Nightwalker Tactics

It took me a couple of tries to get through the flavor text on the nightwalker in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, but here’s what it seems to boil down to: If some schmuck is dumb enough to try to visit the Negative Plane, which has even less to recommend it as a destination than Philadelphia International Airport, the tradeoff is that a nightwalker is released into the material plane, and the visitor can’t leave the Negative Plane until the nightwalker is somehow persuaded to go back. How can it be persuaded to go back? “By offerings of life for it to devour.” How many such offerings are necessary? It doesn’t say. What do nightwalkers want? “To make life extinct.” So the idea here is to convince a nightwalker to abandon the place where it has plenty of life energy to devour by giving it life energy to devour? Try throwing bagels to raccoons and see how quickly they go away.

As if this arrangement weren’t bad enough for our traveler, destroying the nightwalker traps the traveler on the Negative Plane forever. In short, in an entire universe of bad ideas, going to the Negative Plane for any reason is quite possibly the worst. If you’re creating a nightwalker encounter, though, someone went through with this execrable half-baked plan, and now your player characters are the ones who have to deal with the consequences.

With extraordinary Strength and Constitution, nightwalkers are brutes, but they’re some of the nimblest brutes in the Dungeons and Dragons menagerie: their Dexterity is also extraordinary, though not quite as high as their Strength and Con. Their mental abilities, in contrast, are weak, with below-average Wisdom the highest of the three. They’re indiscriminate in their target selection and operate on instinct, without any flexibility in their tactics. Continue reading Nightwalker Tactics

Elder Elemental Tactics

The four elder elementals in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes have a lot in common. To me, the most striking commonality is that they’re exceptional, if not extraordinary, in every single ability score but one: Intelligence. Each of them has Intelligence 2, indicating bare-minimum sentience.

Once again, we see the combination of low Intelligence and high Wisdom, only this time it’s dialed up to an extreme. What does it mean to have Intelligence 2 and Wisdom 18 or 21? It means intuition without thinking, awareness without adaptability, judgment without reason. It means a creature that acts according to its nature and can’t be compelled to do otherwise. It means a creature that senses the degree of threat that a party of player characters poses but can’t really distinguish any one of those PCs from any other.

These are the other traits shared by all elder elementals:

  • At least two physical ability scores that are higher than all their mental ability scores.
  • Proficiency in Wisdom and Charisma saving throws, making them extremely difficult to manipulate or to banish.
  • Resistance to physical damage from nonmagical attacks.
  • Immunity to poison damage, exhaustion, paralysis, petrifaction, and being poisoned or stunned.
  • Darkvision out to a radius of 60 feet, which in this case I interpret to indicate not a preference for fighting in dim light or darkness but an indifference to lighting conditions in general.
  • A lack of language. Elder elementals aren’t here to chat.
  • Legendary Resistance, which they’ll use primarily to avoid debilitating conditions and only secondarily to avoid damage.
  • The Siege Monster feature, which means they’ll destroy your cover before they destroy you.
  • A Multiattack comprising two different attack actions, one attack with each.
  • A selection of legendary actions that includes one turn’s worth of additional movement.
  • Neutral alignment. The default attitude of an elder elemental toward other creatures is indifference. It’s not going to attack—intentionally—unless it’s provoked. But who knows who or what might provoke it?

Continue reading Elder Elemental Tactics

Undead Tactics: Demiliches

A couple of months ago, a reader noted that I’d analyzed liches but not “their degraded selves,” demiliches. I have to confess, I’ve been putting it off, because analyzing liches was a lot of work. Fortunately, demiliches don’t have such a large repertoire of spells to analyze, so that reduces the complexity.

Demiliches have the same compulsion—the will to power and immortality—as liches, but unless they’ve shed their bodies willingly, there’s an additional element to their character: frustration. They’ve forgotten to feed their phylacteries, or they’ve been prevented somehow from doing so. As a result, the immortality they worked so hard to attain has cheapened. They’ve lost their sense of purpose and their ability to cast spells. They may even have forgotten that they can regain their physicality by feeding new souls to their phylacteries. If reminded of this fact, they’ll forget every other concern and fixate on restoring themselves to lichdom. (Strangely, neither the demilich’s stat block nor its flavor text explains how a soul is fed to its phylactery. Seems like kind of an important omission.) As long as this memory is lost to them, however, they’ll act with malice, tinged with the occasional random miscalculation that stress produces.

Aside from the lack of spellcasting, a demilich differs from a lich in the following ways: Continue reading Undead Tactics: Demiliches

Devil Tactics: Greater Devils

Yesterday I looked at the lesser devils. Today I’ll look at the greater devils: horned devils, erinyes, ice devils and pit fiends. (The fifth-edition Monster Manual doesn’t include stat blocks for archdevils.)

Like the lesser devils, all the greater devils have certain features in common. They have darkvision out to 120 feet and the Devil’s Sight feature, indicating a preference for operating in darkness. They’re immune to fire and poison and resistant to cold (except ice devils, which are immune to cold as well), magical effects, and physical damage from normal, unsilvered weapons. And they all tend toward a brute ability profile—high Strength and Constitution—indicating a preference for melee combat.

Finally, since it’s in the nature of devils to obey those with power over them, a devil fighting in the course of carrying out an assigned duty will never flee from combat, no matter how badly injured it is. Continue reading Devil Tactics: Greater Devils

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