Monster reaction rolls have been praised as an especially good “old-school” mechanic. It is supposed to make your fantasy adventure game less into a series of combats and to give opportunities to get around monsters without murder. Sometimes monsters will be your friend, accept bribes, or negotiate. It is not just fighting and killing.
I gave wandering monsters a shot, with fun results, but I just can’t bring myself to use this kind of reaction roll. I prefer to rely on my sense of the monsters’ motivations and role-play them.
It’s not just that a lot of the foes in my current Barrowmaze campaign are undead and constructs and other entities with “programmed’ reactions.
My principle is that player choices and circumstances are the most important conditions
to monster reactions. These are not randomly determined.
I expect my players to characterize how they act when they are encountering monsters. If they barge through a door into a subterranean monster lair, holding torches and weapons and wearing armor, those monsters are likely to perceive a threat (no matter how Charismatic the heroes are). This is especially so where monsters are aligned in factions that hate each other and are in a constant state of struggle.
If a home invader, who does not speak your languages, bearing a gun or a big knife and shining a flashlight at you, breaks into your apartment, do you invite him to sit down with his weapon to join you for dinner? The odds of that don’t deserve an outcome on a reactions chart. Probably you would do what the monsters in my game do: attack, or adopt a defensive stance, or flee.
Even if the PCs come in with offerings of rations for the monsters or with toys to play fetch, heavily armed strangers trudging into their homes or lairs are not likely to be welcomed.
The monsters’ response depends on their monstrous goals, their level of intelligence, and above all the stakes for them, not on a chart. What kind of threat do the player characters pose? Do they look tough? In fleeing, will the monsters abandon their prized possessions or their food supply? Do they have anywhere to which they might flee without running into dead ends or other monsters? Will they face punishment from a master if they flee?
These are specific to the conditions of the scenario, not random conditions.
If the encounter takes place away from the monsters’ home, then the monsters’ goals are the main factor. It is easy to create goals for monsters on the spot, depending on what they are and where they are. Rolling for these things can make delays just when the excitement of players is piqued at an encounter. I do not delay to roll; I just play.
But in a dungeon exploration fantasy game, I take the point
of view of the monsters at hand and make a call without yet another roll of the
dice. The monsters’ motivations and resources are the main factors in the
decision I make on their imaginary behalf. You know: role-playing.
If the monsters need help or if they are injured, if they are clever or if they are benevolent, then their responses will vary according to their motivation.
I’m not going to roll for reactions when these things already have a rationale in the game. Rolling for reactions seems artificial and violates the sense of story and ignores player choice.
In short, in my games, player choices and setting are the factors that determine monster reactions in dungeons,
not dice. That is just how I do it.