Monster and villain tactics

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alcyone
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Monster and villain tactics

Post by alcyone »

In the dawn of the hobby, as I understand it, most people playing RPGs were wargamers. They were well-versed in tactical play and probably many encounters concentrated on this. These days, though, some of us are a bit soft on those skills.

Players can be pretty crafty, and have many tools at their disposal. Sometimes it can be hard to keep an encounter interesting and challenging enough for them. Usually, as long as you aren't a total pushover, they won't notice; they'll just take credit for the win and be glad of it. Especially when using a grid, players will count each square and weigh every move and bring all of their spells and magic items to bear.

I find if the players have a common weakness it's that they overdevelop their individual characters and don't have much of a group strategy. A party of specialists can be very easy to defeat as they don't last long without meat-and-potatoes support.

I think the CK shouldn't always make the creatures fight to the best of the CK's ability; some creatures are stupid or ill-organized and wouldn't do much but make all out attacks on the characters. I use that as my excuse sometimes.

I actually find wargames, board games, RTS or turn-based strategy games to be sort of boring, but it might just be because I am bad at them. Some games, like Heroes of Might and Magic and Neverwinter Nights, are pretty good for developing your tactical skills, and maybe I've gotten a little better over time from sheer experience. I still get pwned by the players a lot. I think in some ways I am supposed to, but I do want the monsters to be present a memorable challenge.

Anyway, how do you keep sharp so you can provide the best challenge for your players? What sort of cross-training do you do between games to develop these skills? Any simple advice that covers a lot of situations?
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Re: Monster and villain tactics

Post by Arduin »

Aergraith wrote:In the dawn of the hobby, as I understand it, most people playing RPGs were wargamers. They were well-versed in tactical play and probably many encounters concentrated on this.
Not really. In '77 I played with a group of 6 people. None of which were War gamers. Around '79 I played a lot at a game store in the evenings. 90% of the players were not former War Gamers.

One hint for you as a GM. Don't let the player take too much time to decide what their PC's are doing, round to round, during melee. DO give them enough info (like they were REALLY there) but don't let them take more than a few seconds to tell you what they are doing that round.

Another GM "trick". When I go around the table and ask the players what their PC's will be doing that combat round I go in reverse Init order. I make the guy with the worst result decide 1st. Once I'm clear on what the PC's will be doing we go in normal init order.
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Re: Monster and villain tactics

Post by dachda »

Arduin wrote:
Aergraith wrote:In the dawn of the hobby, as I understand it, most people playing RPGs were wargamers. They were well-versed in tactical play and probably many encounters concentrated on this.
Not really. In '77 I played with a group of 6 people. None of which were War gamers. Around '79 I played a lot at a game store in the evenings. 90% of the players were not former War Gamers.

One hint for you as a GM. Don't let the player take too much time to decide what their PC's are doing, round to round, during melee. DO give them enough info (like they were REALLY there) but don't let them take more than a few seconds to tell you what they are doing that round.

Another GM "trick". When I go around the table and ask the players what their PC's will be doing that combat round I go in reverse Init order. I make the guy with the worst result decide 1st. Once I'm clear on what the PC's will be doing we go in normal init order.

My experience was the opposite. Me, and all my gaming buddies in high school 78-82 all were wargamers first. Avalon Hill and SPI games. We can, I think, at least say that Gary Gygax and the rest of the early founders were mostly wargamers first.

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Re: Monster and villain tactics

Post by Shadowslayer »

D&D was created and designed by wargamers yes, but it was marketed at the non-wargaming masses. I think wargaming was falling out of vogue even then.

Regarding tactics: There was a pretty good chapter on encounter design in an othewise non-memorable WOTC 3e book....I think it was called Dungeonscape. It was the first book (that I knew of) that talked about the differences between the different combat roles - strikers, artillery etc. and how to design encounters using them. Might want to give that a look if you're looking for actual square counting, miniature using tactics.

As far as anything else, your players are your best asset and learning tool. You should note their tactics, and feel free to use their own strategies against them at a later date.

