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
Today, by reader request, I take a look at ettins, a species of two-headed subgiants distantly related to orcs. There’s not a lot here to look at, though. Ettins are fundamentally a “Rrrraaaahhhh, bash bash bash” monster without any sophistication or subtlety. Clumsy brutes with extraordinary strength, exceptional Constitution and not much Dexterity or Intelligence, they rely on tank-like durability and crushing force to confront enemies head-on.
The one thing that makes an ettin interesting as an enemy is that it’s difficult to surprise. Thanks to its Wakeful feature, you can never catch an ettin napping: while one of its heads sleeps, the other remains alert. Plus, ettins have expertise in Perception and advantage on Perception checks, along with 60 feet of darkvision. Even in the dead of night, an ettin’s got a good shot at spotting you. For this reason, orcs and other, cleverer beings may employ ettins as sentries. Continue reading Ettin Tactics
In case your players are so jaded that they just shrug and say, “Whatevs,” when you throw a giant at them, Volo’s Guide to Monsters introduces a set of elite variations, one for each race of giants in the “ordning.” Curiously, however, most of them don’t offer any new tactical twists. Continue reading Elite Giant Tactics
Going solely by their extraordinary Strength and Constitution, it would be easy to lump all giants together as brute fighters. If we want encounters with giants to be more than boring bash-fests, we have to look for clues not just in their stat blocks but also in the Monster Manual flavor text.
Take the matter of rock throwing. Every race of giants has this ranged attack alongside its melee attack, and on average, it does more damage. Yet every race of giants also has a Strength much, much higher than its Dexterity, so based on the assumptions I’ve been using all along, they should consistently prefer engaging in melee to attacking from a distance. Also, giants’ Multiattacks apply only to their melee attacks, not to throwing rocks. So why include a ranged attack at all? Continue reading Giant Tactics
I mentioned trolls in an earlier post on this blog, but a reader recently brought to my attention that I’ve never given them the full treatment. This is an inexcusable oversight on my part. Trolls are great—if you use the Loathsome Limbs variant. I love this variant because it creates trolls that hark back to my favorite troll combat scene ever, from Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson, and because I once ran a solo adventure for a friend in which he and a couple of NPCs had to fight one such troll without ever being told what it was. The suspense was heightened by the fact that they didn’t know what it could do, and they had to discover its weakness by trial and error.
The vanilla troll isn’t all that interesting. It’s a straightforward brute, with exceptionally high Strength, extraordinarily high Constitution and low-to-middling mental abilities. It’s got darkvision, so it prefers to operate at night or underground. It operates more by smell than by sight, regenerates damage unless it’s been struck by fire or acid, and has a claw/claw/bite Multiattack.
Such a monster would be an uncomplicated opponent: It would close to melee range immediately, slash and chomp away, and retreat only if seriously injured or attacked with fire or acid.
But add in Loathsome Limbs, and trolls become a lot more fun. Continue reading Troll Tactics