Design & Development10/14/2005

You Craft the Creature!

We're hoping this column becomes your window into roleplaying design and development -- or at least the way we approach these things here at Wizards of the Coast. We'll handle a wide range of topics in weeks to come, from frank discussions about over- or underpowered material, to the design goals of a certain supplement, to what we think are the next big ideas for the Dungeons & Dragons game. All of this comes bundled with a healthy look at the people and events that are roleplaying R&D.

Monster Traction Feedback

There’s been quite a focus on creatures these days. Our recent Monster Traction column discussed how some monsters catch hold with players while others never do; at the end of the column, we asked for your feedback on creatures you feel deserve traction – the answers poured in, and many thanks for taking the time to respond! Some of your choices for monsters with traction included the following:

“…shadow death dog. The two heads, the glowing green eyes, the poisonous bite, and the shadowblend ability go a long way in unsettling the players (not to mention its raspy voice... in stereo).” -- Newboozys

“The nimblewright gained traction because the party that encountered them had some pretty skillful swordsmen... and then they run into a construct that can not only out-duel them, but also lured them into every trap my dungeon had to offer! Unlike most constructs, the nimblewright stuck me as potentially intelligent... and “Sektor” (yes, I stole the name off Mortal Kombat...) quickly evolved from a near-forgotten minion of the evil drow, Severus, to a full blown villain in his own right, enhancing his own abilities, and depleting his ever-fragile sanity, along the way...” -- wargamer

“As the only person in my gaming group to (at the time) own the 3.5 Fiend Folio, I had a rather good selection of monsters to throw at my PCs that they had never seen before. From the very beginning I was interested in the shadar-kai, and when my PCs first encountered them they were led to believe that they were fighting drow (cloaked figures that moved with incredible grace). They then went on to believe that they were battling normal elves (pale skin). Only at the very end of the adventure was it revealed that their foes were in fact a race of fey from the Plane of Shadow. They were all more than a little surprised and begged to read the shadar-kai entry. Because there is just way too much potential for an ongoing campaign centered around the shadar-kai, I denied them their wishes.” -- Robert Ewart

“I've been a player for 15 years and a DM for the last 6 of those. There is one monster I would like a little more detail about. The kyton. I mean, they seem to be pegged as demons, but there still isn't much background. Everyone knows the place a marilith or a dretch occupies, but kytons seem to have been left to the wayside. Maybe I'm just missing some information, but a humanoid that goes around wrapped in living chains is pretty awesome.” -- nightmareoracle

"My favorite monster with potential for traction is the kenku. They are inhuman enough that you don’t feel bad about killing them, but they are intelligent enough to be a real threat to a party. They have a simplicity to them that is often missing from monsters created in the last few years of published material. They don’t have mechanically complex special powers to remember, they have clear personalities (“we sneak around and steal money and power”), and they are often played as a “surprise monster” hiding under a long robe or heavy cloak, giving them an air of mystery and intrigue." -- Kazthefirst

"The salt mummy is really just a mummy -- but the dessicating touch and its appearance help it markedly. The sand golem is just tough. The suffocating sand has already claimed one PC's life (he was reincarnated from human to dwarf!), and it is just hard to damage... the PCs have been looking at new ways to defeat them, and the conditions have changed each time so they're always interesting. Time to use them both again... Of course, both were related to the prestige class of the "Walker in the Waste", which is why I initially started using it. That's a prestige class that is effectively a monster in itself -- it has a distinctive appearance and function, quite unlike your generic "fighter" or "cleric"." -- merricb

“Templates are the greatest. I collect the damned things. I love anything I can use to give various unrelated monsters a connection. A bugbear, firbolg, and mongrelfolk will have absolutely no relation... until you add the reptilian template. Ghost is another fun template.” -- Wikkles

“I have a suggestion as to why the owlbear achieved traction while other similar themed monsters did not... B2: Keep on the Borderlands, the starting point for a generation of gamers. The Caves of Chaos were home to an owlbear (along with the other caves full of humanoids), and it was featured on the cover of the booklet. One-on-one, the owlbear was one of the toughest opponents in the module. I'm sure many a first-time D&Der lost their characters to the beak & claws of the owlbear.

"In defense of the peryton ... my third D&D character, a human paladin named Dorian (created after the rather quick and untimely deaths of my halfling thief named Bilbo and then my elven magic-user named Elrond), fought sword and antler nearly to the death with a peryton. It was one of the most memorable battles I've ever had." -- DocWeeds

Let the Crafting Begin!

Our monster traction article mentioned that we'll be talking more about creatures in the coming weeks. Next week, Jesse Decker returns with a further look at creatures. Plus, we’ve also started up our second creature competition, this time with combatants chosen by you, the players. In addition, here’s the start of what we hope to be a lengthy and rewarding conversation – and a chance for you to help craft a brand new creature for Dungeons & Dragons!

How will it work?
Here's how it works (if you're familiar with's "You Make the Card," then you're already aware of the format). Each week (approximately!), we'll present a poll asking for a key decision in the creation process of a new creature. We'll also link each poll to the message boards, for you to elaborate on, and argue for, their choice.

After the crunchy, technical stats have been decided, we'll also provide options for the background of the creature, as well as options for the concept art. The final creature will then be assigned to an artist to fully render and will appear in a future D&D sourcebook!

When will the creature be "officially" released?
Right now, we can’t say. The voting alone will take several weeks to complete, and after that, final art will need to be commissioned. Plus, whatever sourcebook the creature is deemed most appropriate for will need to be finished and sent to press – so, a ballpark estimate of six months is none too high.

What's first?
Let's start with a big one. First off, we need to decide what type of creature this will be. Any subtypes will be determined later, but for now, here are the options:

What type of creature should this be?
Magical Beast
Monstrous Humanoid

So cast your vote, and here’s to the start of a brand new creature!

About the Authors

Design: David Noonan is a designer/developer for Wizards of the Coast. His credits include co-designing Dungeon Master's Guide II, Heroes of Battle, and numerous products for the Eberron campaign setting. He lives in Washington state with his wife, son, and daughter.

Development: Jesse Decker (male human, CR 1/8): I first picked up a d20 somewhere in the early eighties, and I often tell the story of my intro to D&D. I was in elementary school, and a friend received the now famous "red box" set as a gift from his parents. I was instantly hooked, and soon became a regular haunt of the one hobby bookshop here in Renton, WA. Fast forward through some-teen years of gaming (with occasional interruptions for things like school), and just out of college I land a job as editorial assistant for Dragon Magazine. The eight years since that entrance to the gaming industry have included a two-year stint as editor-in-chief of Dragon, freelance design credits such as Hammer & Helm, and Unearthed Arcana.

In the middle of 2003, I left the helm of Dragon for a chance to do full-time design in Wizards' R&D group, and was lucky enough to work on books like Complete Adventurer and the DMG II. I clearly liked to talk too much to remain on the design team, so I moved over to manage the relatively new development team for RPGs and D&D Minis.

It's easily the best job in the whole world, but even so, I swear that as soon as I level up I'm taking the Talk Less in Class feat.


Thoughts or suggestions for this article? Topics for future Design & Development articles you'd like to see covered? By all means, please feel free to write directly to the authors, at:

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