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    Default Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    Hey all!

    I just read Kurt Kurageous' thread on combat length and it got me thinking on theater of mind vs battlechess combat. As a player I like complex tactical combat, but as a DM I hate running it because it can be quite overwhelming to keep track of everything and it draws out combat time immensely.

    However! In the spirit of growth and learning and such, I want to do it anyways. Now my question is, what is your favorite monster to use to really challenge your players in combat?

    If you want you can make a distinction if that (mix of) monster(s) is best used to challenge 'X', where X could be 'melee combatant', 'ranged combatant', 'spellcaster' etc.

    Players also! Please share fond moments of intense combat against a specific monster that you remember, and why/how that combat challenged your character.
    Subjectivity is implied in all posts.

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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    Kobolds, with short bows. In the dark in long grass to give them cover. Had the party hold up in an abandoned farm for a few days.

    Was a great encounter. Food was running low.
    Water was replenished the next night as the war cleric changed her spells.

    The rogue managed to sneak out in full daylight, and after a quick chase. Managed to get away to bring reinforcements

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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    I used a goblin riding an Ankheg as a game of Whack-a-mole. It was pretty funny.
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    DruidGuy

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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    I actually thing memorable combat has less to do with the monster's that you are using an more to do with the situation. Either its a dangerous situation, where there is a real possibility of death for the PCs or the PCs were put into an awful situation but turned it completely on it's head with a well places ability or spell.



    For example, we were fighting some really, really strong but stupid yeti creatures. The fighter/bard dropped a very, very effective mass suggestion spell that knocked all but one of the baddies out of combat with a single spell.

    Or another situation where a group of giants was at the top of a 100 foot staircase (made for giants, so even harder to climb) throwing rocks at the party. As the Moon Druid, I was able to transform into quetzalcoatlus, carry the while party up the stairs and drop them right on top of the giants neutralizing the worst of the encounter in a single round.

    Or the the encounter with 6 Mammoth's that were supposed to roll over us, where instead my Druid was able to make friends with 4 of them and turn them into allies and mounts for the next 2 or 3 encounters (it was super fun riding a wooly mammoth into combat!).
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    DwarfBarbarianGuy

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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    The easiest example of a tactical combat I can think of was when I had a party fighting a Balhanoth.
    With it's lair action to reform the environment (while keeping it fair by always allowing a path to get to it in and not just trapping PC's in iron boxes) I made it have players going up and down stairs, long hallways, big open rooms with slight ledges over spike pits, etc. It was sneaking out for a tentacle attack or bite every few rounds, taking some hits back.
    Fight concluded when the Eldritch Knight used Rope Trick, getting the party control over some part of the environment back, taking a few potions, then surprising the monster by reappearing and with a final coordinated attack finishing it off, causing it's lair to revert from a castle to a dead swamp.

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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    The monster doesn't matter that much, IMO. Environment and circumstance. Putting creatures in environments that suit them, then playing to the strengths of those creatures, make nearly any creature pop.

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    GnomeWizardGuy

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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    Oozes plus something intelligent enough to use them. Oozes make for great "trap" monsters, and they often don't have any allegiances, so the PCs can try to use them against their foes as well.

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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    Quote Originally Posted by Phhase View Post
    I used a goblin riding an Ankheg as a game of Whack-a-mole. It was pretty funny.
    Similar type of whack-a-mole combat against a "cave dragon" in its lair (seemed to have blindsight and ability to cast Darkness). Large cave with holes/tunnels letting out all over. The dragon would run out the floor, then bust out of the ceiling in a shower of boulders and debris a couple rounds later. Or blot out an area around with a PC or two in Darkness, pop out and maul one, then disappear into a hole. We eventually took it out (well...not me, my monk got et), but that was a really epic fight.

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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    Most monsters are gimmick monsters. They're big meaty sacks of HP that deal out damage, with 1 or 2 good tricks. A boss monster might have as many as three tricks. In order to make a good encounter, you need to leverage all of the 'tricks' to make the combat into something of a puzzle. So with that said, here are some examples.

    • Hobgoblins' "trick" is that they deal absurd damage but have miserable to-hit. So their "trick" usually revolves around them getting advantage and then savagely beating down their target. Have them go after the squishies relentlessly. Have them shove weak enemies prone, or hit them with nets. They also have high AC and benefit from having an ally in melee, so have most of them use bows, except for one guy with a shield who sits on the frontline dodging, giving "martial advantage" to all of their allies. This strategy makes them really good mounted archers, by the way. Put a pack of hobgoblins on horses and a lot of players will be very unhappy with you. To overcome them efficiently, players will have to move fast and strategically, and make sure that nobody stays prone or restrained for long.
    • Goblins' "trick" is their bonus action hide, small size, and generally good stealth. Have them ambush the party in tall grass. Attack, hide, retreat, repeat. This will force the players to consider alternative, like locating the goblins magically or burning down the grass.
    • An Oblex's main schtick comes down to their simulacra, and their moving through small gaps ability. Have them rig up a dungeon with five or six of their simulacra at various points, with tiny holes through which the simulacra can squeeze and ambush the party. You can easily have the oblex appear to ambush the party in the middle of several encounters throughout the dungeon, squeezing in, dropping a powerful spell, and then squeezing out at the end of their turn.
    • Flameskulls fly, can easily hide amidst a pile of skulls, and have powerful AOE. So have them fly up over the heads of the party when the party is crossing a bridge. They're resistant to piercing damage, so good luck killing them quickly with arrows.



