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Currently I'm running Conjure Animals fairly restrictively.

The player says they are casting the spell and designates the locations that they will appear (I then label them, as they are designated). I roll which animals take form from a table that was designed to fit the overall campaign.

However, this has now bitten me in the butt a few times, as animals conjured from the campaign table often don't fit the rubber-meets-the-road encounter. I've gotten War Horses on top of sloped and slippery houses, Vultures in dark, dank basements, and a Rhinoceros in a narrow hallway.

While this was often humorous, I'm wondering if I should re-roll animals that clearly do not fit the encounter location. Are the summoned fey spirits 'smart' enough to take a form that fits the summoning locale?

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This is a matter of DM technique and the flow of play

Currently I'm running Conjure Animals fairly restrictively.

That's a DM choice, and you don't have to tie your own hands. But I don't think that your question fits how the spell works.

I will suggest that the question is "Is the spell smart enough?" not "Are the fey spirits smart enough?" to respond to the summons. The fey are responding to a spell; the spellcaster has the agency, not the fey spirits. The fey spirits are being influenced by the power of the spell.

As a point of comparison, this Conjure Animals spell is a 3rd-level spell.

  • The 2nd-level spell Magic Mouth can follow rather detailed instructions to decide whether or not to activate. Logic patterns such as "only make the scream 'someone's coming!' if someone who isn't me gets within 10 feet of you";
  • The 3rd-level spell Glyph of Warding, like Magic Mouth, can follow complicated instructions to decide to trigger or not.

    With that in mind regarding spell level, I'll offer that a 3rd-level spell is "smart enough" to bring location-suitable beasts for the fey spirits to inhabit.

I roll which animals take form from a table that was designed to fit the overall campaign.

That is consistent with the Sage Advice Compendium commentary from the lead rules designer, in that the DM picks the creatures - this has a long history, going back to AD&D 1e, in terms of picking creatures that are likely to be in the area. (You don't get a polar bear in a jungle, for example.)

The design intent for options like these is that the spellcaster chooses one of them, and then the DM decides what creatures appear that fit the chosen option. For example, if you pick the second option, the DM chooses the two elementals that have a challenge rating of 1 or lower.

[...] The DM will often choose creatures that are appropriate for the campaign and that will be fun to introduce in a scene.

I'll suggest that you are making this too hard on yourself as DM.

Case 1: Rules as Funny

I've gotten War Horses on top of sloped and slippery houses, Vultures in dark, dank basements, and a Rhinoceros in a narrow hallway. While this was often humorous,

If your players find this kind of random hilarity fun, there's no reason to stop. Have you asked them? Does this kind of outcome upset them, or do they roll with it? If they don't care for it ...

Case 2: Seeking verisimilitude

I'm wondering if I should re-roll animals that clearly do not fit the encounter location.

I'd recommend that you either do that, or pick a different beast from your table that fits the location, since you asked "should".

I recommend this based on playing D&D since before AD&D 1e came out, and having gotten used to the DM bringing into play animals, fey, or monsters that fit the locale where a summoning takes place. Up in the mountains, summoning a bunch of eagles makes sense. In a deep forest, summoning a bunch of panthers or snakes makes sense. On the plains, summoning some wolves makes sense. In a jungle, summoning a tiger or two makes sense ...

Note that, per the DMG, you need not roll at all, nor re-roll if you don't like the result. You can consult your table and either (1) roll if you'd like to or (2) pick a beast that fits the situation.

If you don't like the rolled result either re roll or pick a result that makes more sense to the locale - if you want to change your current approach.

As Markus points out: you don't serve the dice, the dice serve you.

Are the summoned fey spirits 'smart' enough to take a form that fits the summoning locale?

Maybe, but probably not. The rules don't specify. The general rule of animal intelligence for summoned beast is that it takes the Int from the beast's stat block. Find Steed is my point of reference, as it is the exception to that general rule:

Additionally, if your steed has an Intelligence of 5 or less, its Intelligence becomes 6, and it gains the ability to understand one language of your choice that you speak.

As I said above, I think you may be looking at this from the wrong angle.
That means that I am challenging the frame of the question a little bit.
I believe that the question is "Is the spell smart enough to do this?" and that the answer is yes. Why? It's magic of an appropriate level.

The fey are being called by the spell to inhabit the forms of some beast - they do that and the beasts cooperate with the spellcaster as long as the spell lasts.

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Remember that you do not have to roll at all.

You are the DM and can choose what is appropriate to the story or to your campaign.

The DM has the creatures' statistics (PHB, p. 225)

It is the role of a DM to help tell the story, and make the game run smoothly. I interpret this to mean: when a random roll gives a poor outcome to story development, I instead choose the appropriate outcome. Generally speaking, this makes the story and game run smoothly.

The Role of the Dice (DMG p. 236)

The extent to which you use them is entirely up to you

And, when you come across a die roll that just doesn't make sense ...

Remember that dice don't run your game - you do. (DMG, p. 237)

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is technically an answer, albeit a bit brief. Markus, if you could elaborate on your answer that would be ideal. \$\endgroup\$ – BBeast Feb 15 '20 at 11:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ "You're the DM so you can ignore the rules and do whatever you want" is not usually a helpful answer because it's already a given. We're generally looking for answers to provide more detailed expert guidance to better understand the rules or the situation. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 15 '20 at 13:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener in the context of this specific question, though, the rules don't tell you to randomly roll on a table to choose what appears. In fact, the spell description doesn't clarify who is or how you're meant to decide which creatures appear at all. When the querent is already using a house rule for this spell, it seems fair to point out that they don't have to use their own house rule if they don't like the results they're getting. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Feb 15 '20 at 13:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener I added a couple of citations from the DMG that will support the overall correct answer that Markus has provided. Carcer's point is also something that makes me wonder on how to tag the question ... \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 15 '20 at 13:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast While it is certainly within my power to choose the animals conjured, I feel as though the player has an interest in knowing that what occurs is not strictly the will of the DM (read: I’m not screwing him with poorly suited animals for the given encounter). Thus, the tables - which were discussed when the spell became an option for the character - were made so he has an idea of what he might get, without having any control. Ultimately, I think this accommodates the player, speeds up play, and is in the spirit of the text of the spell. \$\endgroup\$ – Radioactive_Lego Feb 15 '20 at 21:06

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