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David "Zeb" Cook is a game designer and TSR employee best known for his work on Dungeons & Dragons between 1980 and 1998. His most notable works include the Player's Handbook (2e) (1989) and Dungeon Master Guide (2e) (1989), where he served as editor; and the popular Planescape Campaign Setting (1994), where he was lead designer.

He is variously credited as David Cook, Dave Cook, and Zeb Cook. He is no relation to D&D third edition lead designer Monte Cook, although Monte once cited Zeb as an inspiration (see "Reception and influence" below).

History and career[]

Early life[]

Cook grew up in Iowa.

Cook started college in 1974, learning about Dungeons & Dragons at the college game club around late 1975. Around 1977 he took over as editor of the club's fanzine. He took a job working as a small town high school teacher in Nebraska, which he did for two years.[1]


In late 1978, TSR ran its first advertisements hiring designers. Cook responded, and was invited to an interview at TSR. At the time, he was unable to afford the plane ticket, and had to arrange for TSR to fund his ticket in advance. He flew to Chicago and took a shuttle to Lake Geneva, where he was interviewed by Lawrence Schick.[1]

Cook began working with TSR in 1979, taking a pay cut to do so. The nickname "Zeb" came about as there were multiple Davids at the company.[1]

In summer 1979, Cook and Lawrence Schick wrote the initial draft of what would become TSR's Star Frontiers. The project was ultimately taken away and re-written to other writers, for which Cook would credit Schick's leaving TSR in 1980.[1] Criticisms of the Cook/Schick draft were too great a focus on complexity and realism.[2]

One of Cook's first major projects was the Expert Set (B/X) (1981), a collaboration with Basic Set (B/X) (1981) designer Tom Moldvay, for which the edition is nicknamed "Moldvay/Cook".[1]

During the Satanic panic, all of TSR's employees were called to a meeting in the TSR hobby shop basement and gave all employees pay raises. Cook was made salaried, rather than hourly. They would later by made hourly again, a decision which Cook described as "petty". Later they were made officially salaried but expected to track hours; other employees were able to use this to successfully get overtime back-pay.[1]

Following Gary Gygax's departure from TSR in 1985, Cook was tasked with taking over Gygax's project to revise Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Cook, Steve Winter, and John Pickens were assigned to a committee to produce what would become Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition.[1]

In the 1990s, Cook was lead designer on the Planescape setting. Rival publisher White Wolf's roleplaying games, such as Vampire: the Masquerade, were increasingly seen as cool and sophisticated, next to the old-fashioned D&D. TSR intended to make Planescape a new stylish setting which incorporated factions like White Wolf's games.[1]

Video game industry career[]

In 1994, he left TSR to work in the video games industry. He worked in the games industry for about 22 years.[1]

In 2013, he worked on The Elder Scrolls Online.


Basic D&D[]

Zeb Cook is credited as author or designer of several D&D products, including X1 The Isle of Dread (1981) (which he also edited), M1 Blizzard Pass (1983), X4 Master of the Desert Nomads (1983), X5 Temple of Death (1983), AC2 Combat Shield and Mini-adventure (1984), B6 The Veiled Society (1984), CM4 Earthshaker! (1985), and CB1 Conan Unchained! (1984).

He is credited with editing and revision work in B2 The Keep on the Borderlands (1981).

AD&D 1st edition[]

Zeb Cook worked on several AD&D adventure modules. He is variously credited with writing, design, and development on A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade (1981), A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity (1980), I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City (1981), and Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits (1980),

He is credited with editing, production or assistance on A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade (1981), A4 In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords (1981), S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (1980), and C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan (1980),

Cook is also credited with both design and editing on The Rogues Gallery (1980), and design work on Oriental Adventures (1e) (1985).

He wrote the Dragon magazine articles "Survival Tips For the Slave Pits", Dragon #43 (Nov 1980), p.12; "Giants In the Earth", Dragon #44 (Dec 1980), p.26; "Oriental Opens New Vistas", Dragon #104 (Dec 1985), p.20; "The Life and Death of a Castle", Dragon #121 (May 1987), p.32; and "...And a Step Beyond That", Dragon #122 (Jun 1987), p.20.

AD&D 2nd edition[]

Zeb Cook is perhaps best known as editor of the AD&D 2nd edition core rulebooks, specifically the Player's Handbook (2e) (1989) and Dungeon Master Guide (2e) (1989).

Cook is credited with design or development on GDQ1-7 Queen of the Spiders (1986), REF4 The Book of Lairs II (1987), Book of Artifacts (1993), First Quest (1994), HR1 Vikings Campaign Sourcebook (1991), City Sites (1994), Book of Artifacts (1993), and Tome of Magic (2e) (1991).

He contributed design concepts to the Monstrous Compendium Volume One (1989), Monstrous Compendium Volume Two (1989), and Monstrous Manual (1993), and served as design coordinator on MC11 Monstrous Compendium: Forgotten Realms Appendix (1991).

