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3.8 out of 5 stars19
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on 20 June 2008
The new Monster Manual for D&D 4e, continues the effort of making life for the DM simpler. It provides the game information for a variety of monsters, focusing on their role within encounters allowing the DM to concentrate on plot and DM'ing. The big change between this and the two previous editions is the distinct lack of fluff in descriptions of the monsters. This may be disconcerting to some buyers, but personally I prefer it this way. It puts less restrictions on the DM's creativity as the DM can then place the monsters in a variety of ecological niches and within more interesting social structures.
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on 27 December 2008
Whist I really liked the ideas that Wizards of the Coast introduced in third edition, the system offered a staggering numer of options to the players and DMs, to the point of being overwhelming. The goal with 4E was simplify, simplify, simplify.

For instance In third edition you would create a monster in a way very similar to that used by a player to create their character: You would choose your monster, give it a class then choose its feats and spells. For example, between feats, spells and abilities, a normal adult dragon would have around 30 different options during combat. In 4th edition even the most powerful has about 7.

In 4th edition nearly all monster in the Monsters Manual have a few pre-made variants oftean at different levels, which makes it a lot easier just to pull one out of the book and put it straight into your adventure. You can still create your own variants, but you will need the Dungeon Masters Guide to do this.

In the tradition of the 1st edition AD&D Monster Manual, this book dispenses with lengthy descriptions of monsters and instead focuses on stats. Only in rare circumstances do monster get lengthy prose regarding their motivations outside of being fodder for the adventurers to beat up on. Filling in the details is left to the DM.

The new stat blocks are straightforward with special abilities in the stat block rather than hidden amongst the monster's descriptive text. One of my favorite things from the last two Monster Manuals is carried over into this book: knowledge checks to see what our heroes might know about their current foe.

The list of monsters includes the bulk of classic D&D bad guys: whist there may be the odd surprise as to which creatures got included - it's worth remembering that most editions of D&D have had multiple versions of the Monster Manual (3.5 was up to volume 5), so If your favorite bad guy didn't make the cut they'll almost certainly be in a future product.

The art is good and pretty consistant, however, roughly 10-15% (maybe more) is culled from 3.5 books. When they do redo one though, it's ususally real eyecandy. The lich, for example, or the foulspawn, or the new take on the lamia.

Unfortunately Wizards of the Coast are being affected by the credit crunch and sadly they have recently had to restructure and lay off some staff.

As an example of this they will no longer be producing the D&D Collectible Miniatures Game, instead focusing on non-random and semi-random miniatures packs aimed at those role playing 4th edition D&D. There will be two types of packs, one type aimed at players with player characters and the other type aimed at DM's with monsters. Good news for role players and bad news for miniature players.
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on 4 December 2011
Seriously, I love the whole D&D thing, but the rumours in the RPG industry is that WoTC have 're-employed' Monte Cook, who helped write 3rd edition to work on the 5th Edition.

This means that if you purchase the three Core Rule Books for someone this year for Christmas they may well end up owning something that the company doesn't support. The release date is VERY hush-hush but 5th Edition is well on its way - it could be next year or the year after.

Personally, I'd get them the Paizo published Pathfinder RPG - it's well supported with loads of supplements, sourcebooks, Adventure Paths and Modules. Don't get me wrong, I started with D&D, but somewhere WoTC lost their way.....
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on 7 March 2016
Good quality print, but 4th ed just doesn't do it for me.
3.5 remains best.
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on 19 June 2008
After being impressed by Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition and the following 3.5 update I'm very dissapointed by 4th edition.

The art is very good as usual, since Wizard of the Coast has a lot of talented artists, so you won't have any problem with that. Lots of nice eye-candy indeed!

I agree with all the points in the previous review by Simon Allen. This book is definitely missing something. It's basically a text book with mainly statistics and maybe a couple of sentences about the creature itself. Take the beholder for example. Here's a short summary:

Beholder:
Stat block {} Eye of flame. Covers ~60% of the page
Tactics: Three sentences each for two different kinds of beholder.
Lore: 9 small sentences about beholder lore.
Stat block {} Eye Tyrant (Solo creature). Covers ~80% of the page
Encounter group: 6 sentences

This all there is about the beholder. All the info on this creature is on one page, the next page has a full-page picture of two beholders. Almost all creatures have their pictures on the same page as their stat block(s). As you can easily see this doesn't give a good picture of a beholder at all, except as a large piece of numbers and letters. This goes on for all the other creatures. In my opinion I don't really have to say anything more to prove my point. The reliance on stat blocks to show all the info makes this book look like an index for monsters in a trading card game or something.

This review is based on a thorough read-through at a gamestore, and I'm glad I read through it, because I won't be buying this one.
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on 15 June 2008
I think we all expected Wizards to milk their new edition of the rules with a whole new suite of supplemental books, but I felt really let down with this. People are going to have to start throwing big cash at this game to get what they had in their hands from the three core books of previous editions.

Whilst the artwork and presentation can't really be faulted, the descriptions are sometimes very brief and oriented primarily towards combat. No ecology, no behaviourial or social traits, seem to take away some of the roleplaying possibilities. The tone of the text, like the other two books, suggests very much a younger target group. The 3.5 edition had a certain balanced maturity to its writing style that would not phase a mature gamer, but I expect this will be cause for complaint.

