Thursday, June 12, 2008

Books: Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, Monster Manual

In D&D, the PCs' adversaries have to be almost as fully fleshed out as the PCs themselves - what good are unique combat abilities if all you're doing is fighting the same dumb opposition over and over again? The Monster Manual, like almost everything in 4E, has changed quite a bit. For the purpose of this review, let's look at a little example - the entry for a classic D&D monster, the displacer beast.

In 3.5, the displacer beast has a stats block that lists info like its hit dice, its initiative, its speed, its AC, etc. The stats block also contains additional non-combat stuff, like treasure type and "challenge rating" (a concept completely abandoned in 4E, since monsters now have levels and XP values listed right in their title bar). There is also info contained in several paragraphs of flavor text outside the stat block about how the displacer beast's special combat abilities work.

In 4E, the displacer beast entry is largely the same in terms of content, except that there is virtually no necessary flavor text - all the info you need to run a monster is right there in the stat block. Monsters are also given clear roles that tell how to play them. And even high-level monsters, like Orcus, the Demon Prince of the Undead, don't have long lists of feats or spells to worry about.

All in all, it's a refreshing usability upgrade that cleverly takes Wizard of the Coast's experience with miniatures and "Magic: The Gathering" and puts it into D&D. I like being able to populate dungeons with less prep time, and the addition of unique combat abilities for nearly every monster (even the lowly goblin warrior can pull some interesting stuff off) seems like a great idea.


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