How do I not seem like a jerk? (Monster Tactics)

17 posts / 0 new
Last post
I like rules. Rules allow me to say "it's not me, it's the rules". Guidelines are light rules.

Could anyone suggest to me some general guidelines for who monsters should attack? Things feel rather boring when I play a monster over cautious and always attack any creature they mark. It seems like favortism or picking-on if I continually go after a single character or seem to avoid another. I find myself over compensating frequently by, lets say, attacking my wife's character over attacking a different character.

When should a monster ignore a mark? Who should the tastiest target be (the one doing the most damage, the one calling the shots, the armored guy taunting me)?

How do you guys shake things up and keep things interesting? Should a group of monsters focus upon a single opponent the way tactically minded players focus their fire, or does that come of as being jerky? 

Poe's Law is alive and well.

Well there's no rules on who a monster should attack, that's entirely your choice.  Same goes with marks, you can just simply ignore them and take the punishment.

The best idea is play the creatures.  If this is an intelligent enemy that knows the players, maybe a recurring villain or maybe just creatures that've encountered the group before, then the best bet is that they know the dangerous party members and would work toward defeating them first, or incapacitating them at least.

When should a monster ignore a mark?  Whenever you want, like I said.  Honestly I do it almost every battle, though half the time it's because I forget the creature is marked haha!  But sometimes I ignore it because one target is a better choice then the defender.  Like say you have two characters in atk range and one's the defender but the other character had just crit'ed or did a bunch of damage to the monster so I attacked the player who did big damage instead of the defender who did little to none.  Not always, but sometimes.

As for over compensating...not really sure how to help you there.  I mean it's all about the strategy of the monsters.  Some are obviously more intelligent so simpler to play as strategic enemies.  Others are obviously more...rudimentary creatures so they'd go after ones they felt were real threats, or maybe focus on the weak.

I think maybe that'd be the best plan for you.  Really look at the creatures you're using, maybe use the suggested strategy that monsters have in their write up, etc.  It may give you a little relief from having to make the choices yourself especially if you keep feeling to need to either say ignore your wife, or over compensate by focusing on her too much.  Then maybe you'll get a better feel for the monsters and feel easier about spreading the attacks around and all.       
I like to use the monsters intelligence to decide a plan even before combat has started. But know roughly what the pcs will do and will know in advance how clever ur monsters are. For example my zombies always attack the nearest thing and if there is a tie the last pc to hit them, even if this triggers a mark of radiant damages, because they r really dumb. Conversly hobgoblins have a battle plan and stick to it.
Alitain, I know there's no rules; I'm looking for guidelines. Some of these suggestions are great, but "whenever you want" is a really open ended suggestion. I'm trying to remove my "want" from combat, unless that want is to make combat more cinamatic and fun. A defender has fun when their mark ability is triggered, but the group doesn't have fun when the defender doesn't seem to be doing their job. It's a careful balance I'm trying to strike.

Some guidelines I'm piecing together from your suggestions:

Unintelligent monsters should attack the nearest creature. Low intelligence (like Int 1 animals) should probably do the same, except I think they might even be apt to go after bloodied targets. Hunting creatures of low intelligence (like wolves) will probably go after the weakest target; by weakest I mean the one they may piercieve to have the lowest AC and HP (though obviously not in those terms in game).

I just don't want every fight with intelligent foes (which I will have a lot of) to be the melee monsters rushing to attack the ranged PCs, as that will get old quickly. 

Poe's Law is alive and well.

Well yeah it basically comes down to the type of creatures you're using.  Like with more basic animals, a lot of them probably hunt in packs and thus have tactics where as a group they'll take down large prey.  A lot of flanking, surround, cutting off movement, etc.

You one thing with intelligent monsters as a suggestion so you don't feel like you always have to have them charge after the ranged characters is depending on the creatures have a couple creatures that separate the more melee attacks/defender roles, etc from blocking the ranged fighters then you can have one or two charge straight through to them.  While on the surface it's the same tactic, it's not exactly the same because what you're doing is having the monsters keep the players that're suppose to defend the ranged fighters from doing their job, leaving the ranged ones open.  Or if the group only has one defender, have a single monsters try and charge him and push him or otherwise move him away from the group.  Isolate the defender as soon as possible to negate his effectiveness. 

