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Beasts

Beasts are nonhumanoid creatures that are a natural part of the fantasy ecology. Some of them have magical powers, but most are unintelligent and lack any society or language. Beasts include all varieties of ordinary animals, dinosaurs, and giant versions of animals.

All Beasts

Wild animals and magical beasts are unpredictable, and most operate with a fight or flight response and have no concept of mortality. Magical beasts like manticores or satyrs are an exception; they have individual traits and natures. Even a magical bear with its base instincts intact might have moved on from honey and salmon to magical potions or elves as a favorite treat.

Most natural beasts are much easier to use tactically, based on their instincts. Big carnivorous mammals are a serious threat even when facing a group of magic-wielding characters with a slew of advanced powers at their disposal. The sheer size, speed, and staggering number of hit points make them a worthy foe.

Don’t forget that nearly every predator in nature attacks from stealth. They sneak up on their prey and attack while they are at their most vulnerable. That might mean that a predator has been following the players for hours, waiting for them to rest or remove their armor. Feel free to drop clues to ratchet the tension up, and don’t let the players ever see the creatures.

Big cats are excellent hit-and-run hunters and should be played with all the cunning you can manage. Allow them to retreat and return when the situation favors them, possibly when the party is dealing with another foe or a difficult challenge like crossing a gorge.

To not fight fair! Use animals’ natural abilities as they would. Fight with instinctual animal cunning that’s been honed and evolved over hundreds of thousands of years.

Pack Attacks

The pack mentality of wolves deserves a special mention. Wolves attack as a pack, never one-on-one. They may each take a portion of the damage dealt by the adventurers, but none of them will become a focus. This can become an exercise in accounting for the GM, keeping track of multiple attackers, but that’s just the price of providing a solid encounter.

Despite the lack of real-world attacks on humans by wolves, we often sic a pack of ravenous wolves on an unwary party to usher them along more quickly or to directly threaten them. Add in a vampire or werewolf ally behind the scenes controlling them, and they advance from a nagging threat to four-legged shock troopers.

Wolves might be granted advantage when an ally is within 5 feet. Just be certain you always position an ally within 5 feet! and don’t attack immediately; use the first actions to flank the group and assess the soft underbelly of the party (lightly armored PCs and weak wizards). Maybe give them a cumulative fear or frightening effect when they are in pack formation and howling.

To not fight fair! Use animals’ natural abilities as they would. Fight with instinctual animal cunning that’s been honed and evolved over hundreds of thousands of years.

Use Distractions

Dire wolves are more than just bigger, more horrific wolves. They can have monstrous motivations beyond simple survival, including terrorizing and demoralizing the party.

Dire wolves can work together, gaining advantage on their pack attacks as written, but dragging fallen characters into the woods to be devoured is genuinely terrifying. With the other characters are distracted, it’s easier to pull this off; it’s pretty hard to succeed at Perception checks in the middle of combat.

Then their friends’ bodies went missing, and the wolves started retreating, the players’ paranoia was at an all-time high and their adrenaline pumping.