Deathlock Tactics

Pacts formed with supernatural patrons tend not to have escape clauses, and the penalties for breaking them can be unpleasant. Did you make a pact with an archfiend to do its bidding in exchange for occult powers and fail to live up to the terms? No “till death do us part” in this vow—that archfiend owns you after death, as well. You’re a deathlock, Harry! Free will? No longer an issue. You’re undead now, and your compulsion is to serve your patron—and to do a better job of it than you did when you were alive.

I got my first request to look at the deathlock a fairly long time ago, but just yesterday a reader noticed that it was finally coming up in the queue and asked: “The deathlock only gets two spell slots. What does it do afterward? [Player character] warlocks are built around recharging with a short rest every battle, but enemies rarely survive to return for a second battle, and with its pathetic stats, the only way it’s going to survive is by casting invisibility—and if it saves a spell slot for that, it’s down to one spell slot.”

Well, first of all, let’s look at whether the premises of this question are true. The deathlock’s ability contour peaks in Charisma and Dexterity, which is exactly what you’d expect of a spellslinger in general and a warlock in particular; its Intelligence is also above average. Its 36 average hit points (which you can nudge up, incidentally, if you feel like it needs more staying power) aren’t out of line for a challenge rating 4 foe. Plus, it has resistance to physical damage from nonmagical, non-silvered weapons, so unless you’re handing out magic items like candy, there’s a decent chance that your mid-level adventurers will do only half damage to it. (It’s also resistant to necrotic damage and immune to poison damage and the poisoned condition, but these are less significant.) Continue reading Deathlock 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

Duergar Tactics: Mordenkainen’s Duergar, Part 2

Moar duergar! The duergar mind master is the last of the CR 2 duergar, the one with the ability contour of a spellcaster but no actual spells. What it does have is Mind Mastery, a feature with a 60-foot range which requires an Intelligence saving throw to resist. More to the point, it targets one creature within 60 feet and requires a DC 12 Intelligence save to resist.

This feature, frankly, is terrible. Even a level 1 PC who’s dumped Intelligence still has a 40 percent chance of succeeding on this saving throw. It’s a straight-up waste of an action in any circumstance save one: as part of an ambush. In this instance, a hidden mind master can use Mind Mastery against a target without giving away its position or even its presence if it fails, since Mind Mastery is technically neither an attack nor a spell. If it succeeds, it gets to force an opponent to sucker-punch one of their own allies—or, depending on the local terrain, walk directly into a chasm or a river of lava or something. With Intelligence 15, a mind master is smart enough to know not to bother using this feature in open combat.

So forget treating it as a spellcaster; we’ll pretend that its Intelligence is nothing special after all and it’s just another shock trooper, using Dexterity for offense as well as defense. Continue reading Duergar Tactics: Mordenkainen’s Duergar, Part 2

Flail Snail Tactics

The ridiculous flail snail probably ought to be categorized as a beast, but Volo’s Guide to Monsters declares it to be an elemental, meaning someone casting conjure elemental in the hope of summoning an earth elemental, xorn or gargoyle may end up stuck with one of these instead. Large, tough and most of all slow, the flail snail is technically a brute, but let’s not kid ourselves: This thing isn’t a predator, it’s prey.

Despite that, the flail snail has no effective means of running away when attacked, so it has to rely on a suite of defense mechanisms, the rudest of which is its Antimagic Shell, which has a chance of bouncing spell attacks back at their casters or refracting them into a multidirectional fusillade of force damage. Antimagic Shell, however, is passive. The one and only decision the flail snail needs to make when attacked is whether to use its Flail Tentacles, its Scintillating Shell or its Shell Defense on any given turn.

Note that flail snails, while brilliant in the visual sense, are far from it in the cognitive sense: with Intelligence 3, they’re not going to be employing advanced combat heuristics. A flail snail’s choice of action is going to boil down to a couple of simple rules that it always follows. Continue reading Flail Snail Tactics

Yugoloth Tactics: Merrenoloths

The lowest-level of the yugoloths in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is the merrenoloth, and it’s something I haven’t come across before: a low-level monster that nevertheless has lair actions with regional effects. Merrenoloths normally pilot ferryboats on the River Styx (meaning, I suppose, that Charon is the head of their guild), but they can be summoned and hired to captain vessels on other planes. When a merrenoloth accepts such a contract, the vessel becomes its lair.

The lair actions don’t do much to protect the merrenoloth itself; rather, they protect the vessel under its command, allowing the merrenoloth to restore hit points to a damaged vessel, speed it away from pursuers (or toward another vessel it’s pursuing) or interfere with flying attackers. The merrenoloth itself, in fact, would rather not fight at all—it would rather just do its job. Consequently, it will never come to the aid of another creature. It engages in combat only if threatened directly.

When it is threatened, it defends itself partly by spellcasting and partly by striking with an oversize oar, which it seems to wield as a finesse weapon, judging by its attack bonus and damage. Its ability contour is interesting: part spellslinger, part melee shock attacker. But it doesn’t have much in the way of damaging ranged spells; its strongest offensive gambit is gust of wind, which it can use to try to shove enemies overboard. I say “try to,” because its spell save DC of 13 is not impressive; even low-level fighting classes will beat it at least half the time. On the other hand, it affect an area 60 feet long and 10 feet wide, so it’s usable against several foes at once, at least one of whom is likely to fail their save. Continue reading Yugoloth Tactics: Merrenoloths