Monster Compendiums Vol. 1 & 2 Review

Product 2102 and 2103 were the original Monstrous Compendiums. The most interesting thing about them was the way that they were bound.  Original AD&D had accrued 3 books of monsters: Monster Manuals I & II, and the Fiend Folio; and, since the original point behind 2e was to cut down on the books needed to play the game, and because TSR was adding new ones all the time, the Monsters presented a problem! There has always been a big demand for new monsters, so it was decided that instead of a typical book, TSR would sell a binder, and all of the monsters would be printed on loose-leaf paper. This way, one could build their own Monster collection, and each time you bought a module or additional compendiums, you could keep the monster in the binder. It sounds like a great idea! I’m not sure why this system was replaced, perhaps because users lost entries, or because the binders fell apart, I honestly don’t know as I have never owned this specific product. However, I have bought loose leaf, setting specific products such as the Ravenloft Compendium I & II which I simply put into a cheap folder-binder and keep it in book form.

Since I have never owned the product itself, I have no idea what specifically is in there, so I won’t comment on that; however, I will say that monster presentation was done a lot better for the 2e publishing. Each monster got its own page or pages with very few exceptions. Each monster got a black and white image of the basic creature, if a modified version of the creature was created, then this was listed as well.

For the most part, stats were kept the same with very little changes. One could easily still use their 1e monsters as is, or could modify them to 2e specifically, by comparing them to the other monsters with very little difficulty.

What was improved in 2e, were that the descriptions of the creatures were dramatically expanded. Since each creature had its very own page, they used the space wisely by listing how a creature attacks, and defends its self, what it looks like, where it came from, and how it lives.  This stuff, despite being just a gaming manual, was fun to read all on its own!  Humanoid societies were cleanly listed so that one can quickly create tribes and unique NPCs, and the DM gets to do all of the fun stuff! Each entry is like brain candy, and it contained all of the monsters that made D&D unique from its competitors. It wasn’t just what modern players call “Crunch”, it contained a lot of “Fluff”, which us 2e’s LOVE, but fluff was also something that was severely needed at the time. The monster listings were written in such a way that it was more helpful to the DM than it was bossy; it told you a creature’s general INT, but it left the stats open for interpretation unless they were specific, such as the strength given to Giants. What this did was give the DM the ability to take quick notes down, and be able to run the entire adventure session just from those quick stat blocks.

If one read the entries, it gave clues about what you can do to run the scenario, but it didn’t enforce them. Modifying all of the monsters wouldn’t affect the system, and creating your own monsters was simple to master!

This product was ultimately replaced 3 years later by the hardbound Monstrous Manual which was a sampling of entries found in all of the Compendiums printed before it; I had always assumed that it did contain all of the entries in Monster Compendium I & II, as these are the basic monsters which all others that came later were based upon, but since I don’t own the actual product, I can’t tell you if that is an accurate statement or not; maybe one of the collectors out there could be so kind as to confirm or correct this statement?

Overall, I wish that they would have kept this method. The monster products published between 1989 and 1992 used this loose leaf method, and the products themselves were more affordable because of it. Once the Hardbound MM was released, the updates were all put into softbound volumes of very poor quality that were difficult to reference; the idea that you could add the updated monsters right into your existing binder is a much better idea, particularly since I think that it is faster to just create a monster rather than spending all day looking through a stack of monstrous compendium books for a monster that may or may not even be there!

To a collector, this is a great product, it is odd and I honestly haven’t seen many of them. While the system was superior to the books published later, the 1992 version of the MM is still the most usable product. I have gone all of these years without it, but I’d still like to own it just for the oddity that it is. Would I use it instead of my MM? I honestly don’t think so.

At the time of its release, this product was indispensable! It gets an A, however today, since its usefulness is so limited, I’d give it a C. Some users, no doubt, swear by it! You don’t need a large collection of monsters; you just need enough examples so that you can create your own if you really need to.


Blake Jarvis said...

Problem with the binders was they printed monsters on both sides of the paper- so when you went to combine publications the ordering/alphabet got all out of whack.
They also ended up completely unwieldy in size.

The worst issue was the individual pages tended to break at the natural weak point of the binder holes. The binders got bent etc etc

Ripper X said...

That is a bummer. All I have read now, is complaints about this thing; the inability to alphabetize being the biggest deal breaker, one person told me that for his copy, the pages were perforated and he had to separate them all by hand!!!!

The book was bulky, and didn't fit on the shelf, once completed the book was too heavy, and the binder no longer supported it's weight.

The only positive feedback that I got in regards to this product was that someone had translated it into Spanish, however this came from the same person who said that he had to separate all of the pages.

