One of the most valuable books that a DM owns is his Monstrous Manual. Back in the day monsters were kept loose-leaf, which was cool. You bought a binder and when you bought more monsters you could easily add them into your source-book. Later, the hard-bound was released, and soft-bound monster compendiums followed.
The hard-bound MM is, in my opinion, the greatest TSR book ever published. It collected a monsters from a huge body of work, and is pretty complete all by itself. The problem isn’t with the MM, it is with those soft-bound compendiums. Most of them were wastes of paper. I don’t believe that any true index was ever compiled to all of them, which is a shame. I know that when I can’t find a monster in the MM, I know that for the next couple of hours I’m going to be stuck looking through these compendium things, and I don’t think that anybody has them all. I don’t.
Reading the compendiums aren’t much fun, and most of the monsters in them aren’t all that interesting. There are exceptions, of course, but there are other problems with them. Namely how the books were bound. The MM was bound wonderfully. It can take a lot of abuse, it is mobile, it can be laid flat on the table and it stays on the correct page. The compendiums, being paperback, aren’t anything like that. They close up on you, and the paper spines are now breaking apart and becoming loose leaf again, which is no good. So much care is needed when working with them that I usually try to avoid it.
Now, I don’t normally do reviews, but I honestly don’t consider this to be a review. These books are out of print, and I am just a player talking about my favorite ones, and giving you tips on which ones that I use somewhat regularly, and the ones that I don’t. I also don’t own all of them, so I’m just going to talk about the ones that I do own, thus this isn’t complete.
When I stumble upon a monster which ain’t in the MM (I play even older editions of the game which I update to 2e) I hunt through the compendiums that I own, and if I still don’t find it, I then update the monster the best that I can. But enough about that, lets get to the monsters.
MONSTROUS COMPENDIUM Annual: Volume One
This book is fairly useful. It has all of the monsters that just didn’t make it into the MM because of space. It provides a wide selection of monsters from all of the campaign settings. I have used many of these monsters in my own games, players aren’t as likely to be familiar with them as they are with the MM.
The book has a wonderful article called “Beyond Random Encounters”, but it has no index what-so-ever, which is a huge problem.
MONSTEROUS COMPENDIUM Annual: Volume Two
Another useful book. A good variety, plus expansions on Dinosaurs and Pleistocene Animals which makes running old school modules such as “Isle of Dread” much easier.
As bonuses, you get a much larger Monster Summoning table, and a very useful and large Random Encounters Tables reminiscent of 1st Editions DMG. But again, no index which makes searching through them that much harder.
MONSTEROUS COMPENDIUM Annual: Volume Three
Now we start to get into wasted money. I have never found a use for this book. The monsters are too big and all of them are too specialized. You finally do get a decent index, however it isn’t complete, it only compiles the MM which isn’t needed, and the 3 MC volumes.
MONSTEROUS COMPENDIUM Annual: Volume Four
This book is a great coaster, or a blotter when you need something softer then the table to write on, but as far as monsters goes, it is pointless. It compiles monsters from the magazines, and other settings which aren’t all that ground-breaking. If there is a bonus to this book, I am unaware of what it is.
RAVENLOFT MONSTEROUS COMPENDIUM: Volumes 1-3
I like these books, but then again, I am more into horror and this element is a much larger part of my games then the normal DM. Volumes 1&2 have been compiled into a single book. Volume 2 is worthless as it deals with specific NPCs within the setting, but volume 1 and 3 are good, though 3’s monsters are really tough and mean.
PLANESCAPE MONSTROUS COMPENDIUM: APPENDIX
This book is priceless, and basically the entire reason for this article, as it corrects the only problem that MM has. MM refers to monsters which aren’t in any sourcebook. The MM is copyrighted 1993, and it took an entire year for this compendium to be published (1994). Why was this done? Insanity! That is why it was done.
First Edition was thrust into the center stage by one of the greatest Urban Myths of all time, the war against Satan Worshipers. Apparently, in the 80’s, Satan worship was rampant. Millions of babies were sacrificed to Satan, rock bands such as the Eagles and the Beatles were filling our heads with suggestions, and much like the Columbine finger-pointing, except without the catalyst which Columbine provided as seeming proof of said behavior, the powers that be decided that the leading cause to devil-worship was Dungeons and Dragons. They even had proof that D&D was responsible! Well, not really, but if you scream something loud enough then somebody out there will believe it. And it is amazing just how many people DID believe it.
Gygax knew better, but the suits up at TSR felt that a change had to take place, thus when 2e was released, the most dramatic change which I feel was the true reason for the total update, is the deletion of Devils and Demons.
To a guy like me, who prefers to play the older modules, updating Devils and Demons induces the greatest headaches. These monsters are kind of still present, and in many ways, I really enjoy the conflict created between the two, but of course I am talking about the Baatezu and Tanar’ri.
The MM reintroduces us to these creatures, two evil factions in perpetual war with one-another, and probably the greatest threat to man-kind than any other creature. But the problem is that out of all of the creatures, they only produced stats for 6 of them. SIX!!!
They referred to different ranks within the races, but in order to gain access to them, you have to have the Planescape MC. This has always frustrated me, my copy of this book is my most ripped up and worn reference book that I own. It was the one book that I always carried with me because it was so valuable, why this stuff isn’t in the MM still baffles me to this day, but who am I but a simple user.
Truthfully, I have never dealt with the war. Most of my demonic experiences have always dealt with evil men and mages summoning them up. Devils trapped in a room and none too happy about it. I’ve used the Planescape compendium more times then I’ve used the Baatezu and the Tanar’ri listed in the MM. Perhaps if I was more resourceful, and possessed more gumption (which I don’t, but if I did), I’d sit down and actually translate all of the old Demons and Devils to 2e and eliminate the Baatezu and Tanar’ri completely, but I do have mixed feelings about it. Part of me likes what they turned into, and an equal part absolutely hates it. It just seems so . . . dare I say, Generic?
The term Generic has turned into a good thing to me. Generic provides more freedom to me as a Dungeon Master, and as a Player, but using it now, to describe my mixed emotions in regards to the missing Demons, I’ll be the first to admit that I am at a loss. They are important to the feel of the game. An element just as basic as Trolls and Paladins. If you have clerics, you need an enemy worthy of them. Why replace this with such a meaningless name? It was intended to appease the religious nuts out there that used it as gas upon the mythic flames of Devil-Worship, but honestly, it didn’t accomplish anything more then dividing the players and putting a huge nail in the road for folks trying to use it as a reference guide.
Monday, July 06, 2009
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