Product Spotlight09/03/2004

Monster Manual III
Design Team Interview

In this month's exclusive interview, the team behind the new Monster Manual III discusses the new look for the Monster Manuals -- not to mention lots of nasty things that will soon go bump in the night in a campaign near you.

Wizards of the Coast: How much of Monster Manual III is new content versus material updated or expanded from previously existing sources?

Chris Perkins: Almost all of the monsters in the Monster Manual III are new. We didn't want to give gamers a bunch of beasties they'd already seen, and we found several interesting monster niches to fill. That said, we felt it was important to update some of the yugoloths (canoloth, mezzoloth, nycaloth, and ultraloth) to v.3.5, and we also updated the 1st edition flind, kenku, and susurrus. We also grabbed a handful of monsters from Dragon Magazine.

Gwendolyn Kestrel: The range and diversity of monsters in the book is delightful. There are many completely new fantastic creatures such as the protean scourge and the witch knife, whose names alone inspire me to include them in my campaign.

The number of revised and updated creatures is few, but they, too, fulfill interesting functions. I updated some of the Dragon Magazine critters, including some fine golems originally devised by Eric Cagle. That was a different task -- keeping the designer's original vision but updating and sometimes streamlining the monster.

Wizards: Did you continue with the style of design and development that you used with Monster Manual II? How was the work divided among multiple designers?

Chris: Monster Manual III began the same way its predecessor did, with a vague outline of the monsters we'd like to include in the book. Here's a snippet [see sidebar] of what the designers received; as you can see, the outline allowed for some designer creativity, within boundaries.

Monster Manual III: Monster Order

You have been assigned monsters of specific types and CRs. For some of the monsters, you will be asked to provide "champion" versions or Tactics sidebars. These are briefly described below:

Champion Version: A monster "champion" can be an advanced version of the monster (that is, a greater version created using the Advancement rules in the revised Monster Manual), the monster with a specific template applied, the monster with class levels applied, or any combination of the three. The revised Monster Manual contains several examples of "champion" monsters.

Tactics Sidebar: This short sidebar provides round-by-round combat tactics for the monster. The revised Monster Manual includes several examples. Tactics sidebars are primarily reserved for monsters that have a lot of special abilities or spell-like abilities, or monsters that are otherwise complicated and challenging to run.

Things to Try

Here are some things we'd like to see but aren't specifically assigned to any particular monster:
Chrysalis Monsters: Creatures that transform from one thing to another (see also Monsters with Age Categories, below).

Creatures as Characters: Creatures with low CRs and level adjustments that can be used as player characters.

Living Artillery: Monsters bred for war.

Monsters with Age Categories: Creatures other than dragons that use age categories and have different abilities at each age category (see also Chrysalis Monsters, above).

Monsters That Qualify for Prestige Classes: Creatures that, by their very nature, qualify for prestige classes presented in the revised Dungeon Master's Guide.

Magically Altered or Warped Critters: Monsters modified or warped by magic (for example, a mutated grimlock or magically modified treant).

Mounts: Creatures used as mounts and war beasts by other creatures.

Sonic Monsters: Creatures with resistance or vulnerability to sonic attacks, or creatures with sonic attacks.

1. Aberration #1 (Designer: JESSE DECKER)

- Type: Aberration
- Target CR: Very low (1-2)
- Page Length: 0.75 (~750 words)
- Champion Version: Yes
- Tactics Sidebar: No

2. Aberration #2 (Designer: GWEN KESTREL)

- Type: Aberration
- Target CR: Very low (1-2)
- Page Length: 0.75 (~750 words)
- Champion Version: No
- Tactics Sidebar: No

Gwendolyn: The newness held a great deal of appeal for the designers. Chris's guidelines provided a solid structure that gave us lots of room for creativity. Some of the weirder ones that I enjoyed writing were the bloodstriker dinosaur (based on the real-world horned blood lizard) and the plague spewer (an undead that vomits rat swarms).

The outline also ensured a good spread of CRs and creature types. There's lots to choose from at every level of play.

Andrew Finch: We had the designers design more monsters that we would ever need for this project. Over 50 percent of the monsters designed for this book were left on the cutting room floor. This let us pick the best monsters for the book, and, in fact, many good monsters were left behind.

We also looked at the division of Challenge Ratings, creature types, damage reduction types, spell resistance, creature size, and many other categories to try to get as broad a book as possible. The result was that we looked at this book as a whole as much as we looked at the individual monsters.

