So the Monster Vault finally arrived in my corner of the world on Tuesday, and I picked up a copy that same day. Yes for Essentials products Australia continues to flash back to the 80′s and 90′s for release schedule. Anyway to round out my thoughts on the key Essentials products here are my thoughts on the Monster Vault boxed set.
Firstly the monster book itself is great, it would be a solid stand alone product, and with the other contents of the box makes the box worth the cost, it is definitely the best thing about the product. The “Vault” provides all the usual monster statblocks and a better array than MM1 for general adventure design and fortunately reprints things from prior products making it a solid single source book. The only monster I noticed as “missing” was the Kobold Wyrmpriest (you can find them in the current Encounters Season), but otherwise there is a good selection of goblins, orcs, kobolds, lizardmen, ogres, giants, undead and of course dragons. Pretty much everything a starting DM needs for monster selection is in the book, and nearly everything is an iconic DnD monster. This is very much the book that the MM1 should have been.
Further to the solid selection of monsters is the background material given for them, from the lost goblin empire (rule by Hobgoblins in the name of Bane) whose fall explains their enmity for fey creatures, to pest nature of Stirges that embeds them into the setting beyond just a set of stat blocks. This is probably the best thing about the book, there are hours of reading here, reading that will bring forth campaign ideas in ways that stat blocks never will. Want to use a purple worm in your campaign but the characters are only level 2? No problems read the background of the purple worm and ideas for an enemy gaining control of such a fearsome beast and directing it to attack the PC’s homeland are right there in the book! (As a level 14 solo brute you could cap Heroic with the PCs finally confronting and fighting the worm itself.) This is the reason to buy the book. Updated stat blocks are nice, but the background material is the true boon.
The Cairn of the Winter King is a fairly straightforward dungeon adventure at heart, certainly it isn’t as broad in scope and free as the DM’s Kit adventure. Still it is well structured and the encounters are not entirely combat focused, which is good. The fold out maps that come with it provide a good snow covered village and the section of the dungeon you cannot make with the tiles from the essentials kits. This is another thing you really need to have the Master Tiles: Dungeon set to build around half of the dungeon (or other map method). The adventure also gives 2 new Rare items for the Heroic tier, which is good news for characters that don’t gain a benefit from the only other Heroic Tier rare item to date (Gauntlets of Ogre Power from the DM’s Kit).
The tokens are double sided, with a bloodied “ring” on one side and numbered which is good and they are the same cardboard as the dungeon tiles which will make them quite durable.
All the bad rests in the tokens for me.
Firstly the “Enorminator”, the special ring that goes around a large token to make a huge one, is larger than a huge miniature base, and the whole in the center is noticeably larger than a large miniature base. This shows that both the Enorminator and the large tokens are slightly larger than the square space they are supposed to fit in, which can be a nuisance in some combats when positioning becomes important. The good news is that you get 5 Enorminators.
Secondly is the poor use of the Enorminator. The easy way to understand this is to look at the Dragons, each of the Dragons except the Dracolich has both a Large and a Huge token. Why do you need Huge tokens for monsters with a large version? That is the entire point of the Enorminator, to allow you to use large tokens for huge creatures. Sure the Purple Worm and the Balor need huge tokens, but the 5 chromatic dragons and the titans, not at all.
This then leads to the next problem, in Paragon tier you don’t encounter just to Frost or Fire giants, you encounter 4. In heroic tier you don’t encounter 3 hobgoblins, or bugbears, and well I could go on. There are many monsters that you will want 4 or more tokens for that you get 2 or 3 (or worse 1 in the case of Dragonborn Mercenaries, and Medusa Bodyguards). This leads to the the largest disappointment with the product, there are not enough tokens to use it alone.
The final thing that irks me about the tokens is best shown by things like the Human entry. When you go and look at the human entry it has a nice labeled picture of the town guard, human duelist and human transmuter (pg 173), none of this art is then used on the tokens that correspond to those names. Instead all three have completely different art. This is seen in numerous places through the book, but is most annoying when we get monsters where different tokens for the different types of monster would have been useful (I’m looking at you Ogres and Trolls) as multiples of them in different types can be encountered at once (and note that feeds back into the quantity issues).
Are the tokens useable? Sure. But they are the weakest aspect of the product because they are the aspect of the product that should have been the most useful.
Despite my feelings about the tokens the product is saved entirely by the Monster Vault book itself. The book is what its cover says “a horde of iconic creatures for any campaign” and I would recommend the product entirely on the strength of the book. Even if you have all the other Monster Manuals the treatments the creatures receive in the Vault make it worth the price, with the tokens and adventure acting as bonus material.
Is it worth buying: Yes.