I’m tired of nameless, faceless monsters. Ogre Warrior followed by stats - DULL!! Human Barbarian Warlord - YAWN!! More games need more zip in their bad guys.
My 30 years of game mastering has taught me a couple of things. (Yeah - spooky huh? it really is 30 years) One thing I never know is when my players are going to stop to talk to somebody. Now I can’t figure out every single character they might meet (see a couple entries ago for the conversations about BSing during the game), but I think a GM needs to have some understanding of his bad guys. Case in point - My players were doing a good job of harassing a start-up orcish nation, so the leaders put together a goon squad and sent it after them. 30 mounted orcs came over the crest of a distant hill, and the player party (of ~8) took off running. [Side note - In Legend Quest, especially my campaigns, you don’t think “Orc = 1HD. Easy kill.” You think, “Their probably 500 point orcs and any one of them could kill me.” It’s lots more fun that way!]
Anyway - after a couple of skirmishes, the party was hold up in a hotel, and the goon squad found them. Huge fight out by the stables as the party tried to escape. With two party members unconscious and maybe a third of the orcs dead, they started a conversation. Now, here I am, in the middle of a fight, trying to figure out who these orcs were and what they might be thinking. Fortunately, it was late, and I called a stop to the game, to resume the next week with the conversation. It’s not like I put a ton of thought into this. I just assigned pro-wrestler names to each of the surviving orcs. Now, I had personalities to go with my characters. Some were crazy violent, some were reasonable, and some were simply stupid. Seeing as the hit and run fighting kept up for two more gaming sessions, knowing who the bad guys were really helped!
So what do I think GMs should do? I think you need to at least describe the general culture of any group of enemies your party will be fighting. Want it easy? Get a copy of A Baker’s Dozen Tribes; there we have thirteen examples of what we mean. But you can easily do this on your own:
1) This tribe of orcs uses wolves as steeds and spends most of their time as raiders and bandits. They live in the hills and are at home in the forests. Done. Now you know their motivation (looting) and which environments they will be best in.
2) This tribe of goblins is mainly shepherds, but their flocks have been diminished and now they have to raid their neighbors in order to survive. Done. They are more likely armed with slings and staves, than swords. They have experience fighting wild predators, but not with armored people. They are more likely to loot livestock than liquor.
3) This dragon has been the only predator in this area of the swamp most of her life. She hunts the huge rodents that live there. Done. She will not be use to things that fight back. She will be aggressive if she learns of any other “predators” in her territory. She will likely be curious until she gets hurt.
You don’t need to write out every soldier’s family tree back four generations, but if you know he’s from a country that is similar to ancient Rome, you’ll think about a disciplined soldier with experience and a name more like Marcus, Pompii, or Flavius (NOT Bob!).
So what if you spend the time to do this, but then don’t use it? What if your players kill the guys from a distance and never learn their names? You save it for the next time!