    All in all, the trick is realizing what abilities the monster has, and then figuring out how to exploit that ability. Logically speaking, even stupid monsters are more likely to exist in environments where their tactics work. Gelatinous cubes don't survive long on the open plains.
    Last edited by strangebloke; 2019-05-20 at 10:59 AM.
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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    In my experience, the main thing isn't the monster, it's arranging a situation where the PCs have to move every turn. If it's "we move adjacent to the monster and stand in the same place for the rest of the fight", it's boring. Add conveyor belts, elevators, mine carts, floor tiles falling away, swinging across pits, etc, and you liven it up.
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    DruidGuy

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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    Half the time you won’t figure out how to effectively use a creatures’ tricks till you have played them at least once.

    For example, by the third time my players ran into Grung in Tomb of Annihilation, I had the hang of their hit and run tactics (casters using spike growth/Plant Growth to slow party while they just jump over the terrain). They were about twice as dangerous, even though the party was two levels higher than the previous encounter.

    Similarly, using teams of creatures with complementary abilities is lots of fun. Drow and Giant Spiders work, with the Drow casting Darkness that the Spiders ignore with their Blindsight, or Drow Mages and Quaggoth (cast Cloudkill, Quaggoth are immune to poison, grapple).

    As a DM, you will always have a disadvantage-it is one brain versus many, and you will never be as familiar with your abilities as the players are. Your goal is to give the monsters a clear strategy that, in the absence of the PCs doing something to counter it, gives the monsters a realistic chance to win the fight.

    Players’ favorite fights are the ones where at the end they can say “man, that could have gone bad really fast if Jane hadn’t (prepared clutch spell X/Action Surged and broke the wizards concentration/whatever)”.

    The vast majority of the time my players find a way around my tactical twists pretty easily, even when I think “ooh, I’m finally going to get them with this one!” Often, it’s because they have a situational power that finally has utility, and they get to use it to break my encounter.

    It’s ok for them to feel awesome. Don’t feel bad that you forgot about the Cape of the Montebank you gave them three months ago that let the fighter teleport past the wall you dropped between him and the squishies. The bad guy didn’t know about it either.

    Ideally, after using a particular race/group for a while, you should get skilled enough with them that when your players encounter them they say stuff like:

    “Great, &$@ing Grung. Um, someone want to see if any of them speak Common?”

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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    Quote Originally Posted by Zuras View Post
    Half the time you won’t figure out how to effectively use a creatures’ tricks till you have played them at least once.

    As a DM, you will always have a disadvantage-it is one brain versus many, and you will never be as familiar with your abilities as the players are. Your goal is to give the monsters a clear strategy that, in the absence of the PCs doing something to counter it, gives the monsters a realistic chance to win the fight.
    Agreed on both points.

    As a DM, the advantage you have is that, while you've only got one brain, you have way more time to prepare the encounter than the players have to solve it. While they have numbers and flexibility, you know exactly what their mechanical capacities are and can take the time to really dial in the encounters. The best feeling as a DM, IMO, is when you know you can throw the kitchen sink at the players and they'll still figure out how to cope. That lets you really unlock your creativity and go nuts with the obstacles in their way. Feeling like you have to hold back or be tentative is awful.

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    WolfInSheepsClothing

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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    For guerilla-style combat, any small humanoid does quite well. Kobolds in particular are also quite deadly mounted combatants thanks to Pack Tactics.

    Once I threw an encounter in a room with a low ceilling (thus diffcult terrain for medium characters) that had multiple tunnel entrances. They had invaded a the settlement of a particularly war-like tribe of Kobold. So out of the tunnels came Kobolds mounting Giant Weasels (50ft. Movespeed). While the weasels used Disengage the Kobolds wrecked them with scimitars rolling with advantage. Since the Kobolds were under forced movement, they couldn't suffer AoO's. They then took cover inside the dark tunnels to throw off the party's ranged attacks. A whole lot of charged actions later, they won but praised the valiant effort of the riding Kobolds and their steeds.

    For slugfest encounters, anything that has a good stealth and places to hide can really turn into a real horror movie monster. Even something as simple as advantage on rolls like a Grick.

