D&D 5E Simplifying an enemy Gish/Cleric statblock

J-H

Hero
I recently posted (Idol of the Sun campaign log on GITP) that I'm not happy with how the Aaracokra War Priest is playing out in combat. The statblock supports too many things at once while managing to deliver on none of them. I'm not a huge fan of what I've seen of Mord's, but this is a place where I'm probably going to apply some of the design principles.

Here's the full statblock.
Aaracokra War Priest
Medium Humanoid
Armor Class 18 (Breastplate+Wicker Shield)
Hit Points 96
Speed 20 ft., fly 50 ft.
Str Dex Con Int Wis Cha
14(+2) 14(+2) 14(+2) 11(0) 16(+3) 10(0)
Saves Str +5, Wis +6, Cha+3
Skills Perception +9
Senses passive Perception 19
CR 6
Dive Attack. If it is flying and dives at least 30’ straight toward a target, then strikes it with a melee weapon, the attack deals an extra 1d6 damage to the target. This applies to only one attack per dive.
Keen Sight. Aaracokra have Expertise in Perception.
War Cleric. The War Priest gains +1 to hit with weapon attacks, and deals 1d8 extra damage on hit. He may also attack as a bonus action after attacking or spellcasting.
Actions
Foot Talons.
Melee Weapon Attack, +5 to hit, 5’, 2d4+2 slashing damage; +7 to hit if plunging, +1d6 damage if dive.
Macahuitl. Melee Weapon Attack, +6 to hit, 5’ or 30/120’, 2d8+2 slashing damage; +8 to hit if plunging, +1d6 damage if dive.
Spellcasting. The War Priest casts as a 10th-level cleric. Its spell attack roll is +6, and its spell save DC is 14.
0th Light, Sacred Flame (60’, Dex or take 2d8 radiant damage)
1st ()()()() Cure Wounds (Touch, 1d8+2), Faerie Fire (C, 60’, 20’ cube; outline everything in colored light; Dex or creatures are lit and attack rolls against them have advantage), Detect Magic, Guiding Bolt (120’, attack roll, 4d6 radiant, next attack has advantage)
2nd ()()() Blindness (30’, blind 1 minute, Con to end, upcast +target/level), Silence (C, 120’, 20’ radius silence).
3rd ()()() Clairvoyance(10 min casting, 1 mile, invisible sensor), Crusader’s Mantle (C, 30’ aura, all allies deal +1d4 radiant damage with weapon attacks),Daylight (1 hr, 60’ radius bright/120’ dim light), Dispel Magic (120’, 3rd or lower dispelled, higher d20+2 vs 10+spell level)
4th (X)()() Death Ward(8 hrs, protect from 0hp or instakill once),
5th ()() Flame Strike (60’, 10’ radius/40’H cylinder, 4d6 fire+4d6 radiant, Dex half), Holy Weapon(C, Bonus, weapon becomes magical and deals 2d8 radiant damage, sheds light; end as a BA, enemies 4d8 damage & blind 1 min in a 30’ radius, Con half), Mass Cure Wounds (30’ radius, 6 creatures, 3d8+3 healing)
Bonus Actions
Attack. The War Priest may attack as a bonus action.
Tactics
The War Priest has the spell selection to function as a healer, as a blaster, or (with Holy Weapon), a powerful effective melee combatant against targets he can hit. Consider having different War Priests fight in different ways reflecting their personal preferences.
The War Priest can be assumed to always have Death Ward up unless caught resting, so one slot is marked consumed. Upcasting Blindness is a great use of 4th level spell slots.

