Ogre Tactics

Recently, I was asked by a reader to look at ogre tactics. There’s a reason why I haven’t touched on ogres before now, and that’s that ogres basically have no tactics. They’re dumb, simple brutes. With many monsters, simply throwing them at player characters and having them go “Rrrraaaahhhh, stab stab stab” (or in this case, “bash bash bash”) falls far short of what those monsters are capable of at their best. With ogres, at least ordinary ones, it’s all they’re capable of.

But Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes includes several ogre variants that are, in fact, worth examining. What you have to remember, though, is that these ogres are never going to appear on their own, nor solely in the company of other ogres. These are semi-domesticated ogres used by other species as trained warbeasts. They use their special features only when commanded to. Thus, it’s the Intelligence of the trainer, not of the ogre, that influences how effectively they’re used.

In the stat block of the basic ogre, there are only two details that a dungeon master not accustomed to tactical thinking might overlook (by now, they should be obvious to any regular reader of this blog). Continue reading Ogre Tactics

Centaur Tactics

Centaurs are the half-horse, half-human hybrids of Greek myth for which, it has been observed, no one has yet come up with a definitive way to design trousers. Which to me clearly indicates that they don’t wear any. Don’t come to me with your hang-ups, man.

In the Harry Potter series, centaurs are standoffish, territorial and even a bit malicious, but in Dungeons and Dragons, as far back as I can remember, they’ve been labeled good creatures—although I’m pretty sure they were originally chaotic good rather than neutral good, which makes more sense to me. Anyway, the upshot is, centaurs are unlikely to attack unprovoked and may prefer to try to subdue and capture their enemies rather than kill them. Doesn’t mean they can’t give you a good hoof-clout, though.

With a single-peak ability contour—exceptional Strength, but merely above-average Dexterity and Constitution—centaurs are also another sort of hybrid, between a brute and a shock attacker. As I use the terms, shock attackers hit fast and hard, then get out, because they’re not cut out for prolonged melee engagement; brutes engage and tank it out until their enemies are dead. With centaurs, we’re maybe looking at something in between: a creature that engages for just two or three rounds, then disengages. Continue reading Centaur Tactics

Faerie Dragon Tactics

There’s not much reason for player characters to get in a fight with a faerie dragon, unless they’re just bad people. Faerie dragons are cute, good-natured and mostly harmless, teasing passers-by with mischievous illusions—nothing harmful or spiteful, mind you. PCs who take their pranks in good fun have nothing more to fear from them. React aggressively, though, and they’ll respond in kind.

Faerie dragons are tiny and very weak, but their Dexterity is extraordinary, their Constitution above average. They’re also clever and very charismatic. They have nothing in the way of ranged attacks, so any fighting they do has to be the hit-and-run kind.

This is facilitated by their high flying speed—60 feet per round—and their Superior Invisibility, which lets them turn invisible at will for as long as they concentrate on staying that way. This means they can freely move, attack, use objects or even cast spells without becoming visible, although they can’t cast a spell that also requires concentration.

They can communicate telepathically with other faerie dragons nearby, meaning that if you find yourself fighting more than one, you’re in for a world of misery, because they’re going to call in all their friends for backup. By the third round of a fight with two faerie dragons, you’ll be fighting five. A couple of rounds later, you’ll be fighting a dozen. Then three dozen. Does this seem like dirty pool? I don’t care, man. You attack a good creature, you reap what you sow. Continue reading Faerie Dragon Tactics

Dinosaur Tactics

“Sophistication” is not the word that leaps to mind when discussing the battle tactics of dinosaurs. Most of these ancient beasts are dumb brutes, with extraordinary Strength and Constitution and rock-bottom Intelligence. They also fall into two main categories, plus one variation:

  • Plant-eaters: These tend to be peaceful unless spooked. They may lash out if you invade their space, and they’ll defend themselves if cornered, but most of the time, they’ll mind their own business. If attacked, they’ll usually run.
  • Meat-eaters: These are predators that will hunt, kill and eat any creature smaller than themselves. If they’re hungry—and they usually are—you can count on them to chase and attack anyone and anything they might construe as food.
  • Flying meat-eaters: These behave like their landbound kin, but the fact that they can fly adds an aerial wrinkle to their attack pattern.

The fifth-edition Monster Manual contains stat blocks for six dinosaurs: allosaurus, ankylosaurus, plesiosaurus, pteranodon, triceratops and tyrannosaurus rex. Volo’s Guide to Monsters contains seven more: brontosaurus, deinonychus, dimetrodon, hadrosaurus, quetzalcoatlus, stegosaurus and velociraptor. (All the dinosaurs in Tomb of Annihilation can be found in these two books.)

I’ll look at these by dietary group, from lowest challenge rating to highest within each. Think of this as the dinosaurs’ pecking order, as any meat-eating dinosaur will attack and eat another dinosaur of a smaller size and lower CR, while a higher CR plant-eater, although it won’t actually attack other plant-eaters with lower CRs, may yet decide to muscle in and chase them off if the grazing in an area is especially good. I’ll also link to images, since they’re not all illustrated in the 5E books. Continue reading Dinosaur Tactics

Vegepygmy Tactics

In yon days of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, TSR published every adventure “module” (as we called them then) with an alphanumeric code, and if you speak the code “S3” to a role-playing gamer of my generation, it’ll be met with a big grin and the reaction, “The one with the spaceship!” Yep, that’s Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, a D&D/science fiction crossover, in which the player characters explore the wreckage of a futuristic craft and stock up on assorted high-tech weaponry and loot.

One of the more memorable monsters from this module is the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing, a carnivorous, tentacled stump with a wiggly appendage at the top that resembles an adorable furry creature. Another—equally memorable but less fondly remembered—is the vegepygmy. Among my D&D friends, I think vegepygmies must have come in for more derision than any other D&D monster except the flumph and the flail snail, although thinking about it now, I couldn’t tell you exactly why we thought vegepygmies were so ridiculous. Maybe it was just the name. Anyway, the last paragraph of the vegepygmy entry in Volo’s Guide to Monsters contains a cheeky shout-out to their origin.

Vegepygmies, essentially, are fungus in a humanoid form, though they differ from myconids in . . . ways. For one thing, they do possess the power of speech, sort of. They’re not telepathic. They’re a little more peoply-looking. They propagate by infecting other creatures with russet mold spores, rather than independently. But ultimately, they’re still just another form of animate fungus. And like myconids, they’re categorized in Volo’s as plants, even though fungi, it turns out, are closer to animals than to plants in the taxonomic tree. As I suggested with myconids, you may choose to categorize them as humanoids or even aberrations instead, then let your players try to solve the riddle of their plant-related spells’ not working on beings that sure do look like plants. Continue reading Vegepygmy Tactics