I am having a seriously hard time dealing with monsters on the fly.

I am having a seriously hard time dealing with monsters on the fly.

I am having a seriously hard time dealing with monsters on the fly. I tend to have a few prepared based on where I think the story will be going. When the party goes in a different direction, introducing a situation or location that should be full of unprepared monsters, I become terrified.

How on earth do I come up monsters without diving into the book mid-session?

20 thoughts on “I am having a seriously hard time dealing with monsters on the fly.”

  1. Two initial thoughts, I tend to have about 5 to 10 random monsters prepared for use in whatever system I am playing as part of the random encounter factor in a game.  My other habit is to make the planned encounter flexible enough to be re-skinned as needed  when the players take the story in unanticipated directions. 

  2. As prep, I try to think up some heroic scenes based on the party’s location then I write out the appropriate monsters on 3×5 cards. I find http://www.dungeonworldsrd.com very useful because I can just do a browser find on the monster I am looking for.

    We were missing a player last week and I spent two minutes coming up with a side adventure to heal his previous infected wounds. They spent 2.5 hours dealing with an entirely ad libbed scene and had a great time. I think that is such a strength of DW. They had so many failures they almost died, but in the end, they both ended up leveling up.

  3. Also, monsters in the book have so many things that make them interesting and easy to ad lib. The tags and instincts are so inspirational to me as a GM.

  4. Magic Cards.

    I pick about 3-5 monster per environment, and make a monster using the art. Like so:


    Then just draw the monster when a battle occurs. You can also show your players the art so they know what they’re facing.

    Here’s my GM screen with builtin monster creator:


    I gain a particular kind of joy from making efficient notes and guides. let me know if you have any requests or advice on making these better!

  5. All you need to run a monster, really, is:

    A clear mental image: what it looks like, what it wants, how it acts, how it fights (as David Schirduan recommends, Magic cards or any other source of inspiration is golden; an old school random encounter table works well too)

    – And if a fight starts, it’s HP, armor, damage, tags and maybe some moves (but you can write those on the fly if you have a good mental image). 

    Here’s a streamlined version of the monster questionnaire that will get you those details more quickly:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0lFq3ECDQDQVUMwcU9BTjRuQlE/edit?usp=sharing

  6. I am not sure if this will help but this is what I do.  

    Forget for the moment that we are dealing in a dream world of magic, but in a game of dice and statistics.  What is the threat level to the players?  If its small, use a d4 for damage and escalate up from there; remembering that d8 could kill or seriously injure fledgling adventures without high armor.  Speaking of armor, does the creature have any way to protect itself?  If so add armor for defense.  HP for a general guideline is normal monsters have health equal to the number of players plus difficulty.  Judge your groups damage and adjust.  Now lastly give it a gimmick.  Make this enemy memorable, is it horrific?  Is it cunning?

    One game I had a player say, it would be cool to fight a plant monster as they were walking through a forest.  The game logic side of me said 2d6 take the higher result + 1, require Defy Danger to reach the core of the Arbor Lich, 4 players x 4 hp (single boss type mob).  

    The dm side then just has to put the flesh on the bones.

    The earth quakes,  two foot diameter roots writhe and slash through the soil, while trees explode in a splintering cascade of pattern-less destruction.  Enveloped in the madness a root stabs downwards towards your center mass…what do you do?? 

    Take the math, and then add your imagination to support the figures.  Good luck to your games!

  7. Booya, Jeremy Strandberg, I just rolled a 12 to Defy Danger and save that sheet to my drive! (The danger being I’ll forget and it will be lost deep in Google+ World…)

  8. To answer to the first question:

    I just prepare a list of 5-8 kind of monsters that may be in the area (anything I find plausible and appropriate given the context, that is).

    When an Hard Move comes and I wish to add a monster, I just take from the list.

  9. I’m super improv, so I hardly ever write down monster stats till I use them.

    They usually have either 6 or 12 hp, or if they’re really impressive, I’ll just keep noting damage until the party does something that makes me think “yep, that’ll do it!” I’ll note their damage dice, either a d6, a d8, or a d10. Once again if they’re particularly scary, I’ll give them 1 piercing or ignore armor. I usually forget about giving them armor, which I should use more often.

    I’ll also often group large groups of mooks into one giant heap, with only unique enemies having their own stat block.

    For monster moves, I might write down something like “smash stuff” “throw stuff” “swarm” “use magic” “panic” and such. It’s nice to have flowery descriptions, but sometimes all you need is a quick reminder of their basic behavior.

    Don’t sweat making your mooks too detailed, leave them as a background hazard you pour into the meat grinder that is your party. Just have one or two unique threats that the party can kill to win the fight. My mooks surrender and run away a lot when their boss goes down.

  10. Adrian Thoen I tend to do the same thing with given encounters that are not sufficiently prepared.  I have a general idea what they can do and roll with it.   Dungeon World makes that much more manageable.

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