May 25, 2009

REVIEW - Monster Manual 2

So, I've had about a week or so to look over the new Monster Manual 2. Let me first get it out of the way that 1) I absolutely love this book; and 2) see point #1. I have only minor complaints (see below), but anyone running a homebrew 4th Edition D&D campaign should pick this book up right away. There's even value over just having the stats via D&D Insider, which I'll also get into below.

This is not just fanboy craze either; the MM2 beats out the MM1 hands down. The content is better, there's tons of "old school classics" that have been updated to 4E, and there's even a fair number of monsters that have very detailed entries Something that I didn't like about the MM1 was that nearly everything was given only one or two paragraphs of background and development. The MM2 is a much better book, here's why...

4E is the New Old School
I've said it before, and I know it wrangles a few nerves out there -- but it really is true. And now, with the Monster Manual 2, so many classic old-school OD&D and 1E D&D monsters make their return to the latest edition of the game.  The Behir has been one of my favorite dragon-like monsters since I first ran The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth in 1982, and the gran'old age of 10. That's what... a 27 year old "favorite monster"? The new 4E version sports both a paragon and epic tier version of the beast, as well as "Behir Bolter Whelps" that look much like the little baby in Alien. I love it!

More favorites from past editions make thier reapperance in the MM2 as well, including Ankhegs, Bullywugs, Giant Ants (low level favorites), Myconids (!),  Spriggans, Cockatrice, Centipedes, Black Pudding, Xorn and many many more from old times.

And how could I not mention that.. I SAVED THE RUST MONSTER!!! Ok, maybe I didn't, but I'm stoked to see it back in print. Although it abilities are not as terrifying as I would have them, I suppose it goes back to the save or die argument that 4E is trying to avoid. Altogether, I'm very happy with all these old faces being updated to the new rules.

MM2 In Print Beats DDI
One question that I've been asking myself lately is: why should I buy any of the printed books if ALL the stats and crunch for everything is including in my DDI subscription already? I mean, I already make up my own "Tactics" for each encounter -- I don't need the MM telling me how to play these creeps. Also, I could easily make up my own backstory and "Lore" sections for all the creatures as well, which happens fairly often anyway when you customize your campaigns. In addition, I could easily just come up with my own encounter groups and... see where I'm going? Having the printed book in hand is a time saver. You trade time for a possible loss of your own creativity. The MM has all this information already worked out; something you can't get from DDI.

That being said, one of my complaints about the MM1 was that there was not enough detail. It was almost too sparse, and I rarely open it up. Maybe it's becuase I just "know" the creatures therein, but I think it is more due to the fact there there is just too little information over what DDI already offers. The Monster Manual 2 changes that. That authors have done an excellent job of providing lots of detail for each creature to help players integrate them into their campaigns in a "sensible" way. Althought the section on Dragons does have a few pages of literally just statblocks with token artwork (zero other text), the rest of the MM2 is pretty juicy.

Take for example, the Eldritch Giant entry. There's a preamble paragraph (2 sentences) but then you'll find this:

"Eldritch Giants come from a different time - an earlier age when the primordials made the world. Although fashioned from fire, stone, and storm, the primordials' wondrous creation was heavily invested with magic, and the eldritch giants aided their primordial lords in the world's formation. Although their powers have ebbed since those days, eldritch giants remember their ancient mastery of magic and forever seek to regain it." -- Monster Manual 2.
The entry then goes on to detail two eldritch giants and their tactics. After that there's another background/lore section that includes another two or three paragraphs of detail. All in all, entries as detailed as this abound, and in general my feeling is that more thought went into developing these monsters than did the MM1.

I suppose if I were to complain about something it would be that many of these "classic" monsters should have been included in the Monster Manual 1. I know I know... they have a BIZNES to run, and obviously there's a certain marketing strategy here to get people to buy two books instead of one. Meh... I would have bought the MM2 anyway.

My other complaints are similar to those I had for MM1 - no Ecology/Terrain information. No tables for random monster generation. No tables for random treasure types (sigh...). Everything in 4E is so friggen balanced, that even treasure is relegated to the DMG -- even for monsters like the Gold Dragon (which is pictured sitting on top of a classic horde of gold... but in reality, if you looked it up in the DMG... it would be much less than that). Oh well, random tables and charts seem to be a thing of the past for the 4E D&D designers (a mistake IMHO), so there's nothing of the sort in the MM1 or the MM2.

I don't have much negative to say about the Monster Manual 2. The detail is great, the artwork is (of course) superior. The number of monsters is outstanding (over 125). There's a big expansion of demons, devils, archons, and angels. There's a fair number of new goblins, gnolls, lizerdmen, giants (frost!), and trolls (among other humanoid like types). For $20 its a great value - definately pick it up.


  1. I NEED this book now. Great review.

    PS: For dragons, what the other DM in our group has done is have more encounters with no/very little treasure, so he can bunch up parcels and have each dragon (we're 8th level and have encountered two which were beatable) have multiple parcels, which feel like a PILE of treasure compared to what you get off other things. It works pretty well to get the Horde effect without losing the balance.

  2. Maybe I'll re-evaluate it in light of your review. My initial reaction was "It's alright, but I'm not paying $35.00 for this." Of course, my group only meets about once per month and only gets through a single combat encounter per session, so we wouldn't be blasting through all the baddies in MM1 anytime soon. Another issue I had was additional entries for MM1 creatures (orcs, formorians, etc.) - it got me thinking "Why not just have base stats and a leveling scheme for a race, then supply a buffet of abilities and powers - some generic to all, some specific to them - that they can buy. Then you could build any sort of monster you wanted." It'd be like a Player's Handbook for monsters and/or NPC's.


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