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I am preparing a session that contains a fair amount of absurdity. Many of the creatures and situations that my players will encounter will probably not be encountered again.

On the one hand, I know that players have a tendency to get into shenanigans you don't intend, but on the other, I don't know that it's worth planning for that. This is a puzzle-based session, and the puzzles are fairly thoroughly mapped out. Potential combat statistics, however, are very vague.

Do I need to come up with complete stats for everything? If not, how should I choose which things to stat up?

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Are you creating new monsters? Do you know before the session what they will be, or does that depend on the players' actions? – dpatchery Aug 17 '11 at 15:04
@dpatchery: They are custom creatures, yes. I know what creatures they will encounter, and how they look and behave on a descriptive level. I have not figured out how much HP they have, etc. – user1637 Aug 17 '11 at 15:13
As a new gm you will probably find that having everything ready to go for you will add to your enjoyment of the game. Having a full understanding of what your are throwing at your players allows you to better get into your role as a GM. As you get more experienced you will figure out how to adlib encounters and steer players back on track when they go down the tunnel marked certain death awaits anyone foolish enough togo. There is an art to throwing something at them too daunting to attempt and best to reverse course and a target that is too tempting not to try. – Chad Aug 17 '11 at 17:19
up vote 13 down vote accepted

There's no "have to" in RPGs, but there are pros and cons to doing so.

There is nothing wrong with running games completely off the cuff, with monsters not even having fixed hp or the like, if that results in an enjoyable game for you and your group. This approach gives the screaming meemies to some gamers because they are more interested in the tactical challenge aspect of the game being "fair," in that case you'd want to work on further statting out balanced opponents, maybe by using reskinning as @dpatchery suggests.

I tend to not go to that much work if I'm not looking for a big tactical combat scene. I use rules of thumb, like "oh that guy will go down given two good hits." Or "the player used an action point, the guy goes out no matter how many hp he has." Or if it's a more fanciful scenario, "the bishops on the big chess board go down if you hit them from the diagonal only." I use a lot of GM discretion and fiat. This can go wrong if the players don't trust you or it breaks their "thing" (where their thing might be immersion or tactical joy).

If not going with 100% statted creatures, you can hide the fuzziness from the players or not as you desire. In the end, as long as the interface to the players is clear (it hit AC X, you hit, it does X damage to you) then there can be a supercomputer or an insane gnome on meth "inside the box" determining what happens.

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+1 Love the insane gnome on meth imagery. – Sardathrion Aug 17 '11 at 15:44
"2 good hits" is a good idea. That seems easy+fast enough not to be a burden, cinematic, and feels right. I think I'll go along those lines ("3 good hits, faster than the players", etc) – user1637 Aug 17 '11 at 16:31

I would say "Hell no!" but I run systemless games.

On a more helpful note, if you know your system well, you should be able to roughly guess what a monster's states should be given a general description of its powers/hardness. Levels were originally designed as a short cut to describe just how hard something was: At Weathertop, the Witch King would be level 30, Aragorn would be level 15, and Frodo level 2. Sure, you could argue that Frodo was level 1 or 3 or 4 but overall his low level gives you a fair idea of what he is capable of. The rest can be filled in so that the characters are having a harder/easier time as dictated by the story.

As long as your players know that you are fair and are telling an interesting story they can influence and take into uncharted territory, then you are should be fine. As for special abilities and so on, feel free to use some that make it a more interesting combat. A character just set the orcs on fire, well, some of them had dynamite. BOOM. A character has a nice toy he can use, make sure he uses it on something big and important. Referees are here to tell a cool story featuring the characters. The players are there to shape and mould that story

For example, 3 orcs attack Aragorn. Let's assume that the referee wants Aragorn to shine in that combat. It's just to show how hard Aragorn is to all the other players and a few NPCs. Aragorn's players does not know this. So, he rolls his attack as usual: superb result. Fine, the first orc is cut in half at the waist. Gore everywhere. Awesome thinks Aragorn's player. Second attack is in the low range for Aragorn's level. Fine, the orc gets a slash across its face and is now blind in one eye. Etc...

For example, now Aragorn is fighting the Witch King. Aragorn rolls well but not brillantly. The result is now that the Witch King parries the blow with apparent ease. Aragorn is in trouble. It's going to be a hard fight... And so it should be!

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"As long as your players know that you are fair and are telling an interesting story they can influence and take into uncharted territory, then you are should be fine." <- +1 all-around, but I especially liked this. – user1637 Aug 17 '11 at 16:28

The easiest thing to do would be to look up monsters for your system with the same level, role, rank, etc that you have in mind for your custom creature. Use those stats and just call the creature what you want it to be in your game. You may need to shift a few things around, like damage types or mode of transportation, but it shouldn't be too much work.

This is typically referred to as reskinning.

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I usually have some brief notes about each monster (or relatively-background NPC), fleshing them out as needed. For GURPS, you may want attack skills, dodge/parry skills, HT and maybe Fatigue noted down in advance, if you expect your players to make battle with creatures. No need to go full-character generation on them, no need to keep close track of points cost or anything, just jot down some numbers that sound good (and possibly advantages/disadvantages as necessary).

Edit: Jot down things you expect to be needed in play. Don't jot down things you don't expect to be needed in play. be as brief as you can, while giving yourself a chance to remember what you actually meant.

If you have a monster that has an acid spray attack, but it's mostly just seen in the distance and you can expect your players to not suddenly go "aha! monster! kill!!!", you just need some notes on how it looks. If you have the same monster as a "path blocker", you probably need to note down attack type, chance to hit, hit points, damage done, dodge/parry (as applicable) and...

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I think that these are good ideas (+1), but for me it can feel like a slippery slope. Once I start specifying advantages, how many should I specify? Should I list quirks (ex "doesn't like light") or just keep them in my head? For monsters that the characters will likely fight, I think I'll jot down ~# hits it can tolerate, primary defense, primary attack, HT, and a brief description of any other abilities/oddities. (And attempt to leave it at that) – user1637 Aug 18 '11 at 12:56
@user1637: I expanded slightly on my answer, trying to give some more explicit guidelines. – Vatine Aug 18 '11 at 13:25
@user1637 The failure mode for this kind of preparation isn't very bad—worst, you'll have to say, "hang on, give me a couple minutes to fix something in my notes". Using this style of prep for just a little while will give you a very good sense of how much detail you need and how little detail you can sail smoothly with. – SevenSidedDie Aug 18 '11 at 16:41
It's also worth noting that the granddaddy of RPGs, Gary Gygax, ran years of ongoing campaigns with sparse notes like this. – SevenSidedDie Aug 18 '11 at 16:42
@SevenSidedDie: Great comments, thank you. It is interesting to know that he played that way. I think that the RPG community in general suffers from not having good examples of play to fall back on - to some degree, we are trying to relive musicals from the scripts and the reviews. – user1637 Aug 18 '11 at 16:53

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