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

Catoblepas Tactics

So it turns out that catoblepas comes to us by way of Latin catōblepās from Ancient Greek katôbleps or katôblepon, and its plural in Latin is catōblepae, while its Ancient Greek plural is either katôblepes or katôblepones. Of all these, I like “catoblepes” best—much more than “catoblepases.” I’m going with it. Also, the accent is on the o: ca-toh­-bleh-pahs, ca-toh-bleh-peez. And that’s one to grow on!

The catoblepas is largely a scavenger, whose loathsome presence befouls the environment around it; I guess it likes its food somewhat pre-decomposed. The foul-tempered monstrosity extends this preference to any edible trespasser who wanders into its territory—thus its Death Ray feature, which inflicts considerable necrotic damage on its target, enough to kill even a level 2 or 3 player character on a successful Constitution saving throw.

Catoblepes are classified as monstrosities, but they’re unaligned and have only beast-level Intelligence, around the level of a cat or dog. Their Strength and Constitution, however, are extraordinary, and their Dexterity is above-average as well. Their darkvision suggests that they’re crepuscular and/or nocturnal; you’re not likely to run across one in broad daylight. They combine above-average passive Perception with Keen Smell, giving them an effective passive Perception of 17 if you’re upwind of them. Continue reading Catoblepas Tactics

Wood Woad Tactics

Wood woads are lawful neutral living plants, basically meaning, don’t start none, won’t be none. The only way you’re going to get in a fight with one is either to trespass on the territory it guards and initiate ruckus, or to attack it outright. Otherwise, they’re likely to remain indifferent to your presence. Not friendly—indifferent.

Wood woads are tough. They have 10 hit dice, exceptionally high Strength and Constitution, and a two-swing Multiattack with a Magic Club that does considerable whomp damage. However, they also have proficiency in Perception and Stealth—and advantage on Stealth checks in “terrain with ample obscuring plant life,” i.e., any kind of forest, wild or cultivated, or even a tall-grass prairie—so they won’t run straight at you as soon as they see you. Instead, they’ll blend in quietly, waiting to attack until trespassers come within reach—or, if they need to put an immediate end to a disturbance, closing the distance with Tree Stride, then attacking. Thus, their first attack will always be an ambush, with unseen-attacker advantage.

However, this ambush won’t necessarily be an attack with intent to harm. They’re lawful neutral, not lawful evil. They have proficiency in Athletics as well, and in combat, that usually means grappling or shoving. If they’re not outnumbered, rather than try to pummel trespassers, they may simply try to bounce them: grapple them, carry them to the edge of their territory and dump them there. Or they might shove a trespasser into a pit or trap, but chances are, it won’t be they who’ll dig that pit or build that trap. Shoving is a tactic they’ll generally use only when they’re henchmen of something or somebody else—though a roaming wood woad, if antagonized, might choose to shove an enemy into a ravine, if one happened to be nearby. Continue reading Wood Woad Tactics

Sahuagin Tactics

Sahuagin are fierce, amphibious fish-men that live underwater but emerge periodically to raid coastal settlements. Although the Monster Manual says they “dwell in the deepest trenches of the ocean,” that’s a bit far for even a creature with a 40-foot swimming speed. Those ocean trenches are as far from the coasts as the highest mountains are, and you don’t often hear about the yeti of the Himalayas spending an afternoon staging a raid on Kolkata, or the Tatzelwürmer of the Alps popping down to Genoa for some late-night ravaging. These are distances of hundreds of miles we’re talking about. So chances are, any sahuagin that player characters encounter are going to be denizens of shallower depths. Maybe they’re the border reivers of the ocean kingdom.

When they come ashore to raid, they do so at night, as implied by their 120 feet of darkvision. They can’t come far inland, since their Limited Amphibiousness gives them only four hours of air breathing before they have to return to the water. Unlike, say, merrows, sahuagin can move about on land as easily as any other humanoid.

In this environment, they’re basic brutes. Their Multiattack gives them one weapon or claw attack and one bite attack. Since their armor class doesn’t include a shield, we can presume that they wield their spears two-handed for the greater damage. Continue reading Sahuagin Tactics

Unicorn Tactics

“Are there unicorns in these woods? I want to see a unicorn!” Venture into any idyllic forested setting, and you’re sure to hear this request from one of your players.

Unicorns are elusive beasts—actually, not beasts, according to fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons’ classification system, but celestials. They’re gentle, exuding a spirit of tranquility that extends to the other creatures that dwell in their vicinities, but also alert defenders of their domains. A unicorn may choose to reveal itself to a good-hearted creature, but any character who takes ill advantage of a unicorn’s good nature will be made to regret it.

I’m actually surprised and impressed by how formidable 5E unicorns are. I’d intended to draw on the suggestion I made in my earlier article on vampire tactics, about taking familiar monsters and giving them unexpected powers, and write a comical post about how unicorns could summon hordes of angry woodland creatures, disappear by running behind a tree and reappear behind another one, fire trebuchets, and rear up on their hind legs and deliver stunning roundhouse kicks like Chuck Norris. The incredible thing is, I don’t need to! Unicorns are pretty tough already. Continue reading Unicorn Tactics