Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dungeons & Dragons Essentials - Monster Vault: An Un-Review


While I don't really do reviews on this site, I have promised my readers in previous posts to give you my comments about the various Dungeons & Dragons Essentials products that are coming out this year (and into next year).  Yesterday in the mail, I received my order from the Nobel Barn of two of the Essentials titles:  Dungeon Tiles Master Set - The City, and The Monster Vault.

I'm actually not going to review the first one.  Everyone has done un-boxing and review posts over the tile sets.  The only thing is that like all the tile sets, you really need to get TWO of them to have an effective set.  This is my opinion, of course, but with the tile pieces often doing double duty (sewers on one side, walkways on the other), to construct anything really effective, you need a couple of sets to do that.  Enough said.

Let talk about the Monster Vault, instead.  Like other Essentials reviews I've done, I'm not going to tell you how I feel about the monster stats, the quality of the module, or that kind of stuff.  Instead, I want to talk to you about the things I fell in love with, and why I think this is one of the best sets I've seen in a LONG time.

So let's get right to it.  The Monster Vault contains three elements:  A digest-like monster manual that contains descriptions of the monsters, a set of monster counters, & an adventure suitable for 4th level characters.  Let's take each of these in hand and discuss:

The Module - I thumbed through it.  Looked pretty icy (the setting, not the style).  There seemed to be a dirigible at the end, which I thought was pretty cool.  Modules are modules for me.  Most of the stuff WotC puts together for adventures are pretty workable, so I really don't have much to say about it.  Looks like it was designed to be run after heroes complete the module in the DM's Toolkit.  I believe the stories are set in the same land (Nentir Vale), but I don't believe the stories are linked.  

The Counters - Oh my Heavens, the counters!  So far, we've seen three different Essentials products come with a selection of counters.  The Starter Set (otherwise known as the "Red Box"), came with a few counters to cover basic heroes and the monsters in the introductory adventure that was included.  The DM's Toolkit also came with a nice selection of monsters, enough to provide counters for every creature (and I think every NPC as well) for the adventure included in that boxed set.  Between the two sets, I had enough counters to nearly fill a re-purposed and almost 1/2 gallon plastic gellato container.

The counters contained in the Monster Vault flat out blew that away.  I haven't done a careful check, but I suspect there's at least one counter to represent every creature listed in the Vault.  It was 10 sheets (if I remember correctly) of medium, large, & even huge creatures.  In addition to that, there were huge sized "adapter rings" for converting large creatures into huge ones.  It was an interesting innovation.  Admittedly, the rings look like giant tractor tires, but still, it's a pretty cool idea, since the large counters fit neatly inside them.  So many counters.  By the time I had gathered them all, my poor gellato container was overflowing.  I had to remove the large and huge counters and place them in the Monster Vault box.  Now, of course, my OCD is going to require that all of these counters get sorted.  I'm looking to coin collecting tools to help organize these.  When I've done some more research, I'll have a post devoted exclusively to storing and managing your counters.  I can't say it enough.  With all three boxed sets (Starter, DM Toolkit, and Monster Vault), you get a metric f-ton of counters.  I really can't get enough of fiddly bits like this.  It is a good thing.

The Monster Manual - Let me begin by just re-quoting myself from Twitter last night:  "Okay, Monster Vault.  I am in love with you.  Best Monster Manual since the original 1st Edition AD&D one".  I meant it, too.  Like the rest of the Essentials line, the Monster Vault book is a monster manual that presents in the same digest form as the rest of the books in the Essentials line. That's just the sexy outer form, though.  The real reason I'm gushing, is how the material inside the book is presented.  Others have written about this, but I finally saw it for myself.  WotC has returned to giving us some background for the creatures we use in the game. I haven't seen a Monster Manual do this effectively since the ones written for the 1st Edition.  Seeing a monster manual do more than just give pages & pages of stats was refreshing.  There's enough background material on most of the monsters to build entire campaigns around.  I was most impressed.  I now have a monster manual I can enjoy reading, instead of just referencing.  

Finally, I really like the appendices in the back of the book.  A section on just animals.  Why, this is AWESOME!  Also a table of monsters by level?  STUPENDOUS!  Of course, like the rest of the Essentials books, they didn't skimp on either the glossary or the index.  Kids, this is a complete book.  

Conclusions - If you don't get any of the other Essentials materials, do yourself a favor and pick up the Monster Vault.  It's utility is bar-none, and the monster manual contained within is the best written one in years.  I look forward to it providing loads of campaign ideas and monster goodness for years to come.

Until next time...

Game excellently with one another.

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