Lately, I've noticed regadrless of the game and edition, my games pretty much flow as a Final Fantasy Game: Roll Initiatives, and spend the whole encounter being a piñata that hits the players back and remains static on the same spot.

The problem is that I have issues fleshing out the monster as another piece of the story and scenario, it's really difficult for me to do so. Many monsters have spells, multi attacks, cool abilities, and I end up only using the passives like "Geez, the monster is healed! It seems it absorbed your fire attack" and "You know that won't work, it's a ghost".

It becomes very boring. I read all the lore of the monsters I use and I create some cool ones for the ones I make, but in the end it just turns out being the same, I just feel I'm controlling a daage dealing machine and not a big bad monster; specially, some monsters have VERY dangerous abilities that can kill the PCs, and I'm ACTUALLY afraid of doing so, so I REALLY hold back and sometimes I even end the combat 3 round later, making it pointless.

How can I get inside the role of the monster and forget about everything else?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Not enough for a full answer, but sound effects help. Modern table-topping gets full advantage of tablet/smartphone technology. Make the monster make noises during the combat with the use of a soundboard. \$\endgroup\$
    – Axoren
    Jul 20, 2014 at 5:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Without more info about what is preventing you from roleplaying them, I'm not sure how we can answer this. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 20, 2014 at 5:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is it a problem with the situation the monsters are found in (setup design) or running the encounter when they're engaged? \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Jul 20, 2014 at 7:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Let me understand better, is this about how, when it's your turn, you say "the monster throws a lance at you, do I hit with a 23? 13 damage, next" instead of "The monster growls - For Torog! - and throws a lance at you (do I hit with a 23?) and laughs maniacally as the point opens a wide gash in your flank. 13 damage, next"? \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Jul 20, 2014 at 11:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/10225/… \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Jul 20, 2014 at 18:36

2 Answers 2


You describe two issues: (1) not "playing" the monsters, and (2) afraid to hurt the characters. I will give some suggestions below, but first let me say that it sounds like you already know what to do, ..So the real question might by "What's holding you back?"

Role playing a monster: Ask yourself a bunch of questions like is it intelligent? Why is it there? Is it aggressive? Will it run away if it gets hurt, and so on. Try to put yourself in its shoes. Think of it as if it were your favorite character. Give it a strong desire to survive. Or maybe it cannot run away. Perhaps it is chained to the wall, or protecting its babies. Maybe it can bargain for its life by sharing some secret information. Also, ..learn as a GM to bluff. Have weaker monsters "act" tough and offer to go easy on them by letting them pass if they give it some treasure. There are a lot of suggestions coming to mind as I type this, but the basic goal is to treat them as NPCs with different personalities. You should be able to play a dozen different orcs so that each orc is different.

Killing a character: No risk results in a boring story. There will always be those who disagree, but I believe most GMs will kill a character if the situation warrants it. Killing off one character as the other characters escape can be very exciting. However try to avoid the dreaded total party kill TPK.


You've got three things in this question, and I'll address them each a little differently:

The Viciousness Dial

You're afraid of hurting the PCs too much, right? That's a valid concern if your game isn't about hardcore challenge. There's a couple of ways to keep the challenge dial notched down, even if the monster would normally be pretty nasty.

  • The monster may be injured, or otherwise cannot use all of it's abilities

  • The monster may be raging, or not very smart at using tactics

  • There may be environmental situations favoring the players ("It breathes fire, but we're waist deep in water...")

So, if you think the monster is too nasty, consider possible reasons it can't use all of it's abilities.

Getting into the monsters' heads

I like to lay out a general motivation for the monsters before any encounter. Is it hunting food? Protecting territory? Is it sentient and trying to rob, scare off the PCs? You have to understand living things generally don't fight to the death. Predators will usually scamper off if it looks like a meal will fight back too much, or it's taking too long.

Figure out the general motivation and play your monsters like that. One thing it changes for a lot of games is that it shortens a lot of fights. A few rounds of combat and most things are either running, or trying out very different tactics.

You don't need to full immerse yourself into a creature to get a good way to play it, just some idea of how it operates.

Cool Roleplaying

The third thing you talk about is how you describe things. "The Monster is healed" doesn't do much, right? I like to try to make things visceral and think about consequences or effects, what would something look like if it was in a movie?

"The beast shifts it's weight and you hear a sick 'clunk' as bones shift inside, somehow, and for a moment it's eyes roll back... but now it's focused. Back on balance. You think it fixed itself somehow. Then it starts charging and the ground is shaking. It has to weigh about as much as a rhino, and you need to get out of the way right now!"

Size matters, speed and how things move matters. What happens when they miss. How do they react when things happen? What sounds do they make? This is the stuff that makes good description.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for viciousness dial. For my newer players I've turned the dial down quite a bit by having otherwise dangerous AF monsters making relatively stupid tactical decisions, or twisting the situation to the players' advantage. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 21, 2017 at 21:36

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