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The Placement of Monsters and Magic

By Tony Reeves.

Some DMís enjoy creating their own adventures as opposed to buying pre-made ones.† Not only does this save some them some bucks, but allows the DM to use imagination, ingenuity, and creativity in making a module or campaign work.† Most DMís have or should have a vivid imagination, and very good ideas.† Sometimes though, the ideas when put into gaming terms donít quite work out the way they wish that they did. This is particularly true of new DMís, but sometimes it happens to long term DMís too.† Thatís why sometimes itís a good thing to go back to the basics.

A common problem Iíve seen in adventures is a blatant lack of reality.† Imagine this.† Youíre deep inside an active volcano, and have had to skirt boiling mud pits, hot lava and the spray of hot steam geysers many times. Itís hot and your armor is sticky, and wet with sweat.† Eventually, you come to a very large cavern and an ancient white Dragon appears. Excuse me? Is there something wrong with this picture?† This actually happened to me several years back!† Irregardless, geography should play a very major concern when placing your monsters in a campaign or adventure. Now reconsider, if the great white wyrm appeared atop a glacier, or deep within an ice cave, wouldnít that have been better?† Itís very easy for a beginning DM to make mistakes like this.† Fortunately if you have the knowledge and know where to get the right information then this dilemma goes away permanently.††

Put the right information in your hands.†††††††

The way I add monsters to my adventure is in several planned stages.† After I know what I want the adventure to consist of, have created the necessary hooks to get the players attention and where I want them to go, have the entire dungeon finished, including traps, insert the creatures.† I look over a detailed map of the area to refresh my memory first. Then take a glance through the monster manuals and always keeping my players level in mind just look at all they can face, and logically defeat.

That doesnít mean that the characters wonít meet something thatís too hard for them to kill. It just means that I add it at the last, because itíll need the most attention.† The creatures in all the monster manuals are very detailed. Each description will give frequency, number appearing, AC, movement rates, special abilities, hit die, etc. The hit die value is basically the level of the monster and how many hit points each has. As I peruse the books, if something that looks appealing, I put it down in a list of possible beasties, along with their treasure type, and experience point value. A good rule of thumb when you select monster is not to select them if they are more than three levels higher than the player characters.† Putting all the info on the monsters down serves two purposes. Theyíre committed to my failing memory, and I can make decisions later on whether or not I really want a particular monster. I may not want to use that particular monster in the dungeon, but might want it as a wandering monster or outside. Many times Dmís will also make their list of wandering monsters at this time.† Sometimes I do too, but other times I make set encounters for the PCís trek to the dungeon, castle, ruins, etc. If I want a list of wandering monsters then I make it at the same time as the ďregularĒ beasties only I put them on a separate list.†

Personally, I find that ďsetĒ encounters are much less work, but use what ever works the best for you. Again, have a good idea of what beasts you want to use, in particular the main critter(s) or NPC, and add them to your list.† This time is very well spent for me as it also sparks the old imagination.† Anything now that comes to mind that will fit, I add to my list too.† After youíve done this for several years, youíll begin to have a ďfeelĒ for what the characters can handle as they attain certain levels after that begins to happen you find that selection of monsters is extremely easy.† After Iím done shopping for critters, I turn to the back of Monster manual II, Fiend Folio or DMG.† Here, I can find two, or three things that are the most useful and important.† Charts detailing creatures found in every type of geographic area, from sandy deserts to cold salt-water surfaces.† I can also find the monsters by level and even find random wandering monster table too if I want. I do use the tables in the book occasionally, but not all the time.† I like to add a bit of spice. (My players say that I am just sadistic and enjoy watching them struggle!), but honestly, I only enjoy watching them squirm a little.†

Now IĎll totally finish my list adding from the lists I see, again keeping the level of my player foremost. After this, I generally put the books down until the next day to give my poor little brain a rest. This isnít necessary for you, but I do it so that it gives time to think about what the monsters ďpersonalĒ characteristics are, how theyíll react to the PCĎs, and last but not least, time to think about how each monster will fit into what I want to do in the overall picture. When Iím finished, I want to know the reason for every single creature in the dungeon and be able to explain this to the characters.† (Yes, Iím a perfectionist, but this is the part that makes my job as DM sweet!† This little bit of extra effort on my part, means the monsters are instantly real to the PCĎs and one single sentence, spoken at the right time, will make the creature truly come alive and months later I often find that my players can even remember specific monsters names! If you can do that, then itís the best compliment you could ever get! When I finally sit down at the books again.† I mark off anything Iíve decided I donít like, donít want or otherwise seems out of place. I double-check the level of the creatures.† I circle the ones I think the PCís will have the worst times with combat wise.† Later, Iíll address this by adding ways of defeating said beasts, such as magic items.† I now insert the monsters into their proper places in the dungeon. I add my role-playing notes to each creature, reason for being there, etc and a brief note to myself.† I finish the wandering monster tables.†

Now for today Iím done.†† Keep in mind, that you absolutely must have a good working knowledge of the beasts themselves, or else youíll get into trouble when you run them in your session! Having the book on the table in front of you is the very best way to do this kind of research. If you canít remember something, read up on it!

