Jan 19

So, how about those monsters?

This post came out of a small portion of my brain which remembers as a young GM my biggest fear

Maybe a little bit overpowered...?

of running a game. Adventure? Check. I have a (probably rather basic) outline of the plot and how I will get them to A AND  B without any worries of derailing on the way.  Players? Check. Characters are built and I have excellent backgrounds for them, or at least brilliant ideas what they are and aren’t going to do! It will be so cool when the paladin’s backstory of his guilt-ridden past where….*cue random mumblings*… Monsters? Oh no…

Wait, why is there a TPK?

I never knew which monsters to use and where. Sure it was fairly easy to work out in a town, you should probably be using some human based monsters.. and sure when I was in a forest there wasn’t generally a problem using a bear. But after a while, humanoids and bears got boring. I knew as a player I would be insanely bored of fighting if all I thought were dwarfs, humans, elves and bears. I want something new! Something interesting! So… what? Sure this monster is the right CR, but does it fit? I always found that after reading and re-reading a monster and being 100% sure that x number of these monsters should be a suitable challenge for the party – either I would be fudging like mad to keep the monsters alive or fudging like mad to keep the players alive! What was I doing wrong?

The problem I found is that I made monsters a bit of an after-thought. Get the pretty decorative (and will be completely ignored by the players) details I loved designing in place then slap in some creatures afterwards. I didn’t give enough time to reading up the monsters and understanding how they could work together as a group.

Taking time to plan your monster encounters does and will pay off in full. Working out synergies of the monsters you want to put into an encounter will not only mean that you know what the monster can and cannot do, but also it means you can make it far more interesting for your players to try and beat those encounters than just straight up dice rolling. Do they have interesting spells? Do they have spells that could effectively take out a player for a few rounds? What about abilities that team up well together, for example a monster with sneak attack? While straight up monster mashes can be worlds of fun, it is much more fun for you and the players if they are having to think.

So… you can find Lurkers in Deserts right?

So erm.. Forests? Maybe?

Another thing that used to drive me mad, is that the bestiaries never had monsters by areas (at least, I remember looking through them and being unable to find an easy way to find monsters by suitable locations), always by challenge rating or by creature type (this is certainly true of D&D). What monsters would I expect to find in a cold area? What about a desert? Sure I could guess that tombs had the undead (although I don’t know a full list of every single undead creature I could find) I could never work out what other monsters were available apart from the ones I could guess at.


So how do you get around this? Sadly beyond reading the bestiary a few times and trying to use a bit of the common sense approach to monster names to guess where they might live, I never found an easy route around this. Taking time to read the monster manuals or bestiaries is always beneficial, but sadly I could never find a shortcut route to this.

There is of course wonderful companies that have random encounter tables for certain areas – a good example is the Purple Duck Games books. But of course the system you are using might not have that. Certainly worth having a look to at least help you get some rough ideas for monsters, if not to let you choose a few encounters randomly that you can then have a good look at.

How do you prepare your encounters with monsters? Did you ever find an way of easily knowing which monsters belong in each environment? Or did you have to do it the old fashion way?


  1. Mark Gedak

    For planning encounters I initially stick with the creatures I’m very familiar with then I expand outward. I do not find the Pathfinder Bestiaries particularly useful for doing this because most of the monsters say…

    Environment any

    So I’m really pleased with the work David did on building the Random Encounters line. For 3X games I used to rely on themed pdf’s and the Monster Geographica series by Expeditious Retreat Press which collected a whack of OGC monsters by environment.

    1. Liz

      Aaaah i wish I had known about that when i was planning good old fashioned 3X games! Certainly I find Pathfinder a little bit rubbish when it comes to environments as well – hence my love of Random Encounters! It at least gives me ideas!

      Thanks for the link! i shall be nosying through that soon!

Talk to us!

%d bloggers like this: