Succubus and Incubus: Why Can We Be Friends?

RPG Monster Spotlight: Succubus/Incubus - Bell of Lost Souls
Incubus and Succubus, DMG p. 285

The succubus/incubus is one of the most dangerous low level creatures in the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual. I spend a lot of time evaluating the combat effectiveness of monsters. For reasons. It took me a while to figure out how to use them well, but they can turn a fight into a nasty mess for you players, as long as the dice roll in your favor.

These nasties aren’t of much use in a stand-up fight. Since they only get one claw attack in they don’t deal a lot of damage. That combined with 15 AC isn’t terrible for a CR 4 monster, but they’re not really heavy hitters.

The true beauty of these monsters is there Charm action, combined with their Telepathic Bond ability and Etherealness. The charm action has a DC 15 Wisdom save, which is pretty good at lower levels. If you can fit few of these creatures into an encounter, you’ll have a pretty good chance at getting at least one party member. From there, you’re going to want to get some distance and dip into the ethereal plane on your next turn.

A Succubus Can be Sooo Charming!

Normally, changing planes would block the charmer’s ability to command the target, but with Telepathic Bond, the succubi/incubi will still be able to direct the actions of the charmed player. In an encounter, turning one ally into a foe shifts the balance of the combat in a major way. And you get to watch the PCs try to hurt their friend only enough to give them a chance at saving without putting their life in danger.

Of course, I don’t think the Succubus/Incubus was supposed to be very dangerous in combat. They work best as infiltrators. In a campaign they can serve as a reason for a leader to have become corrupt and ineffective. They can also turn the party member against each other. Your rogue friend visits a brothel and gets more than he bargained for. Or perhaps your cleric takes some time to meditate in solitude; they come back thinking they’ve really gotten closer to their god. That PCs new friend uses them to lead the party into danger. The fiend then uses Draining Kiss to reduce the maximum HP of the PC in their thrall. Now you go into combat with the party’s cohesion damaged and one of the PC’s badly damaged.

Now get out there and hurt some PCs for me!

Wanna know what other monsters are on my Hotlist? Or, maybe instead of the deadliest you want monsters that provide interesting challenges in and out of combat? Check out my Blocklist.

Colossus of Akros: Fueled by Fire

Colossus of Akros Image
Colossus of Akros, MOT p. 218

The Colossus of Akros from Mythic Odyssey of Theros is the latest addition to the Hotlist. I’ve only had the chance to run this gargantuan construct a few times in the Coliseum, but it has never disappointed.

The Colossus is great on it’s own. It has ranged and melee attacks, both of with a +16 attack bonus. It has a recharging attack that can hit 3 targets and sets them on a fire when the save is failed. It’s 21 AC give it a chance of occasionally not being hit at higher levels. Last but not least, when it dies it showers a 30 foot area around it with flaming-bludgeoning damage.

Colossus of Akros and Friends

But wait, there’s more! When it takes fire damage, it regains hit points. Fire is a relatively common damage type, but even so, you’re players are probably only going to make the mistake of healing it once. After that, the fun is over, unless you stack the deck in your favor a little bit.

Throw that colossus in an encounter with something that does bottomless fire damage. What if the colossus has a flock of red dragon wyrmling that roost on it? They’d be pretty pissed when you disturbed their home, I’d imagine, and do everything they could to stay out of your range while healing the colossus with their loving exhalations. Another option would be a pit fiend or a death slaad that lives in the area. Both have the fireball spell at-will. They could heal the colossus while also hitting the PCs with the splash damage.

Wanna know what other monsters are on my Hotlist? Or, maybe instead of the deadliest you want monsters that provide interesting challenges in and out of combat? Check out my Blocklist.

Aeorian Reverser: Turn the Tide of Battle

Aeorian Reverser.  It looks like a big green and purple gorilla with a dog face and no fur.
The Aeorian Reverser, Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, p. 284

The Aeorian Reverser made it’s first appearance earlier this season in the Coliseum. As a DM this monster was a blast to run. It has the strength to take a bit of a beating, it can dish out damage in melee combat, and that a Reversal ability? Chef’s kiss!

Reversal. When a creature the reverser can see within 30 feet of it regains hit points, the reverser reduces the number of hit points regained to 0, and the reverser deals 13 (3d8) force damage to the creature.

Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, p. 238

Preventing healing is already nasty business, but turning it into damage, that’s just brutal! It denies the party’s frontline the support they desperately need to protect the group. The damage turns the best efforts of their allies into a new threat. It both frustrates support and turns it into a threat.

