Guest Author - Margaret Dorraine Baines-Turberfield
For Christmas, our 10 year old decided to buy his father a new RPG resource. With a plethora of boxed sets and shiny hardcovers to choose from he selected (and I paid full price for) the D&D Essentials Monster Vault boxed set. My husband was happy to find it under the Christmas tree, and now I’ve managed to get my hands on it to do a review!
When I first spotted the D&D Essentials Monster Vault, I was skeptical. After all, I already owned both the Fourth Edition Monster Manuals 1 and 2. I wondered if this book could possibly offer anything new, or if it would be repeating monster blocks from the other two books.
A read-through of the table of contents does not reveal any new monster names, though it does happily indicate three useful features: an animal appendix, glossary, and index of monsters. The animal appendix contains the pertinent information for various common animals (bears, rats, spiders, wolves), the glossary provides definitions for keywords and states and other terms associated with the monsters and their abilities, and the index is arranged first by monster level, then by monster type (fighting style: skirmisher, controller, brute) and lastly alphabetically within each subgroup.
The book begins with a detailed breakdown and description of the parts of the Fourth Edition monster statistics block. It takes eight pages, but if a reader was uncertain how to interpret a stat block before reviewing that information, they would definitely know how to afterward!
Once the monster section begins, each of the 63 monsters listed in the table of contents is introduced with a section of descriptive text to explain their origins and other useful history that will help a Game Master include them in adventures. (Yes! The authors took the time to rewrite the introductions!) For some monsters there are “quotations” attributed to D&D characters, and additional artwork. Almost every monster stat block has accompanying art in the form of a circular portrait of the sort found on creature tokens for use in grid/tabletop battle play. And yes, there are lots of new monsters. Or, rather, there are many new delineations of monsters. For example, of the five types of basilisk listed, four are not found in the Monster Manuals 1 or 2.
Also included in the box are colour tokens of a sturdy, heavy nature: a whole stack of punch-out sheets, with at least one token for each of the 63 contained in the book, and frequently several of each (with numbers on them, so when your party faces many of the same sort of foe they can each have their own picture token.) On the sheets you will also find generic minion tokens, and some very useful up-size rings. One can place the smaller token of a particular monster into the ring so it then occupies “huge” creature space on the grid map. Besides the tokens, there is also a ready-made adventure (“Cairn of the Winter King”) for a 4th level party, and a large, full colour, folding map to go along with it.
As I said before, I was skeptical at first, but I am pleased to report that the D&D Essentials Monster Vault is a good value, useful tool to add to your Fourth Edition collection. Besides various new permutations of monsters, the collection of tokens will definitely come in handy for GMs whose mini collections still need to be filled in. The only thing that would have made this a more-complete set would have been if the rules were included for scaling monster stat blocks up or down to tailor them to your party. You’ll have to look to your Fourth Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide for those!