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5E Monster Tactics: Avoiding Fireballs

Do Intelligent Monsters Like Orcs Take Area of Effect Spells Into Account, Tactically?

  • Of course, it is a magical world!

    Votes: 12 25.0%
  • Some do, some don't.

    Votes: 33 68.8%
  • Only in rare instances or due to specific circumstances.

    Votes: 3 6.3%
  • Never or very rarely; they are just orcs, after all.

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
    48

Reynard

Legend
This came up in another thread and I thought we could discuss it a little more deeply.

The core question is: do your intelligent humanoid opponents -- we'll use orcs, since that was the inciting instance -- know that they may face fireball slinging opponents, and therefore adjust their tactics so as not to all get caught in one so long as the terrain and situation allow it?

More broadly, in your games, do you have intelligent enemies know about, plan for and counter spell casters on the battlefield? Do you pick and choose which kind of enemies are likely to do so based on their stats? Alignment? Who is leading them? How "special" are the PCs from a demographic standpoint, and does that impact enemy tactics? IS the world you run the game in magical enough that everyday soldiers are trained to avoid area of effects (like we train soldiers to not bunch up to reduce casualties from grenades)?
 

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dave2008

Legend
It depends on the campaign setting. Generally I would answer yes; however, in my current campaign world magic is very rare. Therefore, people and intelligent monsters do not generally assume they will be confronted with magic. So unless they have some prior knowledge, they are not likely to use "defense against magic" tactics until they know there is a spell caster involved.
 
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In general, yes...though setting parameters might supersede that.

In a setting like Eberron, which is High Magic and has a long history of war, absolutely yes.
Same for the Forgotten Realms.
Everbody in Ravinica, expects a Fireball spell to go off at any moment, so big Yes!

A race like Orcs, that is routinely depicted as frequently fighting:
Surface Elves, Drow, Dwarves, and Hobgoblins is going to be at least familiar with big explosions, killing half the tribe.

An isolated Lizard Man tribe, that has never encountered any other humanoids in their swamp homeland....probably not.

In a low magic world....it might make thematic sense if Orcs, maybe even humans, might not be familiar with fireball.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
It's going to depend on the monster, the scenario and the awareness of the enemy.

If you have a massive army, they're going to be bunched up just because of numbers. May well be the same if they aren't really aware of the enemy or their capability. They may just be uncoordinated or funneled for various reasons. They may be risking bunching up because they're taking a defensive position and there are other threats.

In my campaign fireball (and other AOE effects) are common enough that it's a known tactic. Especially if the group has enough renown that their reputation precedes them. Higher level monsters are more likely to take counter measures as they are more likely to have seen this tactic.

It's also a reasonably common tactic at mid-to-high levels that if the monsters are on the offensive that they'll send in disposable troops to trigger the casters. Not only does that use up resources, it also puts a target on the back of the caster.
 

dave2008

Legend
It is also worth noting that many pack hunters already use tactics that effectively spread out the attackers. A lion pride or wolf pack doesn't typical attack in one large mob for example.
 

It's really setting dependent. In my Greyhawk intelligent creature know that spellcasters can do all kinds of horrible things, but they don't know anything specific unless they have a decent Intelligence and/or Arcana skill (or have survived a specific spell in the past). They may know that mages can fling fire that blows up an area, but they don't know the range or area of effect. What they don't know is if they're even facing a spellcaster, nor likely the difference between a bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, warlock, or wizard.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
It's really setting dependent. In my Greyhawk intelligent creature know that spellcasters can do all kinds of horrible things, but they don't know anything specific unless they have a decent Intelligence and/or Arcana skill (or have survived a specific spell in the past). They may know that mages can fling fire that blows up an area, but they don't know the range or area of effect. What they don't know is if they're even facing a spellcaster, nor likely the difference between a bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, warlock, or wizard.
But it doesn't have to be just fireball. There are a lot of monsters that have breath weapons or other AOE attacks. Heck, even a lowly sleep spell cast at the right time could be pretty detrimental.
 

atanakar

Hero
Intelligent monsters often have shamans in their culture. So, yes they take AOEs seriously because their shaman uses AOE spells against other humanoid tribes.
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
Supporter
Campaign dependent. Ultimately, that isn't something you derive from other factors; how you choose to display this is a strong tool to demonstrate exactly how magic works in your setting.
 


DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
The magic system in D&D is built and set up from a game perspective for a small group of adventurers. The system is not designed with plausibility in the game world from a narrative perspective.

In other words... the game does not work as a simulation for military conflicts within a living, breathing world. If it did... if the living, breathing world was known to have spellcasters within armies that could throw Fireballs up to 150 feet at opposing forces each and every round for several rounds at a time... the living, breathing world would have already done the magical research necessary to defend said forces from those spells at an applicable spell level-- probably via larger 'protection from energy' type umbrellas or shield defenses.