Starting observations for the redesign:

1. No Aaracokra in 22 sessions of this game has ever used the foot talons. They all have weapons and nobody's messing around with Disarms. This is a vestigial entry that can be deleted from the monster side.
2. The stat spread doesn't support physical combat very well. The Aaracokra are generally Dex-based flyers, not heavy armor wearers due to flying, and unfortunately their main setting-appropriate weapons are lances, spears, macahuitls (longsword), and javelins. Unless I want to pump their stats to peak human(ish) 16s in strength they suffer from a relatively low base to-hit chance. Most of the cleric damage buffs I have on the character right now buff weapon attacks, and +x damage only helps if you're not rolling +6 to hit against a 21-23 AC and missing 75-80% of the time. They do use their flight to move around and often attack from above for +2 to hit and +1d6 damage, but it's still not great.
3. These guys are never by themselves. I'm usually running at least one other priest-type, a couple of types of melee enemies, and often a wizard, alongside them. I don't have the bandwidth to go all "Hah, different priests fight differently" and track it when I'm running more enemies than there are PCs.
4. Detect Magic and Clairvoyance are not useful in combat, and can be assumed to be available to them out of combat. I can delete those to free up space. At this point it's mostly sending and scrying and teleporting anyway, not lower-level Clairvoyance.
5. Death ward is a great idea, but I usually forget it exists. For NPCs, you can get the same general effect by just adding 20 more hit points unless someone's specifically throwing around death magic. If I, the writer of the adventure, can't remember to use the ability 80% of the time, I should probably delete it.
6. Ideally, they'd be casting Holy Weapon in advance of engaging the party, but then they can't try Blindness, or Silence, or Crusader's Mantle, or Faerie Fire. Too many Concentration spells on the list.
7. Why do they have a bonus attack instead of just a spirtual weapon bonus action? SW is more iconic and flexible, and doesn't put them next to high-level PC chainsaws.
8. Flame Strike kind of stinks. It's Fireball but 2 levels higher and half the size.
9. Players HATE it when enemies heal. I need to keep this.
10. Never have I ever used Sacred Flame as their cantrip. It's not like they run out of leveled spell slots...

So objectives are:
1. Cut the spell list down to a shorter combat list with just the options that will actually get used.
2. Go ahead and give them a minor bump to spell saves and DCs - they're the equivalent of a 10th level character, they get an extra ASI.
3. Keep them viable in melee with a simpler routine.

A revised statblock may be:
Aaracokra War Priest
Medium Humanoid
Armor Class 18 (Breastplate+Wicker Shield)
Hit Points 96
Speed 20 ft., fly 50 ft.
Str Dex Con Int Wis Cha
14(+2) 14(+2) 14(+2) 11(0) 18(+4) 10(0)
Saves Str +5, Wis +7, Cha+3
Skills Perception +10
Senses passive Perception 20
CR 6
Dive Attack. If it is flying and dives at least 30’ straight toward a target, then strikes it with a melee weapon, the attack deals an extra 1d6 damage to the target. This applies to only one attack per dive.
Keen Sight. Aaracokra have Expertise in Perception.
War Cleric. The War Priest gains +1 to hit with weapon attacks, and deals 1d8 extra damage on hit.
Actions
Macahuitl.
Melee Weapon Attack, +6 to hit, 5’ or 30/120’, 1d8+2 slashing damage+1d8 fire damage; +8 to hit if plunging, +1d6 damage if dive.
Spellcasting. The War Priest casts as a 10th-level cleric. Its spell attack roll is +7, and its spell save DC is 15.
Debuff
1st () Faerie Fire (C, 60’, 20’ cube; outline everything in colored light; Dex or creatures are lit and attack rolls against them have advantage),
Attack
1st ()() Guiding Bolt (120’, attack roll, 4d6 radiant, next attack has advantage)
Melee
4th ()() Greater Crusader's Mantle (C, 30' radius, all allies get +2 to hit and +1d4 radiant damage)
Heal
5th ()() Mass Cure Wounds (30’ radius, 6 creatures, 3d8+3 healing)
Other
3rd ()()() Daylight (1 hr, 60’ radius bright/120’ dim light), Dispel Magic (120’, 3rd or lower dispelled, higher d20+2 vs 10+spell level)

Bonus Actions
Spiritual Weapon
A spectral spear attacks a target within 30' of the war priest. Melee spell attack, +7 to hit for 1d8+4 force damage.
Tactics
The War Priest gets in close to the enemy, wielding its macahuitl while buffing allies and itself with Greater Crusader's Mantle. It can also deal with invisible foes, or dispel enemy magics or darkness. At long range, it will use Guiding Bolt. If it or its allies are generally damaged, it will use Mass Cure Wounds while staying in range for its spiritual weapon attack.

