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There has been a small discussion in my D&D group about two powers of the Avenger class. The two powers have similar attacks.

Bond of Retribution

Hit: 1[W] + Wisdom modifier damage. The first time an enemy other than the target hits or misses you before the end of your next turn, the target takes radiant damage equal to your Intelligence modifier.

Flavour text: 'Whirling divine energy promises swift retribution if one of your foe's companions attacks you.'

and

Avenging Echo

Hit: 1[W] + Wisdom modifier damage. Until the end of your next turn, any enemy that ends its turn adjacent to you or that hits or misses you takes 5 radiant damage.

Flavour text: 'Your weapon sweeps in a deadly arc, leaving in its wake swirling radiant energy that keeps your foes at bay.'

The discussion is basically how a DM should act with these powers. Are the monsters we are fighting aware of the energy described by the flavour text?

Because there was a small discussion, the DM solved it like this: At first they aren't aware, but when they notice that they get damaged when attacking the Avenger, they stop attacking the Avenger. Even when the Avenger moves next to them, granting them the ability to make an attack of opportunity, they don't attack.

So what would be the correct way to handle this power as a DM?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Although there is no "wrong" way to DM this (aside from breaking the rules) I'll suggest the guidance I try to use when I DM:

Don't punish players for coming up with good tactics or strategies.

This particular combination falls into a broader category of strategies involving using monsters' attacks against them. In this case, the Avenger puts up their powers, then intentionally provokes opportunity attacks, risking damage to themselves, in order to reciprocate further damage on their enemies.

Opportunity Attacks are a fair issue, but I think the simplest thing for both DM and players is to have monsters always take every available opportunity attack. That makes things fairly predictable, and being able to predict the outcome of one's actions is an important part of making good choices. Players don't want to make a choice they think is good, only to have the DM twist things around and trump that choice.

Remember that D&D is about the players coming up with ways to overcome challenges. If they find a particularly good or effective way to overcome one particular challenge, that's ok. That's good, even! That's what the game is all about!

However, there is another side to this:

The DM has considerable leeway in using both strategy and role-play to guide monster behavior.

While predictability is important to make good tactical choices, unpredictability makes for more a interesting role-play experience. Finding the right balance between these two is something all the players have to work towards.

You may try to reach a middle ground that favours the players, where monsters make poor tactical decisions (like taking every OA even if it's bad for them to do so) to enable players to execute superior strategies. I'd say this is the "normal" approach most people have to D&D.

You may go to one extreme where the monsters have purely role-played motivations, and behave in a tactically unpredictable but role-playing predictable manner. This has the downside of frustrating tactically-minded players who expect the monsters to behave in a more "game" way rather than a "story" way.

You may go to the other extreme where the monsters execute the best strategy possible, where the DM uses every tool at their disposal to foil player plans and make combat as challenging as possible. This is very risky because the DM has no real limits on what strategies they can implement. Because the DM is in charge both of the combat situation and the combat scenario, they can introduce monsters that will explicitly be able to defeat the players, then be played to defeat them. As a result, I'd strongly discourage DMs from being too strategic.

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Well said! Though I may add it depends on the type of monster. A dumb brute should probably just always attack with little strategy, a master strategist might be more cacluting. –  TimothyAWiseman Nov 18 '13 at 17:06

As was ruled, someone who doesn’t know the PCs’ tactics very well will almost definitely take an opportunity if given one; it would be metagaming to not take it. So the trick should almost-always work once.

Even if they are aware (or had the opportunity to learn) about the tactic, however, there are a variety of reasons why a creature would still take it. In particular, big, tanky brutes are likely to just keep attacking. Anyone who figures he’s tougher than the Avenger, anyone who for reasons for honor or pride won’t “admit” being afraid of the retribution, anyone in any altered mental state (rage or frenzy) that isn’t being careful, and so on, are similarly likely to just keep attacking. Even intelligent, tactical fighters may also continue to attack, either because they judge it to still be to their advantage to do so or because they suspect that circumstances have changed and the character isn’t able to replicate that maneuver now (i.e. they suspect it was an encounter or daily power).

Though you might also suggest to the player that there’s an advantage to be had in being able to provoke opportunities that his enemies refuse to take. If enemies will not attack him as he moves around, he now has unparalleled battlefield maneuverability. If I were him, I’d be looking for ways to take advantage of that.

