Review: Monster Manual 2

monstermanual2_coverWizards of the Coast is really steam rolling out the content for 4th Edition! You might consider that a good or a bad statement; either you feel like there is a tsunami of new material out before you’ve even read last month’s new release, or you’re loving it and can’t get enough.  If there’s one thing most DMs can agree on, it’s that having more monsters to pick and choose from is better than more options for players, so the Monster Manual 2 comes as a welcome addition to 4E.  The MM2 expands on many of the monsters we’re already using as well as introduces a whole slew of new beasties to the mix.  From front to back, this book really excites me as both a DM and a player, and it delivers a lot of excellent new content for the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

Some of the first monsters presented in the MM2 were noticeably lacking from the original Monster Manual. We now have Earth, Storm, and Water Archons; the first MM only gave us Fire and Ice Archons and I wondered where the rest of them were.  Other welcome faces include the Behir (with kickass devouring abilities), the aptly named Beholder Ultimate Tyrant, the Cockatrice, Colossus, Djinns, and for the love of all that is holy, finally we have Metallic Dragons again!  Many familiar monsters are reappearing in 4th Edition in exciting ways elaborate please, such as the Kenku, Myconid, Xorn, and finally the much feared and revered Rust Monster.

Many of the existing monster types see some excellent new additions.  Demons and Devils each get a decent helping of new varieties, the same goes for the Eladrin, Humans, and Gnomes.  Dwarves get nothing new but Duergars are present.  The Elemental group is greatly expanded with 13 (yes, thirteen!) new types, still shying away from the classic “earth elemental” concept and instead going for the more stylized “Stormfury” and “Tempest” approach.  There are some very interesting additions to the Giants, such as the Eldritch giant/titan along with the Frost and Stone giants, which I think rounds out their variety quite nicely.  There are also some new types of Warforged, Genasi, and Oozes.

There is one monster entry in this book that clearly stands out to me as being out of place: the Slaughterstone Constructs.  These dwarven creations look and read more like mecha; along with the Warforged titan, these just stand out to me as decidedly sci-fi additions to an otherwise very fantasy setting.  I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but no special attention is given towards making them read or appear as clockwork or even rennaissance creations.

I am a bit disappointed that WotC did not take a more thematic approach to the MM2 and present mostly monsters that relate in some way to the primary “boss” featured – Demogorgon.  Considering the abyssal lair of Demogorgon includes a large aquatic landscape I was hoping that a Kraken would show up along with a selection of other new aquatic creatures – perhaps even an Ixitxachitl or two, but alas that is not to be!  The demon’s lair is also described as having various islands of jungle terrain inhabited by apes, birds, and dinosaurs, none of which are expanded upon in this manual.  I view this as a missed opportunity by Wizards to not only create some coherency amongst the book but also to add some more solid justification to releasing a series of numbered Monster Manuals.  I’m not saying I want the whole book to be these types of monsters, but at least a handful of them is all that would be needed.  Really I’m just sad there weren’t any new dinosaurs (okay, “Behemoths”…) in the book, but I guess I’ll just have to do something to fix that omission.  Also the reuse of artwork from up to ten years ago is surprising to me, while some of them are great pieces of artwork that I’m happy to see remain in print, others like the Dark Mantle just feel like they could really use a fresh perspective.

At the very end of the book there are only three new playable monster races: the Bullywug, Duergar, and Kenku.  I’m happy to see the latter two, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone wanting to play a Bullywug!  That said, the Bullywug race is actually interesting, as it introduces a more unique idea and I’m definitely considering using some Bullywug NPCs after seeing them in the book.

Despite a few flaws, the Monster Manual 2 is really an excellent source of new material for 4th edition D&D.  This is especially true when looked at in conjunction with the first Monster Manual, where the two really serve to present a plethora of monsters and monster types for players to face off against and outsmart.  In particular the Dragons now feels like a more complete entry in the manual, as do the Demons, Giants, Archons, and Golems.  As with the MM and DMG there really isn’t much of a reason to get it if you’re only a player, but it is a must have for any DM!

Comments

  1. I think the MM2 is great (as I discuss in my Monster Manual 2 Review today). Some of the new monsters in MM2 were probably added because they have a place in the Eberron campaign setting which will be get the 4e treatment this summer. I think this is true of the Slaughterstone Constructs or the Warforged titan specifically.