It depends on the nature of each monster and the nature of the group as a whole. For instance, a well-organized band of hobgoblin soldiers will act like they're being controlled by a single individual, but that's because they are - their commander will be shouting commands to coordinate their actions as a group (and you should tell your players that this is what is happening).  Once the leader goes down, their situational targeting should be more localized.

Unintelligent animals will generally not be smart, but they do have cunning, and pack predators like wolves will generally coordinate well with one or two other animals, and have a general overall strategy (but won't be reactive).  Animals who have contact with humans will know to go after unarmored individuals and will probably target them preferentially, even if that target is actually an Avenger and not a Mage (they're not smart enough to tell the difference).

Animals and leaderless soldiers will generally target anyone who's marking them or who have them under a Defender Aura.  After all, that's what a Mark is - it's the PC getting into the animal's hair and sticking a sword into its face.  Without outside direction, that's generally bound to get some sort of attention.  Don't do the numbers - these monsters don't have the knowledge and a battlefield generalship to understand that it can be beneficial to ignore the Mark.

Artillery and Skirmisher monsters will generally avoid the Defenders and concentrate fire on squishies.  That's within their nature, and their ranged attacks allow them to easily see the battlefield from a distance.  That said, once a Defender is charging in on them, they'll generally try to get away or engage the Defender if the Mark is on them - once the battlefield shrinks from their persepctive, they'll just be trying to protect their own skins.

Leaders are the most dangerous because they coordinate the battle plans of their group.  As long as an effective Leader is alive, monsters will act as if a single intelligence is directing their actions.  Elites may or may not do so.

The upshot of this is, roleplay the monsters.  Just because they're bags of hitpoints doesn't mean that they don't have a story to tell.
Roleplay the monsters, but don't resort to just looking at their Intelligence score. There's no guideline for what level of Intelligence means what. After all, we don't make players with fighters make Intelligence checks to decide to to attack in combat.

Explain to your players that as long as a defender is marking, it's never not doing its job. If its mark is attacking other characters, the mark is taking a -2 penalty to attacks and probably getting smacked for its trouble.

Both you and your players should take more responsibility for what happens in the game. You should not try to hide behind the rules when it comes to decisions. You should recognize that you want to see certain things happen and that what you want matters to. If you're having fun, that will help the rest of the table have fun.

The players should not complain about who is getting attacked. Players have tons of tricks to control who gets attacked, or to punish monsters for making choices. If they don't like that the monster is attacking a particular target, they should look into acquiring items, powers and feats that deal with that problem.

It's not entirely the DM vs. the players, but it's okay if it's partially that. If you're worried about killing them, there are ways to take death off the table as an option, yet still be challenging.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

I use two modes for DM-ing.

Mode A) Planning. When doing this my job is build fun dialogue, interesting storyhooks, place treasure, build encounters that conform to experience totals for an easy, moderate, hard, and oh-my-dear-god-you've-got-to-be-freaking-kidding-me encounter. Then, I have to note experience, make loose notes for things the players might do to surprise me, etc. At this time, I serve the players by building to their desires and expectations with treasure, fair and interesting fights, and quicky NPC's.

Mode B) Playing. At the table, I hold a different perspective. My job is interpret rules, and if it's not clear, error on the side of the bad guys while still allowing the players the ability to try the new thing. My job is to play villains and monsters who want to kill the players; thus I want to kill the players to the best of my ability. I am not allowed to cheat, nor am I allowed to change the encounter drastically. I have to stay within the guidelines I wrote when I was being kind. But my goal is TPK. Lay control on the defender or delay him with soldiers, and focus fire the squishiest and most available of the Leader or Striker. Then focus fire the other. Then the Controller. Then come back for the Tank. Use forced movement to throw people down pits or hazardous terrain. When I play the bad guy, I am the bad guy.

Sometimes, a player gets upset. That's ok. Because they win more times than not. In the past 5 games, I've only killed 3 characters. Characters that make it from start to finish to Paragon are treasures. Ones that make it to Epic are like real-life artifacts.

Honestly, I can't imagine a game being run by a DM that wasn't capable of wearing "the bad guy" badge. Don't be afraid to upset people, they get over it because it's just a game. Besides, the joy of  a well-earned win offsets the mild displeasure of a cruel beatdown. You might even find that players get more in character and care more about stopping your bad guy after you use the bad guy and his minions to rough them up a bit.

