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Monster Manual

Reviewed by Aaron Smalley, Copyright© 2000

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

The newest issue from the Dungeons and Dragon, 3rd Edition line is the Monster Manual. This 224 page compendium of fantasy and mundane creatures for use with the new version of the D&D system contains much of what was covered in the previous versions, but with a few (much needed) improvements.

The cover has an intriguing design that is in line with the style of the previous two 3rd Edition books (Players Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide). The internal artwork varies in style and quality from very good to mediocre. While it appears that they saved some of the best artists for this third of the Core Rulebooks, a small number of the illustrations are still a little disappointing.

It starts out as a veteran RPG’er would expect, with an alphabetical listing of the creatures and the pages on which they can be found. Following this is an explanation of the terms used, and how to use them in the game. This is stepped through based on the standardized order of information as presented in the creature entries. The order chosen for the stats in these entries is good, well organized, and seems to flow pretty well: the "Main Statistics Block" containing important information that is directly related to game play, and a "Secondary Statistics Block" providing the DM with setting and campaign information that is important to the behind the scenes operation of the game world.

One interesting thing that has changed from the previous editions of this work is the Monster Type definitions or classes. The previous edition of the Monster Manual had these types of designations but they weren’t set up in quite as logical or rules-oriented manner as they are now. They have split all the entries into one of 17 Types; such as Animal, Humanoid, or Outsider. They then further divided some groups up into Subtypes, such as Earth, Air, or Chaotic. These divisions are fairly logical and intuitive, and allow for easier use of some of the rules appearing in the Dungeon Masters Guide that specify affecting a particular creature type or sub-type.

A portion of this section of the book also covers advancement and variations of each creature type, with an explanation that the stats provided are for the weakest or most common version of the creature. This allows for a wide variation in abilities and challenge for a specific creature of the given type. A resourceful DM will likely not throw the same cannon fodder group of goblins or orcs at their players each time, but instead will likely use this to vary the Challenge Rating of each encounter with these creatures.

The use of Challenge Rating designations is also a big improvement on the older editions of the Dungeons and Dragons game. This makes it easier for a fledgling DM (or an experienced DM for that matter) to be able to balance each and every encounter to the abilities and level of the characters that are involved. Unfortunately the Monster Manual does not go into great detail as to how to pull this off, instead it is covered at greater length in the Dungeon Master Guide. This isn’t such a bad move on the publisher’s part, as that book is virtually a necessity for anyone running a D&D/D20 game anyway.

The Size scale that is used is also an improvement over the size ratings of the previous editions, and is explained in more detail in the first two Core Rulebooks. The effects on the Size scale of creatures based off of the Advancement options are covered in this volume. Personally I feel that the rules are a little lacking in this area, but anyone who feels similarly can easily adjust their views on this matter to fit their campaign setting.

The meat of the book is set up in alphabetical order with the fantasy creatures comprising the bulk of the pages ranging from page 15 to 192. There are then three appendix’s which cover Common Animals (Appendix 1, p. 193 though p. 204); Vermin, which include fantasy and larger than normal versions of critters that fit into this category (Appendix 2, p. 205 through p. 210); and Templates, the biggest improvement that has been made in the way specialty creatures are handled in the Third Edition Rules (Appendix 3, p. 211 through p. 222).

Most of the staple fantasy creatures that one would expect to see are present. They are pretty much the same as the older versions of the D&D game system, only with updated stats and rules that fit the improvements to the 3rd Edition rules. The common humanoids such as Orcs, Goblins, Ogres, and the like are represented; as are the fantastical creatures such as Dragons, Griffins, Gargoyles, Demons and various undead. Then there are the ones that are common in the Dungeon Crawls (that personally I would just as soon do without) such as Owlbears (who in the world ever came up with this thing anyway???) or Hellhounds. They should probably have done a little research into dogs in general before they came up with the size stats for these things, but then again, this is a hold over from the previous edition. Now I know that it is a fantasy creature from another realm of existence, but 4 ˝ feet tall and only 120 pounds seems a little (correction, a lot) scrawny for such a fearsome beast! Real dogs such as Great Danes or Irish Wolfhounds (the two tallest breeds of dogs in our real world) average around 34 and 36 inches respectively (a full foot shorter), with typical weights of 130 to 180 or more pounds. But maybe that is just my opinion; you are free to develop your own…

As previously stated, the most interesting (and best) change to the Monster Manual is the use of Templates. This is an idea that a few other game systems have been using recently, and the Dungeons and Dragons crew at Wizards of the Coast have jumped on the band wagon (a good move on their part) with this idea. This involves taking an existing creature of some type and then placing a template over the top of it. This simulates a creature becoming a Lycanthrope after becoming infected with the disease, for example, or a restless spirit that died a wrongful death (in the form of a Ghost). These Templates are creatures that don’t necessarily fit in to any of the previous creature Types, such as Ghosts, Vampires, Lycanthropes, Liches, Celestials, Fiends, and a few others. For example, you can have a Humanoid Ghost, an Animal Vampire (watch out Bun-Bun), or a Dragon Lich (that is a truly scary idea).

The last two pages are comprised of a listing of all the creatures in the book, ranked by their Challenge Rating. This is an important tool for any DM when working out the details of an adventure. It even breaks the Dragons down based on their Color and Age (since there is a wide variation in Challenge ratings across this group, one of the staple creatures of any fantasy role playing game campaign.

All in all, the Monster Manual is worth purchasing if you are planning on being a regular to the D&D 3rd Edition game system. While a lot of players will likely buy it just for the knowledge value, it is a must for any DM running a D&D campaign. Which DM couldn't use a few hundred nasty or helpful critters to provide the background, friends, and foes for their campaign? While not perfect, it is a good and useful product of the Dungeons and Dragons line and is definitely worthy of the list price.

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