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I'm new to GMing, and am having difficulty with understanding how often different types of monsters interact cooperatively (so to speak).

In keeping with trying to give my PC's variety, and to also make sure they are being appropriately challenged, I have been using the following monsters (in order appearance) together in a beginners dungeon. (Lvl 1-4)

  1. 3 Kobold
  2. 4 Kobold with 2 Gnolls above ground way-laying travelers
  3. 2 Gnolls with 1 Ogres and 2 Kobolds in Dungeon guard room (Ogres bossing around Gnolls & kobolds)
  4. 2 Gnoll & 2 Goblin Guards in hallways of dungeon.
  5. Gnoll Cleric with 4 Gnoll guards in dungeon temple.
  6. 10 skeletons come alive in sacrificial chamber of temple.

I feel the story line is getting bogged down by the inconsistency of the monster encounters, but I want to keep the encounters evolving and interesting. Perhaps I'm taking the story telling too seriously.

Have you ever put together so many monster types? Or is this perhaps a rookie move on my part?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you playing in any particular canonical setting, or just a setting of your own devising? \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 22 '16 at 20:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ DnD 3e, my own storys (Is that what you mean?) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 22 '16 at 20:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, that’s exactly what I meant. If you were playing in Forgotten Realms or Eberron or wherever, it might have been good for answers to get into how those settings describe these races and their relations with one another. Since you’re not, though, it becomes less a question of “what does the setting say about these?” and more “is this appropriate world-building that I’m doing?” Both are fine questions, just wanted to know which one you were asking. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 22 '16 at 20:29
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You have gnolls working with goblins, kobolds, and ogres.

Does the party perhaps have a human, elf, dwarf, and gnome? Because that’s exactly the same level of variety. I’m serious, it can help to think of things in those terms: the “bad guys” can be just as cooperative as the “good guys.”

There’s nothing wrong with this at all. Best is if there is a good reason that they are working together (shared culture/history, or a warlord from among one of the races press-ganging others, or enemies banding together out of desperation, or...), but ultimately the PCs may never learn the reason; you may have just thrown these together because it seemed fun, and the PCs may never even question it and just kill them all, and then the PCs will never learn (and you’ll never have to decide) why they were together to begin with.

But when you notice something in particular about your encounters (or any other part of the setting), it’s good practice to explain it at least to yourself, to have some idea in mind for why things are that way. This will allow you to keep the world more consistent (maybe these particular races are always found living and working together) and/or help to come up with plot hooks (maybe this is very unusual, which leads you to invent some reason why it’s happening, which becomes a situation that the PCs might uncover as they adventure and it gets more revealed).

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you are going to explain it to yourself (and you should) find a way to get that info to the players. "Ah, kobolds," says the PC dwarf "best keep an eye for gnolls, they oft work together." \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Apr 22 '16 at 21:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM: That depends on the type of table you're running, in a not rail-roaded table you don't want to share every single idea you've in your head and instead react to what players decide to investigate. That way you don't have to keep track of books worth of WB xD . \$\endgroup\$ Apr 23 '16 at 13:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidMulder My point is that all DM knowledge should theoretically be discoverable by the players. They may not discover it but if you are making stuff up then that they can't discover, except for whatever pleasure that gives you, it's a waste of time. You also don't have to make this stuff up in advance; my idea for the Kobold/gnolls relationship took about 6 seconds and could have been a response to a player question rather than pre-planned. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Apr 23 '16 at 21:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM: But that's the thing, there is a huge difference between 'giving something enough thought that you can improvise it' and 'giving something enough thought that it is consistent with everything else, especially if everything else is a huge collection of 6 second ideas'. When worldbuilding I might have a million cool ideas, but in the final product (whatever it is) I will only communicate a fraction of those ideas. Although of course communicating everything like for example LOTR did is also a valid choice (and some tables do run like that, it just takes more time and is a bit slower). \$\endgroup\$ Apr 23 '16 at 22:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidMulder I have zero impulse to make my fantasy world consistent given that the real one isn't. Each to his own. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Apr 24 '16 at 1:24
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There are many opinion-based answers possible for this question. For example, in your setting, kobolds and gnolls could have an ancient treaty of cooperation, or ogres could make a habit of capturing and keeping kobold slaves. But there are also mechanical approaches you could use.

Listed associations

The Monster Manual has an Organization line in monster entries. Many monsters have other monsters listed there - for example, kobolds frequently appear alongside dire weasels when they are encountered in large groups. Similarly, gnolls partner up with hyenas and trolls in their organizations. Mind flayers are listed with grimlocks (whom they charm using magic).

Mounts and pets

Humans of antiquity domesticated wolves and horses because wolves and horses hung out in the same places we hang out. If your kobolds hang out around giant badger warrens, they could use Handle Animal to rear and train them as mounts instead of dire weasels. That way, it totally makes sense when they're encountered together.

Slaves and thralls

Many powerful monsters have abilities that allow them to enslave others. Vampires can sire spawn or dominate other creatures to do their bidding. A weak first level goblin sorcerer could use charm person to get an orc chieftain to take him into the tribe. There are all kinds of ways that one creature can magically compel one of a different kind to serve it.

Monsters that work well together

The monsters your PCs are murdering have probably lived in the area for a while, long enough to understand each other's skills. As such, they could have formed symbiotic relationships. For example, monsters such as blues are physically frail but powerful at range. If they live nearby a tribe of ogres and enjoy peaceful relations, the blues could hire ogre bodyguards to guard against threats that like to get up close and personal. When your PCs encounter this combo, it leads to an engaging encounter where two creatures compensate for each other's weaknesses.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I see what you mean. This game is literally the first one I've ever GMed, and as such, it began very randomly. As the game went on, and I began to learn more, I took much more notice of the listed monster associations. That's what began my second guessing of the likelihood of my set up. Next time I'm going to set a story (or at least the backbone of it) much more carefully to reflect better story dynamics. As it is, I feel I'm playing connect the dots, and trying to force some sense into it. Thank you again, very useful. :) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 22 '16 at 20:48
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Unless you are making a strong good-faith attempt to emulate a particular setting (such as playing faithfully in a published RPG like the Forgotten Realms, or trying to emulate a particular series of books or movies you enjoy) then these decisions are largely up to you.

In general, look on this as an opportunity to tell an interesting story, though, rather than something that gets in the way of a story. If you, personally, as a GM, find it unusual that gnolls, kobolds, goblins and ogres are working together and summoning some undead into the mix, then almost by definition it will be unusual in the world you are designing. But "unusual" is an opportunity to describe something "interesting." If these monsters do not normally work together, come up with a reason why they are, of some importance, and let part of the adventure be figuring that out.

Can this sort of thing get too complex? Sure. But you'll find your own level of intricacy through experimentation.

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