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Whose Story Is It, Anyway?
Mike Mearls

O ver the last few weeks we've looked at character classes in D&D Next. This week, I want to take another look at monsters in the game and give you an update on how we're presenting them.

There's a natural tension in writing for Dungeons & Dragons that designers grapple with all the time. On the one hand, as a roleplaying game, D&D is all about enabling creativity and storytelling. The game doesn't come to life until players and DMs add their own personal touches to it.

On the other hand, the stories that we as writers and designers come up with do have a purpose. We want them to be inspirational, or to prove useful to a DM in a crunch, or to just be interesting to read. Furthermore, given the number of people playing D&D, a wide range of campaigns and play styles need a consistent story and background to draw on.

Resolving these two issues isn't hard, but it's not something we've done much of in the recent past. That's changing as we move forward. We want to add inspiring, interesting stories to our monsters. But at the same time, we want to make it so that you aren't forced to use the details we create unless they make sense for your game.

In working on monsters, we're adding a lot more specific story details to their descriptions than we have in the past. Taking a cue from the 4th Edition Monster Vault and the 2nd Edition Monstrous Compendium, we're providing more information on each monster's personality, ecology, goals, and place in the world. More importantly, we're drawing links between different monsters. For instance, we expanded on hags to make them monstrous fey with a whole network of other creatures that serve or ally with them. They create animated scarecrows, use a horrid curse to turn those who betray them into redcaps, and hire mercenary yugoloths when dealing with truly formidable enemies.

This approach makes creatures more cohesive and grounds them in a distinct identity. For some creatures, this involves taking different things that have been said about them in the past and compiling them into one cohesive entry. For other creatures, this process required more invention. Here's an example from a portion of the jackalwere entry:

Beguilers and Liars. The demon lord Graz'zt created the jackalweres to serve his devoted servants, the lamias. Reaching out from the Abyss, he bestowed jackals with the gift of speech and the ability to assume humanoid forms. A jackalwere is born to lie, and perceptive creatures might notice it wincing in pain when it speaks the truth. Though it can hold its own in combat, it prefers to fight alongside jackals and others of its kind. A pack led by a jackalwere will flee from tough opponents, only to circle back to attack from ambush or murder foes in their sleep.

As you can see from this entry, we've tied jackalweres to both Graz'zt and lamias. But we recognize that Graz'zt might not exist in your campaign, or that the connection to lamias might not be needed in a specific encounter. That's why when it comes to mechanical design, we don't allow those sorts of story details to influence a creature's special abilities and rules. If you want to convert an old AD&D adventure that uses jackalweres, their stats slip right into place without requiring you to completely reinvent the creature's role in the adventure.

The same goes for your own campaigns and adventures. Though we've changed the story behind the jackalwere, the creature's mechanical expression remains consistent with prior editions. Jackalweres have the same key special abilities (a gaze that can lull creatures to sleep, the ability to change shapes) to ensure consistency. We haven't tied those abilities to Graz'zt, lamias, or any other element of the story. They fit in thematically—the jackalweres' magical abilities make them ideal servants for lamias—but they can be separated without causing any dissonance at the table.

The new details we've added to monsters serve two purposes. First, they provide story hooks and ideas for how DMs can use the creature—things that have sometimes been missing from creature descriptions in the past. They also provide roleplaying hooks for portraying the creature in the game, giving DMs a sense of how a monster might act within the world and outside of battle.

At the same time, since the new story material complements rather than replaces existing special abilities and mechanics, the two aren't dependent on each other. You can easily create your own story for jackalweres in your campaign without the need to redesign their game stats.

In the end, our goal for monster design in D&D Next has been to provide a comfortable balance between inspiring DMs with interesting stories, and leaving room for wholesale invention and creation. The game should always have plenty of room for our stories and for yours.

Mike Mearls
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.
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Despite the jackalwere seems to me more connected to Yeenogu than Grazz't, the idea of leave more inspiration than rigid connections for the origins of monsters its OK.

But remember that certain connections need to be accurate, for the sake of coherence of DnD world(s) and the novels write on it.
Posted By: Eilistraecomeback (3/26/2014 7:50:50 PM)


@Blue23 - (For some reason, the "reply" link isn't working.) You complained that, most likely, entries in later Monster Manuals will refer to the first one, but the first one won't refer to any later ones. That certainly makes some sense.

