Monsters and the World of D&D
ast week I wrote about the cosmology of D&D Next and our approach to it. The plans I outlined represent our initial thoughts, and stuff like the relationship between the domains of Ravenloft and the Shadowfell are still up in the air. This week, I wanted to pull back the curtain on our approach to monsters.
As we work through the lore behind monsters, we are in some places either highlighting elements of a creature's story or expanding it out. Our approach to monsters follows these basic goals.
- Invalidate as little of the monster's past as possible when it comes to adventures and settings. If a creature has lived in the desert, or if it has been a tough single opponent (as opposed to a creature that attacks you in great numbers), preserve as much of that as we can.
- Give the creature a place in the world. Where does it live? What does it want? How does it act? What creatures does it ally with? Who does it hate? A creature's context is important for making it feel like a living, breathing entity in the world of D&D Next.
- Let a monster be what it needs to be. We don't need a complex story for the purple worm. It's an underground, burrowing monster that devours whatever crosses its path. In contrast, a lamia is an intelligent, powerful creature. It needs a good story seed to bring it to life.
- Tying into the point above, we're not trying to cast creatures only as things you fight. Some creatures pose hazards when you're exploring. Others are potential allies or things you interact with. Some are a mix of all these possibilities.
In writing up our notes, we're following a style similar to what we used in the Monster Vault product, with each creature described with a few key traits that are given further details.
You will notice that we're giving monsters a bit more story detail than in past editions. Although some DMs like as little detail as possible, the story we're providing is a starting point. It's the assumptions we'll use in creating adventures, but our goal is to make sure that the creature's basic stats aren't overly dependent on that story. That way you can easily take a creature and adapt it to your home game or re-skin it as a different beast entirely.
Here's an example: the ettercap. Hopefully, you can see here how we're adding a bit more depth to the creature to help suggest its place in the world, its ties to adventures, and how you might use it in your campaign.
These creatures are humanoid/spider hybrids.
Spider Shepherds: Ettercaps are spider shepherds. They tend to spiders, feed them, and watch over them in the same manner a shepherd watches over a flock of sheep. They watch over spiders in much the same way that treants watch over forests. They are creatures of the natural world that lair in deep forests, where they quietly dispose of creatures that wander into their areas.
Through a Forest Darkly: Ettercaps delight in silently killing explorers, travelers, and homesteaders. They have no desire to live in harmony with nature. Rather, they prefer to despoil civilized lands and turn nature into a wild, out of control garden choked with spiders, webs, and sinister predators. A forest infested with ettercaps becomes a dark, gloomy place choked with webs and a variety of giant insects. After all, giant spiders feed on other giant bugs (flies and so on).
Devourers of Pixies: Ettercaps specifically seek to capture pixies and, to a lesser extent, other small, winged fey in their webs. They covet pixie dust, and they collect it to sell to hags and other evil folk. Ettercaps also feed captive fey to their spiders, helping them grow to tremendous size. An ettercap takes pride in its herd and views the largest of its spiders as its pride and joy. Killing an ettercap's spiders is a sure way to enrage it.
Aranea: Ettercaps that consume enough fey flesh become creatures of magic themselves, gaining the powers of an aranea.
Webs: Ettercaps can shoot webs like a weapon, but they prefer to use their webbing to make tools and items.
What do you think about this treatment of the ettercap? Please tell us in the comment section below.
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.