First of all, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Wizards of the Coast and 360PR for being kind enough to send me a review copy even though I haven’t posted anything on this blog in over a year. Secondly, this has to be the largest Monster Manual I’ve ever seen
So, I’ll start with the good – which is going to take up most of this article. WotC has really outdone themselves with the artwork this time. I’ve always been impressed with the art of Dungeons & Dragons (even the blue line-art in much of the AD&D 2nd Edition’s materials), but this art is phenomenal. There are a mix of styles – some soft, some with attention to every detail – but, in every case, the colors are vibrant and the creatures almost seem to jump out of the page. Also, the pages themselves are artistic instead of being solid white. Finally, while I appreciate the jokes from some previous editions, the Invisible Stalker isn’t just a blank frame, and the Displacer Beast isn’t "displacing two feet away."
Moving on to the content. This edition makes it extremely easy to find and parse the monster stats. There are synopses for the different sub-creatures at the beginning of the main entry so you don’t have to thumb through the entire entry to see what variants are contained (e.g. Modron, Devil). In addition, many of the creatures’ entries have information on their personalities, societies, and other information to make the monsters more than a set of numbers.
Much additional information is also contained within the Monster Manual. There is an appendix with information on basic types of creatures that do not warrant a full entry such as giant versions of common animals; this makes it quick to look up the needed information without having to wade through obvious descriptions. Another appendix provides information on generalized NPCs and how to customize them to fit specific campaign needs. Finally, some entries give examples of monsters that the reader might be familiar with to provide illustration – for example Count Strahd in the vampire section.
There were only a couple of minor complaints that I had, and they can be summarized in one paragraph. First, the ecology section (see AD&D 2nd Edition) is still missing from this edition. I realize that I am the only person that seems to care, but I’ve been complaining about it’s removal since 3rd Edition and I’m not about to stop now. 🙂 Secondly, a set of random monster tables by environment and by CR would be nice; but these may make it in to the Dungeon Master’s Guide instead.
Overall, this is the best layout of any Monster Manual to date, the artwork is superb, and there is plenty of content. The minor flaws that I find with it are probably not a concern to most people, and having ecology in the book may cause people to not customize the monsters to fit their setting as much as they would otherwise; thus limiting the imagination and creativity that has always been encouraged in D&D.