Last week, DM David wrote about the problems caused in D&D with monsters who run or surrender, given that you then have to account for them and what will happen as a result, and characters will tend to give chase, or start interrogating/torturing the captives, and so it’s just simpler if you let the fight continue until they’re all dead and you can move on to the next point in the story.
That got me thinking in general about how monsters react, and more specifically about a couple of aspects of the BECMI boxed sets (available combined as the Rules Cyclopedia): the reaction rules and the morale rules.
“…[When] we come to D&D…we think of combat as a situation in which two opponents swing/shoot/claw/bite at each other until one or the other goes down or runs away. Not so. …”
“… With only a small number of exceptions (mostly constructs and undead), every creature wants, first and foremost, to survive. Seriously wounded creatures will try to flee, unless they’re fanatics or intelligent beings who believe they’ll be hunted down and killed if they do flee. Some creatures will flee even sooner. …”
“… A creature with Wisdom 7 or less has an underdeveloped survival instinct and may wait too long to flee. A creature with Wisdom 8 to 11 knows when to flee but is indiscriminate in choosing targets to attack. A creature with Wisdom 12 or higher selects targets carefully and may even refrain from combat in favour of parley if it recognises that it’s outmatched. A creature with Wisdom 14 or higher chooses its battles, fights only when it’s sure it will win (or will be killed if it doesn’t fight), and is always willing to bargain, bully, or bluff if this will further its interests with less resistance. …”
“… Good creatures tend to be friendly by default, neutral creatures indifferent, and evil creatures hostile. However, lawful creatures, even lawful good creatures, will be hostile towards chaotic creatures causing ruckus; chaotic creatures, even chaotic good creatures, will be hostile towards attempts by lawful creatures to constrain or interfere with them; and nearly all creatures, regardless of alignment, are territorial to some degree or another.”
So if the adventurers are invading their territory, there is a fair chance they will be hostile. However a creature they just stumble across is far less likely to automatically be hostile, and it may just depend on how they’re feeling that day. It’s definitely not a given that creatures will attack.
- They may not care about the characters
- They may know/sense there’s more risk than reward in attacking
- They may be curious
- They may not even notice them
- Even if they are hostile, they may prefer to express this in other ways than combat – supercilious negotiation, attempts to take advantage and so on.
But looking into various rulesets, they do all encourage the more nuanced thinking.
Reactions in Fifth Edition
The fifth edition DMG/SRD guidelines for encounters don’t assume an attack, although this is buried under “Social Interaction”. There you will find four stages for Resolving Interactions.
1. Choose a Starting Attitude
- Friendly; wants to help the adventurers and wishes for them to succeed. If an element of personal risk is involved, a successful Charisma check might be required to convince them to take that risk.
- Indifferent; might help or hinder depending on what the creature sees as most beneficial to itself. A successful Charisma check is necessary when the adventurers try to persuade an indifferent creature to do something.
- Hostile; opposes the adventurers and their goals but doesn’t necessarily attack on sight. The adventurers need to succeed on one or more challenging Charisma checks to convince a hostile creature to do anything on their behalf, and they may be so ill-disposed that any attempt to sway it through diplomacy fails automatically.
2. Conversation – can the adventurers change the creature’s attitude? Saying or doing the right things can improve the relationship temporarily; similarly a gaffe, insult or harmful deed might make it worsen. After sufficient interaction, an adventurer can attempt a Wisdom (Insight) check to uncover one of the creature’s characteristics, which can feed into the interaction.
3. Charisma Check – once the adventurers make their request/demand, or if you decide the conversation has run its course, ask for a Charisma check, either Persuasion, Deception or Intimidation as appropriate for the conversation. Their current attitude determines the DC required (and remember that they are unlikely to still be Friendly if Intimidation was used…)
- Friendly: no risk or sacrifice to do as asked: DC0, minor risk or sacrifice to do as asked: DC10, significant risk or sacrifice to do as asked: DC20
- Indifferent: no help but also no harm: DC0, no risk or sacrifice to do as asked: DC10, minor risk to do as asked: DC20
- Hostile: creature opposes the adventurers’ actions and may take risks: DC0, offers no help, but also does no harm: DC10, no risk or sacrifice to do as asked: DC20
Other characters’ actions may assist (give advantage) or hinder (give disadvantage).