    I once used an easy encounter as a distraction. While the party dealt with some mooks I pretended to roll stealth for one of them and declared one of the mooks dropped some keys while walking towars what appeared to be a cage covered by cloth with clutter around. I described as the mook opened the cage and was pulled inside the cage screaming. The cage shaked and the cloth moved. The party stared and waited. Nothing. The paladin uncovered the cage, only to find the mook dead and nothing else there. The party look at each other. I roll an attack with advantage and ask the Ranger who stood by the door shooting arrows to remind me what his AC is. The Grick attacks him for gruesome ammounts of damage, knocking him unconcious and puts itself seething between the party and both the door and the dying Ranger. It's the Ranger's turn, he rolls a 1 on the death save. Anyone who tried to stabilize the Ranger would lilely die since the mooks dealt some damage. What followed was the most desperate, toe and nail fight I've ever seen from my players. The Grick died two rounds later a turn before possibly downing the Paladin too. Ranger's turn, he rolls death save. He dies on the Paladins arms. His last words were "thanks for trying, friends". One of the best scenes I've seen ever. All because of the Grick's modest camouflage and stealth.

    Then there is what I like to call 'synergistic' encounters.

    I used once a Flesh Golem with a cute little Lightning Lizard friend. They found the two prior to the encounter playing together completely carefree inside a mad wizard's abode and left them alone, even interacted a bit. Later the wizard ordered his golem to destroy the party. Unable to fight the order, the golem attacked them and the little Lizard healed it with it's lightning. The party was getting crushed and were forced to kill the Lizard. In turn the golem went berserk and the party put it out of it's misery. They buried them together before going to deal with the dastardly wizard.

    I think the best thing to do is find reasoning and inspiration on whatever tactics you choose for your encounters and put together a good scene around it. But those are the things I generally look for: terrain, stealth and synergistic interaction.

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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    Orcs (to include the Higher CR leader types).
    The aggressive feature creates a lot of space/movement problems for the party to encounter.
    They can be armed with long bows instead of javelins.
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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    Great stuff everyone! Thanks! It is true that the environment can be a monster in and of itself.

    Got some new stuff to ponder!
    Subjectivity is implied in all posts.

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    GnomeWizardGuy

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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    Quote Originally Posted by nickl_2000 View Post
    I actually thing memorable combat has less to do with the monster's that you are using an more to do with the situation.
    So true. It was 2e, but we were fighting some lizard men with spears in a dungeon room where they were set up behind some tables. Was a TPK (we were 2nd level). Learned a lot from that encounter.

    Nothing special about the lizard men that made it dangerous, but the set up was the difference.
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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    Gibbering Mouther.

    Firstly they are really cool and show a real eldritch flavour - not a tactical consideration but good to signal the presence of "weird magic".

    On the tactical side they have a lot of twists - generally best if the PCs know about these though.

    1) Swim speed. Easy to miss this but underwater combat can be deadly. With low AC the common disadvantage for the wrong weapon type is less of an issue but fire resistance in underwater combat can make for a nasty, nasty encounter.

    2) Aberrant Ground. Now this is fun. The gibbering mouther forces strength saving throws if someone starts near them. Any kind of surprise positioning can be brutal - bards/wizards/ and backline caster is stuck right next to the creature. DC10 seems trivial... but Str is a common dump stat for PCs that don't want to be in combat and they are unlikely to be proficient. How to position and disentangle oneself from this is an extra tactical challenge. Interestingly is still sets speed to zero when a creature is outside of the region - i.e. they cannot misty step and dodge or misty step and then move on the same turn. Downside is that this seems to affect the mouther as well, making it's mobility a little unreliable.

    3) Gibbering. A lot of PCs learn the hard way that wisdom is something worth having a good save in. This is no exception. DC10 save is easy enough... but this is not single target and it is free. How many of the party are within 20ft? How many are not proficient in Wisdom saves... and this is a CR2 creature. Its effects are great for wasting party turns.

    4) Its attacks... sure the to hit bonus is crappy. However they hit hard and as all the damage is from dice any crit is brutal. The ability to absorb the dead runs alongside this. How low can you let a HP total fall without healing? Non of this healing word on downed allies anymore. It changes the dynamics of the fight.

    5) Blinding spittle - addition of a ranged attack unlocks a few tactical choices. Area of effect can also be brutal in enclosed spaces.

    So it forces dexterity strength and wisdom saves so it is versatile. It provides different conditions: prone, 0 movement, blind, wasted turns. Will all of it's auras and area of effect spells it really makes positioning very important.



