Using the five-paragraph order to guide monster tactics

A particularly useful aspect of the fourth edition of the Dungeons & Dragons game is the assignment of roles, or tactical tendencies, to various monsters. The system even goes so far as assigning different roles to subtypes of monsters within a given monster species; the goblin warrior and goblin blackblade provide an example of how the same monster species can be employed as a skirmisher and lurker, respectively.

Since the Dungeon Master’s Guide recommends that the design of a combat encounter begin with a core of brute or soldier monsters, effectively deploying soldier monsters is important to creating exciting battles for your players. This post describes ways in which you can use the five paragraph order – a military method of communicating objectives to small units – to guide your placement of this type of monster within a dungeon setting, and to guide their behaviors when in combat with your heroes. When I was serving in the U.S. Marines nearly 20 years ago, we used the mnemonic acronym SMEAC to remember the subjects of the five paragraphs. The respective letters represented:

S – Situation. A basic overview of where the unit is, where other friendly and hostile units are, and whether/when any forces were expected to merge with or detach from others.

M – Mission. This summarizes the unit’s objective(s), anticipated challenges, and, on a need-to-know basis, the importance of the objective to higher command.

E – Execution. This section, which can reach a high level of detail, outlines the specifics of troop movements and deployment, where and when contact with the enemy is expected, instructions for accomplishing the sub-objectives that comprise the order objective, and how units not directly involved in carrying out those subobjectives can support active units.

A – Aministration and Logistics. This entry describes how units are supplied with necessities like food, amunition and medical care. For units operating far from a supply magazine, this can be a very involved set of instructions.

C – Command and Signal. The final entry informs the unit who is in charge and where they are located, as well as who should assume command if the named commander is incapacitated. This paragraph also details specific signals that will be used to communicate pivotal problems or accomplishments.

To apply the five paragraph order to a Dungeons & Dragons adventure design, consider a situation where an evil wizard is searching a ruin for some sort of magical artifact. She has employed a band of hobgoblin mercenaries to protect her during her exploration, and to keep any other explorers out of the ruin while she does so.

Although it’s unlikely that hobgoblins in a D&D game will use the five paragraph order to assign orders, their disciplined, military nature lends itself to similar lines of thinking, so the Dungeon Master could work through the paragraphs to get an idea of how the hobgoblins would react to a heroic intrusion. A sample five paragraph order for the scenario just described could read as follows:

Situation. We have two squads: one trained for melee and the other with crossbows. We have no reinforcements. No intruders have been sighted at this time, although we must maintain a state of readiness in case they do. We have separated squad members to best utilize their abilities: a detachment of four melee troops escort the wizard at all times, four more troops and four crossbowmen defend her base camp on the first level, four more crossbowmen have taken up a guard position in the ruined tower, and a group of three troops parol the outer bailey. All other units are off-duty, but have been ordered to remain in base camp and to keep weapons at hand.

Mission. We are to defend the wizard, anyone identified as her allies, and her base camp by slaying or driving off intruders, until such time she finds whatever it is she’s looking for or our contract expires.

Execution. Units are deployed as described in Situation. They are to remain in said positions until intruders are discovered. Any unit finding intruders is to retreat to cover and signal base camp; upon hearing or seeing the signal, all units but the tower watchmen and the wizard’s escort are to return to the defensive works at base camp and prepare for attack. One trooper is to detach from base camp and notify the wizard of the intrusion. All intruders making contact with our forces must be slain or driven off.

Administration and Logistics. Food, water, ammunition and extra weapons are located in base camp. Extra crossbows and ammunition are kept in the tower watch area, as are pre-loaded, heavy crossbows in base camp.

Command and Signal. Grug is in charge. If he dies, Ugnor takes over. Both are permanently assigned to base camp. If both Grug and Ugnor are slain, the most senior member of the band will lead. Each member of the band carries a signal whistle to sound an intruder alert. In addition, troopers in base camp and tower watchmen have signal mirrors, which can be used to communicate the location of intruders and alert base camp if the watch tower is under attack .

Even from this feeble effort, the Dungeon Master can see where and how the hobgoblins may be enountered, and what areas of the ruin would be most suitable for detailing as combat enounters.

Obvioulsy, nonintelligent “soldier” monsters, such as skeletons, wouldn’t be able to absorb instructions this complex, but for disciplined soldiers – or, if you want to surprise your players, less organized non-soldier monsters led by a powerful soldier monster – using this method can make your soldier types more effective and believable in the eyes of your players.

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3 comments on “Using the five-paragraph order to guide monster tactics

  1. […] after a D&D combat encounter. A handful of these principles, such as force multiplication and the five paragraph order, have already been discussed in other posts at the RPG Athenaeum. This posting will discuss how the […]

  2. […] RPG ATHENAEUM – Online since: October 2008 – A great post: Using the five-paragraph order to guide monster attacks The RPG Athenaeum discusses most aspects of the tabletop RPG hobby, with emphasis on assisting […]

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