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Monstrous Thoughts

Recently, I was asked to update one of my monster designs from 2E into 3.5. I was happy to do it (it’s one of my favorites, and I’d forgotten it never got a full MC sheet), but it got me thinking about the “gith candidate” post from Erik Mona of a while back. Raging egomaniac that I am, I wondered whether any of my monsters were gith candidates.

Part of what makes D&D interesting is that it's internal mythology is reinvented by successive generations. In particular, seeing what monsters are carried over from edition to edition makes a fun parlor game. In the past, I did my share of updating 1E monsters to 2E, updating the goristoi, lillend, and crysmal, among many others. I’ve been around long enough as a designer that now it’s started happening to some of my little beasties.

I haven’t hit the big leagues: I don’t have a creature in the core MM. But I do have a few that have rolled into MM2 and other core books. The bladeling, forest giant, ocean giant, sun giant, marrash, and raggamoffyn are in MM2.

The odd thing about this list is that two of these are part of a dirty little secret of game design: they weren’t designed by the person credited with them, because bits and bobs of various TSR products were often “handed off” to someone down the hall (generally without telling the managers!). Monsters just happen to be good, self-contained chunks for that sort of handoff. So two on my list were done as favors for other TSR designers who fell a little behind on a deadline, and they basically gave me a name and a description to complete as a favor. I didn’t think of them as “my critters” at the time, but I’m happy to see them redone for 3.5E.

My bacchae, fensir, and oread were updated in the FF. It’s tough to take full credit for the bacchae and oread, since they are Greek and the concept predates me by a few millennia. Creatures from mythology do have legs: the core MM is loaded with them, and most of the classical creatures of Viking, Greek, and Anglo-Saxon mythology do pretty well.

But the list is odd in another way. The ones I really loved designing — the ratatosk, the giant cobra, the true ghoul, the whispering moth, the blood golem, the poison dragon, the albino wyrm, the oathbinder genie, the undead war elephant, and the cloaker lord — well, they didn’t make it into the 3E core books (ok, them and dozens of others). I wouldn't have chosen any of the creatures that made it, except possibly the marrash.

I’m not sure what that tells me about the nature of popular taste, though clearly my own creepy-crawly tastes are not entirely shared by the fans. Some on that list are from the Paizo magazines (which usually means greater exposure to the fan base than all but the biggest-selling core books). Others were published by d20 publishers in editions 1/10 the size of WotC editions, or by TSR in supplementary products such as the Planescape or Al-Qadim lines.

My guess is that it’s not where they were published (though it doesn’t hurt to be in a WotC or Paizo venue). Often it’s probably a matter of the next generation of designers running across a creature and saying “That’s so cool!” A few years later, they add an updated version of the creature to a project because they're fond of it and see its value to the wider "ecosystem" of monster designs. Certainly that was my goal when rewriting Graz’zt for 2E Planescape, for example.

I do know that authors and designers are usually among the least competent judges of their own work. I’m sure the ratatosk and the cloaker lord are already gone from 3E gamers attention today, and some of the staples of 3E will fade away when 4E rolls around (shocker lizard, anyone?).

As a direct example of the same principle, Mark Twain was very fond of his book “Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc”. Today, hardly anyone has even heard of it. Authors and game designers don’t get to choose what catches the public eye, but I do enjoy observing what does catch on (and trying to figure out why).

Got any particular favorite newcomer critters from 3E that you think will survive, or old 2E favorites that you’d like to see updated? Tell me about them.



( 5 sutras — Your wisdom )
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 3rd, 2005 05:28 am (UTC)
Are the ruschkakeli Finnish or did they spring full-blown from your imagination? The name sounds like it belongs to an Indo-European mythology of some kind.
Aug. 2nd, 2005 05:01 pm (UTC)
I cringe to admitting ignorance of what monsters you wrote for 3E. (Or are you referring to any new monsters? In the latter case, I think nimblewrights will survive to a new edition.)

As to 2E? I was so deep in homebrews and alternate systems that were kin to the dodo that I lack all knowledge of *any* 2E monsters. Sorry.
Aug. 3rd, 2005 05:33 am (UTC)
I'm mostly musing about my own, because, well, I'm biased, but I agree that the nimblewrights will survive in 4E if there's any justice. I think the original design was great, and appearing in multiple Dungeon adventures means more people are familiar with them as well.

I've done a bunch for 3E, including most of the ones in Frostburn and a bunch for Beyond Countless Doorways, Jade Dragons & Hungry Ghosts, a few for Dragon magazine, a few for Secret College of Necromancy. I'm probably forgetting some. Bloodspeakers had a few, I think.

I seem to do a lot of monster work for some reason. Hell, I threw a query at Paizo recently that involved resurrecting some 1E gems as well as original stuff and bits of Planescape.
Aug. 3rd, 2005 12:04 pm (UTC)
Well, I recall your kind help back in 1992/93 when I was in deadline crunch on CITY OF SPLENDORS and you kindly wrote up the raggomoffyn off my rough notes. The fact that they're a core monster now is rather amusing and a sign of a good idea and design, eh? ;)
Aug. 3rd, 2005 12:17 pm (UTC)
Well there's a good example. They survived and were updated into 3E. That critter is actually the inspiration for a villain named Jack the Sack in the campaign world I'm currently writing. I think any decent monster will get updated into future editions of the game. After all, that's easier once the creative work is done.
( 5 sutras — Your wisdom )

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