Here’s my big question: Did Monte Cook type up all of those stat blocks in the back of Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil?
There’s 25 pages of stat-blocks of NPCs and commonly encountered monsters for that adventure. Did he do it? Did he really do all of that math?
For me, one of the biggest impediments to creativity with D&D Third Edition was designing monsters and NPCs, because everything had to be quantified in the name of Encounter Levels and Challenge Ratings.
Every standard creature had a classification (that is, “animal,” “elemental,” “humanoid, “magical beast,” etc). Which is okay. Magical beasts, for example, included things like the owlbear, the unicorn, and the like which have been staples since D&D came out. Now you, as DM, had a general idea of what magical beast were.
And hybrid monsters are nothing new. See the half-orc or the centaur other example.
But 3e took hybridization to a whole new level with the template.
You added templates to make a standard creature more powerful or distinctive. Say if you wanted a demonic boar, you added the “fiendish” to give it a little more powerful.
Like so many things with 3e, it began innocently enough. And at lower levels adding a template didn’t require a lot of work.
Yet a red flag went up when I saw that there no longer standard lycanthropes and vampires. These were now templates. The Monster Manual had examples (like the Vampire Fighter or the Wereboar). But still, if you want to design your own, you had some work to do.
Even the lowly “skeleton” and “zombie” no longer were creatures, but templates.
You could also add a character class to certain creatures. Say if you wanted a stronger ogre, you gave him a couple of levels of fighter. Again you would have to do some work.
When characters are a low-level, you don’t see much of these templates–these would make certain creatures too powerful.
Yet another red flag went when I perused the Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil back in the day and saw entries like these:
Half-Black (or Half-Blue) Dragon Tyrannosaurus; CR 10.
Skassik: Male salamander Fighter 1/Blackguard 3; CR 9.
The Third: Female half-air elemental/half human cleric 8/doomdreamer 5
Maliskra: Female half-fire elemental/half medusa Cleric 4/Doomdreamer
Thrommel: Human vampire Paladin 3/Blackguard 9; CR 14.
The stat-blocks for these creatures could go for several paragraphs. And further supplements for 3e introduced even more templates, classes, and prestige classes.
You’d see the half-elemental template in The Manual of the Planes. The Book of Vile Darkness gave us the “corpse creatures” and “corrupted creature” templates.
If you wanted your monster to represent something out of a Lovecraftian nightmare, Wizards of the Coast published templates for that.
If you wanted your half-fiend vampiric human fighter/rogue to be more like a pirate, well, there was a “dread pirate” prestige class available.
From a player viewpoint, all of these options could make one drool. And the game designers provided the rules in which to create characters with lots of hybridization (like in the book Savage Species). They’d be more powerful, but you could do it–if the Dungeon Master let you.
For me 3e became the game of “no.”
“No, you may not have that prestige class.”
“No, I am not going to design a werewolf NPC character. I don’t have the time.”
“No, I am not going to type up another stat-block for any monster or character. And I’m definitely not calculating the skill points for a celestial lizardman rogue, even though I like the concept.”
My solution: photocopy stat blocks from the back of published adventures, cut them out, put them on index cards for later use. The NPC appendix from The Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil saw use at my tabletop, even though I never ran the module itself.
So, Monte Cook, if you did type of all of those stat blocks, thank you. You saved me a lot of time designing my own adventures.