In light of the release of Monster Manual 3, my interview over at Critical Hits, and the discussions over at Enworld and RPG.net, I figured I’d talk a little about my monsters. To give you some background, I was a designer, a developer, and the lead editor on Monster Manual 3, and I was one of the major forces behind the new monster stat block, which you can read about in last month’s Design and Development column.
Although Monster Manual 3 doesn’t release widely for another week, stores that are part of the Wizards Play Network should already have it. With that being said, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I talk about some of the monsters I designed. Generally speaking, I was responsible for a lot of the epic tier and Far Realm monsters, Mike Mearls was behind many of the classical monsters, Schwalb got some of the nasty monsters (devils/demons) and big threats.
The highlights of my design on the book included the Catastrophic Dragons, the Star Spawn and Allabar, and the Mind Flayers. I also enjoyed doing the Apocalypse Spells, Corruption Devils, Forsaken, Gremlin, Su Monster, Thri-Kreen, Tulgar. As I said, Mearls got a lot of the classic monsters; the only one I designed was the Su Monster. My efforts were focused on developing some new epic-tier threats. To that effect, I created the tulgar and the forsaken. Without spoiling too much, the tulgar are corrupted primal spirits that have taken humanoid form, and forsaken are the fragments of dead gods that have risen and vowed vengeance against the gods and everything divine.
I most enjoyed developing the story behind the star spawn and Allabar. The Far Realm figures strongly in my own campaign, so I wanted some epic threats that represented the culmination of a Far Realm campaign arc. In an effort to expand the Far Realm threat to higher level, we bumped up some mind flayers and star spawn to the epic tier. Allabar wasn’t actually part of the original outline, but I’d seen that piece of art in Bruce Cordell’s Wish Upon a Star article a while back, and I couldn’t help but seize upon it.
Schwalb did the first monster in the corruption devil entry, but we were short some pages, so I decided to fill it in with some epic level minions, because I’ve heard some folks commenting that there aren’t enough epic level minions. The corrupted minions sort of spawned out of my experience watching Full Metal Alchemist. Without going all “seven sins,” I wanted to see what I could do to create monsters that capitalized on vice.
If you haven’t had a chance to glimpse Monster Manual 3 yet, it has a lot more story. I took the opportunity to expand the core world, not only by using the tulgar, staw spawn, and forsaken, but also by using creatures like the gremlin, the su monster, and the apocalypse spells. For the su monsters, I went back to their original appearance in issue 54 of Dragon Magazine, combining the ideas there with some lore from the 4E Manual of the Planes. I did some research for gremlins too, but ultimately it seemed like they needed their own story for the D&D world, especially seeing as there weren’t many planes for them to sabotage. I don’t want to steal too much from the Design and Development article coming out this Friday, though, so that’s where I’ll have to leave my discussion of the monsters’ story-centric approach.
Being involved in all three stages of Monster Manual 3 was a wonderful opportunity, and it was ultimately what helped me to create the new stat block. I know a lot of folks have been asking whether the new stat block format will be implemented in Adventure Tools and Compendium. While I can’t confirm or deny, I can say that all the stat blocks going forward will use the new format and new math, and that R&D is dedicated to ensuring that monsters from older books don’t feel obsolete. I feel confident that most older monsters up until about level 10 are performing just fine. It’s only around paragon tier that the damage really needs some adjustments. If you want a quick fix, double the flat damage a monster power deals, or in the case of a brute, triple it. In other words, if you’ve got a creature that deals 2d10 + 5 damage, have it deal 2d10 + 10 damage, or 2d10 + 15 if it’s a brute. Adding more dice also works, but it also makes the damage more swingy.
I’ve also had a few questions about whether page 42 will be updated to reflect the new monster math. There are no immediate plans to release an updated chart, but the Dungeon Master’s Kit and Rules Compendium are just around the corner, and being one of the people responsible for the Rules Updates, I’ll see what I can do.
I’ve been using the new stat block format and new monster damage/accuracy numbers for the past 6 months, and I can attest that it has really amped up my paragon-tier game. Combats are easier to run—I rarely overlook auras and triggered powers—and I feel as though the PCs are genuinely threatened by the monsters. With that being said, I just ran a pair of goristros from Monster Manual 1 last night with few modifications, and they still did a good job at daunting the players. A lot of how an encounter goes still comes down to a DM being willing to improvise and alter monsters on the spot. I’m constantly assessing the players’ resources—hit points, action points, daily/encounter powers—and adjusting the encounters appropriately. I do this even in organized play programs like D&D Encounters; just ask any of my players about how the final session went. A good encounter isn’t just about the monsters. It’s about how the DM runs the monsters and the encounter. The best way to create a really intense encounter is to let the battle swing back and forth—let the players feel like there’s no hope, then give them hope, then take it away, then give it back to them. It might sound cruel, but I guarantee that it’ll make the encounter memorable. (One caveat, not every encounter should push them to the brink of death. Sometimes, they just need to feel badass. But that’s a discussion for another day).