Monster Manual 3 Reviewed — A New Look at Some Old Monsters

The third Monster Manual for D&D 4E is a cornucopia…nay, a cavalcade of beasts and aberrations, ghouls and dragons, norkers and mimics. Yes, norkers.

Whether or not you want a Monster Manual 3 places you into either of two distinct categories of people. If you see no real need for yet another volume of monster stat blocks, then you most likely play a defender or are just emotionally dead inside. If you love the thought that the number of monsters in the world couldn’t even begin to be contained in a mere two books, then you are either a DM or someone who really likes reading about monsters.

As for myself, my first readthrough of MM3 left me filled with awe. Not all of the awe, not even a particularly huge mount of it, but there was definitely some awe. If only there were a single word which sufficiently describes that state of being, in which one feels suffused with a subset of the total amount of extant awe in the world.

Even if you’re really into the idea of another monster book, it’s a fair question to ask: “What does this book provide that the first two Monster Manuals don’t?” There are some key differences, but one thing it does not provide is 100% new monsters. Some monsters are variants on monsters that have previously appeared. For example, we have had elemental creatures of many types already, but this book offers original fire, water, earth and air elementals. We’ve had access to plenty of drow, but the new drow variants expand their reach over a wider range of levels. I like this. Before, you could pigeonhole monsters by tier, but expanding them to more levels makes it easier to use them as recurring villains in ongoing campaigns.

Another important difference is the use of the new format for monster stat blocks. Before, a monster’s powers were listed seemingly at random. Basic attacks first before moving on to whatever else it could do. Now, powers are grouped by action type. All the standard actions are together, followed by move actions (which are rare), minor actions and finally free actions. Traits, which are important but hard to remember when they’re buried halfway through a stat block, are always listed first, which is a huge improvement by itself. This is a much better way to organize powers, by far.

There’s a subtler difference evident in Monster Manual 3, however. It has narrative. The monster entries and their tactics paragraphs generally read less like encyclopedia pages and more like slices of some creepy folk tale. For an example, I present the Banderhobb Warder’s tactics entry:

The mortals run. Panicked and exhausted, sweating and breathless, they rush to the safety of a secret refuge. They throw open their hideaway, but the banderhobb warder is already there, waiting to swallow its prey.

That does describe how the warder fights in the broadest sense (it can mark an opponent and teleport adjacent to it if it moves, and it has a swallow attack), but that’s certainly far more evocative than, “Warders mark the nearest enemy, then teleport adjacent to it if it tries to flee.” It’s not like we really need anyone to tell us how to use the powers in any case, and this intrusion of fluff into the otherwise crunch-heavy monster manual is most welcome. Not every creature has such a creative description, but it’s used where needed and makes each monster seem far more interesting than just another bag of hit points and XP.

Most of the book is made of brand new monsters. There are some classics appearing in 4E for the first time, like the Mimic. Catastrophic dragons are an interesting take on dragons that follow primordials rather than traditional dragon dieties. There’s an assortment of demons and devils, and Lolth gets a full suite of 4E stats. A few primordials themselves are statted out — I find them more interesting than most D&D demons and dieties, so thumbs up for that.

My favorite new monster is Oblivion Moss. It’s a nasty psychic plant creature that creates mossy duplicates of the PCs by stealing their powers and memories. Tomorrow, I’ll have a special “How-To” article that shows you how to make your own Oblivion Moss and Mossling duplicates.

I know it can be overwhelming at the DM’s table sometimes: Mo’ monsters, ‘mo problems. I hear you. But this menagerie is a worthy addition to your stable. You can always plan a TPK to make yourself feel better.

5 Responses to Monster Manual 3 Reviewed — A New Look at Some Old Monsters

  1. Is that what that moss thing does? I didn’t notice while I was letting the wind blow through my branches and playing catch with a bolder throwing titan.

  2. Sure, reoccuring villain, implicitly leveling up your big bad is nice, but more to the point: more Drow (or whatever) is an excuse to squeeze some more use out of the handful of drow minis you already own!

  3. Speaking as a part-time 4e DM I like different sized variants on creatures. I’m not a big fan of Drow, though I did once play a neutral good Lolth-worshipping Drow. My back story was that I was a traveling missionary who honestly thought that Lolth was Good. Thank god for DMs with a sense of humor, eh?

  4. ggodo: for me, I never much bothered with “good” & “evil” for the gods; if you are into secrets, Vecna is the dude for you! I figured, the gods are probably way more interested in their portfolio than they are in morality. Don’t kick puppies? That is fine, Lolth will still have you, as long as you are really into spiders.

  5. It was awesome trying to convert townsfolk to “The Great Web of The Spider Mother” and then being confused when they ran screaming for the torches.

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