So a lot of the time, it seems to me, this trick could definitely work, and keep working. And then, here’s the trick: the DM can always decide to react differently.

If the player is annoyed that his trick never works and his character feels like he’s wasted resources on something he doesn’t get to use, that may be bad for the game; maybe otherwise-smart foes are going to have to start underestimating him for the sake of letting him enjoy his character. It’s not hard to rationalize this behavior; see the above points.

On the flip side, if the effect is so devastating it’s making the game a cakewalk, even very dumb, aggressive brutes might start avoiding him. And if you do it really, really well, and time things just right, you can build up a little tension, let the player get just a bit annoyed that these things seem to be metagaming him, and then reveal that they have started to behave this way in fights with him because he has become a mythical figure among them, a monster of legend that they fear and avoid.

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These are powers designed to introduce a catch 22. If the PC doesn't have the other half of the catch 22 operating (penalties for not attacking the avenger), then an intelligent monster has no incentive to attack the avenger.

This isn't exactly RAW, but my perspective is that in normal circumstances, intelligent monsters should behave intelligently and dumb monsters should behave unintelligently. That means your evil mastermind big bad certainly wouldn't attack your avenger with one of these powers running (catch 22 excepted), but that your stupid zombies definitely will.

The exception here is when you're playing a game that lends itself heavily to metagaming. Lair Assault for Forthcore style games for instance.

IMO, all creatures are privy to the mechanical effects of their actions (at least after first use, but I'd argue in the general case). You should know if you step into a monster's aura, you should know that there is a penalty for hitting a monster, etc.

the PHB (pp 57-58) supports this:

Whenever you affect a creature with a power, that creature knows exactly what you've done to it and what conditions you've imposed. For example, when a paladin uses divine challenge against an enemy, the enemy knows that it has been marked and that it will therefore take a penalty to attack rolls and some damage if it attacks anyone aside from the paladin.

So monsters should be free to react accordingly based on their intelligence and ability to interact with the situation.

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+1 for PHB quote. From personal experience, my GM very rarely has enemies violate my marks (playing a Warden), generally only when they have no better option, and I generally only knock enemies down with Roots of Stone if they're forced out of the zone I created or, again, if there's no better option. However, I don't generally mind that RoS misses out on the little bit of extra damage and the KD, because it means the enemies stick to me like glue, which is my job. I don't mind that I'm taking all the hits, because it's my job. –  Brian S Nov 18 '13 at 14:32

When I run an encounter I try to offer some variety in how NPCs behave in situations like this (understanding powers, provoking opportunity attacks, triggering marks, moving into or failing to leave zones, and so on). Ideally I want players to find individual opponents fairly predictable so that the players can often plan successful tactics while forcing the party to adapt to a range of different NPC strategies.

I find that considering the NPCs' intelligence and motives usually leads to a good range of tactics. Beasts or constructs might just attack the nearest enemy regardless of the abilities in effect. A summoned monster given specific orders or a particularly enraged or spiteful creature might fixate on and attack a specific target regardless of consequences. More intelligent opponents start to display coordinated tactics, avoid effects they understand (perhaps after seeing them trigger once as suggested), and may be more or less willing to take risks to protect their leaders or setup their allies in an advantageous position. In each case I'll usually try to give some tells which help the players understand what they are fighting and how the encounter is going to play out; they see a coordinated patrol signaling each other to spread out and flank the party while closing ranks around the enemy casters or the wave of zombies shambles through fire toward the nearest living creature.

As always consider what is fun for the players.

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Darwin killed all the stupid ones.
Even the most stupid enemies know pain. If they did not, they would have walked into a forest fire long time ago, and died out.

The least intelligent monsters try to avoid pain no matter what, unless they have a very good reason to keep attacking after the players hurt them. Hunger might be a good example. This not only means the powers above, but any kind of attacks. A wolf pack does not keep attacking unless half insane from starvation.
Creatures with more intelligence decide by the probability of pain, the amount of it and the possible rewards. In this case minions would quite likely refrain from attacking, but for everyone else 4-5 damage is probably not enough to dissuade them.

I like to play the monsters as strategic as reasonable for their intelligence. This way if they are outsmarted by the players it has real value, does not feel like charity from the DM. Being smarter than a retard gives no satisfaction.
For this reason my monsters hardly provoke Opportunity Attacks or mark punishments. They might test the players' capabilities, but after the first hit, they stop.

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