Yes, That Monte


On the ever-vigilant quest for the greatest gaming experience, we pilgrims spend much of our gold on tomes of wisdom, only to be deceived by the wicked spell of marketing. Oh, the sorrow of owning a book that isn't worth its binding. Hear my words, for such acts of sorcery will not go unpunished. Rise up, my people; let our voices echo into the heavens. Let us cry out in the name of our precious hobby, as we call forth a hero to cast his sword into the sea and part the good from the evil. May he write the greatest of gaming material and bless us with his work. For this is the legend of Monte Cook.

On the ever-vigilant quest for the greatest gaming experience, we pilgrims spend much of our gold on tomes of wisdom, only to be deceived by the wicked spell of marketing. Oh, the sorrow of owning a book that isn't worth its binding. Hear my words, for such acts of sorcery will not go unpunished. Rise up, my people; let our voices echo into the heavens. Let us cry out in the name of our precious hobby, as we call forth a hero to cast his sword into the sea and part the good from the evil. May he write the greatest of gaming material and bless us with his work. For this is the legend of Monte Cook.

Since the d20 explosion, there have been some really great companies emerging from the aftermath. As people start to recognize good gaming material, the weak companies die and the strong become stronger. So what happens when you take one of the greatest D&D writers of all time and give him an OGL (Open Gaming License)? He sets a new standard of quality in the gaming industry. Monte Cook is the designer of the D&D Third Edition Dungeon Master's Guide, The Book of Vile Darkness, and Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. Just to name a few. His work is seen in novels, short stories, and magazines all over the world. To harness his raw talent, Monte, and his wife Sue, developed Malhavoc Press: a d20 publishing company. It wasn't long before the fans started flocking to the site, and Malhavoc rose above the competition.

Newbie and veteran, young and old, gather around and meet one of the masters of gaming.

Gamegrene: Hello Monte, how are you?

Monte Cook: I'm doing great, thanks. How are you?

GG: Like a geek at a Gen-Con. Thanks for talking with us today; I know you're a busy guy. What were you doing just now?

MC: I just got done running the last session of my own mini-AU playtest campaign. It was really fun.

GG: Cool, do you like to play Hack and Slash, or Heart and Soul?

MC: Probably something in between. Mostly, I like conflict, whether it comes from a fight with a bunch of goblins or a dilemma of which NPC to trust, or whatever. I like evoking emotion from players. When emotion enters into it, suddenly you're not just sitting around rolling dice playing games with numbers.

GG: What's the funniest thing that has ever happened to you?

MC: Well, I never like giving people absolute answers. I don't have an absolute favorite movie or song, for example, but I do have lots of favorites. So while I don't know if it was the funniest thing that ever happened, here's a recent funny thing that I wrote about on my site (When something funny happens, I usually write about it.)

GG: Good story and I really like your website, could you tell us a bit about Ptolus?

MC: Thanks. We're really proud of our site, and continually amazed and pleased at the traffic we get.

Ptolus is a city-based game that takes place in the same world as my previous D&D campaign, only 20,000 years later. I run it twice weekly, for two different groups. The game has been going on for about two years, with PCs now at around 13th level or so. They would be farther along, but we've had to take occasional breaks now and again.

There's a lot of dungeon-style adventuring going on (the city is built atop two older ruined cities, a series of natural caverns which probably includes at least one dark elf city, and a lot of other smaller underground vault systems-there's a reason for it all, but it's a very long story), but it's really pretty plot-driven. The plot is extremely Lovecraftian, with ancient, sleeping, godlike beings threatening everything. But there's a lot of other things going on, with religious/political struggles, an age-old chaos/law conflict, at least one war among crime lords, and an impending barbarian invasion. It's an interesting place to be.

I could go on and on and bore you to death, but you can go to and read all about it on the Ptolus page and message board, if you want. I even post occasional updates to the events in the campaign there, but to be honest, I'm way behind.

