Combat rating 14
1 Horned devil (CR 11)
2 Ettins (CR 11)
4-5 Ogres (CR 11)
Combat rating 16
1 Horned devil (CR 11)
3 Wyverns (CR 11)
Combat rating 19
1 Horned devil (CR 11)
1 Behir (CR 11)
3 Hill giants (CR 11)
2 Shambling mounds (CR 11)
Combat rating 20
1 Horned devil (CR 11)
1 Purple worm (CR 11)
2 Mezzoloths (CR 11)
How to use – Combat encounter (difficulty 13)
(The field of motion study is about finding ways to simplify various tasks, with the goal of increasing productivity by simplifying the process. One of the early pioneers in the field, Frank Gilbert, when working out how to apply it to a new form of industry, would ask to be taken to the laziest worker on the job. He claimed that the lazy worker had already developed various strategies to reduce his workload, and some of them could be worth reproducing. The horned devil is described by the Monster Manual as being cowardly and lazy, possibly the only intelligent monster to be described this way. I write this article with Frank Gilbert’s advice in mind.)
For the sake of this article, I am going to assume the horned devil was assigned to watch an entrance. It can be to a magic item, to a portal, or to anything else worth protecting. (At the end of the article, I’ll discuss applying the strategy below to other possible assignments the horned devil could be given.)
For the first step, the horned devil will lock the door.
For a next step, he’ll make a small wall of rubble in front of the door. We’ll assume that he’s not supposed to wall off the door entirely, the item is meant to be retrievable, so instead he’ll place this wall a few feet away from the door. It’s simple enough to go around it and access the door. What can’t be done is to ram the door, or blast it with magic. At least, not without getting hurt by your own magic.
(Walling off the doorway does not count as work, by the way. With his strength, it isn’t all that difficult, and even someone lazy will consider putting in five minutes of work in order to be able to take it easy afterwards a good trade. But if you don’t like that, say that he brought slaves with him, or threatened nearby townsfolk until they built it for him.)
He’ll also prepare a few small alcoves where he can rest, either by piling up more rubble or by hacking away at the cliff face. These alcoves will be curved, so that no one can see into them to shoot at him. They will also be narrow, so that no more than one PC can engage him in combat at a time.
To prevent PCs from climbing onto the walls of these alcoves, he can
- Find some way to create a roof. A broken piece or armor, or of a wagon, laid across the top and fastened down with stones should work. If he dug his alcove into the cliff, it automatically has a roof.
- Have the walls be high. He has a 10-foot reach on his attacks. Chances are either the PC is melee and doesn’t, or he’s a spellcaster without the HP to weather the horned devil’s attacks.
Even with these preparations, he’ll probably only be able to remain in any alcove for a few rounds before the players find a way to drive him out. That’s why he has back up alcoves.
He can’t be prevented from fleeing, given that he has flight. He might have to absorb an attack of opportunity or two, but he has enough HP to afford the damage.
Another option is to use his action to push over part of his barricade, knocking down a PC standing on top and hopefully burying another PC. This is a move I might keep for the second alcove, unless the players have been doing something like pulling away the stones of the alcove to open it up. If they do that, you have a reason why the horned devil was able to collapse it easily, and you’ll cause them to be wary of trying that again. Otherwise, you can say that the second alcove was built flimsier than the others. Chances are, if your players are going to examine the alcoves, they’ll examine the first one and stop there.
(I should mention that if your players have Shatter prepared, this encounter will be in trouble, and will likely not work. I’m sorry, but I don’t think that it is possible to build the type of encounters I build in such a way that they are proof against every spell. There will always be something that can ruin the encounter, and Shatter is one of those spells for this one. A DM can adjust the encounters he makes based on his players’ spells and abilities, but I don’t have that luxury.)
A few more things to keep in mind. It is possible that your players will ignore the horned devil and go straight for the door. I would consider having the entrance of the first alcove be in a spot where the horned devil target anyone in front of the door with hurl flame, which ought to disrupt any rogue who might be picking the lock. [It seems unrealistic for all the alcoves to be near the door. Also, after the first alcove, the players are already committed to the fight.]
[Picking locks takes time and focus, and it’s hard to focus when you’re getting burned. To make it practical in a D&D game, have the PC picking the lock not roll until the beginning of his next turn. If he takes damage before then, he automatically fails, although he can try again. If you really want, you can make it that his skill check to pick the lock is made with disadvantage, or that he has to make a concentration check in addition to his skill check to see if he succeeds.]
Another thing you could have the horned devil do is to put a small pile of rubble on the top of the building, right above the doorway. The horned devil’s attacks have reach, so he can attack from there, and he has cover against ranged attacks. Obviously, he also has the option to push down the rubble, if and when he needs to flee.
One more thing. When running this encounter, have the devil complain a lot. About them disturbing his rest, about them messing up his alcove, about them constantly moving about and forcing him to do the same, about them moving so fast that they dodge his blows, and about anything and everything else you can think of. This is the final touch that will make this encounter memorable.
If they get past the horned devil without taking his out, I would have him tag along behind them, constantly sneak attacking and them running for a fortified position. Similar to his alcoves, the idea will be a position in which the PCs can’t easily attack him en-masse, but rather only one at a time and from up close. Eventually, the sneak attacks will become enough that they’ll have to do so.
If the horned devil is sent after the PCs, he’ll start by challenging the PCs to meet him in battle at a location that he already chose, and if they don’t comply, he’ll use a strategy similar to the one I detailed in the last paragraph. He’ll sneak attack them, set fire to any building they enter, dump rubble on them from the rooftops, and generally make a nuisance of himself.
If and when they do accept his challenge, the horned devil will be standing in a similar defensive position. To stop them from standing around, he’ll have set fire to the forest at their backs, be in a cave by the seashore where the tide will cut off their retreat within a half-hour, or set the time of the battle close to evening in a place where random monsters are likely to attack the PCs.
Setting the battle outside in bad weather, and then occupying the only cave is also a possibility. You can inform the PCs that if they stay outside in the bad weather, they’ll automatically take exhaustion or other penalties, or you can have the weather result in rock slides and/or flooding. Take your pick.
I should add that the horned devil will only commit to a fight so long as he thinks he’s winning. If he feels he’s losing, he’ll run away, and then unashamedly challenge them to another battle the next day. If they refuse, he’ll go back to harrying them.
As threats go, the horned devil is so-so, but as nuisances go, he’s a grand champion.