has only one attack, a bite that does only indirect damage. Rather than take place at the moment of attack, the damage occurs at the start of the target’s turn, and it varies in proportion to the number of grubs that have burrowed into the target’s flesh (1d4 per hit). The target must cauterize the bite wound on this turn, or the burrowing grubs will do continuous round-by-round damage until the target is either cured of the infestation or dead. Continue reading Rot Grub ‘Tactics’

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. Continue reading Modron Tactics