The Analog Gamer: And Dagon Too!
Dungeons & Dragons is a game about fantasy characters fighting mythical creatures, overcoming great adversity and sometimes saving the world, or the kingdom, or the princess.. or themselves. What would the game be without monsters? Well a lot less interesting if you ask me, so when Wizards of the Coast released the second collection of foes for the 4th edition game I think it was easy to expect more of the same. But more of the same often means something lacks innovation, interest or excitement.
Guess what? Monster Manual 2 is more the same in many good ways. Sure it is, at its core, just an updating of many previously published monsters. Monster tomes were of course written for previous editions, but in the case of Dungeons & Dragons there are so many iconic creatures that the first Monster Manual could not hope to contain every favorite - just as combined Monster Manual 1 & 2 will fail to meet that goal.
The book’s cover creature, Demogorgon, follows in the wake of MM1′s Orcus and while “the big O” might have been the inspiration for the 4th Edition game (for the uninformed, 4E was called Orcus while it was undergoing internal development), Demogorgon and his crew really make this book sing as Wizards continues to flesh out the former Lords of the Nine Hells, reintroduces Cthulu Mythos Old ones and shepherds Metallic Dragons back into the official D&D rules.
It would be a simple thing to splay forth a list of all the monsters — new and old — that are included in this volume, but frankly you can find those sorts of details elsewhere. Instead I thought I’d focus on how useful the monsters included are in designing adventure scenarios. I’ve been running 4E for over a year but only now am I really preparing to run homegrown encounters.
For reasons I’d rather not discuss neither of my 4E games seem to be progressing out of the introductory adventures I choose for them with any sense of urgency, and in fact one group revolted and insisted that we transition back to D&D 3.5 – which presented some interesting balance issues using the original encounter designs included in The Keep on the Shadowfell and in converting 4E races and classes back to their 3.5E versions.
So as I prepared to wrap up the initial Scales of War adventure: Rescue at Rivenroar and began planning the next steps now that the “Nasty Midnighters” have saved the villagers, recovered the priceless junk and defeated the Orcs and Wight in Rivenroar Keep, I began to look through the options available to me in both the published monster sources.
The character mix in this particular 4E game leaves me plenty to play with – a Dhampyr Shadar-kai rogue, a drow warlock, a half-elf wizard, a cursed human fighter a dwarf beast master ranger, and their every faithful halfling cleric. The drow and Shadar-kai together offer some interesting opportunities to use foes included in the new book.
Unfortunately, the group is not ready to faces the forces of Lloth like the Bebelith or an assault from the Shadowfell by Shadar-kai assassins but the cover of the Monster Manual 2 alone inspired me. What if Demogorgon were planning something and the players stumbled upon it? What if the Drow outcast was actually an unwitting aid to Demogorgon’s assault on Lloth’s abyssal power and the Shadowfell factions of the Shadar-kai needed this very unique Dhampyr Rogue to defend against the prince of madness and his forces? Instant plot hook and a timely perusal of the MM2 and I’ve outlined many of the core encounters that may lead the party into the depths of the Abyss and an ultimate confrontation with the two headed demon himself, with a nice side jaunt into the aquatic realms of Dagon just for good measure.
Long time D&D storytellers will recognize most of the enemies included here and some of the 4E changes might even possibly bother them. Metallic Dragons were the first to disappoint me honestly, though only for a moment, before I resigned not to allow their lack of “good” alignment to get in the way of my storytelling. Purists can cry foul all they want, I know who controls my game and I’m grateful for the official statistics that will save me hours of work reintroducing Gold, Silver and Copper dragons back into my story.
Ultimately, Monster Manual 2 is another step closer to making D&D 4E “feel” complete. It expands the bag of tricks available to a DM with respect to scenario design. New toys in the DM toybox if you will. Most of the book features iconic monsters and the new additions or expansions on enemies introduced in MM1 like the Shadar-kai makes this book, in retrospect, more likely to be used than any of the eight Monster books I own for D&D 3.x.
Wizard’s of the Coast can continue to mine the decades of published monsters and centuries of fantasy tales for years to come. However, while I’m content with the new options I’d caution them on following this exact formula over and over until the next edition of the game. Drawing from the well is acceptable so long as you innovate and add new tools – monster books might be an easy sell, but eventually GMs have enough options already and more are just simple variations or textual differences. Wizards seems to be embracing the concept of innovating with the Players Handbook 3′s Hybrid Class rules, lets just hope they introduce something as suitably exciting in Monster Manual 3.