Clockwork Tactics

The clockwork constructs in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes are a collection of machines used by rock gnomes to defend their turf. Combining trickery with extraordinary durability and disproportionate damage-dealing capacity, they share a range of condition and damage immunities along with darkvision and the ability to understand their controllers’ commands—but also a rigidity in their behavior that can only be compensated for by active, real-time control. If they’re sent off to do their work on their own, they do it mechanistically, with no adaptation to what’s going on around them.

First up is the bronze scout, which isn’t particularly strong, but it doesn’t need to be, because it’s basically a self-guided mobile land mine. The key things to note are its burrowing movement, its double proficiency in Stealth, its Earth Armor trait, its Lightning Flare action, and one more trait that’s mentioned in the flavor text but unpardonably omitted from its stat block: “telescoping eyestalks” that let it see aboveground while it burrows below. These eyestalks are crucial, because the bronze scout lacks tremorsense or any other listed way to detect the presence of creatures above it.

This combination of features makes the bronze scout the ideal ambush initiator: Using Stealth to muffle its approach, it scuttles along the ground until it sees movement, then tunnels into the earth and heads toward it. Once it’s approximately in position, it pokes its eyestalks up and looks around, checking to see if its position is correct—that is, if at least three enemies are within 15 feet of it (see “Targets in Area of Effect,” Dungeon Master’s Guide, chapter 8). If it’s not, it retracts its eyestalks and repositions. If it is, it sets off its Lightning Flare, whereupon its waiting allies launch their attack. Since it’s immune to physical damage from nonmagical, non-adamantine weapons, it can take a hell of a beating, Biting back at whatever attacks it. But if it’s seriously damaged (reduced to 7 hp or fewer), it dives back underground, provoking no opportunity attack thanks to Earth Armor, and scuttles away.

The bronze scout doesn’t have to be used in this way, though. It can be used, as its name suggests, simply as a scout, which doesn’t attack at all unless it’s discovered. In this instance, the bronze scout Readies the Lightning Flare action, with the triggering condition “when any creature winds up to make a melee attack against it.” Including the wind-up in the trigger condition is key, because it’s a perceivable circumstance allows the bronze scout to use Lightning Flare as an interrupt, occurring before the opponent follows through with the attack, whereas if the condition were “when any creature makes a melee attack,” the reaction would have to wait until after the attack either hit or missed. Continue reading Clockwork Tactics

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

Devil Tactics: Merregons and Narzugons

My own campaigns have never been very fiend-heavy, so I haven’t delved much into the ranks of devils, but as I’m looking at the merregon for the first time, I’m impressed by the idea that the souls of soldiers who served evil spend eternity fighting for the forces of hell without faces, only permanent iron masks. I can imagine Nazi footsoldiers being condemned to this fate, and I find the image satisfying.

Merregons are brutes, with exceptional Strength and Constitution; their Wisdom is above-average, but their Intelligence is ape-level. They’re immune to fire and poison; resistant to cold, to magic and to physical damage from nonmagical, non-silvered weapons; and mute. They can’t be frightened or poisoned. The only language they understand is Infernal. They have 60 feet of darkvision, which isn’t overwhelmed by the darkness spell, as darkvision usually is.

With their double Halberd Multiattack, merregons make effective, straightforward footsoldiers. But their effectiveness is increased dramatically when they fight in the presence of another fiend of challenge rating 6 or greater—for instance, a bone devil, erinys, pit fiend or amnizu. The two Halberd attacks in the merregons’ Multiattack become three, and if they’re adjacent to their superior, they soak up attacks meant for it. Continue reading Devil Tactics: Merregons and Narzugons

Demon Tactics: Maurezhi and Dybbuks

Maurezhi, according to Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, are demons formed from the corrupted souls of elves to lead packs of ghouls and ghasts. The connection to elves is interesting, because as I note in my article on ghoul and ghast tactics, whether or not their claw attacks have an effect on elves is a key feature distinguishing ghouls from ghasts. (Ghouls’ claw attacks have no paralyzing effect on elves; ghasts’ claw attacks do.)

Upon consuming the corpse of a humanoid it’s slain, a maurezhi has a brief window of opportunity during which it assumes his or her appearance and can convincingly pass as that person, with the help of its proficiency in the Deception skill. Almost immediately, however, this body begins to rot away, and after just a day, something is clearly not right; by a few days later, the maurezhi sheds it, like a skin it’s outgrown. The ideal maurezhi encounter therefore takes place very soon after it’s assumed a new appearance, and any delay is going to have an effect on its strategy.

Maurezhi have high Charisma, but this doesn’t figure into any of their attacks, only their deception skill. Combat-wise, they’re shock attackers, with exceptional Dexterity that functions as their primary ability for both defense and offense. Since ghouls and ghasts are also shock attackers, and since maurezhi will typically be encountered leading packs of them, there should be enough baddies to go around for an entire group of protagonists; the ghouls and ghasts go straight for the ones they want to eat, while the maurezhi zeroes in on any other opponent who might present an obstacle to that and tries to take him or her out in a round or two. Continue reading Demon Tactics: Maurezhi and Dybbuks

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