As a gamemaster, you have to be able to handle numerous tasks at once. You have to describe the scene, adjudicate the rules, portray the non-player characters (NPC’s), and try to keep everyone involved. That’s a lot, so you don’t need your session note format to get in the way. In this article, we’ll look at several ways to organize your NPC stats, their advantages, and their disadvantages. No one method is perfect, nor do you have to stick with the same one all the time. Even if you already have a preferred format, it’s always good to see what else is out there. Let’s look at some options
This is the traditional method of writing NPC stats right in your session notes. Both your encounter notes and information on potential foes are all in one place. Custom opponents can be created beforehand, and you may not need to bring a monster-book to your session. Also, you can even include little checkboxes to keep track of hit points or conditions during play.
However, compiling inline stats can be a time intensive process. Abbreviating the stats can help a bit, though be careful not to miss any important information (I’ve been guilty of this in the past). Also, you may have to do a bit of page flipping if the players deviate from the expected order of encounters.
Some GM’s don’t bother collecting stats beforehand. They just note the particular type of opponent, and perhaps a page number. Then they just reference those foes during play. Sticky notes or bookmarks can help you find things more easily during the session. This method cuts down on prep time, and doesn’t require you to write out stats for opponents the party may only encounter once. It affords a great deal of flexibility to the GM as they are not locked into one specific type of foe. It’s great for sandbox or improv style play.
One drawback to this method is that you will need to bring your rulebooks to every session. You’ll be flipping through them often, which can be inconvenient if you need several types of opponents for particular encounters. If you want a custom opponent, you’ll have to adjust a published one in the middle of play.
There are commercial and fan-made cards available for some games. If you’d like to make your own, there are free sites available and even some stand-alone programs. And there’s always index cards (it’s kind of a tradition). You can build up your card file session by session. After a while, you’ll be able to flip through your stack and easily create a few encounters. This is ideal for pickup games, and it’s much easier to tote a few cards to a game than an entire rulebook.
During play, though, they are one more physical item that you have to fiddle with. (I’ve already knocked them on the floor during combat.) Also, you’ll have to switch back and forth between your session notes and your cards. They do take time to create, and can use up a lot of printer ink. It’s important to take the time to organize them between sessions so you can find the cards you need when you need them.
A final method we’ll look at is the NPC Chart. These charts contain statistics for opponents of different levels or abilities. During play, you can simply slide a ruler down to the needed row, and there’s your second level goblin warrior ready to go. Just like rulebook foes and cards, this provides the GM with a lot of flexibility for sandbox play or unexpected encounters. Also, you’ll only need to make this chart once. This can be a real time-saver in the long run.
Like cards and rulebooks, an NPC chart is another separate item to manage during play. Also, the chart may not list extra attacks and special abilities. If you’re not careful, every fourth level opponent can start to look exactly alike. Another option is to list individual foe types (orcs, klingons, rules lawyers, etc…) in your chart. That may work for some campaigns, though it may become a bit large and unwieldy.
How you organize your NPC stats will depend on your GM style, and it may change over time. Also, it should be said, some styles of gaming are less dependent on NPC stats than others. For those games, you may not need much at all beyond a rough outline. These are only suggested as a few options. Try them all and see what works best for you.
How about you? What method do you use? Did I miss any other important ways to organize NPC’s? Let us know below.