While Iím away I think of how my player characters are to accomplish everything in my dungeon and how theyíre supposed to fight some of the harder monsters.† Do they need outside help? Is the monster one that Iíve thrown in for them to run from? If they need help I add it now. As far as monsters that are too hard thatís easy. Choose one that is 3 levels or more higher. Just make sure that you allude to it, through notes, or other means of warning. I consider these things at least a whole day before returning and writing it all down.† Sometimes this part may take several days of planning because this is the most likely place to disrupt or adversely affect the balance of my campaign.† I try to look at my dungeon for escapes, or other things that the characters might do to give me a surprise and make adjustments to my notes. Now that the monsters both good or bad are in, itís time for the hardest most fun part.

Treasure and magic.

Many times, Iíve heard players discuss their characters with other players. Normally, the discussion includes character comparisons, their deeds, what neat monsters theyíve defeated, and what magic stuff theyĎve acquired. (Really good players will often hint at how great their DM is too!)† Some DMĎs are very comfortable throwing around treasure and magic, doing this without thought or any reasoning behind it whatsoever. This is far from true for me. If anything, Iím a bit stingy or others call me a perfectionist. All that is very true. Thereís several very good reasons it though.† Foremost, if you give out too much stuff, itíll unbalance the entire game.† It makes it harder to choose the right level of monsters for the PCís to fight.† Some of the other players might even be weaker than others.† Thus those players will no longer want to play, because theyíll feel your dungeon is unfair, or that youíre playing favorites. To top it all off, itís not fun for you or the players.† Magic is a very fine balance, and requires the utmost care in placement. Done correctly, the players will have an appreciation for the magic you present them. If you give things out too easily or often then often the troupe will begin to expect it. Thatís the last thing you want. Be unexpected, and youíre players will appreciate it. Basically if you give too much, then you have to pay the price and the price is your playersí enjoyment and yours. So why work extra if you donít have to?††

Make sure that every player is aware of how precious magic is.† They need to understand that while PCís may throw spells by the bucketful, such is not the case with the common people who RARELY see spells. In some instances, the common folk may even fear, or hate those who cast spells.† PCís are not like the normal folk. One thing I always do consistently is reward hard work. It should always pay off for the PCís. A simple formula. If the PCís have a tough encounter with a challenging monster, then I give them magic and gold. I canít stress enough though that you have to be careful. Here are a few tips on distribution.

Magic comes in many, many forms.† Thereís scrolls, weapons, wands, staves, armor, clothing, and the list goes on and on. Even after all these years, I base all the magic on what I find in the first edition books.† I do this primarily because the amount of treasure there is consistent with the levels of the creatures (and PCĎs), so is the magic, but itĎs set up a bit differently and can be an owlbear to figure out. Some new players are at a total loss, if theyĎve never been around other experienced players!† Youíve got to use your common sense.† With the magic, itĎs a bit different to figure out what to give, than the treasure is but then again itís also similar in the method I use to allocate it. IĎll explain.† Treasure in a nutshell is laid out so that each level of creature is designed to have a specific amount of treasure dependent on the level of creature. In some cases, it may be a great deal, in others very little. Generally, the numbers reflect that a creature has a percentage chance of having treasure or magic items.† This is based on the level of difficulty for the creature. For an example of how they do this, go to the back of any monster manual and you find a listing of treasure types for each creature. For an example look up a goblin (in MM1) and see what treasure the book recommends on the table(s).† Youíll see the book lists treasure for individual and multiple creatures, or lairs. You can see a single goblin wonít have very much. To me a goblin is an excellent 1st level creature.† Look up a Titan now, and compare what his treasure types are to the goblin. A big difference. Now youíre catching on! Since a first level character would not be defeating a Titan in a logical scenario in the first place, itís highly unlikely heíll end up with that much treasure either. Thatís the way you want it too! Otherwise, your players will kill every monster you pit them against and neither they nor you will be having a fun.†

