Anytime I use a monster (or any kind of adversary) straight from the book, I photocopy that creature’s page before the game.
This preserves a bit of mystery by not letting my players see which monster books I’m using that day — or, for the cagey veterans, which sections I’ve bookmarked.
Particularly with well-known games like D&D, my players can usually guess what they’re about to face just by seeing what part of the book I flip to. (“That looks like the Bs, so those are probably behir tracks.“)
Photocopying monsters beforehand not only avoids this, it gives you handy piece of scrap paper on which to scratch off hit points and take other notes during the battle.
What tricks do you use to keep your players guessing about their opposition?
I have a similar way to do it, but it takes a little longer. I actually draft up the exact creature they’ll meet in put it in my adventure notes using the stat blocks similar to the ones on the D&D miniatures cards. That way I don’t have to rely on the books for anything.
Since I’ve taken to using a Wiki I try to store as much information as I can up there. The laptop has become my new GMing best friend .
I always used to use the old school 2nd ed DND cd with it’s monster generator and it’s printoffs. I would just print them off to PDF.
I’d also use the handy dandy index card. Set up an ecnounter table and copy the info to an index card.
The final trick I ever used was the one from old school days. I covered all of my books in brown paper bags. No markings. Kept the covers clean and my players never knew what book I was getting into. It was just enough of a pyschological block that the players couldn’t pull on their memorization of the pages of the book even if they knew I was using the monstrous manual.
I tend to convert the stat blocks into the new style ones in an OO doc with 2 columns and then I find pictures for each monster (from the SRD, or anywhere else in the webs). If one has the time and inclination, he can put the stat block and picture together such that an 8.5×11 sheet of paper can be cut down the middle vertically, and then each half fold at the vertical center. The front should be a picture of the monster, and the back its stat block.
Hey, I do this too!
If it is a standard monster (DnD3.5) from one of the Core manuals (and most supplements, for that matter), I usually head over to the Wizard’s of the Coast website, do a search for the book’s artwork, and voila, a ready made JPEG for download. It also eliminates any text in the background.
For those supplements not from Wizard’s, I use my handy scanner, scan the page, crop around the monster, and voila, a critter for printout.
I then stat up the creature using the SRD stats (if available) or modifying a std stat block that I’ve been using w/ the new creature’s stats.
Works pretty well.
I used to dread using monsters/NPCs in games (I know, what else is there?) because the simple excercise of copying down a stat block was a pain. Prior to this weekend when I was getting ready for a new Shadowrun adventure, copying stat blocks from the book, all of a sudden it hit me: “Duh! I have this book as a PDF. Why am I hand copying it?” I went to the PC, pulled up the PDF, printed the pages for all the monsters/NPCs I wanted to use, cut them out, tapped them to notecards, jotted a few notes in the margin, and BOOM, done in a few minutes. I’m definately using it going forward for all my stat blocks.
For d20 monsters, I maintain a series of Word Documents, by campaign. Each document covers a faction of monsters. It sounds like a lot of work, but I find it gets to be very easy after awhile. Even when I can’t cut and paste out of the SRD, it’s not that hard to take an existing format and modify it, if you take 5 seconds to consider the best source copy. (For example, turning a skeleton writeup into a zombie is just copy, paste, and change a few characters.)
Besides the complete hiding of source from the players, I find that this fits my GM style the best, because:
1. Monsters are organized the way I want them, for what I am doing now. If the neogi are working with the bladelings, then I want them together.
2. Any campaign house rules affecting monsters can be incorporated easily.
3. I use a lot of advanced creatures. I want those various neogi magisters to follow the standard neogi listing. When doing factions, it’s much easier to start with the base creature, then do a couple of low level representative classes, then copy and add a couple of levels. Repeat as needed. Making a neogi wizard 7 off of a neogi wizard 5 is child’s play. And it bloody makes sense that a faction like this would have some stylistic reduncancies with skill, feat, and spell selection. Reward the players for noticing such things.
I also find that this style cuts down on printing needs. I used to include the monsters in the adventures, but that was wasteful and made it hard for me to find the text. My style is more that I have locations (descriptions of same), foes (plans, goals, abilities), and treasure. Those all interact in ways that make sense to keep separate. The actual adventure notes become very simple then, since they only has to reference those locations, foes, and treasure. That’s important for a game like mine, where I expect to revise about 50% of that adventure text between first time the characters could have done it versus when they actually do it.
The D&D Chainmail game used to have a set of downloadable sheets, each single sheet containing a description of a common monster with all the relevant stats. They were handy because not only did they have monster stats, they had hit point trackers. The wizards site may still have them in its archive section.
I cut and paste from the SRD or other source into a tiddly wiki I create for the adventure. Each encounter has a description and links to creature, traps or treasure.
This way I can relink (reuse) information and not have to have too many windows open on my PC at the same time.
I also like PDF adventures like the Dungeon Crawl Classics because they are easy to port into a wiki.
“What tricks do you use to keep your players guessing about their opposition?”
Not playing D&D for one. 🙂
Actually, you’d be suprised how many problems that solves just by itself. 😉
Mostly I copy/retype monster stats into my adventure notes. Then I can make notes, scratch off damage, doodle, etc. I don’t like page-flipping during play, especially for NPCs.
In some games (supers, for example) creating the opposition goes a long way towards avoiding the problem.
For D20 I was securely in the prepare stat blocks for all encounters and print them separately – with space for all the hit point tracking.
For Cold Iron, I was starting to do that, but mostly I would just pencil in the stat block (way simplere stat block than D20) onto scratch paper.
I haven’t started doing anything yet with RuneQuest.
One trick I used to use was to go through my Monster Manual with a pencil and change the stat blocks a bit. That way, even if a player could quote chapter and verse on a monster, he would still invariably get a few things wrong.
For less work, I’d simply change the name of the monster and vary the description a bit. This works very well when used in conjunction with a PDF, keeping the players guessing.
I find it interesting that there are so many workarounds for something that’s so fundamental to so many games. Is that weird, or is it just me?
These are all great ideas, and I’ve used a few of them (I’m a big fan of the hypertext SRD) myself, but you’d think that someone would have figured out a way to get around this once and for all. 😉
I use the monster cards from “The Game Mechanics” but that’s more for convenience than anything else.
I don’t have problem with ‘all knowing’ players, mainly cause I run Modern and I’m the only one with any of the Modern rulebooks, but also because, even if I do use a D&D monster I always change something.
Am I the only one that just uses custom monsters exclusively? Even in D&D, I just completely ignore the monster manual except as guidelines for what is appropriate for what level. Not only does it add a flair of suspense (what IS this thing we’re fighting? I’ve never heard of it before, it must be big!), but also keeps the most diehard of D&D fans guessing.
I did the custom monster exclusive thing for 13 years while running Fantasy Hero. Lately, our group has been on more of a nostalgia kick. Plus, I’m the only one with, “The Legacy of Dragons” (Arcana Evolved monster book), which I mine heavily.
I go through those separate document hoops more for the reasons I listed in the previous comment, than for hiding. In fact, I’m more likely to pick up a monster book in game to mislead a couple of players as to the nature of the critter. 🙂
Actually, aetherspoon, that’s what I was getting at when I said I drafted up the exact monster. I don’t use the stock creatures unless it’s a summoned one. I try to use NPCs as much as possible for enemies to reinforce the idea that killing is not always the best way to solve problems, and that subduing and capturing to turn over to law enforcers or talking your way out of a problem is just as good as fighting.
For any critter I care about I take the SRD version, slap some levels and/or a template onto it, and print out my own version.