    My preferred tactical use is as a support monster as part of a team. 3 of these, a handful of casters for some hold persons and bane and a couple of archers to apply some damage can make a nasty surprise. Failed strength saves against aberrant terrain pins down casters in the open with no cover and unable to move to get a good line of sight against the enemy casters, gibbering covers off against the weakness of a lot of martial characters. Bane makes all of the easy saves just enough harder to really worry about, hold person becomes terrifying with 10d6 damage attacks from each mouther.

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    Troll in the Playground
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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    Ropers are great as are cloakers, throw in some hobgoblins as an uneasy ally with a roper.

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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    A spectator with a few minions to order around. Throw in some terrain features or hazards in the place you encounter it and viola, tactical encounter.
    Same thing works for flameskulls.
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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    Goblinoids in general from the puny basic goblin to the mightly hobgoblin warlord are just gaurenteed to give any party screaming fits if they're played as organized sentient creatures with a survival instinct. My favorite TMKWTD writeups are on these little psyco's and they're just great every time I've run or seen them run as such.

    Seconding various hobs/gobbos with horses/wolves as a nightmare encounter. More so with a tamed monstrosity or two.
    Last edited by Nhorianscum; 2019-05-24 at 10:03 AM.

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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    Kobolds have always been a favorite of mine. Like stated: small tunnels, hit-and-run tactics, throw in some Shamans for healing, and some Spellscale/Sorcerers for Damage and Control.
    Add in Traps with different effects and triggers, and have fun as the PCs try to figure out what these are and how to deal with them while fighting the Kobolds!!

    Makes the Players really stop and think.

    Drow are next. The spider "pets" above is a favorite for these. But even without them, a 120 foot Darkvision is no joke when you're dealing with poisoned arrows.
    (Long tunnels with few twists are preferred)
    For higher levels, adding things like Sharpshooter and Skulker feats turns even mook Drow scary: 120' shots with no disadvantage, and ignoring cover!!!!

    Duergar can be interesting, being "Dwarves" somewhere between Drow and Hobgoblins in attitude. I usually have them loving to be in melee with at least medium armor and either Warhammers or Battleaxes; using Invisibility to either get into an ambush, or for escaping from a losing battle. Them suddenly becoming Large can surprise PCs.
    My Knowledge, Understanding, and Opinion on things can be changed

    Without a Playtest Group - I'm Forever Stuck in the White Room.

    I am learning valuable things, here. So thanks, everyone!

    I just hope that I can remember to actually try and use some of this stuff In Game.

    Quote Originally Posted by karellink View Post
    2019-05-19 2:04 pm
    as a great dragon you must have the correct wisdom for these kind of shenanigans.

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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    Quote Originally Posted by Crucius View Post
    Great stuff everyone! Thanks! It is true that the environment can be a monster in and of itself.

    Got some new stuff to ponder!
    Terrain is absolutely the most key aspect to making combat interesting. Whether it's a crazy tower of whirring gears and deadly pitfalls in Mechanus or simply an actors stage granting advantage for high ground, the terrain is what makes a combat memorable.

    An important piece of terrain not to neglect is moveable furniture and/or things that can be manipulated; a stone table too heavy to move is just a thing in the way, but a table that the party barbarian can turn on its side to act as a makeshift pavisse, moving it as required to lock-down your foe, or even as simple as the campfire that can be extinguished to deny light to the PC's can turn a fight from a boring hack-fest into a tactical engagement.

    Terrain can also be used to alter the "win condition" of an encounter. From as simple as a door or gate that can be shut and locked, giving one side a much needed breather or escape, to a mad dash fighting off foes to leap aboard a ship before the gangplank is raised, terrain will give you the option of more than the rather dull "kill the other side before they kill you" encounter.
    I apologise if I come across daft. I'm a bit like that. I also like a good argument, so please don't take offence if I'm somewhat...forthright.

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    BlackDragon

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    Default Re: Your favorite monster for tactical combat

    @JellyPooga:
    Since I tend to use a lot of (modified) pre-made modules for Adventure Locations, I use what terrain was already in there.

    Figuring out how the Monsters use what is there is just as fun, and can be challenging to me.

    Even simple changes can be interesting:
    Take the 3.x Sunless Citidel module.

    Change:
    Kobolds vs Goblins to
    Hobgoblins vs Orcs or
    Drow vs Duergar or
    Minotaur vs Ogres

    And even with the same terrain, you'll get vastly different Encounters.

    Or just changing the Wyrmling Dragon type to being smarter - can make it where negotiation is a better idea than combat.
    My Knowledge, Understanding, and Opinion on things can be changed

    Without a Playtest Group - I'm Forever Stuck in the White Room.

    I am learning valuable things, here. So thanks, everyone!

    I just hope that I can remember to actually try and use some of this stuff In Game.

    Quote Originally Posted by karellink View Post
    2019-05-19 2:04 pm
    as a great dragon you must have the correct wisdom for these kind of shenanigans.

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