D&D 2E Looking back at the Monstrous Compendia: the MC appendices, Monstrous Manual, and more!

Still asking for less material with no promise to replace it with anything. Also, just because you (the general you) don't like something doesn't mean it shouldn't exist.
Indeed. It's a matter of preference. And one can express one's own preference without deriding another's preference.
 

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Theoretically yes. But it's tricky, and everybody has to do it or it just starts up again.
Actually no, you can easily do it yourself just by doing it in with own posts, even if no one else is. Just don't post things that denigrate other people's preferences or make negative generalizations about them. It's pretty simple.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Actually no, you can easily do it yourself just by doing it in with own posts, even if no one else is. Just don't post things that denigrate other people's preferences or make negative generalizations about them. It's pretty simple.
What does saying you don't like something (with or without explanation) count as?
 

What does saying you don't like something (with or without explanation) count as?
Without explanation it would be a useless comment. But let's not forget the post that started this exchange was an assumption/mischaracterization of why someone else would prefer a particular thing. It was not a post about one's own preference, but a comment made about the presumed preferences of other people, worded in a denigrating manner.
 


Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Just popped in here to say I've been enjoying this thread - looking forward to the MC10 retrospective!
Thanks! I've been having some difficulty budgeting the time necessary to sit down and give the next MC a proper read-through, but I'm hopeful that will come to an end soon.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I swear, I wasn't trying to save this next entry for a near-Halloween date; it was just a happy accident. :)

But really, Ravenloft is a setting that's good gaming no matter when you play it. For proof, look no further than MC10 Monstrous Compendium Ravenloft Appendix, which in my opinion is one of the best creature books in the entire line. This monster compendium should have baggy pants and a rap album, because its focus on vampires, golems, and lycanthropes warrants calling it MC Hammer Horror!

Mc Hammer GIF


That's gotta be worth at least a fear check.

As it is, I've had to stop myself from going on at length about how Ravenloft was my favorite of AD&D 2E's many campaign settings. I've long since collected all of its offerings (notwithstanding a few of the novels that have somehow slipped by me over the years, as well as the computer games), plus the 3E products as well, and while they're not all made of solid gold, they have far and away more hits than misses.

In that regard, this compendium can be likened to blood, because it's in the same vein.

This book announces right from the get-go that it's not the typical monster book when it opens with an excellent essay about presenting monsters in Ravenloft. How excellent is it? Well, the entire section on the use of flavor text to describe a monster – particularly the point about tailoring your description and not telling the players the monster's name – was reprinted wholecloth in the Monstrous Compendium Annual vol. 1; that one actually caught me offguard simply because I'd read this compendium over and over, to the point where it (and the second Ravenloft MC) were the only ones I actually put in a binder (not that I needed to; I just wanted to give it a shot), and so had read this opening more in the MCA1 than here. Thankfully, I kept the tabbed dividers and the folding covers when I put this one in a binder. But even so, I suppose perfect-bound books were just easier to use.

Also, that opening section gives some advice that notably departs from the traditional AD&D ethos of encounter design: that Ravenloft doesn't have random encounters. Instead, every encounter (even if randomly determined), should be tailored to serve the plot of a particular adventure. In fact, this point was actually used in advertising for Ravenloft later in the 90s:

1698105734439.jpeg


Normally, I'm not big on narrativism; at least, not in D&D. But in this case, I feel like there's an exception to be made. I mean, let's leave aside that it was I6 Ravenloft which started the entire "Hickman Revolution", but if you want to get technical this isn't even really "narrativism" per se; the mechanics that go into a Ravenloft game are more about themes and presentation than giving players the ability (outside of what their PCs can do) to set the scene.

Ravenloft, after all, is meant to evoke a particular aesthetic, and looking back it was quite possibly the first one to do so. That's highly debatable of course; one can argue that the pan-Asiatic trappings of Oriental Adventures were a theme unto themselves, or that the operatic presentation of Dragonlance (another Hickman brainchild) put forward a cohesive theme for the setting. And of course, Spelljammer had a theme of "D&D, but in space!" But even if it wasn't the first, Ravenloft was (to my mind) the first time a setting's attempts to evoke a particular theme worked so well.

And the monsters here were a big part of that.

Seriously, I barely know where to begin with this one. How about the demihuman-specific vampires? Before, there was no reason to presume that an elf or a halfling that became a vampire was any different than a human vampire. But here, they're all wonderfully different! Different powers, different weaknesses, different resting places, it's all so inspired! Things like this are why I can't bring myself to dislike biological essentialism in D&D's different races, regardless of the objections to them: because they form the basis for necrological essentialism, and it's a beautiful thing!

