Industry Interview: Monte Cook

It’s been a while but I thought it would be fun to repost an interview that my wife once did with the (even more) famous Monte Cook. (From Big Iron Vault Issue #4. March 16, 2010)

Jessica: Does my husband really have the right to call himself a good Dungeon Master? I mean he has a ton of dolls and trees and plastic terrain features. But how can a person tell if their Dungeon Master is good or not?

Monte: Sure. Frankly, a lot of good DMing comes from confidence. But the best way to tell if you’re a good DM is if everyone sitting around the table is having a good time.

If someone isn’t a good Dungeon Master – how can he (or she!) get better at it?

It sounds cliché, but practice, practice, practice. The best way to get good is to do it. Beyond that, however, read. Not only books about DMing (and there are a fair number of them) but read adventure modules to get a feel for how adventures are created, plotted, and paced. Go online and read the campaign logs of people who run their games and then write up what happens in each session. Lastly, play the game as a player and see things from the other side. Watch other DMs and see what they do that you like and don’t like.

But do you think that some people are born to be better at Dungeon Mastering? I mean some people are more introverted than others, it seems to me that standing up and changing voices, pretending that you’re someone or something that you’re not takes a lot of energy! Do you think that people who are shy can learn to be good Dungeon Masters?

Some people are naturally more outgoing. Some can more easily do a lot of different voices, while some come to the game with a better grasp of math, of multitasking, or relating to others, or to being entertaining. These are all skills of good DMs, but even if you’re not great at all of them, they’re all things that can be developed with experience.

How did you decide that Dungeon Mastering was for you? I mean did you always want to be a game designer as a kid?

When I was 14 years old, I picked up an adventure module called Dwellers of the Forbidden City by David Cook. When I saw the author’s last name, I thought, “Hey, that’s my name.” This was quickly followed by, “Hey, it’s somebody’s job to write this stuff. I want that to be MY job.” So yes, ever since then, I wanted to be a game designer (and a writer).

Let’s be honest, did your wife say, GREAT! Or did she say, are you serious Monte? – Get a real job! (Trust me I know all about supporting my husband and sometimes keeping him grounded with all his projects.)

I’d already been a game designer for about six years when I met my wife. And we met because she was my editor on a big project for TSR, so I think she was OK with it.

That’s pretty convenient! Looking at your bio on your website you’ve written tons of stuff it seems, is there something you’ve wanted to do but haven’t done yet? I mean you have fans, lots of them, maybe even groupies who knows! But surely there’s something yet to be done!

My current project,, is kind of that thing. It’s exactly the kind of project I’ve wanted to do for a long while. Beyond that, most of my aspirations are toward other kinds of writing. Over the last few years, I’ve backed off from game writing quite a bit.

Let’s talk about some of the stuff you’ve done recently… so I’m reading this thing about Ptolus – what IS a Ptolus? And how’s that going for you?

Ptolus is a large book (one of the biggest ever produced in the game industry) detailing a campaign setting. Basically, Ptolus is a large fantasy city, and the campaign is intended on staying in and around that single, well-detailed locale. It’s not really all that recent, though, as it came out almost four years ago now. I guess I would say it’s going… well? I’m not sure how to answer that. The print copies sold out about three years ago.

Wow that’s pretty good. Selling out = good thing. If I had a Ptolus, would I like it?

If you’re a D&D player who likes interesting, thoroughly detailed settings. The 670 page full-color book is designed on the model of a travel book, so it’s set up differently than most similar products in the game industry. It comes with three bound in cloth bookmarks, a packet of handouts and a CD-Rom with 100s more pages of additional content.

In your bio, you state that you love to build vast dioramas out of LEGO, any pictures? And have you been to the LEGO store in Florida? Keith did and pretty much spent our entire vacation money buying the parts to build a LEGO “city”.

I’ve been to a few Lego stores, but not one in Florida. Sadly, I haven’t had time to bring out the Lego stuff in a long while.

So sad! Well stay tuned to our Facebook page. I have a strong feeling that there’s going to be a lot of LEGO action on there soon! Are you ready to run the gauntlet? We did this with Ed Greenwood last issue and he really enjoyed it, let’s see how similar or different the two of you are! I’m going to give two words – you have to choose the one that you like better and say why okay?

  1. Watching a movie or Reading a book? Love them both, but I’ll go with reading, as you can do it anywhere and your own imagination has no limits.
  2. Snail mail or E-mail? A few years ago, I would have said email for its convenience, but now snail mail has become so rare that it almost has romanticism to it.
  3. Bravery or Brains? Brains. I am drawn to smart people, both in real life and in fiction.
  4. Aragon or Legolas?  Aragorn has a lot more depth and has a lot more interesting back story.
  5. Traveling by plane or traveling by car? Again, another one that’s changed over the years. Air travel has become a huge pain. Plus, I’ve come to really love a good road trip now and again.
  6. Fine dining or a truck stop? Hmm. Neither? I guess I’ll go with fine dining. Mostly, I like interesting little restaurants that fall in between.
  7. Here’s one more for you … the Invisible Woman or the Scarlet Witch? Invisible Woman, hands down. She’s usually portrayed as being far stronger and more capable than the Scarlet Witch, a character I’ve always found hard to relate to or even really like.



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