Combat rating 19
1 Maralith (CR 16)
3-4 Ogre zombies (CR 2)
2 Yuan-ti abominations (CR 7)
Combat rating 21
1 Maralith (CR 16)
2 Bulettes (CR 5)
1 Chimera (CR 6)
2 Red slaads (CR 5)
2 Blue slaads (CR 7)
1 Green slaad (CR 8)
Combat rating 22
1 Maralith (CR 16)
2 Gorgons (CR 7)
1 Hydra (CR 8)
1 Ultroloth (CR 13)
4 Gladiators (CR 5)
Combat rating 24
1 Maralith (CR 16)
1 Adult black dragon (CR 14)
3 Fomorians (CR 8)
3 Efreeti (CR 11)
How to Use – Maralith Strategy
According to the Monster Manual, the maralith is placed the general of the demonic hordes. It’s meant to be used together with a large number of other demons. This gives it a strategy that I think many other internet blogs have somehow missed.
The maralith will spend its turn trying to position itself next to as many PCs as possible. If that requires it to take an attack of opportunity or two, it will do so. Parry works once a turn, and that includes on its own turn, so why not. Once it has the PCs next to it, they are all stuck.
The Monster Manual text doesn’t say that it gets one parry a turn, it says that it gets one reaction a turn. If it needs to use that reaction for parry, then great. But there’s no reason that it shouldn’t use it for opportunity attacks. Worse, so long as its tail is free, not only will the opportunity attack do damage, it will also cancel out the movement that the player just attempted.
If the PCs are in a tight cluster, blocking access to the ones in the back, the maralith has the option of teleporting in. If there’s no room between them to teleport into, it can teleport into the air above [the center of] them. Not only will it end up between them, there’s a good chance that 1-2 of them will be knocked prone.
(Logically, those ones would be pinned to the ground with the maralith on top of them. You could give them the rules of grappled and restrained until the maralith moves or they make a save, or you could just rule that they’re pushed to the side. The first makes more sense, but might be too much, gamewise.)
Teleporting does prevent the maralith from attacking that turn, so it shouldn’t be used without a really tempting opportunity that can’t be achieved otherwise.
Unfortunately, once the maralith has a PC grappled, it can’t release them except on its turn, but this strategy is tempting enough to me that I would say that it should do so. (After first making six attacks with advantage, one automatic hit, and dragging the PC with it to wherever it’s going, if possible. The maralith wants as many PCs near it as possible.)
Let me qualify that. If it has a weak wizard in its grip, or other PC that it should be able to finish off in 1-2 rounds, let it do so. The threat to that PC should be enough to distract the other players even more that the threat of opportunity attack grappling. If it’s grappled onto a raging barbarian, on the other hand…
(If you want a rule of thumb, I would say that it will keep hold of classes with D8/D6 hit dice unless they’re wearing heavy armor. Higher hit dice, and/or people with heavy armor will only be held if they’re at least half dead. Alternatively, select the PCs whose abilities seem capable of causing the greatest difficulties. The maralith will hold onto them and release the others.)
If you’re using the optional rule of flanking from the DMG [which I like], I would give the maralith immunity to flanking. In my opinion, it’s possible the Monster Manual itself would have done this was flanking not an optional rule. [The Monster Manual doesn’t mention immunity to flanking by the hydra either, and the hydra should definitely be immune. Obvious conclusion, the Monster Manual doesn’t discuss flanking.] If you want to avoid getting into an argument with your players about it, just give it a + 4 bonus to AC anytime they flank it. That more or less cancels out the advantage they get from flanking, and is less obvious.
The bad news is that demons don’t have range attacks. I can see melee fits the picture of raging demons, but ranged would be the best way to take advantage of the maralith’s build. I’m not finding very many other monsters [of appropriate level] with range attacks either. In light of that, I would use melee, and take advantage of the maralith to have them focus on 1-2 PCs at a time, preferably the most vulnerable ones.
Encounter 1: (difficulty varies) The most basic way to use a maralith is at the head of a mass of [probably weaker] monsters. If you want to add more complexity, I would suggest basic traps such as pillars that release blades, damaging everyone around them once a round, or flameshooters that shoot a line of flame, again once a round. As per the suggestions in Xanther’s, they will activate on initiative 20.
These traps, while easy to avoid when by themselves, can cause real trouble when combined with enemies. What they mean is that PCs can move through the area of the traps, but they can’t end their turn there unless they wish to take damage. This obviously affects combat a lot.
I would use only a small amount of such traps. Aside from the obvious ways such traps would affect any combat, a few should have the effect of splitting the combat area into a few small zones, which should push the PCs together and make it easier for a maralith to freeze more of them in place. Too many traps will fragment the area into little tiny blocks, keeping the PCs apart.
