Intelligent Enemy Tactics

About two months ago, I got an interesting query from reader Nick Seigal, asking about how to run a monster or villain more intelligent than oneself. When you think about it, it’s a challenge that runs throughout Dungeons & Dragons and every other roleplaying game that quantifies mental capacities: How do you roleplay any character or creature with greater intelligence, wisdom or charisma than you yourself possess? (For that matter, how do you play having significantly less? I’m reminded of the one good bit in the otherwise godawful Robert A. Heinlein book Friday, in which the main character, a covert agent, has to take an IQ test and hit a predetermined score exactly.) In social interaction skill checks, it can be handwaved—and often is—with a die roll in lieu of roleplaying. But combat, with its round-by-round mechanical decision-making, requires something more.

With respect to Intelligence (the ability) in particular, it behooves us to think about what we mean when we talk about intelligence (in general), and one important aspect of intelligence is something we might call “quickness of apprehension”: the ability to rapidly recognize the importance of what one sees or hears. This quality is one we see in great detectives of literature, such as Sherlock Holmes, who hoovers up every visual detail at a crime scene in moments, or Nero Wolfe, who pounces on an out-of-place phrase in a conversation which signifies consciousness of guilt. Any detective of ordinary or slightly above-average intelligence could find the same clues, but it would take hours of examining the crime scene or poring over a verbatim transcript of the conversation, and most would give up long before then.

In a D&D combat situation, this manifests in a highly intelligent creature’s being able to “read the room.” It can tell a fighter from a paladin, a wizard from a sorcerer, or a Life Domain cleric from a Light Domain cleric. It can get a sense of a character’s Strength by observing the force of their weapon strikes, their Dexterity by watching them dodge attacks, their Constitution by watching them take hits, their Intelligence and Wisdom by listening to them call out to their allies. It notes who’s got magical weapons and what they do. It pays attention to how badly injured its opponents are. It observes the opponents’ positioning, notices when someone has made a blunder and capitalizes on it. It’s mindful of its own weaknesses and the need to avoid, neutralize or eliminate opponents who might target those weaknesses. Continue reading Intelligent Enemy Tactics

The Monsters Know on DM’s Deep Dive, Nov. 19

Things got real busy last week, and I never got around to posting a new monster analysis. But this week I have a special announcement: My next analysis will be on video, as I take a guest turn on Don’t Split the Podcast Network’s DM’s Deep Dive, hosted by Mike “Sly Flourish” Shea. I’ll analyze the steel predator from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes and also answer questions from Sly (and maybe viewers, if there’s time?). Drop by https://www.twitch.tv/dontsplitthepodcast at 8 PM U.S. Central Time for the live interview; I’ll post the video on this blog when it’s archived on YouTube.

Live to Tell the Tale: Combat Tactics for Player Characters, Fully Revised New Edition, Available for Pre-Order!

You didn’t think I was gonna put out just one snazzy trade book, did you?

Live to Tell the Tale: Combat Tactics for Player Characters is the fully revised new edition of the PC tactics guide you know and love, coming June 23, 2020, in hardcover and e-book formats from Saga Press and available now for pre-order!

Live to Tell the Tale Cover
Cover illustration by Lily Pressland

This new edition includes revised sample battles, including an all-new level 15 battle; new sections on Stealth and Perception, advantage and disadvantage, mounted combat, managing spell slots and using feat options; and dozens of gorgeous illustrations by talented fantasy artists. That’s right—illustrations! Actual illustrations! Also, I finally learned how to use Adobe Illustrator, so the battle diagrams look way cooler now, too.

Click here to pre-order Live to Tell the Tale from your favorite independent bookseller.IndieBound I’m a strong believer in independent booksellers as community anchors, promoting the free expression and sharing of ideas, enriching the cultural life of communities, and keeping money circulating in the local economy. If you don’t already have a favorite independent bookseller, maybe it’s time to get to know one!

Or, I guess, you could pre-order from one of these online retailers:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Indigo
Kobo
Google Play
iBooks

The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters, Available NOW!

It’s here! The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters, published by Saga Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, is available in hardcover and e-book formats today!

The Monsters Know What They're Doing Cover
Cover Illustration by Lily Pressland

This book features all the creatures I’ve analyzed from the Monster Manual, along with exclusive analyses of un-blogged monsters including aarakocra, basilisks, cockatrices, griffons and hippogriffs, kenku, merfolk, quaggoths and xorn, plus thoughts on how to handle encounters with tactically uninteresting monsters.

Click here to order The Monsters Know What They’re Doing from your favorite independent bookseller.IndieBound I’m a strong believer in independent booksellers as community anchors, promoting the free expression and sharing of ideas, enriching the cultural life of communities, and keeping money circulating in the local economy. If you don’t already have a favorite independent bookseller, maybe it’s time to get to know one!

Or, I guess, you can order from one of these online retailers:

Target
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Indigo
Kobo
Google Play
iBooks

I Don’t Feel Like Arguing About Yugoloths

Before I delve into the oinoloth, I want to settle an issue regarding yugoloths—or at least, regarding my interpretation of yugoloths. The issue involves the question of what plane yugoloths are native to, and specifically, whether they can be killed (as opposed to just destroyed) on any plane other than Gehenna, the outer plane of “lawful evil neutrals.” My take, which differs from pure canon, is that yugoloths may be numerous in Gehenna, and some yugoloths may be native to that plane, but Hades has as strong a claim on them, if not stronger.

The fifth-edition Monster Manual says:

Back to Gehenna. When a yugoloth dies, it dissolves into a pool of ichor and reforms at full strength on the Bleak Eternity of Gehenna. Only on its native plane can a yugoloth be destroyed permanently. A yugoloth knows this and acts accordingly. When summoned to other planes, a yugoloth fights without concern for its own well-being. On Gehenna, it is more apt to retreat or plead for mercy if its demise seems imminent.

This paragraph isn’t as ironclad a statement that yugoloths are native to Gehenna, and only to Gehenna, as one might think. First, it doesn’t state explicitly what a yugoloth’s native plane is, only that if it’s killed somewhere other than its native plane, it re-forms in Gehenna. Another paragraph on the same page states, “Yugoloths are fickle fiends that inhabit the planes of Acheron, Gehenna, Hades, and Carceri” (the last of these, in AD&D, originally called “Tarterus,” a misspelling of “Tartarus”), implying that any of these planes could be a yugoloth’s native plane. Second, I reserve the right to declare occasionally that the Monster Manual flavor text is full of it, as in the case of the soldierly hobgoblin that for some reason instantly forgets all its training and abandons all its discipline if it happens to catch a glimpse of an elf, or the use of “efreeti” as a singular noun rather than “efreet.”

Before yugoloths were yugoloths, they were “daemons,” the neutral evil counterpart to lawful evil devils and chaotic evil demons. The first daemons to appear in a D&D sourcebook were the guardian daemon, mezzodaemon and nycadaemon in the Fiend Folio (the last two are now the mezzoloth and nycaloth). The guardian daemon’s home plane is unspecified, but the mezzodaemon and nycadaemon are described as inhabiting “the Lower Planes between the Abyssal Layers and the Hells—i.e., Tarterus, Hades, Gehenna” (idiosyncratic italics in original). Gehenna doesn’t even appear first in that list. Continue reading I Don’t Feel Like Arguing About Yugoloths