Game: Monster Manual II
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Review Dated: 9th, November 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 5/10 [ Perfectly acceptable ]
Total Score: 73
Average Score: 7.30
The Monster Manual II has only just (4th Nov) been released here in Europe. It’s been out in America for months. If I were reviewing Wizards of the Coast’s distribution skills then they’d be getting a stinky 1/10 rating. At this rate we’ll be lucky to see D20 Modern by Christmas.
Was it worth the wait?
If you’re a monster fan, one of those players who see Dungeons and Dragons ‘roll-playing’ as a succession of battles against interesting monsters then it probably was worth the wait. The range of creatures in the book is pretty good, the Challenge Ratings start off at less than one and push past the maximum values in the first Monster Manual with creatures with CR of 27 and 28.
Art is a subjective thing but I like the illustrations in the book. They’re bold and colourful but at $29.95 (£19ish) the 224-paged hardback makes for an expensive purchase if you’re only after the quarter-sized illustrations.
I don’t think the book is worth the wait. Sure, some of the creatures in it are fairly nice but they’re also available, in other guises, in other books. There’s nothing particularly new or impressive about any of the offerings though; they could be (and might just be) monsters that fell to the cutting room floor during the production of book one. The interesting looking ones tend to have appeared elsewhere. Some of the stupid ideas, like Legendary Animals, appeared elsewhere too. Legendary Animals were rubbish in Masters of the Wild and re-printing them here just makes that failing worse. There isn’t any compelling reason to use any of the creatures from the book either; if there’s a scene in your game where a monster from book two would fit then you can be sure that there’s also a monster or from book one that would fit just as well. If MM2 had specialised on giving us monsters from different environments, artic, underwater, desert or astral then at least you would have reason to reach for the book in preference to Monster Manual 1 for some scenes but this isn’t the case.
Monster books can be quite appealing. I’m not a crunch fan but there’s something about getting to grips with a beastiary that equates to learning the biology of a campaign world. A clever creature compilation capitalises on that. The Monsternomicon, for example, has a set of rumours, ordered by rarity, that characters might know about each monster – and that’s a great idea. You can’t claim that Wizards of the Coast didn’t notice the standards rising because some of the creatures in MM2 are borrowed (if re-named) from some of the independent d20 books that pushed the standards higher.
The first section of the book does slightly better than the first book but not much. It re-visits the discussions on types of monsters, monster feats, size categories and suitable stats for the different sorts of creatures because the same discussion from the first book wasn’t as clear as some of the players wanted. It’s more of the same just said differently and that’s just the problem with the bulk of the book. This pre-monster section had the opportunity to save the book. It could have upped the level of intelligence in the book. I was really hoping we’d be given a formula for calculating challenge ratings or more pointedly the assumptions on what the “appropriate equipment” for characters are. The challenge ratings make assumptions that I as a GM don’t necessarily want and this book could have helped me sort that out but it completely fails. I’ve no improved understanding on whether 5th level characters should have +1 magic weapons in order to be a fair match for a CR 5 creature or not. If I’m running a fantasy game where magic weapons are as rare as moon dust then I might as well throw the entire challenge rating system out of the window.
The book has been a disappointment but it does do what it says it’ll do. It does give me more monsters. Important opportunities have been wasted but that’s not quite the same thing as being negligent. Initially I rated the book below average but I generally wait a day before publishing a review and during this wait I’ve relented and decided that “average – without distinction” would be more appropriate.