14 June 2020

The Monsters Know What They're Doing... and now the GM may do as well

The Monsters know what they’re doing
The Monsters Know What They're Doing

I enjoyed running Curse of Strahd, but it was very much a new experience for me as I haven't really run D&D in anger for a sustained period since my 2nd Edition AD&D days. I played 3rd Edition, but never ran it. My only real experience in recent years was running Graham Spearing's excellent Heroic Fantasy (a take on The Black Hack).

Generally, my experience of running the game went smoothly, helped by the fact that we had two experienced D&D5e players and DMs in the group who I could outsource rules queries to so I could focus on the story. There was one encounter in the first season that had me doubting that I was doing it right. This was an encounter between the party and a 'vampire' (as they called it) in our fourth session. I'm not going to reveal what it actually was because <spoilers>, but I was concerned that I'd not played the NPC to the best of my abilities.

Enter 'The Monsters Know What They're Doing', a book based on Keith Ammann's blog of the same name. Keith deconstructs the monsters in the D&D core books, analysing their statistics, their descriptions and game mechanics to produce a summary of the most effective way to use them as a challenge to the players. It's clever stuff, and allows a lazy DM to easily plan how a combat encounter can be done to the best effect. There were similar articles about using Monsters intelligently in early White Dwarf issues, but I've never seen anything that deconstructs the mechanics so thoroughly.

The book is available through Blackwells and Amazon in the UK; as I write this, the former is cheaper.

Having mentioned it to my players, they seem to think that this is unfair. However, there's another volume coming in July, written from a character's perspective which should make things a bit more balanced.

I went back and reviewed the encounter with the 'vampire'. My conclusion was that there wasn't much more I could have done to have saved the NPCs from such a relentless and vicious attack; radiant energy, magic missiles and firebolts stacked the attack against the creature. The only thing I can think may have worked was a spiderclimb onto the roof, but the situation didn't really lend itself to that. However, I know that I'll be better prepared for the next time.

And there will be a next time. They have Strahd's attention now.

14 June 2020

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