Recipe for Retreat

Posted in EpicTable Blog on January 25, 2008 at 7:44 pm

The last article suggested a way to record your plans for adversaries that flee an encounter. In this article, I offer some advice on formulating those plans.

Ingredients of an Escape Plan

To know where your adversaries flee, you need to understand the immediate geography, enemies, and allies. In addition, the monster’s own nature and capabilities will influence how it flees a scene.

Enemies and Allies

What’s the relationship between creatures or types of creatures in the area?

Can the kobolds expect help or enslavement from the drow outpost to the south?

Home Court Advantage

Is one direction a dead end?

Are there places that are difficult or dangerous for the pursuers to follow?

If this is the monsters’ home, they know their way around. They’re not going to corner themselves unless they’re really in a panic. The fleeing monsters will have an advantage in knowing the place better than the player characters.

Think Like the Monster

Put yourself in the monster’s place.

Where would it flee? Where can it flee?

Maybe it can flee back to its people for reinforcements. Maybe retreat is so unacceptable that fleeing for its life means fleeing the community entirely.

How “wily” is the monster?

Is it likely to make a mistake and get itself cornered, or is it a tactical genius?

Just because a creature has a low intelligence score, don’t assume that it won’t have an instinct for choosing the right path through its environment to avoid escape. My cat is a tactical genius when it’s time to go to the vet.

Is it opportunistic?

A mind flayer or even a wily kobold is bright enough to use its environment. It might lead its pursuers into a trap, or dash through the sleeping cave bear’s lair, screaming at the top of its lungs, hoping to force the player characters in its wake to deal with the grumpy bear.

Is it organized?

Hobgoblins, for instance, are very organized, while goblins are very…well…not. Retreating hobgoblins are likely to coordinate ambushes and to have rigorous protocol for handling an invasion of their lair. Goblins are apt to run around shrieking and not accomplishing much in the way of organized resistence.

Is it obsessed with its own survival?

Consider the lich: a creature of genius intelligence that has gone to incredible lengths to extend its life and has literally ages to consider its survival. You can bet that the lich has an escape plan.

(You’d think that if your lifeforce was in a phylactery, you’d take a few risks; yet you almost never see a lich bungee jumping or sky diving. Thus, my assertion that they’re a conservative lot who would just as soon err on the safe side and draw up that escape plan—unquestioned superiority and unfathomable power notwithstanding.)

The Rewards of Retreat

What I find, personally, is that creating the Flight Plan not only avoids the occasional implausible blunder on the monsters’ part, but it also results in more interesting adventures. By thinking through a monster’s escape, I’m forced to think about the relationships between inhabitants of an area. That extra reflection lets me bring a greater degree of realism and dynamism to the place and sets up a much more interesting, fluid adventure than the traditional, sequential march through a series of encounters.

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