    Ameron´s last post: Monster Manual 2: An Early Review

  2. @Ameron: I’m still of the opinion that they feel very out of place in this book, they’d be much more fitting in the Eberron Campaign book instead.

  3. Michelle says:

    Does it have Ankhegs? They were my favorite, even if one of them did eat my Wizard’s leg, and the other leg, and…

  4. @Michelle: Yup, Ankheg’s are the second monster in the book. There is a level 3 one and a level 1 minion brute, looks like they grab onto you and then skitter away pulling you with them!

    That reminds me of something I forgot to mention, the MM2 introduces the concept of monster role minions instead of just “minion” such as Minion Brutes, Minion Skirmishers, etc.

  5. As far as the Warforged Titan goes, no attention should be given to making them appear as clockwork, as they are explicitly magically animated.

    Y’know, like golems, which nobody has a problem with. :)

    Graham´s last post: 32 hours of D&D gaming party!

  6. I would have also liked to see the book have more of a theme. I like things like Open Graves where everything is tightly parted out. I know when I’m going to do an undead focused adventure I reach for that book. But if I’m looking for the right elemental for my game am I going to have to flip through an ever expanding number of monster manuals, with no indication of which one has good elementals?

    Nicholas´s last post: Epic Showdown: Role-players vs. Powergamers

  7. Bullywug was an optional race from the first Edition, I believe.
    However I agree who wants to play a Dim mutant frog

  8. One of the things I’m hoping to see in the MM2 and the DMG2 is a way to scale the difficulty up of monsters at the paragon tier. One thing I’m noticing is that all of my players have lots and lots of ways to mitigate damage, whether its temp hitpoints, resistances, or interrupting abilities. This makes the shallow scale of monster damage seem even less.

    Two sessions now I’ve increased the damage of monsters by +1/2 level and decreased their hitpoints to 3/4. We found the game to be faster and the players continually remarked “that’s a lot of damage”. A really well-placed skirmisher’s solo attack knocked someone straight to bloodied. Yet the party still persevered.

    I was hoping to see some sort of increasing scale of damage with the MM2 monsters as well as a reduction in hitpoints to speed up the battle. So far, I’m not seeing it yet, but I don’t have the book in hand.

    Is there a general increase in damage as the monsters get higher in the Mm2? I guess I’ll find out next week.

    Thanks for a great article!

    Mike Shea´s last post: Tips For Running One-Shot Games

  9. OriginalSultan says:

    “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone wanting to play a Bullywug!”

    You seem to have forgotten your friend Jeremy, who played the character Bobo the Bullywug King, in one of TheMainEvent’s 2e campaigns. He had a magic trident of fish command & everything.

  10. OriginalSultan: I don’t think I was in that game, unfortunately. Sounds hilarious!

  11. I played a bullywug bard once. Second edition.

    Got a simultaneous groan from the entire table when, a couple of sessions in, I launched into “The Rainbow Connection.” Although that might’ve just been my singing. Not only am I unable to carry a tune in a bucket, I couldn’t get one anywhere near the bucket to begin with. Yet I play bards a lot. Bards and clerics.

    Go figure.

  12. Picked up the book today.

    You mention disappointment at not getting any new dinosaurs?

    The T-Rex is on page 89.

    Sure, it’s called Fang Titan Drake now, but I’ll be damned if that isn’t a freaking T-Rex.

    Even the pic looks a whole lot like the Fiendish T-Rex mini.

    Huge sized, no claw attack (“I have a big head… and little arms…”), tail sweep, Furious Roar… sounds good to me.

    Graham´s last post: 32 hours of D&D gaming party!

  13. Mr. Black says:

    What!? No “Animal’s” section? I miss the big animal section.

  14. No one seems to be mentioning that there are a large number of creatures in the MM2 that are reprints of monsters published earlier. Take the duergar, for example, though there are others – nearly every one of them is available already in the DDI Compendium. After noticing this myself, I expected to see at least one mention – but nothing, review after review. For some DDI subscribers it might be important to note that some of the content is recycled.

    It’s clear to me most reviewers are not using the Compendium… which implies they’re not actually DMing or they’re not as subscribed as they claim to be.

