Hands On: Monster Builder Beta

monsterbuilderThe Monster Builder was released today to DDI subscribers, allowing us to build our own monsters for 4e. Of course, we could already do that… through Asmor’s Monster Maker, the Dungeonmastering Tools, or WotC’s own bonus tools utility.

So what does the new software bring to the table? Well, you still can’t use it to build encounters and have it print out stat blocks. Nor can you use it to apply templates to monsters. What you can do, that was mostly unavailable before, is modify existing monsters, swap powers between monsters, and build all new monsters by using bits and pieces from other monsters (and not just for Flesh Golems).

So here’s a walkthrough (with screenshots) of some of the Monster Builder features. As a few caveats, I don’t do a lot of homemade monster creation. I find the existing monsters in the game more than sufficient, and when I need something else, I can almost always shemp something into shape. So I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the specifics of monster creation when building some samples… mostly, I was just playing around.

First things first: I now use a MacBook, with VMWare installed to run Windows XP, in order to use the Character Builder and now the Monster Builder. The Character Builder was already installed, making the installation process easy, but your mileage may vary.

Adventure Tools

So after closing Character Builder, I installed and fired up the new Monster Builder. The first screen lists the “Adventure Tools”, of which Monster Builder is only one, with 4 other empty slots. What will these slots contain? Only time (and probably a lot of it) will tell. Anyway, next step was to click on Monster Builder, and then the launch took about a minute.

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First screen lists some of the things you can do with the Monster Builder. A number of helpful tool tips appear on screen at various times to guide you through the process.

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On the left, a list of all the official monsters from the Compendium. (Presumably, like the CB, Adventure Tools will update every month with new monsters). You can filter by name, keywords, level, and more. The middle shows the currently selected monster. The right has a “holding pen” where you can place a couple monsters you want to work with. The bottom middle has options for what you can do with the current monster: edit custom creature (for monsters you’ve made yourself that you want to modify), duplicate and edit creature (to use an existing monster as a starting point), or create new custom creature (to start from scratch).

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Let’s start with modifying a monster. A few weeks back, I ran an adventure that needed Dwarven pirates. Let’s make a Dwarven pirate captain. I start with the Human Pirate Captain from MM2, which I find by typing in “pirate.”

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I selected it, and it brought up all the details, with a separate entry in each block on the side for each of his powers.

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I changed his name, up his level to make him more menacing, and add the Dwarf keyword. The powers automatically have their attack bonuses increase.

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I gave him an extra range attack, his trusty flintlock pistol, with a recharge to represent reloading. I made it his basic ranged attack, and added some text. I modified the default cutlass melee attack to be a little weaker.

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I needed to Dwarfify him, so I searched for Dwarf in the right sidebar. Oops- turns out that there’s a Dwarven buccaneer already. That’s OK, my Dwarven pirate will be way better. I clicked and dragged the “Stand Your Ground” racial power over. I saved the modified creature. I can copy it to the clipboard in rich text and paste into TextEdit or in image form (but that wasn’t working for me- couldn’t paste into Photoshop or any other program). I can also print my Captain, so I sent it to PDF.

To get back to the main screen, I clicked the X which says “Cancel Monster” since that’s the only option to go back. It prompts to save, even if you’ve already saved it.

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OK, now a new monster. I clicked the make new monster button, and entered in the basic details. Paragon monster sounds about right, and now I need some powers.

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As you can see, I can grab all kinds of different powers from different monsters, and it automatically recalibrates the attack and damage for level, though there’s no indication of when I’ve added too many powers for the level, so I just wing it.

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I changed a few power names and a few keywords/damage types, and voila! I have a new monster.

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I have a statblock ready to print and bring to my game table.

My analysis? It’s still early in the development of the tool, but clearly a boon for those who love to make their own monsters. The ability to move around powers between monsters (and even the ability to build off existing monsters) is a huge benefit to monster makers and tinkerers. However, for someone like myself who doesn’t have a lot of experience with doing it, it’s difficult to judge just what I’m doing and if my final creation is balanced along the lines of existing monsters. Swapping racial powers is useful, but not enough to make it invaluable when planning my game. Add in encounter building with statblocks and templating, and you’ll have yourself a deal.

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, the Geek's Dream Girl.


  1. Definitely have to agree, a strong tool, with some room for improvement. I too have a PDF printer, so have an easy way to save/print the creatures. Would like a way to send a creature to a friend so they can load it in the creator without having to recreate it.

  2. ki11erdm says:

    I am a tinkerer… have been for a long long time and I am already have a good time with it. It does not tell you if a monster is balanced… only a human can do that… but doing all the math for me and giving me a massive list of powers to pick from is so worth the money. In 3.x it could take me hours to make a new mid level monster, now it just takes a few minutes.

  3. That looks pretty awesome.

    *cheapness rising*

    But I won’t buy a DDI subscription for it.
    .-= Wyatt´s last blog ..Wyatt Answers Your Questions! =-.

  4. PinkRose says:

    You forgot to note:
    It’s free if you already have a DDI subscription. So no matter what it’s missing, or if you don’t make alot of monsters, it’s a free helpful tool. That gives it +1 star for my review.

  5. It does look cool but yet again it’s a PC-only tool – grrrr!

    I’ve got a MacBook too – what software are you using to run this? What’s VMWare?


    .-= RichGreen´s last blog ..Recent Reading: Books =-.

  6. joshx0rfz says:

    VMWare and Parallels are two good windows emulation tools for intel processor macs. Either will work for this sort of thing.

    What is really nice about them is that they run in a separate window unlike the days of Boot Camp where you would have to restart your computer everytime you wanted to switch OSes.

  7. ki11erdm says:

    They are using the .net framework which dramatically decreases the development time, and increases the quality of the final product.

    This should eventually let you run it natively on a Mac once the open source community has finally caught up. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mono_(software)

  8. It’s missing some features I’d like to see:

    - Although the monsters can be filtered by source, there’s no straightforward way to find the source of a specific monster – which makes it difficult to look up the fluff, tactics, etc. Ideally these would be provided with it, but I can see that they want to sell new monster manuals too.

    - No easy way to print multiple monster’s blocks to one page.

    I’ll use it considering I already have a subscription, but it could certainly be improved.

  9. Personally I’ve been avoiding the Monster Builder for the last week because once I get my hands on it I will end up wasting so much time with it. As much as using ‘shemps’ is ridiculously easy in 4E, I still really enjoy creating new monsters and making up new kinds of powers and abilities to surprise players with.

  10. CopyrightNotice says:

    “The forums account associated with this email address has been deactivated for violation of the Code of Conduct, specifically section Four, Promoting illegal Activities.”

    My forum account got a 3-day ban because I told people to remove the copyright notice from the images produced by the Monster Builder. The copyright at the bottom of each image very clearly gives WotC/Hasbro the rights to any monster you create and publish using the monster builder. That is theft of your rights, a violation of your copyright and is illegal.

    Send email to WotC customer service and tell them to remove the copyright notice at the bottom of the Monster Builder exported images.

  11. The copyright says:
    © 2009 Wizards of the Coast LLC, a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc. All rights reserved. This monster statistics block has been generated using the D&D Adventure Tools.

    It does not say anywhere that the data is a property of Wizards, it is the same as when you create a web page using Dreamweaver, you get a line in the header saying that the file is generated by that software.

    So if you enjoy the software, please stop this bickering about a nonexistent issue.


  1. [...] Hands On: Monster Builder Beta This is a great review of the D&D Insider Monster Builder Beta. It comes complete with step-by-step instructions on creating a monsters and screenshots to boot! Very well done, Critical Hits! [...]