Managing Mixed Monsters + New Contest

From Brent P. Newhall

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0481

A Brief Word from Johnn

Gamer Lifestyle open again just for a couple days this week

You might be aware that Yax from and I run a comprehensive 5 month course on how to get your RPG work published. It’s a business course as well as a publishing and writing course. It covers what you need to learn and do to start making an income from your hobby. It’s a dream job for many.

For the next couple of days membership is open again. The price has changed as well (I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised) plus we’ve made a couple of additions since the last time we opened enrollment.

Read the details:

Also, Yax did a webcast recently where he chats with Brian Owens, manager. He tells you how to break into the RPG industry and create an income from your hobby, as well as how he got started. You can watch it now:

If you have any questions about Gamer Lifestyle, what’s in the course, how it works, drop me an email: [email protected]

New Contest: What is your biggest GMing roadblock?

Erik @ Paizo sent me some goodies and I thought they’d make excellent prizes. Plus, they kind of celebrate the start of my new Pathfinder RPG campaign.

= How to Enter =

Email me what you feel is your biggest GMing roadblock right now. What’s stopping you from GMing? If you have a regular game, what is stopping you from becoming an even better GM?

= How to Win =

I’ll randomly draw on April 6 the winners for these prizes:

The Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting hardcover

A deck of GameMastery Wondrous Treasure cards

A GameMastery Cathedral Flip-Mat

So just email me your biggest game mastering hurdle,

stumbling block, or problem to enter by April 6.

New Pathfinder Campaign Begins

Thursday saw session #2 of my new Pathfinder RPG campaign.

My D&D 4E game is on hiatus for a little bit. I was away much of Jan/Feb this year, and we didn’t play in December. So, with just a session or two left before the grand finale of the 4E campaign, I felt it was best to start fresh this month with the new campaign after such a long break. We plan on finishing the Carnus 4E game with an all-day session in the future, and wrap that campaign up.

Meanwhile, it’s a whole new ball game with an urban sandbox style campaign and first level PCs.

The setting is Riddleport, based on Paizo’s city in their world of Golarion.

I’ve customized it quite a bit. Eight crime lords still govern the city, but I’ve picked new NPCs for them. There is also a growing rivalry with various churches, merchants and labour groups that chips away the crime lords’ power. I’ve also established a new truth behind the Cypher Gate. I’ll outline additional changes in another ezine issue.

My vision for the campaign is “Deadwood HBO TV series meets Cerebus the comic meets the Malazan book series by Steven Erikson.

While the PCs are 1st level, the average NPC level is 8. That disparity creates interesting tension where hack ‘n slash will get you face down in the harbour pretty quick. The lawless nature of the city means the strongest make the rules. It’s the ultimate opportunity for the bold, fast or shrewd. It’s also more forgiving of anarchic players used to law-free dungeons.

The PCs have inherited an inn called the Silver Chalice. Two days ago the group formed a mercenary company, as much for mutual protection on dangerous streets as for earning gold. Then the inn’s owner was murdered, but he left some of the PCs in his will as new owners of the inn and building.

So, the PCs are getting to know each other at the same time the group learns the Pathfinder rules, the city of Riddleport and world of Golarion, and sandbox style play. We’ve been running dungeons and plotted adventures for a long time, so this should be an interesting change.

Managing Mixed Monsters + New Contest

DMing combat is tough. Occasionally, though, we DMs get into a hairy battle – the battle mat’s fairly covered with monsters, and several different types of monsters are all engaging the PCs at once. Skeletal archers on scaffolds, undead soldiers advancing, a lich trying to raise a mummy, and maybe a trap or two in there for good measure.

How do you keep track of all that?

I’ve tried all sorts of things – initiative cards, whiteboards, text files on a laptop; you name it. And over time I’ve developed a slick hybrid system for running battles with various types of monsters. It’s pulled from ideas I’ve seen all over the place, so I can’t take all the credit. It’s easy, too, once you do it once or twice.

