Friday, May 12, 2017

Monsters on a Role: Skirmishers
This is as close as I'm going to come to making this a wolf-themed blog
Now that we've covered some of the basic monster roles, let's dig a little deeper. This week we'll be discussing the skirmisher.


Skirmishers address an issue in D&D that most players and DMs don't even realize is happening.

When you start a combat, there are usually 1-2 rounds where all the PCs and monsters get into position. The archers and spellcasters stay back, the fighters rush in, and the clerics and bards cast their buffs. But after that, there's not a whole lot of movement. The combatants bash on each other until someone dies. Which leads to the second half of the combat being less tactical and more mechanical.

Now, clever DMs know this, and work around the problem. They have enemies that show up halfway through the battle and force a new round of repositioning. Or they have terrain that forces movement. Or certain enemies use area of effect spells to break up the positioning.

But certain monsters can alter the flow of the combat without any help. And the way they accomplish that is through mobility.
The gang's all here!
A skirmisher has the following traits:
  • Average HP and AC
  • Average Attack Bonus
  • Slightly higher attack damage
  • Very high mobility
  • The ability to avoid or negate opportunity attacks

These traits allow the skirmisher to get around the fighters and clerics and hit the party's spellcasters and archers. They function like the rogue of the party: go for a big hit on a juicy target while the rest of the enemies are distracted.

Now, this often means that skirmishers don't function well unless there are other enemies present (such as soldiers and brutes) to provide that distraction. But that isn't to say that a skirmisher couldn't act alone, as long as they have some means of stealth and escape from the party.

So, how do we make a monster more rogue-like?

Stabbing Spellcasters is always a solid strategy
Let's first discuss mobility. We want our monster to be able to run around the front lines once they have been established. Since many spells have a range of 30 feet, we can expect our caster PCs to be about 30 feet behind the front line. If our skirmisher is going to start out of range and run all the way behind the line, I'm guessing they will need a speed of about 60 feet.

Now, speed in the Monster Manual is something pretty limited by species. Quadropedal animals can move 60 feet if they are lucky. Of course, any creature can dash 60 feet if needed, but that isn't really enough to also attack the enemy.

The best solution is the ability to dash as a bonus action. The Orc ability "Aggressive" is perfectly what we need. According to the DMG pg. 280, Aggressive increases the effective damage per round of the monster by 2. Plugging that into our damage formula:
Damage Increase/decrease per Round / 12 = Increase/decrease in CR 
Gives us a measly 1/6 CR increase. So unless we're making a CR 1/8 or 1/4 monster, we can safely add Aggressive to our monster and use the bonus dash.

The noble mongoose - you know, rikki tikki tavi?
Now, just adding that ability might be enough. But it doesn't really capture the flavor of the skirmisher. We also want the ability to back out of danger when overwhelmed. So instead of making our monster just dash, let's give them a bonus action to dash OR disengage.

This has already been discussed by another monster building series, but the basics of it are this: the disengage bonus action doesn't affect challenge rating, the dash bonus action acts like Aggressive. So we can give our creature a simpler version of the Rogue's Cunning Action, at the cost of increasing CR by 1/6.

Now, I wouldn't want to include the Hide action here, because then we'd get the Nimble Escape trait (DMG pg 281) which increases AC and Attack Bonus by 4 each. That's basically saying the creature has disadvantage on being attacked, and advantage on attacking. We don't have to give the skirmisher that much power - they are already targeting the weakest party members.

In fact, I'd suggest that any damage increase we give our skirmishers be small. We don't want to give it a massive sneak attack bonus or anything like the rogue. These monsters are about moving and attacking the weakest party members, not decimating them like a true rogue. A good rule of thumb is to always avoid one-hit-kill abilities, or save-or-die effects, from both the PCs and the monsters.

So essentially, we can easily make a monster into a skirmisher by giving it the ability to dash or disengage. There are some other ways to achieve this, however.

Gotta go fast!
Teleportation generally uses an action if the range is greater than 30 feet. But we can teleport as a bonus action (essentially, Misty Step), which would function the same as a dash with the bonus of stopping opportunity attacks. If you can give a monster the ability to use Misty Step, it would be a good way to make them into a skirmisher. Just remember that casting a spell as a bonus action means they can't cast anything higher than a cantrip for their actual attack (PHB pg 202).

Another option is to give the monster a trait similar to the Swashbuckler's Fancy Footwork trait from the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide (SCAG pg 135). The ability makes an attacker immune to opporunity attacks from any creature they make melee attacks against. If you have a roguish monster, this is a way for them to use their bonus action to dash, and still have the opportunity to retreat from the PC they are attacking.

Both of these options function similarly to having a bonus action to Dash and Disengage, instead of one or the other. Why wouldn't this affect the monster's CR more than the ability to Dash or Disengage?

Well, remember how combat is usually stagnant after a few rounds? The designers of the game knew about that. They even have a mechanic (Opportunity Attacks) to discourage movement after the positions are set. So I believe the designers didn't expect there to be much movement after those initial set-up rounds.

Unfortunately, that means the impact of the extra Disengage can't really have a CR effect based on an existing ability. What we can do, however, is estimate the effect.
All I wanna do / is run up and stab you
If a monster is moving around and using their disengage ability while dashing, they will probably avoid one opportunity attack before dying. A single attack isn't as effective as a full attack action, usually doing 1 blow instead of 2. So if we're negating the damage of half an attack, that's very similar to giving the monster a single use of Legendary Resistance (DMG pg 280) and reducing a spell's damage by half.

According to the entry for Legendary Resistance, the amount of extra HP is altered by the CR of the monster:
  • CR 1-4: Add 10 HP
  • CR 5-10: Add 20 HP
  • CR 11+: Add 30 HP
So we can estimate the total effect on CR by using the HP formula:
Effective HP increase/decrease / 30 = Increase/decrease in CR

If our creature is able to Teleport as a bonus action, or use Fancy Footwork, then the CR would increase by the following:
  • CR 1-4: CR increases by 1/2 (1/6+1/3)
  • CR 5-10: CR increases by 5/6 (1/6+2/3)
  • CR 11+: CR increases by 1 1/6 (1/6+1)

A quick bonk on the head will suffice
So, now that we know the full effect of mobility on our skirmisher, let's build a couple Kobold skirmishers! The first one will have our Dash or Disengage bonus action, and the second will have the ability to use Misty Step.

Our Kobold Skirmisher gains the ability "Scurry: The Kobold Skirmisher may use a bonus action to Dash or Disengage." His CR becomes 1/8+1/6, which is closer to 1/4 than 1/2. So we have a CR 1/4 Kobold that can run behind enemy lines and stab a wizard.

Our Magic Kobold Skirmisher gains the ability "Innate Spellcasting: 3/day. The Kobold may cast Misty Step using no material components." Her CR is 1/8+1/6+1/3, which comes out to just over 1/2. Since we always round to the closest number, we get a CR 1/2 Magic Kobold that can teleport out of trouble when she needs to.

That just about covers Skirmishers. Though simple to build, there's a lot of ground to cover when it comes to estimating the effect of traits on CR. This is an area where, as a monster builder, you'll need to do your research, know the rules really well, and use your best judgement on how a particular trait affects the power of a monster.

Next week, we'll get into the real meat of traits with the Lurker!

Thanks for reading!

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