Target Mapping your Monsters: Worldbuilding via the “Monster Manual”

IMG_6786_touchAt GenCon this year, I got a copy of the new Monster Manual. It’s a beautiful book, but one I opened nervously. I’ve never been good at using monster books. The monsters inside look cool, but I have always struggled with fitting them together in a campaign world. It’s been the biggest weakness in my ability to plan and run campaigns. I’m great for one-shots, but none of my campaign ideas really get off the ground. I am still very much a newbie DM, especially when it comes to worldbuilding.

While I read the newest Monster Manual, I could feel the monsters coming together in and around the world. There is easily digested lore for every monster in the main part of the book, and each snippet of lore has something a GM can sink their teeth into to turn into a piece of an adventure.

As I was reading, I was especially inspired by environment effects. Legendary monsters like dragons and liches affect the area around them, sometimes for miles. These involve animal behavior, weather patterns, ecologies, and more. Some effects linger after a monster dies, and some effects will be permanent.

Something about all of these monster effects made mapbuilding click in my mind in a way it hadn’t before, and I could start seeing monsters fit together like a puzzle.

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Environmental effects make legendary monsters a “target” on a map. Place your dragon in the world and think about who congregates around her. Adding monster groups to the world and planning how they interact radiates out from a big bad guy. I grabbed some graph paper and tried it out, once with a green dragon and once with a kraken who had taken over a wizard’s tower in the middle of a lake.

The kraken was the monster I had the most fun reading. It’s a meanie in the new Monster Manual, and unlike what you might be used to about a sea monster, this one has the ability to breathe air and travel over land (while destroying everything in its path). So I decided to map out a kraken’s recent interest in a magic tower, and the repercussions that come out of that.

The kraken’s environmental effects are marked on the map, as well as its path of destruction where it walked on land from the ocean to the lake. After settling the kraken in, I started to add invested monster groups to the map. There is definitely room for far, far more in there.

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MMKrakenI added some merfolk to the coast, who could be looking to bring the kraken back into its natural ecosystem. Some kuo-toa settlers are moving in near the lake, looking to take advantage of the ruins and damp ground to tunnel into. The other monster groups represent the existing communities the characters can be from and interact with.

As for the distances on the map, it’s pretty simple. The length of bracket, distance from legendary monster lair, and overlap with other brackets on page let you communicate monster group size, placement in interaction with other monsters on the map, respectively. This way you have interactions visually represented, rather than having the check notes or write a story ahead of time. For example, I know that something will happen involving the elven cities and the fishing villages, but I may be able to let the PCs build the details of that relationship for me.

As you’re building, you can add more legendary monsters and radiate their monster groups out, building richer interactions and making legendary monster Venn diagrams – perfect for a magical war scenario.

Big or small, I’m looking forward to using this quick world mapping technique and using it to add a depth to relationships and group interactions that I’ve struggled to incorporate into my game.

Lyndsay Peters is a story game and RPG enthusiast, mostly active on Twitter as @GeekyLyndsay. She also has a blog called CredBureau, but it’s on hiatus while she moves to a new country.

Comments

  1. As someone working on migrating his playtest campaign setting to a full 5th edition setting, this has really inspired me. I love the legendary creature rules (unicorn forests, for the win) and using them as cornerstones of a setting is an awesome notion!

  2. I am more excited then ever to see that I will be able to use this kind of theory and add it to my own world now. This just adds a deeper bite of flavor to making everything around you even more alive. And the more your world breaths the more the players enjoy being part of that living thing that we pour all our energy into !

  3. Very cool. MMs have always been my favorite, and this should be no exception. Too bad I still have to wait a month for mine.

  4. alphastream says:

    Great thoughts, and really nice to see you write for Critical Hits! More!

    The legendary concept is something I tapped into with the writing of the first D&D EPIC adventure for the Adventurers League program. In that adventure, Kryptgarden Forest is the home of an ancient green dragon, Claugiyliamatar. The players have to come stop her from completing alliances that are helping her power grow. The legendary powers provided inspiration around how her growing power could manifest, which then became parts of the story. Players could experience first hand the fog, the twisted trees, the growths on fey creatures (even changing their allegiance from their normal fey lords), etc. I agree that this Monster Manual is fantastic, and the legendary aspects are some of my favorite.

  5. The bit about land-faring kraken makes me want to write a D&D: Pacific Rim adventure. 😀

  6. I am really more than excited to read the monster manual now. I love they way you have explained the radiating monster groups . This will open a whole new world for me as a GM. A way I have never looked at it.
    It’s one of those obvious evolutionary events that had not been seen for looking.

    Now. Where is my book. ?

    Ok ok I’ll wait.
    *much finger tapping

  7. Genius. Thank you for that! I think the environmental impact of some monsters is an interesting idea, but you’ve contextualized this in a manner that I’d not even come close to considering. I bet there are a lot GMs out there whose campaigns are going to take a significant leap forward using this idea.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Peters has posted some thoughts on the new Monster Manual for Dungeons & Dragons over at Critical Hits – it is worth a […]

  2. […] Target Mapping your Monsters: Worldbuilding via the “Monster Manual” […]

  3. […] seen some bits of it come out here or there. For example, there was @geekylindsay‘s excellent article on worldbuilding using the MM (btw this article will have some overlap with hers), while Jerry […]

  4. […] Legendary creatures get tied directly into world-building too, since each one has regional effects. An aboleth befouls all water within a mile of where it lives. Within a mile of a beholder’s den, people randomly feel as if they’re being watched, and reality sometimes warps in strange, minor ways. White dragons cause wintry weather within six miles of their lairs. In fact, here’s an excellent article by Lyndsay Peters that explains how to create your campaign map using monster regions. […]

  5. […] Legendary creatures get tied directly into world-building too, since each one has regional effects. An aboleth befouls all water within a mile of where it lives. Within a mile of a beholder’s den, people randomly feel as if they’re being watched, and reality sometimes warps in strange, minor ways. White dragons cause wintry weather within six miles of their lairs. In fact, here’s an excellent article by Lyndsay Peters that explains how to create your campaign map using monster regions. […]

  6. […] altro utilizzo come nota Critical Hits è il Worldbuilding: se piazziamo un mostro leggendario sulla mappa, irradiamo i suoi effetti […]