Deep Scion Tactics

Holy heck. The entire month of May got away from me. Sorry about that, readers.

Anyway, today it’s back to business, with the deep scion from Volo’s Guide to Monsters. Technically a humanoid but giving off serious aberration vibes, the deep scion is the product of a pact with a great undersea power—one made under duress, at the point of drowning, so the terms aren’t nearly as favorable as those granted to warlocks. Not only transformed but brainwashed as well, the deep scion can take the form of its previous self, but it no longer considers its previous self to be its true self; that identity is lost.

Deep scions have two forms, “humanoid” and “hybrid.” The hybrid form is its “true” form, having humanoid torso, legs and arms but crustacean claws, tentacles (non-prehensile) emerging from its head and a mouth that DEAR GOD WHAT IS THAT THING? In its humanoid form, it moves at a humanoid-typical 30 feet on land and, like other landbound creatures, swims at only half that speed. In its hybrid form, its walking speed is 20 feet, but its swimming speed is 40 feet. If it can, a deep scion maximizes its movement by using its Shapechanger action in the middle of the turn in which it travels from land to water or vice versa, taking this action at the moment it reaches the shoreline. This way, even if it’s used its full walking movement to reach water, once it transforms, it still has another 10 feet of swimming movement left to go.

In combat, deep scions are pure brutes, with exceptional Strength and very high Constitution. However, their expertise in Deception makes this as formidable a weapon in social encounters as their battle axes are in melee. They also have proficiency in Insight, Sleight of Hand and Stealth. Deep scions are spies as well as warriors; they fight only when their cover is blown. As I’ve said before, it’s easier to punch someone after fooling them has failed than it is to fool them after punching them has failed. Continue reading Deep Scion Tactics

Jackalwere Tactics

I was asked about jackalweres in conjunction with my post on lamia tactics. I’m going to look at them in isolation, though, because generally speaking, the company a monster keeps isn’t going to influence its tactics substantially (goblins being an exception when they’re bossed around by hobgoblins).

As the name implies, jackalweres—not “werejackals”—aren’t your ordinary lycanthrope. Rather than humanoids tainted with a bestial curse, they’re jackals tainted with a human curse. Like lycanthropes, however, they typically adopt a hybrid form during combat.

Jackalweres have an unusual ability contour: high Dexterity but merely average Strength and Constitution, combined with above-average Intelligence. This is a contour you’d usually associated with a sniper or a spellcaster, but jackalweres’ attacks are largely melee-based. This suggests three things. First, jackalweres are highly unsuited to drawn-out combat and will abandon a fight quickly if they don’t immediately get the upper hand. Second, they’ll rely heavily on guile. And third, the successful use of their Sleep Gaze feature—the closest thing they have to “spellcasting”—will figure prominently in their strategy. Continue reading Jackalwere Tactics

Slaad Tactics

Slaadi are beings of pure chaos, native to the outer plane of Limbo, vaguely resembling humanoid salamanders. There’s no good reason for them to be hanging out on the prime material plane, but being beings of pure chaos, they don’t need a good reason to be doing anything.

Slaadi come in a variety of colors, tied to their bizarre reproductive cycle. Red slaadi deposit eggs that hatch into slaad tadpoles (I think the writers missed a great opportunity by not calling them “slaadpoles”), which grow up into blue or green slaadi. Blue slaadi, in turn, infect victims with a bacteriophage that transforms them into red or green slaadi. Green slaadi are more powerful and intelligent than red and blue slaadi, and they eventually metamorphose into gray slaadi, which in turn can metamorphose into death slaadi by eating the corpses of other death slaadi.

