Sorry about the title. I couldn’t stand it anymore, it just had to be said.
Anyway. This is the third part of my exploration of the new Essentials material being released for 4E D&D. Parts One and Two looked at Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms, the player-oriented books for Essentials. My reactions were a mixed bag. Some things I thought were awesome changes/additions, and some things baffle me. One thing I can say. I love the Monster Vault!
I am (as I suppose is true for many gamers who remember the great 80s of gaming) a sucker for a boxed set. I love ripping into a new boxed set and I still have bookshelves full of gaming sets from the 80s and early 90s. That was really a different time. The point being that the Monster Vault appealed to me from the very beginning just by existing in the form that it did. I mean, it was a box filled with tokens and a big monster manual, an adventure and a map. It promised good things.
In my opinion, it delivers. I have only skimmed the adventure because 4E adventures aren’t a draw. I will get around to reading it because I want to see if 4E has improved its adventure writing for official modules any. Most 4E modules are pretty poor offerings. The map is interesting. I was a little thrown that one side was made by piecing together Dungeon Tiles. Still, it’s a high-quality map, and it’s possible that the usefulness is partly in showing a new DM how versatile Dungeon Tiles are. So, all’s well here.
The tokens are interesting. Well made, pretty — not as nice as a newly painted mini, but a lot more convenient — they even put numbers on the tokens to distinguish between the, say, four different goblins in an encounter. That was a simple but very effective touch that made me smile as I was looking over the contents of the box. Sometimes it’s the little things…
But the meat and potatoes here is the actual Monster Vault (MV) book. A digest-sized guide done in the same style as the rest of the Essentials books, it is a great little monster book. The evolution of 4E monsters has been a somewhat painful road. Even up through the different Monster Manuals, you had a sense that the writers just weren’t entirely sure what they were doing with monsters. They changed the way solo monsters worked. They changed how minions function. They tweaked monster damage and defenses here and there. The webboards were full of complaining and house-ruling and all manner of comment. But it never seemed to come into focus as a full picture. Well, MV fixes that nicely.
The monsters here seem very well thought out and are the result of all that tweaking and talking. The new Dragons are amazing. The new layout for how monsters are written is a good, subtle improvement over their original design layout. Solo monsters just seem better equipped to take on a whole party. The monsters feel better balanced. It’s a fun improvement.
I’m also taken with their choice of monsters. First of all, they put an Owlbear on the cover. I. Love. Owlbears. Again, me smiling as I looked over the book. But seriously, I think I appreciated the selection of monsters on a personal level — because it seemed to fit all of my favorites (old and new). I’m huge fan of Hags. I use them all the time and they’re in there lookin’ dangerous. Just one example, I know, but I felt the selection was considerate of the usefulness of the book and the broad spectrum appeal. The write-ups for the monsters are also worlds better than the content of the original 4E monster books. The previous 4E Monster Manuals were sparse to the point of being off-putting. This new book is inviting and has a sense that these monsters are really part of a world. Instead of reading like a Monster textbook, it reads like an entertaining piece of the D&D world.
Layout was also done much better. Can I even express how happy I am that “regular” animals had their own portion of the book and weren’t mixed in with the monsters? Again, it’s a small thing but it helps me and makes me happy.
If I keep going I’m just going to keep repeating myself. Suffice it to say, I’m a fan. I love the new monster design direction. I’m fond of the writing direction. I wish this had been 4E when it was released two and half years ago.
Thanks for reading!