Reaction Tables

How much do you use Reaction Tables for the initial responses of D&D monsters? I don't very much. I kind of don't want half the monsters in every dungeon to all turn pacifist-friendly.

Interesting historical note: OD&D has such tables, but they are prefaced by the following text:
Monsters will automatically attack and/or pursue any characters they "see", with the exception of those monsters which are intelligent enough to avoid an obviously superior force. [OD&D Vol-3, p. 12]
Further down the page, you get a table for reactions of those "more intelligent monsters [which] will act randomly according to the results of the score rolled on two (six-sided) dice". This being 2-5 negative, 6-8 uncertain, and 9-12 positive, noting "The dice score is to be modified by additions and subtractions for such things as bribes offered, fear, alignment of the parties concerned, etc."

I'll emphasize the very limited extent to which monsters won't automatically attack, namely that they must both (a) be intelligent, and (b) be confronted by an "obviously superior force". Consultation of the random reaction table happens very rarely under this rule. I like that. (I'll point out that there's a different reaction table on Vol-1 p. 12, this one used if monsters are offered hire as henchman status, and this requiring similar alignment and offer of some award, etc.)

Now, in one example of several that I've pointed out before, as time advanced, the visually striking nature of the table/illustration became lodged in collective memory, while the introductory text governing its use was disconnected and lost from the whole.

For example, Holmes simply says this, having just introduced the concept of wandering monsters:
Obviously, some of these creatures will not always be hostile. Some may offer aid and assistance. To determine the reaction of such creatures, roll 2 dice... [Holmes, p. 11]
Holmes follows this with a copy of the OD&D Vol-1 table. Note that the requirement in which most monsters will automatically attack has been removed, implying that this roll should now be made for all monsters in the dungeon. (Or maybe it could be argued just for all wandering monsters?)

Gygax later writes this in the AD&D DMG:
Any intelligent creature which can be conversed with will react in some way to the character that is speaking. Reaction is determined by rolling percentile dice, adjusting the score for charisma and applicable loyalty adjustment as if the creature were a henchman of the character speaking, and the modified score of the percentile dice is compared to the table below... [AD&D DMG, p. 63]
This is followed by a broadly similar chart using percentile dice. Again, having edited out the introductory text from OD&D Vol-1, this passage indicates more widespread usage, for any creature that the PCs might possibly exchange words with. A modifier for Charisma is indicated (which is very much in the PCs' favor, if they have only the highest-Charisma PC speaking), but gone are the suggestions of modifiers for "bribes offered, fear, alignment", etc.

In general, I feel that these latter rules (which are all I had to consult circa 1980-2005) are too generous towards the PCs if used literally as written in the book, ultimately giving a 50/50+ chance for any dungeon monster to turn friendly. This is one of the many instances where I find the OD&D rule more direct and to my liking, intuitively the way I would want to play with most monsters I place engaging in "automatic... attack" except for exceptional cases where I decide some other possibility is in order.


  1. I'll use reaction tables now and again and will not bother at all if I feel the reaction of npcs and critters would be rather obvious. I might just free-roll it and judge from the dice roll based on the situation without bothering to check a chart. Other times I'll tailor a specific reaction table and go off that roll it keeps the DM juices flowing and makes sure everything isn't based on my mood at the moment.

  2. I use the tables a lot more for NPC types, but I tend to use the monster reaction charts more than Gygax indicates as I tend to follow Moldvay on this point.

  3. I rarely use the reaction tables for Chaotic-aligned monsters, but I almost always do for Neutral and Lawful ones (provided they're intelligent).

  4. I tend to use the table a lot, but the action of the PCs often trumps it. Even if a “friend” is working against you and your interests, you won’t let it go unopposed. You just may be a bit more polite about it.

    It’s kind of like the friendly banter between the hero and the bad guy in a movie. “You know I can’t let you do that.” Cue fight sequence.

  5. For initial monster reactions, I like Moldvay's version (p. B24):

    "MONSTER ACTIONS: Some monsters always act in the same way (such as zombies, who always attack). However, the reactions of most monsters are not always the same. The DM can always choose the monster's reactions to fit the dungeon, but if he decides not to do this, a DM may use the reaction table below to determine the monster's reactions (roll 2d6)."

    The table gives an equal but unlikely chance for the monsters to immediately attack or respond with enthusiastic friendship. The remainder of the responses are equally divided between "hostile, possible attack;" "uncertain, monster confused;" and, "no attack, monster leaves or considers offers."

    I have never really used the Charisma modifier for these kinds of initial reactions for monsters, so that means that most monsters are generally twice as likely to attack or be confused as to be friendly or willing to consider an offer from the party. If the characters are lucky enough to encounter something that is willing to talk, I resolve any negotiations just the same as I would for any other NPC the party deals with, including situational modifiers and Charisma bonuses.

  6. I guess I'm a just tad more bloodthirsty than you guys. Among other things, rolling for reaction at the start of an encounter wrecks my sense of pacing (esp. when PCs are bashing in the door of someone's lair with murderous intent). I like the assumption of attack and consultation of the table only in a special circumstance by the DM.

  7. No doubt pacing is one of my faults as DM. I honestly don’t even understand how it would apply. Which is probably just as well, because I suspect any DM who cared a lot about pacing would be pretty frustrated by my group. ^_^

    I’m also big on giving players opportunities to avoid combat and come up with a more interesting solution. This is one of those things that can help make that more common.

    FWIW, I’m a BX/LL guy. I don’t remember if its table is different than the oD&D one.

  8. "FWIW, I’m a BX/LL guy. I don’t remember if its table is different than the oD&D one."

    Only incrementally different. Same idea, dice, and categories -- reworded a bit and the categories shifted down by one pip (excepting the last). Looking at Allston's RC here.

  9. Back in the day I never used the reaction chart, I thought it was silly. These days it gets a lot more use for me. I do tend to use it more like Moldvay describes -- most often I know just how the monsters are going to react (usually attack) and go with that. On occasion if I'm not sure I roll the dice.

    For example, just last night the party happened upon a small group of orcs as a random encounter, got surprise, and shouted some threatening stuff at the orcs. They also out-numbered the orcs, so I figured it was worth a roll on the chart to see what the orcish reaction would be. Turns out the orcs were willing to have a little back and forth before finally fleeing.

    Anyway, I guess it comes back to something you yourself told me once. If I know what I want to happen, that's what happens. If I have a moment of hesitation, I go to the dice.

  10. That sounds like good advice. :D

  11. I use a reaction roll as a relative thing. For example, in a game last night the party ran into a wolf and I used the roll to see if it would be cautious or aggressive. Probably at some point I should develop a procedure that takes into account the amount of extraversion/ aggression the others feel toward the party as well as their friendliness.

  12. I basically, for most chaotic monsters, just use the reaction table for whether they attack immediately, hesitate to get a better look, or run away.