In this month's exclusive interview, the designers and developers of Monster Manual II discuss updating dragons and the future of flumphs....
Wizards of the Coast: So, how much of Monster Manual II is new content versus material updated or expanded upon from previously existing sources?
Jeff Grubb: The original plan was about 50 percent completely new, about 50 percent revisions of classic beasts that were not in the first Monster Manual. Right now, it's hard to tell because a lot of "classics" have been stripped down to their core concepts and names and rebuilt from the ground up.
Skip Williams: I have to agree with Jeff here. While only about 50 percent of the creatures in the book are entirely new, virtually all the material in the book is new. In many cases, old monsters were stripped down to their basic concepts and completely rewritten.
Wizards: How does the work get divided among multiple designers? Do each of you take a chunk and run with it, or do you simply bring your favorite
monsters to the table?
Jeff: I was the keeper of the master list initially -- for the classic monsters, we went through all the old 1st and 2nd Edition Monster Manuals to find the cool ones we had not previously covered. For the new ones, we were looking for specific niches within the game that needed to be addressed, in particular shifting the average Hit Dice up for higher-CR [Challenge Rating] monsters. I made the assignments; Steve, with his long experience in D&D, got a good chunk of the classics, while Ed got a lot of the "We want a flying beast for CR 12 that has the effects of the Chaos spell." In addition, space was held for original monsters from Ed, Steve, and Rich that were not in the initial listing.
Rich Redman: I was part of the initial selection process, and I really tried to focus more on serious, dangerous monsters than on silly ones. I also strongly argued against repetition of themes or monster types that already existed. I didn't always win, but that's for the best -- 'cause I'm not always right! I went for the stuff that was more visceral, that made my skin crawl.
Ed Bonny: There was considerable encouragement to make both the classic and the new monsters tougher, stronger, meaner . . . and that led to some incredible results. Lots of nasty, scary, deadly stuff. Things that make players quake when they see the DM grab the Monster Manual II off the shelf.
Skip: In my case, I was assigned the task of developing the material. After all the other designers were finished, it was up to me to make sure it all fit together, all obeyed the rules, and that it all fit into the book.
Wizards: What sources do you use in developing new monsters? Is there any one source you favor over others?
Rich: In this case, Jeff would say "We need a monster that has an ability like spell X, and is around CR Y," and I'd go off and figure out how that spell could kill people, or help a monster kill people, and design from there. I re-worked a few monsters from previous editions, but for the most part they sprang from my own evil imagination.
Ed: Ditto. Jeff would give direction, and then I'd let loose the imagination. Most ideas came from brainstorming a monster for hours, but sometimes I'd come up with a monster idea when least expected. I remember eating out on a Saturday night in Manhattan with friends -- talking, eating, laughing. Suddenly I was hit with an insidious monster idea. I had to scribble my notes down on the paper tablecloth while we talked and ate. The monster who benefited from that dinner idea was the fiendwurm.
Steve Winter: I got some terrific concepts from my 14-year-old son and his D&D playing friends, too. Teenage boys are a wonderful source of bizarre, macabre ideas.
Wizards: Which monsters in this new manual will be favorites after fans play with them a few times?
Rich: Hopefully, all the ones I wrote.
On a more serious note, it's been so long since I worked on the manuscript I no longer know what exactly made the cut.
Ed: I really like the idea of "feytouched" beings. Feytouched creatures open the door to more nature/humanoid combinations. I'm also a big fan of the hellfire wyrm -- a devious devil-drake with a penchant for diabolical diplomacy. Bring one home to your campaign today.
Skip: I imagine the deathbringer will be popular just for the name. The hook horror is an old favorite that missed the cut for the first Monster Manual, and it appears here fully equipped for the new game.
Wizards: Obviously, thousands more monsters have been designed over the years in various rulebooks, supplements, modules, and magazines. How do you decide what to leave out? And what were you hoping to include that ultimately didn't make the cut?
Jeff: At the very start of the project, we built a master list from previous sources as well as ideas we wanted to cover. Then Rich Redman, Creative Director Rich Baker, and I hacked it down to a manageable level. Among those left out: no saurials (unique to Forgotten Realms), no giff (gunpowder use is only an option in the new D&D), and no flumphs. (Too silly -- hey, I got outvoted!)
Rich: Yeah, no flumphs!
Ed: I guess I'm the odd man out. I would like flumphs but only augmented with templates, like a half-fiend flumph ghost?
Wizards: What stands out in your mind as the most creative new monster in Monster Manual II?
Jeff: My personal fave, the new banshee. She's a good example of a high-level nasty undead. I also like Ed's elemental weirds a lot.
Ed: Yes, the weirds are rather unique. Jeff had come up with a fantastic, new direction for these classic elementals, and so off I ran with that idea. The result: dangerous oracles of remarkable ability. Handle with care!
Skip: I choose the nethersight mastiff. It fulfills a role of guardian against Ethereal intrusions, something that wasn't a big deal before the current game came out.
Wizards: What gets the credit (or the blame, as it were) for the fiendwurm, clearly the nastiest monster in the new book?
Jeff: That would be Mr. Bonny's fetid imagination.
Ed: (laughing) Fetid, eh? Yes, I claim responsibility for the fiendwurm. The foul creature has a particularly vile side that I am quite proud of.
Wizards: Dragons are, of course, consistently popular. Do you find developing dragons to be easier or more difficult, given how much history they have
in the game?
Jeff: Steve developed the gem dragons, done originally for the web by Bruce Cordell, and recast the linnorms. Both of these, by the way, are in the book because Rich Baker lobbied strongly on their behalf.
Rich: And 'cause he's bigger than me. No offense meant to fans of either the gem dragons or the linnorms, I just think we did dragons really, really well in the Monster Manual, and we have this other dragon-focused product coming up....
Steve: Until you start delving into the really silly stuff, dragons are always fun to work on. I especially enjoyed the linnorms because they're closer in concept than any other D&D creatures to what I think a dragon should be like. They're darker, more enigmatic, and more mythological than other dragons. The gem dragons, on the other hand, have a tendency to come off as somewhat whimsical, though I tried to downplay that. At least they're not just more Smaug clones.
Wizards: Finally, any plans for a Monster Manual III?
Jeff: You might think so. I couldn't possibly comment.
Skip: You can never have too many monsters, so another Monster Manual is pretty much a sure thing.
Rich: And still no flumphs!