The game does not include these types of defensive military combat spells because the assumption is the small group of adventurers will protect themselves via magic items or individualize protection spells. But to think that a magical military world would not do the requisite R&D necessary to protect thousands of foot soldiers from conflagration due to the rain of dozens of fireballs every round is silly.

It's the same exact reason why medieval city and castle construction would never have actually proliferated in any magical D&D type world the way we play it. When elementals, giants, rocs, dragons etc. etc. etc. can all walk over, walk through, fly over, or out-and-out destroy walls and stonework with ease... no society would ever build or defend their cities or residences in the way real-world medieval society did. Everything would be magically generated and built and protected to withstand oversized kaiju creatures or spellcasters who are able to shape/destroy the defenses we take for granted in the real-world.
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
Supporter
Those don't seem mutually exclusive.
Not sure what you mean. How high or low level magic is in a setting is ultimately a world-building decision. You use that to determine how you play the monsters.

What you're really trying to determine here is how widespread magic is in the setting, and if the knowledge of its working is something that even uncivilized creatures would understand how to counter.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
The magic system in D&D is built and set up from a game perspective for a small group of adventurers. The system is not designed with plausibility in the game world from a narrative perspective.

In other words... the game does not work as a simulation for military conflicts within a living, breathing world. If it did... if the living, breathing world was known to have spellcasters within armies that could throw Fireballs up to 150 feet at opposing forces each and every round for several rounds at a time... the living, breathing world would have already done the magical research necessary to defend said forces from those spells at an applicable spell level-- probably via larger 'protection from energy' type umbrellas or shield defenses.

The game does not include these types of defensive military combat spells because the assumption is the small group of adventurers will protect themselves via magic items or individualize protection spells. But to think that a magical military world would not do the requisite R&D necessary to protect thousands of foot soldiers from conflagration due to the rain of dozens of fireballs every round is silly.

It's the same exact reason why medieval city and castle construction would never have actually proliferated in any magical D&D type world the way we play it. When elementals, giants, rocs, dragons etc. etc. etc. can all walk over, walk through, fly over, or out-and-out destroy walls and stonework with ease... no society would ever build or defend their cities or residences in the way real-world medieval society did. Everything would be magically generated and built and protected to withstand oversized kaiju creatures or spellcasters who are able to shape/destroy the defenses we take for granted in the real-world.
How many high level casters are there? Yes, the 2-3 fireballs per day might make a bit of a dent in an army, potentially taking out 40-some low level troops with each casting. But the spell is also line of sight which means that the moment a wizard casts the spell they open themselves up to a volley of arrows.

What defense would you need other than a few dozen archers at the ready? It's not like a single wizard is going to take out more than a few dozen troops. If casters are common enough that they can make a difference against an army then odds are the attacking army will also have casters with counterspell at the ready.

Most giants could do a significant amount of damage to castle walls. Just like all sorts of siege equipment from catapults to trebuchets could. Except those siege engines are probably more difficult to "kill" and have greater ranges.

Yes a kaiju could show up. So? There's one tarrasque and it is supposed to be the equivalent of a nuclear war. I also think there would be the equivalent of anti-aircraft guns (anti-dragon ballista?) which is something I add to my world. If elementals, etc, are common enough then it's a pretty high fantasy world and there will likely be powerful NPCs to counter them.

Beyond that, I personally do assume magical defenses that are not necessarily in the book. This was more of an issue in previous editions when a rock to mud spell could take out a castle from a distance, but just because spells aren't explicitly spelled out in the PHB does not mean that it does not exist. Spells in the book are just spells appropriate to adventurers, spells that for the most part can be cast in a matter of seconds.

Last but not least ... D&D isn't a reality simulator. Shocking, I know.
 

Reynard

Legend
Not sure what you mean. How high or low level magic is in a setting is ultimately a world-building decision. You use that to determine how you play the monsters.

What you're really trying to determine here is how widespread magic is in the setting, and if the knowledge of its working is something that even uncivilized creatures would understand how to counter.
What I meant us you CAN derive the answers from what's in the books and use that to inform your world building.

What 5e left up to the DM that 3.x tried to codify is the demographics of classes characters, which means how common any given setting element is depends entirely on the given campaign. Dragonborn might be a playable race, for example, but from a world building perspective it matters quite a lot whether they are widespread with nations and empires of their own, or whether they exist in a single shangri la with a population of a few hundred.

As it relates to the question at hand, going off the core books as written, I think the implicit setting is high enough magic that even orcs have casters among them and know that such enemies are likely to exist. If they are raiding a target or facing an enemy they would suspect of having casters among the enemy, they would certainly use tactics that both tried to mitigate the damage potentially done by those casters and also eliminate them as quickly as possible.

In other words, if a small group of heavily armed vagabonds come advancing toward the orc stronghold, the orcs are going to aim for the holy symbols and pointy hats first.
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
Supporter
What I meant us you CAN derive the answers from what's in the books and use that to inform your world building.
Ahh, my apologies. That's completely orthogonal to my interests so I'll leave you to it.
 





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