It was barely a month ago that the new Dungeons & Dragons Core Rulebook hit shelves to a resounding, unanimous applause. That applause was well deserved. Once the dust settled from the release and the curtains lowered, I found myself still wondering where the other core books were. A Dungeon Master's Guide is handy, but a Monster Manual is crucial to how I run things. To reiterate, a lot rides on this next book. I think it best to go through the points of scrutiny as I thought of them and give you my (always sincere and correct) review of the product before deciding for yourselves to go buy it or not. (Spoilers: maybe!)
- Is there anything in here that I've never seen before? This was the first thing I poured over. I checked each page and the index to find listings for creatures/monsters/NPC's/cannon fodder that I didn't recognize. Immediately, I found eight. I'm also counting zoological data and lore that wasn't familiar. It took several minutes for me to grasp how concise and descriptive each entry was. By keeping most listings to about a page each (including stat blocks), more pages can be devoted to the menagerie of monsters itself. However, it's a bit underwhelming to see just how many things are returning. It would've been a real breath of fresh air to open the Manual up and not see a listing for Grell. None at all. As in, they would never come back. Wizards of the Coast shouldn't be afraid to throw a curve ball at us geeks every now and again. Tie point, I guess.
- But what about the artwork? Yes. Its there. All-new, better tasting, less filling. No mismatched pictures with listings. Although, it would have been funny to see a Phlumph in place of the Terrasque. Just saying. Point for the Manual.
- Now how do we read the stat blocks so I can make my own encounters? That's fully explained in the beginning chapter. I felt kinda dumb after reading how to decode the challenge ratings of each creature. Point for Monster Manual.
- What about generic NPC's? Correct! Finally, a condensed, no frills listing for humanoid NPCs to fight, parlay, or make untowards flirtations with. But it's all in one area, easily found at the back. Another point for the Manual.
- Mounts! There's gotta be a listing of mounts! Yes...and not really. Plenty of entries for animals that could be mounts, but not really any description on how to rear or raise a mount, or purchasing exotic mounts. Guess I'll have to house rule it. Point for Joe!
- Now that I know how to decode the stat blocks, just how high do the challenge ratings go? Thirty. There are encounters with a challenge rating of 30. Meaning it would take about four 30th level characters to tackle this one thing. Let that sink in for a minute. You win this round, Monster Manual.
- Who else but a Dungeon Master will need this? Bingo. Unfortunately, this is where I can no longer honestly recommend the book to everyone. If you aren't actively the DM in your game, you seriously won't need it. Sure, the text is informative and the artwork in some entries is truly exceeding expectations, but in the end, it suffers the same stigma of all splat books and codices. One for the game is essential; more than that actually impedes the situation. Final point goes to Joe.
Final Tally: Dammit, WotC! Stop having such a fine product line this time! You're making my job harder! But seriously, I never set out to full-on poo-poo this thing. But I sincerely wanted to have criticisms for it, so I wouldn't sound like a giddy fanboy gushing over all the shiny artwork. Hence, the scorecard. I'm trying to make it objective and appear that I might know something about sports.
Monster Manual - 4 F
Guy Named Joe - 2
If you've got the money and you're the Dungeon Master, absolutely spend your hard earned money on the Monster Manual. Otherwise, save your money for mechanical pencils and character sheets; you'll always need those.
Buy your next book in gold dubloons!