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Re: Monster and villain tactics

Post by Arduin »

dachda wrote:

My experience was the opposite. Me, and all my gaming buddies in high school 78-82 all were wargamers first. Avalon Hill and SPI games. We can, I think, at least say that Gary Gygax and the rest of the early founders were mostly wargamers first.
Probably a regional things. Although the store I talk of had scores of players. So, that is more statistical than our school experience.
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Aramis
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Re: Monster and villain tactics

Post by Aramis »

Aergraith wrote:In the dawn of the hobby, as I understand it, most people playing RPGs were wargamers. They were well-versed in tactical play and probably many encounters concentrated on this. These days, though, some of us are a bit soft on those skills.

Players can be pretty crafty, and have many tools at their disposal. Sometimes it can be hard to keep an encounter interesting and challenging enough for them. Usually, as long as you aren't a total pushover, they won't notice; they'll just take credit for the win and be glad of it. Especially when using a grid, players will count each square and weigh every move and bring all of their spells and magic items to bear.

I find if the players have a common weakness it's that they overdevelop their individual characters and don't have much of a group strategy. A party of specialists can be very easy to defeat as they don't last long without meat-and-potatoes support.

I think the CK shouldn't always make the creatures fight to the best of the CK's ability; some creatures are stupid or ill-organized and wouldn't do much but make all out attacks on the characters. I use that as my excuse sometimes.

I actually find wargames, board games, RTS or turn-based strategy games to be sort of boring, but it might just be because I am bad at them. Some games, like Heroes of Might and Magic and Neverwinter Nights, are pretty good for developing your tactical skills, and maybe I've gotten a little better over time from sheer experience. I still get pwned by the players a lot. I think in some ways I am supposed to, but I do want the monsters to be present a memorable challenge.

Anyway, how do you keep sharp so you can provide the best challenge for your players? What sort of cross-training do you do between games to develop these skills? Any simple advice that covers a lot of situations?
I refuse to participate in this thread, on the grounds that it might imperil my own life :lol:

I think a better question to ask yourself as a GM is, "did the players defeat my encounter tactically?". If the answer is yes, then good job. The worrying thing is if the players can mow through a main encounter without good decisions.

It is always a worrying sign when I purchase a new computer wargame and run a scenario without first reading the rules on the values of various terrains, and counters etc and I am still easily able to beat the computer. That game is probably not going to offer a lot of longevity for me

I think a GM actually has to be as mindful that he is not too tactical as much as not tactical enough. Both because he knows the individual strengths, weaknesses, favoured spells and magic items of the PCs and because it is easy to fall into the trap of playing a goblin rabble like Napoleon's smarter brother if you are not careful

Magic is another issue. Much of PC tactical play involves using the right spell at the right time (sleeps, webs, fireballs, etc.). But if a GM decides to be as tactical as the PCs and have the orc shaman invisibly approach the PC camp as they recuperate from a delve, and hit them with the old "no saving throw sleep followed by a Columbian necktie" routine, the campaign is not going to have a lot of PCs making it to 3rd level

Short answer: stop talking about fighting the PCs more tactically! You are scaring me :D

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Re: Monster and villain tactics

Post by alcyone »

I wouldn't even think of trying to outsmart a veteran of the ToEE.

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Re: Monster and villain tactics

Post by Sir Ironside »

I've Dmed/GMed for many decades and I'd say the most important thing that evolved out of all those years was giving NPC/Monster/animal's a personality. If it was am intelligent species, I treated the encounter as though the characters are noticeably interacting with intelligent NPC/Monsters. The personality part comes in, in that I gave them a beta-level personality to non-important NPC/monsters and a alpha-level personality to important NPC/monsters.

Let's say I had a group of goblins. 6 of them are underling's but the 7th is a chieftain of a higher level. The 6 basic goblin's would get assigned minor personality traits like tough, weak, nervous, loudmouth... whatever, just a jumping off point. Where as the chieftain would get personality traits and a motivation. Such as, unfair, brutal, determined with the motivation, "Hates all human's."

This simple method helps the DM to grow any of those NPC/Monster/animal's organically if they survive the encounter and create's new possibilities to introduce unexpected NPC's.

Unintelligent creatures I try to build a good idea of just how a creature would react using whatever write-up it may have and I may extend the descriptions, in more detail, on my own to not only run the creature better, but be able to describe clues within scenes to help the characters better understand the situation.

This means I open up the possibilities that even if the characters have the same encounter with the same creatures, they encounters are not going to be all the same and not every solution will be, "Kill them all!"

