For years, Keith Ammann has maintained his blog, The Monsters Know What They're Doing, in which he carefully laid out the logical tactics that the monsters of Dungeons and Dragons would use in combat, based on their alignment, stats, and habitats, creating sophisticated advice for Dungeon Masters hoping to move their combat encounters from rote stab-stab-kill affairs into distinctive, memorable strategy-and-tactics affairs that created not just variety and challenges for players, but also depth and verisimilitude. Now, Ammann's work has been collected in the first of two planned volumes: The Monsters Know What They're Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters is one of the most interesting, thoughtful, smart RPG sourcebooks I've ever read.

Ammann organizes his monsters into several broad categories ("Humanoids" from goblinoids to githzerai; "Monstrosities" from ettercaps to krakens; "Celestials" from angels to pegasi; etc) and then proceeds from a set of basic premises: every creature wants to survive; physical abilities define fighting styles; intelligence determines tactical nous; wisdom determines self-preservation instincts; etc.

Each monster is then given a set of tactical notes that nudge DMs into creating combat encounters that are different for every kind of adversary, with explanations of how the monsters will roleplay as well, creating a springboard for some really rich play.

This is a massive and ambitious project that I'm frankly in awe of. A companion volume, Live to Tell the Tale: Combat Tactics for Player Characters, will come out in June, is aimed at players, rather than DMs, and explains how to use combat as part of your role-playing.

Like all good RPG sourcebooks, The Monsters Know What They're Doing is a hoot just to read, and transported me back to my days of poring over the Monster Manual and the Fiend Folio. I can only imagine how much fun it is to play a session with a DM who's using it to guide their work.

The Monsters Know What They're Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters [Keith Ammann/Saga Press]