However, this is not my main gripe. There are huge gaps in monsters presented here that have been integral in the game since the beginning. No metallic dragons (only chromatic) and many of the the giant species (scorpions, ants, centipedes) that traditionally formed many of the challenges at lower level are just not there.

There is a section at the back which presents a selection of statistics for use in character generation, but those used to the level adjustment in 3.5 will probably not find these easy to get on with. Is a 1st level 7'5" 350lb minotaur really balanced with other 1st level characters? Why do none of the races in the whole game have negative adjustments to their statistics? Everyone is pimped up! Was not Warforged promised as a core race in D&D 4 Characters & Classes, but has now been demoted to a short paragraph here?

It also seems that for most of the stats presented in the Monster Manual, unless you are around 10th level, you are going to get kicked around. Although with the new self healing phenomenon you don't need to worry about dying ;) The variety here is limited - you will be fighting zombies and goblins for quite a while. How about a giant scorpion huh?

The idea of updating the game is well appreciated, but pages are wasted here with rather abstract 'gibbering horror mound' type villains that will have no real part in many roleplayng campaigns.

I will stick to Pathfinder for the moment. Hopefully I will be persuaded by the new web tools to take more interest. Do we have to pay for those by the way?

Maybe I'll leave this in the dentist's waiting room, as it's not a bad at a glance.
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on 13 November 2014
Great and Informative read
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on 12 April 2015
It is what it is!
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on 16 July 2008
Sometimes you read a book that stuns you. Not often, as after 28 years of role playing you have pretty much seen it all, but sometimes.

With this, the 3rd core rule book for Dungeons and dragons v.4.0 the apotheosis of DnD from a role playing game to a table top, product dependent (miniatures and rule supplements), combat 'system', is complete.

First the good stuff. There are a wide variety of monsters (many of the old favourites, however,are missing) and most have multiple variations to reflect the 'role' the monsters fill (such as skirmisher, minion, brute, solo, etc) in 'Encounter groups'. Encounter Groups are predefined lists of between 1 and a dozen or so creatures that you simply select as a whole and drop in to your adventure. Everything is worked out for you. You, the DM, don't have to worry about hit points, XP, weapons, powers, feats... It is fast, easy, simple.

This is the 'WOW'factor, it really is useful.

After this, it all goes wrong. The 'system' ceases to make any sense whatsoever.

Is a Drow priest a cleric to Lolth? If it is, why doesn't it have the same number and variety of powers (such as utility powers) as a cleric? Why would it's hit points change when it's role changes when a clerics do not?

Are cyclops a race with the racial power 'Evil Eye', is Evil Eye one power or 6 (there are 6 different versions of Evil Eye, all different), a feat, racial ability, or what?

Why do Hydras and Chimeras, both multi-headed monsters have different and somewhat cheesy named 'powers' to describe the same basic action of attacking with all heads?

Why are Carrion Crawler tentacles treated differently to those of a displacer beasts and both differently to a Grell?

Talking of Grells, why does a level 11 elite controller Grell lose the venomous bite that a level 7 elite soldier Grell possess?

Can a lich cast arcane rituals?

These and many, many, many, many other questions will NOT be answered in this book.

Moving on...

The monster descriptions are brief. There is 'lore' that give players bare bones information and a few words for the DM. Each monster/role combination has a short paragraph on tactics. The monster stats block is itself crowded and squashed, and clearly do not cover everything. Racial traits are off in a section by themselves, not in the text describing the monsters.

It's brief. it's enough to run a combat, and that is it. If you want something deeper go look at a car park puddle.

Combat itself should be mentioned. It's incredibly positional and a lot of monsters powers push, slide, pull, shift, teleport or burst one or more targets. To be fair the players get the same, but all in all you need miniatures to track what is going on. Who makes those miniatures...

So, to be frank. What you have here are rigidly (but opaquely) defined creatures, with access to large (but unpublished) lists of powers, rife with internal (and inexplicable) inconsistencies, and all reduced to a set of condensed statistics and a tactics block. Oh, and the creatures 'enjoy' different systems for such things as recharging powers, healing surges, numbers of powers, etc, skewing the encounters heavily against them.

There is a lot wrong with this.The DM cannot easily reverse engineer the creatures and it is not clear that substituting one power/weapon/whatever for another will lead to predictable results. There is no mechanism for creating monsters and applying feats (indeed racial traits come in the form of feats in this 'system', so without all the racial traits being published the DM is stuffed and has to make arbitrary rule calls). The lack of a clear mechanism leads to greater dependency on more monster manuals and officially published books.

When the DM and players start to wonder about the inconsistencies there is no way to work out what should happen and what has happened. When the inevitable happens and the players and the DM decide fair play should exist in the game (that is, NPCs, monsters and player characters are all governed by the same rules) a lot of reworking will need to be done to the system, reworking that the rule books are incapable of supporting.

This, therefore is an extraordinary book. Utterly stunning. Opaque, arbitrary, inconsistent, unimaginative and uninspiring.

It's needed if you are going to play DnD 4.0, but it's still a turkey. One star.
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