Bios:Jason Carl, David Noonan, Dale Donovan
This month we cast our spotlight on Jason Carl, David Noonan, and Dale Donovan, the creative minds behind the new D&D sourcebook Sword and Fist: A Guidebook to Fighters and Monks. Through their team approach, they developed a product bursting with so many possibilities for distinctive fighter and monk characters that -- in lead designer Jason Carl's words -- "the whole thing rocks!" Read on as they discuss some of the book's highlights and offer a peek at upcoming guidebooks in the series. . . .
Wizards of the Coast: Why did you decide to group the fighter and the monk together in one sourcebook?
Jason Carl: The monk and fighter might seem an odd pairing at first glance, but a closer look reveals the logic in the grouping. There are 11 character classes available to players in the Player's Handbook; seven of them have either arcane or divine spells among their class features. Of the remaining four, both the barbarian and the rogue have relatively specific adventuring roles that are reflected in their class features: The barbarian is primarily at home in the wilderness (and is thus grouped with the druid and ranger), while the rogue is usually a character of stealth and subtlety (and appears alongside the bard). The fighter and monk share similar roles in an adventuring party: They are the undisputed masters of combat. While they achieve this distinction by very different methods, both start their adventuring careers relying solely on their innate muscle and training to keep them alive. The factors that decide success or failure for a fighter or a monk are how hard they hit, how fast they move, and how much punishment they can take, making them kindred spirits of the battlefield.
Wizards: What, specifically, did each of you contributed to the book?
Jason: The book really succeeds because of the combined talents, thoughtful suggestions, and careful review of all its contributors. As the lead designer, I was tasked with outlining, designing, and writing the bulk of the material.
David Noonan: I did four prestige classes: drunken master, gladiator, warmaster, and ninja of the crescent moon. Also the chariot and halfling war-wagon rules, the Towers/Keeps/Castles section, and part of the Tactics section.
Dale Donovan: The rest of us pitched in with a few "pet" ideas each. Bruce Cordell did the weapons and at least one prestige class, Jonathan Tweet did the magic items, David Eckelberry did at least one prestige class, James Wyatt did one of the combat examples, the monstrous monk rules, and at least one prestige class, Monte Cook did some prestige class work, Andy Collins did the mounted combat stuff, and I contributed a feat and a prestige class.
Wizards: This book contains some extremely cool new weapons. Do you have any favorites?
Jason: They're all fun, but I'm especially partial to the war fan and spring loaded gauntlet (great ways to surprise opponents!), gyrspike (beware the half-orc monk armed with this!), and harpoon (a terrific way to slow down those bigger foes).
Dale: I like the halfling skiprock and the spring-loaded gauntlet myself.
Wizards: What prestige classes from Sword and Fist have proven the most popular in playtesting and in your home campaigns?
Dale: The master of chains, the ninja of the crescent moon, and the drunken master are all quite popular.
Dave: Characters in my home campaigns find the gladiator and duelist most compelling. And one player keeps trying to qualify for ninja of the crescent moon, but his fighter/rogue keeps, well, dying.
Jason: During my playtesting, the most popular prestige classes were the gladiator, knight protector, ninja of the crescent moon, and red avenger. I think that the drunken master, master of chains, and red avenger will generate a lot of interest in campaigns everywhere! No character in my home campaign has qualified for a prestige class . . . yet.
Wizards: What's the most interesting customized fighter or monk character you recall from the playtesting and design phase?
Jason: One of my playtesters created a half-orc monk who qualified for the ravager prestige class -- armed with his gyrspike, and given his penchant for dirty fighting, he was a terror to behold!
Wizards: Sword and Fist was still in design while 3rd edition D&D was going through its final changes. Did this pose a challenge to you?
Jason: It was a challenge in that I had to be aware of every change in the rules, as they happened, so that the book would conform to the most up-to-date version of the system. Fortunately, the Core D&D team was there to make certain that everything worked as it should, so it wasn't the gargantuan problem that it could have been -- everything was scrutinized very carefully. I [also] kept a big bottle of aspirin on my desk throughout the entire design process.
Dale: As the editor, I not only dealt with rules issues and contributions from multiple authors, but since this is the first book in the series, formatting and layout issues also came up. I worked closely with our Managing Editor, Kim Mohan, and Senior Editor Julia Martin to get these issues sorted out. It was a challenge, but I am personally and professionally more than pleased about how the book came out, with regard to both content and the layout.
