on September 3, 2000
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
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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