Pigeon Tactics

If you live in a major North American city (except, weirdly, Milwaukee), you’ve undoubtedly encountered pigeons on an almost daily basis. Like squirrels, they enjoy a commensal relationship with humans, benefiting greatly from our effect on the ecosystem without significantly helping us or harming us in any way. And you know they’re generally quite chill, unless your toddler runs directly at them, as toddlers invariably do.

The standard pigeon in fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons is no different. A small, unthreatening thing, it’s disinclined to fight at all and relies heavily on its Hypervigilant Flight reaction, which allows it to move up to half its speed as a reaction—without provoking an opportunity attack—if another creature moves within 5 feet of it. Pigeons are prey creatures, not predators, and the only way you’re likely to suffer a Beak attack from one is if you somehow manage to grab it.

A swarm of pigeons behaves similarly to a single pigeon, but not exactly the same. It still spooks easily, and it rarely attacks, preferring simply to use Hypervigilant Flight to retreat to a safe distance and, if pursued, to Dash to a safe perch out of reach. However, sometimes a swarm of pigeons chooses an empty, elevated location to roost in, such as an upper floor of an abandoned building. Particularly if this roost is home to eggs or squabs, a swarm of pigeons may become aggressive toward anyone who intrudes.

The first action it generally takes against a trespasser is Evacuate, more as a scare response than a calculated attempt to debilitate. If the target subsequently moves, so does the swarm, using Hypervigilant Flight. However, if the target doesn’t leave, the swarm then swoops back down and attacks with its Beaks. It continues to attack until the intruder is driven off or the swarm is reduced to 10 hp or fewer.

The giant pigeon is another matter, because unlike its Tiny cousins, it doesn’t scare. Cheeky and undauntable in its pursuit of food, it disregards other creatures as long as they leave it alone. Even snatching food away from it doesn’t provoke it to fight; it simply continues to try to get the food back, with greater determination. (You can use the Disarm action, from “Action Options” in chapter 9 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, to represent the giant pigeon’s attempts to snatch food back from a character who’s holding it.) If and when one does actual harm to it, however, it fights back, doing its best to drive the aggressor away. Continue reading Pigeon Tactics

Intelligent Enemy Tactics

About two months ago, I got an interesting query from reader Nick Seigal, asking about how to run a monster or villain more intelligent than oneself. When you think about it, it’s a challenge that runs throughout Dungeons & Dragons and every other roleplaying game that quantifies mental capacities: How do you roleplay any character or creature with greater intelligence, wisdom or charisma than you yourself possess? (For that matter, how do you play having significantly less? I’m reminded of the one good bit in the otherwise godawful Robert A. Heinlein book Friday, in which the main character, a covert agent, has to take an IQ test and hit a predetermined score exactly.) In social interaction skill checks, it can be handwaved—and often is—with a die roll in lieu of roleplaying. But combat, with its round-by-round mechanical decision-making, requires something more.

With respect to Intelligence (the ability) in particular, it behooves us to think about what we mean when we talk about intelligence (in general), and one important aspect of intelligence is something we might call “quickness of apprehension”: the ability to rapidly recognize the importance of what one sees or hears. This quality is one we see in great detectives of literature, such as Sherlock Holmes, who hoovers up every visual detail at a crime scene in moments, or Nero Wolfe, who pounces on an out-of-place phrase in a conversation which signifies consciousness of guilt. Any detective of ordinary or slightly above-average intelligence could find the same clues, but it would take hours of examining the crime scene or poring over a verbatim transcript of the conversation, and most would give up long before then.

In a D&D combat situation, this manifests in a highly intelligent creature’s being able to “read the room.” It can tell a fighter from a paladin, a wizard from a sorcerer, or a Life Domain cleric from a Light Domain cleric. It can get a sense of a character’s Strength by observing the force of their weapon strikes, their Dexterity by watching them dodge attacks, their Constitution by watching them take hits, their Intelligence and Wisdom by listening to them call out to their allies. It notes who’s got magical weapons and what they do. It pays attention to how badly injured its opponents are. It observes the opponents’ positioning, notices when someone has made a blunder and capitalizes on it. It’s mindful of its own weaknesses and the need to avoid, neutralize or eliminate opponents who might target those weaknesses. Continue reading Intelligent Enemy Tactics

The Monsters Know on DM’s Deep Dive, Nov. 19

Things got real busy last week, and I never got around to posting a new monster analysis. But this week I have a special announcement: My next analysis will be on video, as I take a guest turn on Don’t Split the Podcast Network’s DM’s Deep Dive, hosted by Mike “Sly Flourish” Shea. I’ll analyze the steel predator from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes and also answer questions from Sly (and maybe viewers, if there’s time?). Drop by https://www.twitch.tv/dontsplitthepodcast at 8 PM U.S. Central Time for the live interview; I’ll post the video on this blog when it’s archived on YouTube.

Live to Tell the Tale: Combat Tactics for Player Characters, Fully Revised New Edition, Available for Pre-Order!

You didn’t think I was gonna put out just one snazzy trade book, did you?

Live to Tell the Tale: Combat Tactics for Player Characters is the fully revised new edition of the PC tactics guide you know and love, coming June 23 July 7, 2020, in hardcover and e-book formats from Saga Press and available now for pre-order!

Live to Tell the Tale Cover
Cover illustration by Lily Pressland

This new edition includes revised sample battles, including an all-new level 15 battle; new sections on Stealth and Perception, advantage and disadvantage, mounted combat, managing spell slots and using feat options; and dozens of gorgeous illustrations by talented fantasy artists. That’s right—illustrations! Actual illustrations! Also, I finally learned how to use Adobe Illustrator, so the battle diagrams look way cooler now, too.

Click here to pre-order Live to Tell the Tale from your favorite independent bookseller.

IndieBound

I’m a strong believer in independent booksellers as community anchors, promoting the free expression and sharing of ideas, enriching the cultural life of communities, and keeping money circulating in the local economy. If you don’t already have a favorite independent bookseller, maybe it’s time to get to know one!

Or, I guess, you could pre-order from one of these online retailers:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Indigo
Kobo
Google Play
iBooks

The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters, Available NOW!

It’s here! The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters, published by Saga Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, is available in hardcover and e-book formats today!

The Monsters Know What They're Doing Cover
Cover Illustration by Lily Pressland

This book features all the creatures I’ve analyzed from the Monster Manual, along with exclusive analyses of un-blogged monsters including aarakocra, basilisks, cockatrices, griffons and hippogriffs, kenku, merfolk, quaggoths and xorn, plus thoughts on how to handle encounters with tactically uninteresting monsters.

Click here to order The Monsters Know What They’re Doing from your favorite independent bookseller.IndieBound I’m a strong believer in independent booksellers as community anchors, promoting the free expression and sharing of ideas, enriching the cultural life of communities, and keeping money circulating in the local economy. If you don’t already have a favorite independent bookseller, maybe it’s time to get to know one!

Or, I guess, you can order from one of these online retailers:

Target
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Indigo
Kobo
Google Play
iBooks