But at this point in the game's history, there are more established monsters than can be fit into one book. I'm pretty sure that the developers have at least some idea of which monsters will be in the 5E Monster Manuals 2 and 3, so there's nothing to prevent them from mentioning monsters that are slated to be in those books. There will probably be a few new monsters along the way, but for the most part it will be 5E versions of monsters that have already existed in previous editions. There's no reason that the 5E Monster Manual 1 can't tease some of the monsters from later books by mentioning them in relation to the monsters that do get included.
Posted By: Brom_Blackforge (3/20/2014 12:05:12 PM)


I like this, but feel it's the wrong approach for Wizards of the Coast. We'll have a first monster manual, full of iconic and oft-used monsters. None of whom will have any connection to the next four monster manuals put out. (The other monster manuals will have connections to earlier ones, but since the first is filled with the most used monsters, that's not a huge help.) If Next has publishing requirements like 3.x and 4e, tightly interlocking material is the wrong direction to go.

It's a great idea, but it's not the only great idea and it's a poor fit to the historic DnD business model.
Posted By: Blue23 (3/20/2014 7:43:10 AM)


Loving this system! Great ideas here (although I don't care for the specific example given). I think it's worth going into more lore and more detail so that the enemies don't turn into bags of HP like they can if you're not careful. And it's always something you can ignore if you want, as pointed out. Very cool.
Posted By: nukunuku (3/18/2014 3:36:11 PM)


In case I was unclear, I also consider these "new lore" things to be appropriate additions and expansions on the existing lore. They feel like things that could have always been there and just never mentioned, instead of major changes, which is what I like about them.
Posted By: Sword_of_Spirit (3/18/2014 2:12:15 PM)


I want you to know that I didn't one-star your comment (& couldn't reply to that exact one). I appreciate seeing my handle brought up by several people who wish to defend their vision of the continuing mythology of D & D. I share your devotion to what is conceived, but will keep picking on the devs because I think they're complacent.

I want them to create as if their jobs didn't depend on it, and really I don't think they check anything most of the time. There's a meeting, tasks like the Monster Manual get divided up and everyone sets out to meet their quota. I KNOW these people are imaginative and discuss, fine-tune and test their ideas, but the AD&D Monster Manual resonated for me and many others because it was based on fantasy, science fiction, and actual Norse, Greek and Egyptian mythological sources.

That's why I bring up the New York Public Library. I only know of one library with a better collection and you have to have some serious academi... (see all)
Posted By: RadperT (3/18/2014 9:30:29 PM)



I like to think of DnD as a setting as much as a rules system. I do all sorts of creative role-playing setting design outside of DnD. But when I run a DnD game, given that there is so much lore that has been created for it, I don't want to design my own. I come to DnD *for* the DnD lore. From that perspective, this is a definite plus. You can easily ignore it if you want a DnD as a toolbox, but for those who want DnD as setting we shouldn't have to go find materials from the 80s or design it all ourselves to get what we expect an RPG to be providing us.
Posted By: Sword_of_Spirit (3/18/2014 2:10:22 PM)


Love it!!! This is exactly what I wanted, brilliant! I have played dnd since first edition and I want story connections I can use or ignore. We don't already know everything and inspiration is good for those of us who aren't know-it-alls. Thank for doing a great job dnd next team!
Posted By: tirwin (3/18/2014 12:56:39 PM)


@RadperT: There's so much wrong with your comment, it's hard to decide where to start. I'll just start at the beginning and go line-by-line.

"It's not your job to randomly invent stuff." What's random about this? Nothing. It's an attempt to create connections between monsters, to suggest how they might be used together. That's not random. It's very much the opposite: it's orderly and planned. And, what's more, it's very useful to DMs in a time crunch. And if you don't like it, you can ignore it.

"Bad design by committee." For the reasons I just mentioned, I disagree.

"New players are going to take your creations as canon." Yes, they might. For a while. And then, as they gain experience, they'll figure it out. It's like riding a bike with training wheels. You might not need the training wheels, but does that mean that nobody should make them anymore? If this will make the game more accessible for new players, it's a good thi... (see all)
Posted By: Brom_Blackforge (3/18/2014 10:51:02 AM)


Sounds great, as always, dndNext team!!!!!
Posted By: sjap (3/18/2014 9:35:11 AM)


"The AD&D Monster Manual was a good read because it didn't go off-topic."
The AD&D MM had plenty of assumed setting fluff; it was just all there was, back then.

"I swear you'll drive off half the people thinking of trying D & D when they crack the Monster Manual and see that it reads like a historical treatise of monsters. Remember this isn't for us, we already know what it's like to play D & D."
This statement is an oxymoron: new players don't "already know what it's like" and players that do aren't new.