Or how about the doppelganger plants? Sure, they're a straight "expy" (as the young people say) of the body-snatchers, but why say that like it's a bad thing? These guys bring the horror so much better than your ordinary doppelganger. They can steal your soul from miles away, leaving no clue what they've done, and then manipulate their podlings with expert control and full knowledge of what the replaced individual knew. At least, until you hit one and realize that the person is actually hollowed out like a pumpkin inside, at which point the PCs all do this:

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers Someone GIF


Or the greater mummy; yeah, it's right up there with the variant vampires in the "undead you know, but different!" category, but it just works so well! These guys aren't your average stiff-jointed bandage-shamblers; they have powers all their own, and even have age tables to showcase how they grow more powerful with the passage of time (another thing they share with vampires). Yeah, Dr. Van Richten would expound on all of these later, but the groundwork was laid here!

Even elementals get the "you're not in Kansas anymore" treatment, with four sinister variations and rules for how they might replace the normal type you're trying to summon! Imagine conjuring up a harmless earth elemental only to get a grave elemental instead! Or when your water elemental turns into blood! It's little things like this which showcase how inspiration is quite often a less-is-more sort of thing.

I could go on and on in this regard, like with how mist horrors are basically failed domain lords (and even have a sub-category for "pseudo-horrors" which are basically "throw an unexpected monster at the PCs," though presumably in line with the "not a random encounter" tenet), or how your players will almost certainly mistake bone golems and zombie golems for undead when they first meet them, or the wide range of "creatures that look like people, but aren't," such as red widows, ermordenungs, quevaris, etc. There's even an entry for ordinary people who have been broken by the horrors of the Demiplane of Dread, some going near-catatonic while others are turned into crazed slashers. Consider the bases thoroughly covered!

Of course, it wouldn't be an MC if there weren't a few creatures that didn't work. For instance, bussengeist is a ghost that...makes people sad. That's it. The impersonator's shtick is familiar by this point, and they don't really have the intelligence to capitalize on it nearly as well as doppelganger plants do. We have two evil trees, with the quickwood and the evil treant (yes, that's its name); the latter is also the basis for the undead treant. Similarly, there are two different types of good-aligned raven-people, with the ravenkin and the wereraven. Why? This MC was masterminded by one guy, William W. Conners, so why did he feel the need to have these instances of the same monster twice?

I'll admit my bias here and say that I think even the missteps can be redeemed, however, simply because the thematic direction lends itself to figuring out how best to use these, i.e. in a way that abets some sort of tale of tragedy, terror, or other tales of victimhood and/or fatal flaws writ large.

Remember how I mentioned before that a lot of the monsters in the Spelljammer MC seemed like they were made for a Star Trek-style one-and-done "episode" of play? There's a similar vibe here, in that even monsters which aren't enough to make an adventure around can at least help another monster get that done. Like, the sentinel bat isn't something which drives a plot, but it can help an undead creature do so, as it's essentially a free familiar for any undead creature even if they aren't a wizard. Little things like that help to make it clear how these creatures are supposed to be used, and it's a large part of why this MC works so well.

Naturally, the proof of that is how this and the second Ravenloft MC were eventually reprinted in a new, softcover format. Like a hand reaching up from a grave, the best of the worst tend to rise to the top.

Stop Motion Hello GIF by Jeremy Fisher


Please note my use of affiliate links in this post.
 
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I swear, I wasn't trying to save this next entry for a near-Halloween date; it was just a happy accident. :)

But really, Ravenloft is a setting that's good gaming no matter when you play it. For proof, look no further than MC10 Monstrous Compendium Ravenloft Appendix, which in my opinion is one of the best creature books in the entire line. This monster compendium should have baggy pants and a rap album, because its focus on vampires, golems, and lycanthropes warrants calling it MC Hammer Horror!

Mc Hammer GIF


That's gotta be worth at least a fear check.

As it is, I've had to stop myself from going on at length about how Ravenloft was my favorite of AD&D 2E's many campaign settings. I've long since collected all of its offerings (notwithstanding a few of the novels that have somehow slipped by me over the years, as well as the computer games), plus the 3E products as well, and while they're not all made of solid gold, they have far and away more hits than misses.

In that regard, this compendium can be likened to blood, because it's in the same vein.

This book announces right from the get-go that it's not the typical monster book when it opens with an excellent essay about presenting monsters in Ravenloft. How excellent is it? Well, the entire section on the use of flavor text to describe a monster – particularly the point about tailoring your description and not telling the players the monster's name – was reprinted wholecloth in the Monstrous Compendium Annual vol. 1; that one actually caught me offguard simply because I'd read this compendium over and over, to the point where it (and the second Ravenloft MC) were the only ones I actually put in a binder (not that I needed to; I just wanted to give it a shot). Thankfully, I kept the tabbed dividers and the folding covers. But even then, I suppose perfect-bound books were just easier to use.

Also, that opening section gives some advice that notably departs from the traditional AD&D ethos of encounter design: that Ravenloft doesn't have random encounters. Instead, every encounter (even if randomly determined), should be tailored to serve the plot of a particular adventure. In fact, this point was actually used in advertising for Ravenloft later in the 90s:

View attachment 314715

Normally, I'm not big on narrativism; at least, not in D&D. But in this case, I feel like there's an exception to be made. I mean, let's leave aside that it was I6 Ravenloft which started the entire "Hickman Revolution", but if you want to get technical this isn't even really "narrativism" per se; the mechanics that go into a Ravenloft game are more about themes and presentation than giving players the ability (outside of what their PCs can do) to set the scene.

