DM: You are making your way north through the deep forest. The air is damp and alive with the sounds of the forest. Suddenly . . .
The sound of dice rolling is heard from behind the DM screen.
. . . the forest goes silent. Not a sound is heard except the drip, drip, drip of water in the leaves. It’s quiet. Too quiet. And then the silence is broken by the crashing of a creature—or maybe two—in the underbrush, and the sound is heading toward you. Before you have a chance to react, the bush next to you explodes, and you see the teeth and claws of a . . .
Sound familiar? Some of my best stories come not from the adventures I ran or played, but from the random encounters that happened as we roamed from one place to another in the game. It was those life or death moments where we had to decide whether to fight or to run. One of the things I loved about the earlier D&D products was the amount of story that I gleaned about the world, including the information from a monster entry. The entry told me cool things such as what they ate, where they lived, how they fought, and a hundred other details.
As we’ve been walking through the process of looking at the world of D&D, we’ve been having lots of discussions about the story behind the creatures, people, and places in the world. We have had a core group of folks that have been part of this holistic look at the world, and it includes both R&D and the Creative Studio. At some point during the discussion, we had this great idea: “What if we brought all the story together and married it to the visuals?” Over the past few months, a number of gnomes have been running around the office pulling together reference materials from all manner of products, novels, notes in spiral notebooks, and a ton of other locations to try to generate the most comprehensive and accurate collection of story and history surrounding D&D. It’s an ongoing project. Think about it. There are nearly forty years of content floating around. Just think of every place a goblin has been mentioned, described, written about, shown, or detailed. Now multiply that by the thousands of monsters, locations, and personalities in the D&D world, and you’ll quickly see how large and daunting this project is.
As we are pulling together all that material, we were also pulling together all the references for the creatures, people, and locations the text described. The question was raised early on: What happens when I put the definitive information up on a board and then place a visual representation of the creature on the board next to this information? Does it match up? Do the two items support each other, or is there a disconnect?
For me, making sure that we have no disconnects was a very important topic of discussion. There’s nothing that bothers me more than to have a story element tell me that something looks, lives, or acts like X, and then have a visual of X not sync up at all. I remember reading a book a few years back. I had been pulled into the book by the character on the cover. I spent the first half of a book waiting for the character to be introduced only to come to the understanding that the character on the cover was the lead character in the book and the image didn’t match the description of the character at all. Did I still enjoy the book? Sure. Did it diminish my enjoyment of the whole package? Strangely enough, it really did. I felt like I had been manipulated. Like I had been given the old “bait and switch.” Buy this, because you like this, but now you have to settle for this instead. Sad.
So when I read about a creature that lives in the swamps, sneaks up on its enemy with stealth, and likes to strike at its prey from the shadows with its poisonous darts, I will not be satisfied seeing a hulking creature that is nearly seven feet tall and that has huge, muscled arms and claws that look like scythes. Where’s the sneaking? Where’s the dexterity to use a dart deployment device? Where’s the intelligence to create a poison recipe? It’s gotta work together, story and visuals, right?
Well, that is my goal.
One of the joys about my job on the D&D team is the ability to work with some amazingly talented folks and to have the ability to create something bigger than any of us could have created on our own. In this case, when I was asked if I would be interested in teaming up with James Wyatt and talking about the D&D world much as I have been talking about it, I was ecstatic and jumped at the chance.
Next week, James will be kicking off his weekly article, Wandering Monsters, and it will talk about the story behind the world. More specifically, it tackles the story behind the monsters of D&D. I’m not going to steal any of his thunder and tell you all about what he’s going to be sharing with you, but I think you’ll enjoy reading about the monsters as much as I have. I’ve enjoyed it so much that I’m going to be spending some time following up some of his articles with articles here in Dragon’s-Eye View and giving you the rest of the story. I’ll be talking about how the story and the visuals work together—or don’t. Sometimes you’ll get to jump into the middle of a concepting push and provide feedback, like you did for the owlbear. Once again, you’ll have the opportunity to shape the world of D&D.
Ready for the next phase in the adventure?
Let me start this off with a series of nonmonster questions for you to ponder so that you can provide me with your feedback.
What does a paladin look like? What makes them different (or are they?) from a standard fighter? What do they wear? What are their personalities like overall? What emotions do they elicit from the population? When a paladin walks down the street, what do people whisper? Please leave mechanics out of this discussion. This is simply about the visual representation of a paladin.
Please provide your feedback in the comments section below!
Voting has now opened for the 2012 ENnies (the Gen Con EN World RPG Awards). Best of luck to all nominees!
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at theartorder.com.