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How Do You Make D&D Combat More Interesting? Use the HASTE Method.

If you have kids, you’re painfully familiar with meltdowns. One second your little boo-boo is tenderly holding your hand, the very next second they are screaming from the floor of Target.

If you want to discover the source of the tantrum, many parents think of the word “HALT.” Determine if the kid is HUNGRY, ANGRY, LONELY, or TIRED, then treat that root cause. If they are the dreaded next-level HANGRY? Throw some Goldfish crackers at them.

Let’s tweak this same idea for our D&D games. We’re going to use HASTE. Is the monster HUNGRY, ANGRY, STRESSED, TIRED, or ELEMENTAL? Then think about the monster’s tactics based upon the answer to that question.

Let’s go through them one-by-one.

The D&D “HASTE” Method: HUNGRY

Hungry. Many of the monsters you encounter in your D&D games are just looking for easy prey. They are carnivores and you look like a tasty meal, despite the fact you’re likely wearing plate mail.

But if a monster is looking for a meal, how does that effect its tactics? Well, they’ll run away more often than not. Listen, I love cheeseburgers but even if I’m crazy hangry, I’m not going into Shake Shack looking for a duel to the death.

If you encounter a wilderness monster (or even many dungeon monsters), it’s thinking it has the jump on you. You smell like food and it’s looking to eat. But if the party takes it below half hit points, that monster suddenly knows it’s not looking at easy prey.

Why would it continue that fight toe-to-toe with the party, particularly when it’s also outnumbered? It wouldn’t. It would flee, living to eat another day.

Dungeon Masters, have more monsters flee if their motivation is hunger. It will make for more interesting combats, opening up the question on if the party gives chase or not.

The D&D “HASTE” Method: ANGRY

Angry. An angry creature, on the other hand, might fight to the death, particularly if it is really seeing red. Nearly all creatures are territorial. Think of it this way, if you walk into my front door unannounced, then I’m likely to get angry.

When considering the times that players impose upon a creature’s territory–whether it be a lair or a guard’s patrol area–consider alignment here. Evil creatures are immediately hostile, but neutral creatures will likely ask questions first. Lawful creatures will be friendly unless a party is clearly a bunch of heck-raising perps.

Regardless, as a DM, think about who is encroaching another’s space, then decide how mad they’d be about that.

The D&D “HASTE” Method: STRESSED

Stressed. Is the creature stressed? If so, what has it panicked?

This is an interesting one because it can run the gamut from a momma owlbear protecting its young to a hired thug who got a measly 5 GP to follow orders but he sure as heck didn’t sign up for this $h!†, you know? An easy diplomacy check and he’ll gladly look the other way.

Being that stress can run the gamut, give it a second’s thought as a DM. A monster that is stressed because its cubs are being threatened will absolutely fight to death and any parent out there gets this.

Imagine an encounter where your party ambushes a group of orcs around a campfire. Of course a fight breaks out. But two rounds in a weaponless orc is spotted in the party’s peripheral vision. Her hands are up and she has a pleading, panicked look on her face. A simple perception check spots an orc baby hiding behind one of her legs.

Suddenly that is a much different combat and players have weighty decisions to make.

The D&D “HASTE” Method: TIRED

Tired. Guards at the end of their shift likely ain’t thinking about a thing except going potty and grabbing some grub.

Consider a +/- on DCs dependent on if guards are beginning or ending a shift. Then add a little flavor to that effect when you role-play. Consider the same if PCs are attacking in the middle of the night or likewise if they are jumped in the middle of the might.

The D&D “HASTE” Method: ELEMENTAL

Elemental. Two things here. 1) “HAST” wouldn’t cut it. I needed this word to spell something to make this stupid article work and 2) I thought about how elemental creatures could be seen as having “temperaments,” so here are those thoughts:

  • Fire: angry, rash, and volatile interaction,
  • Water: cool, unwavering, steady,
  • Air: flighty, attention drifts, and aloof,
  • Earth: firm, unflinching, solid in interactions.

Every creature has an instinct toward self preservation just as every creature has emotions that effect its response to the player characters.

Spare of thought for those emotions and let them influence the creature’s tactics. Your encounters will be more interesting if you do. Now, could someone please tell me why my kid is just laying on the floor in the cereal aisle at Target?