Some day, a few thousand years from now, archaeologists from some other (possibly alien) civilization are going to explore the ruins of a surprisingly well-preserved basement and stumble across a copy of Monster Manual 2. And they are going to be so, so confused. Luckily, we know what it’s all about. Monsters!
The Monster Manual serves its primary purpose perfectly well. It is a giant list of new monsters to use in your Fourth Edition D&D campaign. Some old standbys show up, like trolls and ankhegs, but it’s actually the new monsters I’m most excited about. I’ll get to those in a minute. Some creatures that appeared in the first 4E Monster Manual are in this book, too, with even more variants and levels. I suppose it could be a pain flipping between two books if you build an encounter with gnolls from MM and MM2, but it’s nice to have more options (and using the D&D Insider Compendium negates the problem entirely).
The metallic dragons make their big 4E entrance with two new members of the clan: the adamantine dragon and the iron dragon. Meanwhile, brass and bronze seem to have gone AWOL. Within the context of Monster Manual 2, these dragons are presented in a mostly tactical manner. They’re interesting enough, but I think they will benefit greatly from the expanded treatment they’ll get when the metallic version of the Draconomicon comes out in November.
The art throughout this book is excellent – in fact, it’s one of my favorite things about it. Every single monster is depicted, even all the variants. The images are more than just utilitarian depictions, they’re downright inspiring. For example, I love the storm archons pictured above, along with the water archons. They just look so cool that I’m dying to build an encounter around them just so I can hold up that page (with the stat blocks covered up) and tell my party, “You see this.”
In fact, inspiration is the word that most often came to mind while reading through Monster Manual 2. Very few of the creatures are just walking stat blocks to plug into encounters (although those have their place in every adventure). While there’s not a ton of fluff material, what is there is plenty to give an imaginative DM a foothold. You read a bit about a creature’s background, look at the picture and immediately think, “Man, I can’t wait to design an adventure around these guys!”
My favorite new creatures include the Firbolg, which live in the Feywild and are a sort of barbaric counterpart to the Eladrin. Chaos shards are perfect when you want something a little more abstract – they’re sort of living crystallized elementals. But my top pick has to be the drakkoth. It’s a simple idea: intelligent draconic centaurs. Something about them looks so cool, and I love the idea that they sometimes venerate elder chromatic dragons. I’m dying to make my players travel to a jungle so I can write an adventure based on conflicting tribes of drakkoth and lizardfolk and a big, nasty green. Dungeon crawls in Angkor Wat?
The non-monster entries will be incredibly helpful for DMs. There are six pages of new human variations. When the party runs into some NPCs and starts a fight you weren’t expecting, you can easily flip to the human section and grab a few of the proper level. Turns out those drunken louts in the tavern are a pirate captain and his crew. Or the shady figure stalking the party through the sewers is a dread assassin. Perhaps the party rescued a noble, and it turns out she was trained at a military academy. She can help out in a fight using the human noble’s warlord-like abilities. The other player races get a similar (if not quite as exhaustive) treatment. The new races from Player’s Handbook 2 are “monsterized” here as well.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m a sucker for creature catalogs of any kind, and Monster Manual 2 is really well-designed and has a ton of useful stuff for DMs. If you’re running a 4E campaign, there’s really no reason not to have this. If you’re a player, tuck a few bucks into your DM’s dice bag towards this book. It’ll make your encounters more dangerous and unpredictable, which is exactly what you want, right?
Oh, I almost forgot – for you demon lovers, Demogorgon didn’t get the cover shot because he smells so pretty. There’s an entire Demogorgon section, including a bunch of related demons, cultists and the rest of the Prince of Demons’ entourage.