[Let's Read] The 4e Monster Manual and Monster Vault

Bira

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#1
There are quite a few Let's Read for 3e and earlier monster books going on right now, and they've given me many hours of entertainment. So I thought I'd contribute a little and get in on the action with a Let's Read for a pair of books I don't see on the front page here: the first Monster Manual for 4th Edition D&D and the Monster Vault. I feel I can't really talk about one without also talking about the other.

I do intend to post these in my blog with a slight delay, but I figured I would also post the integral texts over here so as to get some discussion going :).

Fourth Edition is one of my favorite editions of D&D, even though it doesn't get much love from the general public these days. So I'm going to write these posts assuming that the reader doesn't have a lot of familiarity with that edition. This means we'll start with a basic explanation of Fourth Edition's philosophy on monsters.

One of 4e's design goals, particularly in its early days, was a focus on gameable content. That means that every monster in the Monster Manual has to be something you can potentially fight. As a result, there are no harmless "fantasy wildlife" entries here, and almost no "always Good" monsters. In fact, some creatures that used to be "Always Good" in previous editions have been made more morally flexible, to increase the chance that Good-aligned adventurers might come into conflict with one. Harmless or always-Good creatures still exist, of course, but the thinking here is that if it's not something you're going to fight, it doesn't need a full stat block. For the same reason, the stat blocks themselves mostly focus on what the monster can do in combat. You can certainly add other skills and powers to them to serve your story, without sweating too much about whether they follow the rules or not. This is one of the things that got edition warriors in a tizzy, but I kinda liked it.

The space saved from this is used to present you with several different stat blocks for each entry. There is no "generic kobold", for example, but rather a mix of them built for different purposes so that you can design all-kobold encounters with interesting tactical situations. They'll still all feel like kobolds, though, because all of them are going to have a few "signature" that are common to all kobolds.

This brings up another major "philosophical" difference between this edition and others, in that you're pretty much never expected to fight any given monster by itself. The CR system from Third and Fifth kinda leads you to think that way, but here it's a little easier to keep in mind that an "encounter" is a group of monsters with complementary abilities. Combat is a team sport!

Having said all that, I should point out a few bugs in the system that will be particularly relevant for this Let's Read. Fourth Edition's monster design system[^3] was a little miscalibrated up until the release of the Monster Manual 3. The main issue is that monster damage was too low, particularly for high-level monsters. Elites and Solos also had defenses that were a bit too high, which could extend combats past the point where they stopped being fun. Since we're reading the very first Monster Manual, every single monster is going to have this problem, so I'm not going to mention it in each individual entry.

That's where the Monster Vault comes in. It was released a couple of years after the first MM, as part of the D&D Essentials line, and it basically updated all the most popular monsters from the early books to the new math. Presentation-wise, it featured improved stat-blocks that were easier to read at a glance along with larger and better-organized lore entries for each monster. The idea here was that if you were starting out with the Essentials books, you could get the Vault and skip the older monster books, and if you already had those you could buy the Vault as an update.

I'm going to read both of them in parallel! Whenever a monster features in both books, I'll compare them and talk about the differences. Otherwise, I'm just going to discuss the monster as presented, but will kinda assume you're going to apply the necessary fixes if you use any MM-only monster.

By the way, this is a list of quick fixes you can make to bring early monsters more or less in line with the "new monster math":

- Add +1/2 level to all of their rolled damage (so a level 10 or 11 monster would get +5 damage to all of its attacks).

- Add +2 to all attacks for Brutes.

- Reduce all defenses for Elite and Solo monsters by 2.

The first fix is courtesy of this Blog of Holding post, which also presents another, unofficial fix proposed by players who still think the resulting combats are too long: reduce base monster HP by 3 times the monster's level. So a level 10 regular would have 30 fewer HP, an elite 60 fewer, and a solo 120 fewer.

And that's all for the introduction. Tune in next time for our first baddie, the venerable Aboleth!
 

Crinos

Next to me you're all number two!
Validated User
#3
I never got into 4e (Not a knock against it, I was just into Mutants and Masterminds at the time, and when I got back into DnD I drifted to Pathfinder), but I am a sucker for monster manuals, so I will follow with interest and get a taste of what I missed.
 

Terhali

Weird and pissed off
Validated User
#4
4e monsters and encounter design spoiled me for running any other edition of D&D. This should be fun.
 

Kakita Kojiro

IL-series Cylon
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#6
The space saved from this is used to present you with several different stat blocks for each entry. There is no "generic kobold", for example, but rather a mix of them built for different purposes so that you can design all-kobold encounters with interesting tactical situations. They'll still all feel like kobolds, though, because all of them are going to have a few "signature" that are common to all kobolds.
The simplified monster stat blocks got me interested in running D&D again for the first time in ages (= 2.5 editions). And the purpose-built example monsters actually made it so the players were distinguishing the monsters by identities, rather than by generic numbers, for the first time ever for us in D&D. It was no longer "attack Kobold #3, he has full hp"; it was "get that damn kobold with the pipe-bombs!"

Some of the monster re-imagings in 4e really made them more interesting for me, including some I'd previously found quite dull. On the other hand, there were some clunker re-dos that didn't go over too well (e.g., multi-element elementals for my group).
 

Gilphon

Registered User
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#7
I'll also be following this- 4e is the edition I'm most familiar with, so I'm interested in seeing what everyone else makes of these books.
 

Kiiratam

Member
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#9
Oh thank mercy yes. 4E monsters have ruined me (in the best possible way). When I actually care about an encounter, regardless of game, I build it like it was a 4E encounter. Not just the monsters, but the terrain, complete with interactables.

Annoyingly, the Monster Vault is very hard to get, so it's one of the few 4E books I don't have as a physical copy. I got lucky and got a copy of Threats to the Nentir Vale, but the Monster Vault has eluded me.

The parallel read is a great idea! Thrilled to have this.
 

Smiorgan the Bald

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#10
Subscribed. I love 4E monsters. While I have been conquered by the simplicity and forgiveness of 5E, I wish the new edition had retained more of the 4E monster philosophy. Including the fact there were no freaking spells to look-up when you ran a monster!
 
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