- "Monte's know-how, unbridled creativity, and knack for preparing memorable game sessions forever changed the way I think about D&D. My Monday nights will never be the same. I couldn't have wished for a better campaign."
- — Erik Mona, Dragon #350 (Dec 2006)
Monte Cook is a Dungeons & Dragons writer and designer who worked for TSR and Wizards of the Coast between 1994 and 2001. He is best known as one of three lead designers on the Dungeons & Dragons third edition core rulebooks, as well as a major contributor to the AD&D Planescape series. He would later be known for the Ptolus campaign setting, and the Numenera and Invisible Sun roleplaying games.
Life and career
Monte Cook grew up in a family who played a lot of board and card games, and from a very early age designed his own board games, some quite complex. Cook estimates that he made several hundred such games.
Cook first joined the Dungeons & Dragons hobby as a boy of around 10, when he heard of the game in sunday school. He was introduced to the game by older friends who played the original Dungeons & Dragons 3-Volume Set (1974). At the age of 11, the first D&D book he bought himself was the Dungeon Masters Guide (1e) (1979) at a B. Dalton bookstore, as they were out of Players Handbooks and Monster Manuals. Forced to improvise on incomplete rules, Cook would later cite this as his introduction to game design.
Although no relation to AD&D 2nd edition author David "Zeb" Cook, Monte Cook cites him as an inspiration to become a professional game designer. Upon finding a copy of David Cook's I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City (1981), Monte was excited by the similarity of their last names, realizing that D&D books could be written by ordinary people like himself.
Cook began working professionally in the game industry in 1988, while still in college. He worked for Iron Crown Enterprises for a total of four years (two years freelance and two full-time), working on Rolemaster, Champions, and Dark Space. From 1990 onward, Cook's other works include several articles in the magazines Adventurer's Club, Challenge, Grey Worlds, Dragon Magazine, and Iron Crown Quarterly.
Cook first worked as a freelancer for TSR in 1992, writing products for a Marvel RPG which was ultimately canceled after he had worked on it for fifteen months. Next, he was hired to write a Gamma World adventure, but this was canceled too, leaving Cook with a significant time gap in his portfolio.
A rumor held that TSR was cutting back on the availability of freelance work. He considered quitting to work in advertising, but in January 1994 was offered an interview by Tim Brown, director of TSR's Creative Services department, who flew him out to visit TSR's headquarters at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. He was given a tour of the office and an interview, after which was immediately offered a job. Although he had been skeptical about joining TSR due to rumors that the company had become soulless and corporate, he was sufficiently impressed by the tour to accept the job offer.
At TSR, Cook worked on several products including Elminster's Ecologies (1994), Glantri: Kingdom of Magic (1995), Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs (1995), and several sourcebooks in the Planescape series. Cook characterized TSR as a company where creative people determined the direction of product lines, rather than managers or brand strategists. Products such as Dragonlance, Dark Sun, and Planescape arose from this scenario. By the time Monte Cook joined TSR, some at the company who were already discussing the possibility of a third edition of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules.
Wizards of the Coast
In 1997, TSR declared bankruptcy and was acquired by Wizards of the Coast, who continued to release products under the TSR brand until 2000. Cook moved to WotC's headquarters in Renton, Washington, and continued to work on Planescape sourcebooks, including Dead Gods (1997), Tales from the Infinite Staircase (1998) and The Inner Planes (1998). He also worked on the adventure module Vecna Reborn (1998), and Dark•Matter Campaign Setting (1999), a setting for the Alternity roleplaying game published Wizards of the Coast.
Cook's most notable contribution to Dungeons & Dragons was as a lead designer on Dungeons & Dragons third edition. Around Christmas of 1997, Dungeons & Dragons R&D director Bill Slavicek selected Monte Cook, Skip Williams, and initially Rich Baker (later replaced with Jonathan Tweet to lead the design of D&D 3rd edition. Cook was selected for his ability to write text which read well, his understanding of the broader field of RPG design, and his willingness to come up with more radical ideas. Most of 1998 was spent discussing the changes to be made in the game, with writing beginning in 1999.
Cook took particular responsibility for writing the Dungeon Master's Guide (3.0) (2000). He would later describe it as the work of which he was most proud. Cook received an email from Gary Gygax, giving positive feedback on the book.
In 2001, Monte Cook was laid off by Wizards of the Coast. He intended to move into writing fiction, but in the meantime took freelance work in roleplaying games, which would ultimately become his full-time job for several years. He continued to write content for Dragon Magazine and worked on the d20 Call of Cthulhu game as a freelancer.
Following his departure from Wizards of the Coast in 2001, Monte Cook formed Malhavoc Press, which published several sourcebooks for Dungeons & Dragons third edition under the d20 System license between 2001 and 2008. Among Monte's works were the Book of Eldritch Might trilogy, Arcana Unearthed, Arcana Evolved, and Requiem for a God.
Malhavoc Press also published sourcebooks by D&D veterans Bruce Cordell and Sean K. Reynolds, as well as works by up-and-coming author Mike Mearls, who would go on to be lead designer on Dungeons & Dragons fourth and fifth edition.
