I spend too much time thinking about roleplaying in combat. It’s easy to fall into playing D&D combat like a tactical combat game. My first urge is always to try and use the best tactics possible, focusing damage on the softest targets to shift the action economy in my favor, and taking advantage of my knowledge of the PCs to my advantage. The thing is, the monsters probably don’t know any of that stuff. I need to play them in a way that serves the story of the game.
Here are my rules of thumb for monster behavior based upon their stats. These are not intended to govern all situations. They may be modified by the monster’s type, traits or previous experience or other factors.
Roleplaying in Combat
- Self Preservation. Creatures with Intelligence and/or Wisdom greater than seven will generally flee from combat if they are significantly injured. They will also flee when outnumbered, or if a significant number of their allies have already fled.
- Tactical Combat. In order to behave tactically in combat, a creature should generally have an intelligence greater than eight, or training and/or leadership in the fight to capable of directing their action. Without the ability to behave tactically in combat, creatures will target the closest threat to them or their allies, or whatever is or has harmed them.
- Recognizing Magic. Unless trained in magic, in order to recognize magic as distinct from mundane effects, a creature must have an Intelligence stat greater than 10. This is necessary for doing things like choosing to attack spellcasters preferentially, evade detectable but not immediately harmful magical effects, or identify illusions.
- Understanding the Mechanics of Magic. In order to understand the nuts and bolts of how magic works, the creature must have a mental stat greater than 13, or the ability to use magic itself. This understanding is necessary for a creature to understand and exploit spellcasting mechanics. For instance, breaking concentration or depriving a caster of spell casting focuses or components. This doesn’t mean that a creature cannot do something that would inadvertently block spellcasting. It only means that they won’t do so intentionally.
- Understanding Spells or Abilities: In order to understand the particulars of a given spell or ability, a creature must:
- have use of the same or similar ability and have an intelligence of 10,
- have training in similar abilities (e.g. types of magic) and an intelligence score of at least 13
- or, have seen the spell or ability in a previous encounter and an intelligence score greater than 17.
Special thanks to BeastMode and AverageTeller for helping me workshop this content!
Now that we’ve looked at some rules of thumb for roleplaying in combat, why not take a look at some great stat blocks for your game?