Monster Manual 3 Interview with Greg Bilsland

The Monster Manual 3 is due for release in just a few short days. We had the opportunity to ask Greg Bilsland, Wizards of the Coast’s designer and lead editor for the Monster Manual 3, five questions related to the release of the MM3.

Let’s dive right into the questions.

Critical Hits: With the Monster Manual 2 we saw changes to the design of Solos and Minions. What sort of design changes were behind the MM3?

Greg Bilsland: Monster Manual 3 has some significant changes to monster accuracy and damage. We decided during the development process to look at whether monsters were threatening PCs. We concluded that PCs were, in many cases, killing monsters so fast that the monsters were not challenging the characters. To that effect, we increased monster damage output by about 30-40%.

We also took a look at monster accuracy. We reexamined the various roles and ended up adjusting brute accuracy back to baseline. We felt that this change would enable DMs to use brutes below the PCs’ level more effectively. Artillery, controller, and soldier accuracy also got a slight adjustment.

CH: What sort of design considerations go into statting out a god or demigod like Lolth?

GB: As solos, monsters like Lolth and Ogremoch are going to represent all the roles, even if their stat blocks define them as a lurker or a soldier. Lolth was especially challenging. A lurker is typically only easy to attack half the time. That makes for a long and frustrating fight against a solo. Part of the solution was to make Lolth’s powers more lurkerish rather than to give her a lurk mode, like invisibility or total concealment. The other answer was to capitalize on elements of her story. She doesn’t discorporate like other deities, and the PCs are in for a surprise when they bloody her.

One of the major design considerations that goes into the 30+ solos is to make the fight climactic and transformative. The fight can’t be static—the monster needs to be affecting the battlefield and forcing the characters to adapt their strategies. We often achieve this effect through auras. Ogremoch, for example, has an aura that causes the entire battlefield to shift and move. I designed a creature named Allabar for Monster Manual 3. Allabar is a climactic boss for a campaign centered around a Far Realm incursion. To try and capture the feeling of fighting a “planetary entity,” I gave Allabar powers like gravity well, devour body, and unravel essence to capture the climactic and epic feeling of a battle against it.

CH: What was the background and philosophy behind the new stat block?

GB: Basically, it came down to dividing the powers in the way a DM typically runs monsters. A DM only needs to look at certain pieces of a monster at certain times. In the old stat block, it was difficult to know where to look, depending on how many actions the creature could take, when its aura triggered, and when its other powers triggered. The new division makes that subdivision clearer. It also emulates the PC power format, making it easier for players to become DMs.

Interviewer’s Note: Greg and Andy Collins described in detail the background behind the new monster stat block in the DDI article Revising the Monster Stat Block (Subscription to DDI required).

CH: Are there any new considerations a DM should have in mind when putting together encounters from the MM3?

GB: Monster Manual 3 has a few core conceptions. The first is that it brings back a lot of classic monsters, like the mimic, the banderhobbs, the cloakers, and the derros. The book also has more epic monsters than other books, allowing DMs to more easily structure encounters at those levels. There’s also a psionic theme, so you’ll see more creatures like mind flayers, thri-kreens, star spawn, and foul spawn. The mix of different creatures makes it a widely applicable book. I think people will get the most out of it if they’re running Far-Realm-centric games, games involving drow or the Cult of Elder Elemental Evil, or if they’re ramping up for high paragon and epic tier.

CH: What is your favorite MM3 monster and why?

GB: I really like Allabar, Opener of the Way, because the monster’s entry gives some substance to why star spawn are in the world, and it helps a DM frame a campaign around a conflict against the Far Realm. Catastrophic dragons are my other favorite. I like the “charge up and explode” mechanic and the ability to pair the dragons (because they’re elites) with other monsters. They’ll go great with all the Cult of Elder Elemental Evil stuff in the book.

CH: What are three tips you have for DMs running games with MM3 monsters?

  1. GB: Read the entire monster entry. Don’t gloss over the Lore and Encounters entries. These have lots of hooks for building adventures and encounters. They’ll provide a wealth of inspiration. The new page format emphasizes story and really helps develop the core D&D world. I could definitely see someone sitting down with this book just to learn more about the D&D world.
  2. Check out the stat blocks before the game if possible. A good number of monsters in Monster Manual 3 introduce new and unusual mechanics, like psionic augmentation and the catastrophic dragons’ exploding mechanic. Some of the monsters are more advanced than those in the previous Monster Manuals, so it will help if you peruse the blocks early.
  3. Check out this book before the characters get to high paragon and epic tier. There are some great hooks for campaign arcs, and it introduces some new epic-level factions. There are some new epic-level humanoids called “tulgar” and “forsaken” that have great hooks to pit them against the PCs. Tulgar are corrupted primal spirits that have inhabited humanoid bodies, and forsaken are humanoids descended from fragments of dead gods.

This book has plenty of monsters of all levels—over 300, in fact. I’ve been having a blast running them for the past couple of months in my paragon-tier game, and I can guarantee that the new monsters pack a punch.