What about when a player goes down though? We go from hurting instead of helping to automatically failed death saves. For me, that makes them ideal for the Coliseum, as the players all know a swift death is on the table. I’d be really hesitant to employ these heavily in a less combat-focused game though. Extra failed death saves dramatically reduce the chances of a player recovering. That said, the drama that a character on the edge of death creates in combat is great, if that’s your game’s speed.

Wanna know what other monsters are on my Hotlist? Or, maybe instead of the deadliest you want monsters that provide interesting challenges in and out of combat? Check out my Blocklist.

Setessan Hoplite? More like Jumphard!

Setessan Hoplite (ok, actually Setessan Champion.
Setessan Champion – Magic the Gathering: Theros Beyond Death

I know, I know. I’m not really going to make that title work ever, but I’m sticking with it. I just used a Setessan Hoplite from Mythic Odyssey of Theros for the first time this week and they were a blast in combat. I had the players on their heels for most of the match, dropped a few of them to zero, and was able to make tactical maneuvers around the battlefield.

Mythic Odyssey of Theros is based upon the similarly named expansion to Magic: The Gathering, Theros Beyond Death. There is no card with a matching name in the set, so I pulled an image for one that I thought was probably a close match. Mythic Odyssey of Theros has this to say:

Most Setessan hoplites begin their training as hunters, making them skilled in traversing the woods and adept at both guerrilla tactics and archery. Their strategies often emulate the favored servants of Nylea—especially wild beasts like wolves and lynxes. Typically a few soldiers harry an enemy while the rest capitalize on their foe’s distraction.

MOT, p. 229

The Setessan Hoplite in D&D swings well above it’s weight as a CR 4. I have to wonder if the CR was miscalculated. The stat block lists their average damage as 6 for the scimitar and 7 for the longbow. This seems to ignore the addition 3d6 of poison damage that both attacks do. So, that’s more like 17 and 18 damage respectively. I’m not going to look into it much more closely than that in order to maintain plausible deniability

Setessan Hoplite: Final Thoughts

What I will say is that these NPCs are great team players. They offer great damage both in melee and ranged combat. Their Pack Tactics ability gives them advantage when allies are in close quarters. Additionally, with two attacks and relatively high AC, there’s not a lot of soft spots her. I’m thinking of modeling a higher level named NPC based on their format as well. More to come on that, maybe on the blog.

Wanna know what other monsters are on my Hotlist? Or, maybe instead of the deadliest you want monsters that provide interesting challenges in and out of combat? Check out my Blocklist.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Demogorgon?

Regarding Demogorgon, in mid-December I boldly tweeted:

True story, though: I was wrong. I still don’t get how to run Demogorgon, the Prince of Demons, the Sibilant Beast, and Master of the Spiraling Depths (MtF, p.144). The crux of my problem is this: nobody wants to look at him, and if they don’t, his most potent weapon is useless. On top of that, the rest of his weapons aren’t all that good either.

According to encounter creation rules, Demogorgon is a beyond deadly encounter for 4 level 20 characters . In my experience, this fiend performs way below expectation, and possibly the least threatening of the Demon Lords. Here’s where the problem lies:

Gaze. Demogorgon turns his magical gaze toward one creature that he can see within 120 feet of him. That target must make a DC 23 Wisdom saving throw. Unless the target is incapacitated, it can avert its eyes to avoid the gaze and to automatically succeed on the save. If the target does so, it can’t see Demogorgon until the start of his next turn. If the target looks at him in the meantime, it must immediately make the save.

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, Page 144

As Willy Wonka would say, “It’s all thereblack and white, clear as crystal!” The PCs can just look away. The fiend gets to use the gaze twice as a legendary action (only twice! on a CR 26 monster! yeesh!). For one glorious combat I misread the rule and though I could ignore the part about looking away, and just confuse and stun players at will. Yeah…but nope.

You might say, “But, Voivode, when they look away they have disadvantage on attacks, and grant advantage when attacked!” I’d agree that’s true, but how many level 20 PCs don’t have some relatively easy way to invoke advantage and making it a wash? Very few. It’s AC is 22, which is pretty good, but still relatively beatable. The +17 attack mod helps too, but combined with a decent-but-not-great 406 HP, it’s all just not enough. By comparison, a tarrasque at CR 25 has more HP, more resistances, a higher AC, and 3 (count ’em 3) legendary action that the PC can’t just choose to ignore.

OG Demogorgon
Demogorgon as depicted in OD&D

Honestly, this naughty boy would go on my Blocklist if he weren’t so much drama. The best I can recommend when you’re building an encounter is to make sure it happens in his lair. He might as well have few extra trick (and they are only tricks) from his lair actions and that way, when he gets his ass kicked, he can sleep it off in his own bed.

Wanna know what other monsters are on my Hotlist? Or, maybe instead of the deadliest monsters that provide interesting challenges outside of combat? Check out my Blocklist.