Better?
DMs - how do you like organizing the spellcaster block by type instead of by spell level?
 

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I recently posted (Idol of the Sun campaign log on GITP) that I'm not happy with how the Aaracokra War Priest is playing out in combat. The statblock supports too many things at once while managing to deliver on none of them. I'm not a huge fan of what I've seen of Mord's, but this is a place where I'm probably going to apply some of the design principles.

...

A revised statblock may be:
Aaracokra War Priest
Medium Humanoid
Armor Class 18 (Breastplate+Wicker Shield)
Hit Points 96
Speed 20 ft., fly 50 ft.
Str Dex Con Int Wis Cha
14(+2) 14(+2) 14(+2) 11(0) 18(+4) 10(0)
Saves Str +5, Wis +7, Cha+3
Skills Perception +10
Senses passive Perception 20
CR 6
Dive Attack. If it is flying and dives at least 30’ straight toward a target, then strikes it with a melee weapon, the attack deals an extra 1d6 damage to the target. This applies to only one attack per dive.
Keen Sight. Aaracokra have Expertise in Perception.
War Cleric. The War Priest gains +1 to hit with weapon attacks, and deals 1d8 extra damage on hit.
Actions
Macahuitl.
Melee Weapon Attack, +6 to hit, 5’ or 30/120’, 1d8+2 slashing damage+1d8 fire damage; +8 to hit if plunging, +1d6 damage if dive.
Spellcasting. The War Priest casts as a 10th-level cleric. Its spell attack roll is +7, and its spell save DC is 15.
Debuff
1st () Faerie Fire (C, 60’, 20’ cube; outline everything in colored light; Dex or creatures are lit and attack rolls against them have advantage),
Attack
1st ()() Guiding Bolt (120’, attack roll, 4d6 radiant, next attack has advantage)
Melee
4th ()() Greater Crusader's Mantle (C, 30' radius, all allies get +2 to hit and +1d4 radiant damage)
Heal
5th ()() Mass Cure Wounds (30’ radius, 6 creatures, 3d8+3 healing)
Other
3rd ()()() Daylight (1 hr, 60’ radius bright/120’ dim light), Dispel Magic (120’, 3rd or lower dispelled, higher d20+2 vs 10+spell level)

Bonus Actions
Spiritual Weapon
A spectral spear attacks a target within 30' of the war priest. Melee spell attack, +7 to hit for 1d8+4 force damage.
Tactics
The War Priest gets in close to the enemy, wielding its macahuitl while buffing allies and itself with Greater Crusader's Mantle. It can also deal with invisible foes, or dispel enemy magics or darkness. At long range, it will use Guiding Bolt. If it or its allies are generally damaged, it will use Mass Cure Wounds while staying in range for its spiritual weapon attack.

Better?
DMs - how do you like organizing the spellcaster block by type instead of by spell level?
I like that spell organization you're using. I've seen something similar for Mutants & Masterminds (very similar, in fact, if all the powers have essentially the same source) and 4th Edition (organized by type of action).

You mentioned spiritual weapon in the tactics but I don't see that in the stat block.

It's mostly flavor text, but a breastplate is heavy and I really don't know how a winged humanoid uses a shield. (In it's feet?)
 


J-H

Hero
Yeah, I just included Spiritual Weapon as feature instead of as a separate spell that gets cast. Simplifying again.

These are Aaracokra, so they have arms and wings. I'm going with wicker for their shields, and uhhhh.... foamed bronze for the breastplates? They need to have a bit better AC so they get breastplates.
 

BlastoTheSloth

Villager
Just seeing this page without any other context, but I have my thoughts.

