Devil Tactics: Abishais

I’ve got Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes in my hot little hands, and the first request I’ve gotten is for abishais, a kind of devil-dragon hybrid. It would be lovely if they followed a nice, regular pattern of features, as dragons do, but unfortunately, they’ve inherited their fiendish progenitors’ all-over-the-place-ness.

There are certain things all abishais have in common, though:

  • Impressive natural armor, with ACs ranging from 15 up to 22.
  • Brisk flying speeds.
  • Above-average abilities across the board, with peaks varying according to type.
  • Resistance to physical damage from nonmagical, non-silvered weapons, along with cold damage (except for white abishai, which are fully immune to cold).
  • Immunity to fire and poison damage, along with the types corresponding to their draconic progenitors’ breath weapons (this means that red and green abishai don’t get an extra type), and immunity to being poisoned.
  • Long-range darkvision and telepathy.
  • Devil’s Sight (the ability to see through magical darkness), Magic Resistance and Magical Weapons.
  • At least two attacks per Multiattack action, along with additional elemental damage when they claw or bite.

So here are a few things we can already infer about abishais in general: fearlessness toward most other beings; tactics built around aerial attacks (since opportunity attacks pose little threat to them); and a strong preference for operating underground, at night or in artificial darkness. Continue reading Devil Tactics: Abishais

Death Knight Tactics

When a corrupted paladin dies without making amends for his or her misdeeds, he or she may be raised as a death knight, an undead warrior that retains a tenuous connection to its former divine link. Like all undead, death knights are motivated by compulsion rather than survival.

What kind of compulsion might drive a former paladin, particularly one who strayed from the path of good? One leaps out at me as so obvious that it hardly seems worth considering any other: the desire to punish. Punish whom, for what? Does it matter?

The death knight is a brute, with extraordinary Strength and Constitution and a large reservoir of hit points, but not an unthinking one: all its mental ability scores are above average, and its Charisma in particular is exceptional. It has proficiency on Dexterity and Wisdom saving throws, two of the “big three,” plus advantage on spells saves in general from Magic Resistance. It’s immune to necrotic and poison damage and can’t be poisoned, exhausted or frightened. It doesn’t possess any resistance or immunity to physical damage from normal weapons, however. Continue reading Death Knight Tactics

Sphinx Tactics

Sphinxes are bosses. Probably somewhat underutilized bosses, since you can only employ the solve-the-riddle, access-the-vault trope so many times before it gets tiresome (and that number of times is generally one, if not zero), so the first challenge you have to overcome as a dungeon master, before dealing with its tactics, is figuring out a way to make a sphinx encounter feel fresh. I’ll be honest: I have no useful advice on this. If you have any, share it in the comments below.

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons had four varieties of sphinx; the number peaked in version 3.5 (the “More is always better” edition) at nine. But the fifth-edition Monster Manual includes only two: the androsphinx and the gynosphinx. The androsphinx remains the more powerful of the two, because patriarchy. (The gynosphinx, strangely, seems to have a mane, although on closer inspection, it may just be a wig.)

Androsphinxes and gynosphinxes have many features in common. Physically, they’re brute fighters; mentally, they’re champs across the board, though the masculine androsphinxes have less Intelligence and more Charisma. (If you think this makes them sound like the types who typically get promoted to management, you’re not alone.) They’re hyper-Perceptive, with 120 feet of truesight; they can’t be charmed or frightened, and they’re immune to psychic damage. At a minimum, they’re resistant to physical damage from nonmagical weapons (androsphinxes are fully immune). They can fly, at a speed greater than their normal movement. Their claw attacks are magical, and they get two per action. They have three legendary actions, which they take on other creatures’ turns: a single claw attack, teleportation and casting one spell. (Since this last costs three actions, they’ll use it only in case of dire emergency.) They have the Inscrutable feature, an ability primarily applicable to social interaction, which shields them from mind-reading. And they have a repertoire of spells they can cast at high levels. Continue reading Sphinx Tactics

Demon Tactics: Type 4, 5 and 6 Demons

We now return you to your regularly scheduled monsters. Today, the upper management of the demonic hierarchy: the type 4 nalfeshnee, the type 5 marilith, and the type 6 balor and goristro.

As mentioned before, demons can’t be killed on the prime material plane—or on any other except their home plane, the Abyss. Any demon killed elsewhere simply re-forms there. Therefore, demons fought on any other plane don’t fear death and won’t retreat or flee even when seriously injured. They inflict as much injury and damage as they can until they’re destroyed.

Also, all demons are (at a minimum) resistant to cold, fire and lightning damage and immune to poison, and at this level, they’re all immune to physical damage from normal weapons as well. Additionally, they have either darkvision or truesight, giving them advantage at night and underground. Continue reading Demon Tactics: Type 4, 5 and 6 Demons

Dragon Tactics, Part 2

“Metallic” dragons are the good complements to the evil “chromatic” dragons. Looking just at their statistics, they’re identical in most ways: Their physical abilities follow the high-Strength, high-Constitution “brute” profile. They have proficiency bonuses on all of the “big three” saving throws, plus Charisma. They have blindsight, darkvision, flying movement and one alternative movement mode (burrowing, swimming or climbing)—although I have to put an asterisk by this last one, because the editors of the fifth-edition Monster Manual seem to have forgotten to give silver dragons an alternative movement mode. Adult and ancient metallic dragons have the same legendary actions as chromatic dragons of those ages, and they share the chromatic dragons’ Legendary Resistance and Frightful Presence features. In addition, young, adult and ancient metallic dragons have the same Claw/Claw/Bite Multiattack. And, of course, they all have breath weapons.

Metallic dragons differ from chromatic dragons in four ways:

  • Young, adult and ancient metallic dragons all have social skill proficiencies in addition to Perception and Stealth.
  • Ancient brass and copper dragons, and adult and ancient bronze, gold and silver dragons, can Change Shape.
  • Adult and ancient metallic dragons have only two lair actions available to them, rather than three.
  • Each metallic dragon has two types of breath weapon, one of which is nonlethal and can be used to subdue without injury.

Given that these are good creatures—most of the monsters we’ve looked at so far are either evil creatures or unaligned predators—an encounter with a metallic dragon is going to play out very differently from an encounter with a chromatic dragon. Rarely will it begin with the dragon attacking the player characters—or, for that matter, with the PCs attacking the dragon. Continue reading Dragon Tactics, Part 2