Review of D&D Essentials Monster Vault by WotC
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  1. #1

    Review of D&D Essentials Monster Vault by WotC

    This month, Wizards of the Coast released a boxed product called the Monster Vault as part of its D&D Essentials line. The Monster Vault seems perfectly designed with new Dungeon Masters in mind, providing Essentials players with a wide selection of "classic" D&D monsters to populate adventures and dungeon delves. However, this boxed set would seem, at least initially, to be completely superfluous to the many DMs who have been playing Traditional 4E Dungeons & Dragons, and who already own copies of the 4E Monster Manuals (Versions 1, 2, and 3).

    So what does this new D&D Essentials Monster Vault offer to the 4E gaming community besides a rehashing of previously released monster content?

    D&D Essentials Monster Vault

    • Authors: Rodney Thompson (lead), Logan Bonner, Matthew Sernett
    • Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
    • Year: 2010
    • Media: Boxed Set (320 pages + additional components)
    • Retail Cost: $29.99 ($19.79 from Amazon)

    The D&D Essentials Monster Vault is a supplemental source product for 4E D&D, and is usable with all settings and levels of play. The Monster Vault comes in a 11 x 9 box, containing a 320-page manual with over 300 monsters, many drawn from “classic” AD&D source material. In addition, the Monster Vault contains 10 sheets of die-cut monster tokens, an adventure module by Matthew Sernett called Cairn of the Winter King, and a double-sided poster sized map for use with the adventure.

    Production Quality

    The production quality of the D&D Essentials Monster Vault is simply excellent. The box has some real heft to it (around 4 pounds), and the materials in the box are well-designed and have a great look to them. The manual in Monster Vault has great descriptions and flavor text to allow Dungeon Masters to role-play the various monsters, and the stat blocks all use the revised user-friendly format found in Monster Manual 3.

    The artwork and illustrations in Monster Vault are all superb renditions, although some of the critters have obviously had some new portraits done since “classic” D&D days. There is some artwork that is being re-used from the first three 4E Traditional Monster Manuals, but there are a few new pieces mixed in here and there. Over 30 artists lent their work to illustrating the Monster Vault, and there is certainly no lack of talent among them. It should be noted that this same artwork was used to create the monster tokens, which look exceptional on a game mat.

    The double-sided map used with the Cairn of the Winter King adventure is nicely rendered and useful for the module, although some D&D gamers might recognize the one side as “Evermelt”.

    The Monster Manual

    The monster manual in the Monster Vault is done in the new 6 x 9 trade paperback format, and as mentioned previously, contains over 300 monsters from the all three tiers of game play. The book includes the standard introductory material on reading a monster stat block, and comes with a glossary of important terminology and game jargon in the back. There is also an appendix table of monsters by level, with page numbers for easy reference during adventure planning.

    Not surprisingly, most of the monsters fall into the Heroic Tier (172 entries) and Paragon Tier (117 entries) of play. Disappointingly, there are only about a dozen Epic Tier monsters, and while there are more Heroic and Paragon campaigns playing out there, the need for more Epic content is something which WotC certainly needs to address at some point here.

    Many of the monsters in this Monster Vault can be found in the original AD&D Monster Manual which gives it a “classic” D&D feel. Of course, there are considerably more variants of classic monsters than the original AD&D monsters. For instance, the original AD&D monster manual offered only one form of Lizardman, but there seven new versions of Greescale, Poisonscale, and Blackscale lizardfolk, many with one or two new powers over their original 4E Monster Manual versions.

    For gamers who have already purchased Monster Manual and Monster Manual 2, the Monster Vault does offer a few distinct advantages. First off, there is the monster tokens, which sure beats trying to buy a ton of miniatures, or using coins, chess pieces, or gummi bears on your battle mat. (Admittedly though, the night I used gummi bears as monsters was pretty popular, as the players got to eat their kills!) Another advantage is that many of the monster variants in Monster Vault are new versions of existing monsters, with unexpected and interesting new powers to keep Characters on their toes. But most importantly, all the creatures in the Monster Vault, both old versions and new variants, have been updated to the higher damage outputs described in the recent July 2010 4E Update. And of course, this updated and higher damage output makes the monsters more balanced against Characters, particularly in the Paragon and Epic Tier play, which had been described as problematic on numerous 4E message boards and blog sites.

    As an example, the Enormous Carrion Crawler (Level 17 Elite), as listed in Monster Manual 1 had a Close Blast ability called Tentacle Flurry which did 1d4+5 damage and cause ongoing 5 poison and a slow effect. In Monster Vault, this same classic beastie now delivers a brutal 2d10+5 damage along with an ongoing 10 poison and the same slow effect! These updates will definitely save Dungeon Masters considerable time over manually updating their old Monster Manuals from the damage table in the Update.