  15. @ketjak -

    While I know Bartoneus has a DDI subscription, you’re ignoring a few things:

    - Not everyone uses the compendium to DM. I know I don’t tend to, despite having a subscription, as I don’t DM with a computer.

    - The monsters you mention were printed in adventures. Many DMs don’t buy the adventures, especially if they aren’t running the specific adventure. Thus, it can be worthwhile to print them in an actual monster manual, especially iconic monsters like Duergar.

    - The DDI compendium monster entries include a stat block and nothing else, while the MM entries include artwork, tactics, lore, descriptions, etc, as well as compiling the Duergar into a single monster entry. Personally, I prefer this, though I of course don’t speak for everyone.

    Also, while it was said that if they did a Dragon or Dungeon article about the monster, we wouldn’t see reprints in the MMs, they said nothing about adventures. Dropping a monster into an adventure doesn’t really give a GM (especially a new GM) enough to use to drop that monster into a different adventure.

    So does the MM2 lose something by having some monsters that debuted in adventures? I don’t personally think so.

    I suppose I could also say that putting Goblin stats into the MM1 was a bad idea because Keep on the Shadowfell had tons of the same goblins, and was printed before the MM1 came out. (Though that is taking what you’re saying and running too far with it, I hope it makes my point.)

    Graham´s last post: Oh my, he’s at it again!

  16. @graham

    I’m not ignoring any of those things – none of the points you raise addresses my issue, which is that none of the reviewers I’ve read have mentioned they’re reprints from another source. How does WotC’s claim that they would not reprint Dungeon or Dragon monsters but didn’t say that about monsters in adventures invalidate my point that (some of) these (MM2) monsters are already available in the DDI?

    Since it doesn’t, going on to use “reducto ad absurdum” is a non sequitur, wouldn’t you agree?

    You may not use a computer to DM, you have a DDI subscription – but the MM2 reviewers might so this seems like another weird interjection that doesn’t underscore or -mine the point.

    Do you use it to prepare for a session? You’re splitting semantic hairs if you do, since that seems like you’re using your DDI subscription… and either way can therefore tell if these monsters are reprints. Again, I’m not sure how that invalidates my point, but if you are subscribing and NOT using DDI it seems like a silly use of money. ;) YMMV!

  17. Sorry, I apparently listed a bunch of points without making a clear point of my own.

    My main point is that it probably would have been mentioned if:

    1) the reviewers thought it detracted from the book, and

    2) the reviewers noticed.

    Without both of those things, many reviewers wouldn’t have bothered to mention it. My reasoning for why I don’t feel it detracts is above, and I doubt that too many people have an encyclopedic knowledge of just what monsters in the DDI compendium (especially what variant of that monster is in there), so I can easily forgive the second. As such, I would not expect many (any?) reviewers to bother to mention it.

    (Side note: I use the compendium occasionally to prepare for a session, but not extensively. Usually, I just use the monster books or the actual Dungeon articles (using the compendium primarily to locate the source of the monsters), if only due to habit. Most of my use of DDI comes from the articles and Character Builder for my players.)

    Graham´s last post: Oh my, he’s at it again!

  18. @ketjak & graham: While writing the review the issue of previous availability did come to mind, especially when seeing the Arbalester which I knew was out a in adventures like the Treasure of Talon Pass a long time before the book, but I didn’t mention it mostly because it had slipped my mind while writing the review. The reason it DID slip my mind is because there really aren’t that many cases of it in the MM2, despite ketjak saying “a large number” that really isn’t the case.

    There’s a lot of brand new material for 4E in the book, but I am sorry that I didn’t at least mention it in passing and I will strive to be more thorough in the future.

    I am DMing a regular game (ask Dave, he’s in it) and I do not use the D&D Compendium very much at all because I have all of the books and simply prefer to do things the old school way with books and pencils. So you see, your statement:

    “It’s clear to me most reviewers are not using the Compendium… which implies they’re not actually DMing or they’re not as subscribed as they claim to be.”

    …is a restrictive assumption that is false. I have access to D&D Insider and I am DMing, but do not use the compendium much at all.

    Furthermore, your whole point is that some MM2 monsters were already available on the compendium, but now they ALL are. So does it really matter one way or another? In fact now WotC is going to be releasing entire sections of PHB3 content early and online, so your very point about MM2 content being released before the book seems to be exactly what the company is looking to do.

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