GG: What do you like to play, when you get a chance?

MC: Well, I'm not sure if you mean what game or what D&D class (although that betrays my answer, to the former right there, doesn't it?). I play a whole heck of a lot of D&D. I played twice a week for about three years. Now I'm down to just once a week. I DM (or GM) about 99.99% of the time. When I'm not, I usually play paladins or wizards. I also really like Call of Cthulhu. I love running a game where I can evoke real emotion from people, and horror is great for that.

GG: You have written a lot of gaming material, from the D&D 3rd Edition Dungeon Master Guide, to HeroClix: DC Comics Collectible Miniatures Game. You display great flexibility as a writer. Is there any genre that makes you a nervous writer, and if so, why?

MC: I suppose I'd get pretty nervous if you wanted me to write a paper on hydrodynamics or something. Seriously, the only time I'd get nervous (in the way that I think you mean) is if I had to work on some topic that I thought someone else already covered really well.

GG: As a writer, who has been your greatest source of inspiration?

MC: I suppose anyone who works on D&D and D&D style products who doesn't say Tolkien is fooling himself. But if we can discount that thread that runs through us all, I'd say, without a doubt, Steven R. Donaldson. XX

GG: You have received many awards from EN World, like Best Writer, Best Official Web-site, and more. So I must ask you, what does the "E N" stand for?

MC: Eric Noah. He started a website before 3rd Edition D&D came out, to dispense news about the changes in the new edition. It was a great site, and while he doesn't run it anymore, ENWorld sort of carries that torch. It's a place where D&D players can come together on line.

GG: What is Malhavoc Press, and where does the name come from?

MC: Malhavoc Press is a d20-focused design studio run by my wife Sue and myself. How it started was, after I quit my job at Wotc, I was looking for an outlet to do some products that were just what I wanted to do, not what someone wanted to hire me to write. So Sue and I had this idea of putting these products together and just making them available online as PDFs. We thought a few people might be interested in that. And who knows, maybe we'd even make a little money. Mostly it was just for fun to write the stuff I wanted to write.

But things really took off, and lo and behold, a year and a half later, it's a full-time job for both of us. Sue handles most of the "running of the company" types of duties, like contracting artists, mappers, dealing with the printer. I spend most of my time just writing. We also have a fantastic situation, a joint deal with Sword & Sorcery, so they handle a lot of the stuff we don't want to do, like warehousing, sales, things of that nature. So we've really got it pretty good.

Our products come out in both electronic form and print form. We've also got other great writers working for us, like BRC, Skip Williams and Sean Reynolds.

Malhavoc was an old D&D character of mine. It's also apparently the name of a Canadian heavy metal band and the villain of some old episode of the Super Friends. You find these things out when you throw yourself out into the public, I've found.

GG: Do you find it hard to manage a company and write?

MC: Absolutely. I work really long hours. More than I'd like. Like I said, Sue does most of the really hard stuff, but there's still a lot for me to do in addition to writing, which is already a full-time schedule (plus, I write a column in Dragon Magazine every month, a serialized story in Game Trade Magazine every month, and new web content every week). It gets to be a lot. But I'm happy.

GG: Is Malhavoc Press expanding its market into anything other parts of the industry?

MC: I don't think so. I mean, it would be fun to publish novels or comics or something, and I suppose that could happen, but really I'm pretty content where we are right now. We do have a license with Iron Wind Metals to do a line of Arcana Unearthed miniatures that will come out in August. While that's not technically us doing it, it's certainly another "part of the industry."

GG: Which product most represents Malhavoc Press?

MC: Probably Arcana Unearthed. It's a real departure from what it seems other companies are focusing on, and one of the goals of Malhavoc is to provide really original, interesting stuff.

GG: Could you tell us a bit about Arcana Unearthed?

