I'm a very new GM and I've been running a custom setting in Pathfinder recently. It's post-apocalyptic and due to weird mutations/magic the monsters that the players can run into will often be unique, one-of-a-kind encounters each time in order to fit the setting.

This gets to be a lot of work, though, by trying to think up unique concepts over and over... I'm starting to run out of ideas, especially if it's an unexpected area or something.

What's a reliable method or system with which I can quickly generate unique random monster concepts?

Thanks! :)


3 Answers 3


I'm going to suggest that not every monster needs to be wholly unique, and that your players will (probably unconsciously) thank you for reigning it in slightly.

This answer is based, in part, on an Angry GM article on traps, and partly on personal experience. In this case, they mesh well.

Players like feeling smart. They like to think that they've seen through the GM's (or the published adventure's) clever attempts to trick them. The cleverest trick is to let them.

Stable of Gimmicks

To that end, I would suggest first coming up with a small set of gimmicks that can be bolted on to existing creatures without affecting their CR too much (here's a place where the party composition can have a huge effect on the apparent CR of a modified creature; play around with the exact mechancis until it feels right for the party).

6 is probably a good number of gimmicks: small enough to remember them all, and it's a convenient die size. Gimmicks might include "acidic" or "strong"; an advanced gimmick might be "glass cannon". Each gimmick should include one identifiable trait and one mechanical effect (or two).

Sample gimmicks:

  • Acidic: green tinge, can deal an extra 1d6 acid damage with natural attacks or has a ranged touch attack that deals HD xd6 acid.
  • Fiery: orange tinge, aura of fire HD feet radius (round up to the nearest 5 feet), deals 1d6 fire damage, Fort halves
  • Strong: looks particularly beefy for its monster type; +(1/4 HD, round up) strength
  • Glass Canon: parts look beefy, parts look frail (eg., beefy arms, frail legs, or its weapon arm is out of proportion to the rest of it); +(HD) strength, halve max HP
  • Agile: limbs look long and spindly; +5 feet to all move speeds, can ignore HD squares of difficult terrain per round

The particulars will depend on the effects you want mutations/magicks/... to have had on the local creatures. The important part is that they're easy to tack on and don't have a major effect on CR (which is why "Strong" adds to strength but nothing adds to constitution or even dexterity, since those will affect saves, HP, AC, etc.; strength "just" affects melee attack and damage, in a pretty straightforward way).

The gimmicks don't have to come from the same source on each creature (though, "Strong" probably will). One Acidic creature might spit acid while the next can throw it as an at-will spell-like (or supernatural) ability and the next is coated in acid (hence adding damage on a natural attack). One Fiery creature might actually be on fire while the next is simply supernaturally hot.

Choosing the gimmick could be done by die roll or by picking the one that feels right at the time (the latter is preferable if you're using the Environment, below).

And, don't worry if a gimmick makes sense for the creature in all cases; an Agile gelatinous cube or a Strong pixie are bound to show up eventually, if the mutations are more-or-less random (in-world).


Use the environment to help create unique encounters. Create interesting terrain features so that not all combats happen on a flat plane bounded by squiggles: chasms, cover, and cliffs can all play into making an encounter feel more unique, even if its the third "Fiery Centaur" encounter in a row.

You've said that this is post-apocalyptic. Has magic infused and mutated the landscape, too? Maybe Fiery creatures have fire resistance, so they tend to hang out around pockets of Fiery terrain (possibly magma bubbling up to the surface, possibly magical flames). Agile creatures will love ambushing creatures that wander into areas they've intentionally made difficult to pass.

Reward players paying attention

When players enter a new area, tell the players what (if any) gimmicks the area has. If the terrain is difficult, give a +2 Perception bump to the player who asks if those twigs might actually be an Agile creature's limbs. If the area is supernaturally warm, give a similarly minor boon (+2 to initiative, perhaps) to the player who breaks out the Frost dagger they found three levels ago.

If the players are in a dungeon (which is to say, a series of interconnected areas, which may or may not be underground), let them use this information to help choose which way to go. If they've got a scroll of Resist Fire handy, they might choose to go through the hot area instead of the frosty one. Giving players agency like this is a Good Thing(tm).

Not all monsters

Sometimes a bugbear is just a bugbear. Not all monsters need to have a gimmick. Especially if the players are new to the game, introducing a vanilla bugbear before introducing their Agile cousin will help them get a handle on the threats they're likely to face.

And, of course, sometimes a Fiery Kobold will just be friends with an Acidic one, and visiting in the "wrong" environment. Or, the Agile dire lion will be wandering through, looking for better hunting grounds.

Similarly, not all combat encounters need gimmick-ed areas.

Wrapping it up

Put together a small handful of gimmicks that you can slap on a creature quickly and that the players will learn to recognize so that they feel clever. Enhance with tacking the gimmicks onto terrain, so the players can make reasonably informed choices about how to handle unknown threats or make informed decisions about which path to take.

Make the encounter areas interesting and it'll feel like the apocalypse has had a greater effect on the world than a strict mechanical reading of the gimmicks might suggest.



With a standard random encounter table, each monster has a pretty good chance of being encountered multiple times in the same environment. This makes sense, because any given encounter is assumed to be representative of the overall ecosystem in the area; if you encounter a small group of bandits, it's because there are bandits around and defeating that small group doesn't really impact the overall likelihood of encountering bandits in the area, much, since there are so many across the whole region of travel.

This is not desirable in your particular setting, because each monster should have unique features for story reasons, and a regular encounter table will make things too same-y for that.

To that end, you should use a template-based encounter table. An example of a fully template based random encounter system can be found in the first edition 'little black books' for Traveller, where GMs roll across several nested tables to determine the physiology, ecological niche, and general statistics for alien life. If you want to put in the time, you could do something similar-- develop a number of generic 'base forms', roll between them, and then roll more times for things like 'theme' and then what powers it has from that theme, or 'nature' and then cross reference that with theme to determine modifications, or other things like that. By using multiple tables independently, you geometrically increase the number of distinct output creatures. Designing these sorts of tables is quite a bit of work though. Do note that the 'base form plus mods' system is used in Pathfinder for Eidolons, so you might want to start there.

Alternatively, you can just apply actual templates to actual creatures, which is much much easier. You have one table for base creatures, and then one or two tables for templates. If you give each encounter 1d4-1 template rolls, for example, then only the monsters with no templates will blur together. Individual templates, though, will become easily recognizable, as will individual monsters, so this method, while much easier, is much less effective than a complete overhaul.

For this method, make sure to give good odds to the 'mutant' template, which itself possesses a suite of of minor options, is likely to be useful. Also, the 'afflictions' system is both very similar to templating and appropriate for use in the first method, so including afflictions as templates in your tables will probably be helpful.


Just to note that "unique monster" != "unique statblock". You can add a lot of variety to your game simply by taking bog-standard creatures and giving them a different description.

For example, I had one character who was an accidental cleric of Hastur with an unfortunate penchant for summoning extradimensional horrors. "I will summon a terrible hopping bloated fang-monster from Beyond the Stars" = cast Summon Monster, put a squig miniature down on the table, and pull up the stats for a Fiendish Badger. You'll still need to come up with unique descriptions but you don't need to customise every statblock.

Note - if your group is the kind that has the Monster Manual memorised, this can increase the difficulty of an encounter, especially for creatures like medusae where knowing the monster's special abilities gives a big advantage.


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