Hags Revisited, Part 1

Volo’s Guide to Monsters includes an extended treatment of hags, and it heavily emphasizes lore: their scheming and manipulation, their names, their personalities, their use of odd mounts and vehicles and keeping of strange “pets,” their fondness for weird objects. But it also presents two much more powerful varieties, along with new information with the potential to alter hag tactics: lair actions and alternative coven spells.

Arch-hags, called “grandmothers,” gain access to powerful lair actions, and their lairs have regional effects. As with dragons and other powerful enemies, the regional effects are mostly for flavor, and those that do actual damage do so whether the resident hags are present or not. But the lair actions include a few curveballs.

All grandmother hags have access to two of these lair actions. One allows them to pass through solid walls, doors, ceilings and floors. The other allows them to open or close doors and/or windows at will, and a closed door or window may be magically locked against any attempt to force it open. If a battle is taking place in a hag’s lair, this can allow the hag to trap weaker enemies inside the lair—or in a single room within the lair. Or enemies chasing the hag through its lair may be cut off from one another by the sudden slamming of a door (giving the hag—and, by extension, the dungeon master—incentive to create lairs that are mazes of small rooms connected by doors). Or, if a battle is going poorly for the hag, it can make its escape by fleeing through a wall, possibly leaving its would-be pursuers locked inside. Continue reading Hags Revisited, Part 1

NPC Tactics: Magical Specialists

Volo’s Guide to Monsters includes stat blocks for 11 different magic-using specialists: wizards from eight different schools and warlocks of three different patrons. The wizards are all at least level 7; the warlocks, even higher. There are also a level 9 war priest, a level 10 blackguard (antipaladin) and a level 18 archdruid. Every one of these spellcasters has a different repertoire of spells. To come up with individual tactics for each of them would take me the next two weeks.

Rather than tackle each one separately, then, I’m going to share some rules of thumb for developing tactics for a spellcasting NPC. Continue reading NPC Tactics: Magical Specialists

Oni Tactics

Oni are cousins to ogres, more intelligent, with innate spellcasting ability and capable of regeneration. Unlike, say, trolls, which can be prevented from regenerating by burning them with fire or acid, oni regenerate regardless of what kind of damage they take or how much, short of killing them.

Physically, oni have the typical brute ability contour of very high Strength and Constitution relative to their Dexterity, which is merely average. The fact that they excel at toe-to-toe melee fighting, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s always their first choice. They also have high Intelligence and Charisma, and even their Wisdom is above-average. This means that they can plan, assess their opponents’ weaknesses accurately, use this information to select the targets of their various abilities, and employ deceit as well as raw strength in order to achieve victory. Oni also have proficiency on all of the big three saving throws—Dexerity, Constitution and Wisdom—making them highly resistant to magic, despite not having the Magic Resistance feature per se. And they can fly!

The timing of their abilities may be an issue, though, because despite their various advantages, one thing they lack is any feature that enhances their action economy. Just the opposite, in fact: Their Change Shape feature costs them an action, during which they can do nothing else. On the other hand, being able to cast invisibility at will gives them a way to avoid detection, and by extension damage, while setting up for other things. Oni’s Regeneration makes them masters of attrition fighting: the longer they can drag a battle out, the better. Their opponents have to hit hard and end the battle as fast as possible, or the oni will wear them down. Continue reading Oni Tactics

Mind Flayer Tactics

Mind flayers are like classic pulp supervillains: brilliant, twisted, scheming, always wanting to take over the world—but first, they have things they want to do your brain. They even wear outfits straight out of Flash Gordon. And yet the fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons mind flayer feels unsatisfying to me, maybe because, as written, it just isn’t very efficient.

The Monster Manual flavor text characterizes them as “psionic commanders,” declaring, “Mind flayers possess psionic powers that enable them to control the minds of creatures such as troglodytes, grimlocks, quaggoths and ogres.” And the feature they use to accomplish this is . . . dominate monster, which they can use once per day, and which affects one creature, requires concentration and lasts for one hour?

This is paltry. It’s unworthy of a supervillain. I’ll talk about the tactics of the mind flayer as written, but then I’ll go on to talk about how to make a mind flayer capable of enthralling, and keeping enthralled, more than one minion at a time. Continue reading Mind Flayer Tactics

Hag Tactics

Hags, as monsters, never interested me much, but fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons has made it possible to build some very cool encounters around them. Evil fey creatures, hags rely on magic and deceit to befoul everything and destroy everyone around them. In many cases, by the time players realize that one or more hags are what their characters are up against, it’s already too late to avoid the encounter.

All hags possess very high Strength and Constitution, and they can do fierce damage with their claws, suggesting that they won’t shy away from toe-to-toe melee combat. When they come together in covens, they also gain access to a powerful repertoire of spells. To cast these spells, they must all be within 30 feet of one another, which limits their mobility somewhat. So that they’re not forced to retreat out of range, we can suppose that they fight facing outward, their backs toward one another. Thus, if they’re knocked back, for instance, they fall toward the others rather than away from them. This leaves them vulnerable to being surrounded, but it also offers some protection against flanking, since most player characters won’t want to run right into the midst of the trio.

Hag covens can also create hag eyes, little surveillance cameras they can all see through. The Monster Manual flavor text says a hag eye “is usually entrusted to a minion for safekeeping and transport,” but it can also be hung in an unobtrusive location that allows a hag coven to spot creatures approaching its lair. If they do this, however, they’ll be careful to conceal it, because if it’s destroyed, they’ll not only suffer minor to moderate damage but also be temporarily blinded. Continue reading Hag Tactics