I lived in Georgia for a few years so I can 100% confirm that Georgia has cockroaches. Flip on a light in a dark room and you might just see something scurry.
My point? No one would call a cockroach smart, but even a cockroach is smart enough to scatter when a light switch is flicked on. But in our D&D games? We simply have our monsters stand there like dummies while they are pelted with arrows until they die.
This is the first of three articles.
- This first one will explain how some very simple tactics learned from cockroaches can make our D&D combat so much more interesting.
- The second will explain what I call the “HASTE” method, which is a way to to examine a monster’s “feelings” in combat.
- The third article simply goes through some common monsters types and gives you some tips on tactics for that type.
Have your monsters scatter. The first thing a cockroach does when they sense danger is to scatter. It should be the same for your monsters.
A group of kobolds aren’t going to assemble into a West Point-like formation when they are startled by PCs. They will instead scatter about looking for cover or seeking safely.
Have monsters make a little screech when combat begins and then have them scatter. It’s not only a more apt response when a creature is startled, but it’s also more fun. A little chaos makes encounters memorable and having creatures scattered all about the battlefield makes the action more spirited.
Run for cover! It seems like next to no one remembers that you can break up your movement in D&D 5e. You don’t have to use your 30 ft or whatever all at once. Use 10 ft, attack, then use that last 20.
If you are a DM controlling a bugbear with a crossbow, make him use cover! Have him step out five feet from behind a pillar, fire a bolt, then use the rest of that movement to duck back to cover.
You’ll instantly have a more interesting combat because you’ll force the players to adjust to a combatant that is actually using their noodle by not standing out in the open when arrows or fireboat are flying.
Play possum. You won’t want to do this often, but occasionally have creatures play possum. If a goblin looks around and sees his friends being struck down all around him, have him suddenly drop to the ground and play dead.
Make a big show of it. Have him roll a bluff to see if players can perceive his ruse. If they don’t, let the little gerblin make a run for it when their attention is off him.
It’s a plausible survival tactic after all. And suddenly you have a little intrigue and a possible chase scene in the midst of what would otherwise be a ho-hum combat.
Do gross stuff. Part of the evolutionary survival of cockroaches is that they are just so darned icky, to use a scientific term. People don’t want to go near them and they certainly don’t want to stomp on them, only to have them ooze out everywhere.
If you are a DM controlling a monster and they have a gross ability, use it. I’m not saying you need to be that guy on the airplane who bites his own toenails, but don’t hesitate to use the abilities the monsters have. They are defense mechanisms after all.
Flee! Only a fanatic fights to the death and a monster looking for food isn’t going to stick around when they realize what they thought was an easy meal is actually pummeling them to death with a flail. So run.
Just like a cockroach, most D&D monsters are more than intelligent enough to flee for their life.
The above are some very basic thoughts to make D&D combats a little more interesting simply by utilizing natural survival instincts that most D&D monsters would possess. After all, there is a reason that cockroaches will outlive us all.
Next we’ll talk about HASTE, which will take these concepts much deeper. Then we’ll go through certain monster types and how they’d specifically use the above and HASTE concepts.