Wizards: What do you consider the coolest element of this book?
Dave: I love the organizations (like the Fists of Hextor) that are closely tied to prestige classes.
Dale: The sheer variety is what I am the happiest with. I was lucky to have Jason and a number of other very creative people all contribute ideas to the book, and I think that's reflected in the quality and diversity of the final product.
Jason: I think it's impossible for me to identify one part of the book that is cooler than all the rest, both because I'm too close to the material to be completely objective, and because to me the whole thing rocks! But I will say that I'm proudest of my work on the feats and the organizations because in many ways they were the most challenging parts of the book to write.
Wizards: What's the one feat introduced in this book that you think all players will be putting into their fighter's or monk's repertoire?
Dave: I hope there isn't one -- we tried to provide enough solid choices that a character agonizes over every new feat choice.
Jason: One of the most important features of the book is that it's designed to appeal to a wide variety of playing styles and tastes. Some feats will be very popular among players who want to give their fighter or monk a particular theme or feel, or who want their characters to qualify for certain prestige classes. I think that one of the strengths of this design is that many of these feats will show up on character sheets of characters who are neither fighters nor monks -- you're going to see bards with Throw Anything, clerics with Shield Expert, rangers with Zen Archery, rogues with Prone Attack, wizards with Death Blow, and so on.
Dale: Different types of players (and different types of PCs) will be attracted to different feats. This results in a wide variety of fighter and monk characters, which is the point of the book, after all.
Wizards: I like the quotes from Tordek, Regdar, and Ember sprinkled throughout the book. How did you develop these characters throughout the creation of the new edition of D&D?
Jason: I wrote the quotes for the organizations. I did this at first just to help me visualize each group, and give each its proper context. Later I decided that the quotes might help players as much as they did me, because they encapsulate the core concept of each organization in one short sentence
Dale: That inspired me to create the quotes from Tordek, Regdar, and Ember. For more on these three (and all the "iconic" characters), there will be a book published late next year with lots of details.
Wizards: In many ways, this book sets the groundwork for a whole series of guidebooks to come (Defenders of the Faith, Tome and Blood, etc.). What elements will fans see in later installments in this series? How will each book vary depending on the classes it treats?
Jason: The plan is for all the books in this series to share some common elements. You'll see new feats, new prestige classes, new organizations, and new equipment in each. Likewise, all the books will offer useful roleplaying and rules advice. But like Sword and Fist, each of the books will be tailored to its featured character classes. Just as the feats in Sword and Fist focus on the key aspect of both the fighter and monk -- combat -- the feats in Defenders of the Faith will focus primarily (but not exclusively) on the divine elements of clerics and paladins. Both Defenders of the Faith and Tome and Blood will feature cool new divine and arcane spells, respectively. The organizations, tactical advice, and magic items found in these later books will similarly be of special interest to their featured character classes.
Want to know more about upcoming guidebooks in this series? Check out our Online Prouduct Library for more on Defenders of the Faith and Tome and Blood.
A designer on the Core D&D team, Jason joined Wizards of the Coast's RPG R&D after four years as Policy Director for Organized Play. During his first year with the team he's worked on numerous D&D products, including The Apocalypse Stone and Dungeon of Death. His coworkers noticed early in his design career that he has the heart of Baby Spice (in a jar on his desk).
Dale was hired onto the staff of Dragon Magazine in 1989. He transferred to the games department in 1995. Dale spent several years on the Forgotten Realms team and is currently an editor/designer for the Core D&D product line at Wizards of the Coast. As a designer or an editor, Dale has worked on almost every game line that TSR produced, from Dark Sun to the original Marvel Super Heroes, from Planescape to Ravenloft, and from Birthright to Dragonlance products. Dale also wrote a superhero-game column in the RPGA Network's Polyhedron Newszine . Dale loves swashbuckler films, the pulp genre, comic books, the Victorian era, fantasy, SF, horror, and his job, where he gets to wear sweats, listen to CDs, and write about himself in the third person for a bio.
David is an editor for the Core D&D team at Wizards of the Coast. His credits include co-designing and editing the D&D Adventure Game and parts of the new Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual. His wife lets him out once a year, so excuse his wild-eyed, frantic behavior.