You've got questions—we've got answers! Here's how it works—each week, our Community Manager will be scouring all available sources to find whatever questions you're asking. We'll pick three of them for R&D's Rich Baker to answer, whether about the about the making of the game, the technical workings of our DDI studio, or anything else you care to know about… with some caveats.
There are certain business and legal questions we can't answer (for business and legal reasons). And if you have a specific rules question, we'd rather point you to Customer Service, where representatives are ready and waiting to help guide you through the rules of the game. That said, our goal is provide you with as much information we can—in this and other venues.
When designing the marking mechanic, what drove the -2 + punishment vs. a more traditional "taunt" that forces attacks?
The short answer is that we weren't happy with the "sim" of nonmagical abilities compelling monster actions. It's not too crazy to imagine that you might enrage an intelligent enemy who shares a common language with you by insults, showboating, and general disrespect … but how about an animal such as a wolf or a crocodile, or something brainless like a dire jellyfish? Even if you assume that taunting is largely nonverbal, it still feels like that foe should have some chance to resist the effect. Sure, anybody could taunt a naturally violent and short-tempered person, but could you imagine taunting Gandhi or Mother Teresa?
Those concerns led us away from taunting per se and toward a concept of marking as an indication of threat and intent to interfere. It seems to make more sense in the world if the recipient of the mark can choose to ignore it at some risk, just as you would expect many people or creatures to ignore traditional taunts. Some of our marking mechanics stretch this notion a bit (the paladin's challenge comes to mind), but in those cases we're generally dealing with characters who might be using a bit of magic to actually compel behavior.
Why did the initial Monster Manual and Adventurer's Vault books focus so heavily on crunch at the expense of fluff?
I'm not sure I entirely agree with the premise of the question (that crunch comes at the expense of fluff), but I'm certainly willing to discuss the relative ratio of mechanical information and story elements in these two books. There are two reasons, really: The "bottleneck" of a new edition, and our desire to present monsters unimpeded by story elements that would discourage or limit their use.
The bottleneck refers to the idea that, at the tail end of 3rd Edition, we had a fully developed game with thousands of published monsters and magic items. When we updated to a new edition, we couldn't instantly convert and publish every distinct spell, feat, item, monster, etc., existing in the previous version. Each new edition of D&D debuts with a subset of the material that the previous edition finished with because of this bottleneck. However, we are very conscious of the fact that there's a big audience demand to achieve a certain critical mass of content and options as rapidly as possible. The beginning of 4th Edition was no different, and we felt that we needed to present a lot of material as quickly as possible. I think this shows more in Adventurer's Vault than in Monster Manual.
The story element reason is that we wanted to be careful about burdening the game with "negative fluff" — story elements that tell the DM why he shouldn't use things in certain settings or combinations. (This is more relevant to the Monster Manual.) For example, one of the "stats" we removed from monster descriptions in the 4th Edition Monster Manual was climate/terrain, because we didn't want DMs to think that they were playing D&D wrong if they wanted to use gnolls in a cold marsh environment or a sphinx to guard a forest shrine. Likewise, story elements such as the Blood War make it difficult for the DM to use demons and devils in the same adventure, so we wanted to downplay it and free up the DM to use the monsters any darned way he wanted to. The simplest way to open things up was to say less about the monster stories.
In retrospect, I personally feel we were a little too aggressive in minimizing the story elements on monster usage. I think it teaches the new DM or player something about the D&D world when he learns that black dragons, lizardfolk, and shambling mounds all can be found in swamps. Next time we tackle a monster book, I think we're going to be a little more careful to present the essential truths of classic D&D monsters and accept the story burden that goes with them.
What happened to racial feats? Are racial feats planned for more recent races or race/class combinations?
We're still publishing racial feats when we publish new races or come up with material especially suitable for older races. For example, I just received my office copy of Player's Option: Heroes of the Feywild. There are three or four racial feats for each of the new races introduced in the book, along with a few feats for eladrin and wilden (existing races that are, of course, closely associated with the Feywild). Also, we have a few Winning Races articles scheduled for next year. Those often feature a new feat or two to explore some aspect of a character race.