I should note that I've always tried to incorporate character knowledge, into any scenario, regarding creatures. Even though the player might have knowledge of a creature- because they've read the monster book- that doesn't necessarily mean the characters have knowledge of the creature. Generally, if characters are roaming about in a known part of the world, they'd have a pretty good idea about the creatures around them. Leave to unknown parts and that knowledge declines.

I also try to keep creatures in their normal habitat. So, a creature that would mostly be found in a desert setting won't be popping-up in a northern setting.

This allows for the creature engagement to have a sensible tactical base, that may or may not go well. The goblins might have a plan of retreat points. They start losing at the first point, they tactically retreat to the next point. One of the goblin's might be tagged with "cowardly" this could mean that the goblin would throw down its weapons and beg for mercy, but also allow the chieftain to rally his troops making the cowardly goblin fight on.

The second thing I always tried to do was create a scene that allowed for more than one solution to a problem, including fight scenes.

This is not 100%. I try and stay engaged with my players and try very hard to read the mood of the group, in an attempt to keep it fun, for everyone. So, sometimes it is good just to throw down with a creature(s) and have a battle to the death.
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Re: Monster and villain tactics

Post by Pat Payne »

One thing to remember with most monsters is that while they may have low intelligence, they're not imbiciles. Granted not all of us have knowledge of advanced tactics, but remembering that orcs and kobolds are smart enough to do feigned retreats to lead unwary pursuers into an ambush or to use cover to attack from is enough to do a mischief on many a character... It's sometimes the small things like that that make the encounter .

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Re: Monster and villain tactics

Post by Fiffergrund »

Even basic humanoid raiding parties use cover, misdirection, flanking, and missile fire effectively. How effectively depends on their training and intelligence, but they basically do not survive in their highly competitive milieu without it.

(Thanks, Gary, had to get that word in)

They are also able to recognize when very basic tactics are used against them, and move to counter them. Thus, they will recognize spell casting, and target casters. They will protect their flanks, if able. They will use high ground and cover effectively. They understand the concepts of reserves and when to commit them.

Are they tactical geniuses? Rarely. But they understand these concepts on some level.

The key as a CK is understanding when they are likely to make a mistake. It's easy enough to learn basic tactics, but not as easy to understand when to make the monsters screw up. These screw ups are what will give the players the opening they need.

For example, a hobgoblin war band sets up a very nice ambush using crossbowmen situated in the branches of a stand of pine trees. On a small hill to the right of the copse of trees is a somewhat rough area covered in small trees and evergreen shrubbery. This hill is held by hobgoblin spearmen. The left flank is relatively flat land, and has a few hobgoblin rogue-types situated in cover, armed with shortswords.

When a party moves up the path, the crossbowmen in the trees open fire, stopping the advance. The hobgoblins on the hill move to flank the party on the right. The rogues in the trees stay put as a reserve.

The relatively unprotected left flank is the mistake. If the party recognizes this and engages the rogues in the trees, they can take advantage of the concealment/cover against the crossbows. Then, after the rogues are dispatched, they can retreat from the battle, or attempt to kill the snipers. Meanwhile, the spearmen have the choice to enter the trees to engage a now-hidden enemy, or retreat to the hilltop.

Always leave a mistake. As the players become more astute, and the enemies smarter and more experienced, make the mistakes smaller, or harder to capitalize upon.
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Re: Monster and villain tactics

Post by Lurker »

And that was my problem back in the day, having that weakness/flaw in the bad guys tactics. I could never find that balance. I either had them use good military tactics (which was nasty on a party that wasn't ready for it, or didn't work together), and that was what I leaned toward normally, or, I have them use simpleton like tactics and be 'hidey hoe up the middle we go' no matter what. This makes them a push over and easy for the players (even if the players don't use good tactics or work together themselves)
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Re: Monster and villain tactics

Post by Captain_K »

Nothing tries to eat dinner that is likely to kill them, they give up on it and look for an easier meal.

Fights that end in flight or quick kill should be as common as knock down drag them out combats. 1000 year old highly intelligent monsters will not fight to the death over gold.... they will flee in the manners they have been planning for 900 years and make plans to never have that happen again and possibly seek revenge.. can you say, career nemesis?

So give even a group of 11 Kobold's the personality and drive of Private Ryan's rescuing squad and you will be fine.
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