Step 1. What You Need

To use the system, you need some basic supplies:

  • Stat blocks for each monster type
  • Folded-over cards for each monster type and each PC
  • A pad of paper

By monster type, I mean each different race or version of monster. If your encounter includes 6 Orc Raiders, you only need one Orc Raider stat block.

First, I work out how many types of monsters I’ll have in a battle. I then go to the Monster Manual, or the PDF thereof, and photocopy or print a copy of that monster’s stat block. I then cut out each stat block and put them all into one envelope.

So, I’ve got an envelope containing stat blocks for each type of monster.

Step 2. Construct an Initiative Card

I take index cards, cut them in half lengthwise, and use those to track initiative and basic stats.

Here’s how that works:

  1. Take an index card, and cut it in half lengthwise, so you have two long strips.
  2. Take one strip, and fold it in half normally.
  3. On one side of the strip, write a PC or monster name.
  4. On the other side, write the creature’s name, AC, Reflex, Fortitude, and Will scores. You now have an initiative card for that creature.

You only need to do this once for each PC and monster, so it’s not like you’ll have to re-build PC initiative cards for every session. Heck, you can re-use monster initiative cards from session to session.

Step 3. Set Up an Encounter

Once you’ve created the stat blocks and initiative cards, you’re ready to go. Here’s how to set them up for an encounter:

  1. Take out the stat blocks for this encounter and lay them out in front of you on the table.
  2. Take out the pad of paper and put it in front of you. Write the name of each monster (Orc #1, Orc #2, etc.) in a column across one side of the paper.
  3. Ask players to roll for initiative. As they tell you their initiative roll, place their PC’s initiative card on top of your DM screen, in initiative order. As you roll monsters’ initiative, put their initiative cards on the DM screen as well. When you’re done, the cards should be in initiative order. Make sure the defenses are facing you!

If you have too many monsters to fit across the DM screen – which happens frequently – make one card for a group of monsters (Orc Raider Group). Roll initiative for the entire group, but act for each monster in the group during combat.

For simplicity’s sake, it’s usually easier to act in order from left to right as you’re looking at the cards.

Step 4. Dealing with Damage

What you have at this point is a set of folded cards, in initiative order, holding each PC’s and monster’s defenses. In front of you are stat blocks for each monster type, and a pad of paper with each monster listed in a column.

When someone deals damage to a monster, record that damage in a row next to that monster’s name. Further damage is added to the total. The row starts out blank.

The fighter deals 6 points of damage to Orc #1? Write a “6” next to it. Another 3 points of damage? Add ’em together, cross out the “6” and write “9” next to it. Once a monster goes beyond its HP limit, it’s dead.

Do you see the simplicity here? No subtraction. I’m just adding numbers. And I can easily compare them to the HP and Bloodied values on the stat blocks. Much faster than subtracting from an HP total, and because the monsters are listed in a column on the pad of paper, a lot of monsters can fit on one page. It’s a rare battle that’ll need more than one page to list all the monsters.

Step 5. Tracking Conditions

Conditions also go on the pad of paper, if you’re not tracking that using other methods like condition markers. Just write the name of the condition, and scratch it out when the condition ends.

Even better, you’re not writing on the stat blocks themselves, so you can re-use them in future games. In fact, unless you play a game where you throw every monster in the bestiary at the players (not that there’s anything wrong with that), you’ll only need to print out a few dozen stat blocks total over the course of months of play.

Step 6. Handling Identical Monsters

There is the question of keeping track of which monster is which; if you have six Orc Raiders; how do you remember which one is Orc Raider #1 when they’re moving all around the mat?

I honestly don’t have a good answer for this, though I do have a few ideas:

  • Put a differently-colored dot of paint on each Orc Raider mini or token. It can fit into the mini’s motif (a bracelet, perhaps?), as long as you can easily tell the difference between the colors from a distance.

Then, instead of numbering each monster, you use its color; Blue Orc Raider, Red Orc Raider, etc. Fair warning: this can make them look like Power Rangers.