In May 2006, Monte Cook released Ptolus, a campaign setting based on Cook's home campaign and which he had used during the playtest of D&D third edition. The Ptolus core book weighed in at an enormous 672 pages and cost over $120, an enormous price for an RPG sourcebook.
Later that year, Cook speculated (correctly) that Wizards of the Coast was working on a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons, something which would make his company's existing product line of D&D 3rd edition sourcebooks obsolete. Cook subsequently announced his intent to depart from the roleplaying game industry, although he completed a few more products before doing so: Monte Cook's World of Darkness (2007), Vault of the Iron Overlord (2007), and, due to fan demand, Book of Experimental Might (2008) and Book of Experimental Might II (2008). He also contributed an article to the final print issue of Dragon Magazine.
In 2011, Cook returned to Wizards of the Coast, and in January 2012 it was announced that he would be lead designer on the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. Cook subsequently left the company in April 2012, citing differences of opinion with the company.
In 2012, he co-founded Monte Cook Games, releasing several original Kickstarter-funded roleplaying games. These include the Planescape-inspired far-future science fantasy Numenera (2013), The Strange (2014), and the surreal fantasy Invisible Sun (2018). In February 2017 they released Torment: Tides of Numenera, a video game RPG and spiritual successor to 1999's Planescape: Torment.
- Of Ships and the Sea (1997): Playtesting
- Dungeon Builder's Guidebook (1998): Inspiration
- Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Game (2000): Thanks
- Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Four (1998): Special thanks
- Dark Sun Campaign Setting (2e) (1995): Advice & assistance
- Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs (1995): Design
- Elminster's Ecologies (1994): Design
- Cult of the Dragon (1998): Additional and original design
- For Duty & Deity (1998): Ideas
- A Hero's Tale (1996): Author
- S6 Labyrinth of Madness (1995): Design
- A Darkness Gathering (1998): Playtesting
- Glantri: Kingdom of Magic (1995): Design
- Return to the Keep on the Borderlands (1999): Playtesting
- Return to White Plume Mountain (1999): Playtesting
- The Gates of Firestorm Peak (1996): Playtesting
- A Guide to the Astral Plane (1996): Design
- Dead Gods (1997): Design
- Faces of Evil: The Fiends (1997): Proofreading
- Faction War (1998): Design
- Fires of Dis (1995): Design review and special thanks
- Hellbound: The Blood War (1996): Design
- Planescape Monstrous Compendium Appendix III (1998): Design
- On Hallowed Ground (1996): Map design assistance
- Planes of Conflict (1995): Design
- Tales from the Infinite Staircase (1998): Design
- The Factol's Manifesto (1995): Special thanks
- The Great Modron March (1997): Design
- The Inner Planes (1998): Design
- The Planewalker's Handbook (1996): Design
- Uncaged: Faces of Sigil (1996): Special thanks
- Player's Handbook (3.0) (2000): Design
- Monster Manual (3.0) (2000): Design
- Dungeon Master's Guide (3.0) (2000): Design
- Sword and Fist (2001): Additional design and development
- Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil (2001): Design
- Psionics Handbook (2001): Advice, admonitions, and great ideas
- The Ministry of Winds (2001): Author
- Manual of the Planes (3e) (2001): Additional Design
- Magic of Faerûn (2001): Additional Design
- Defenders of the Faith (2001): Additional Design and Development
- An Eye For an Eye: Author
- A Frigid Demise: Design
- Book of Vile Darkness (3e) (2002): Design
- Ghostwalk (2003): Design
- Fiend Folio (3e) (2003): Additional Design
- Player's Handbook (3.5) (2003): Design
- Monster Manual (3.5) (2003): Design
- Dungeon Master's Guide (3.5) (2003): Design
Additionally, for his contribution to the Dungeons & Dragons third edition core books, Cook is credited throughout numerous third, fourth, and fifth edition works.
