Review: Monster Manual 3 (4E)

Posted on September 1, 2010

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Monster Manual 3 was released in June 2010. As its title suggests it’s the third (and possibly the last – since no Monster Manual 4 has been announced for 2011) of the 4th edition Monster Manuals.

First Impressions

I sort of like the cover.  It looks decent from a distance (up close it seems a bit low detail — I wonder what size the original illustration was?), and I think Lolth was probably the right choice. But on the cover she’s just posing, rather than doing anything. Contrast this with say the Monster Manual (4E) cover, where you have Orcus charging at the viewer, lots of detail with various undead in the background and I think the Lolth cover in contrast looks less exciting and less evocative. Flicking through the book its all fairly familiar territory to anyone who has seen a 4th Edition book, no surprises, but does exactly what you would expect.

Strengths

  1. Monster Selection: Obviously any bestiary is only as interesting as the monsters it details. What this book gives you is a great mix of returning old monsters (Catoblepas, Mimics and Rot Grubs for instance); a few evocative new monsters (Banderhobb; Forsaken); interesting mechanics (Volcanic Dragon — great aura design, Corruption Devil — with six variable minions, Lolth — two stat blocks) and plenty of epic tier support. Each monster manual seems to be getting more epic support. Aside from the obvious ancient dragons and smattering of epic demons and devils this book does deliver on the epic front, with: two Princes of Elemental Evil, Apocalypse Spells; Forsaken; Star Spawn; Tulgar; Weavers as well as epic tier Drow, Mind Flayer and Yuan-ti group entries.
  2. Updated Rules/Statblock: General tidying up of the minor flaws that plagued previous books, most notably monster damage (especially in the epic tier). But also the first book to introduce the new stat block layout, which I think is a vast improvement in clarifying what a monster can do in any given round of combat. It means the new stat blocks take up about 10% more space but thats a small price to pay I think.
  3. Added Fluff: The previous 4th edition monster manuals have been criticised for being functional, but not really great reads. Monster Manual 3 goes a step in the right direction by adding a paragraph or two of fluff for each entry. These always have at least one nugget of inspiration for those wanting to develop

Weaknesses

  1. Disparity in Levels between Personalities and Henchmen/Minions: This really annoys me. Lets say you want to run an adventure culminating with a battle against Imix the Fire-lord. Imix himself is a Level 32 Solo Controller. His entry features 7 additional stat-blocks (various cultists and monsters). However, NONE of these additional entries are of any use when running an adventure featuring Imix. The highest level cultist he has listed is Level 22. That means Imix himself pretty much exists in a vacuum. Don’t get me wrong, I like that they detailed his cult, but would it have killed them to throw in some higher level servants that you could actually use in the build up to an encounter with Imix? The same problem plagues the Ogremoch entry, as well as the Lolth entry to a lesser extent (the Drow entries cover Levels 23-28; although Lolth is Level 35 herself, obviously levels only ascend to 30 at the moment).
  2. Lack of Personalities: Okay, just to clarify, the book does have some unique monsters/npcs (Allabar, Eclavdra, Imix, Lolth and Ogremoch), but for the most part I just wished some of the entries (Forsaken, Weavers to name but a few) could have been tied in to a unique monster, npc, deity or similar.
  3. Art Direction/Tiny Art: A minor nitpick on my part, but I don’t like tiny art, especially if the monster in question is itself meant to be a big creature. A lot of the artwork in this book seems fairly small to me, entries like the Molydeus; Frost Giant and Hill Giant are simply far too small. The larger and more intimidating the monster art Art Direction/Recycled Art: I’d be guessing but for anyone with a half decent Wizards of the Coast collection (such as myself) it looks like about fully half the art in this book is recycled. Thats bordering on unacceptable in my opinion. When on holiday in London recently I got the chance to look over the Pathfinder Bestiary and straight up I have to say that book probably has the best art of any RPG book I have ever seen. It really makes the Monster Manual 3 look second-rate by comparison.

In Conclusion

I really like Monster Manual 3, however, putting together this review illustrated a few areas where it could have been much better. The content itself is very good, but viewing the book as a whole, leaves me less impressed with it. I’d still recommend it, especially for epic campaigns, where previously you could say the monster list was pretty thin.

Score (out of 10)

6 …that may seem a tad harsh for a book I generally think is pretty good, but the little things that annoyed me eventually started weighing my opinion down.

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