Tactics of Dragon Heist: Jarlaxle Baenre
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 please don’t read further without your DM’s explicit permission
Jarlaxle Baenre, the leader of the Brengan D’Aerthe mercenary band and secret lord of Luskan, is the main antagonist in the autumn scenario of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist.
Jarlaxle has extremely high Dexterity and mental ability scores with relatively low Strength and Constitution. This indicates that he’s either a shock attacker¹ who deals huge amounts of damage but gets out of melee as quickly as possible, or a sniper who prefers to attack from a range. Lets analyze the rest of his combat related features to discover which fighting style is truly the best.
Due to his +3 Leather Armor and Suave Defense feature, Jarlaxle has a ridiculously high AC 24. Successfully hitting him gets even harder when you factor in his Cloak of Invisibility, which makes it so that every opponent will be attacking him with disadvantage!! Jarlaxle definitely isn’t scared of going into melee.
Jarlaxle also has the Evasion feature and proficiency in Dexterity and Wisdom saving throws, which make him extremely difficult to affect with magic. On top of that, he has Legendary Resistance, which can protect him from a particularly nasty spell. Jarlaxle can only use Legendary Resistance once, so he’ll save it for an immobilization effect such as Hold Person or Power Word Stun or a spell such as Finger of Death that deals 37hp of damage or more.
Jarlaxle is weak in Strength and Constitution saving throws and one of his main defensive measures is nullified by an opponent with truesight or the See Invisibility spell. Because of this, he’ll primarily target forcing him to make Strength and Constitution saving throws, as well as anyone who seems to be able to see him when his Cloak of Invisibility is activated.
Jarlaxle’s offensive abilities are just as scary as his defensive stats. With his action, he can attack three times with his +3 rapier, dealing 13.5 damage on average with each hit, or shoot two daggers from his Bracer of Flying Daggers dealing 8.5 damage per hit. Both these weapons have extremely high attack bonuses, so you can expect him to hit at least 3 out of 5 attacks.
On top of his weapon’s high base damage, Jarlaxle can use sneak attack to deal 24 extra damage each turn. He either needs advantage on the attack roll or an ally within 5 feet of his target to use this feature, but advantage is easily gained through his Cloak of Invisibility.
If that wasn’t overpowered enough, Jarlaxle has three legendary actions too use each round. His options are Quick Step, which lets him move up to 30 feet, and Attack which uses two legendary actions to make one attack with his rapier or two attacks with flying daggers.
But wait, there’s more! If Jarlaxle wants to immobilize his opponents, he can use his Wand of Web to restrain everyone within a 20 foot cube. He also has innate drow magic, but in most situations he doesn’t need it: his Wand of Web and Cloak of Invisibility can grant advantage just as well as Faerie Fire, he prefers mobility to Levitating in place, and would rather take out an opponent immediately than enclose them in a sphere of Darkness.
Jarlaxle’s only major weaknesses are his relatively low bonuses in Strength and Constitution saving throws, and any opponent with truesight or another method of seeing past his Cloak of Invisibility. Jarlaxle is intelligent enough to recognize these weaknesses and target any opponent that’s in a position to exploit them.
Considering all his features together, Jarlaxle has two optimal strategies to use in combat.
Jarlaxle starts the simpler strategy by pulling up the hood of his Cloak of Invisibility and moving around constantly to make it hard for his opponents to guess his location. Then, he uses his Wand of Web to restrain as many opponents as possible. In following rounds, he stays on the edge of these webs, using both his action and legendary actions to pepper his opponents with flying daggers.
If Jarlaxle’s webs are dispelled, or you don’t want your players to spend an entire combat encounter helplessly restrained, he uses the strategy detailed below:
Like in the first strategy, Jarlaxle starts combat by pulling up the hood of his Cloak of Invisibility.
On each turn thereafter, Jarlaxle attacks three times with his rapier because it deals significantly more damage than his flying daggers. He targets spellcasters that are forcing him to make Strength or Constitution saving throws or anyone who seems to be able to see through his invisibility. Once he makes his attacks, Jarlaxle retreats out of melee range, positioning himself about 15 feet away from his opponents. This might provoke opportunity attacks, but Jarlaxle trusts his high AC and Cloak of Invisibility to protect him.
About halfway between his turns, Jarlaxle uses his Attack legendary action. He attacks with his flying daggers, which deal more damage with two attacks than a single rapier slash could do with one. If the opponent he wants to target next round is more than 30 feet away or someone closes within melee distance before he has a chance to use his flying daggers, Jarlaxle uses Quick Step to move to a better position.
Once most of his opponents are seriously injured (reduced to 40% hp or less), Jarlaxle calls a truce, asking a favor from them in exchange for their lives. If no one has seen through his Cloak of Invisibility, Jarlaxle might move to a different place on the battlefield and use his Hat of Disguise to appear as a powerful friendly NPC such as Laeral Silverhand. As the NPC, he could claim to have magically banished the “drow scum” and ask a favor in return for saving their lives.
If his opponents refuse his truce, Jarlaxle continues fighting, using his Wand of Web if necessary to prevent their escape. He knocks defeated opponents unconscious instead of killing them so he can use them as blackmail material in the future.
Jarlaxle flees when he’s moderately wounded (reduced to 73hp). Yes, Brengan D’Aerthe could revive him if he dies, but that’s an expensive and time-consuming hassle that he’d rather not endure.
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