We want to thank Greg for taking the time to answer our questions. For more tips on how to use the book in your game, check out the Three Tips to Prepare for the Monster Manual 3. The Monster Manual 3 will be released on 15 June 2010. Players beware!


  1. One thing that immediately occurs to me is that it sounds like they are increasing DPR in two ways simultaneously – upping monsters’ attack bonus and upping monster damage. Do we know if they took the combined effect of raising both accuracy and damage into account?

    My 1st-level rogue is shivering in horror… maybe that’s a good thing.

  2. I like that monster design strategies are changing … I dislike that my first monster manuals now have monsters that don’t match the more refined designs used now. Are the monsters from MM1 and MM2 updated in DDI to reflect changes in design philosophy?

  3. Sounds like this is gonna be very interesting.

  4. Shilling says:

    Glad to hear about the added lore and story-richness. The MM1 entries are utterly flavourless groups of numbers, for the most part.

  5. It’s hard for me to be optimistic when changes are made. I know, “keep pace with change,” but too many times changes are more headache than they’re worth. I hope I am pleasantly surprised, and will try to read the book with an open mind.


  6. I’ve read the Monster Manual 3 Excerpts with great interest, and really like what I am seeing so far. The entries show alot of promise for making MM3 the “best of show” of the three manuals.

    I’m also excited by the new changes to the monster stat blocks, but I’m with Sord – I know my MM and MM2 are going to be “out-of-date” with their stat blocks, but will we at least see DDI Adventure Tools updated so that we can pull uniform stat blocks regardless of monster manual?

  7. I’m really excited for this book, if only to check out the design philosophy on the Far Realm creatures, and get more star spawn to use for my game.

  8. I think they’ve made a lot of real progress in improving the design of monsters from MM1 to MM3, but now part of me is thinking that I may actually stop using MM1 at all and limit my adventures and encounters to use only MM3 creatures and customized iterations of its contents.

    So yeah, it’s great that monsters are getting better, but it sucks because it makes previous books feel like they’ll be relegated to paperweights. Oh well, better than having UNimproved monsters.

  9. I think anyone running a high Paragon or Epic tier game has already been modifying monsters to keep the challenge up. I agree that it’s sort of depressing to look at the MM1 and know that most of the elite and solo monsters in it above level 10 would need to be modified to play, but such is life. Maybe this would call for a DDI style re-invention of certain key monsters.

    I also hope and expect that the new D&D Essentials line will revamp key monsters. Of course, I expect Essentials will be focusing on the 1 to 10 game which really doesn’t need much work. It’s the 11 through 30 game that needs work.

    I know I wouldn’t mind buying an enhanced Monster Manual 1 or some sort of book that refreshed all of the level 11 to level 30 elites and solos.

  10. Alberand says:

    I have not tried running a MM3 encounter yet (hopefully Thursday), but I like the new stat block format. I frequently overlook or misuse monster powers because it is difficult to see at a glance which powers are reactive, what the monster can do with minor or move actions, etc.

    As for changes since the older books, I for one would gladly purchase updates of the original core books with the current rules. They will go out of date too, of course, but it would be nice to have a copy that’s only missing some minor recent tweaks instead of one that’s missing complete revisions to the original information (e.g. stealth, tiefling racial power, etc). There is very little point in looking anything up in a physical PHB1 anymore, so there is really no point in my taking it to a game session.

    Of course, we’ve got the Rules Compendium coming to take care of that (hopefully), but I would love to see a refresh of the original MM1 (and some MM2) monsters to bring them “up to code” as well, even if it’s only done in the Compendium and Monster Builder. Hopefully the monster Essentials book will do that for the heavily used/iconic older critters.

    If nothing else, I am really hoping that Monster Builder gets updated to the new format during the next update. Some older monsters may not fit the new format perfectly, but I prefer to print out encounter sheets rather than run from the book, and I don’t want to be stuck with the old format or doing a bunch of manual reformatting again.

  11. Shilling says:

    I just had a quick flick through MM 1 and 2 and was reminded of something that really annoyed me: the lack of physical descriptions. Now the editors arguably wanted to save space and use illustrations instead of text, but not every monster has an illustration. Also there is only ever one illustration for a monster that has several variants, like the Fell Taint. This makes it much harder for me to tell the party exactly what it is they are facing. I would argue too that text description is more evocative and less prescriptive than a picture.

    It’s an incredible oversight, one I can’t forgive.

  12. Papabaloo says:

    Great interview, this just adds up more hype to my already hype waiting of MM3 XD

  13. Ah, finally fixing one of the most glaring flaws of 4e. Most every experienced GM had been adding to the monster damage for at least the last 6 months. I imagine next year, WoTC will figure out some of the other flaws with monsters that players have learned ages ago.

    Progress is good, at least…but why not playtest a bit more rather than just abuse the license so?

  14. I’d buy the book just from looking at the cover.


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