    The Tokens

    For many Dungeon Masters, myself included, the new tokens in Monster Vault are a big selling point. There are well over 300 monster tokens included with the boxed set, and each token is displayed in the manual by the stat block for easy identification and use during a gaming session. There are 239 small/medium monster tokens, 70 large monster tokens, and 11 huge monster tokens included in Monster Vault, with many numbered duplicates to allow for making groups of social monsters, such as gnolls, orcs, goblins, and wolves for example. There are four “Minion” tokens and three “Swarm” tokens to allow for generic representation of those types of creatures, although I typically would not use the former ones as a DM, as I like to keep the identities of minions on my battlefield a secret until they are one-shotted. And the tokens have a red-ring on their back side, so that they can be flipped over to represent a bloodied condition.

    The designers of Monster Vault also included 5 die-cut rings which fit around the large tokens in order to expand their size to represent huge monsters. I personally love this simple but handy feature, as I frequently use a “economy size” version of a critter for higher level heroes as one of my favorite monster upgrades (more level, hit points, and damage). My only complaint is that the designers didn’t think to include a ring to increase small/medium sized tokens to large. Am I the only DM that thought a stirge the size of a Buick isn’t a great way to make Paragon Tier heroes wild-eyed with panic?

    The Adventure

    In addition to all the new critters in Monster Vault, the box also contains an adventure, Cairn of the Winter King. This module is designed for Level 4 heroes, and is a pretty decent adventure with a good plot and solid writing. The maps provided for the module are full sized poster style, and can be easily covered to hide sections of the dungeon until the appropriate encounter takes place. The adventure consists of up to ten combat encounters along with a couple skill challenges, with most of the combats taking place in a classic dungeon delve style environment.

    The encounters are pretty well balanced for the most part, although there are a couple that I would probably re-work to prevent them from becoming a dull at-will slugfest. Most notably was an encounter consisting of 5 brutes, four at 4th Level and one at 8th level, which might take quite a while for a party of 4th Level heroes to chew through, assuming they do not fall victim to the traps rather cavalierly placed around the battlefield.

    Overall Grade: A-


    Whether you are a new Dungeon Master picking up your set of Essentials products, or an experienced DM with hours of 4E gaming under your belt, the D&D Essentials Monster Vault is a great gaming supplement to have on hand. While the “bonus” adventure module may or may not be of interest to DMs in their campaigns, the rest of this boxed set is well worth the price, providing not only new and improved monster variants, but piles of tokens to use during gaming session. I am definitely glad I picked up this product for my own Traditional 4E campaigns, and it makes me look forward to the other boxed sets of new “monster” content scheduled to be released next year!

    So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!

    Grade Card

    • Presentation: A-
    • - Design: A-
    • - Illustrations: A
    • Content: A
    • - Crunch: A
    • - Fluff: A
    • Value: A-
    Attached Files Attached Files  
    Last edited by Morrus; Thursday, 2nd December, 2010 at 12:43 AM.

  2. #2
    Novice (Lvl 1)

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    ø Block GilvanBlight

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    Excellent review. Thank you for posting.

    The one thing I don't see you mention that I thought was one of the best improvements in this book over the 4e Monster Manuals is the amount of background information on the monsters.

    Some of us have been playing D&D for years and know exactly what an Orc is or more importantly what something unique to D&D like an Owlbear or a Grell is. There are a lot of people out there, especially now with the launch of essentials and the Red Box who don't have this background. The original Monster Manuals had almost no information on the monsters. Heck there weren't even pictures of all of them. All you had was a few sentences of Lore that the players could figure out with Knowledge checks.

    The Monster Vault addresses this problem with about 2 pages of information on each monster. Even more impressive this information isn't just Tactics and isn't all related to combat. There are some great plot hooks and ideas for using the various types of monsters in roleplaying elements of your games.

    Lastly, to me this makes the book fun to read. It's not just a bunch of stat blocks and tactics. I actually got into D&D by buying the 2nd edition Monster Manual (the Binder) without even owning a PHB or DMG. I would spend hours reading the ecology of the Purple Worm or the Societal Norms of Ettercaps.

  3. #3
    Good point, Gilvan - this book does use the more descriptive fluff text about the monsters that we saw in Monster Manual 3, which was a big improvement over the first two 4E Monster Manuals. In some respects, this book is what the first two 4E Monster Manuals should have been, and there is a considerable number of "plot hooks" in the monster descriptions to assist Dungeon Masters of all skill levels. Thanks for commenting, and I'm glad you enjoyed the review!

  4. #4
    Gallant (Lvl 3)

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    ø Block bryanlo

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    Always a pleasure to read your reviews, Neuroglyph.

    I totally agree with Gilvanblight, it's a delight reading the new stuff. The older Monster Manuals where an absolute chore to plow through. I enjoyed MM3 and looking forward to picking up Monster Vault. The only thing is that my FLGS is in another country.

  5. #5

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    ø Block lordxaviar

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    thanx i might even get it and try and put some of the monster info back into 3.5, depending on where they went with it.

  6. #6
    I'm a big fan of this set. I especially liked how the stat block contains a picture of the monster in question. It makes switching between monsters when DM'ing a whole lot easier. I'm a big fan of the ecology-like sections for each monster as well.

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