Dragon Encounters

Making dnd combat fun, finding monsters that fit together, monster tactics and strategies, and other ways of using the monsters of dungeons and dragons


DISPLACER BEAST: Hit, Run, and Hit Again

minions/allies

Combat rating 4

1 Displacer beast (CR 3)

1-2 Vine blights (CR 1/2)

2-3 Shadows (CR 1/2)

Combat rating 4

1 Displacer beast (CR 3)

1 Darkmantle (CR 1/2)

3-5 Kenku (CR 1/4)

Combat rating 6

1 Displacer beast (CR 3)

3 Perytons (CR 2)

Combat rating 7

2 Displacer beasts (CR 3)

1 Drow elite warrior (CR 5)

How to Use – Combat Encounter 1 (difficulty 5)

The basic combat encounter for the displacer beast is written out in the Monster Manual. Have the displacer beast attack and run, and when they follow it, they get attacked from behind in an ambush.

If the ambush is made up entirely of displacer beasts, it would an entirely viable strategy for them to also melt away after a round or two. If they try to follow further, they’ll get hit from behind or from the sides by the first displacer beast, possibly with another displacer beast they didn’t meet yet. If they try to leave and return to the path, or if they didn’t follow the displacer beast in the first place, they open themselves up to more sneak attacks at they proceed. (It’s also possible that they’ll get turned around, and have trouble finding the path again, especially if they chased them for a while.)

Aside from strategic benefits, it is very typical of cats to play with their prey, and presumably an evil alignment will increase that tendency further.

Another thing to keep in mind when running multiple displacer beasts is that the players don’t have to know how many there are. Aside from the hit and run tactics meaning that they might not all be there at once, their vision displacement power is sometimes presented as multiple copies of the displacer beast being visible. If so, have fun counting.

Terrain advantages – Traps (difficulty: By itself – 5. With the ideas above – 6.)

There are a few ways for the displacer beast to take advantage of its displacement power to lure the players into stepping in the wrong place.

(This idea is a bit beyond what I would normally allow a monster with an intelligence of 6 to use, but given the uniqueness if its power, I was tempted. If they’re working for an intelligent master, you can say their master trained them. If not, you could always say that the pack alpha used to belong to a master, and learned the tricks that way. If you want to share this fact with the players, have them discover after killing it marks left on its body from years of wearing chains.)

  • The simplest would be to lead them too close to the side of a hill, where their footing will be precarious. When the hill crumbles under one of them, they might end up with a player separated from the east of the party. Even if the rejoin him, it will make getting back to the path a lot harder.
  • The displacer beast’s most damaging move would be to send its image over an area where there isn’t actual footing. It will run at the side of the area, behind vegetation if you want to make it harder, or it can jump over the bad area while looking like it’s running. Possibilities for the terrain include a covered pit, loose branches/logs that might roll over and trap the PCs, or quicksand.*
  • The displacer beast can duck behind a rock at the entrance to a cave. When they lose track of it, they’ll assume it went in, and then they’ll follow and get attacked by whatever monster lives in that cave. Also, this will let the displacer beast attack them from behind, when they assumed it was in front.
  • The displacer beast can combine the hide action with its displacement power to hide behind a bush, or in tall grass, or up a tree, and leave them with no idea where it is. When the PCs run past, it can target one of them with an attack of opportunity as they run past unknowingly.

* (Real quicksand just leaves the person who entered it stuck, it doesn’t swallow him. Even if you’re using the Hollywood version, I would give them 3 rounds to rescue the stuck PC. That’s plenty of time to rescue him.)

Terrain advantages – Hiding

To discuss the idea of hiding a bit more, there are three types of hiding terrain. Tall grass will require a PC to be within a certain range, perhaps 20 feet, in order to find the displacer beast. Taking a perception check might allow them to spot the displacer beast from further away, but they’ll have disadvantage on their roll [I suggested in Shadow Demon that spending a perception check to detect hiding should reveal to monster to the entire party, if successful.]

Bushes will block line of sight, meaning they can’t spot it if they’re all together, in the same direction, possibly even with a perception check.

A tree with thick foliage should make it hard to spot the displacer beast in its branches without being right under it, even once they think to look up, and should also cause the area on the far side to be at least somewhat obscured. [The effect of obscuring the area beyond will give you an excuse to mark the trees with foliage on the map, without giving away the idea of climbing.]

Keep in mind that not all trees have thick foliage. That will allow you to create a forest map without using excessive amounts of trees.

If using hiding for more than a one-time trick/ambush, it should be used with a battlemap, and with multiple displacer beasts or other enemies. The battlemap makes it possible for the players to figure out where it might be, the other enemies prevent them from moving very slowly and searching everywhere. If at least some of the other enemies are also displacer beasts, they can take turns using this strategy, and/or using their hiding for sneak attacks.

When making the map, don’t use to many such features. Maps that are too cluttered with obstacles go from interesting to frustrating, and it makes the game boring for the ranged fighters. (You might have a picture in mind of forests being filled with trees and bushes, and having a map 3/4 empty doesn’t seem realistic. I’ll remind you that you’re only drawing the ones that effect the game. There can be many more trees/bushes/grass there that don’t.)

Terrain Advantages – Reach

These obstacles also have the potential to present problems with fighting, beyond their potentials for hiding. Bushes should obstruct attacks, as you can’t slam a polearm through a thick bush, whereas the displacer beast uses its tentacles like a whip, and will reach up and over. Trees should give disadvantage to attacks with bludgeoning and slashing weapons, as the various branches will get in the way. Meanwhile, the displacer beasts’ tentacles will be able to snake through the branches, helped by the fact that it has the height advantage. [Piercing weapons won’t be affected.]

