Finally, as promised! In Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, the neutral evil analogues to lawful evil devils and chaotic evil demons were daemons, but since midway through second-edition D&D—perhaps to avoid confusion with demons, or perhaps to avoid confusing Philip Pullman fans—they’ve been called “yugoloths.” Yugoloths are neither as obedient as devils nor as recalcitrant as demons: they have a mercenary mind-set, and in fact are often used as mercenary warriors by archdevils and demon lords, according to the Monster Manual flavor text.
There’s little reason for a yugoloth to be encountered in any other context, and therefore little likelihood that player characters will run into one on their home material plane. But I can imagine a scenario in which an evil ruler asks a court wizard to summon a yugoloth for aid in battle against a rival, figuring that it might be easier to control than a demon and less likely to demand something unacceptable in return than a devil.
There are four types of yugoloth listed in the MM. From weakest to strongest, they’re the mezzoloth, the nycaloth, the arcanaloth and the ultroloth. (Given this naming pattern, I’m not sure why they’re called “yugoloths” instead of just “loths.” The “yugo-” prefix is never explained.) However, even mezzoloths have a challenge rating of 5. These are not opponents for low-level adventurers.
All yugoloths are proficient in the Perception skill; are immune to acid and poison and resistant to cold, fire, lightning, physical damage from normal weapons; have Magic Resistance; have some measure of ability to see in total darkness, along with the ability to cast darkness innately; and can Teleport. The mezzoloth, nycaloth and arcanaloth all have high Strength and Constitution and comparatively lower Dexterity, the ability profile of a brute fighter; ultroloths have a more balanced profile with a slight emphasis on Constitution, making them tankish. Finally, like demons and devils, yugoloths can be permanently killed only on the plane of Gehenna; anyplace else, their physical bodies are destroyed, but their essence returns to Gehenna and re-forms there. Thus, they have no reason to retreat or flee when seriously injured.
Mezzoloths have low Intelligence, indicating that they operate mainly on instinct. They can cast darkness twice per day, and they have both darkvision and blindsight, so it stands to reason that they’ll take advantage of this ability as their very first action in combat. They can also cast dispel magic twice per day, so they’ll use this ability if they happen to fail a saving throw against a spell or other magical effect that’s causing them severe inconvenience (by “severe,” I mean inconvenience they can’t disregard and can’t evade by merely moving or Teleporting someplace else).
Their third innate spell ability is cloudkill, which they can use once per day. The flavor text implies that they use this power when surrounded by enemies, but they have a more natural method of escape, Teleport, that’s not use-limited. Instead, I see no reason why they wouldn’t use cloudkill offensively, as it’s designed. They’re immune to poison themselves, so they can cast it anywhere they like, at any time. Moreover, the spell as written implies that it’s cast in a particular direction (“The fog moves 10 feet away from you at the start of each of your turns”—Player’s Handbook, page 222), and even the flavor text says the mezzoloth “exhales” the cloud; it doesn’t simply emanate outward from the mezzoloth in all directions, so it’s not useful for dealing with flankers. Therefore, I’d expect mezzoloths to lob cloudkill in the direction where it’s likely to catch the greatest number of enemies at once, preferably four or more, given the spell’s 20-foot radius (see “Targets in Area of Effect,” Dungeon Master’s Guide, p. 249). After that, they scamper into the cloud of poison and start stabbing and slashing at their poisoned enemies.
There’s a snag, though. Both darkness and cloudkill require concentration to sustain, which means a mezzoloth can’t use both at once. This isn’t an issue if there’s more than one mezzoloth: one casts darkness, and another casts cloudkill. But if there’s only one, it can only cast cloudkill if it doesn’t need to sustain darkness to make it dark. That being said, even in less than total darkness, cloudkill beats darkness, hands down. Cloudkill heavily obscures an area, the same as darkness (and darkvision doesn’t penetrate it—PH 183!), and it inflicts poison damage within its area of effect even on a successful saving throw. What’s not to love?
Mezzoloths have no fear of magic per se, but the types of damage they’re not immune to—radiant, necrotic, psychic and thunder—are annoying to them, and they’ll lash out immediately at any opponent who succeeds in inflicting one of those damage types on them. If they aren’t adjacent to that opponent already, they’ll Teleport to a square or hex behind him or her, then Multiattack the following turn, using their claws for any opportunity attack they get to make.
Nycaloths are not just brutes, not just flying brutes, not just stealthy flying brutes, but stealthy flying brutes that can cast darkness and mirror image at will. This is a crazy combination of features that can and should be used to freak players out. They have no ability that requires them to remain adjacent to their opponents, so they’ll definitely fight from the air, swooping down to attack, then swooping back up out of reach. With armor class of 18, 123 hp and resistance to a wide variety of damage types, they needn’t be concerned about opportunity attacks.
Darkness is the nycaloth’s default first action, because its darkvision and blindsight give it advantage in that circumstance. If this fails, or if its enemies are somehow unaffected by it, it follows up with mirror image, so that those who can see it may end up fighting an illusory duplicate instead. It casts dispel magic under the same circumstances that a mezzoloth does.