In development, we also looked to make sure that monsters were easier to play right out of the book. GMs should find these monsters much simpler to run and yet they provide the same quality play experience. For example, many of the monsters have Power Attack built in to the stat block based on their typical use. Of course, there is no reason for the GM to have to use the monster this way, but it does mean that the GM does not look back after the fight and realize that he or she forgot it.

Wizards: How about the higher-CR monsters in this edition? Of what should players be leery, if not outright afraid?

Chris: If the players are fighting monsters of the appropriate CR, they won't need to worry about a TPK (total party kill). However, several of the monsters have abilities and tactics that the players may never have encountered before, and so they might be caught off guard. The brood keeper, for example, releases swarms of flying larvae that use the D&D swarm rules. Compare that to the skindancer, whose damage reduction changes depending on the last weapon that wounded it.

Gwendolyn: The CRs range from 1/2 to 20. Many of the entries have both basic and tougher versions (either through monster advancement, class levels, or the addition of a template). This means that a DM might throw the CR 7 conflagration ooze at a party who later encounters the scarier CR 13 infernal conflagration ooze. Lots of great opportunity to be surprised and a bit scared.

Andrew: Wizards of the Coast R&D has put a good deal of research into understanding our Challenge Rating system. We have a much better idea of what is needed to challenge higher level parties today than we did even a year ago. We also have been looking at new ways to challenge parties, a couple of which Chris has pointed out. I think GMs/player will find our higher-CR monsters very interesting and challenging play experience.

Wizards: What sources do you use in development? Earlier publications of monsters? Original creations? adaptations of TV, movies, and books?

Chris: We asked the designers to look at the existing horde of monsters and try to come up with critters that used clever new mechanics or tactics. Andrew and I also kept lists of ideas that weren't married to any particular monster. For example, we wanted a monster that spit alchemist's fire, and so we eventually made one.

Gwendolyn: Many designers created creatures that fit well in the schema of existing monster races. There's the forestkith goblin and the skullcrusher ogre that add some variety and spice to old favorites.

Andrew: A lot of the monsters in MMIII are designed around specific play experiences. Monster Manual [I] takes care of most of your basic movie/book needs, and what it doesn't, we feel that most GMs can provide for themselves. In MMIII we wanted monsters that seem familiar but deliver a unique play experience. We think we have managed to provide that.

Wizards: Which monsters in this new manual do you think will become favorites? Chris: Several MMIII monsters leap off the page, and many of them will appear as prepainted plastic minis in future D&D Miniatures sets. I think the ones we've chosen to become minis will enjoy a lot of play in people's D&D games. I'm confident that this book will see as much use at the gaming table as the core Monster Manual, just because so many of the monsters are easy to play and fun to fight, not to mention well illustrated. However, I can't predict which monsters specifically will enjoy the most popularity. I think the monster with the best name is the slaughterstone eviscerator.

Gwendolyn: Like Chris, I think it's hard to predict which ones will become favorites. There's so much in the book to spark the imagination of the DM and players. Some of the monsters have entries outlining their use as animal companions, mounts, or summoned creatures.

Wizards: How do you decide what to leave out? After three Monster Manuals, have you been able to get in all the monsters you wanted? (I believe there was quite the debate about flumphs in previous editions.)

Chris: Never speak of flumphs again! With MMIII, we deliberately overcommissioned the number of monsters, knowing that some of them would get cut. It gave the developers a bigger sandbox to play in, and frankly, we knew that a certain percentage of the monsters would be too complex, too similar to one another, or too wacky. For example, we had a monster that was basically a giraffe with spell-like abilities and spell resistance, but we didn't feel that such a monster added enough to the game.

In addition, we're also trying something new with MMIII to make the book easier to use. In MMIII, every new monster starts at the top of a page. Making the book fit the new format required that we eliminate some of the weaker entries and expand others.

Gwendolyn: The new format of a monster starting at the top of a page posed a great many challenges, but it turned out spectacularly! It will be a great aid to the DM by reducing page flipping and presenting all the statistics together.

Andrew: Letting [the] development [team] go through a huge number of monsters and pick the right ones for the book gave us a lot of room to really craft the product. We ended up with a really strong and interesting product.

Wizards: What stands out in your mind as the most creative new monster in Monster Manual III?

Chris: I don't think I can reduce my list of favorite MMIII monsters to a single beastie. However, a few monsters strike me as particularly cool and have awesome illustrations accompanying them. The geriviar is basically a four-armed giant that hurls exploding nodules that it rips from its own body, which I think is an interesting twist on "giants hurling boulders." I also like the summoning ooze, which belches forth summoned monsters. Finally, I think our take on the susurrus (an oft-forgotten first-edition Fiend Folio monster) will intrigue and delight a lot of fans; the artwork is also spectacular.

