Game masters tend to be master tacticians skilled at precise maneuvering of their monsters, and then timing every attack, and every spell, so precisely as to exploit every weakness in the players party. Some players eat this up; all the added stress of the monster bypassing what they thought was the perfect repertoire of skills, feats and defenses makes them sweat. I, in particular, like to see this style of play when encountering the “Big Bad” that has been orchestrating the raising of the dead in the local cemetery.
Here though, I have seen many a great GM falter, as they play every monster the same. The lowly orc attacks, and drops a PC to unconsciousness, and then steps over the PC, essentially standing on top of the body so no one can get to the dying character in time without risk of being attacked. At the end of the battle, the players think, wow that was tough. The next combat is with a zombie and the zombie does the same maneuver the orc did; later a spider does the same. The players clue in and the next game every PC has reach weapons or every PC gives up on ranged weapons, because combat always starts too close or the monsters all fight in the same way.
I say orcs may attack and stand over a PC if they have superior numbers and there is some leader type in the room, ordering them to do so. Zombies should attack randomly after a PC drops or maybe stop fighting, and start eating. Spiders may attack, and drop a victim and drag that person away. Monsters should behave like PCs from time to time, some should charge forward, and some should stay back, some are brave and some are cowardly. Hold all your cool GM skills for the battle with the “Big Bad” but don’t forget that some “Big Bads” can make mistakes under pressure and you should give the players the opportunity to see the weakness of their opponent, maybe at the moment when the players are thinking all is lost, and “this beast is going to cream us”, and then suddenly the it turns and runs, or does something that the players can exploit to win the day or at least get out alive. The most important part is to mix it up, and make the combat entertaining and challenging, but never the same.
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