The Monster Manual Reloaded
Toby R. Beeny
In looking at this particular manual, I am comparing it with the various manuals I have used, which were all 1st Ed books. The first thing I notice about the new Monster manual is that the basic layout of the book is very similar to those pervious. There are 500+ monsters included, listed in alphabetical order, with creatures such as giants and dragons grouped together, as per usual.
The system used tightens up the format. The introduction contains lists of common special attacks and special qualities that are used with the creatures, such as fear, trample, etc… The abilities are then generalized for the creatures, much like in Magic: The Gathering. Also included in the introduction were various tables for advancing monster to make them stronger. Advancement is a bit convoluted though, and not something I would want to do on the fly. The main reason is that monsters now have ability scores like PC’s. Advancing a monster means changing its strength and other abilities. Then you must look in the player’s handbook to see the new hp modifiers, attack bonuses and so on. The system is realistic and balanced, but only works if you prepare the creature before hand.
Moving on the entries themselves, there are few surprises. For the most part, the same basic creatures are included, only adapted for 3rd Ed. You will find all of your beloved skeletons, kobolds, dragons and of course beholders. I personally find that 3rd Ed streamlines combat, (no more THAC0, yeah!) and the entries are presented in a straight forward way. The entries are clear and it is easy to run a combat by looking at the book, with one exception.
Tables containing variants of the same type (e.g. giants) are difficult to read at times. They are stacked on top of one another and it can be hard to tell where one ends and another begins. I would have much preferred if they had separated them better. The worst cases are when the tables are split between pages, so that one had to flip back and forth in order to view the entire entry. I have heard “lack of space” as one defense of the layout, but I don’t buy it. The reason is that a huge amount of space is used for artwork. For example, the efreet easily takes up ¾ of a page.
Concerning the selection of monsters, I am quite pleased except for one unforgivable, glaring omission: humans. In the older Monster Manuals you could throw a few tribesmen or pirates at the party easily, by looking under H. I can’t say I understand the logic of WotC here. All demi-humans are present, such as elves, dwarves, etc… Even subraces such as the drergar and half-elf are included.
I suppose the reason is the NPC classes included in the 3rd Ed DM’s guide, which allow you to create NPC’s to suit your fancy. I appreciate the inclusion, but this doesn’t do much good if the encounter is unprepared. If you were to roll “pilgrims” on you random encounter table, then you would have to devise ability scores, fumble for the chart in the DM guide, and then look up equipment in the Player’s Handbook. The DM guide even contains pages of charts detailing example character class NPC’s such as a 5th level ranger or whatever. Somewhere, couldn’t they have given me some pilgrims? Aside from that major grudge, I like the selection in the Monster Manual.
I do have a slight issue with the art, however. Technically speaking it is well done. Alone, I would say that the art is fantastic. But I am not sure it meshes completely with the overall style of DnD. Not surprisingly, the art is very similar to that found on later magic cards, post-iceage. It has that clean, airbrushed, comic-book appearance. Personally, I prefer gritty black and white sketches. The monsters simply aren’t ugly enough, grimy enough, or creepy enough, with a few notable exceptions.
The book contains three appendixes. The first contains animals of the mundane sort, such as bears or horses. The second pertains to vermin, such as giant ants and monstrous spiders. The third is very excellent, however. It contains a list of templates that can be applied to any NPC, monster, or even PC. So you can finally make that 15th level-elf-wizard-vampire or half-celestial donkey you’ve been dreaming about. Also included are half-dragon, half-fiend, lich, lycanthrope, and a few others. I personally think that the template section is the nicest part of the book. The last page of the book is a chart listing monsters according to their challenge rating, from smallest (a bat at 1/10) to greatest (a titan at 21). Dragons have a separate chart that gives their CR based on age and color. Two things I think should have been included are experience and treasure tables. These are included in the DM guide, but it would have been much more handy as a chart in the rear of the Monster Manual.
In all, I think it is good buy and a very useful tool for the DM. You have all the basics (except humans) and the layout is easy enough to use. The template section alone is worth the price. I have a few gripes, but overall I haven’t had any real issues using the book for my game.