The synergy between invisibility and Teleport is interesting, because while invisibility ends when the caster casts any other spell, in the case of the nycaloth, Teleport is an action feature, not a spell. Thus, it can cast invisibility, then Teleport without making itself visible again. This allows it not just to Teleport to the location of another enemy, as a mezzoloth can, but to turn invisible, then Teleport, then attack with both advantage and surprise. This takes an extra round, but the nycaloth can make an educated guess about whether the benefits are worth the delay—for instance, depending on whether the opposition seems to include strong healers who can use that round to patch up their allies.
Arcanaloths, as their name suggests, are spellcasting specialists with a voluminous repertoire, but the first thing I want to call attention to is their very high Charisma, their extraordinarily high Intelligence, and their proficiency in deception and Insight. These are smooth customers who will parley first if given the chance. They are all about getting what they want the easy way rather than the hard way.
What do they want? More than anything, information. Magic items, too, but mainly ones that help them obtain information, either directly or by trading them away to someone else. Their avarice for information is boundless. The information provided had better be of significant value, though.
One of my principles for determining the relative value of spell slots is that level doesn’t matter as much as scarcity. For instance, an arcanaloth has only one 6th-, one 7th- and one 8th-level spell slot. As a rule, it’s not going to use these slots to cast any spell other than the spells of these levels. That being said, mind blank is a spell that might be useful in a battle of wits, but when it comes to a battle of stabs, not so much. Does this mean that the arcanaloth’s 8th-level spell slot is free to cast, say, a massively boosted fireball? Well, it could do that, but that’s the only chance it will ever get to cast a spell at 8th level; surely this slot deserves to be used for something a little more special. And, indeed, chain lightning presents itself as a spell that can be boosted by casting it at 8th level. This is the better choice, allowing the arcanaloth to cast this very powerful spell twice rather than just once.
With that in mind, let’s open the spellbook and take a look-see:
- Mind blank, as mentioned, is a social interaction spell, not a combat spell. Our 8th-level spell slot is open for repurposing.
- Finger of death is strong but can’t be boosted. The arcanaloth will get only one chance to cast this spell, so it reserves it for an opponent with a Constitution saving throw modifier of +2 or lower.
- Chain lightning is strong and can be boosted. When the arcanaloth wants to do a lot of damage fast, it first casts chain lightning at 8th level, striking up to five targets. If and when it casts the spell again, it casts it at 6th level, striking up to three.
- Contact other plane is a ritual, not suitable for combat.
- Hold monster is an ironic and unfortunate inclusion in the arcanaloth’s repertoire, since it’s designed as an enemy for PCs, not for other monsters. If the arcanaloth were able to cast hold person, it could use a 5th-level spell slot to paralyze four humanoid enemies, but because it can only cast hold monster, it has to spend that same slot to paralyze just one. What a waste. So does the arcanaloth use hold monster as an expensive, emergency-use-only hold person, or does it save a 5th-level slot to boost a 2nd- through 4th-level spell? Here’s my call: It reserves the slot for hold monster if and only if it’s facing one opponent who obviously poses a significantly greater threat than any other opponent and whose Wisdom saving throw modifier is +2 or lower, giving the spell a two-thirds or better chance of success. (Its Intelligence is high enough that it can effectively “read” PCs’ stats just by observing them.)
- Banishment is a strong method of dealing with a troublesome opponent with a Charisma saving throw modifier of +2 or lower. If a 5th-level spell slot is available, it can banish two. Depending on the PCs’ stats, this may be a preferable alternative to hold monster.
- Dimension door is a handy escape hatch. An arcanaloth doesn’t fear death, but it might consider having its present physical form destroyed inconvenient.
- Counterspell is an automatic reaction against any spell attack (ranged or melee—as opposed to a spell that requires a saving throw) of 5th level or lower. Against a 4th- or 5th-level spell, the arcanaloth will go ahead and spend a slot of the necessary level to squelch it automatically (but it won’t use its last 4th-level slot for this, in case it needs to cast banishment).
- Fireball is what the arcanaloth turns to for damage dealing when it’s out of slots for chain lightning. It will use an available 4th- or 5th-level spell slot to boost this spell if possible (although, again, it won’t use its last 4th-level slot to do so). There is some competition here with counterspell for the use of available 3rd-, 4th- and 5th-level spell slots, but by the time the arcanaloth is casting these spells, it should be clear whether it’s playing primarily offense (fireball) or defense (counterspell).
- Fear is a somewhat counterproductive spell for a monster that’s pretty sure it can kill you if it needs to. It’s also a concentration spell, so it can’t be cast at the same time as, say, banishment. Here are the upsides: First, by causing melee opponents to Dash away, it can give the arcanaloth an opportunity attack against one of them. Second, by causing them to drop what they’re holding, it can give the arcanaloth a way to disarm an opponent who’s wielding a magic weapon. Again, if the key opponent doesn’t have a Wisdom save modifier of +2 or lower, there’s no point. Let’s call this spell “situational.”
