Tactics of Dragon Heist: Manshoon’s Simulacrum
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
This is the first post in a series where I analyze the combat tactics of NPCs from the Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition adventure Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. Today, we will kick off the series by discussing Manshoon’s simulacrum
Manshoon’s simulacrum is a clone of the evil archmage himself created by a modified simulacrum spell as a subordinate that “command[s] Zhentarim minions in the field”. It has just as many hit points as the real Manshoon, but no spell slots of 6th level or higher. These extra hit points, combined with the defensive capabilities of Manshoon’s low level spells make the simulacrum much better at escaping than it would be otherwise. Even still, the offensive capabilities of Manshoon’s best spells make this a pretty bad trade off if the simulacrum’s primary purpose was to win a single combat encounter.
To make this trade off worth it, Manshoon would need to care about the simulacrum’s survival, which makes sense. Creating a simulacrum is an expensive, 12 hour long ordeal that Manshoon would like to go through as infrequently as possible. From this, we can conclude that Manshoon only orders the simulacrum to fight if it’s needed for an important objective, and if possible, he would like it to survive that battle to be used again another day.
Manshoon‘s simulacrum has high Dexterity and mental ability scores making it a long range spellslinger. Its super human Intelligence means that it knows its opponents classes and ability scores as if it were reading their stats. Due to its proficiency in Arcana, the simulacrum knows the exact properties of all but the most obscure magic items and the exact effects of almost every spell. It’s proficiency in History means that it knows a lot about the factions of Waterdeep and famous NPCs. With minimal observations, it can tell who the PCs work with and who will likely send them aid.
The simulacrum has proficiency in Intelligence and Wisdom saving throws, and on top of that and a +2 bonus to all of its saving throws. Despite this bonus, it’s Dexterity and Constitution saves are still relatively low, so shutting down spellcasters that are targeting those abilities is a high priority in combat.
Looking past the ability scores, we see that the simulacrum has darkvision, indicating a preference for working at night. In Dragon Heist, the simulacrum doesn’t have much control over when it fights the players, but if it ever gets to attack on its terms it will choose to battle in the darkness.
That leaves us with the simulacrum’s main feature: spellcasting. Manshoon’s simulacrum doesn’t regain spell slots EVER, so it needs to be extraordinarily careful to save its spells for when they are completely necessary. With that in mind, lets jump into analyzing the spells.
These spells are primarily useful when the simulacrum isn’t trying to kill anyone.
- Detect Thoughts is used whenever the simulacrum is negotiating with anyone that doesn’t serve Manshoon.
- Sending is used to let Manshoon know when important events take place and the simulacrum can’t easily get back to Kolat Towers to report.
- Mage Hand can be used to snatch an object (such as the Stone of Golorr) off an enemy without fully engaging in combat.
- Detect Magic is useless 99% of the time due to the simulacrum’s extensive knowledge of arcana
- Light and Prestigidation don’t have much use except in corner cases. (Light’s utter incompatibility with stealth makes it pretty much useless for night time work)
- Scrying will never be used by the simulacrum. If Manshoon needs to watch someone at a distance, he’d rather do it himself rather than outsource it to a subordinate
These spells are primarily useful to hurt enemies when the simulacrum is going for the kill.
- Bigby’s Hand is the best offensive spell in the simulacrum’s repertoire, letting it deal an average of 18 extra damage as a bonus action each round until it loses concentration. It can also be used to grapple a fleeing target, push snipers off of buildings, or get in the way of melee fighters trying to chase it down. If the simulacrum needs to eliminate its opponents, it will cast this spell immediately after it has a basic defensive measure or two.
- Firebolt is the simulacrum’s go to option for attacking with it’s action once Bigby’s Hand has been cast.
- Shocking Grasp is what the simulacrum uses if an opponent gets within melee range but is too weak to make it worth getting away with Misty Step.
- Lightning Bolt is for when the simulacrum can line up at least two opponents with more than 18 hp (to tough to be one-hit-killed with Firebolt or Bigby’s Hand) that will deal significant damage if the simulacrum allows them to live another round.
- Polymorph could be used to transform the simulacrum into a Tyrannosaurus Rex, but that would draw the attention of the City Watch, so its probably not a great idea. It requires concentration, and most of the beasts that it’s likely allies (which are at max CR 2 and 3) could be transformed into are too weak to be worth giving up Bigby’s Hand. However, if the simulacrum could become a T-Rex and not attract the attention of the city watch, this spell is amazing due to the extra hit points and massive damage potential it provides.
- Magic Missile isn’t much better than a cantrip. The simulacrum only gets 4 1st level spells ever, and this isn’t worth giving up a Shield or Mage Armor.
