What Monsters Want

We interrupt our irregularly scheduled monster tactics to share a bowl of mind-flakes that spilled out of my head yesterday morning.

This blog, generally speaking, is dedicated to examining the round-by-round tactics of monsters, with the goal of helping dungeon masters make decisions about monster behavior ahead of time rather than in the moment, under pressure. (And if you need an illustration of the importance of that, how about

Click to reveal spoiler relating to a well-known actual-play stream.

DM Matthew Mercer’s recent loss of a beloved big bad who was supposed to be a recurring villain because he forgot to move it out of reach of a player character who could stun it

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?)

But I found myself thinking about encounter building, in the context of trying to develop premises for new adventures, and this led me to the broader strategic question of what monsters’ overarching goals are. And it occurred to me that a monster’s type is an excellent proxy for its strategic goals. Continue reading What Monsters Want

A Note on Unique Boss Monsters

Normally I like fulfilling readers’ requests, but I’ve gotten enough of one particular category of request that I feel like I need to discuss why it’s an exception.

Several readers now have asked me to analyze the dragon goddess Tiamat or the demon lords in Out of the Abyss, and I regret to say, I’m not going to do that—for a few reasons. Continue reading A Note on Unique Boss Monsters

Live to Tell the Tale: An Introduction to Combat Tactics for Dungeons and Dragons Players, Second Edition

The Second Edition of Live to Tell the Tale is on sale now!

Now including information on class archetypes from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, a new section on managing resources between rests, and a looser, easier-to-read layout!

In writing this blog, I’ve unleashed a wave of clever, highly evolved monsters upon the D&D world. It’s only fair that I now give players the tools they need to fight back . . . and live.

Live to Tell the Tale: An Introduction to Combat Tactics for Dungeons and Dragons Players is a 77-page e-book that examines combat roles, class features, party composition, positioning, debilitating conditions, attacking combinations, action economy, and the ever-important consideration of the best ways to run away. If you’re a beginning D&D player unsure what to do when you get into a fight, this e-book will point you in the right direction; if you’re an intermediate player, it will help you win more and die less. If you’re a dungeon master with a group of new players, buy a copy and share it with them. Although it’s a PDF download, it’s formatted to be printed as a booklet, if you care to do that. (In Adobe Reader’s Print menu, under Page Sizing and Handling, select Booklet.)

One thing I want to be clear about: This is not a book about how to create a fully optimized character from square one. Just the opposite. “Real roleplayers” are my people. If you want to create an idiot savant sorcerer, a half-orc cleric/bard or a gnome ranger, I wholeheartedly support that. Do what you love. But, that being said, if you love that character, you need to keep him or her alive!

Here’s the secret: Viability doesn’t depend on stats. It depends on behavior. That’s what this book is about: how to get the most from your creation in combat, so that he or she lives long enough to retire and tell boring stories about the old days. Continue reading Live to Tell the Tale: An Introduction to Combat Tactics for Dungeons and Dragons Players, Second Edition

The Flanking Rule: Why Many DMs Hate It and Why I’ll Still Use It

I never realized when I began writing this blog just how big a hot-button issue flanking is. Personally, being a longtime player of not just Dungeons and Dragons but also various war games, including quasi–war games like Sid Meier’s Civilization series, I thought using the optional flanking rule on page 251 of the fifth-edition Dungeon Master’s Guide was a no-brainer. Yeah, D&D is a game in which silly things happen on the regular, but given a choice, I still like to err on the side of verisimilitude, and it’s a simple fact of life that if you’re being attacked by someone in front of you and someone behind you, you’re going to get the tar kicked out of you.

But after getting some negative feedback to my advocacy of the flanking rule (including one Reddit poster who went so far as to say that as far as he was concerned, it invalidated everything else I say!), I decided to put some feelers out to learn why, exactly, some players are vehemently against granting advantage on attacks against a flanked enemy.

The rules of D&D 5E are written with considerable care and meant to be taken absolutely literally, so instead of glossing as I usually do, I’m going to reproduce the exact wording of this rule, in its entirety: Continue reading The Flanking Rule: Why Many DMs Hate It and Why I’ll Still Use It

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. Continue reading Reader Questions: Goblin Stealth and Retreating Monsters