Note that in both the above cases, I’m assuming that the thickness of the bush, or the height of the displacer beast in the tree, as such that a weapon with reach is needed. A thin bush or a low height won’t add to the challenge of reach, although it might affect detection. Grass will never affect reach, only detection.

How to Use – Tamed

If the displacer beast is working for an enemy, one way to use it is that the enemy has it guarding a site [as mentioned in the Monster Manual] or will send it to track them down. (The big cats make excellent trackers. The reason people use dogs is because they can be trained, not because their sense of smell is any better. In D&D world, with its various magics, this isn’t a problem.)

I would start the fight the same way mentioned above, with it using hiding and natural obstacles to harry the PCs, and perhaps sending out an occasional cry (roar or growl) to help alert its masters. Having to deal with it will mean that the PCs are likely to be spread out, and taken by surprise, when the main enemy arrives. If they run, it will pursue, and it will let the other enemies know where the PCs are, so that they can’t escape.

If it’s fighting together with a master (as a result of them not finishing it off fast enough, or because you started the encounter that way) there is another use for it that might be interesting. If it runs past melee PCs, and they give into the temptation to take advantage and make an opportunity attack, that will mean that they can’t make any other opportunity attacks until their next turn. This will give the enemy mages a prime chance to retreat, or the melee to charge past and reach the PC spellcasters. Have it run past the melee, not into their zone and retreat, and I would guess that it will take them 2-3 times until they realize what you’re doing.

(I suggested this strategy for the displacer beast because I think it fits them, and because if your players miss they’ll blame the displacement power, and it will increase its utility in their eyes. I did not suggest the strategy because the displacer beast is uniquely suited for it. Even with their displacement power on, their chances of getting hit are approximately 50%. On the other hand, they’ll recharge their power right after their turn*, so getting hit won’t hurt them that badly. Also, this strategy can pay back nicely, if used to proper effect.)

They’ll end their turn at the sides of the battlefield, possibly on or behind low structures to give them defense. (See the fighting aspects of trees and bushes above. This is the same idea, just adjusted for indoors.) Again, this is more thematic than strategic. They just don’t seem the type to be in the thick of a battle.

* It’s debatable whether they’ll recharge their power right after their turn. The Monster Manual says they’ll recharge it at the end of their next turn, but the Monster Manual is probably expecting them to get hit when it isn’t their turn. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether to go with the most literal reading, or whether to say that wasn’t the intention. [Also, D&D effects generally recharge at a fixed time. That time doesn’t change based on when it started.] Neither way affects the strategy’s value all that much, although not recharging it increases the value of having a low platform.

Combat Encounter 2 (difficulty 4)

The displacer beast is an ideal monster to use together with traps that need activation. (Trip wires, pressure plates, or any equivalent.) They can’t see where the displacer beast is standing, and therefore where is safe to step and where isn’t. Also, the displacer beast has reach, which means it doesn’t need to stand next to them to attack.

Below are two basic floor trap puzzles. Use either of them together with a displacer beast. Even when solved, they’ll make fighting it somewhat more challenging. (To have it affect the ranged fighters and spellcasters, place some small walls / wide pillars around the floor. The ranged will have to keep moving if they want to have line of sight.)

Floor challenge 1. The floor consists of different colored tiles. Some of the tiles have colored arrows on them, pointing in various directions. If you step on a tile that an arrow is pointing at, and the tile is the same color as the arrow, you’ll get damaged. Alternatively, those are the only tiles that are safe. You’ll also want to decide if an arrow’s effect continues past another tile with an arrow on it, or only until it reaches another tile with an arrow.

When building the floor, keep in mind that the number of arrows increases or decreases the difficulty of making it across, depending on the version. I would strongly suggest taking the time to see how easy it is to get across after you draw it. You probably don’t want it to be too easy, but you don’t want it to be completely impossible either.

Floor challenge 2. The floor consists of different colored tiles. You have to switch colors each step. Alternatively, you can’t switch colors without taking damage. Again, take a moment to test the puzzle before presenting it to your players.

If you want to make either of the above challenges a bit harder, I would remind you that some colors combine to make other colors. Yellow + red = orange. Yellow + blue + green. Red + blue + purple. Use these six colors, and have any color made up of two colors be considered both basic colors for the purpose of the magic floor.

(Examples: In the first idea, a red arrow means that you can’t step on any red, orange, or purple tiles that it’s pointing to. In the alternative version, you can step on any of those tiles. In the second idea, if you’re standing on red, you have to step onto yellow, blue, or green. In the alternative version, you can step from red to purple, and from purple onto blue.)

(To anybody who will complain that the puzzles are too easy, I would mention that I spent more than a bit of time figuring out how to make them easy. I am of the opinion that D&D puzzles should be easy, for two reasons.

1. I doubt many players enjoy being stuck on a complicated puzzle.* 2. Unlike in a puzzle book, your players are already going to spend some time, [and take some damage,] just figuring out what the puzzle is, and that there is a puzzle. Unless you’ve been a player in such a dungeon, you might not realize how much difficulty this adds.

I should add that having to deal with an enemy at the same time increases the difficulty a lot. Both the difficulty of figuring it out, and the difficulty of dealing with it. Without that, I would have made it at least a bit harder.)

* Puzzles consisting of locked doors, moving walls, spiked filled pits and the like are different. They call for creative efforts, they have multiple solutions, and they utilize character builds. In short, they are the game of D&D. Puzzles that have to be figured out are more something that is inserted into D&D, and should not be allowed to intrude too much, unless you and all your players want such a game.



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About Me

I have been a DM for several years, and I was designing home RPG games since my young childhood. I have been a fan of many different types of games (computer, board, RPG, and more) and have designed several for my own entertainment. This is my first attempt to produce game content for a wider audience.

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