The Unconstrained GM

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15 Responses

  1. That’s a pretty good way of doing it. It fits into my style of DMing 4e. I’ve been doing a similar thing for the my Traveller campaign (even easier there as there are no levels and UPPs are easy to list) but I hadn’t really wrapped my head around doing the same for 4e. I guess the ways the rules and source material is written for 4e is designed to imply that you can’t do it like that.

    Thanks for your article.

  2. I like it very much. Was thinking about starting my sandbox making “generic” monsters to throw at the party before some threats are more detailed. But this way it’s even better. Thanks. Downloading and totally using. :)

  3. Oh! And old-school stats are way cool BTW :)

  4. Darktouch says:

    Oh very nice. I don’t currently play 4E but this looks like it would work extra well with some of the simpler essentials characters.

  5. Robert says:

    This is really great! I especially like the way you have compressed the stat blocks. Wizards needs to see this.

  6. Simple guidelines to run any 4E game on the fly! Awesome. RT @greywulf The Unconstrained GM #rpg

  7. Alphastream says:

    Very nice! However, I’m not sure I like the absence of damage values for the “High” column. Monsters typically have a hard-hitting power that provides a high damage spike. Or, they have riders that come with some of the powers. Kobold Slinger in MV is 1d6+5 for basic attack, but has 3/enctr to add an effect. Grasping Zombie does 1d12+3 or more on a grabbed target and can also attack to just grab. The Horse (I’m using level 1 MV examples) has a basic of 2d6+4 and then can trample as an encounter for more against several targets.

    If the monster is simple and has basically just an at-will attack, that damage is usually higher (take a look at the MV dire rat, just attacks for 1d10+5 and disease).

    For damage alone, it might be worth listing the average damage value from Chris Perkins’ recent article. That can serve as a guideline… if you have 1d6+3 basics, you need something else to reach the average at-will of 9 and the enctr average of 13 for a level 1 monster.

    It is also important to state that the sheet you provide needs a few caveats for non-experienced DMs. Cool monsters don’t just have HPs and attacks. They are descriptive agents of narrative. Encounters gain life when the monsters do awesome things that are in tune with the narrative. If your encounter is all about a city block that is on fire, the monsters should have powers like Aura of Flame, Scythe of Smoke and Fire, Flameburst, etc. When running things on the fly it is important not to leave this out. Experienced DMs know to do this, but less experienced DMs might take the above sheet and just roll some lame damage in a lame situation. 8×8 room with 5 monsters dealing non-descriptive average damage does not make for fun play. In contrast a good DM can take average damage and use it as a tool to on-the fly create awesome combats without extensive prep. A monster might have average damage plus vulnerable fire, with a follow up minor attack that provides ongoing fire. That sort of quick-thinking is hard to master (a lifelong project for most of us).

  8. Eodrid says:

    I’ve used Sly Flourish’s cheat sheet on the fly for monsters and skill DCs in the past, it works great. I wrote up a two page monster manual in a notebook with 1-2 line entries like:

    Flying Eye Scout–Artillery 1, Burning Eye (ranged 10, vs Fort, fire damage), resist 5 fire
    Flying Eye Sporeplanter–Controller 2, Lashing Tendrils (+immobilized), Implant Spores (targets immobilized, vs Fort, high damage+ongoing 5), if target brought to 0hp by Implant Spores place Flying Eye Scout minion in square next turn

    When you don’t have to waste time doing the math, you have time to come up with more evocative powers. Plus, if I read a cool power on a monster, I can just steal the framework, rework the numbers and done. You can reskin anything lightning quick.

  9. This is a great breakdown and something I will definitely use in my next game. I am always looking for ways to “enhance” a game on the fly and this seems to fit the bill. Great piece, thank you very much.

  10. Jonathan says:

    This is just brilliant – I really must bookmark this page. Thanks, Greywulf!

  11. Genesys RPG says:

    Excellent post and blog site. I saw you on twitter under the “who to follow” tab. I am developing a universal RPG that is rules lite and fast to play, you can check out our webstie at: I have a few more slots open for playtesters, and currently have a few play testers in the UK (I am based in the US). If you are interested in playtesting, email


    The Genesys Team

  12. Thorynn says:

    This is genius. You’ve got it boiled down to an index card’s worth of info. Well done!

  13. kyhan says:

    Wish there was something like this for 3.5. 4e is too boring and every character ends up doing the same thing under different names. 5e looks promising so far.

  1. December 7, 2011

    […] One Page Bestiary is being reworked, as I reread Greywulf’s The Unconstrained GM and now have a better idea. Meanwhile, here it is, preserved for […]

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