These spells are primarily useful for keeping the simulacrum alive in combat encounters
- Shield and Counterspell(which will be upcast if necessary) are be used as reactions to block incoming attacks. To save potentially useful spell slots, the simulacrum won’t Counterspell spells of second level or lower unless the spell does something other than damage and forces a Dexterity or Constitution saving throw.
- Mage Armor will be cast before combat to make the simulacrum harder to hit.
- Mirror Image will be cast at the beginning of combat to make it even harder to hit
- Fire Shield ensures that anyone lucky enough to get past its defenses will pay for their attack.
- Wall of Force, which requires concentration, is extremely useful to delay pursuers when fleeing. In the middle of combat, it can be used to block off annoying attackers but requires giving up Bigby’s Hand. To be worth it, the party must have four or more 5th level PCs or a couple of NPC allies that are at least CR 1 (so that on average it avoids more damage than it could deal with Bigby’s Hand). If these conditions are met, the simulacrum encloses half the party in a magical dome while it kills the other half. If one opponent is significantly tougher than every one else (like if the party brought Meloon Wardragon), the simulacrum might enclose just that opponent to get them out of the way while it destroys everyone else.
- Greater Invisibility, which also requires concentration, is amazing when the simulacrum is trying to steal something. In a full out fight, this spell must help it avoid an average of more than 18 damage per round to be worth giving up Bigby’s Hand. If you rule that players can tell where an invisible creature due to the noise it makes, the trade-off isn’t going to be worth it unless it’s fighting five or more 5th level PCs and ran out of spell slots to cast Wall of Force.
- Misty Step is useful to outrun pursuers when the simulacrum is making an escape, and get out of melee range.
Now that we’ve analyzed the spells, it’s time to come up with the optimal tactical combination Which tactics the simulacrum uses depends on its goals.
In circumstances like the Yellowspire (Old Tower) encounter of the winter chain, where its primary purpose is to steal a small object, it will first cast Greater Invisibility. Then, keeping a distance of about 20 feet from whoever’s holding the object, the simulacrum will use Mage Hand to fetch it. Once it gets what it came for, the simulacrum flees to Kolat Towers or the nearest teleportation circle, hoping to get far away before the players notice what’s missing. If the players catch on, the simulacrum uses Misty Step to stay ahead of them and Counterspell and Shield to avoid attacks. If its invisibility wears off and the PCs are still after it, it traps them in a Wall of Force and continues running, turning to combat only if there is no way to escape.
When the simulacrum wants to kill, like in the encounters at the Vault of Dragons or in Kolat Towers, it uses a completely different set of tactics. If it suspects that a fight will break out, it casts some defensive spells. Mage Armor might be cast hours before the fight, Fire Shield minutes, and Mirror Image a couple seconds before it joins the fray.
Its unlikely that the simulacrum will go into combat without warning given its high intelligence and how it usually goes to the PCs instead of them coming to it. However, if your players somehow manage to surprise it, the simulacrum won’t have any defensive spells active.
In the first round of combat, the simulacrum will cast mirror image if it hasn’t already. Once mirror image is up, it will cast Bigby’s Hand (or Wall or Force if the criteria for that spell are met). Once it’s concentration spell is cast, the simulacrum will harry its opponents using firebolt and Bigby’s Hand, targeting melee fighters and spellcasters that are forcing it to make Constitution and Dexterity saving throws. It will generally use the Clenched Fist option for Bigby’s Hand, but if a character tries to close into melee, it will use Grasping Hand to immobilize them. If that fails, it will use Interposing Hand to stop them from getting any closer.
Throughout the fight, the simulacrum will use shield and counterspell to nullify dangerous attacks, and unleash a Lightning Bolt whenever it can line up two targets. If an enemy is successful in closing to melee distance, the simulacrum hits them with Shocking Grasp then uses Bigby’s Hand to grapple them. If it doesn’t have Bigby’s Hand up, the simulacrum uses Misty Step to get far enough away that the melee fighter can’t close the distance with it next round. If the simulacrum loses its concentration on Bigby’s Hand, it will recast if it thinks it can keep its concentration for 3 or more rounds or switch to Greater Invisibility if it can’t.
Manshoon’s simulacrum fights only when it thinks it can easily win or if fighting is the only way to accomplish an important objective. If its objective can be accomplished later when it has reinforcements, it will flee when reduced to 76 hp (60% of it’s hit point maximum). However, if the objective is extremely important and time sensitive (like stopping a group of adventurers from taking the cache of dragons straight to Laeral Silverhand) the simulacrum will fight to the death.
When it chooses to escape, the simulacrum uses the dash action and Misty Step to outrun the players. If it looks like the players will catch it, it casts a domed Wall of Force to trap as many of them as possible so that it can get away.
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