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The Monsters Know What They're Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters
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The Monsters Know What They're Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters

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4.41  ·  Rating details ·  701 ratings  ·  97 reviews
From the creator of the popular blog The Monsters Know What They’re Doing comes a compilation of villainous battle plans for Dungeon Masters.

In the course of a Dungeons & Dragons game, a Dungeon Master has to make one decision after another in response to player behavior—and the better the players, the more unpredictable their behavior! It’s easy for even an experienced DM
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Hardcover, 543 pages
Published October 29th 2019 by Gallery / Saga Press
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Arthur Rubi III This book writes its combat tactic suggestions based on the specific ability scores, attacks, and features as given for creatures that appear in the 5…moreThis book writes its combat tactic suggestions based on the specific ability scores, attacks, and features as given for creatures that appear in the 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. For example, in the Goblin section, it references a D&D 5e Goblin's good Dexterity score and poor Constitution score to insinuate that they don't want to get into close combat, and directly references the Goblin's Nimble Escape feature to outline how they'd accomplish this goal.
However, it can still be used for ideas and inspiration, since the way that many monsters are written in 5th edition is common going backwards to previous D&D editions, and may have some applications. Your mileage may vary in other systems since other systems may characterize creatures differently. For example, Orcs in D&D are characterized somewhat differently from Orcs in a Warhammer setting, or Orcs in a Warcraft setting. (less)

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Stewart Tame
Aug 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fun! Yes, I could probably have read at least most of the content on Ammann’s blog for free, but the book was just too cool-looking to resist. I loves me some physical media …

It's intended for use with the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition rules. But there's no reason at least most of the material couldn't be adapted to a previous edition if need be. My own personal take on D&D has always been that the Dungeon Master should feel free to adapt and improvise as necessary to keep the game f
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Eric Smith
Dec 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
BOOM!

This book - and its author - are amazing!

In forty years of gaming, this is the most inspiring, well thought-out, useful, interesting, exciting source book and RPG supplement I've ever seen. Author Keith Ammann isn't terribly forthcoming about his background, but a fierce intelligence shines through every sentence.

He draws from anthropology, military tactics, behavioral psychology, history, and an incredibly deep and broad wellspring of fantasy and mythic literature to lay out his case for
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Mary Catelli
Feb 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
An in-depth analysis of how to fight with D&D monsters.

Sticks faithfully to the stat blocks and flavor text, and to combat. Indeed, some of the discussions brush on what other uses a spell or power might have, but others simply dismiss everything not useful for combat.

Also, all the monsters are assumed to be operating at maximum efficiency. This may be mechanical if they are stupid enough, but on the satyr, he observes they have a cool attack but it's not really effective. As if you could not ea
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Gilbert Stack
Dec 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a revolutionary book about the creatures encountered in the game Dungeons and Dragons and it will appeal to two kinds of people. The first—that includes myself—are people who have years of playing the game under their belt (for many of us mostly in the distant pass) and enjoy nostalgically wandering through key events (like the creatures of the game). For those people, the audiobook may be the ideal method of absorbing the information.

The other group are active Dungeon Masters trying to
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Stephen Simpson
Jun 18, 2022 rated it really liked it
There are a lot of things I really like about this book, but there are also some drawbacks that impact my view of it.

First, it's very much a D&D 5e book. That's the current edition, of course, but it does impact the utility for other systems. Second, the content gets a little repetitive, and I think the author could perhaps have used a combination of text and tables, converting some of the more frequently-occurring text into quick-reference tables to make the text a little fresher from entry to
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Mark Muckerman
Oct 13, 2020 rated it it was ok
I must go with a mixed review on this one, and most of my negatives are centered on readability and usability.

