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Preserving the Past
Legends and Lore
Monte Cook

I n my new role at Wizards of the Coast, I am compelled to look over the entire run of the game, not just the most recent products. My job has little to do with quibbles over this edition or that, and everything to do with the big picture view of the game. That means almost 40 years of history—rules, classes, spells, adventures, and, of course, monsters.

In that context, I was chatting with game designer Rob Schwalb at lunch the other day about D&D monsters. He made the excellent point that the monsters of the past need to be preserved for their own sake. We reminisced about a lot of old-school monsters that hadn't been updated to the latest edition—or the latest two editions. Or even three. That's going to happen, of course, but we agreed that it would be a terrible thing if we actually went so far as to say that a certain monster never existed.

We both reflected back on our youth, when neither of us ever thought that a new monster in a product was stupid. I remember buying the original 1st Edition Fiend Folio. Back then, I looked at a monster like the three-legged, three-headed tirapheg and didn't dismiss it as silly. Instead, I concluded that it wasn't for me. It might work well in someone else's campaign, just not mine. The Fiend Folio and the Monster Manual II had many such creatures. At worst, I would say, No, I won't use that, but it's interesting. At best, when I came upon a monster that didn't strike my fancy or suggest an immediate use, I took it as a challenge. How do I make the gorbel or the denzelian cool and work in my game?

Of course, most of the time, this wasn't an issue. Many, many of the monsters were just really cool. Reading a monster book was a wonderful pastime all by itself, because so many of the creatures within just suggested new encounters and new monsters, and made me eager to play.

Similarly, I remember working on 3rd edition and having to make tough monster choices. In the end, for example, we included many new creatures in the Monster Manual and left out some classics such as the peryton and the leucrotta. I always felt bad about having to do that, not because they were the epitome of awesome (although they both had their charm) but because each represented a piece of game history.

It's important, I think, to acknowledge and preserve the game's roots. Even as we create new material for the latest product, we should be looking backward to see if there are lessons to be remembered or bits of the past to bring forward, because just about any monster is someone's favorite creature or figured into someone's favorite adventure, and that player or DM is going to want to keep using that thing he or she loved. Like the peryton or leucrotta in 3E. Or the dire corby, a somewhat lackluster monster that was given new life in R.A. Salvatore's novels. If preserving someone's favorite means having to do a little work to give a creature a niche or a slightly different appearance or mechanical take, well, that's a creative challenge.

And this isn't true of just monsters, of course. Spells and magic items, for example, are important legacies of the past. This is perhaps also true of something like feats, but I believe it's more relevant to monsters, races, spells, and items, because these things all carry story weight as well as mechanical weight. A DM who creates a 1st or 2nd edition world with modrons in it shouldn't be left out in the cold just because he converts to 3rd edition. We don't want the story aspects of that guy's campaign wrecked any more than we want to hurt the mechanical aspects of it with new rules.

I also think there's value in being true to one's roots. History is important. If we don't know what the game was like 10, 20, or 30 years ago, we're refusing to learn from any of those years of design and play, and that's just short sighted. Plus, ignoring history is just going to cause us to trip over what we've already done. For example, rather than reinvent the wheel with some new item that changes one's appearance quickly and easily, a designer should just make use of the hat of disguise. Generate new material, to be sure, but don't create something new if there's already something like that in the game. Thinking back, I think the game began to lose sight of its own past in the mid to late 2nd Edition cycle. I remember watching as new monsters or items were created without designers even noticing that very similar things already existed in the game. That's how, for example, the game ended up with so many doglike monsters with terror-inducing howls or barks.

Of course, now that those redundant aspects of the game exist as a part of our glorious past, I suppose it behooves us to give them each their own niche or make a conscious decision not to reinvent them at all, with the understanding that we won't ever remove them from the game or disavow their existence.

 Which of the following statements do you believe most strongly to be true?  
The game's history isn't that important. We should focus on the present and the future.
The game's history is very important and should be preserved.

Legends & Lore Poll Results: 10/11/2011

Which of these do you prefer?
Group. 2937 82.6%
Individual. 618 17.4%
Total 3555 100.0%

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