When I was younger I thought my dog Coppernicus (“Copper”) was about as dumb a canine as could be.
He was way too excited to be inside regularly and would get tangled in the posts of the back porch all the time (note: we made him a carpeted, insulated, heated dog house).
Turns out I was wrong.
Apparently my dad once took some lunchmeat and left it out of Copper’s tangled reach, then went inside. Copper barked for a while, then my dad shut off the kitchen light and moved back to the hallway. My dog barked a few more times then looked around to make sure nobody was watching before untangling himself to retrieve said treat.
I was stunned. Copper was [he passed away some time ago; I am positive he’s humping his heart out in doggy heaven -MM] a stupid dog that humped everything and ate linoleum; that clever little pooch tricked me!
What on earth does this have to do with tabletop gaming?
My dog was using tactics.
All by himself. With no impetus other than to get attention, so not even with the kind of fervor or drive you’d expect from say, a wounded dire bear or starving wolverine.
More importantly, he showed a genuine understanding of his surroundings; Copper didn’t just trick me, he did it using terrain.
Don’t forget about using the land around creatures; whether you declare that the wolf knows it is on higher ground or not, take advantage of terrain features when using combat because as I’ve learned, even less intelligent animals can do so effectively.
For sake of ease, here are some examples of how a creature with relatively little intelligence (1 or 2) might reasonably make use of their surroundings in combat:
- A pack of wolves has learned that some high-hanging brush proves bothersome to taller creature, and attempt to draw their opponents into it.
- Treat the brush as difficult terrain for other Medium sized creatures that grants 50% concealment to all wolves and characters of Small size
- Lumbering through the woods, a particularly gluttonous dire bear has found several meals after accidentally knocking down larger trees onto unsuspecting (and otherwise unnoticed) prey.
- Starting from 60 feet away, give PCs Spot/Perception checks to notice the bear before asking for Reflex saves (DC 15 for half damage; 4d6 bludgeoning) as it knocks a tree down onto them to begin combat.
- A feral deinonychus lairs within a deep cave; more than one unsuspecting explorer has wandered into its home and after several such encounters, the reptile has learned that taking away a light source ensures its victory.
- After briefly assaulting an opponent and then fleeing within the cave, the dinosaur will perform the same to anyone that follows it, attacking whomever carries the light before running once more into the darkness, hoping to corner someone who does not benefit from low-light vision.
- In the mountainous regions a wolverine has unknowingly mastered an extremely brutal version of the game King of the Hill with other, lesser predators.
- Attacking the PCs in a rocky gorge, this wolverine makes use of a sloped pathway covered by boulders. The creature always moves to keep the higher ground, gaining a +1 to AC and attack rolls with the advantage in height.
- After being attacked by countless adventurers using ranged weapons, a fierce dire tiger has realized that its jaws can easily snap a bowstring or pry the weapon away. More experienced combatants came to the fore and have fallen to the jungle predator as well, though now it can recognize the scent of spell components and knows exactly how dangerous they are.
- Rather than make an attack on a creature using a ranged weapon, the great cat attempts to sunder bowstrings or disarm archers before closing in for the kill. Should anyone cast a spell using material components, however, they will quickly find themselves targeted by the dire tiger until they’ve divested themselves of said items.
Remember: it’s your game and it’s up to you to decide just how intelligently creatures fight. As I described above, even the most innocuous, dumbest (albeit happiest-looking) canine can be surprisingly canny.
Don’t be afraid to really challenge your players by taking advantage of flanking, creatively using terrain and performing more complex combat maneuvering than, “the beast charges forward and attacks you!”
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