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The Friendly Monster

One of Ed Greenwood’s “Forging the Realms” articles talked about how monsters could be ‘friendly’ towards PCs. Such friendly monsters can include dragons, goblins, or other beings that feed information and quests to PCs, that provide warnings, or that even give up quests after the monster is slain and the PCs are asked to avenge the monster’s death.

The conclusion of the article contains particularly good advice. Greenwood writes:

In my home campaign, many more Friendly Monsters are still active or waiting in the wings, their adventure hooks yet unsnagged, but my players have learned one lesson very well down the years: Attacking a “monster” on sight without talking to it first is all too often a bad career decision.

And that is the essential takeaway from Friendly Monsterdom: that monsters are so much more than foes to be slaughtered in combat. They are powerful local inhabitants who can spur adventures, serve as the colorful supporting cast of NPCs, and even become allies.

If, that is, the DM manages, by deft use of Friendly Monsters, to make players regard monsters as much more than enemies to be slain for their treasure. First, the idea of having various ‘hooks’ waiting until activated resonates with me, in part because I spend a few minutes most days thinking up new ‘things’ that could someday appear in the world. They tend to be linked to campaign settings in some specific way. If the day’s ‘thing’ is a magic item, then who has it? What are they doing with it? And what’s the item’s history? Such background means that I know where it is, why, and how the PCs could hear about it or cross paths with it. More often than not they simply hear about the ‘thing’ in question but never pursue it because other adventures or interests call. But sometimes it changes the course of the adventure but that’s fine, because I have enough preparation done for the ‘thing’ in question that I can wing it for the session and do more robust prep for the following game.

Second, I think that figuring out the motivations of monsters means that they behave in much more interesting ways. There are often complaints that PCs operate as ‘roving murder hobos’ but don’t many monsters behave as collective murderous hordes without clearly defined rationales, expectations, dreams, or desires as well? In effect, I’m saying that DMs are well advised to move beyond  one dimensional “kill and get stuff” motives and, instead, determine why the monsters want stuff, and from whom they want to take things, and what drives them to act they way they are, at the time they are. And, with motives scoped out, it’s possible that a ‘friendly’ enemy can transform from a pure antagonist to a more complicated NPC and bring out interesting role-play opportunities.

But what if your PCs are the ‘stab first, second, and last, and only ask questions (through arcane or divine magics) of the departed’s spirit to find the loot’ kinds of parties? Well, Greenwood offers a nice way of ‘teaching’ the PCs that there are other ways to behave. Specifically, he writes:

The Knights burst into the bedchamber of a beautiful drow priestess. Caught unarmed and alone, she strolled to a decanter surrounded by wine glasses, looked around at all the glittering blades menacing her, started to pour glass after glass, and asked, “Aren’t we at least going to talk, before you slay me?”

Into the silence that followed, she held out a filled glass to the nearest Knight, and added, “After all, there are so many things I could warn you about.”

Now, four game years later, she and the Knights are friendly enemies who visit or send word to each other often. She warns them of threats to Shadowdale because it’s in her interest to do so. They correctly suspect that she often overstates a situation to get them to attack a particular threat at a particular time, when removal of that threat will benefit her, but say nothing, seeing it as the price of enjoying her “early warning system.”

The Knights have become veterans, but even a novice band of adventurers should begin to see that the Realms holds far more such “Scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” relationships than it does wars.

It’s possible that, even after repeatedly trying to get the PCs to talk more, and stab less, that they continue to just stab and magic their way through things. That’s ok. Just make sure that the friendly monsters learn of the dangerous murder hobos that are roving the world…and plan to remove such threats accordingly. It can turn into an interesting game of orcs killing for the greater good of all! And who knows who those orcs might partner with if they are suitably motivated to stop the murder hobos threatening the region!