The good: It's complete - written with care, expertise, commitment and "love" by the author. It's spectacularly complete; it's content and insights will absolutely make a committed Dungeon Master better at running encounters and combat, for an overall improved RPG experience. It's laid out well (conceptually) by entity type (non-humans, NPC, etc.), which enhances the usability and logica
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Jeremy Blum
Jul 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I originally didn't think I needed this book, but saw it in a bookstore one day and looked up its advice for some undead creatures in a game I was running later that week. After a quick skim, I decided I needed it. The Monsters Know What They're Doing is for DMs who already have a basic grasp on 5e's stat blocks and want to challenge their players with smarter opponents. Keith provides solid advice to help you get out of the mindset that every battle needs to end in monsters fighting to the deat ...more
Willow H. Wood
Aug 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It took me longer than I would like to admit to realise this is a reference book rather than a sit down and read at length kind of book. It is interesting enough that you could do that! But I got too many books on my list to read a resource cover-to-cover. This is an excellent tool instead. I wish it covered potentially different styles of humanoid races (like tieflings and elves), just to give you ideas that make them distinguishable, because I'm not very good at inventing tactics, but already ...more
LesbianBarista
Jul 10, 2022 rated it it was amazing
This was such a fun read!! It's such a good way to enhance the world for your players by making the combat encounters fit in your world. Very good for the DM's creative spirit, even if combat isn't your campaign's main focus (mine isn't). It allowed the few encounters to feel more real, more dramatic, drastic, more entertaining for the players, and gave me ideas on how to make interactable NPCs that are fleshed out just through combat. Must read for DMs! ...more
jedioffsidetrap
Jan 09, 2020 rated it liked it
Browsed this book out of nostalgia, looking up some of old fave creatures: Beholders, Shambling Mounds, Githyanki, Xorn, Owlbears, Bulettes, Umber Hulks... heh heh. Great title!
Mitchell
Fantastic reference book. But hard to read straight through. I got pretty far before returning this to the library. I expect I'll buy this for my kindle. ...more
Brian Wilkerson
Feb 15, 2022 rated it it was amazing
So many monsters, so many choices, how does a Dungeon Master know what to do? They could read all the stats in the Monster Manual, crunch all the numbers, and brainstorm all the possible tactics for both practicality purposes and roleplay purposes, and then keep all that information handy for their sessions. Or they could read this book and follow its advice.

This is a third-play supplement for Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition, and it is designed to help DMs run monster encounters in their ses
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Rob Marney
Feb 14, 2020 rated it liked it
Great, easily readable advice on how to make monsters behave realistically. Unfortunately, the book is laid out like a reference manual, so all the advice is repeated about ten times (once for each applicable monster), in addition to the introduction that explains how to make these judgments for yourself based on a few simple rules. Because everything is laid out per monster, the author also feels the need to include things that are obvious for completeness' sake, resulting in a lot of tips like ...more
Chris
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
So I'm saying that I'm finished, but alas, I am not. This book is awesome for what I've read so far though! Let me explain by saying that this is a personalized reference book written by someone that has been a GM for a LONG TIME, runs a blog powered by personal experience and the experience of GMs from all over the world, and therefore, he understands the ins and outs of reading CR Rating, spells, and creature stats; through this data, he translates the numbers into personality or a modus opera ...more
Leah
Sep 16, 2022 rated it really liked it
This is a pretty good primer for what it is. As an introduction to battle tactics for roleplaying games, it's nice and it's well laid out for new DMs.

If there were some things I'd take issue with, here they are: it's pretty repetitive, for one thing. You get a lot of the same advice for some of the monsters. Quite a bit of it boils down to "do you know how a predator works?" Some of it would have been better served by streamlining things into some tables (simple, quick checks like, how injured a
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Mighty Sea
Sep 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
A strange but very well thought out book for the Dungeons & Dragons Role Playing Game. Keith Ammann clearly has a very wide range of interests that he has brought to the table to create plausible motivations and attack styles for the whole roster of D&D monsters. If you are looking for help making more engaging combats than just charge in and fight to the death, then this book is for you. Even veteran gamemasters will find a lot of thought provoking material.

I don't agree with everything Keith p
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Gene Parish
Apr 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I recently listened to The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters written by Kieth Ammann and narrated by Kevin T. Collins.

This book is written as a bit of an instructional guide for Dungeon Masters of Dungeons and Dragons 5E. While this book is specific to this edition of the popular game commonly known as D&D, it’s principles of considering monster stats, abilities, and lore combine to give one a guide for running monsters in any combat oriented RPG system. He use
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George
Jun 11, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Now, I don't usually give out five star reviews, and this book isn't literature, at least in the traditional sense, so I'm not comparing it with The Brothers Karamazov, the Aeneid, or Pride and Prejudice. For what this book is and what it is supposed to be it is perfect. The author has some meme tier opinions about politics and religion, but I didn't pick up this book to think about politics or religion, I picked it up so I can be a better DM and, on that, this book delivers perfectly.
Essentiall
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Luke Stacks
Jul 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Extremely helpful guidebook to running monsters in 5th edition dungeons and dragons. Although the monster entries can be somewhat repetitive, that is more of a fault of DnD's design than the author. Ammann has plenty of good ideas for spicing up combat with unique terrain, and provides detailed review of the always-challenging rules. Ammann sometimes interprets the rules as written with a bloody-minded literalism that in my opinion runs against the spirit of the game, but he's consistent.

