While a Dungeon Master knows that they shouldn’t set up
overly imbalanced scenarios designed only for the purpose of murdering the
party, many DMs go to the opposite direction and make their encounters too
easy, which is just as much of an abuse to players as Killer DMing is. It isn’t
that they intend to create them that way, typically they are following the rules,
but what they aren’t doing is running the monsters to their full potential.
The DM is expected to be an impassive witness to the game;
unfortunately, when a DM doesn’t understand that he is also expected to
actually role-play his monsters, then he isn’t bringing his best to the table,
nor the best out of his players. Some DMs assume that players are running
through encounters because they are so good at it, and choose to over-compensate
by throwing more power monsters at the players, which they don’t role-play
Your intent while running the encounter should be to keep
your monsters alive and to kill all of the players while still following the
rules. We aren’t telling stories, we are running an encounter, and if we do a
good job running it, then the players will see a story in it. We want to make
each and every encounter as dangerous as we possibly can with the tools that we
have. This applies for both Module adventures as well as the encounters which
we create ourselves. If we stick to the rules of creating balanced encounters,
we can really bring a lot of danger to each one.
Intelligence is clearly listed in the Monstrous Manual, and
we need to observe it. Naturally a 0 INT character is going to be a machine: A
zombie does not care if it is going to get hurt, an Iron Golem is going to work
only as it was designed to, and a deadly pudding is going to satisfy its hunger. 0
INT creatures will never stop until they are dead.
Creatures with INT of 1-2 are animals. If they are
untrained, they may or may not try to run away once they realize that their
lives are in danger. We can run this randomly by applying Morale checks every
round. Animals should act like animals.
Creatures with normal Intelligence are far more dangerous
then you might be giving them credit for. They won’t just feed themselves to a
meat grinder, they need to be role-played and they should hatch plots and value
things that they enjoy. Thinking of
motivations for them should be fun for the DM, though it would be a waste of
time to figure out specific motivations for each and every creature living in a
lair, we can assign a group motivation and have one or two that have
alternative motives, typically having something to do with personal ambitions.
The boss of an area should be more thought out; he is the
most dangerous thing in the lair because of his mind. He is leading a small
army, and he should have a personal goal assigned to him, in particularly
keeping his army alive and his personal power intact.
KEY IS THE KEY
Many modules tell the DM what the monsters are
doing, this in no way implies that they won’t investigate noises unless the key specifically
says that they won't. The key takes for granted that the party isn’t standing
around arguing about which direction to go, or who has the right to take the
magical item, and all of the other stuff that players like to complain about.
Once the alarm is tripped, things shouldn’t go so good for the players; all of
those monsters should be free to start roaming the dungeon.
You and your monsters need a solid plan. Prior to play you
should really study your map, and pick out good ambush spots where you can
surround the players, or sneak up behind them. Once an intruder is detected,
word should spread around really fast, and all monsters should report to their
battle stations.. A patrol will be sent out to locate
the invaders, and try to identify the nature of the party; instead of
attacking, they’ll do their best to report this information to their allies.
The MM holds clues about tactics of each monster, but it is
up to the DM to really bring them to life and keep them as safe as possible.
Survival is key! The lower the monsters HD, the less likely they’ll engage in
direct combat. Instead, they’ll prefer ranged combat and the use of traps, only
entering direct combat if they have no other options. These are complex
creatures and the encounters with them starts with the planning stage. They
will use their lairs to their advantage, setting up traps that they’ll trigger
themselves, else know how to avoid. What they won’t do is all go rushing out of
their lair to defend it. The lair itself is their preferred weapon and it is
defensively superior to any melee weapons that they have.
Same goes for wilderness encounters; they will set up traps
and do their best to catch their intended victims, namely merchants. If a
caravan looks too dangerous they’ll probably let it go unless they are really
in need of supplies, then they will become braver, and this is when they are
most likely to encounter PCs. They should have plans set in place to favor
them, and keep them from having to engage in direct combat. This should also
include a great escape route, because lets face it, bravery and overt boldness
are two different things.
MONSTERS AND THEIR
DMs like to hide treasure around their dungeons, but if a
monster is aware of it, and knows how to use it, he most certainly will, and it
might not just be the head boss that has the treasure, if you were an underling
with ambition for better things, would you tell your boss that you have found a
Ring of Protection, or a Sword+3? If you are into telling stories, this is
where you should hide it. Is the party even going to notice the ring on a dead
gnoll’s finger? What would his peers think about the gnoll not knowing his
secret? Maybe a couple of them do know and have been looking for an opportunity
to take it from him? This is role-playing! And while it won’t stop the players
from beating you, it will slow them down and they won’t get anything for free,
which will make the encounter more special to them in the long run.