Wouldn't the whole point of having the bonus action weapon attack be to take more advantage of Crusader's Mantle or Holy Weapon bonuses? Also, seems like the original ideal is to use multiple of these instead of a mixed enemy group, with some dive bombing while there's the one or more staying up in the air laying down ranged spells. Actual Gishing is about mixing spell flinging and weapon swinging, not just being built to enhance weapon attacks with spells.

...By the logic of not needing to list their natural weapons, you might as well remove their walking speed. Say they cut their legs off to be able to wear heavier armor. As soon as you remove an option, that'll be when the party suddenly decided to start doing that edge case you weren't expecting and disarm them. Besides, their weapon can be thrown and doesn't magically return, so they could disarm themselves if a situation arose to do so, particularly after you're removing the bulk of their their ranged spell options.

I mean, if the changes work for how you intend and want to run them, than that's good, but the original stat block I think definitely could work better if planned around with a different mindset. Like, low base hit chance isn't even so bad the more total attacks that get thrown out, since no matter what there's still that 5% crit chance and the players get to feel rewarded for having high AC against the lower hit enemies. Plus, flight means maybe they try to pick off lower AC targets first, forcing the party to maneuver around that (when using them in mixed enemy teams or not), making lower hit less of a gamble. Plus plus, the Blinded condition/Fairy Fire means they could gain advantage. Plus plus plus, you kinda want the DC lower and the AOE damage spell a higher level resource so you're not overwhelming the party with nukes from multiple of these guys, since they'll mostly still be doing damage while saved against anyway. Higher hit and DCs might being enough to push them past CR6 with what I see them capable of (just because Flame Stike is bad compared to Fireball doesn't mean it isn't scary, the smaller area of effect can even be a good thing in some cases).

For instance, say there's four of these guys with the original stat block. Two hang back in the air and cast Holy Weapon on the other two then lay long down range spells (starting with cantrips after buffing if not done preemptively) while those buffed two try Blinding/Fairy Fire the party then dive attack with their bonus actions. After that the two melee for a while with ranged support, if one didn't succeed at debuffing anyone they might pop Crusader's Mantle. When they feel like they're getting to their last legs and if the support casters are still healthy they might disengage or rely on Death Ward to retreat to the sky (the support blowing up the Holy Weapon changes before they do, covering their escape even more) and switch roles with the the two support casters becoming the new front line while they become the new support and maybe patching each other up with their Cure Wounds.

This example has many advantages. One, the first time the party deals with it it might be a more brutal fight than they're expecting since the enemy can really drag out the encounter. Two, despite being an extended combat, they have a lot of dynamic options to keep things interesting. Three, if they face a the same formation again, they can think of way to better dismantle it, making it fall apart being very satisfying.

Additionally, for lower levels, the original stat block has more going for it to serve as a boss of a weaker squad of foes, staying in the air buffing/debuffing and healing while still getting weapon attacks in to make the War Priest flavor more apparent until the party whittles down the scrubs then presenting a fair challenge on its own. If anything, I say it's missing a more reliable ranged weapon to mix in bonus action attacks with ranged spell casting (even if it's stating they have multiple macahuitl, despite that being a bit weird) instead of going for Spiritual Weapon. The fact that that their weapon buffs work on both melee and ranged attacks is pretty significant. Also would mean them pulling out the different weapons gives the party something to react to.

P.S. If you've decided they're prepared for the party, one could have Detect Magic up and be (in a way visable to the party) directing the enemy group on which people in the party seem to have the most threatening magic items or have buffs to dispel. Also, forgetting about Death Ward is unfortunate, but players and DMs constantly forget concentration saves, too. Doesn't mean you do away with concentration. Clairvoyance can be how they know the party is approaching to set up their buffs and ambush (and rewarding if a party member has a way to spot the sensor and know they're being watched). The spell list doesn't need simplifying if there's multiple of these guys working as a unit and all coming together to make up for their weaknesses.
 
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