A lot of the Air Force courses I’ve attended include lessons about the importance of setting goals in order to succeed.
Today, we’ll talk about setting goals in your tabletop game. But we’re not talking about incorporating player goals into your campaign (that will probably be another post). We’re talking about giving goals to your monsters!
Everyone needs a goal in life, even your fangorious gelatinous monster. (Okay, maybe not everyone.)
In a tabletop game, your players’ characters are probably going to spend a lot of time fighting against a host of sentient creatures. They may be not be the brightest creatures, they may be evil through and through, they may be tools of some higher villain. But they will have objectives and goals they are trying to achieve.
Make your combat about those goals instead of about the monsters themselves.
Let’s face it, the “kill everything burn everything and die trying” monster makes very little sense. Villains have their own interests, their own purposes. Usually, they have some decent or even good motive that has been twisted around or blown out of proportion into a terrible evil.
“Sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet… and it’s remarkable how like an egg is the human skull.”
Your villains’ minions need not line up like a Revolutionary War battle and march to their deaths in the hopes of defeating the heroes. Setting up a fight with no goal means setting up a long, drawn-out slugfest where the two sides try to bring their enemies to zero hit points. Yawn.
Give the monster team a reason to fight. You can speed up combat and you can make the combat matter to the story. Double win!
Perhaps they simply have to delay the heroes from an objective. They can capture or kill particular innocents or valuable NPCs. They can hold a position or activate some magic artifact or complete a ritual. They can make off with a critical object, or damage a strategic location.
“Good job, heroes… you slew fifty goblins but failed to stop the saboteur who destroyed the bridge. Now our army is stuck on this side of the river while the city is under attack.”
When you do this, mindless evil can have a place in such a setting. It stands out precisely because it has no plan, no motive, no ‘higher’ purpose than carnage and destruction. It can be the enemy that simply has to be brought to zero health, something that has to be put down. And then that combat goal tells a story different from all the others, instead of every combat feeling exactly the same.
So, what does the big bad evil guy (or girl, or gelatinous monster) want? Give your villains some goals. Your heroes will thank you for it.