Saturday, May 28, 2011

Progress is Made By Lazy Men Looking For Easier Ways To Do Things*

At the moment, my players' characters are in a city on an island. So they are neither at the mercy of the random wilderness encounter tables nor of a stocked dungeon. I'll be improvising a lot and I want my toys where I can get to them, but I don't want to have to make up a brand new encounter table for every single environment every single day.

So here's what I've done--

First, I made a folder on my computer with one picture for every single monster I like. I just used whatever picture I could find--some I'd already drawn, some I googled up. I didn't worry about whether they were good, just whether I could tell at a glance what the monster was. (Click to enlarge.)Then I made a picture of a big white field with some labels for basic categories of monsters--sorted by behavior. Here's that picture:
Brutes are like big dumb ones--usually animal-intelligence-level predators, Soldiers are mostly intelligent humanoids, Automatics are guardian-types or other automatons that "activate", Vermin are little things that just want to eat and mostly get in your way, Schemers are villain-types, Summoned covers anything that will usually show up just as the result of somebody casting a spell and Weird are creatures which have some other niche and require a little thought to get into an adventure.

Anyway, then I go over to "system preferences" and make the picture with the labels into the background for my desktop...

Then I slide all the stuff on my desktop to the side (those of you groaning at the idea of cleaningup your desktop--I know how you feel. I just threw everything into a folder called "not now, love" which I'll pull open when I'm done with this.)

Last, I go to the monster folder and pull out just the icons for the monsters that might show up in the environment that my PCs are in in the session I am about to run and just move them into their "niches".

Now I can see everything I might want to use in a couple seconds. If the PCs head into (say) the necromancer's palace, I can look over at my laptop and take in all the options for who his guards might be or what might be chained up in his basement and choose something mood-appropriate.
I can take a screengrab of it and say Ok, this is the monster array for The Isle of Oth or whatever.

If I really feel like wasting time I can do it for every single environment in my campaign I can think of. Could be a pip...

Anyway I used this visual "category" method the other day and it worked pretty well. It takes some time, but tracking down all the monster pictures was fun, and it seems like a decent re-usable shortcut. If you don't have a laptop or a computer near where you play you could do a screengrab and print it out.

So I can see this basic idea being good for keeping track of traps or other widgets, too. Like Shiro has pictures of actors and actresses corresponding to NPCs in his Pendragon Campaign--you could have them all lined up by location or power-level or whatever so when you GM you're ready to go.

It might make sense to do it with a dungeon or world map, too, if you had a lot of elements on it that were going to get moved around a lot and re-used...
Telecanter's silhouettes might be a good place to start if you want to put together your own monster collection.

I also made some generic pictures and threw together an all-purpose lair... no matter where the PCs go, if it's somebody's hideout I've got somewhere to start. I can stock it quick using the monster categories picture and roll...

*Robert Heinlein


Welcome to Dungeon! said...

That's going to come in handy. Thanks!

Roger G-S said...

Could also work if you made a deck of physical cards, or counters (pictures glued onto poker chips?)

huth said...

Or a tiny minis lineup too.

Zak Sabbath said...

@roger and

Technically true, but the benefit of this method is, once it's set up, it's really fast, easy, cheap and portable. Using physical objects gets rid of the only advantage I see in doing things this way.

Though if you have one mini for every monster or one card alreayd, more power to you, I suppose.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

You could just do this in a series of folders. So if I wanted to know what monsters could be found in, a specific section of the City of Bells, I'd go:

Encounters -> Morilar -> Salnar Continent -> City of Bells -> Necropolis

Zak Sabbath said...


while you'd obviously put them in folders if you had enough of them, the point of the trick is during a session, while you're DMing you have a graphic and -fast- representation of where everything and everyone is. No clicking, no reading. Just look over and there're your monsters. It;s a tool for improvising fast, not for categorizing.

Craig A. Glesner said...

I like it, very cool.

huth said...

Though if you have one mini for every monster or one card alreayd, more power to you, I suppose.

I actually just draw little mini-chits for the monsters in the game and cut them out as I go, so it's kind of the same thing for me.