4. Repeat? Further attempts to influence may be possible (if you deem it appropriate). In which case go back around. However, the situation may now be such that further changes are impossible.
- The creature will have Objections which the PCs have to counter with Incentives.
- If the characters do something to improve matters, reduce the level of Objection.
- If they make it worse, increase the level of Objection.
- If they can reduce the Objection to 0 they succeed. If the Objection goes above a certain threshold (which you pick) they fail catastrophically.
Anyway, I digress. We were talking about how creatures respond to the party.
This is where the BECMI ruleset has a useful framework which seems to have been lost since. As they say:
“Monsters may have nearly any reaction to the appearance of a party, unless the monster description says otherwise. …”
“Reactions can make the game much more fun than having fights. With some careful thought, a good DM can keep everyone interested and challenged by the situations that can arise. Remember that no creature wants to get killed, and if the party looks or acts fierce, many creatures can be scared away or forced to surrender — although large and tough monsters probably won’t scare very easily.”
To find the monsters’ reactions, you roll 2d6 and look up the Monster Reaction Chart:
- 2: Immediate Attack
- 3-5: Possible attack, wait then roll again*:
o 2-8: Attack
o 9-12: Uncertain, wait then roll again*:
– 2-5: Attack
– 6-8: Leave
– 9-12: Friendly
- 6-8: Uncertain, wait then roll again*:
o 2-5: Attack
o 6-8: Uncertain, wait then roll again*:
– 2-5: Attack
– 6-8: Leave
– 9-12: Friendly
o 9-12: Friendly
- 9-11: Possibly friendly, wait then roll again*:
o 2-5: Uncertain, wait then roll again*:
– 2-5: Attack
– 6-8: Leave
– 9-12: Friendly
o 6-12: Friendly
- 12: Immediately Friendly
* when rolling again, wait one or more rounds and consider character actions, the speaker’s Charisma and the overall situation before rolling again. It suggests modifying the roll by +1 or +2 if the characters do something favourable, and -1 or -2 if they do something unfavourable. It also suggests adding the Charisma modifier of the primary character interacting if the creature can understand them.
The nice thing about this framework is that it introduces a level of randomness and unpredictability to encounters, so that characters don’t know ahead of time how the creatures will react. Of course, if the characters are invading the creatures’ territory, and particularly if the characters are invading their lair, they are much more likely to be hostile, but even then (particularly with the territory rather than the lair) there’s a chance they will be curious or indifferent rather than immediately hostile.
Reactions in AD&D
AD&D also had a reactions table, but it used a single d% roll, adjusted for Charisma and loyalty:
- 01-05: Violently hostile, immediately attack (or morale check)
- 06-25: Hostile, immediate action (or morale check)
- 26-45: Uncertain but 55% prone towards negative
- 46-55: Neutral, uninterested, uncertain
- 56-75: Uncertain but 55% prone towards positive
- 76-95: Friendly, immediate action
- 96-00: Enthusiastically friendly, immediate acceptance
It doesn’t explain what is meant by “55% prone towards…” and there is no mention of subsequent rolls. I think I prefer the BECMI version.
Level Up A5E Monster Behaviour
Level Up A5E is a rethinking of 5th edition with the benefit of 5 years of real-world experience. It has this in the start of the Monstrous Menagerie:
“While every monster in this book has been tuned to provide a satisfying combat challenge, a wise party knows that not every encounter leads to battle. In Level Up few creatures are inherently good or evil (or chaotic or lawful), and most monsters can become either implacable enemies or steadfast allies. Adventurers may find themselves fighting alongside hobgoblin soldiers against a fallen angel riding a corrupted unicorn. Deep-delving heroes may win the friendship of distrustful dark elves, and run afoul of an imprisoned titan or a forgotten god. …”
“… One of the most important elements of any encounter is this: what are the monsters up to? A roll on the monster behavior tables determines whether a monster or group is hiding in ambush, looking for help, preoccupied with a prisoner, or any of thousands of other individual behaviors.”
Nearly every monster comes with its own individualized tables of suggestions, sometimes broken out by environment or monster number. Take kobolds, for example:
1. Attack on sight; armed with vials of acid or alchemist’s fire
2. Attack on sight; armed with a jar of scorpions, snakes, or green slime
3. Suspicious of strangers; may have set ball bearings, caltrops, or hunting traps
4. Running with sacks of stolen food
5. Peeking from behind cover, such as high in a tree, behind a wall, or inside an abandoned building
6. Arguing over the proper way to roll a boulder onto intruders
7. Digging a pit trap
8. Hiding in ambush, disguised as bushes or rocks that occasionally move around
9. Bearing a message from their overlord
10. Guarding a high position such as a ledge or balcony
11. Terrified and hiding in a hole or inside burlap sacks, or just lying down covering their eyes
12. Fleeing from a battle in which their companions were killed
The A5E Monstrous Menagerie also gives suggested encounters for different challenge levels, signs that the party can spot to give an indication they are approaching an area of that monster, possible names, and information that characters might know about the monster depending on the Arcana or History check roll.
When planning encounters, I’m going to start from here for monsters it includes, which includes OGL monsters from the SRD and Pathfinder, plus some I’ve not encountered before like the Khalkoi (mind wasp).
Even so, I still feel the BECMI reactions chart could be a useful addition at time.
Morale – how long do they fight?
The other side of the monster reactions question is the one DM Dave talks about in his blog post, and in his follow-up “Morale Checks – does Wisdom make one courageous or wise?” (which came out after I had started this post but before it was written).
Remember Keith Ammann:
“… With only a small number of exceptions (mostly constructs and undead), every creature wants, first and foremost, to survive. Seriously wounded creatures will try to flee, unless they’re fanatics or intelligent beings who believe they’ll be hunted down and killed if they do flee. Some creatures will flee even sooner.”
A creature will only fight to the death when there is a greater good that they benefit by doing so (family being the most obvious example), or when they believe they have no hope of survival anyway. The biggest question is when they decide to flee; when they decide/realise the situation is hopeless.
Coming back to Keith’s guidelines:
“A creature with Wisdom 7 or less has an underdeveloped survival instinct and may wait too long to flee. A creature with Wisdom 8 to 11 knows when to flee but is indiscriminate in choosing targets to attack. A creature with Wisdom 12 or higher selects targets carefully and may even refrain from combat in favour of parley if it recognises that it’s outmatched. A creature with Wisdom 14 or higher chooses its battles, fights only when it’s sure it will win (or will be killed if it doesn’t fight), and is always willing to bargain, bully, or bluff if this will further its interests with less resistance.”
Morale in 5th edition
The Fifth Edition rules have Morale under the optional rules, which says:
A creature may flee under any of the following circumstances:
- The creature is surprised
- The creature is reduced to half its hit points or fewer for the first time in the battle
- The creature has no way to harm the opposing side on its turn
A group of creatures might flee under any of the following circumstances:
- All the creatures in the group are surprised
- The group’s leader is reduced to 0hp, incapacitated, taken prisoner, or removed from battle
- The group is reduced to half its original size with no losses on the opposing side.
The morale check is a DC10 Wisdom saving throw, made with disadvantage if the opposition is overwhelming. If failed, the creature or group flees, or of not possible, surrenders.
This feels weak to me. For one thing, as DM Dave points out in his post, surely it’s wise to get out of a battle you’re losing – so there’s as much argument for a successful save meaning they leave as for a failed one.
For another, it doesn’t take the characters of the creatures into account. Kobolds are ambush/swarm attackers – as Keith Ammann says,” if the numbers don’t favour them, they’ll retreat. If seriously wounded, they’ll retreat. When attacking as a pack no longer works, they cut their losses.” On the other hand, orcs are “strong and tough … brutes. They charge, they fight hand-to-hand, and they retreat only with the greatest reluctance when seriously wounded.”
Morale in BECMI
Again, this is a place where the BECMI rules have a useful concept which seems to have been lost.
