How to be a Rat Bastard DM

The following information was originally posted on the forums at the Wizards of the Coast web site in a thread where a DM wanted to know how he could toughen up his game, on how he could, in his words, become a Rat Bastard DM. Here is my reply to his post:


To truly become a RBDM you need to turn it into a game of Me vs. Them. But, you have to remember that "Me" is not you as the DM. "Me" is you as the monsters. You need to give the monsters the intelligence that they have. You need to play them realistically and play them with the intent to kill the adventurers (again, that is the monsters have the intent to kill the characters not that you have the intent to kill the characters). For example, make sure that dungeons are not spread out so that monsters can easily sound the alarm and call in reinforcements. Have monsters wandering the dungeon because they would do such a thing as they go about their daily activities such as eating or working or going to see friends. No adventuring group would get far in a real dungeon before they were discovered (or before the bodies they left behind were discovered). A monster finding some of his comrades/friends slaughtered will sound the alarm. A monster hearing some of his comrades/friends fighting intruders in the next room will sound the alarm. And once the alarm sounds you can bet that the entire dungeon will turn out in force to slow down/stop the intruders while the women and children make for the escape tunnels. If you start to play this way you can easily have orcs be a challenge for 10th level characters. (If you try this style I suggest that you put your maps on a cork board and use pins to represent the various monsters in each room and move the pins in reaction to the characters.)

Also remember that most monsters won't fight to the death. Intelligent monsters (even the lesser intelligent ones like orcs and goblins) know when they are losing and will try to flee to fight another day. Additionally, monsters will have a relative idea as to how good they are. 6 orcs hiding on a hill spying upon 6 people are smart enough to determine if those 6 people are commoners or adventurers. Those 6 orcs are not stupid enough to go toe to toe with 6 adventurers. They would probably only attack with a minimum of 3-to-2 odds. I don't think orcs are smart enough to accurately judge how powerful the adventurers are but they are smart enough to know that even up odds is a quick way to get killed. Orcs and similarly intelligent creatures would know the difference between fighter types and spell casters, but the orcs would see the fighter types as being the bigger threat.

More intelligent monsters would probably be able to judge who the bigger threat was: the fighter types or the spell casters. Really high intelligent monsters would be able to judge which individuals were the bigger threat. And remember that most monsters with at least animal intelligence would be smart enough to study their "prey" before attacking. Lions stalk their prey trying to find the weakest animal in the herd. Don't you think a group of orcs, if they had the time and opportunity, would study a group of adventurers to size them up?

Also, how have certain species managed to survive in this world? The way a lot of DM's play monsters (as in fighting to the death and living in easily invaded dungeons and hiding in their rooms waiting to die) most of these species would have long since become extinct. Figure out how and why they've survived and use that knowledge.

The most important aspect is to play with the intent to kill! Most monsters will do everything in their power to kill the "evil" adventurers who are invading their home or snooping around their lair because those monsters have friends, loved ones, family, and hard earned money to protect. They will play for keeps. They will kill the adventurers. And, if they are unable to kill, they will flee and find another way to kill them or count their lucky stars.

Give every monster as much consideration as you would an NPC. I'm not saying to stat out every single monster as if it were an NPC, but when you create an NPC you are aware of its strengths and weaknesses and seek to maximize the one and minimize the others. Monsters deserve the same consideration. Monsters shouldn't just reside in your world. They need to live in your world.

Play monsters realistically and with the intelligence that "Gygax" imbued them with and you can easily become a RBDM who provides a game that is extremely realistic, extremely challenging, and extremely fun. I would caution, though, that this style of play does not go over well with immature players.


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