Tactics of Dragon Heist: Davil Starsong

This article contains major spoilers for the D&D 5e adventure Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. If you are, or will be a player in that adventure DO NOT read further without your DM’s explicit permission

In today’s installment of Tactics of Dragon Heist, we’ll be looking at Davil Starsong: the Master of Oppurtunities and Negotiations for the Zhentarim in Waterdeep. His flavor text, high Charisma, and Insight proficiency indicate that he’s amazing at manipulating people and talking his way out of trouble. His relatively low Strength and Constitution indicate that in battles, he prefers to cast spells from the background while others do the actual fighting. From these two extrapolations, we can conclude that Davil only initiates fights when he has multiple allies and careful planning to ensure he has the advantage.

Davil’s high Intelligence score indicates an ability to come up with good plans and shift his tactics to deal with unexpected circumstances. He isn’t smart enough to know everything about a character just by looking at them, but can tell their classes after a couple seconds of observation and make ballpark guesses as to their physical abilities.

Davil has the features of an elf, making him harder to charm, impossible to magically put to sleep, and giving him good darkvision. Other than that, his only unique feature is spell casting. Looking at his spells, we see that their focused on enchanting his enemies. All of his spells that require saving throws target Wisdom, so Clerics and Druids — and to a lesser extent Paladins, Monks, Rangers, and Wizards — are particularly hard for him to influence. Because of this, he orders his allies to target these classes first, while he focuses his single target spells on targets that likely have lower Wisdom. With this in mind, let’s analyze his individual spells.

  • Sleep is useful for quickly ending meetings when Davil’s clients discover a scam.
  • Disguise Self and Nondetection are used to foil Harper agents or anyone else who may be looking for Davil.
  • Suggestion puts prospective clients or Zhentarim recruits in a more agreeable mood and nudges potential enemies to leave him alone instead of starting a fight.
  • Sending is used to deliver urgent messages to the other Doom Raiders
  • Dominate Person is perhaps the best spell for Davil to cast in combat. With one failed Wisdom saving throw, he can force an opponent to attack its allies until they either break his concentration or damage their friend. He uses this spell on the strongest opponent that isn’t a Cleric or Druid.
  • Otto’s Irresistible Dance makes a single target less dangerous and easier to hit, and works for a whole round before the target can make a saving throw. It isn’t quite as good as Dominate Person, but is very useful if a non-humanoid is the most dangerous enemy by a large margin.
  • Polymorph could transform Davil or one of his allies into a dangerous beast. anything powerful enough to be worth his spell slots and concentration is most likely big enough to alert the City Watch and get him arrested. If he’s not worried about the city watch, it takes an ally of CR 5 or higher to make this spell better than dominate person. The second use of this spell is to transform an enemy into something harmless and temporarily take them out of the battle.
  • Suggestion, depending on how you interpret its incredibly ambiguous description, could be used “persuade” a dangerous opponent to “surrender and live to fight another day,” taking them out of the battle until his allies are ready.
  • Compulsion is used to draw enemies away from Davil, prevent an enemy retreat, trigger opportunity attacks, and aid in his own escape.
  • Cure Wounds is very useful for healing allies in the middle of combat. Davil will cast it when he or an ally he cares about drops below 60% of their hit point maximum. He will boost it up to 3rd level to get the most healing possible without using a spell slot he might need for a different combat related spells.
  • Vicious Mockery is a pretty straight forward damaging spell.
  • Crown of Madness is a much weaker version of Dominate Person that consumes Davil’s action each round, doesn’t let him control the target’s movement, and is only effective against melee oriented foes. He uses it only against melee fighters with multiattack (so they’ll deal more damage than Vicious Mockery) and only when none of his other spells are necessary.
  • Freedom of Movement and Greater Restoration are situational spells that Davil probably won’t need to cast. However, due to his past adventures raiding Lich lairs, he’ll save one 4th and one 5th level slot for these spells just in case.
  • Invisibility is useful for running away if Davil didn’t expect a combat encounter

Now, let’s tie it all together. In a fight that Davil didn’t plan for, he will flee immediately unless his side has an overwhelming advantage or he could gain a significant benefit (such as improved relations with the Harpers) by staying.

If he planned for a fight or decided it would be beneficial to stay, he opens with Dominate Person cast on his most dangerous opponent that’s not a Cleric or Druid. If multiple opponents seem equally dangerous, he chooses whatever enemy is best positioned to do maximum damage to it’s allies while avoiding damage itself. This is most likely an archer, because they can fire at Clerics and Druids while staying out of range of melee attacks.

In following rounds, Davil makes sure to stay well behind his melee allies while using Vicious Mockery for damage. If you allow Suggestion to be useful in combat, he casts it to temporarily neutralize mid to low Wisdom opponents that his allies are having trouble with. He uses 3rd level Cure Wounds whenever an ally is below half their hit point maximum.

When his Dominate Person spell ends, Davil reassesses the battlefield. If there’s one particularly dangerous opponent that’s fighting three or more of Davil’s allies, he casts Otto’s Irresistible Dance. If there’s a particularly dangerous opponent that his allies don’t have the resources to fight right now, he immobilizes them with Suggestion or Polymorph. If neither of these conditions is met, he casts Compulsion to make sure enemies stay away from him and trigger as many opportunity attacks as possible.

Davil flees when half of his allies are defeated or when he himself is moderately wounded (reduced to 49 hp). If he’s currently concentrating on Compulsion, he orders his targets to move directly away from him while he makes his escape. Otherwise, he casts Invisibility and escapes unseen.

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