Reader Questions: Goblin Stealth and Retreating Monsters

Q: I recently purchased a copy of Live To Tell The Tale, and I must say, excellent work. But I was confused by all of the hiding and Stealth in the first scenario. There were times it seemed the goblins were moving, rolling Stealth, attacking, moving, rolling Stealth to Hide. What were all those Stealth rolls? And what about all of the Perception rolls that the players were doing during their turns? Do those count as part of their action?

A: A large part of that encounter has to do with the goblins’ Nimble Escape feature, which lets them Hide as a bonus action. In order to Hide successfully, a goblin has to (a) be out of view and (b) make a Stealth roll that exceeds every player character’s passive Perception. Once it’s made a successful Stealth check, it doesn’t have to keep making Stealth checks—it stays hidden until it does something that gives its position away, or until an opponent choosing the Search action finds it (which requires him or her to make a Perception check). Once it’s been seen, to Hide again requires another Stealth check, and so on.

In other words: I don’t have to make a Perception check to see you when you’re not hidden. If you want to Hide (action), you have to make a Stealth check. If that Stealth check is equal to or lower than my passive Perception, I can still see where you went. If it’s higher than my passive Perception, you’ve slipped out of my sight. If you’ve successfully hidden from me, and I want to find you again, I have to use the Search action, which involves making a Perception check. If I beat your previous Stealth roll, I’ve found you. If not, you’re still hidden.

As soon as you Attack, Cast a Spell, make a loud noise or run out into the open in the direction I’m looking, you’re no longer hidden. Otherwise, you can stay hidden as long as you like—that is, unless and until I find you while Searching. Make sense?

Q: I have a few problems with having my monsters retreat. First, my players don’t like it when the monsters retreat. I give them full XP for defeated or retreating monsters, and they still don’t like it. Second, how do monsters succesfully retreat? My players chase down retreating monsters. They refuse to let any monster retreat. What more should I do after a monster Disengages?

A: Of course, as dungeon masters, we want to keep our players happy, but we don’t have to indulge them when they’re being childish. Monsters don’t care whether what they do pleases the player characters or not. They pursue their goals, not the PCs’ goals. If the PCs don’t like that, they can start a monster obedience school.

The fact that a monster tries to escape a fight doesn’t mean that it will be successful. As I mention in “Dodge, Dash or Disengage?” retreating is difficult and dangerous. It’s very likely that a retreating monster will be chased down. C’est la vie. Just as the monsters pursue their goals, not the PCs’, the PCs pursue their goals, not the monsters’. If the party wants to chase down a retreating monster rather than let it live, that’s their prerogative. (That being said, if any of the members of that party consider themselves lawful good or neutral good, you may want to have a talk about what alignment means.)

Next: rakshasas.

6 thoughts on “Reader Questions: Goblin Stealth and Retreating Monsters

  1. Personally when I have my monsters retreat I tend to do so towards some other hazard to the party (if there is one available, of course, no making up stuff). More often than not this is a monster running to allies, turning a chase from picking on an already defeated foe into a marathon battle that costs them their chance to recover or plan. But it can be something as simple as the monster diving into a flowing river that MIGHT be dangerous to the party, or at least increase the distance it will take to catch it so far it’s not worth chasing any more. Trying to jump over a ravine or other such hazard that requires a roll that could potentially be dangerous to the party is good too.

    It’s a win-win on my part. If the party catches and kills it, well, they would, have done that if it didn’t retreat. If it gets away, it got away. If a party member is unscathed they feel like they earned it. If they get dinged up, maybe they’ll think twice before swinging on a rope across a chasm in full plate to catch a single goblin of no consequence next time.

  2. To add to the question on Escaping:

    An escape usually only works, if you have a better method of escape than movement speed. I’m thinking of Invisibility, Flighty or sacrificing your minions to cover your escape. There is always a PC with a longbow or Eldritch blast that running away over an open field just can not work.

    Otherwise you need something to escape to. Examples are: under water, a dense forest to hide in or the narrow corridors of a dungeon.

    What works best in my experience is to surrender, get captured and wait for a better chance. The next time initiative is rolled no PC will want to babysit the prisoner. They want to fight the new monsters.

  3. Retreating opponents give the party an interesting tactical dilemma. If they give full chase, they can get caught in an extended position/led into traps/etc., but if they don’t, there’s a good chance the escaping foes will alert and reinforce the next wave.

  4. When I have a large base populated by a single faction (eg a bandit camp), I’ll often have one guy run for reinforcement as soon as the fight starts. If they try to chase, he’s heading into the next encounter. If he gets away, he’s bringing the next encounter to them.

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