Nagpa Tactics

Thought I might be able to tackle something easy after the drow matron mother, but no—you guys want me to look at the nagpa, another monster with eleventy billion spells. (OK, it’s got 26. That’s still a lot.)

It’s not like you’ll even find nagpas running around all over the place. According to Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, there are only 13 of them—a coterie of conniving wizards cursed by the Raven Queen and turned into skulking vulture-people scavenging the remnants of lost civilizations for scraps of arcane lore.

Unsurprisingly, nagpas’ ability contour is that of a long-range spellcaster, with extraordinary Intelligence and Charisma, exceptional Wisdom and very high Dexterity. They carry staves, which they somehow are able to use as finesse weapons and deal two dice of damage with, but melee engagement really isn’t their style. If they do get into melee, they want to get back out of it quickly.

They have proficiency in all the mental saving throws, but their Dexterity and Constitution save modifiers are unremarkable. Thus, they don’t have a lot to fear from bards, whose spells tend to emphasize enchantment, illusion and crowd control; but casters who sling damaging evocation, transmutation and necromancy spells pose a threat that they need to neutralize quickly. Taking out these foes is even more important to them than taking out melee fighters.

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Drow Tactics: Matron Mothers

Deepest apologies to all my impatient readers. Between doing revisions on The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters and taking care of a daughter who’s just starting to get the hang of a nap schedule, I haven’t had time for blogging. And this particular post is a mother.

Literally.

The drow matron mother, CR 20, is second only to Lolth herself in the drow boss hierarchy. She’s a spellcaster first, a skirmisher second, certain to be surrounded by a multitude of minions. She’s also a legendary creature, with legendary actions—one of which she can turn over to a demon ally for its own use, sort of a drowish Commander’s Strike.

Like all drow, the matron mother has Fey Ancestry (passive), Sunlight Sensitivity (no going outside, especially during the day), and the innate spells dancing lights, darkness, faerie fire and levitate. However, she’s got a few additional tricks up her sleeve: She can cast detect magic at will, and once per day, she can cast clairvoyance, detect thoughts, dispel magic and suggestion.

Note that the matron mother can cast dispel magic with or without using a spell slot, but when she casts it innately, it works only against spells of 3rd level or lower. Since she can cast it this way only once per day, she’s going to be finicky about what spells she dispels with it, saving it only for the most important. A very good candidate is invisibility, since dispel magic affects “one creature, object or magical effect” within 120 feet and doesn’t require her to be able to see the target, only to know they’re there. Pop! Haste, slow, hypnotic pattern, enlarge/reduce and spiritual weapon are also top choices. If she wants to dispel anything else, she’ll spend a spell slot on it.

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Drow Tactics: Inquisitors

Looking at the ability contour of the drow inquisitor, a high-level cleric, we see a heavy emphasis on the mental abilities, particularly Wisdom and Charisma, which are extraordinary. Intriguingly, reverse-engineering its Death Lance attack, it appears that this attack is made using either Wisdom or Charisma rather than Strength or Dexterity, so the usual rules of thumb governing fighting style don’t apply. If we take Dexterity, the highest of the inquisitor’s physical ability scores, as its primary defensive ability, we get a spellcasting quasi–shock attacker. Combine this with the obligatory drow proficiency in Perception and Stealth and 120 feet of darkvision, and we have the makings of a nasty ambush.

The drow inquisitor is unafraid of spellcasters, having Magic Resistance, Fey Ancestry, and proficiency in two of the “big three” saving throws (Constitution and Wisdom), plus Charisma. Which opponents does it prioritize, then? For ideological reasons, devout worshipers of gods other than Lolth, along with non-drow elves; for resource competition reasons, dwarves; and for practical reasons, anyone who’s showing him- or herself to be particularly dangerous. Drow inquisitors are adaptable.

They also have proficiency in Insight, so if the odds of victory don’t look so hot, inquisitors won’t hesitate to parley—even if it means giving up an ambush opportunity. Why launch an ambush if even that isn’t enough to give your side a comfortable advantage? The inquisitor isn’t uniquely good at getting others to do what it wants, but it’s very good at figuring out what others want—and whether this is compatible with its own interests. This ability is enhanced by Discern Lie, a trump card it can play on any attempt at Deception. Continue reading Drow Tactics: Inquisitors

Drow Tactics: Shadowblades

Drow shadowblades are spies and assassins, trained to strike from hiding. With extraordinary Dexterity serving as both their primary offensive ability and primary defensive ability, they’re shock attackers, striking swiftly and hard with the goal of taking out their targets as fast as possible. Their Constitution is high enough that they can handle a protracted battle, but they’d rather not.

With proficiency in all of the “big three” saving throws (Dexterity, Constitution and Wisdom) and with innate advantage against being charmed, shadowblades have little to fear from enemy spellcasters and can assail their desired targets without distraction. Like all drow, they have long-range darkvision plus Sunlight Sensitivity, confining them to nighttime and (more likely) subterranean operations. They also have the standard drow spell package of dancing lights plus one daily casting each of darkness, faerie fire and levitate.

In addition, as a bonus action, shadowblades can use the Shadow Step feature to teleport up to 60 feet between one dimly lit or dark location and another; doing so also grants advantage on “the first melee attack it makes before the end of the turn.” The wording is crucial, because it dictates shadowblades’ turn sequence and mode of striking: the bonus action must be taken before the attack, and the attack must be a melee attack, i.e., either Shadow Sword, grapple or shove. Continue reading Drow Tactics: Shadowblades

Drow Tactics: Arachnomancers

Gonna do my best here with the drow arachnomancer, but please forgive me if I screw up, like, half a dozen different things. I’m operating with two levels of exhaustion, and I’m not even the one doing most of the work. My wife is a boss.

Arachnomancers are drow warlocks that can shapeshift into or out of a Large giant spider form as a bonus action and can continue to speak and cast spells in their spider form. Because they’re warlocks, unlike most monsters with spellcasting ability, they cast all their spells as if using a 5th-level spell slot, but they’re also limited to three leveled spells per encounter (not counting darkness, dominate monster, etherealness, eyebite, faerie fire and levitate, each of which they can cast once per day without spending a slot, and dancing lights, which they can cast at will). Concentration, of course, is going to govern which of these spells they can cast, so we’re going to look for sustained spells that synergize with multiple instantaneous spells.

Also, since these are warlocks we’re talking about, we want to find out what works well with eldritch blast. Although it isn’t stated explicitly in the stat block, because the drow arachnomancer is a 16th-level spellcaster, eldritch blast fires three bolts per casting, for a total of 3d10 force damage. In terms of damage dealt, this can’t compete with either its humanoid-form Poisonous Touch attack or its spider-form Bite attack. However, based on its ability contour—extraordinary Intelligence, very high Dexterity and Charisma, merely above-average Constitution, average Strength—we can infer that the arachnomancer is a long-distance spellslinger that would much prefer to stay out of melee if it can. Thus, Poisonous Touch and Bite are primarily self-defense measures, secondarily shock attacks. Continue reading Drow Tactics: Arachnomancers