- Class Acts: Gnome Trickster, Dragon Annual 2000 (1998), p.80
- Fiendish Fortresses, Dragon #233 (Sep 1996), p.24
- Mysteries of the Dead Gods, Dragon #240 (Oct 1997), p.56
- Modron Magic, Dragon #241 (Nov 1997), p.56
- Class Acts: Create Your Own Prestige Classes, Dragon #274 (Aug 2000), p.46
- The Mystic, Dragon #274 (Aug 2000), p.49
- Class Acts: The Duelist, Dragon #275 (Sep 2000), p.96
- Class Acts: Hunter of the Dead, Dragon #276 (Oct 2000), p.80
- Class Acts: Rage Mage, Dragon #277 (Nov 2000), p.98
- Class Acts: The Stonelord, Dragon #278 (Dec 2000), p.92
- Class Acts: Ancestral Avenger, Dragon #279 (Jan 2001), p.84
- Revenge of the Spider Queen, Dragon #279 (Jan 2001), p.42
- The Harrowing, Dungeon #84 (Jan/Feb 2001), p.15
- Class Acts: Eldritch Master, Dragon #280 (Feb 2001), p.88
- Class Acts: Psi-Hunter, Dragon #281 (Mar 2001), p.84
- Class Acts: Blessed of Gruumsh, Dragon #282 (Apr 2001), p.84
- Class Acts: Flame Steward, Dragon #283 (May 2001), p.84
- Class Acts: Dragonkith, Dragon #284 (Jun 2001), p.68
- Class Acts: Lightbearer, Dragon #285 (Jul 2001), p.70
- Four In Darkness: A Guide To Elemental Evil, Dragon #285 (Jul 2001), p.44
- Class Acts: Fiend Slayer, Dragon #287 (Sep 2001), p.84
- Class Acts: Life Drinker, Dragon #288 (Oct 2001), p.64
- Class Acts: The Nightsong Enforcer, Dragon #293 (Mar 2002), p.84
- Class Acts: The Nightsong Infiltrator, Dragon #294 (Apr 2002), p.66
- Class Acts: Acolyte of the Fist, Dragon #296 (Jun 2002), p.72
- Class Acts: The Master of the Secret Sound, Dragon #297 (Jul 2002), p.78
- Class Acts: The Flesheater, Dragon #300 (Oct 2002), p.68
- How Far Should You Go?, Dragon #300 (Oct 2002), p.44
- Preparing Large Encounters, Dragon #301 (Nov 2002), p.94
- Running Large Encounters, Dragon #302 (Dec 2002), p.102
- Fantasy Cities, Part 1: Using Cities, Dragon #304 (Feb 2003), p.94
- Fantasy Cities, Part 2: Building a City, Dragon #305 (Mar 2003), p.80
- Fantasy Cities III: City Adventures, Dragon #306 (Apr 2003), p.106
- Dragon Magic, Dragon #308 (Jun 2003), p.20
- Dungeon Adventures, Part 1, Dragon #308 (Jun 2003), p.100
- Campaign Workbook: Derthan Kaderas, Dungeon #100 (Jul 2003)
- Dungeon Adventures, Part 2: The Map, Dragon #310 (Aug 2003), p.92
- Dungeon Adventures, Part III: The Inhabitants, Dragon #311 (Sep 2003), p.96
- Dungeon Adventures, Part 4: The Weird Stuff, Dragon #312 (Oct 2003), p.94
- A Sample Dungeon: Reliquary of Korthun, Dragon #314 (Dec 2003), p.92
- Designing Wilderness Adventures: Into the Wild, Dragon #317 (Mar 2004), p.96
- Class Acts: Aerial Avenger: Wrath on Wings, Dragon #319 (May 2004), p.76
- Designing Wilderness Adventures: Adventuring Off Map, Dragon #319 (May 2004), p.98
- Bring Your Characters To Life, Dragon #320 (Jun 2004), p.104
- One DM, One Million Characters, Dragon #321 (Jul 2004), p.92
- The Sum Is Greater Than Its Parts, Dragon #322 (Aug 2004), p.96
- The Shaper of Form, Dragon #326 (Dec 2004), p.82
- Arcane Lore Abilities, Dragon #359 (Sep 2007), p.124
Cook graduated from the Clarion West writers workshop in 1999. His novels and short stories include:
- Dead Gods, unpublished graphic novella (1998).
- A Narrowed Gaze, Realms of the Arcane (TSR, 1997)
- The Rose Window, Realms of Mystery (TSR, 1998)
- Born in Secrets (Amazing Stories, 1999)
- The Glass Prison (WotC, 1999)
- Of Aged Angels (WotC, 2001)
Other RPG works
- Creatures and Treasures II (Iron Crown Enterprises, 1990)
- Dark Space (Iron Crown Enterprises, 1991)
- Rolemaster Character Records (Iron Crown Enterprises, 1991)
- Champions in 3-D (Iron Crown Enterprises, 1990)
- Rolemaster Companion IV (Iron Crown Enterprises, 1990)
- European Enemies (Iron Crown Enterprises, 1991)
- Rolemaster Companion V (Iron Crown Enterprises, 1991)
- Spell User's Companion (Iron Crown Enterprises, 1992)
- Champions Universe (Iron Crown Enterprises, 1992)
- Beyond the Veil (Atlas Games, 2001)
- Demon God's Fane (Malhavoc Press, 2001)
- The Book of Eldritch Might (Malhavoc Press, 2001)
- d20 Call of Cthulhu (WotC, 2002)
- Monte Cook Games
- Okay -- Your Turn, message boards for MonteCook.com and Malhavoc Press
- Monte Cook at the Pen & Paper RPG Database (archive link)
- Interview with Monte Cook. Flames Rising, June 4, 2004.
- Full Circle, Part 1. MonteCook.com, April 28, 2001.
- Planescape Memories.
- Monte Cook. Wizards.com author bios.
- Down and Out in Lake Geneva. MonteCook.com, May 29, 2001.
- Profiles, Dragon #275 (Sep 2000), p.10-14.
- Down and Out in Lake Geneva. MonteCook.com, June 8, 2001.
- Full Circle, Part 2. Monte Cook.com, May 11, 2001.
- The Next Chapter. MonteCook.com, 2006.
- The Open Game License as I see It, Part II. MonteCook.com, 2006.