Winning Tactics for Demons
Running a fight where adventurers take on several monsters can be frustrating for a Dungeon Master. While a player has plenty of time to contemplate her character's next move while other players enact their decisions, the DM has to run all the NPCs and pay attention to everything for the whole fight. Heroes often get an unspoken planning advantage because their collective minds can serve as a think tank that simply out-thinks a single DM. To help the overworked get some planning power back, we're providing Monster Maneuvers, a series of Tactics and Tips articles that shows how monsters can become more effective combatants. We begin with Winning Tactics for Demons, to offset the Minions of the Abyss series of advice for adventurers.
When planning a fight using demons, Dungeon Masters should keep a few things in mind to make the encounter both more challenging and more fun.
First, if you're feeling overwhelmed by the number of demons in the fight, the last thing you should do is have any of them summon more. In fact, summoning more demons is useful only if you have statistics blocks for the summoned monsters ready to go (or are a wiz at running creatures out of the Monster Manual). Don't waste time by having demons with less than a 50% chance of summoning something try to do so in combat. It most likely wastes a round, and it gives the heroes a chance to regroup. For creatures such as babaus, dretches, hezrous, succubi, and vrocks, use the summon tanar'ri ability only if they can do so before a fight begins. For demons that have a 50% chance or more, it can be worth it in combat, but earlier is better than later. With demons that have a 50% chance of summoning one kind of demon or a smaller chance of summoning something more powerful, always go with the higher percentage chance. More weak help is better than a few stronger allies, and the higher percentage is more likely to have a result that affects the fight.
When choosing magic items for your demons, consider getting multiple things that deal area lightning damage (a rod of thunder and lightning makes a good choice if a demon can afford it), or poison. Tanar'ri are immune to lightning and poison damage, and most PCs aren't, which allows your demons to place the areas of such effects wherever they please. Similarly effects that don't harm chaotic evil creatures, such as blasphemy, chaos hammer, unholy aura, and unholy blight, are good choices. Happily some demons have these as spell-like abilities as well. They make excellent early-round spells.
Finally, remember that demons are chaotic -- they don't form careful battle lines or detailed plans of attack. That doesn't mean you can't have some idea of how they're going to fight, or that demons are stupid. Most demons are extremely mobile and should use that to their advantage. Don't let them get bogged down going toe-to-toe with heavily armored paladins or get flanked by rogues. A demon in a losing melee battle is going to go looking for a softer target. If a demon can't safely move around a foe it's losing to (most likely to happen to babaus, dretches, or hezrous), it either teams up with other demons on a single foe, or fights defensively until the situation turns in its favor.
Many demons have a laundry list of spell-like abilities and special powers. Knowing just when to use them can be difficult, especially if you're running multiple demons in a fight. Given that demons are supposed to be chaotic and unpredictable, one way to simplify their powers is to make the choice on when they'll use their powers in advance, regardless of how much sense it makes during actual combat. For example, a marilith can make numerous melee attacks, a grapple check to constrict, plus nine spell-like abilities (five of which are likely to be used in combat). Rather than make the most careful choice each round, simply list an order in which the demon will use her powers. If you know she'll use unholy aura first, then use melee attacks for 2 rounds, then go with blade barrier, then have another round of melee attacks, and finally use greater teleport followed by project image and another greater teleport to get back into the fight, recycling as needed until the fight ends, you don't have to worry about making too many decisions. While the heroes may wonder why the marilith suddenly teleported away right after getting close to the wizard, their confusion may work for you, and you have certainly reinforced the creature's chaotic nature.
It's also important to remember the traits common to all outsiders and to all tanar'ri. These aren't always listed with each demon entry, which makes them easy for a DM to overlook. Unless otherwise noted, outsiders have darkvision to 60 feet, are proficient with all simple and martial weapons, and do not need to eat or sleep. Obviously this makes them excellent guards, though the chaotic nature of demons undermines this considerably. When you add no need to sleep to the typical +8 racial bonus on Listen and Spot checks, many can find it difficult to catch a tanar'ri off-guard.
Unless noted otherwise, all tanar'ri are immune to electricity and poison, have resistance to acid 10, cold 10 and fire 10, and have telepathy. The telepathy is most worthwhile as a way for tanar'ri to communicate with each other in battle without their plans being overheard. Demons may be chaotic, but they are also very well-coordinated. DMs sometimes restrict how well NPCs work together to represent they are not part of a single group-mind. For tanar'ri, any such benefit is easily explained as silent, telepathic contact of which the PCs need not even be aware.
Building a Demonic Horde
No single demon is going to last long against foes of the appropriate Challenge Rating who are ready for it. Being evil, chaotic, extraplanar, and well-known, demons simply have too many weaknesses for foes to exploit. A mix of demons of lower Challenge Ratings that are built up to the same Encounter Level provide a more complex challenge for PCs and generally lasts longer to boot. However, running one kind of demon can be hard enough, and running multiple demons may seem daunting. With a little set-up, however, it's not that difficult.
First, try to choose as few complex demon types as you can. A nalfeshnee has a lot of options -- a melee attack, Improved Bull Rush, smiting, and six spell-like abilities it might use in combat. If you need to add some foot soldiers to support it, you're better off adding a couple of bebiliths (their main special abilities [poison and rend armor] go off automatically with melee attacks, so your only choices are melee or web), rather than hezrou (five spell-alike abilities) or retrievers (one of four eye rays made in addition to melee attacks and you have to remember it's a construct). The fewer tactical choices you have to make, the less likely you are to be overwhelmed and make easy mistakes.
Another factor is looking at what your demons might summon -- a succubus and a vrock can both summon more vrocks, so if you plan to use that ability anyway, you may want to team up a succubus and a vrock from the beginning to limit the number of different demon types with which you need to be familiar.
The next few articles look at specific demons and what they need to do to maximize their chances in battle. We start with a good soldier in the Blood War, the vrock.
About the Author
Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens was born in 1970 in Norman, Oklahoma. He attended the TSR Writer's Workshop held at the Wizards of the Coast Game Center in 1997 and moved to the Seattle area in 2000, after accepting a job as a Game Designer at Wizards of the Coast, Inc. Fourteen months later, he returned to Oklahoma with his wife and three cats to pick up his freelance writer/developer career. His credits include author and coauthor credits on numerous Star Wars and EverQuest projects, as well as Bastards and Bloodlines from Green Ronin. He also has producer credits for various IDA products, including the Stand-Ins printable figures.