Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Compare and Contrast: Monster Books

In the wake of James Maliszewski's review of Monsters of Myth come these comments from Naxuul about the 4e MM:

So a friend of mine got the the three corebooks in the mail today and she was kind enough to let me look through the MM, knowing that i'm a huuuuge monsterphile who's first RPG book was the 2E MM. I didn't look through it too thoroughly but the stuff I noticed:

-They weren't kidding when they said they were pruning powers. Pretty much the only Demon who isn't just smash-and-slam is the Glabrezu, even the poor Marilith was stripped of every ounce of magical capability. The Devils are no better. Heck, creatures defined by magical/psionic capabilities like Mind Flayers, Rakshasa and Aboleths are now much more reliant on melee attacks, which is just bizarre to me.

-There are virtually no descriptions of creatures, just illustrations. Also, information is very sparse. You get some basic info for knowledge rolls, combat stats and typical encounter groups. This IMO leaves a huge flaw in the usage of creatures: how to use them before combat starts. For example old Blue Dragon had lots of illusionary abilities, not for combat purposes but for trap setting and hiding it's lair. Now it's just what it can do in combat. Likewise alot of creatures who are supposed to know rituals(Hags, liches etc) have no information on what they would know.

-Solo creatures are very rare in it. Outside Dragons you could probably count them on two hands. Creatures you'd expect to be solos, like Titans and Aboleths, given their previous D&Dness are just Elites.. or not even that. Not that hard to change, but it did pop out at me.

-Some of the creature levels are really odd. Why do Drow rank-and-file start at level 15?

-The new Elementals suck something terrible. Really, they look like Everquest/World of Warcraft elementals. It's just so terrible boring rip off. Also they're all mixed elements now.

-I really like the new giants. Especially their art, which is just great. The Fomori are lacking a titan though.

That's all I can think of right now to comment on.


This does sound rather surprising, especially the magical issues. If this is, in fact, accurate (I haven't seen the book myself), it's an interesting choice from the designers. I suspect their response to such issues would be something along the lines of, "a monster has whatever non-combat powers a DM needs it to have." Which begs the question, why bother with a monster book at all? Why can't the monster also have the combat stats the DM needs it to have?

Very odd. I get the feeling either Naxuul is missing something, or I'm confused about what the 4e MM I supposed to do for DMs.


Natalie said...

I really, really hope the stuff about description isn't true, because the monster descriptions in the 3e MM are the second best part of the book, after the art. I've had non-gamers pore over that book, spend an hour reading at it and looking at the pictures, because you can ignore the game material and still understand it and enjoy it. It's a good way to immediately explain to people what's interesting about the game: there are all these cool monsters.

I guess some people get the same effect from reading stat blocks, but there's an extra layer of knowledge needed there. And even with that, I still tend to skim over monster stats unless I'm prepping to use it in a game. Reducing that description would make the book a lot less readable for me.

James Maliszewski said...

From what I have gleaned from those who have the book, the 4e Monster Manual is filled with two types of creatures: basic you-gotta-have-them monsters like orcs and ogres and so forth (as well as those few creatures whom WotC reclaimed as Product Identity from the 3e SRD -- yuan-ti, mind flayers, displacer beast, etc.) and brand new what-the-hell-is-that creatures, with the latter predominating.

I'm almost tempted now to buy a copy just to see for myself.

ChattyDM said...

I have yet to read it but the DMG has a whole chapter on Customizing monsters.

You can add functional templates (New roles for a monster like battle champion, or Savage berserker or Lich) or class templates (Add some of a class' powers to an existing monster).

Finally there are very (I mean very) clear rules to make existing monsters Elite or Solos or creating new ones...

So basically, the Monster Manual is only a Catalogue of monsters for DMs who won't design new monsters on teh fly all the time... Since the MM is also completely devoid of any monster creation rules, a very creative DM could forgo that book and go with the DMG only.