Each monster has a morale score between 2 (never fights) and 12 (never surrenders). For example, a Kobold has a morale of 6, or 8 if their chieftain is present, while a Hobgoblin has a morale of 8, or 10 if their chieftain is present, an Ogre has a morale of 10, a Rat has a morale of 5 (8 for a Giant Rat), and undead have a morale of 12.
Interestingly, in BECMI Orcs are identical to Kobolds – morale of 6, or 8 if the chieftain is present. However, there is less of a difference in the characters of the two races in the descriptions so this does fit the descriptions in the rules. Based on the current descriptions, I would probably take Kobolds down to 5/7, and Orcs up to 8/10 or maybe even 9/11.
You check morale by rolling 2d6. If the combined score on the two dice is less than or equal to the morale score, they carry on fighting. If it’s higher, they try to stop the fight – withdraw, run away, or if they can’t, then surrender.
A morale check for a creature is made
- when they first take damage in a fight
- when they are down to a quarter of their original hit points.
A morale check for a group is made
- on the first death on either side (monster or character)
- when half the monsters are out of action – killed, magically asleep, controlled, etc.
Bonuses of -1 or -2 can be applied if things are going well for the monsters; conversely penalties of +1 or +2 can be applied if they are going badly.
This allows for different characteristics for different creatures in a way that is specific to their inclination to stand and fight, rather than overloading yet another thing onto a score that is related to their ability to assess the situation, but not their inclination for battle.
An interesting twist added in the Rules Cyclopedia are the guidelines which can be used to determine a morale score for monsters not listed based on their personality:
- Abjectly cowardly => 2
- Always frightened or very cautious => 3-5
- Unmotivated => 6
- Disinterested => 7
- Normal => 8
- Brave, determined or stubborn => 9-11
- Suicidally brave or berserk => 12
Morale in AD&D
AD&D also had the concept of morale, but it worked slightly differently. Each monster had a base morale of 50%, plus 5% per hit dice above 1, plus 1% per hit point above any hit dice. To check morale, roll d% and apply any modifiers.
If the modified roll is equal to or less than the morale score, morale is good.
- If greater by 1%-15%: fall back, fighting
- If greater by 16%-30%: disengage-retreat
- If greater by 31%-50%: flee in panic
- If greater by 51% or more: surrender
Morale is checked:
- Every round if faced by an obviously superior force (e.g. one force hitting at least twice as often)
- When 25% of the party is eliminated or slain, or 25% damage for an individual: check at +5% penalty
- When Leader unconscious: check at +10% penalty
- When 50% of the party is eliminated or slain, or 50% damage for an individual: check at +15% penalty
- When Leader slain or deserts: check at +30% penalty
- Each enemy deserting: -5% bonus
- Each enemy slain: -10% bonus
- Inflicting casualties without receiving any: -20% bonus
- Each friend killed: +10% penalty
- Taking casualties without inflicting any: +10% penalty
- Each friend deserting: +15% penalty
- Outnumbered and outclassed by at least 3 to 1: +20% penalty
As always with AD&D, there’s lots of complexity and detail requiring lots of bookkeeping – how many have been killed now? What does that make the modifier? Oh, and there’s an additional penalty from X and… Does the precision add to the game? Probably not enough to be worth the effort. Also, the +5%/HD in some ways makes sense – a tougher creature is likely to be more intrepid – but it doesn’t allow for different characteristics for different creatures. It also doesn’t allow for things like undead never giving up. Again, I think I prefer the BECMI version.
I have run through an assortment of rules here from different sources for how monsters react, and I hope you found them interesting.
I prefer the BECMI rules for both reactions and morale, but ultimately the key thing is to put yourself in the creatures’ situation and consider how you would react if you were them. What do they want out of the situation? What are the PCs doing? How threatened do the creatures feel, and how confident do they feel of surviving battle? Do the creatures have any alternatives?
The concept of Friendly, Indifferent or Hostile is a useful starting point, and you can use the BECMI table for guidance, or roll on it to have unpredictable reactions (maybe Friendly gives a bonus and Hostile gives a penalty on the roll).
And remember, most creatures want to survive.