The Monster’s Implied Adventure

Dan Phipps

2/8/20244 min read

A new part of the Gem Room Games newsletter has been the inclusion of missives from Gem Friend and “all purpose explorer” Hyronimus Canard. Reviewing the extensive (arguably exhaustive) amount of material they have already sent us sparked some thoughts on how to judge what should be included and what should be removed in the fine art of monster description.

Signal and Noise in Monster Writing

As with everything, there’s a sweet spot in how much to include in a bestiary entry. An over-described monster becomes unwieldy at the table and a chore to read in prep. Overly minimalist entries provide so little context that it's unclear what value they provide.
The precise location of the aforementioned sweet spot is to one’s own culture of play and personal taste. This post is an attempt to provide a framework for reviewing monster descriptions to ensure that everything in ink has use.
Monster description (both in exposition and statblock) needs to be more than a repository of worldbuilding trivia to be meaningful in play. It must be dynamic, evocative, coiled like a spring and ready to launch. The player should intuitively “get it”. Every detail you provide about the monster should create possibilities for play.
Below are some ways the described monster can be more than a hazard or an expression of worldbuilding, but a dynamic adventure unto itself.

The Monster as Bounty

The basic premise - monsters are dangerous and someone is willing to pay up to make things less dangerous. Easy to support by simply providing a typical value for removal or extermination that the players can adjust. What is the going rate for a vampire, hunted?

The Monster in its Habitat

As a twist, describing the impact monsters have on their surrounding ecosystem and problems caused when settlements encroach on their territory allows for a proper mystery. The bestiary can tell you the Wyvern has a penchant for building nests out of human bones. The townsfolk only know their cemetery is being dug up, they don’t know why or by whom. It falls to the adventurers to investigate and learn the truth.

The Monster As Mystery

Trophy Gold’s approach to monsters assumes that each one is truly unique, a cypher that can only be understood from repeated encounters. The monster’s description starts as blank, with the players responsible for naming it and details filled in through play. Not exactly in the spirit of this post, but a fun thing to have in your back pocket if you need to turn literally nothing into a never-before-seen recurring antagonist.

The Monster as Treasure

What about when you find the monster before you learn there’s a bounty on it? Monsters can be valuable to collectors when captured, ransomed, or butchered for parts. The inclusion of this detail is one of my favorite things about the Mork Borg monsters. It requires a slightly more nuanced menu, ideally including who wants which monsters for what, and why.

The Monster as Collector

Sure, a given monster may carry a few trinkets on their person but are you willing to track down their amassed horde? Classic adventure games use random tables to capture this, though simply declaring “Treasure Type C” with no additional context leaves a great deal to the players to interpret. Supplementing a random treasure table with what the monster is looking for in a home, what they furnish it with, and why, gives a much clearer way to turn a random encounter into a possible treasure hunt.

The Monster as Client

Describing a monster’s wants, needs, and typical faction affiliations opens up a breadth of complex interactions and ways for an adventuring party to get paid. A monster with its own treasure horde is a monster with an operating budget, able to hire open-minded adventurers to fulfill their own goals.


Include as many of these details as possible or appropriate when describing a monster:

  • Typical values for the monster Removed, Captured, and In Parts

  • Descriptions of the monster’s nest, how to track it down, and the value of what you’d expect to find there

  • Signs that a monster is nearby, especially common interactions with settlements

  • A brief overview on what the monster likes and dislikes. If intelligent, typical faction affiliations. If it has a treasure horde, how much is it willing to trade or offer as reward to adventurers

Follow these to meet the standards to which we hold our dear Hyronimus Canard, All Purpose Adventurer. Follow their adventures monthly in our newsletter by signing up here!