I think this approach will sell more books than the alternative. The MM with additional/expanded fluff will be a resource for more than just encounter building; it will be a resource for story building, as well as an enjoyable reading experience for those only interested in reading about D&D creatures. I say KUDOS to the designers, for making this decision.
Posted By: lawrencehoy (3/18/2014 12:21:35 AM)


It's not your job to randomly invent stuff. That's a good example of the bad design by committee that's polluted and bloated the last 3 editions. Don't forget new players are going to take your creations as canon–no matter how many "optional" labels you attach to it–do you just want to create an edition with no lasting innovations?

Creating content is more than just looking for ideas on Wikipedia & Gutenberg. Really, your whole staff should move to New York, everyone should have to spend 2 days a week, every week, at the greatest public library in the world, and anybody who's not on board with that you're better off without.

The AD&D Monster Manual was a good read because it didn't go off-topic. I swear you'll drive off half the people thinking of trying D & D when they crack the Monster Manual and see that it reads like a historical treatise of monsters. Remember this isn't for us, we already know what it's like to play D & D.
Posted By: RadperT (3/17/2014 10:58:14 PM)


I love it. Pretty much exactly what I'm looking for in a MM.
Posted By: Sword_of_Spirit (3/17/2014 4:01:04 PM)


I also like that they present an example story ideal, which it seems to be. If a person is given material like this it might spark his own ideals.

If you don't like it as written you won't use it anyway so no need to complain, change it as needed.

It is far better than just throwing a stat block on a page with a picture and saying have at it. Not everyone has the time or maybe even the inclination to do it for each of their own monsters.

So thank you Wizards and keep up the good work.
Posted By: Klatub (3/17/2014 3:22:30 PM)


Klatub wrote: "If you don't like it as written you won't use it anyway so no need to complain, change it as needed."

While I, personally, don't see it as a big deal, I think it's important to remember that even if the text is ignored, it still has an impact on the product and product line. WotC writers are paid to write it. They put time and effort into write it, instead of something else. WotC has to paid someone to edit it. It has to be laid out. All those costs are passed on to the consumer. - John
Posted By: Seanchai (3/17/2014 5:39:53 PM)


I for one am not a fan of specific system cosmology leaking over to what should be setting agnostic products. Save those mentions for setting products to flesh out how the ecology aspects work out.
Posted By: Nukruh (3/17/2014 2:56:25 PM)


I disagree with the "setting agnostic" or "No proper names" requests.

DnD is not a generic fantasy game, and I do not want it to be. I want the Outer Planes and denizens thereof to be mentioned if they are a strong part of the DnD IP.

Tiamat for dragons, Orcus, Graz'zt, Asmodeus, Mechanus, Bytopia, use them all if it it makes sense for the monster in DnD Lore.

The stat blocks themselves will be agnostic, and that's fine for those people who don't care about DnD story. But I do care.
Posted By: Wyckedemus (3/17/2014 8:01:27 PM)


To expand on what I meant by setting agnostic would have been better stated as non-core assumption. The core assumption is a newer concept that was not always used in most past edition core rules, which is what I preferred. A preference for a non-core assumption Monster Manual being a prime example based off this article. "Classic examples" should stay where they belong, which would be in campaign specific releases that they are associated with and not in the main core products.
Posted By: Nukruh (3/18/2014 6:47:01 PM)


Perhaps my understanding of "setting-agnostic" is different, but DnD IS setting-agnostic, tho' it can be said to have its own culture of dragons, planes, subterranean treasures, and almost 1970s sci-fi magic (if that makes sense). However many settings have been linked to DnD, it is assumed the DM is making their own or borrowing a premade setting (one of many, detailed in non-central rulebooks). The brief cameo of any campaign material in a central rulebook (Mystara, Oerth, or somewhere else, depending on the edition) is in most cases meant as an example, such as in in B/X where the Known World map was an example to teach how a DM could make their own setting. Compare this to Legend of the Five Rings and its classes' and monsters' assumption of Rokugani politics, clans, and history.
Posted By: Dreamstryder (3/18/2014 3:52:06 AM)


Nobody minds Orcus being a demon. Making up new kinds of lamias to consort with him? Just no.
Posted By: RadperT (3/17/2014 10:03:55 PM)


First, I like this idea. I wanted to say that up front. It definitely helps, from a DM's perspective, in putting together an adventure.

