Monster challenges are an important part of Dungeons & Dragons, used effectively they provide a contrast to the role playing aspects of the game, and offer new ways for the players to utilized the abilities of their characters.
Some Dungeon Masters prefer a more wargaming approach to their game where the main focus of each adventure is combat, and defeating monsters, while on the opposite side some DM’s prefer a full on-text like RPG experience where all the players do is talk to NPC’s in the story.
Both flavors, or a combination of either or, is fine, but at some point you are going to have to roll those dice and make some hard life or death decisions as both the Dungeon Master and the player(s).
In this quick start post I want to look at it from the Dungeon Master’s perspective as another tool in the DM “toolkit” in running a memorable and challenging adventure.
Think of each monster or combat challenge as a way to keep your players on their toes, and hanging on every roll of the D20.
If you are new to the craft known as Dungeon Mastering you might think that an encounter challenge begins when the party kicks down that door, or is surprised by a raiding party, but in many ways the encounter starts the moment you decide to include it in an adventure, with the potential of the
players running into it through the course of the game.
With a bit of pre-planning you can transform your encounter from just another exercise in rolling dice so the party can collect the treasure and get back to finishing the adventure, into a nail-biting and hard hitting element of the adventure, where the player are thanking their gods that they are still alive.
The first part in planning an encounter is to go over the monsters in the challenge. What are their stats, how many hit points do they have, and what special abilities to they use.
Some monsters are easy like orcs, while others who have access to magic or spell like abilities, such as an ogre mage might need a little more management.
No need to memorize their monster stat block, but know ahead of time what those special abilities do and what rules you might have to look up or know with how they interact with the players. Bookmark them if you are digital, or stick a scrap of paper in that Monster Manual page or DMG page just in case.
Next consider the operative intelligence of the monster- in this virtual gaming world it is a living creature with a will or compulsion to live- dead, alive, or constructed.
Don’t just assume the monster is going to change in and attack the closest player.
Based on its stats and abilities, how would it fight tactically? What advantages would it try and gain first before
After having a game-plan as to how the monster or monsters are going to fight next look at the surroundings where the encounter is taking place.
Are there environmental factors that they/it can use for an advantage?
Consider actually “role-playing” your monsters as to what they might do, and how they would do it, over just running them like a mindless XP bot.
Running a mob.
Even powerful monsters like dragons and mind-flayers have a few lackeys about.
Trash mob monsters like orcs and goblins always have a shaman or big boss somewhere.
A challenging challenge forces the players to deal with the minions and underlings first while they really need to be dealing with the main monster, who is buffing or using
abilities against the players that they can’t stop because they are dealing with the mob.
With you underlings don’t focus on dealing damage or trying to beat the players with them, but rather think of them and use them in a way, combined with the environment of where the encounter is taking place, to slow the players down as long as you can before fighting the boss of the encounter.
See you in the game!
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