Friendly Fire

Do monster powers target their allies?

Many of the creatures in the Monster Manual have abilities that attack multiple targets. For example, the Hobgoblin Warcaster’s force pulse power is a close blast 5 that pushes the target 1 square and then knocks them prone. The power (like most monster abilities that affect multiple targets) doesn’t specify “the enemy is…” just “the target is…” Does that mean his force pulse hits his allies also?

Some multiple-target abilities in the Monster Manual do specify “enemies” (like the Aboleth Slime Mage’s slime burst power). Is this intentional? If an entry simply says “targets,” does that means it also hits the monster’s allies? Why would some powers effect allies and others not?

After posting the above question to EN World, the consensus was that yes, the language used was intentional and not a matter of Wizards of the Coast playing fast and loose with their wording consistency.

At first, this was a disappointment to me. I imagined the hobgoblin’s force pulse ability to work like Force powers from the Star Wars franchise—the Jedi often push away enemies without worrying about pushing each other around. Then I remembered that, as the DM, I frequently tweak, adjust, and nudge stats, skills, and other little things. It would be a simple matter to replace “targets” with “enemies” here and there.

This, of course, raises an important question: where is the line between powers that should effect enemies and ones that should effect everyone? To me, the above ability has a clear reason to work the way I want it to. On the other hand, powers that summon elements, like huge balls of flame or giant rivers of water, really shouldn’t be winding around enemy allies.

In the end, there was some disapproval from the group over my admission that future creatures may have their powers tweaked in this manner. One player’s argument against my changing of the force pulse ability was that hobgoblins are savage—their spellcasters are probably not raised with fine control over of their powers. I can follow that line of logic, especially for some settings. Nevertheless, in the Points of Light campaign, I’ve set up hobgoblins on numerous occasions to be precise and militaristic in their actions; they’re not doppelgangers of 3rd Edition’s goblins and bugbears. Different races now have differing areas of influence—this is a big plus for me in 4th Edition. Nothing gets added to the D&D Universe without having its own niche.

An interesting double-take: no one ever considered that the problem would be one of balance, but instead, one of story and flavor.