Wizards 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!