- Detect thoughts is a social interaction spell.
- Heat metal, one of the arcanaloth’s innate spells, is a nice jerk move against an opponent wearing mail armor or wielding a magic weapon. Requires concentration, though, and there are other sustained spells that have higher priority.
- Mirror image is a good spell, but it may be a bit beneath a fiend that can cast chain lightning, fireball and banishment at its foes. Still, if it doesn’t look like its opponents are going to be deterred by such things, mirror image remains a good way to confound melee and ranged attackers.
- Phantasmal force would be better for the arcanaloth if it didn’t require concentration or it were boostable. At 2nd level, all it can really do is dink damage—possibly useful if everyone’s getting worn out, but otherwise, nah.
- Suggestion requires concentration and isn’t boostable, and its effects aren’t going to last long in a combat situation if there’s any chance that the target will take damage. Best-case scenario, it takes someone out of the fight (“You know, that horse you’ve got tied up outside is totally exposed to the elements right now. Don’t you think you should go check on it, maybe put a blanket over it in case it rains?”) without a pricey spell slot expenditure. Again, Wisdom save mod +2 or less, or don’t bother.
- Detect magic and identify are social interaction spells.
- Magic missile . . . nah. Not when you’ve got chain lightning and fireball.
- Tenser’s floating disk cannot be used as a damaging Frisbee.
- Shield is what all those first-level spell slots are for. Keep in mind, though, that the arcanaloth gets only one reaction per round. A reaction that’s used for counterspell can’t be used for shield, nor vice versa. The arcanaloth can quickly and intelligently determine which one it needs more.
- Firebolt, because the arcanaloth is a 16th-level spellcaster, does 3d10 fire damage, or an average of 16 hp. By comparison, its claw attack does an expected 8 hp slashing plus 8 hp poison.
Like all the somethingloths, the arcanaloth is happier fighting in the dark (it’s got 120 feet of truesight), so it will drop darkness first thing unless there’s nothing to be gained from it. It will sustain that spell until it needs to cast some other sustained spell, most likely banishment. Its first combat spell will be 8th-level chain lightning, followed by 6th-level chain lightning. It will use hold monster or banishment (not both) to remove one or two extremely troublesome enemies from the field, unless there’s no opponent whose Wisdom or Charisma save modifier is low enough for the arcanaloth’s comfort. Against a single highly threatening opponent with a low enough Constitution save modifier (especially one with 60 hp or fewer, for a shot at zombification), it casts finger of death. It repels incoming spell attacks with counterspell and weapon attacks with shield, depending on which poses the greater threat. It casts fireball against clusters of four or more opponents within the spell’s radius once its uses of chain lightning are expended, first at 5th level, then 4th, then third—but it never uses its last 3rd- or 4th-level slot on this spell. If it can catch a melee opponent and at least two others in the cone of effect, and that melee opponent is using a magic weapon, it casts fear to try to cause the opponent to drop the weapon and to gain an opportunity attack when he or she Dashes. Confronted by a highly skilled opponent attacking with a melee or ranged weapon, it casts mirror image. And it can fly, so as long as it doesn’t have to engage with an opponent, it will hover out of reach, casting its spells from 15 feet up in the air, descending only when it has to.
Ultroloths aren’t team players; only will ever be encountered at a time. They’re happy to wade—or rather, float, since they can fly—into the thick of battle, attacking once per turn with Hypnotic Gaze, then three times with their longswords (an enemy stunned by Hypnotic Gaze can’t fight back, and attacks against that enemy have advantage). Between turns, they hover 30 feet in the air, swooping down on their turns to attack, then swooping back up; they don’t care about opportunity attacks.
If capturing enemies rather than killing them is within an ultroloth’s brief, it may try to accomplish this with a mass suggestion: “You cannot hope to win this battle. Lay your weapons down and surrender, and I may show you mercy.” But then again, if it knows that this would be a waste of time—because the PCs are mostly elves and thus hard to charm, say, or if most of them have Wisdom save modifiers of +3 or better—it won’t bother. Unlike arcanaloths, ultroloths aren’t interested in negotiation, only victory.
Like other whateverloths, an ultroloth casts darkness first thing if this would be of any benefit to it (it has 120 feet of truesight). Once per day, an ultroloth can cast fire storm, which it will do if it can catch all its enemies within the spell’s area of effect. When surrounded by four or more enemies, it uses wall of fire to ring them in and force them to choose between getting scorched or coming within the ultroloth’s melee reach. Then, just to be a jerk, it will
turn invisible, then fly or Teleport out to attack any enemy remaining outside, leaving its other enemies trapped in the ring [it can’t cast invisibility at the same time it’s sustaining wall of fire—KA]. It employs fear as described above, to get opponents to drop magic weapons and open themselves up to opportunity strikes, and dimension door to avoid the inconvenience of disincorporation. Otherwise, it sticks to its Multiattack, wielding its longsword with two hands, since it carries no shield.