Pigeon Tactics

If you live in a major North American city (except, weirdly, Milwaukee), you’ve undoubtedly encountered pigeons on an almost daily basis. Like squirrels, they enjoy a commensal relationship with humans, benefiting greatly from our effect on the ecosystem without significantly helping us or harming us in any way. And you know they’re generally quite chill, unless your toddler runs directly at them, as toddlers invariably do.

The standard pigeon in fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons is no different. A small, unthreatening thing, it’s disinclined to fight at all and relies heavily on its Hypervigilant Flight reaction, which allows it to move up to half its speed as a reaction—without provoking an opportunity attack—if another creature moves within 5 feet of it. Pigeons are prey creatures, not predators, and the only way you’re likely to suffer a Beak attack from one is if you somehow manage to grab it.

A swarm of pigeons behaves similarly to a single pigeon, but not exactly the same. It still spooks easily, and it rarely attacks, preferring simply to use Hypervigilant Flight to retreat to a safe distance and, if pursued, to Dash to a safe perch out of reach. However, sometimes a swarm of pigeons chooses an empty, elevated location to roost in, such as an upper floor of an abandoned building. Particularly if this roost is home to eggs or squabs, a swarm of pigeons may become aggressive toward anyone who intrudes.

The first action it generally takes against a trespasser is Evacuate, more as a scare response than a calculated attempt to debilitate. If the target subsequently moves, so does the swarm, using Hypervigilant Flight. However, if the target doesn’t leave, the swarm then swoops back down and attacks with its Beaks. It continues to attack until the intruder is driven off or the swarm is reduced to 10 hp or fewer.

The giant pigeon is another matter, because unlike its Tiny cousins, it doesn’t scare. Cheeky and undauntable in its pursuit of food, it disregards other creatures as long as they leave it alone. Even snatching food away from it doesn’t provoke it to fight; it simply continues to try to get the food back, with greater determination. (You can use the Disarm action, from “Action Options” in chapter 9 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, to represent the giant pigeon’s attempts to snatch food back from a character who’s holding it.) If and when one does actual harm to it, however, it fights back, doing its best to drive the aggressor away.

With very high Dexterity and high Constitution, giant pigeons are skirmishers; however, they lack any trait, such as Flyby, that would allow them to fly down, attack, then fly back up without provoking an opportunity attack, and their Armor Class isn’t high enough for them to ignore the possibility.

A giant pigeon’s first action in combat depends on how many opponents are attacking it. If there’s only one aggressor, it closes the distance and pecks at them with its Beak. (Unlike their cousins, giant pigeons are just smart enough to understand the concept of a ranged weapon, and if attacked with one from a distance of 60 feet or less, they absolutely will close the distance and attack the attacker. If they can’t close the distance in one turn’s movement, they’ll fly away—for the time being.) However, if a giant pigeon is being attacked by two or more opponents, if flies up in the air—high enough to get off the ground, but not high enough to leave their reach—and Evacuates over them. If all its opponents fail their saving throws, it goes ahead and flies up to a safe height, 30 feet away from them, before returning on its next turn to peck them senseless, then return to the air while they’re still incapacitated and therefore unable to take opportunity attacks. Generally, after one such Beak attack, the giant pigeon considers itself to have made its point, and it finishes its turn by taking to the air again, then—if it takes no further damage—uses its next turn’s action to Dash away. However, against a single aggressor, the giant pigeon tries to establish its dominance and keeps attacking until the foe is driven away and/or surrenders the contested foodstuff. It yields the victory when seriously wounded (reduced to 8 hp or fewer) and Dashes away.

Where the giant pigeon is fearless but otherwise mostly placid, dire pigeons are straight-up thugs. Traveling in flocks of four to 12, they’re mean little glass cannons that can’t take a lot of damage but sure can dish it out, thanks to their double Multiattack and their Hemorrhaging Peck trait. When they perceive a potential enemy—which, to them, means anyone who might come between them and their food, or might be competition for some of that food, or just comes too close or looks at them funny—they take to the air and swoop down upon them en masse. If they have enough movement left, they fly back up after attacking despite lacking Flyby, counting on their natural armor to keep them from taking an opportunity hit.

Dire pigeons are so pugnacious that driving them off isn’t a matter of dealing enough damage to one of them—it’s a matter of dealing enough damage to the whole flock. Determine the total hit points of all the dire pigeons in a flock, and keep a running tally of the damage dealt to them. When the flock is down to 40 percent of its hit point total, have the surviving pigeons retreat, Dodging as they fly.

While the giant pigeon is fearless but not hostile, and the dire pigeon is fearless and hostile but not particularly formidable, the roc dove—a fearless, hostile and formidable columbiform the size of a jumbo jet—is an absolute terror. Giant pigeons and dire pigeons will mix it up with interlopers who get between them and food. But to the roc dove, you’re the food. Foraying into settled lands from their cliffside nests to devour fields of grain and pastures of livestock, roc doves are omnivorous in the most frightening sense of the word.

