Thursday, June 13, 2013

Order of Battle

Though I've used sentient enemies before, I'm always leery because of the way they push me, as their proxy, to be in opposition to the players.  It's why I use a lot of animals, insects and weird creepy things that have their own systems of logic.

I want to use intelligent, organized factions more in dungeons, though.  So I want to think out how they might react to incursions ahead of time, so they will have plans and goals that are seperate from me, the DM, before players even encounter them.

First, if you know of any good posts or articles please let me know.  Second I was thinking a good approach might be to think of questions before they need answering the way Jeff's 20 questions for a campaign does.  So here are some questions:
  • Where are guards posted?
  • Who are these guards-- how loyal, capable, experienced?
  • How do guards react to noise?
  • How do guards react to smoke or strange lights or smells?
  • In other words, when will they leave their posts?
  • Is there a way for them to communicate with each other, other than just shouting?
  • If reinforcements are sent, how long does it take them to reach different locations?
  • Is there a general plan of defense or perhaps, evacuation?
  • Is the goal to investigate, eradicate, or imprison interlopers?
  • Who are they expecting trouble from?
  • What kind of battle tactics will they use-- are they straight up fanatics?  Will they attempt to kill mages first?  Will they target any missile users?  Use shield walls?
  • Who is ultimately in charge?
  • How will that person be affected by battle results?  In other words will they be afraid, outraged, or impressed if players have killed guards?
  • How long does it take, if even possible, for guards lost to battle to be replaced?
  • How flexible are they, how willing to adjust tactics?  In other words, will they learn and adapt to losing battles to pcs?
That's all I can think of now.  Other things you know I should be thinking about because of experience, or things you wonder about yourself?


  1. I'm afraid I only have some more questions.

    -How do they secure the non-combatant (females, youngs, the elders...) and their valuables?
    -Do they have captives of some sort that could join forces with the party? If those are slaves, how loyal are they?
    -What reasons do they have to leave their lair (war, hunt, trade, seminomadic lifestyle...)?

  2. If in a lair or home, what item/room is it their priority to protect?
    Are they loyal to a certain leader/general, to a cause, possibly to families or livestock non-combatants (as Khazike proposed)?
    Is there someone the players can threaten or hold hostage who has the authorty to make guards stand down? If they kill this person, do combatants lose will to fight, or have the players create a martyr to avenge?

    1. I had a cult dungeon once where arose the problem of how much of the remaining cult could continue to function.
      The players killed most of the cult, but missed some members who could have assembled a new gathering.
      Maybe one should designate the members with enough authority or charisma to continue the group if they manage to escape alive?

  3. Really important- who do they expect to interact with? And how do they expect that interaction to go?

    If you got a city that deals with orc raiders on a regular basis and expects orcs raids and prepares for orc raids, they probably will assume that A) orcs are raiders and need to be dealt with as such (bad news for the half-breeds and lookalikes) B) it will just be orcs attacking/infiltrating/harassing them. Both these assumptions will spell out answers for what you have already covered, and can give answers for hole in their defenses (underground bunkers filled with ranged weapons? PFT! Orcs can't fly, stupid!)

  4. Thanks, everyone, great additions. My take aways:

    What is their schedule like? When will they be present/absent, strongest?

    What do they care about most?

    What are they trying to achieve?

    What allies do they deal with? Who will miss them if they are eradicated?

    @Zavi: I was actually bringing this up in regards to a cult dungeon I'm making. Knowing how many members they need to be viable is a helpful thing to suggest thinking about.

    1. "Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water."

      -Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

      When I DM I like to give humanoids some kind of goal or desire. It makes them really interesting and fun to game really fast.

  5. The way I do it is to treat a larger area as a room. That is a series of rooms, a building, or what-not. Give the area a number and the guard posts letters.

    Have guards at the guard posts, their job is to hold ground, bolt the door, try to stall, yell for help, whatever for 1d6 rounds. After that the reinforcements arrive.

    Once that combat is over you might have the remaining guard posts join forces for a second attack or to defend the chief, or non-combatants, depending up what the race is. Let the players loot the place while non-combatants cower in fear or wail in anguish. Let the players worry that the older non-combatants aren't actually a shaman or wizard or thief biding their time.

    It makes for a more natural feel to the encounter although it means you have to draw up a larger area for what is in effect one long encounter.

  6. Sorry for the long delay.

    Great comments, Lum and Anon. I think I'm trying to figure out the answers to those very questions. What does this cult want? What are the possible things they might want? And will these guards defend the leader or try to slip out to keep the cult viable? I guess that last one depends on how important this location is to the cult. Or, maybe not exactly, maybe they can leave this location to get more reinforcements from another.