It seems like favortism or picking-on if I continually go after a single character or seem to avoid another.

Play the opposition intelligently. Players are playing the game because they want a challenge, so don't hold back. If possible, have all the monsters focus on a single opponent until that opponent is down (and your players should be doing the same thing).

That said, I usually just have creatures attack the closest PC. No 'favoritism' there, but anyone that is sick of being picked on can usually just gravitate to the rear.

A small thing that I find helps a good deal is having the monsters communicate with each other. Have monsters anounce their plans, leaders order actions and future actions. I find this helps in two ways :

1 - players will understand the logic of the attacks (thereby addressing your issue)

2 - it lets players be tactical in trying to prevent their tactics.

It makes combat about more than just "hitting the monster until it dies". But, and this is important, don't get frustrated when they counter your monsters' tactics, be proud! The whole point of saying them is to engage your players - you're not "divulging secrets" here, you're giving the players tiny little optional goals.

Note that I'm talking about more than simply anouncing what they're doing round per round - for this idea to mean anything, they have to talk about what they want to happen in 2 or 3 rounds at least. Otherwise, your players never get the chance to react to this information.

Lastly, this gives a further tool to highlight the different temperaments between the monsters : hobgoblins will follow orders even under extreme duress. Orcs will often "break rank" when enraged by a good taunt or a powerful blow. Gnolls will never be able to leave a foe they have surrounded - the pact mentality and the prospect of joined bloodshed to strong. Etc, etc.

Even intelligent monsters can be cunning.  That being said I tend to play zomies less tactically than hobgoblins whom should be tactically frustrating for players.

Threre is nothing wrong with using tactics.  Just be wary to have random or monsters that don't know the players destroy their tactics.
Even intelligent monsters can be cunning.  That being said I tend to play zomies less tactically than hobgoblins whom should be tactically frustrating for players.

That's a fine approach, of course, but I'll note that hobgoblins are intrinsically more "tactically frustrating" by the nature of their powers and abilities. As long as a DM knows to keep hobgoblin soldiers adjacent to one another (perhaps with the help of a hobgoblin commander) then they have a tactical advantage. The monsters play "smarter" without the DM having to actually play much differently, and despite the fact that the hobgoblins "only" have an Int of 11.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.


You have to have a balance in the game which at at times can be very frustrating,not just for players but for the dm as well.

You cannot have all your monsters be master tacticians and vice versa mumbling idiots.Intelligence is an important factor when encountering monsters.You have to remember that the villians and monsters in your world didnt achieve there status by sheer luck or over whelming numbers(rare)  ,but by cunning ,stealth,trechoury,deceit,etc.A lich has his captains and troops the same as any feudal lord,and he will play dirty ,underhanded ,and be a master strategest when it comes to achieving his evil plans.

But on the other hand a random encounter in the woods with an owlbear would be ,an attack on a food source so maybe suprise or a scare tactic might be used,his aim is simple nourishment.

Not all rules are in a book,you have to create a flow to your game, which is not like a constant stategy game but fun and enjoyable for all.         
Look at the monsters and their abilities and compare them to the PCs. Then, ask yourself: what would be the most tactically memorable thing the monsters can do? Whatever it is, that is what you should have the foes act out.

Intelligence is not a good indicator as to how a monster will act. There are plenty of cunning and tactically dangerous monsters that have low intelligences. Look, instead, to their role and their unique abilities.

Ravenous Wolves

For example, consider the lowly, 1st-level ravenous wolf. It has an intelligence of 2 (but a wisdom of 12). Imagine an encounter with five of these creatures vs. a group of 5 1-st level PCs. How might it be run?

Ravenous wolves are skirmishers with a move speed of 8. Skirmishers rely on mobility to gain an advantage, and ravenous wolves are no exception. Tap into this role. If you do, your PCs will remember the fight much more than wolves that simply charge at the nearest foe and attack like brutes or soldiers.

Additionally, they have a basic attack that targets AC so the wolves would naturally avoid heavily-armored foes, using their high movement speed to skirt around hard-to-hit front liners to pick on a cloth or leather wearing target.

Their bite also grabs a target, which allows them to use another at-will power: "drag away." Use this to separate target PCs from defenders who will desparately be trying to stop the wolves from pulling away weaker party members.