When I add the magical items, I try to add them such that there is a balance. Nobody should ever feel left out.† That doesnít mean that every adventure every character gets something. Generally though you could actually say every 2-3 adventures, all characters will have received one or two magic items.† I donít always follow the books to a tee though because this can lead to too few items due to my lousy die rolls.† Before adding treasure, just like monsters know your characters and what they currently have.† I keep track too of what I gave out during the last adventure. When you created a list of monsters, if you recall you already wrote down what treasure type the monster manual recommended.† Now start going down the list by treasure type. Make the die rolls to ascertain what treasure the creatures have. Total all the treasures up. Okay, now roll up all the magic items, and add the experience points, based on which character you feel will get each separate item.† If you roll cursed items, then so be it, add them unless they seem inappropriate. List the GP value for each magic item.†

Compare the XP values to the experience charts for each class, and decide whether or not that much XP is reasonable.† Lower it as you feel is appropriate based on the level of the monsters, and everything else in the ďdungeonď. Some DMís donít do this, but I donít like characters to rise up two levels from a single adventure, just because I gave them a powerful weapon.† I donít feel that is fair to the other players either, unless you do the same for them.† This is your decision to make though. Now add in the experience point values for the gold or other moneys.

Now look at the magic items you rolled for.† Ask yourself if thereís anything that will make any players too powerful for the current group, or otherwise destroy your plans for the future. If so delete, or change them to something more acceptable.† Now go back through and add any twists, command words, etc. that are necessary to complete your list.† Be devious.† Donít give them all good stuff! Throw them a curve once in a while, just to keep them suspicious, and on their toes.†

Go over all the lists and make sure that they donít have things you donít want them to. For instance, a 3rd level character having a staff of the magi.† Or perhaps you want to be devious?† Go ahead and give it to them, but when they get it identified, no one knows what it is. Iíve literally lead mages across my entire realm looking for keywords!† Devious, yes some might even say sadistic, (this again is my players opinion, but they wouldnĎt have it any other way)!† Donít be afraid to be imaginative. Thatís the one single advantage you have over the players, and is a major means of fun for you.††

Yes, you are supposed to have some fun too!†One final word of advice.† Every DM uses their own style for giving experience.† Some donít give points for accruing money, treasure, or even exceptional role-play.† Some donĎt give anything for maps, etc. You get the picture.† Do what you feel is fair to the players.† If the characters rise either too fast or slow in levels, then adjust their experience points, or treasures as necessary to put them where you want them.† In regard to any type of item, if you do happen to make a mistake, and give away too many then donít forget.....The DM giveth....and he taketh away!

Monsters†††††††††††††† ††††††††††

There are quite simply, tons of monsters.† In the Monster manuals, Fiend Folio, on the Internet, television, and in some cases from our own minds.† When selecting monsters you have to narrow this huge field down a lot. This require a lot of hard work and forethought, which when done right means the player and you will have lots of fun.

Before I decide what the players are going to meet, I look at their charactersí stats. For the most part, I know more about my playerís characters stats and abilities than the players do. Part of this is merely a result of having played for so long but it is very helpful when setting up certain situational problems and clues later. (Itís up to them to miss the clues later, and thatís part of your fun!) Know what their level is, what armor they have and what their to hit rolls are.† Know what kind of magic items and what level of spells they can cast.† Last of all know all of their special abilities.†

Once I know all these, I assign a ďgeneralĒ level of monsters I feel would be a challenge to them.† This doesnít mean that I only throw out a certain level of creature. It means that I stay within boundaries that allow me to make quick, small adjustments to the creatures as I need to during the game. Itís too easy to just throw out a creature only to find later that the creature can kill the whole party.† So to cut down on this, I do extra work now. †

Selection of terrain.

This area is badly misused. Iíve had the personal experience of meeting a white dragon in the middle of an active volcano, complete with pool of lave and pits of steaming water. To my chagrin, the creature acted as if it were normal!† Please donít do this it insults your players. To me it ruined the whole adventure, because it was neither realistic nor believable. I always try to keep things realistic, because itís easier for me, and the players to visualize the game as we play. This means that the surprises are more real! Thatís why my monsters always are where theyíre supposed to be.† Want a white dragon? Try looking in COLD mountainous areas, glaciers, or deep ice caves.

Select the terrain or geography of the area the monsters are going to be in before choosing creatures. Now choose the toughest monster you want to use as well as some of the lesser ones you want to use, based on terrain and where theyíll be met whether the monsters will be in the air, on the ground, in the river or the ocean, castle, dungeon, cave, trees, hills, etc.† In the monster manuals in the back you can find lists detailing some random table for wandering monsters. This can be a godsend if you get stuck or even if you want to use it as the basis for the entire adventure.†

 

 

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