[RPG] How to have enemies that use tactics while also making sure that the encounter is fun for all players


I am currently running a 5e game for a party of 5 players (level 3).

I tend to make my enemies use tactics. My encounters involving a large number of low-CR enemies tend to have roles (so a tank, some snipers, some hit-and-runners) and positioning (so the snipers hide and have cover and so on). Intelligent enemies focus fire on the most dangerous opponent, who is almost always going to be the wizard (or at least, as the enemies will guess). Even for unintelligent enemies, they will still gang up on one player at a time, because they have no reason to do so otherwise. If it's predator animals, they will finish off the already wounded to prevent their prey from fleeing.

The only exception thus far is mindless enemies who attack completely randomly, but these encounters are not common.

I have noticed a repeated pattern in all my encounters: the targeted player goes down in 1 or 2 rounds. Even though they have no trouble staying alive, I'm still worried that the downed player is not having fun for the rest of the encounter, and that this scenario is getting repetitive.

I have already tried making more varied combat encounters with goals other than killing all enemies. For example, a recent encounter involved the players having an object to protect while the enemies attempted to damage the object. The wizard cast a spell and since some spells can invalidate certain enemy tactics (and even enemies who don't know magic fear magic), all enemies decided to take out the wizard first then damage the object, resulting in the wizard getting downed almost immediately after.

Even though my players have not complained about this, I would still like to learn ways in which I can diversify enemy tactics.

Question: how do I design encounters in which the enemies have a reason not to focus fire on one character, downing the character in the first or second round and making the rest of the fight boring for the player whose character got downed ?

EDIT: In this world, wizards are rare and generally speaking spellcasters are feared more than martials by people in general. So even a group of disorganised enemies with no plan will still focus fire on the wizard. As for focusing fire on other classes, this does happen, and even if the targeted is less squishy than the wizard, they still get downed.

Best Answer

Monsters aren't perfect

. . . so don't play them that way. The PCs make mistakes, so should the monsters.

In any battle, from a street fight to the Battle of Endor, mistakes will be made. The PCs make mistakes, the monsters should make 'em, too. And plenty of them.

You've mentioned that some monsters are smarter than others. Some should also have better (or worse) leadership, communication, discipline, and organization.

These are lessons I've learned from my own DMing.

Don't give the monsters a sky general

It is tempting to view the monsters' side of the fight as if you are playing chess, surveying the board and moving each piece as part of a strategic whole. By doing so, you are giving the monsters an intangible omniscient general in the sky, who knows every monster and PC perfectly and has complete knowledge of the battlefield.

Instead, give the monsters whatever leader they have (or none), and make that leader make imperfect decisions with the available information. Some monsters, like hobgoblins, are likely to have pretty good leadership, others, less so.

Monsters can have command and control problems

Just because a monster leader wants everyone to attack the wizard, that doesn't mean they are going to be able to successfully communicate that. Sometimes communications fail in the heat of battle. Sometimes the order 6 seconds ago made sense but now it doesn't. Sometimes a monster leader misperceives a situation and gives the wrong order.

Monsters have imperfect knowledge

Monsters should have imperfect knowledge. Each monster is only seeing the world from its own perspective. A single monster usually can't see the whole battlefield, and it might be too busy with its own attack and defense to pay attention to all the details anyway. And even disciplined monsters should have the perspective of self-preservation. If someone is all up in their face with a sharp sword, that might be more important than that dude waving his hands over there.

Monsters make mistakes and errors in judgement

Just like PCs. They don't know how many hit points the PCs have. They don't know how hard the PCs hit. A monster may take a hit and erroneously assess that its life is in danger, but perhaps the PC got a in a near-maximum damage hit and is unlikely to score another similar one. The monster doesn't know that.

Monsters can have conflicting goals

The monsters should have conflicting goals. Not every monster is on board with Team Monster. Some of them might just grab some loot and head for the hills. Some are braver than others. Some would rather take advantage of the fog of battle and knife a companion in the back than face the PCs. And, of course, some are competent, motivated, and goal-driven, but not all.