View Full Version : [DM] Efficient encounter generation

The Boz
2011-11-01, 06:23 PM
How about the DMs here share some secrets regarding encounter creation?
When you're generating an encounter for your party, how long do you take, on average? How about generating MBEGs and recurring villains? What's the best way to organize and develop your NPCs, especially those with combat interactions in mind?

In the PF game I'm currently running, I normally use the bestiary for monsters, which is nice and simple, but the campaign has a lot of allies and foes with class levels, which I find I have to develop quickly from the ground up. I get through the random mooks quickly enough, especially since after one is statted up, its easy to use the stat block to develop similarly CRed mooks with minor adjustments. I take my time on any spellcaster or memorable character and develop their stuff with a lot of detail, but I keep that detail in a separate file. I use my laptop a lot, and on it I have multiple text files with NPCs, quests, events, PC cheat sheets, items and fluff.

An NPC from a quest might have the following blurb in the part where all the other NPCs and enemies are statted up for ease of access:

(40hp, AC 20, +7/+7/+3, I+1, LE, 20ft, A+7 1d8+3 C19x2)
[Masterwork Longsword, Masterwork Heavy Shield, Masterwork Banded Mail, letter, 260 gold]
Will engage confidently, but will try and withdraw if any of his friends is killed.

In the quest description, however, there is a more detailed text about that same guy:

A portly human of some fourty years, with balding and greying hair. He stands completely relaxed not out of confidence, but out of laziness. The tunic of the Felton Guard that he wears is messy, showing obvious signs of neglect. His shield is old but sturdy, and it doesn't have a single battle dent or scratch on it, and the same is true for his armor. The banded mail he wears was obviously made for someone taller, thinner, likely several years ago when Felton's economy was booming. He talks slowly, but not because he's stupid; he just doesn't give a ****.

How does everyone else do it?

2011-11-01, 06:57 PM
I use the monster advancer (http://www.monsteradvancer.com/send/monster/initMonsterCustomization.ma) for monsters and this Npc generator (http://www.dinglesgames.com/tools/MonsterGenerator/dnd35/) for most of my NPCs.

2011-11-01, 07:10 PM
An encounter with class levels can take me anywhere from 1-4 hours to build, depending on levels and build complexity. A simple sorcerer 6 is about 15-30 minutes, mostly for gear and spell selection, but a Cleric6/Sanctified Mind6 can take me an hour or so to fully generate, particularly because a character like that is usually "important" in some way.

I don't do a lot of straight backstory creation. Players rarely learn the names of people they fight, and personality is usually reflected in the build somehow. A sniper with high move speed flees at the first sign of trouble, but a Psychic Warrior tripper build uses Vigor to keep himself going while his allies try to help. If there's backstory, I try to tell it through set pieces or environment instead of dialogue.

My character sheets tend to be big, winding things with detailed stats. A "brief" version is still usually a full page of notes and details. Once a fight starts I generally use notepads to track things like HP and initiative, as well as important details(Breath Weapon : ||| means 3 rounds until he can use his breath weapon again).

I am very inefficient.

Gabe the Bard
2011-11-01, 08:36 PM
Your stat block looks very good, although I would add initiative modifiers and saving throws, as well as strength modifiers for grapple checks if one of your players is grappling a lot. You might be able to eyeball those, but anything that you can foresee coming up during the game would be good to have in advance.

I used to spend an hour or so looking up a couple of monsters from the manuals that fit the story, but I abandoned that pretty quickly because the party was just too optimized. After that, I would spend maybe 4-6 hours a week customizing the monsters. Of course, that resulted in the players trying to optimize even more, so it became a DM vs. PC arms race. I didn't feel too good about that, but it was just so much fun making multi-template monsters with class levels and revealing them to the players with a giddy laugh.

The Boz
2011-11-01, 08:40 PM
I already have saves and initiative covered (the +X/+Y/+Z for saves and I+N for initiative), but you're right, basic abilities and CMD/CMB might come in handy, even if I just nonelite/elite those in a few seconds.

2011-11-01, 08:56 PM
Depends on the system. My favorite thing about 4th ed was how streamlined the GMing process was. Encounters usually took about 15 minutes to prep. More if I customized, but even then a whole encounter took less time than customizing a single NPC in 3.5. And I knew 3.5 a whole lot better to boot.

What made all the difference for me was that enemy difficulty was pretty accurate. I could use monster XP as written and trust that if I stuck to the budget, the combat would play out as challenging, but not murderous. In 3.5, I wouldn't trust CR any farther than I could throw it, which isn't very far because CR is a concept and I haven't a clue how you throw one of those. I ended up making copies of the monsters in the DDI compendium and using text search tools to find what I wanted. So I might look for a leader from levels 11-16, with the Necrotic keyword and a dominate ability. Do that five times over with slightly different parameters and I had an encounter.

2011-11-01, 09:51 PM
For 4e, I just use the Monster Builder to make what monsters I want and then I use the XP Budget to determine how many I put in an Encounter for a given difficulty.

Not counting time for me to build my bestiary, it takes less than a minute if I use the Masterplan Encounter Calculator. Otherwise I have to do the math myself :smalltongue:

2011-11-02, 12:10 PM
An encounter with a monster(s) generally takes me little more than 30 minutes to construct with highly detailed statblocks for the creatures, particularly when they are multiples of the same creature. I use PCGen DM tools to do so, though it doesn't work all the time.

Sometimes, the CR ratings on the monsters it lists is a little...off. For instance, the 12-headed Hydra, listed as CR 12 fighting my party...One-shotted the paladin because the paladin ran slower than the Hydra charged. :smalleek:

But generally, that's how I get it done. I use the same for NPCs, allowing me to quickly get all their saves, attacks and whatnot done, along with any equipment they may have. Very quick, very efficient.

2011-11-02, 08:20 PM

Those help quite a bit