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37 Adjectives To Spice Up Your Monsters

I was reading the excellent Sly Flourish newsletter recently, aka the Lazy Dungeon Master, which delivers his latest blog post in my inbox. The post discussed what was the Minimum Viable Preparation Needed to Run a D&D Game. One of the subsections of the post dealt with monsters, and how anyone can dip into the Monster Manual and base a story around “hibernating ankhegs”, “ravenous bugbears”, “a disguised lamia” or “terrorizing troglodytes.”

Sly’s quick fire use of adjectives struck me as both extremely simple and yet incredible powerful. Each adjective engaged my curiosity and changed my expectations of any encounter with that monster, and immediately creative sparks started to fly.

And so, as a kind of brainstorming tool for DMs, I came up with this longer list of adjectives that I think you could stick on front of nearly any Dungeons & Dragons monster and kickstart your encounter build, either significantly ramping up drama, or in some cases completely subverting the players’ expectations.

  • Drugged
  • Enraged
  • Friendly
  • Lost / confused
  • Starving
  • Exhausted
  • Bloodthirsty / merciless
  • Rampaging
  • Swarming / abundant
  • Enslaved
  • Charmed
  • Mindless
  • Enthralled (by mindflayers)
  • Devil-worshipping
  • Demon-worshipping
  • Aboleth-worshipping
  • Kraken-worshipping
  • Uniformed (or in marching formation)
  • Rabid
  • Diseased
  • Insane
  • (Laser-) Focused
  • Undead
  • Greedy
  • Camouflaged
  • Disguised
  • Watchful
  • Bleeding / injured
  • Intelligent
  • Cunning
  • Dead (or pretending to be)
  • Begging
  • Tortured
  • Scared
  • Nervous
  • Pregnant
  • Cursed
  • Giant

To ram home the point, if I quickly mash some of these adjectives together with famous beasties I am getting some immediately thought-provoking results:

  • Drugged unicorn
  • Starving owlbear
  • Friendly giants
  • Undead dinosaurs
  • Pregnant dragon
  • Disguised goblins
  • Tortured orc
  • Swarming purple worms
  • Scared troll
  • Intelligent zombie

Subverting the typical expectations of how we encounter these monsters can provoke strong reactions: making us wary, curious or even sympathetic towards them. Moreover, they instantly lead us to create a story around the encounter. Such added depth is likely to engage the players, and possibly even lead us into creating an entire adventure or campaign.

Malnourished dragon…

That’s it! A simple thought, inspired by Sly Flourish, that became a little tool. Please add your own ideas / adjectives in the comments section!

While I’ve got you here, let me point DMs amongst you to this NPC name generator, that I think you’ll like, and this discussion on handling Large monsters in D&D, which attracted a fair few comments already!

Finally, as we close out 2020, I’m pleased to say that this blog has over 60,000 visitors a month now! So if you’re new here, don’t be shy… go on the right of this page and subscribe, or follow on Facebook or Twitter to stay in touch.

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2 Comments

  1. PK

    Hi Duncan,

    It reminds me of the old Basic encounter table, but addition of non-systematic components (adjectives) transforms your table into a hundred hundred more potential and different outcomes.

    Great work. Well done.

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