But let's be clear about what this means: using this kind of description necessarily implies a default or core world where the descriptions would be true. Other published settings may depart from those descriptions, and many homebrew settings will likely do so too. It might not hurt to be explicit about it. In an introductory section, just mention that the descriptions apply specifically to the core setting (be it Greyhawk or Nentir Vale or whatever). Any drastic differences could then be addressed in the books for the specific settings (like Eberron, which has historically had some pretty big departures from the typical).
Posted By: Brom_Blackforge (3/17/2014 12:57:05 PM)


A good way to avoid implying a core setting and stress how these captions should be read is to offer more than one story, as if someone from the DnD world is collecting legends. That way the MM could feel like a game-world artifact while not implying one particular game-world.
Posted By: Dreamstryder (3/18/2014 4:02:01 AM)


I really like that they're adding a lot more specific story details to their monster's descriptions such as personality, ecology, goals, as well as their place in the world. I also like that they draw connecttions to some other monsters as this can help DMs build encounters using other monsters with a more natural fit. If this help provide story hooks and ideas for how DMs can use monsters in their campaign while being easily ignored by others from whom it doesn't jive well with, i think its great.
Posted By: Plaguescarred (3/17/2014 12:55:35 PM)


I like that monsters gets more story element!
Posted By: Plaguescarred (3/17/2014 12:47:59 PM)


This kind of description is perfect. It is short and concise. Yet, it conveys the origin of the monster, its attitudes, tactics, and gives a sense of what it would be like to encounter them. Some monsters might need more than this (such as dragons, for example), but this is really good. It looks like the monster manual is going to be fun to read again in terms of inspiration and story!
Posted By: moes1980 (3/17/2014 12:34:51 PM)


Take a look at the 13th Age edition of the Midgard Bestiary to get a great example on a near perfect Bestiary. Backgrounds, associations, related magic items, items commonly found on them. It is just a fantastic resource. One that brought the world in better focus than the original champaign setting.
If you can get close to that, then I am in.
Posted By: JesterOC (3/17/2014 12:26:57 PM)


I'm glad you're adding more about ecology. It certainly helped aiding my introduction of specific monsters without just saying, "Oh no! Wild beholder!"
Posted By: dejectedgeek (3/17/2014 12:12:33 PM)


Seems pretty good to me. Next week can we have a little more on monster math or the monster stat block?
Posted By: Mechagamera (3/17/2014 11:51:01 AM)


I'll second that! Really need some monster math guidance to help in converting 4e critters until we get a real MM.
Posted By: tavman (3/17/2014 2:37:21 PM)


Thirded, although my particular interest is the random generation of monsters according to character level tables.
Posted By: RadperT (3/17/2014 9:18:36 PM)


I like reading the story stuffs. I also liked the part where it says the jackalweres will retreat only to come back later.

I always thought that "morale" should have made a comeback; and not have everything fight to the death.

I remember enjoying reading the 2nd edition monster books because of the story stuffs included. Was a nice touch, and nice to see it making a triumphant return.
Posted By: awogaman (3/17/2014 10:35:46 AM)


Trillinon, you'll be happy to know that you don't have to use any specific creature or entity you don't like or want. You know, like the article said.
Posted By: jtfowler (3/17/2014 10:31:39 AM)


There's good and bad things to this approach. While I certainly appreciate putting more story details onto monsters, I don't like it when fluff goes too much in directions I don't really like in all subsequent products when referring to things. For example the last edition with the issues of tying everything to the "evil" primordials, alignments of certain creatures, Succubi that aren't Demons, ugly dryads, and so on, and even the counter-example of things I hated about last edition's fluff that some people like. I think that in many situations, someone isn't going to be satisfied with the story details.
Posted By: KoboldAvenger (3/17/2014 10:27:11 AM)


In the past I've been cautious of proffered narratives in the MM for fear they would make shape the monster too specifically to but one use and one world, but I think you have the right idea here offering a flexible idea (the creature) and a possible way to use this idea (the narrative).

I'm happy you aren't giving that jackelwere something like "+x when near a lamia" or "summon Grazz't demon", because that's not part of the central idea of a jackelwere, only how one person might use it. For the same reason, dwarves shouldn't have racial bonuses against giants, elves against orcs, nor gnomes against kobolds (like some editions gave them).
Posted By: Dreamstryder (3/17/2014 10:25:36 AM)


I sort of dropped out of DnD around the time ADnD came out and fell back in with 3.5. Started playing 4e recently and one of the things that I have come to really like is the 'scalable' monsters. Goblins are not just 1st level monsters - there are many, many flavors of Goblin. I hope that this will continue - a range of types for certain monsters - particularly humanoids - so that there are leaders, mages, clerics, rogues as well as basic grunts.
Posted By: Kazadvorn (3/17/2014 10:24:01 AM)


I approve of almost everything in this article. I like a lot of background and ecology for monsters.