Unlike every other pigeon subtype, roc doves are brutes, with extraordinary Strength and Constitution hitched to animal-level intelligence. This ability contour provides the one source of consolation for anyone unfortunate enough to encounter a roc dove: Its instinctive behavior pattern is very rigid. It may be a deadly terror, but it’s not a clever or adaptable deadly terror.

To begin with, a roc dove heading toward a group of wiggly morsels issues a Transfixing Coo as soon as it comes within range of all of them, rooting each one who fails their saving throw to the spot where they stand. It then zeroes in on one of these helpless targets—but before it Multiattacks, it lands, because pigeons, even roc doves, are ground feeders. And a cluster of morsels is more attractive to them than one alone, so it lands as close to multiple helpless targets as possible. Its goal, of course, is to nosh, so it keeps pecking at any given target until it manages to swallow them, then moves on to the next. It’s indiscriminate in its choice of targets except for preferring transfixed targets over non-transfixed ones. When it has no transfixed targets left, it uses Transfixing Coo again as soon as it recharges, taking to the air again—heedless of opportunity attacks—if that feature is on cooldown.

Taking significant damage reawakens the jumpy pigeon impulse that lies dormant in this monstrosity: If it’s moderately wounded (reduced to 173 hp or fewer), or if an opponent’s attack deals enough damage for it to notice (at least 25 damage in a single hit), it takes flight and Evacuates over its assailant, as well as whatever other foes it can befoul within the area of effect; again, it’s mostly indiscriminate in its choice of targets, except in this case, all else being equal, it prefers to defecate on non­-transfixed targets rather than transfixed ones. After doing so, if it can get away with returning to gobble up tidbits, it does.

If it’s dealt another 25 damage in a single hit, is moderately wounded after such a hit or is seriously wounded (reduced to 99 hp or fewer), the roc dove Molts over its foes as it flies away, in order to discourage continued assault or pursuit. Its flying speed is already impressive, and again, it is still—on some level—a pigeon, so it Dodges on subsequent turns as it retreats.

Pigeonfolk may be inspired by Edward Topsell’s 17th-century depiction of the peristera in The History of Fowl; the duvewhit, a creature from Kentish fairy lore; or the underground comic Phoebe and the Pigeon People by Jay Lynch and Gary Whitney. Whatever their source, these creatures differ from the hybrid folk prevalent throughout D&D, past and present, by having tiny humanoid heads on pigeon bodies rather than some corporal configuration that might actually be useful. They’re categorized not as humanoids or even monstrosities but as fey, suggesting that they aren’t evolved creatures at all but rather sprang into being from someone’s fevered imagination, fully formed.

A seized pigeon can peck at its assailant with its beak; pigeonfolk, whose humanoid heads contain complete sets of wee humanoid teeth, can do nothing but try to bite or wriggle away when grabbed (the pigeonfolk Bite does the exactly same nominal damage as the pigeon Beak, so there’s no meaningful difference between the two), and they have no inclination to attack under any other circumstance. A sufficiently agitated pigeonfolk may unleash a stream of hostile invective, but as soon as anyone makes an aggressive move toward it, it uses its reaction to take Hypervigilant Flight and retreat to a safe distance (ideally off the ground) before either continuing its tirade or fleeing the scene entirely using the Dash action. If it takes any amount of damage, it flees.

Next: sharknadoes.

15 thoughts on “Pigeon Tactics

  1. I only realised this was an aprils first post near the end, oh god.
    The ‘hypervigilant flight’ **reaction** seems interesting to me though. As it is written, it seems this is something that allows the pigeon to fly away quickly when something approaches, which is a pretty interesting idea for a homebrew of something that tries to snatch stuff.

    Are these creatures based on an actual homebrew or just completely made up by you? (Or did I miss the most important section of the Monster Manual when reading it?!)

  2. You missed the Werepigeon. I know its mostly the same as a Giant Pigeon, but Immunity to non-silvered weapons really helps with Opportunity Attacks. Just in case anyone was wondering.

  3. I… I actually have pigeons that serve as plot points in my campaign, so this is actually useful.
    And there are all of these lovely sheer cliffs in the region my players will be in…

  4. I feel like this one is for the birds. Maybe I’m just being peckish though. Regardless, good to see this blog taking flight!

  5. This is amazing, and I really want to unleash a Roc Dove on my players. It would be worth it just for the groan when they hear the name.

  6. I realize this is a joke but a bunch of pigeonfolk equipped with Vicious Mockery would make for a pretty interesting (and extremely aggravating) encounter.

  7. I only caught this post because I linked to it on DMAcademy. Wish I had seen this a week ago, but buying the pigeon package was the best money I spent in a long time.

  8. How should a DM handle the infamously crafty Metagaming Pigeon? That monster knows what it’s doing on a whole other level.

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