Blackguards from the D&D 5th edition book Volo?s Guide to Monsters are Paladins who have betrayed their oaths and become evil. Blackguards have high Strength and Constitution with merely average Dexterity, indicating that they prefer to fight on the front line. They have 3 primary offensive features: Weapon attacks, Dreadful Aspect, and Spellcasting. Lets analyze each of these features, then tie it all together to create the optimal Blackguard battle tactics.
Blackguards have two weapons: a glaive with a 10 foot reach and a shortbow with a normal range of 80 feet. Most of the time, they prefer to use the glaive, which deals almost twice as much damage and has a much higher attack bonus than the shortbow. Whichever weapon a Blackguard attacks uses, it can attack three times in one round. It tries to focus on a single target, preferably a target that the Blackguard can attack with advantage due to one of its spells. However, a Blackguard will happily duel up to 3 enemies before trying to relocate
Dreadful Aspect is a once per short rest ability that frightens all enemies within 30 feet of the blackguard on a failed Wisdom saving throw, imposing disadvantage on their attack rolls and preventing them from moving closer to the Blackguard.
When cast at the beginning of combat, Dreadful Aspect mainly serves to reduce the chance of the Blackguard or its allies being hit with an attack. A Blackguard must use an action for Dreadful Aspect, and will only do so when the feature will likely prevent more damage throughout the course of the combat than the Blackguard could deal in the first round. Assuming the Blackguard is fighting 5th-8th level PCs and can attack with its glaive on the first round, it must have 5 melee oriented enemies and expect combat to last at least 3 rounds to use this feature instead of a multiattack. If the Blackguard can?t attack with its glaive on the first round of combat but can get within 30 feet of at least two melee oriented enemies, Dreadful Aspect will be more effective than a shortbow multiattack no matter how long a combat lasts.
Dreadful Aspect also serves as an effective escape hatch. Due to the frightened condition, enemies that fail their save against Dreadful Aspect won?t be able to move nearer to to the Blackguard until it gets at least 30 feet away from them so they can remake the saving throw.
Blackguards have a relatively small list of spells to choose from. These spells are briefly analyzed below:
- Protection from Evil and Good is a very situational spell that probably won?t be necessary against PCs
- Find Steed has no combat application,
- Dispel Magic will be used against sustained spells that significantly hinder a Blackguard or its allies. When going up against spellcasters, a Blackguard will always save a 3rd level slot in case it needs to cast this spell.
- Command can be used to make an enemy drop prone, giving allies advantage on attacks against them at the cost of a Blackguard?s own multiattack. However, Thunderous and Blinding Smite, which can also be used to give allies advantage, don?t require a Blackguard to give up its multiattack. Because of this, Command will almost never be used.
- Blinding Smite, Branding Smite and Thunderous Smite are bonus actions that make a Blackguard?s next successful weapon attack deal additional damage and impose a detrimental side benefit. Of these three, Blinding Smite imposes the most lethal condition, so will be used first. Branding Smite deals the least damage for its level and its effect is extremely situational. Unless a Blackguard has reason to suspect an invisible enemy, it will use Thunderous Smite (which can be boosted to 2nd level for an extra 1d6 damage) instead.
Now, its time to tie everything together. If a Blackguard is facing more than 5 melee opponents and this encounter has a difficulty of hard or deadly, it frightens them using Dreadful Aspect as its first action in battle. Whether or not it uses Dreadful Aspect, the Blackguard?s next action will be Blinding Smite followed by a multiattack. This combination will target lightly armored dexterous characters such as rogues and monks, which likely have lower constitution, and therefore a greater chance of being blinded, that fighters and barbarians.
The Blackguard maintains concentration on Blinding Smite for as long as possible, focusing it?s attention on the target of that spell to take advantage of the Blinded condition. Once the spell wears off, it starts using Thunderous Smite in combination with its multiattack. If the Blackguard is in melee combat with more than three enemies, it uses Thunderous Smite on whichever one has the lowest Strength, trying to get them out of the way while it deals with their allies. A Blackguard always casts Smite spells before it?s multiattack to increase the chance of affecting an enemy that round.
A Blackguard retreats when it is seriously injured (reduced to 61hp), using Dreadful Aspect if its still available to dissuade enemies from pursuing.
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