The only thing that bothers me is the mention of Graz'zt. I don't like specific characters or locations being mentioned in monster descriptions unless the book is for a specific setting.
Posted By: Trillinon (3/17/2014 10:05:02 AM)


Was there some other edition where monster mechanics _were_ directly tied to flavor elements like origin stories and common allies? What would that even look like?
Posted By: powerroleplayer (3/17/2014 10:04:29 AM)


Minatours being trained sailors in 3.x dragonlance is one example. While not strictly a monster, the warfaroged's racial characteristics were heavily tied to the story of eboron. Those are two I can think of off the bat. But I think their main concern is the balance between offering interesting and inspiring fluff while maintaining campaign neutral creatures. Their solution is to offer specific background on creatures while ensuring that that background can be ignored/changed without the mechanics of the monster disrupting the suspension of disbelief.
Posted By: moes1980 (3/17/2014 12:40:29 PM)


Finally a monster manual worth reading while on the toilet again.
Posted By: dmgorgon (3/17/2014 9:55:32 AM)


This is exactly what I wanted to hear. I'm confident the story and background of the monster will be great. What I'm a bit worried about is the mechanics. I found most of the monsters from the playtest to be a little dull compared to the 4e monsters I'm used to. There was a certain amount of sameness to them, there was little to make each monster exciting. I'm really hoping that the finished monster designs are as much fun to use as their 4e predecessors.
Posted By: Style75 (3/17/2014 9:22:06 AM)


I think the later 4e products such as Threats to the Nentir Vale and The Shadowfell are good examples of how monster descriptions can give background and ideas to the DM
Posted By: Chimpy20 (3/17/2014 6:33:48 AM)


This sounds like a great foundation. What I am really hoping this will lead into, is the option for DMs to customize monsters. Scaling up/down power, adding/taking away power, typifying creatures into different roles and origins... that sort of thing. That way, if say a specific Jackalwere became a necromancer or anti-Paladin, then I could concoct a strange little creature that suits my game! :) I mean, I am going to do that sort of thing anyway, but it would be nice to have some structure in the rules for that and maybe even something inspiring for it too. Can't wait for the final product!
Posted By: Sands666 (3/17/2014 6:28:20 AM)


You know what really makes "story" details come alive when I'm playing an RPG? Rules that allow a creature to behave the way the story says it should. Making up story but then not making up rules that support that may allow GMs/players to create their own story; it also makes that story into something irrelevant compared to what the mechanics say happends.
Posted By: Bluenose (3/17/2014 5:14:27 AM)


" we're providing more information on each monster's personality, ecology, goals, and place in the world. More importantly, we're drawing links between different monsters. "

Excellent. That is the sort of thing that makes a world come to life, and if individual DMs don't have to do all the work, that is for the best.

I think one of my favorite things about 1st ed was the connection between Blink Dogs and Displacer Beasts. It was a silly joke about cats and dogs not liking each other, but it made those monsters seem like much more than a collection of disassociated numbers.

However, I want to emphasize something that was brought up many, many times in the comments for various Wandering Monster articles, when faced with complicated, important monsters that have conflicting legacy backgrounds, provide us with multiple options for their place in the world. Like a creature that might be a whole race, a unique individual or scattered victims of a cu... (see all)
Posted By: ForgottenLore (3/17/2014 2:40:55 AM)


I do like reading RPG monster books, so I am glad you want to keep up the flavor text in any 5e MMs.

But what I want to see is the new stat block. I really, REALLY hope you copy the 4e Monster Vault format and layout. Show us a finished 5e stat block.

Another question...How much art are you recycling? I hope there's tons of NEW illustrations. Artists and Illustrators need work. We're a vastly underpaid and under-appreciated part of culture.
Posted By: seti (3/17/2014 1:12:49 AM)


Sounds great that you're going to add more details on monsters like from 2nd edition where they were the best, but why change the jackalwere or any other monster so much that the latter issues you raise even come up?
Posted By: SirAntoine (3/17/2014 12:42:17 AM)


Okay. Cool. - John
Posted By: Seanchai (3/17/2014 12:26:24 AM)



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