Cook worked as a designer on several Oriental Adventures products, namely OA2 Night of the Seven Swords (1986), OA1 Swords of the Daimyo (1986), OA4 Blood of the Yakuza (1987), OA3 Ochimo: The Spirit Warrior (1987), Kara-Tur: The Eastern Realms (1988), and OA5 Mad Monkey vs the Dragon Claw (1988)

Cook worked in an writer, design or development role on several products for TSR's major campaign settings. For World of Greyhawk, he worked on WGA4 Vecna Lives! (1990); for Spelljammer he wrote the novel Beyond the Moons; for Dark Sun he worked on DS1 Freedom (1991) and DSQ1 Road to Urik (1992); for Al-Qadim he worked on ALQ1 Golden Voyages (1992), for Ravenloft he worked on I10 Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill (1986), and for Dragonlance he worked on Time of the Dragon (1989) and DLR3 Unsung Heroes (1992), and was credited on PG1 Player's Guide to the Dragonlance Campaign (1993).

Cook worked on several Forgotten Realms sourcebooks: FRC1 Ruins of Adventure (1988), The Horde (1990), Aurora's Whole Realms Catalogue (1992), FOR3 Pirates of the Fallen Stars (1992), and Ruins of Zhentil Keep (1995). He also wrote the Forgotten Realms novels Horselords, Soldiers of Ice, King Pinch, and Uneasy Alliances.

Zeb Cook was lead designer on the Planescape Campaign Setting (1994), described one one reviewer upon its release as "the finest game world ever produced for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons".[3] He is credited with design review on the Planescape sourcebook Planes of Chaos (1994).

Cook also wrote the Dragon magazine articles "Who Dies?", Dragon #118 (Feb 1987), p.68; "Who Dies? Round II", Dragon #121 (May 1987), p.10; "Back From Beyond", Dragon #139 (Nov 1988), p.90; "A Hoard For the Horde", Dragon #163 (Nov 1990); "The Master's Hand", Dragon #202 (Feb 1994), p.26; "Plane Truth Part I: Codifying Sigil", Dragon #203 (Mar 1994), p.74; "Plane Truth Part II: A Journey To the Outlands", Dragon #204 (Apr 1994), p.28; "Plane Truth Part III: The Transformation", Dragon #205 (May 1994), p.50; and "Campaign Classics: Oriental Adventures", Dragon #229 (May 1996), p.54.

Other TSR works[]

In addition to Dungeons & Dragons products, Cook also contributed design and editing to other works, including the Gamma World Referee's Screen and Mini-Module, (1981), the Conan Roleplaying game (1985), Avengers Coast-to-Coast for the Marvel Super Heroes game, Commando for Top Secret, and Gamma World 4th edition.

He is credited with system design on several of TSR's Amazing Engine products, namely the Amazing Engine System Guide, Bughunters, Kromosome, and For Faerie, Queen, & Country. An advertisement for the last product on that list appeared in Dragon #193 (May 1993), p.120, where it was one of the first known instances of the term "core rulebook", which would later be used officially in Dungeons & Dragons third edition products.

Cook also wrote the Dragon magazine articles "Crimefighters: Playing the Heroes of Pulp Fiction", Dragon #47 (Mar 1981), p.29; "From Anarchy To Empire", Dragon #94 (Feb 1985), p.78; "The Coming of the S'sessu", Dragon #96 (Apr 1985), p.84; "For a Fistful of Credits", Dragon #112 (Aug 1986), p.88; "Clay-o-Rama", Dragon #125 (Sep 1987), p.51; "First Quest", Dragon #207 (Jul 1994), p.8; and "Things I Learned At E3", Dragon #220 (Aug 1995), p.34.

Other works[]

Following the release of D&D third edition, Cook worked on several third-party d20 system sourcebooks between 2001 and 2003. These include Green Ronin Publishing's Jade Dragons & Hungry Ghosts (2001), Secret College of Necromancy (2002), and The Assassin's Handbook (2002); and Fast Forward Entertainment's Green Races (2002) and Encyclopedia of Prestige Classes (2003).

Cook worked as lead designer on City of Villains computer game for Cryptic Studios. After he left Cryptic, he joined Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment as the lead systems designer for the video game Stargate Worlds.[4]

Reception and influence[]

In 2001, Zeb Cook was inducted into the Origins Hall of Fame.[5]

In 2003, D&D third edition lead designer Monte Cook cited Zeb Cook (no relation) as an early inspiration:[6]

"Zeb, of course, wrote the Planescape boxed set that started it all. He was also one of my early inspirations to get into the game industry as a career. I'm surprised I haven't mentioned that in this column before, actually. When I was 11 or 12 years old, I picked up a copy of Dwellers in the Forbidden City. As I studied the cover like an archeologist examining a rare new find, I saw the words "By David Cook." It caught my attention because, of course, we shared the same last name. It was the first time I thought to myself, "Hey, some actual living person writes this stuff. It's his job." And now, about 24 years later, here I am.
Plus, as I have written here, I'd met Zeb before I ever got a job at TSR, and chatting with him helped convince me that working at TSR would be a good idea. I'm pretty sure he put in a good word for me there as well."

For his work on the design of AD&D 2nd edition, David "Zeb" Cook was credited in the Dungeon Master's Guide (4e) (2008), Dungeon Master's Guide (5e) (2014).

External links[]