Played in such a way, your cloth-wearing PCs are likely to get worried whenever the party hears the distant howl of wolves. Remember the real goal--make the encounter memorable!

Leaping Felldrake

Now consider a different encounter with five leaping felldrakes, instead. Like the wolves, these felldrakes have a low intelligence (3) and a high wisdom (15). Tactically, they should operate in a much different fashion than the wolves, however, and their role describes how: "lurker."

But two things make them memorable: instant camouflage and neck bite.

The former allows them to gain invisibility during combat, while the latter--used when they have combat advantage--allows them to do a special bite attack that will terrify PCs. The attack targets reflex; suddenly it's the plate-wearing paladins who are worried.  Once they've latched on, the bite continues doing damage automatically. That's enough to make even a barrel-chested PC feel panicky.  

Importantly, the felldrakes don't concern themselves with attacking every round, either individually or as a pack. Instead, they either seek to gain invisibility or combat advantage and situate themselves until they are primed. They literally lurk, using their advantages to cause sudden and unexpected bursts of chaos. 

Think how different this fight is from the wolves. Imagine PCs in a darkened cave, for example, with these strange felldrakes leaping out from the darkness to snap their jaws around an exposed neck. And when they miss, they scurry off and disappear, only to viciously attack again a couple rounds later. 

A good way to keep PCs on their toes is for the last of these monsters to go invisible and then let the combat "end." Player's will be unsure if the monsters might attack one more, or if it is safe to continue. Everyone will remain jumpy and you can spring the lurker back on them at a later time, if you want. That's memorable!

Other Examples

You'll find that the smarter monsters (i.e., higher intelligence) will tend to be controllers or artillery. By design alone, they'll have powers that make them appear more intelligent without having to do anything but play them in a tactically memorable way. For comparative examples look at the 1st-level Xivort Net Caster, Kobold Slinger or Dark Sun's Id Fiend.
In regard to the whole, "When should a creature risk punishment from the mark" question goes, I tend to play it strictly by the numbers whenever possible.  Just look at the stats quickly, and ask yourself some basic questions: What's the defender's AC?  Is it considerably higher than the other PC's AC?  Let's say, for example, that a monster is marked by a Fighter with 22 AC, and there's also a Rogue in melee range with a 19 AC.  Even after you consider the -2 penalty to attack rolls, it's still easier to hit the rogue.  That's basically all there is to it for me.  Is it easier to hit the defender, or the other PC?  The only time it really comes into question is when the defender's AC is exactly 2 higher than the other target, so, after you factor in the mark, the monster has an equal chance to hit either PC.  In that case, I'd probably choose the defender 90% of the time.  If the other PC's low on health, or about to do something big, though, I'd happily suffer an attack from the defender.
Everyone's pretty much right on this, there is no wrong answer... just get inside the monster's head.

-Wolves go for weak injured prey or those who run away from the group.  Pick a target.

-Zombies attack the nearest thing, or slowest/easiest thing if it's more easily done.  Dumb and lazy/random.

-If it's something sentient, it will go for either the biggest threat first or the garunteed kill.  Pick a target.

Marks don't mean anything, if it's an animal and is not sentient, it might care or it might not.  Sentient creatures can make the choice to ignore it or go with it.

... heck, when I DM, I tell anyone new (everyone who plays with me already knows) to the session: "I will try to kill you, that is my objective.  Your objective is to live and make your own story.  I'm just here to get in your way."

Just make it fun along the way and don't worry about stepping on toes, if they don't adapt in my sessions, they don't live... but it's always good to reward good gameplay and not "/cutscene=death" anything.  Just find your balance.
Getting in to the monster's personality and tactics will help you a lot.  Most of the monster sources will have some amount of flavor about their creature and where they come from.  If you're doing something homebrown, just get a general idea for how they would approach a fight.  Humanoids are much easier to handle.

My biggest suggestion however would be to add a decent amount of narrative to each decision the monster is making.  In the case of wolves, narrate something along the lines of "The pack leader lunges for the warlock, preying on the weak straggler and signaling the rest of his pack to follow suit."  A hobgolin phalanx unit should definitely have the leader barking orders out, shouting to his men to pin the party down, or to stand tough.  Adding little blurbs of conversation or narrative to your monster's actions goes a long way towards making it seem like you're not munchkining your monster's actions.
Sign In to post comments