Lessons from Randy Maxwell #3: Friendly Monsters

This is part of a series of posts about what I learned from my first issue of Dungeon Magazine. For the whole series, click here.
"Monsters in the dungeon that aren't evil? You've gotta be kidding me! Everything in the dungeon is supposed to be evil! If it isn't evil, it should at least be mindless and want to eat my character!"
In my early days of DMing, everything in the Monster Manual was an opponent for the PCs. Sure, I knew that there were monsters in the Monster Manual that had good and neutral alignments, but I never really roleplayed any of that out. If a monster was considered "good," and the PCs entered its lair, it would still defend its lair by attacking. I'm sure the PCs probably killed their fair share of good guys, but they didn't know any better. They were exploring, and every time something moved, they needed to roll for initiative.

There are two groups of "monsters" in Shards of the Day that, while they do live in the "dungeon," are actually potential allies for the PCs. It was while reading this adventure that I finally saw the light and started offering opportunities for diplomacy.

The first potential ally is the svirfneblin (deep gnomes). Living in a city overrun with kuo-toa, mind flayers, drow, trolls, and other menaces, these little guys aren't the trusting type. However, there are opportunities to rescue various gnomes from different places in the city, and each of the rescued prisoners can vouch for the PCs.
The second is the myconids (mushroom people), who are actually somewhat menacing in their first description but are peaceful as long as the PCs don't attack their zombies.

Between the two, the PCs should establish at least one ally in the city, which provides important opportunities for both the party and for the DM:

  • A safe place to rest in the dungeon
  • A place to purchase supplies without returning to the surface
  • Hint providers for the DM to nudge the PCs in the right direction
  • Believable saviors if the dice go badly and the DM wants to play the deus ex machina card to keep the adventure going
These are all advantages of friendly monsters that I've used in every campaign since reading this adventure. Of course, not every dungeon can have someone friendly, but when it can be worked into the story and/or setting believably, I try to use it every time.

Lessons Learned:
  • Not every monster is an opponent
  • Monsters are not just for combat
  • Good guys in the dungeon can be quite useful from both a PC and DM perspective
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