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  • Writer's pictureKenny Webb

MAKING MONSTROUS: How MONSTROUS Became System-Neutral


It's Kenny!

Hello! Kenny, the designer behind MONSTROUS here, and I’m thrilled you’re checking out our project!

Let me tell you a bit about the beginnings of this awesome book.


The Most Forbidden Lore: Horse Lore


Any story of MONSTROUS has to begin with Kyle. You might well know that this book has its roots in Kyle’s YouTube channel, Map Crow, and his Building Better Monsters series. In each episode of the series, he takes a good hard look at a classic fantasy monster and thinks about how to breathe new life into it.


When he set the goal of building a book with similar aims, I was lucky enough to have just met him. In fact, my “audition” for taking on the project was writing a 5e statblock for a hilarious (read: “horrifying”) horse creature with hands for…everything, which Kyle and Amber created in a frenzied art jam.

Believe it or not, this statblock was part of the reason I got to work on MONSTROUS. Truly a miracle. It also might be why we started this book in the context of 5e, though it wouldn’t last long.


A Brief Flirtation with 5e

And so, MONSTROUS began with a strong 5e sensibility. We always planned to have sections discussing the essence of each monster, its goals, how it interacts with the story and the world. But the monster itself would be a fully-fledged 5e-compatible statblock.

And…it just didn’t feel right. And this surprised us, because Building Better Monsters, the spiritual forebear of MONSTROUS, was very much about D&D monsters.


But when we actually got down to design, it was like pulling teeth! And this is from people who are hip deep in TTRPG mechanics all the time. It wasn’t a problem with 5e, we realized, it was a problem with fit. Rather than sweating how to translate our vision of monsters into specific mechanics, we needed to focus on story first and give GMs the tools to bring these stories and these monsters to life.


So Why System-Neutral?

Ultimately, we realized that going system-neutral made the most sense for MONSTROUS by a long shot, offering the following advantages:

  • It allows us to focus on narrative. We knew from the beginning that we wanted this book to be all about story: how to build compelling monster mythos and make them meaningful in game. Going system-neutral meant we couldn’t hide behind ability scores and status conditions. We actually had to get narrative with our monsters.

  • More people will be able to use it. Going system-neutral means that pretty much any fantasy TTRPG system can make use of this book.

  • It’s easier to design with. I dig a game where I don’t have to look up a ton of statistics, scores, conversions tables, and graphs every time I want to play. The fill-in-the-blank style of the core monster worksheets helps you create flavorful abilities that have clear in-game effects without the need for a ton of math.

  • It does what it says on the tin. For me, the best TTRPG design is such that when you read it, you know what it does, no need to elaborate. I loved the challenge to hit this level of design, and I think it delivers the best experience for getting excited about monsters and making them a truly MONSTROUS presence in a game.

That’s all for now. Join me for future Making Monstrous posts where I’ll be digging into specific monster designs!



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