Monsterology 101 – About Beginnings

The easiest place to start is the beginning. As I begin this new column at This is My Game, beginnings are on my mind. In my professional life, I’ve begun a new job; in my family life, I’ve a daughter on the way; in my gaming life, I’ve gotten a chance to actually play (as opposed to DM) for the first time in ages.

What’s this got to do with monsters you ask? The answer is that monsters, more so than any other element of D&D, are dependent on the impetus of their creation. A strong hook or background for a monster gives it a theme, and that theme comes across in game play. Especially in 4e.

Some may already be up in arms – creating an adventure depends on the initial, sparking thought, developing a playable class or set of powers is best served by having a strong, original idea that binds the entity together. I’d not argue with this. However, the simplicity of actually crafting a monster in 4e means that the idea that sparked the creature must be potent – it only has a very limited mechanical scope in which to impress the people sitting at a given gaming table. An adventure may meander. After all, it is filled with encounters, NPCs, treasure, etc. – all of which may truly build up the notion behind the adventure (be it dread, mystery, a trap-filled dungeon) over time. The same with a class and its array of powers . . . the idea of a controller is often best realized over the careful selection of powers over time. A monster has that one shot. It is mechanically in stasis.

Therefore it is dependent on that impetus of creation. The adventure, the class, and the feat tree have wiggle room not afforded to your monsters. So the idea needs to be solid . . .


Fortunately, finding good monster ideas is as simple as flipping open a comic book, looking up ancient myth or recent folktales, watching a horror movie, or tuning into the Discovery Channel. Monster ideas abound.

The big thrust of this column is going to be finding that inspiration, distilling it down to its essence, and building that core idea into a monster. We’ll dally along the way (themes, reader ideas, reworking old classics, and discussions of existing monsters are all in the works), but when you fire up the interwebs to get your D&D fix, this will be the place for monster talk. It is about time.


I want to close out this first installment of Monsterology 101 with an example.

For two years straight I’ve made it into the top 10 of Kobold Quarterly’s King of the Monster competition. This essentially involves having an idea novel enough to wow the judges, then revealing that monsters through mechanics sturdy enough to stand up to play. Last year I went with the wendigo. Here is a quick synopsis of how I created that beast:

1) IDEA + RESEARCH – The wendigo popped into my mind because of the show X-Files. A buddy of mine had been watching the episodes on Netflix, and somehow we ended up discussing the merits of the classic Wendigo (when discussing X-files these are the types of discussions that are inevitable) and the Marvel Comics Wendigo. In the comic books, Wendigo is essentially a murderous lycanthrope. He is corporeal, super-strong, and kind of like a really feral Beast (Hank McCoy). Cool, but not unique.

Here is the folklore/myth of the wendigo:

The Wendigo (also known as Windigo, Weendigo, Windago, Windiga, Witiko, Wihtikow, and numerous other variants)[1] is a mythical creature appearing in the mythology of the Algonquian people. It is a malevolent cannibalistic spirit into which humans could transform, or which could possess humans. Those who indulged in cannibalism were at particular risk,[2] and the legend appears to have reinforced this practice as taboo.

Cannibalism. Check. Possession. Check. Malevolent. Check. Already much cooler than this guy –

The only thing scary about him is the Van Halen hairdo.



Well, dear reader, you do understand that if I jump into this, two things will happen:

1 – I’ll ramble on for another 750 words.

2 – I’ll have to change the title of this post. After all, we’ll know longer be talking about the beginning. We’ll have clearly jumped into the middle. Can’t have that, now can we.

However, to tide you over to next time a present the Wendigo in all of its finished glory. Hopefully, you’ll be able to see how the multiple ways I incorporated the cannibalism theme into this creature.


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Matthew A. C. is a struggling writer, professor, family man, and gamer. Yes, he struggles at all those things. However, he's been fortunate enough to publish a few things here and there. You can find his RPG stuff at RPG Now and follow him on twitter (@thelastrogue).

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About Matthew A. C.

Matthew A. C. is a struggling writer, professor, family man, and gamer. Yes, he struggles at all those things. However, he's been fortunate enough to publish a few things here and there. You can find his RPG stuff at RPG Now and follow him on twitter (@thelastrogue).
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