Review: Monster Vault (Plus 2 Bonus Mini-Reviews!)

Monster Vault is the latest offering in the D&D 4th Edition Essentials line of products.  As you’ve no doubt heard by now, it’s a collection of many of the most famous monsters from D&D, including ones from previous Monster Manuals, collected into the Essentials 6×9 format, updated to the most current set of rules and damage and thrown in a boxed set with some extras.

So what are those extras?  A small adventure and a double-sided battle map are included to begin with.  They’re of very nice quality, but really, they’re minor compared to the other meat of the box unless you plan to run the adventure.  The other two entries in the box are much more exciting.

Also included in the box are 10 sheets of monster tokens.  This, my friends, is awesomesauce.  The tokens are very nice and there are a lot of them, around 320.  Every monster in the box is represented by a token, but because there are many monsters that can be represented by the same token (such as the various varieties of carrion crawlers), that left room to do something brilliant:  multiple tokens of common monsters such as kobolds and goblins.  Yes, that’s right, if you need 8 kobolds for an adventure, you’re covered.  This is SO much better, in my opinion, than having to fish around for an appropriate number of very common swarmy-type critter miniatures.  Dear WotC, please put out tokens for the other MMs and do it just like this.  I will buy them.  I promise.  There are even tokens to represent generic minions and swarms, and any creature can be turned into a Huge token thanks to a few of the tokens that are of huge size and are designed to put smaller tokens in the middle of.  I love these tokens.

But, if the adventure and map are water and breadsticks and the tokens are appetizers, how’s the steak and potatoes that make up our main course, the Monster Vault book itself?  I wish all the monster manuals would be produced in this format.  The 6×9 format makes it easy to tote and read, for one.  The artwork is standard for WotC (which is to say it’s very good).  The cover has the same shininess to it that the DM’s Kit book had to it, making it slicker both presentation-wise and physically than the other books of the Essentials line.  But once we cut in to the tender, succulent and juicy meat of the Monster Vault, how does it fair?  What are the monsters like, man?!!  And why am I so hungry?

The answer:  juicy and oh-so-tasty!  There are around 320 separate monster entries here,  Each entry contains a very good amount of fluff, much more than in the Monster Manuals.  There are also pictures for each monster entry, and an illustration of the token that goes with the entry on each statblock.  The statblocks themselves are more condensed than those in the MM but no less cool.  The selection of monsters is, with a couple of exceptions, pretty much what you’d want for the basic, iconic creatures of D&D.  While there’s no Orcus, Tarrasque, mimic, wyvern or cockatrice in here, most of the rest of the iconic creatures are covered.

So if you own previous Monster Manuals, is there a reason to buy this?  Do the words “heck yes” mean anything to you?  Not only are the reprinted monsters given the improved MM3 statblock treatment, but they also updated with the current incarnation of the rules.   This means much higher damage in many cases and a general lowering of defenses.  Oh, and it’s now difficult to stunlock a dragon (or many of the solos, for that matter).  Overall, a very nice improvement.

Amusingly, the whole problem with rust monster farming, where you feed a rust monster a magic item and then kill it to get back 100% of the item’s market value in residiuum, was not fixed.  However, I’m currently kind of torn between whether the way they handled not fixing it is brilliant or not; they fluff for the rust monster has turned this quirk into a series of plot hooks.

This and the Rules Compendium are my favorite books of the Essentials line, hands down.

Bonus Mini-Review #1:  Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms

I’m putting this item and the next in the category of “mini-reviews” because I’m not going to go into a whole lot of detail.  Go look up my review where I discuss Heroes of the Fallen Lands, which you can find here.  Now, rip out the races and classes chapters and replace the races with Dragonborn, Drow, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, a reprint of Humans and tieflings.  Replace the Classes chapter with Druid, Paladin, Rangers and Warlock, throw in a few new feats (Rod Expertise anyone?) and you have Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms.  Everything else is the same as it was in HotFL; no, seriously, it’s a reprint.  This isn’t necessarily bad, as it means that HotFK is just as complete a rulebook as HotFL was and the new Essentials builds of the classes, as well as the updated racial information, is very nice and useful.

Bonus Mini-Review #2:  Dungeon Tiles Master Set: The City

I’ve had a love affair with the Dungeon Tiles since they were first released.  I haven’t gotten all the sets, but I do have many of them.  This set, for Essentials, comes in a sturdy box, a box which could be used as a map for roof tops in a city.  Inside are 10 sheets of tiles that can be used to build either city battlemaps, or sewer battlemaps.  The die-cut tiles pop out of the sheets and are of the same quality (read: sturdy and very nice) as other Dungeon Tiles and there’s a wide variety of tiles, very useful ones, that can be applied and put next to each other to make buildings and such.  Very very nice.

[tags]D&D,Dungeons and Dragons,fantasy,review,reviews,Role Playing Games,rpg,rpgs[/tags]

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