Thursday, September 23, 2010

AD&D Monster Manual part 1 of many

Man, the Monster Manual is awesome. The first ever product for AD&D, it was a compilation of all the monsters developed for OD&D, with some new stuff added in for good measure. In terms of the physical product it was light years ahead of anything TSR has produced to this point. My 4th edition copy is still a very sturdy hardcover, and I’ve honestly never seen a Monster Manual that isn’t in really good nick. So kudos to TSR for the production values, because it’s a great book. The writing’s good, the art’s good, the monsters are good. You’d be hard pressed to find a D&D book that’s as high quality as this one. I may be biased due to my love of monster books in general, but this is a real doozy, and a genuine watershed moment for the RPG industry as a whole.

The book kicks off with an editorial by Mike Carr, who was an editor at TSR at the time. He mentions right off that the Monster Manual is the ‘second part’ of the new D&D releases. Presumably the first part he’s referring to is the Basic Set edited by Holmes. The rest of the piece is devoted to reiterating TSR’s success and drive for excellence, while putting down their derivative competitors. It seems to me as though the company was doing a fair bit of that in products around this time.

An alphabetical table of contents follows, which is nice and legible and very useful.

Then there’s a preface by Gary, in which he explains who created most of the monsters herein. Gary himself is responsible for most of them, but he credits Steve Marsh for the undersea creatures taken from Supplement II, Erol Otus for the original illustrations of the Anhkheg and Remorhaz, Ernie Gygax for the Water Weird, and Terry Kuntz for the prototypical Beholder.

Explanatory Notes: Wow. We’re definitely in different territory to OD&D here. In the products released before this book, lots of things went unexplained and unexpanded. You had to figure out what certain tables meant and how certain rules were supposed to work on your own. But the Monster Manual leaves nothing to chance. Everything is explained, and nothing is left ambiguous (at least on purpose). It’s a completely different mindset to OD&D.  No doubt it's a side-effect of the growing success and appeal of D&D, as people not accustomed to wargaming have to make sense of the rules.

This section begins by explaining the use of the term monster, as it refers to any creature encountered in the game by the PCs, as well as being used in the more traditional sense of a horrible or wicked creature. See what I mean? Not even the basic terminology goes unexplained. There’s a note at the end that humans and demi-humans, despite being under the catch-all term of monsters, still use the attack matrix for humans.

From there it goes on to explain all of the common statistics in the monster entries. It has all the usual standbys that have already been in OD&D: number appearing, armor class, move, hit dice, % in lair, treasure type, number of attacks, damage per attack, magic resistance, and alignment.  All of them of course, get a far more detailed explanation of their use than they did in OD&D, but the basics remain the same.  Frequency is a new one, showing how rare the monster is and what percentage it should have to show up on the appropriate Wandering Monster chart. Special Attacks and Special Defenses give a brief description of the monster’s unusual abilities, which can be dead handy for the DM in the middle of a game. Intelligence was something that had been touched on in some of the OD&D monsters, particularly those that showed up in The Strategic Review, but now it’s been much more codified, and applied to every monster. Size introduces the categories of Small, Medium, Large, etc., which begin to have some mechanical effect in AD&D. Psionic Ability shows the monsters psionic attacks and defenses and their other powers as well. I’ll be interested to if it matches the Player’s Handbook, or if it’s closer to the system from Supplement III. The section on Magic Resistance has a rule whereby casters higher than 11th level have a better chance to penetrate it, while those lower have a worse chance. At first I thought this was a new rule, and I had a hard time finding it, but it’s tucked away in the Balrog entry in earlier printings of D&D Vol. 2.

And that's the introductory stuff out of the way.  I did want to get into some monsters today, but I ran out of time.  And yes, that means I'm going to running through all of the monsters in this book, which could get frightfully boring after a while.  Deal with it!


KenHR said...

Good start. I look forward to following this series of posts!

Anonymous said...

long comment lost... no energy to rewrite... but anyway, love what you're doing and looking forward to each update. Don't think the monsters will get boring, compare Let's read... threads on which have been great entertainment.

Will you try to go all the way up to 4th edition (and beyond?)?

Nathan P. Mahney said...

Theoretically, yes, I'll be trying to go up to 4e. Realistically, it's probably not going to happen. At the very least I'm going to make it to the end of 1e, and see how I feel about the whole thing from there.

Anonymous said...

I still have this Book, packed away.... and it still looks brand new along with other books from 1982/83 :-)