his week, I'd like to move away from game mechanics and talk a bit about the story of D&D—specifically, the material we're writing for monsters. I've touched on this before, but I think it's worth returning to this topic to give you a sense of where we're going.
D&D has been around for a long time. Over the years, the stories that frame the origins, habits, and goals of certain monsters have changed quite a bit. In addition, we've spilled a lot of ink talking about the biology of monsters as if they were real-world creatures. That stuff can be interesting, but it doesn't necessarily translate into something you use at the gaming table or while building a campaign.
When looking at monsters for D&D Next, we start by looking at how they've been portrayed in the game over the years. Is a critter devious and likely to set up ambushes, or is it a simple brute that loves to wade into melee? Is it a mastermind that gathers minions to command, or does it keep to itself and rely solely on its own abilities?
These questions are useful because they give us a sense of how most players and DMs have experienced the creature in the past. It's a starting point we can use for a monster's story that allows it to remain consistent with how the creature has behaved in previous editions of the game.
However, even as we keep the monster's fundamental role in the D&D cosmos unchanged, we can introduce new stories or flesh out details that have previously been left vague. This approach means we can introduce that new material without forcing you to think of the monster in an entirely new way. If we're doing our jobs right, we're instead making the monster more interesting as an NPC or a force in the world.
A couple of weeks ago, we tackled the backstory for the medusa. We've preserved the basics of the medusa as outlined in the Monster Manual of original and 2nd Edition AD&D. These creatures live alone or in small groups. They are hateful and dwell in dark caverns. A medusa's body is human, but its face is hideous and its hair is a nest of writhing vipers. Its gaze turns victims to stone.
On top of those basic facts, we've added some more depth to give a sense of what medusas are like in terms of background and personality. Medusas are created by a curse whereby a human trades a decade of great beauty and personal magnetism for an eternity of a visage so wretched that it turns onlookers to stone. Most medusas are ambitious, grasping, and self centered, willing to amplify their appearance and charms to work their way up the social ladder. Some use their temporary gifts to marry into wealth and power. Others build their own base of power.
Regardless of how a medusa uses its newfound gifts, after a decade, it must pay the price of its bargain. The transformation is sudden and hideous. Some medusas plan for their change and retire to a distant villa or keep, shielding themselves from the outside world while still enjoying the wealth and power they have accumulated. Others forget about their bargain, attempt to reverse it, or remain ignorant of its true price. These poor wretches are killed or driven into hiding.
The important element for storytelling lies in giving a DM the sense of a medusa's personality and potential. One medusa might be a vicious, hateful creature that kills out of spite, specifically targeting the most handsome or beautiful adventurers that invade its lair. Another might be a secluded noble desperate to conceal her true nature, and who becomes a party's mysterious benefactor. And of course, a medusa might just be a fearsome monster in your dungeon—a creature whose background and origin story never come up. But the story we created remains there to serve as a good read in the Monster Manual or to inspire your own ideas.
By keeping the frontward-facing parts of the medusa intact—the elements that have been most prominent throughout the game's history—we can ensure that existing adventures and campaigns don't need to be altered to fit into D&D Next. By the same token, the new mythology of the medusa can hopefully inspire adventure ideas, NPCs, and campaign settings of your own.
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.