Updated on September 3, 2000

Interview with
Monte Cook, Wizards of the Coast

Interview with Monte Cook, Author of the Dungeon Master's Guide

Prior to the arrival of D&D Third Edition, Monte Cook was probably most familiar as a prolific contributor to the Planescape line. Now he's one of the three lead designers of the new edition of D&D's core rules, and the author of what will be the definitive guide for refereeing the game. Monte was kind enough to answer a few questions about the DMG and what we can expect to see next from him.

Q: Tell me a little about your RPG career.

In 1988 I was lucky enough to get a freelance job writing a big book of monsters and magic items for ICE's Rolemaster system. I was still in college. One book led to another, and the next thing I knew I was moving to Virginia to work full time there, where I worked as an editor managing the Rolemaster and Hero System lines. I did that for two years, and then left to become a full-time freelance writer and editor. I still worked for ICE, but I also did a lot of freelance stuff for TSR (although about a year and a half's worth of stuff never saw the light of day because it was for the old Marvel RPG that got canceled before my stuff got published).

Eventually, I got a call from Tim Brown at TSR, who offered me a full-time design position. I worked there for about four years before TSR got bought by Wizards, working mostly on Planescape stuff, but also Core AD&D, Dark Sun and Mystara. Once I got to Wizards, I was selected fairly soon afterward to work on 3rd Edition, which had secretly been my goal for years--TSR had talked about doing a 3rd Edition since before I even started there.

Q: Is there anything that made you particularly well-qualified or "the natural choice" to write the DMG?

Over the last 22 years, I have run at least one game a week (often two). For whatever reason, I hardly even am a player--I'm always the DM. That's given me a lot of DMing experience (I don't claim to have more than anyone in the world or anything, but that is a lot of DMing). I was always the sort of guy that thought about and talked about DMing as a skill and an art (people might tell you that I over-think things in general). I'm sure I've bored more than one friend over the years with discussions on what makes a good DM, good DMing techniques, etc. Writing the DMG is a nice "full circle" sort of thing for me. While I started playing with some other kids back in 78 who had the old brown box D&D game, the first D&D product I bought for myself was the 1st Edition DMG when it first came out (the B. Dalton's near my house had run out of Player's Handbooks). So in a way, I really sort of cut my teeth on that book.

Q: How has the reaction been to the DMG?

Very favorable. Whew! Of course, response to the PH has been great, but there's a minority that has expressed disfavor with it. That hasn't happened as much with the DMG, although that's not a very fair comparison. In a way, it's less like its predecessors than the PH or the MM, so there's less for people to compare it to. To be honest, not a lot of people harken back to the glory days of the 2E DMG. They do, however, remember the 1E DMG fondly (as do I) so I've heard a lot of nice comparisons with that book, which is great to hear.

Rereading that last paragraph makes it sound like there's competition between the books, but that's dumb. We (Jonathan, Skip and I) all worked on all three books. They're all our children. I imagine we just all have our favorite...

I have found it amusing that one criticism for the book that some have is that some sections seem aimed at the beginning DM too much, actually telling him how to be a DM. Isn't that what a book called the Dungeon Master's Guide should be about?

Q: Is there anything that you wanted to include in the DMG but couldn't due to space or priorities?

Lots. I wanted the section on alternate campaign ideas to be much larger (more than just a few weapon lists). I wanted there to be a lot more on building a world. I wanted more magic items and, particularly, artifacts. I wanted to include more guidelines and information for creating magic items. The basics are all there, but I wanted to talk about the weird, non-standard stuff more.

Q: Do you personally use any of the variant rules presented in the DMG?

Yes. Instant Kill (p. 64), Death from Massive Damage Based on Size (p. 66), Critical Success or Failure (p. 92), Power Components (p. 96), Summoning Individual Monsters (p. 96), and Story Awards (p. 168). Maybe a couple others.

I use all the miniatures and grids stuff (which is sort of a variant). I used Clobbered (p. 66) for a while, but it turned out to be kind of a pain. Oh well. Instant kill, by the way, has only come up twice in the last seven months of gaming (twice a week). Don't be afraid of it.

Q: What's the next Monte Cook product we'll see? What are you currently working on?

I just finished Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. It's a huge campaign-length adventure that takes characters from 4th to 14th level (at least) that is a direct sequel to the original. I loved the original, because it was really one of the first adventures to present an organized foe--it talked about what the inhabitants of room 23 did if the guards in room 22 were killed. It talked about reinforcements that came to the Temple over the long term. That was really cool, and it's always influenced my design.

While it's all new and goes in a very new direction from the original, it has the same feel and a lot of the same flavor (and characters and locations) as before. Hommlet's bigger now, but still full of details and NPCs to interact with. If your group has great memories of that big fight with Lareth the Beautiful in the Moathouse or exploring the Elemental Nodes or that feeling of fighting against the biggest, most evil place in the world, then this adventure is for you. If you've never played Temple of Elemental Evil (well, you should), that's OK too. Like I said, this is all new.

Q: You're kind of the "prestige class man" for Dragon Magazine. Anything especially new and interesting on the horizon in that area?

First off, let me just say that I love creating Prestige Classes. They really appeal to me. Over the next few months, there's some cool stuff--the Gnome Trickster, the Dwarf Stonelord (both racial-based). My favorite still to come, however, is the Rage Mage. These are spellcasters that, like barbarians, get more powerful as they fly into fits of blind fury. Rage enhances their magic. Oh, and soon I'm going to work on the Elven Bladesinger as a balanced, playable prestige class. Now there's a challenge.

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