Gwendolyn: I love some of the new angles displayed by different creature types. Jesse Decker created the ragewalker. ("Ragewalkers embody the natural forces of war and combat in the same way that nymph embodies the beauty of nature or a dryad embodies the heart of its tree.") The creature manages to be innovatively fey.

Andrew: A lot is going to depend on your style of play, both as a GM and as a player. Many of the monsters are going to be very exciting experience for the players as they discover them for the first time. There as some subtleties to these monsters as well that will not be apparent to the GM just by reading them -- many you will just have to play to truly experience them.

Wizards: By the way, who bears responsibility for the idea of a battletitan dinosaur? As if 500 hit points of angry dinosaur wasn't bad enough, now they're trainable?

Chris: That would be Rich Burlew, one of the freelance designers (and one of the three finalists in our New Campaign Setting search).

Wizards: No dragons this time around, though you offer up quite a few golems to choose from. Any reason behind the exclusion of dragons?

Chris: The MMIII includes creatures of the dragon type, including the ambush drake, rage drake, and dracotaur. We didn't think the game needed any new true dragons. No one fears the dreaded magenta dragon or the rampaging nickel dragon, but they will run screaming from a pack of ambush drakes or a barbarian riding a rage drake into battle.

Andrew: Every creature type is well represented in this book. While we may not have dragons in the traditional sense, as Chris points out, there are many interesting monsters that call dragons cousin. I really think the designers did a great job exploring what each of the race types have to offer and provided some interesting twists on some more traditional creatures.

Wizards: Of the seven golems, which one is the real bad boy here? I think we gotta go with the shadesteel golem.

Chris: The shadesteel golem is tough, I'll give you that. However, in a war of the constructs, I might have to go with the grisgol (a construct made of scrolls, shredded robes, and torn-up spellbooks) or the cadaver collector (a spike-covered scourer of battlefields).

Wizards: Any plans for a Monster Manual IV? Do you still have enough material to keep the ball rolling?

Chris: We have great plans for Monster Manual IV. We're taking a different approach with the book--so different, in fact, that we're already beginning to outline the product. We like the format of starting monsters at the top of the page, so that feature of MMIII will probably carry over to MMIV, and we want the artists to become more involved in monster design than with previous books in the series. We realize that we can do more with the monsters, but the things we have in mind should probably remain secret for now. We also have ideas for monsters that will make great minis.

Gwendolyn: There's certainly enough material to keep going. Readers of Monster Manual III will feel that their time and money are well spent. The book's very solid, both creative and beautiful. It should simultaneously satisfy them and make them look forward to the next one.

Andrew: We learned a lot about doing a Monster Manual from this book, which is funny to say, but even after 30 years and a bunch of monster books, there are still things to learn. As Chris hinted at, we have a lot of great ideas for the next one and really cannot wait to get started on it. And like I said before, many good monsters just did not make it into this book for reasons other than their quality.

Wizards: What are each of you working on now that you can sneak-preview to the gaming community?

Chris: As the design manager for RPGs and miniatures, I'm involved with every RPG and minis product on the schedule to one degree or another. Today, I'm scribbling comments on the typeset galleys for Frostburn (an RPG product devoted to the exploration of cold environments), compiling a short list of errata for the Player's Guide to Faerûn, talking with folks about our eighth set of prepainted plastic miniatures, working with my boss (Bill Slavicsek) to hammer out the 2006 and 2007 RPG product schedules, and exchanging emails with freelance designers working on an Eberron sourcebook slated for release in 2005. And, of course, when I'm not thinking about work stuff, I'm thinking about my Wednesday night campaign and all the horrible, horrible things I might do to the characters.

Gwendolyn: When designing creatures for Monster Manual III, I worked for Wizards of the Coast as an editor. I spent many evenings and weekends writing freelance and honing my design skills. Recently, I was hired by Wizards as a full-time designer. Now my day job's my dream job!

Currently, I'm working on a Forgotten Realms project that explores some of the darker aspects of the setting. I'm also shepherding Frostburn through its galley phase as its managing editor.

Andrew: After a year as the development manager for D&D, and setting up the development process for D&D, I have recently moved on. I was very sad to leave D&D, but the new development manager, Jesse Decker, is going to be a fine complement to Chris and his design team. As Wizards of the Coast R&D's new director of new business, I will be looking in on D&D from time to time, as long as Chris and Jesse put up with my comments!

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