Yeah I wanted to go deep flashback with this one.
Originally published by TSR in 1977 the Monster Manual has become sort of an icon figure in gaming. There has been a version of it in every edition of D&D save for the Basic/Rules Cyclopedia version. Even the original white box edition had a booklet for Monsters and Treasures. It has also appeared in movies, and in TV series like Stranger Things.
Personally this was one of the coolest books ever to me. Even when young I was a fan of mythology and fairy tales and here in one big hardcover book were tons of the creatures that legendary heroes fought against. Here were all the dragons I would ever need. All the types of giants that had challenged Thor, and Titans who were not monsters but heroes of the monster world. It was amazing. It was also amazing because while my mom would not let me see Clash of the Titans in the theater because there was a scene with a topless woman, I already had a copy of the Monster Manual which had several topless creatures drawn in. It was better than trying to steal a Playboy magazine.
Now then that might not be ok to talk about in modern politically correct terms, but considering that there is the internet these days… well a few hand drawn images of topless women should be the least infuriating thing that could happen.
What I find very cool these days about the book is that the monsters published in this book became the core monsters for so many fantasy role-playing games. And for so many generations of players. The history that got started by this one book is really impressive. And considering how many editions of D&D have come and gone since its publication you might think that this list of creatures would have become out dated, or that something else would have taken its place. But that never happened. Instead it became the model for most everything that came after it.
As a game player and collector I am going to step up here and say something I rarely do. If you plan on playing first edition AD&D then you need this book. Of you can make all the monsters you want to using the rules for encounters in the Dungeon Masters Guide, or encounters with villains by making characters in the Players Handbook. But this book gives you monsters, horrors, and even peasants to run up against with very little effort. It gives you simple images (by today’s standards) to show your players, and just enough info to give you a basic understanding of the creature in question, but not so much info that you feel compelled to put them (save for a few) in any type of tight knit ecology or society. One of the things that a savvy reader will come across is that in the 4th printing, or 1979 edition of the Monster Manual (the version that was reprinted in PDF version and the most common one to find in used book stores as it had the biggest print run, also the version that was reprinted on new stock back in 2010 I think for the retro edition books that Wizards of the Coast released) the section on Elves is updated to include information on Drow, or Dark Elves. They actually made their first appearance in the module series Against the Giants (G1-3) in 1978 when the three adventures were being published separately. However the version most people know of those modules is from 1981 when the three were combined into one module for play. So if you don’t pay close attention to these things you might think that Dark Elves were something that they had always intended for the game.
If you want to play history buff then maybe you can tell me why the Monster Manual was published in 1977, but the Players Handbook was not published until 1978 and the Dungeon Masters Guide hit in 1979. I have a theory but I don’t want to spoil your questions and thoughts by positing it first.
So how do I rack this classic supplement up in terms of the numbers?
Overall Fluff 4/5 – Some might think I am overdoing the fluff here since the art is weak by modern standards and there is no backstory or city or anything to drive them along. But remember that this is a supplement full of monsters. And while the art may seem weak today when it first came out, it was a dream come true. They could have added more of just about anything to it, but all in all for the time it was published and the content, I have to go 4/5.
Overall Crunch 5/5 – Monster with stats. That’s what you want in a book like this and they give it to ya. Even going so far as to offer you the option of making things a little different by not giving everything just straight hit points but having die values to mix it up from goblin to goblin. Again might seem a little weak by today’s standards but this was the original that set the later standards.
Overall Mod 3/5 – Ok so I go a little low here and that is more about the game engine than the book itself. Within the rules it is not easy to mod much of anything past hit points. However with tossing the rules out the window you can mod just about anything. Just ask me about goblins with belts of giant strength and see where that goes 🙂
Overall Fun 5/5 – Even though by today’s standards the book is light on material, I still think this is a heck of a lot of fun. Nostalgia and such aside there are monsters in here that have yet to appear in other games and they can still be converted over. Plus this was the first book that named names when it came to evil demons and that kinda fed into the whole screaming parents who were overly religious saying that their kids were being sucked into demon worship and under the influence of the devil. Ahhh those were the days.
Total Score 17/20 – So this might seem ridiculous to some but to that I say 😛 its my review and I can point it like I want to. Seriously this thing is a classic and if you cant see that then maybe you should delve a little deeper into your games and hobbies to see where they come from.
Ok so that’s the entry for this week. Hope everyone out there is having a great time and gaming their butts off.
Now gimme the dice, I need to see how many folks I can bother with a single game review.