Also: a
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Andy Horton
Nov 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really interesting and useful DM's guide to every monster in the Monster Manual. Ammann looks at stats, abilities and descriptions, and extrapolates both effective combat tactics and - for me more interestingly - plausible behaviours for them in encounters.
Great use of the stats to justify how much DM knowledge it is fair to apply in e.g. choice of target and in suggesting how sophisticated their tactics will be, but also looks at motivations.
This could have been dry but is leavened by some enga
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Blaze
May 05, 2022 rated it really liked it
This is not a book I would recommend to anyone who either does not plan on running (or playing) a Dungeons and Dragons game or does not just nerd out about role-playing game stuff. I suppose one could kind of split the difference if one were planning on writing a book and needed some ideas for how monsters would act in a fight.

In any case, this was a fun book for me because I am a recovering tabletop gamer and this worked well as a little taste of what some good old D&D combat would be like as r
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Guina Guina
May 05, 2022 rated it really liked it
This is not a book I would recommend to anyone who either does not plan on running (or playing) a Dungeons and Dragons game or does not just nerd out about role-playing game stuff. I suppose one could kind of split the difference if one were planning on writing a book and needed some ideas for how monsters would act in a fight.

In any case, this was a fun book for me because I am a recovering tabletop gamer and this worked well as a little taste of what some good old D&D combat would be like as r
...more
Nathan
Apr 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book has fantastic content for a DM, and really made me think about the expansive opportunities for adding challenge to combat. In particular, reading the stats and what they relay about tactics really got me thinking, as well as the opportunity to think beyond the abilities listed (when to grapple, shove, disengage, etc).

One thing I wish the book had was a more through discussion of tactics in general, but through the many examples you do arrive at that knowledge for the most part.

I reco
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Matthew
Nov 08, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a really hard book to rate. It isn't a book of stories or any narrative really. It is a collection of blog posts that provide a description/recommendation on how to run each monster in D&D. On that front this book is very successful. The insight and writing is very well put together and I really learned quite a bit on how to approach encounters.

The real complaint I have with this book is the formatting and layout. This is really a reference book. Unfortunately, the layout and formatting
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Ciaran
Feb 13, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Really interesting, definitely gave a different view on things, and is something I think is worth reading if you ever play DnD, especially when running monster encounters. We often don't think about what the creatures would or wouldn't do, or how their biology and out of combat skills affect their tactics, which is something that should be considered more. It provides a more unique experience for you and your players, and even though they might hate the book for making combat way more difficult ...more
Beau Raines
Feb 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you play Dungeons and Dragons, whether you're the DM or not, this is a great book to read. The author has evaluated the monsters, their stats and actions, and shows you what the monster would do.

If you're a numbers nerd, it all about the probabilistic expected value of the attack. I'd you're planning an adventure, it gives flavor to your encounters, because everything isn't going to be "rah, rah, smash, smash."

A lot of the material comes from his blog, The Monsters Know What They're Doing htt
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Ogre
Nov 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Often very insightful, but he really gets hung up on stats over type of monster, assuming that low wisdom will never choose opponents or that low intelligence will never use disengage or that darkvision automatically implies underground or nocturnal only (hint: it doesn't.)

That said, this is a useful TOOL, but certainly don't use it as your only source of how enemies should behave in combat in D&D. Monsters are FAR more than their stats, and forgetting that leads to very forgettable encounters.
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Mark
Nov 22, 2020 rated it liked it
A book that advises DM's to annoy their players by having monsters use hit-and-run tactics, stealth, or just plain teleport away with all your loot. It's very D&D 5e specific, with entries for that version's various beasties, but easily generalizable to other RPGs.

The advice is indeed pretty sound, as it makes the simple but easy to overlook point that each monster comes with a personality that will play to its strengths. So encounters should not all feel like similar exercises in dice rolling w
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Paul
Apr 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I read this as an audiobook. It was around 25 hours.

Being a reference book, it felt tedious at times, however you can't skim through it easily so I ended up listening to each and every monster tactic in the 5e manual.

This is good stuff for newbies and veterans alike. Much makes sense if you take the time to think it out, but the author already took that time and has excellent grasp of 5e rules and monsters.

I think it is worth having on hand in print for easy consultation, but I do not regret the
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Robert Dennis
Jun 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
If you play 5E D&D this book is a 5 star keeper and is a must own. Just the number crunching alone on monster damage and strategy is worth the price of admission. However I am not one of those people (I play 2nd edition and 3.5/Pathfinder) and the book doesn't really illuminate much for a DM of another rule system. I did get a few fun role play ideas from the ideas Mr. Ammann sets forth but in the end for any experienced DM outside of 5E this is a bathroom read and little else. For a beginning D ...more
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