Ravenloft, after all, is meant to evoke a particular aesthetic, and looking back it was quite possibly the first one to do so. That's highly debatable of course; one can argue that the pan-Asiatic trappings of Oriental Adventures were a theme unto themselves, or that the operatic presentation of Dragonlance (another Hickman brainchild) put forward a cohesive theme for the setting. And of course, Spelljammer had a theme of "D&D, but in space!" But even if it wasn't the first, Ravenloft was (to my mind) the first time a setting's attempts to evoke a particular theme worked so well.

And the monsters here were a big part of that.

Seriously, I barely know where to begin with this one. How about the demihuman-specific vampires? Before, there was no reason to presume that an elf or a halfling that became a vampire was any different than a human vampire. But here, they're all wonderfully different! Different powers, different weaknesses, different resting places, it's all so inspired! Things like this are why I can't bring myself to dislike biological essentialism in D&D's different races, regardless of the objections to them: because they form the basis for necrological essentialism, and it's a beautiful thing!

Or how about the doppelganger plants? Sure, they're a straight "expy" (as the young people say) of the body-snatchers, but why say that like it's a bad thing? These guys bring the horror so much better than your ordinary doppelganger. They can steal your soul from miles away, with no clue what they're doing, and then manipulate their podlings with expert control and full knowledge of what the replaced individual knew. At least, until you hit one and realize that the person is actually hollowed out like a pumpkin inside, at which point the PCs all do this:

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers Someone GIF


Or the greater mummy; yeah, it's right up there with the variant vampires in the "undead you know, but different!" category, but it just works so well! These guys aren't your average stiff-jointed bandage-shamblers; they have powers all their own, and even have age tables to showcase how they grow more powerful with the passage of time (another thing they share with vampires). Yeah, Dr. Van Richten would expound on all of these later, but the groundwork was laid here!

Even elementals get the "you're not in Kansas anymore" treatment, with four sinister variations and rules for how they might replace the normal type you're trying to summon! Imagine conjuring up a harmless earth elemental only to get a grave elemental instead! Or when your water elemental turns into blood! It's little things like this which showcase how inspiration is quite often a less-is-more sort of thing.

I could go on and on in this regard, like with how mist horrors are basically failed domain lords (and even have a sub-category for "pseudo-horrors" which are basically "throw an unexpected monster at the PCs," though presumably in line with the "not a random encounter" tenet), or how your players will almost certainly mistake bone golems and zombie golems for undead when they first meet them, or the wide range of "creatures that look like people, but aren't," such as red widows, ermordenungs, quevaris, etc. There's even an entry for ordinary people who have been broken by the horrors of the Demiplane of Dread, some going near-catatonic while others are turned into crazed slashers. Consider the bases thoroughly covered!

Of course, it wouldn't be an MC if there weren't a few creatures that didn't work. For instance, bussengeist is a ghost that...makes people sad. That's it. The impersonator's shtick is familiar by this point, and they don't really have the intelligence to capitalize on it nearly as well as doppelganger plants do. We have two evil trees, with the quickwood and the evil treant (yes, that's its name); the latter is also the basis for the undead treant. Similarly, there are two different types of good-aligned raven-people, with the ravenkin and the wereraven. Why? This MC was masterminded by one guy, William W. Conners, so why did he feel the need to have these instances of the same monster twice?

I'll admit my bias here and say that I think even the missteps can be redeemed, however, simply because the thematic direction lends itself to figuring out how best to use these, i.e. in a way that abets some sort of tale of tragedy, terror, or other tales of victimhood and/or fatal flaws writ large.

Remember how I mentioned before that a lot of the monsters in the Spelljammer MC seemed like they were made for a Star Trek-style one-and-done "episode" of play? There's a similar vibe here, in that even monsters which aren't enough to make an adventure around can at least help another monster get that done. Like, the sentinel bat isn't something which drives a plot, but it can help an undead creature do so, as it's essentially a free familiar for any undead creature even if they aren't a wizard. Little things like that help to make it clear how these creatures are supposed to be used, and it's a large part of why this MC works so well.

Naturally, the proof of that is how this and the second Ravenloft MC were eventually reprinted in a new, softcover format. Like a hand reaching up from a grave, the best of the worst tend to rise to the top.

Stop Motion Hello GIF by Jeremy Fisher


Please note my use of affiliate links in this post.
Love, love these 2E Ravenloft MC Appendicies, and truly are some of the highlights of the setting. Props for the William Conners reference (the true Ravenloft father, sorry Hickman). Rereading this 2E material makes me feel sad about how badly handled this setting has been since about 2005. WotC has never really "got" Ravenloft, and it shows.
 

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