It was a good idea, but typical of good ideas, it was not well thought out, but I think that it gave TSR enough time to do the Monstrous Manual properly. All of those cool descriptions had to be written, and by releasing them in inexpensive packets, players could still use them, thus, this was kind of like a patch until enough material was created. Of course they didn't use all of the monsters in the MM, so it could never hurt to go back and collect the packets and bind them separately, if you can. I said that I put mine in a binder like what we used to bind projects in school, but this wasn't perfect either, TSR didn't give us enough indented space on the left, so an itty bitty bit of text was covered up.

Brooser Bear said...

I am still using the MM, MM-II and FF. I remember seeing the Monstrous compendium in the game store and I recoiled from it. AD & D hardcovers felt neater! One question - how did the background information on humanoids that was in the Monstrous Compedium compare with the same information in the Complete Book of Humanoids? I also didn't care for the Books of the vile darkness, but then again, I am not much for the D&D Cleric supplements, especially in light of the real world religions. BTW, what did you think of those two books, if you ever read through them?

Ripper X said...

Hey Brooser! The Complete Book of Humanoids . . . ugg. I kind of have mixed feelings about this book. It allowed players to play Humanoids, but it was also bossy as it tried to limit exactly what you can do with a Humanoid NPC, for my current campaign I've had to throw it out the window. For low to midlevel campaigns, it works okay, but not for high level.

To answer your question, the Monstrous Manual told the DM about how they governed themselves, and provided quick facts, such as what level a typical commander should be, if a king is there what level and what level for his body guards. Orcs had a pretty good listing, with ideas that could help you build an entire tribe very quickly. The CBoH added to this, but by no means was it fast. It had level limits, what spheres humanoid clerics could access (which all sucked, and specifics like that so a PC or a DM could really flesh out a PC or an important NPC.

I got by for years without a Humanoids book, picking one up only because I found one for just a couple of bucks. I use the Humanoid book grudgingly, if I have to. But I use the MM constantly.

In regards to the Book of Vile Darkness, isn't that a 3rd Edition book? I never read it, but it is also a magic item in 2e which is super fun!

Brooser Bear said...

I saw the two books in the store and was disgusted. Not sure what edition they were. Now I am on the fence about getting the Monstrous compendium. I think that the Complete Book of Humanoids is among the worst supplements of that series. D&D has a real problem portraying evil, and it totally caricatures and patronizes the monsters and the humanoids. Also I didn't like that Goblins, Hobgoblins, Bugbears, and Orcs had vaguely similar ape-bestial facial features. The hack writers doing the product did not adequately conceptualize them to distinguish them apart. I done quite a bit of that homework on my own to a point where Pig-Faced Orks, Dogfaced Kobolds, as well as the Goblins, Hobgoblins and Bugbears are as distinct from each other as Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings. Now I am not even sure if I need the compendium...

Ripper X said...

I have always found the 2e Monstrous Manual to be more helpful than the 1e version. With physical descriptions, I tend to just describe what the character sees, and it is my own interpretation. Even when I use terms like Orc, I'll also identify trolls, bugbears, and other similar creatures as orcs, I figure that the characters really won't know the difference anyway, and it sure is funny when a player attacks a troll thinking that it is an orc LOL.

Blake Jarvis said...

I'll agree with Ripper. The CBoH actually added very little to humanoid cultures that I found useful or interesting.

The 2eMC extra info on humanoid was sparse enough to leave you room to manoeuvre but gave just enough clues to make a goblin lair (complete unwareness/disregard for individualism, privacy, just a rambling chaotic hive-whole) different from a hobgoblin lair (strictly hierarchical, partners/oder by rank, potentially adhering to so e kind of inverted ethical code).

All of which could be surmised at/guesstimated from 1e IIRC but a few extra tidbits in the 2e MC.

As for the humanoids handbook, it's the only one of this ebooks we ever used (bits of, occasionally) but I despised the rest so take that with a grain of salt.

Ripper X said...

The Humanoids Handbook was helpful, and it still is. I think that it provides a decent mold for a DM to start with, and if it is followed to the letter, it would keep individual humanoids in line, and their abilities consistent, however that is something that an experienced DM probably doesn't want.

To its credit, it taught new DM's that the levels in the MM could be altered to make more advanced scenarios, which is a good thing, just not one that the modern gamer necessarily needs anymore.

You are correct, Blake, as far as any of the brown handbooks go, I probably do use this one the most often, at least for reference.

Brooser Bear said...

There IS useful stuff in the brown books, Herbalism from the complete book of druids, social organization of the Ranger class in society, List of magical ingredients from the book of wizards, a few that I can recall off the bar. But I tend to cannibalize choice non-weapon proficiencies and game mechanics into my heavily modified 1e AD&D game, and only if I get a player really interested in a particular character class and I have to flesh out the character class development as the player levels up.

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