Product Reviews – Monster Manual 3 (4e)

I’ve put this off long enough.

See, my intent was to review this shortly after I received it, but things kept coming up (Such as needing to build a drywell in my yard. And people wonder why I gloss over the more simulationist elements of RPGs…) and thus I didn’t have the time or energy to really do it. But, with my Orcus figure on the way, and my intention/promise to compare Goodman Games’ and WotC’s Tiefling books side by side, I figured I might as well get started.

Coming two years after the release of 4th Edition, Monster Manual 3 is, naturally, the third book in the series, containing more monsters for your game. Each one had a broad theme: The first was mostly Heroic tier, the second was largely Paragon tier (VERY welcome) and this one has a fair amount of Epic tier.

And it makes sense to do it this way: When the game is starting out, you’ll mostly need Heroic monsters. Now, two years later, games are more likely to be in the Epic tier and thus need those endgame monsters, which the first book sorely lacked. Well, this one has them in spades; the majority of the monsters herein are levels 21 to 30, with a few new 30+ “endgame bosses.”

To those first: Lloth is obviously in this book, seeing as how she’s on the cover, and yes, she’s every bit as tough as you’d expect a demon god to be. But two I didn’t see get much exposure beforehand are also returning from earlier editions: Ogremoch and Imix, the Elemental Princes of Earth and Fire, respectively, previously known as Archomentals. They are now Primordials and now beholden to the Elder Elemental Eye (veterans of D&D probably know who THAT is…), but… With my experiences using level 30+ Solos against players, I feel that the “endgame bosses” are better used as background as opposed to opponents to be defeated.

Now, as for the book itself? The new art is, as always, fantastic. 4e has truly set a gold standard for presentation in RPGs, what with the pictures being smooth, colorful, and very dynamic. It may be a long time before we see a game as well presented as this. And hey, unlike in my review of The Plane Above, this isn’t a backhanded compliment: I actually DO like this book for its content!

And now, on to that content. This book sees two major changes. First, in the way the stat blocks are provided: No longer is the monster a jumble of at wills, reactions, bloodied actions and so on. Oh no, they actually have it organized by what kind of power it is. It makes reading the monsters much easier, and thus, makes combat that much smoother.

But the second change is an even bigger one. No, no, this one really shakes things up, and it puts a nail in the coffin of a complaint I’ve had since the beginning. The monsters finally have… Fluff descriptions.

Gasp. Shock.

I kid, but this is huge. I mean, after two years of monsters with utilitarian descriptions, of suggested encounters with no real explanation WHY these monsters go together except for level and role compatibility, and more importantly, two years of Wizards going “Hyuk! Backstory? Well go-lee! Who cares about that?” No, we’ve finally seen an end to this tin ear prattling. Okay, so it’s not all wine nd roses, as the descriptions are short, and they do not hold a candle to the sheer amount of fluff we got out of 3e’s books, but hey. It’s a definite step up, and I approve. I’m not so much of a hipocrite that I would slam Wizards for making a decent effort of something I’ve been asking them for since Thunderspire…

Speaking of things that are not all wine and roses, however… The monster selection leaves a lot to be desired. There’s very little that is NEW. Some think the Star Spawn is a new class of monster, but no, they first appeared in MM2. We get some monsters that haven’t been in 4e yet (Mimic), and some of my favorite monsters get new subtypes (Gargoyles! I need to make a post ranting about gargoyles someday…) but overall, the variety of monsters is kind of weak. We get giants, but they’re types we’ve seen before, Dark Ones, new Demons and Devils, more Behemoths (why aren’t you calling them DInosaurs, again…?) the Derro (seriously, did anyone actually miss these retards?)… It’s a book with lots of monsters, yes, but very little variety therein. Nothing here is going to surprise your players, especially veterans.

Lastly I want to comment on two things. One I approve of, one I don’t. First, the one I do: The Catastrophic Dragons. These dragons aren’t Solos, oddly enough, but they’re still quite interesting, as they are Priomrdially-tainted dragons with types such as Blizzard, Earthquake and Volcanic. They also have GOOD auras, as opposed to the annoying “unavoidable damage every round” or the frustrating “-2 to attack rolls” (which has the possibly unforseen side effect of making the monster a level or two tougher than it should be…), and are overall fascinating. Yet another monster I can’t wait to throw at my party.

Now, for the one I don’t approve of: Following in the misshapen footsteps of the Mezzoloth being brought back as the Mezzodemon, the Ultroloth has returned as… The Ultrodemon. Yes, the tradition of bastardizing the Yugoloths into Demons continues unabated. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, going back to 1e, there were three primary types of evil Outsiders: The Devils, who were Lawful Evil, the Demons, who were Chaotic Evil, and the Daemons, who were Neutral Evil. Though this third group wasn’t very interesting under 1e, in 2e Planescape and under 3e, they became more fascinating opponents, who might just be linked to a race of progenitor beings that could well have created all life in the universe. Naturally, though, as most of them were in the questionable 3e Fiend Folio and the downright awful 3e MM2, neither of which was updated to 3.5e, they got ignored.

Now, 4e did away with Neutral entirely. Now you’re either Evil or CHaotic Evil, but “evil” is more of a soul-rending, cosmic thing, so you’re not just bad, you’re BAD THE BONE. No, it’s okay. I get this. I don’t LIKE it, but I GET it. No Neutral means no Neutral Evil, so no Yugoloths. Cool. Great. It’s okay. The SMART thing to do would be to ignore them completely. Do they do that? No, no, no, they choose to rip up part of the history of D&D by folding the Daemons into the Demons. Why? If they gave a reason, it’s probably stupid.

… Do note that I do realize this is a petty, nerdcore issue, and also note that I am not deducting points for it. It just bugs me.

So, overall, while not a great book, Monster Manual 3 IS a good book, and is probably going to be a must-have for any DM… In particular if you’re now in Epic levels. God knows I could have used it a year ago. I mean, I was getting into Epic levels, and I was already running out of ideas. Thank God for Blackdirge’s Dungeon Denizens…

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