My work on the Monster Manual started first thing in September of 2002. I assumed design lead duties after our reorganization, and picked up where Skip Williams had left off work. Skip handled a lot of the groundwork for the Monster Manual, including the Base Attack/Grapple line entries for every creature, the collection of 3rd edition Monster Manual errata and corrections, the first draft of the How to Build a Monster material, and a number of other minor changes.
At about the time I became actively involved with the Monster Manual, we decided that the revisions should be pushed more aggressively, so the first thing I did was examine the book in its entirety and think hard about what it ought to do. I made a number of organizational changes to help the book's presentation of information. With the addition of the monster creation material, the front matter of the Monster Manual had crept up to nearly 50 pages of stuff before you even got to the first monster! I rebuilt that material as later chapters in the book so that the reader would get to the monsters right away. We observed that the complicated "gang entries" of statistic blocks in multiple columns was difficult to navigate and often resulted in a monster's description landing on a different page than its statistics (or illustration), so we broke up many of the gang entries into sequential entries. We found that we were repeating many pieces of information in each monster with our Monster Manual II format, so we moved most of the critical definitions to the Glossary in the back of the book to make it easier for the DM to quickly find definitions of what the undead type does, how incorporeality works, and so on.
Then, we looked at what the entries were lacking. Bill Slavicsek, director of RPG R&D, asked me to consider the notion of adding high-powered, scarier versions of some common monsters -- something that would put a little fear and excitement back into the players. So, we created more than two dozen advanced monsters, such as the mummy lord, the dread wraith, and the aboleth mage. (I had a lot of help with this. Jennifer Clarke Wilkes, David Eckelberry, James Wyatt, Andrew Finch, and Mike Donais contributed a number of these guys for me.) We wanted to make the Monster Manual more player-friendly, so we added "As Characters" information to a number of monsters that might be used as PCs in wide-open games. Finally, we wanted to take some steps toward making our most complex monsters more usable for novice DMs, so we added "Tactics Round-by-Round" sections to a half-dozen of our toughest monsters.
In addition to these organizational issues, we also had some honest-to-gosh game design to do. After carefully examining the Monster Manual and looking over our monster design standards, I decided to push for a streamlined, unified system of monster skill point and feat acquisition. The 3.0 version of this system created a lot of troubles for playing monsters as characters, and made it very hard to design monsters and get them right. I discussed the proposition with the rest of the design team, and we decided to go ahead with the work. So, we wound up "re-SPFing" every monster in the book. ("SPFing" being our term for redoing a monster's skill points and feats to 3.5 standards.) This also gave us a good opportunity to make better use of the new skills, feats, and synergies in the revised Player's Handbook.
We also handled a lot of tactical design issues, such as the individual characteristics of a number of monsters. For example, demons and devils in 3.0 had glass "jaws" -- they didn't have the hit points needed for their CRs. They also were hard to run, because many of them had dozens of spell-like abilities. Dave Eckelberry and Andrew Finch tackled the job of redoing the demons and devils so they would be tougher, cooler, and easier to run. The delver's AC was too low for its CR and description. Mummy rot lacked the scare-power it had in previous editions. Damage reduction was often not significant for a monster, and really existed only as a bragging point between outsiders. Some of the illustrations weren't exactly what we wanted to show folks for 3rd edition, and just didn't come far enough from the 2nd edition look. We handled a great number of relatively minor changes like this. A lot of creatures in the 3rd edition Monster Manual were converted more or less directly from 2nd edition, and we gave them a more thorough and rigorous examination this time around.
Overall, you'll find that the new Monster Manual includes dozens of new monsters, presents more information with a better organization, provides a number of cool new tools for the DM and player, and rebalances the game to provide a better, more scalable set of threats for your D&D game.
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