Encounter 2: (difficulty 17) You could also use these traps to avoid having to use minions. I would say that minions are the best way to use a maralith, but if your players’ level can’t handle that, or if you want a different idea for whatever reason, I would suggest using a larger number of traps.
Use two types of traps, perhaps both the pillars and the flameshooters, and have them activate every other round, switching off with each other so that one trap activates each round. In addition, try to set it up so that almost every area is affected, so that the players will have to keep moving. (Simplest setup. Place the flamethrowers so that they’re shooting both from in front and from the side, in the shape of a grid. Place the pillars in the empty holes in the center of the grid.)
The maralith, for its part, will be moving into position to harry the players’ movements and set up opportunity attacks. [The maralith itself will take damage from the traps, but only half damage. See its resistances. If it can avoid the damage, it will, but it doesn’t have to at all costs.]
Encounter 3: (difficulty 18) They meet the maralith guarding a room in a dungeon. The room consists of 6-8 platforms above a lake, with bridges connecting the platforms. The lake is either acid, or filled with biting fish. [You could use the swarm of quippers statblock, but use multiple swarms and possibly change the description to make them undead or demonlike.] There are ropes dangling down from some of the platforms. Falling in should do a large amount of damage, but it should not be instant death.
Three of the platforms are permanent. The others contain a crystal or some such that can be destroyed, but only by someone on the same platform, not by a range attack. You can make it be a free action, you can make it take an action, you can even give the crystal HP. Just decide how difficult you want the scenario to be. Once a crystal is destroyed, the platform sinks or breaks apart within 1-2 rounds.
I would make all the bridges connect on at least one end to the permanent platforms. I would also suggest a rain of acid between the platforms, although not on the bridges. The acid rain decreases visibility, thereby messing up ranged spells and teleports that require sight, such as Misty Step. Alternatively, animated crossbows on the walls that target anyone flying/teleporting. I’m not suggesting making flying/teleporting impossible, but it should be somewhat difficult/costly.
Until all the crystals are destroyed, the maralith only takes 1/2 damage. If the players are level 15 or higher, you might want to make it 1/3 damage. If you like, you can set the scenario rules so that once the crystals are destroyed all the remaining damage that the crystals shielded the maralith from suddenly affects the maralith. Be aware that this will very likely cause the maralith to either die immediately or nearly so.
(Note: Some people would set up this scenario so that the maralith doesn’t take any damage until the crystals are destroyed, and/or dies immediately once their destroyed. Since D&D is built around fighting, I felt that either of those would mess up the fight and render too many spells and abilities irrelevant.)
The bridges can be destroyed. I would suggest it requiring 18 damage, [attacks hit automatically, and the bridges are treated as failing all saving throws.] This will allow the maralith to do it with 2 attacks. (This rule is so that the players don’t take refuge on the bridges.) Having the bridge that someone is on be destroyed knocks that character into the lake. You might want to put a lever on some or all of the permanent platforms that causes the bridges to magically repair, just in case too many get destroyed. I would have pulling that lever take an action.
Encounter 4: (difficulty 17) The setup for this encounter is the same as for the last, except that all the platforms are the same. This also means that you can and should set up the bridges evenly, there is no longer a need for travel from the secondary platforms to be routed through the main platforms.
This is a wild scenario where the maralith’s magic is malfunctioning. At the beginning of every turn, roll a dice, and have the maralith teleport to a random platform based on what you rolled. If the maralith has someone grappled, they travel with it.
Starting at the beginning of the third round, the magic goes even further out of whack. On initiative 20, roll for the maralith on the sorcerer’s wild magic table, and apply the result. At the beginning of the fifth round, assuming the fight isn’t finished by then, the wild magic effect starts applying to the PCs too. Roll once a round, and apply the same effect to each of the PCs and to the maralith. (With Fireball, they can get hurt by the fireball they summoned and by every fireball near them, separately.)
[Notes: This scenario is far more random, and far more homebrew, than is my norm. It came about because the picture of the maralith slithering toward the PCs was very appealing to me, in a cinematic way, and I wanted to allow it to happen more than once in an entire battle. I decided to include it in my blog because it seemed fun. Obviously, don’t use it if it doesn’t seem fun to you.]
There are at least two options in the wild magic table that don’t fit. I’m referring to regain spell slot and regain sorcery points. For the first, I would suggest that it be changed to regain 2 dice worth of HP. Each character rolls the appropriate dice and gains that much HP. Spellcasters can decide to regain a spellslot instead, but they decide before they roll.
Instead of sorcery points, if the character has something else that they can use a limited number of times, but more than once (Examples: Rages, bardic inspirations, Ki points, etc.) they regain all uses of it. Otherwise, they gain Haste for 1-2 turns. (Without the negative effects of it wearing off.) The maralith, on the other hand, grows two additional hands. It can now attack nine times a turn, for the rest of the battle. However, as it doesn’t have swords for those hands, they do 1 damage plus STR, as is normal for an unarmed attack.