  • Collect a few of the plastic rings found on wide-mouthed plastic bottles, each in a different color, and slip them over each mini. See idea above.
  • Tape a little flag with a number on each mini.

Do you have any ideas on how to handle that? Let me know via Johnn at his email – [email protected]

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Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Write A One Line Idea for Every Area and Region

From Mike Bourke

I like to write a one-line idea for every area and region I place on a map, and every culture, just in case I need to improvise because the party has moved in a radical direction (either geographically or in terms of plot).

My players are able to spot the delaying tactics and make a big thing of my being caught short, largely because I’ve been so successful at using these one line starting points and thinking on my feet that I have a reputation of never being caught.

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HackMaster Critical Hits Utility

From Jan Monk

HackSACK is a JAVA GM Tool. It figures penetration and D10000+, critical hits, fumbles, spell mishaps, turn undead and more.

HackSACK is not as widely available as it was a few years ago, since HackMaster is now onto a new edition and the full version of the game is due later this year.

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d6 – My Favorite RPG

From Leonard Wilson

West End Game’s d6 System not only happens to be one of the most under-sung RPG engines out there, it’s recently gone open license, inviting the gaming community at large to polish it up and restore its luster.

Even better, they’ve released free PDFs of their core rule books (d6 Fantasy, d6 Space, and d6 Adventure) and an assortment of supplemental goodies, which can be downloaded


The d6 System is most famous as the engine driving its old Star Wars RPG. It captured the fast, freewheeling cinematic experience so effectively that I’ve yet to meet a gamer who played it that doesn’t still refer to it as the “real” Star Wars RPG. Once you’ve experienced its elegant and adaptable simplicity, it can be hard to imagine recapturing that Star Wars feel with the rules-heavy d20 engine.

On the continuum between rules heavy and rules light, the d6 System neatly claims that no-man’s-land between d20 and FUDGE, the existing leaders in open-license RPG systems. And while I’m a big fan of FUDGE, the increased mathematical meat of d6 allows more room for character growth, making it a stronger option for extended campaign play, or for when you just feel like having a little more room to tinker with probabilities.

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Fantasy Calendar Generator

From Hannah L.

A reader requested a custom fantasy calendar generator a little while ago. Lo and behold, I stumbled upon one not two days later.

Here it is:

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Favourite RPG: Zodiac

From Christopher ‘Frogg’ B.

There are many free indie games out there, from the classical console games turned tabletop like ZODIAC and Returners (both Final Fantasy RPGs, the former much simpler and rules-liter then the latter), to the comical like Risus (Cumberland Games) and the StickGuy RPG series (1km1kt).

I like to state that, though many of the Indie RPGs are free, it doesn’t mean they’re not worth downloading. Their worth is in what they are about, what all RPGs are about: having fun.

ZODIAC, for example, might be rules-lite, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a decent Final Fantasy RPG, and with some of the optional add-on rules, such as the Guardian Force/Aeon system (my creation, I might add) or the Better Skill system (by my friend Xaos, similar to D&D 4E skills) makes it more of an RPG similar to commercial RPGs.

If you ever have time, go take a look around the net for some free RPGs and see if you don’t find something of interest. If you like Final Fantasy games, then ZODIAC Or Returners might be right for you.

If you like true fantasy RPGs, then there’s Dark Fantasy and Advent Magicka Rising. If you’re in the mood for superheroism, then there’s Hero 8 by Mind’s Eye Publications. Are you silly? Stickguy and Risus are for you.

I would be very happy if you could either state in a small section or dedicate maybe one issue to free indie games around the World Wide Web. I’m pretty sure there are many out there who would love to get their hands on some free stuff like that.

I’ll even provide you with a site to my favorite, ZODIAC


And for their message board where you can find the optional rules and add-ons not featured on the site.

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Readers, if you have any tips or recommendations for free

RPGs, drop me an email. Thanks! [email protected]