Benefits of a Keyed Monster List

It has literally been one month since any sort of “real” content post on Gaming Ballistic. That ain’t right.

There are good reasons – or they seemed so at the time – but still, there has to be more to the blog than an occasional play report and a “work was done” update about the two RPG projects that are eating my time and some of my creative energy.

Make a List: Bad Guy Rosters

Starting small, though: I endorse fully Peter’s notion of Bad Guy Rosters from his post a few days ago.

I’ve used these myself, and I find there are two ways of doing them that just rock on toast.

The first is the simple spreadsheet list, but organized in such a way that the order has meaning. In short, if you’re mucking about in a room killin’ monsters and takin’ their stuff, then you’re probably making noise. Lots of it. The blood-curdling shriek of a fallen hobgoblin. The whoosh of air as it escapes from lungs the size of forge bellows as an ogre’s throat opens the wrong way. The dull but powerful woomph of a detonating fireball.

All of these should instantly alert neighbors that fouble is a troot. At least one “nearest neighbor” should go on high alert, and if these dwellers have any sort of communications system (and I don’t mean cell phones, though magical equivalents are great – I mean runners and messengers) the entire dungeon will soon be on alert.

The key information in a bad guy roster is pretty obvious: what’s in a room, notable things in the environment that must be noted, distance to next rooms, and nearest-neighbor connections.

The easiest way to do this will be with an example.

Donjon: The Exampling

If you don’t know Donjon, you should. Tons of great stuff there.

The example dungeon that it spat out for this has 11 rooms, several key areas, a bunch of dead ends. As always, it lists wandering monsters. 

Let’s assume the players will enter the dungeon by the stairs leading into room 1, basically in the center of the map.

Looking at it, you’ll enter into Room 1 first.

Adjacent to that is Room 10, and farther away but directly connecting to room 1 is Room 7

Room 7 connects to room 4, etc.

The key is to put the rooms in an order that makes sense – and that doesn’t mean “start with room 1.”

So, in spreadsheet form, you’ll get something like this:

Room Monster Special Neighbor(s)
4 Secret Door 3, 7
6 1 x Trog Zombie Secret door only entrance 1, 7
7 Trapped Door 4, 1
1 1 x Monstrous Spider Stairs, breeze 10, 7, 6
10 Trapped Door 3, 1
3 Many doors; Trapped door 5, 2, 11, 9, 8
5 Several doors 8, 3, 2
2 Ghoul carnage, no threat 3, 5
11 Scrawled message 3, 9
9 Dart Trap 3, 11, 9
8 1 x Trog Zombie 5, 9, 3

This one shows pretty quickly that this is a poorly connected dungeon. The monsters are widely separated and not likely to be able to hear ruckuses going on from room to room. The zombie in Room 6 has to open or pass an otherwise-secret door and travel down a twisting hallway to get to Room 1, the site of the next-closest monster. The last monster is in Room 8, way the heck over and isolated in the southwest corner of the place. In fact, the more numerous and dangerous threats are the wandering monsters provides, which look like this:

1 1 x Shrieker (fungus), scouting from another part of the dungeon
2 1 x 1st Level Warrior Svirfneblin (gnome), scouting from another part of the dungeon
3 1 x Darkmantle, scavenging for food and treasure
4 1 x Ghoul, searching for an object stolen from their lair
5 1 x 1st Level Warrior Drow (elf), searching for an object stolen from their lair
6 1 x Darkmantle, scavenging for food and treasure

It would be fairly easy to site each one in a descent “starting place,” and have them moving from room to room along certain corridors. Or just roll dice. Either way. Three of the monsters are basically “other adventurers” and can be treated as such. Will they avoid trouble (likely)?  Will they set ambushes? Might they fight each other if their paths intersect? Are they actually the same party of disparate allies looting in a very PC-like way?

Mind Mapping the Trog Threat

The other possibility here is to populate a mind map.

There are many tools you can download and use for free. I downloaded XMind, not the least of which reason is that I’ve used it before. It’s a big program, even in the free version, at almost 175MB, so be prepared

First thing I did was use the Floating Topic tool and throw down 10 rooms, spread around, labeled. Then I used CTRL-L to connect each room to the rooms by which you could actually reach one way or another. Then I colored the relationships by a red/green color that says if it’s likely the rooms can interact. It’s permissive, so that even if there are doors there, you might get a green. But long, tortuous pathways or secret doors get a red.

Then, though, I rearranged them so that no two pathways overlap. That might not always be possible, but in this case, it was. The rooms don’t always have the same spatial positions as the actual map (check out Room 4 vs Room 7), but you can see that Room 3 is key – the nexus of the entire complex, and that the areas in the lower right of the mind map are pretty isolated, and that the left-hand side would be pretty connected if there were creatures (such as the wandering monsters) that could hear things happening and react.

The only reason Room 1 is different is that it’s where you enter – and immediately have to deal with a monstrous spider.

Parting Shot

In any case, back to the opener: I really endorse Peter’s note about a big list of critters. The example I provided was deliberately random and small, with only three monsters, but it still shows the utility of both methods. There’s a lot of great information you can fit into a spreadsheet, and a simple “where can you get from here” visualization of the dungeon area is handy.

For an outdoor encounter or something like a village, the mind map might lack arrows and relationships, or the arrows might indicate something else – sight lines, for example. It might be the case that, quite simply, the mind map tells you nothing that the map doesn’t tell you, and the most utility is provided by the spreadsheet. Great! That means you have a nice map.

I’ve also used this sort of mind map for interstellar navigation that happens by wormholes or other non-linear travel methods; it would be a good way to deal with teleportation gates or Rainbow Bridges in other settings.

Mind maps, of course, are fantastic for relationship and faction mapping. But that’s another post.


5 thoughts on “Benefits of a Keyed Monster List

  1. I’ve never used a roster like Peter describes, but I have used both normal maps with keys and mind maps. The latter I found much more useful, especially in games that abide more cinematic “scene change” conventions as opposed to literal “you walk 30 feet and see a door” type transitions between encounters. If/when i get the privelage of running another game, I’ll definitely try keeping a roster, though. It seems quite handy for keeping useful information organized and at the GM’s fingertips.

    By the way, if you were to write a post on mind maps, I’d live to read your take on them and their implementation.

    1. That sounds like a pretty good post. A few ways of using mind maps, and a reference to RealmWorks which has a mindmap tool built in.

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