Being aberrations, slaadi should behave—and fight—in ways that reflect their origin on the plane of chaos, a factor that has to be considered alongside their abilities and features. Slaadi are high-challenge monsters, so as tempting as it may be to ramp up the chaos they create by having the player characters encounter many of them at once, it can be deadly to throw more than one slaad at a party of low- or even intermediate-level PCs. Moreover, their ability to reproduce by turning humanoids into slaadi and slaad hosts can have exponential effects, so even one slaad is a threat that needs to be squelched pronto. Continue reading Slaad Tactics

Succubus/Incubus Tactics

What teenage Advanced Dungeons and Dragons player wasn’t fascinated and titillated by the succubus, that naked sex demon leering off the page of the Monster Manual? Mind you, this was the same era when a “harlot encounter table” in the Dungeon Master’s Guide allowed you to determine whether a randomly encountered prostitute was a “saucy tart,” a “cheap strumpet” or a “slovenly trull,” which was great for vocabulary building but not so much for encouraging a healthy understanding of sex roles and interpersonal relationships. You’ve come a long way, D&D. (Now let’s work on the ill-considered conflation of race with personality traits, ’K?)

Originating as a mythological explanation for erotic dreams (and, possibly, sleep paralysis episodes as well), the succubus and its masculine counterpart, the incubus, were imagined as devils who tempted people in their dreams. What did they want? The same thing devils always want: to lay claim to your soul, in their case by getting you to corrupt it of your own free will by giving in to the deadly sin of lust.

Despite including some of the trappings, D&D doesn’t share Christianity’s religious cosmology, but the flavor text in the fifth-edition MM assigns succubi and incubi essentially the same mission: “[W]hen a succubus or incubus has corrupted a creature completely . . . the victim’s soul belongs to the fiend. . . . After successfully corrupting a victim, the succubus or incubus kills it, and the tainted soul descends into the Lower Planes.”

Therefore, we have to take a bigger-picture view of succubus and incubus tactics. They’re not about simply gaining an edge in a happenstance combat encounter. They don’t have happenstance combat encounters. Rather, these tactics are steps toward the fiends’ final goal. Continue reading Succubus/Incubus Tactics

Lycanthrope Tactics

Werebeasts, a.k.a. lycanthropes, are wonderful enemies. A werebeast encounter can be awesome action or tragic drama. Werebeasts lend themselves perfectly to horror-mystery adventures, in which the players have no idea which of the villagers is the true villain. They threaten to transmit their lycanthropic curse to any character who fights them hand-to-hand—monsters who can make the player characters into monsters themselves. Practically by definition, werebeast encounters take place at night, when everything is scarier. And if the werewolf ever seems too clichéd an enemy, werebeasts come in four other varieties.

All werebeasts have proficiency in Perception and immunity to physical damage from nonmagical, nonsilvered weapons. They also have human forms, beast forms and hybrid forms; their human forms are their “true” forms. My sense as a dungeon master is that they take their beast forms to run around and hunt in the wild, but among people, they take their hybrid forms when their curse is upon them—at any rate, the hybrid form makes for more interesting and challenging combat encounters than the beast form, because it allows them to use their Multiattack action feature. (The exception to this pattern is the werebear, which has Multiattack in all its forms.) But if you want to conceal the fact that the PCs are fighting a lycanthrope and not simply a big, ferocious beast, you may opt for the beast form after all, trading a reduction in damage for the increase in likelihood that the PCs will carelessly let themselves fall afoul of the lycanthropic curse.

Although the Shapechanger feature, common to all werebeasts, states that they can use an action to polymorph from one form to another, I’d disregard this, for two reasons. First, there’s generally no advantage to it: any equipment they’re carrying isn’t transformed, so, for example, a humanoid wearing armor and carrying a sword turns into a beast standing in a pile of armor and staring at a sword on the ground; or a hybrid with natural armor turns into a naked, unarmored, unarmed humanoid. Meanwhile, it’s just spent a whole combat round transforming when it could have been, I don’t know, attacking or running away? And second, isn’t the whole point of lycanthropy that the afflicted individual has little or no control over his or her transformations? High opportunity cost, no obvious benefit, contradicts werebeast lore: there’s only one logical situation in which to use this action, and that’s at nightfall or daybreak, when the lycanthrope changes involuntarily. Continue reading Lycanthrope Tactics