One of the challenges faced by game masters in tabletop role-playing games like Dungeon Crawl Classics is keeping the game fresh and exciting. This can be particularly difficult when dealing with monsters that all use the same stat block. However, with a little creativity and attention to detail, it is possible to introduce narrative variations in descriptions that can make each encounter with these creatures feel unique and memorable. Here are some tips and tricks for adding narrative variation to your monster descriptions. We will use the example of goblins, a common and frequently encountered creature in fantasy role-playing games, to illustrate these techniques.
Use sensory details
One way to introduce narrative variation in descriptions is to use sensory details to create a vivid image in the minds of your players. For example, when describing goblins, you could focus on their appearance, smell, and sounds they make.
Instead of saying “You see three goblins ahead,” you could say something like, “As you round the corner, the smell of rotting garbage assaults your nostrils. In front of you, you see three scrawny, green-skinned creatures with bulbous noses and pointed ears. They cackle and whisper to each other in their guttural language, their sharp teeth glinting in the dim light.”
Vary their behaviour
Another way to introduce narrative variation in descriptions is to vary the behaviour of the monsters. Even if they all use the same stat block, you can make them feel distinct by giving them different personalities and motivations.
For example, one group of goblins might be cowardly and prone to fleeing at the first sign of danger. Another group might be particularly vicious, relishing in the pain and suffering of their victims. Different individuals in the group may act contrary to one another, providing a unique group dynamic. By varying their behaviour, you can make each encounter with these creatures feel unique and unpredictable.
Vary their tactics
Similarly, you can also vary the tactics that goblins use in combat. One group might rely on hit-and-run tactics, darting in and out of combat to strike from a distance. Another group might use traps and ambushes to catch the players off guard. By varying their tactics, you can keep players on their toes and make each encounter feel different.
Here is an example of how to use these techniques to create a more engaging encounter with goblins.
As you make your way through the dark and winding tunnels, you catch a faint scent of something foul in the air. As you round the next corner, the source of the smell becomes apparent. A group of goblins is gathered around a pile of rotting food scraps, snickering and tossing bits of mouldy bread at each other.
As they spot you, the goblins scatter in all directions. Some run down side passages, while others dart behind piles of debris, peeking out to take potshots with crude bows and arrows. One particularly bold goblin stands its ground, waving a rusted dagger menacingly.
As the players engage the goblins in combat, you use hit-and-run tactics. They dart in and out of combat, trying to whittle the players down with arrows and daggers before fleeing to safety. One goblin even sets off a hidden trap, sending a shower of rocks tumbling down from the ceiling.
After a fierce battle, the goblins are defeated. As the players search their lair, you find evidence that this group was a particularly vicious one, known for ambushing travellers and torturing their prisoners. The players should feel a sense of relief knowing that they have put an end to their reign of terror.
By using these techniques, you can add narrative variation to descriptions of monsters, even if they all use the same stat block. By varying their appearance, behavior, and tactics, you can create unique and engaging encounters for your players to talk about well after the session has ended!