MC: Arcana Unearthed is a 256-page hardcover product. It is a "variant player's handbook," meaning that it contains all the material needed to game in complete compatibility with D&D. But this isn't just a re-presentation of material. Arcana Unearthed contains new material in the form of all-new classes and races, and hundreds of new spells, skills, and feats. In essence, the core of the game remains the same, but all the modular pieces are entirely new. The new material is balanced to work with existing Open Game Content, but it has also been carefully designed to stand-alone. You can play using only with the Arcana Unearthed, if you desire.

It's not because I think the existing Player's Handbook is bad -- I helped put that together, after all. Arcana Unearthed deviates from D&D-style fantasy, but only somewhat. It's sort of a "what if?" kind of product. What if D&D didn't have dwarves, elves, fighters, and clerics? What if it was set up the same, but with all different pieces? An experiment, to be sure, but one that will be useful to virtually any fan of the game, since the new "pieces" can be added to a regular game as well.

But the basic ideas behind the game don't change. It's still about warriors with swords and spellcasters wielding mighty magic. Thus, the whole project involves some very interesting thought exercises. For example, how do you provide people with all the options to play the character they want to play without using the standard classes and races? Arcana Unearthed isn't about classes and races that are easily mapped to existing ones. I didn't want to make a class that was just like, say, a rogue, with a few different abilities. Or a race that's just like dwarves with a different name. To accomplish this, I had to define the characteristics that made people want to play a certain type of character, then provide those qualities using very different options. For example, Arcana Unearthed has the unfettered: wild, flamboyant warriors that rely on their reflexes and wits rather than heavy armor. They're sneaky swashbucklers and they fill the need for someone who doesn't want to play a "tank" in plate armor but still wants to be in combat swinging away. A person who likes to play a barbarian or rogue (or even a monk) in D&D might enjoy playing an unfettered. He might also, however, like to play the unfettered's opposite, called an oathsworn. Oathsworn have a somewhat similar approach to combat, but while the unfettered are wild and unpredictable, the oathsworn follow solemn oaths and strict training to hone themselves into living weapons (and make anything they touch into a deadly weapon as well). And then, of course, there are those who specialize in what the unfettered and the oathsworn eschew: heavy armor and weapons. The warmain is a class of warrior that excels in the use of raw physical might, massive weapons, and exotic armor to defeat foes. And those are just three of the more basic classes.

GG: I can't wait to get my copy, will there be any early releases or special promotions in the near future?

MC: Well, those buying their copy at GenCon will receive a free limited edition miniature from Ironwind metals. I should also mention that Fiery Dragon Productions and Mystic Eye Games are both doing support products (adventures and counters) for AU, the first of which will be available in July. We'll be doing a DM's Screen/Player's Guide, a setting book called the Diamond Throne, and a Bestiary next year. We'll also be flooding with web site with free AU content, adventures, and supplementary material.

GG: It looks to me like you've quite a year ahead of you. I look forward to reading all about it on your website. On behalf of gamers everywhere, I want to thank you for your hard work and dedication to the trade. Furthermore, for your efforts in the industry, GameGrene would like to give you a big hug, followed by three scoops of chocolate ice cream. You deserve it Monte. Good on ya.

MC: Thanks! I love chocolate ice cream (except that I'm trying to cut back on sweets lately). It's been fun.

Over the last decade, Monte Cook has made his mark on gaming. is one of most entertaining web sites in the biz and showcases the great works of Malhavoc Press. In the d20 era, it is hard to find great material, unless you know a great writer. I raise my tankard to you Monte, and honor you with a slurred folk song.

Carry on your eager journey, my friends, for the rewards are beyond imagination. Do not waver; do not fall to your knees in anguish. For, there is rest along the path of righteousness and shelter from the pain. You may find the adventures you desire if you heed my warning, and seek out the greatest of them all.

I gotta say that Monte Cook comes up with a lot of original ideas, instead of relying on D&D tropes.

I just bought the GHOSTWALK supplement he wrote for WotC and it is awesome. You all should go check it out.

thanks for the infomercial.