The third of three core rulebooks for the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game.
The Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game has defined the medieval fantasy genre and the tabletop RPG industry for more than 30 years. In the D&D game, players create characters that band together to explore dungeons, slay monsters, and find treasure. The 4th Edition D&D rules offer the best possible play experience by presenting exciting character options, an elegant and robust rules system, and handy storytelling tools for the Dungeon Master.
The Monster Manual presents more than 300 official Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game monsters for all levels of play, from aboleth to zombie. Each monster is illustrated and comes with complete game statistics and tips for the Dungeon Master on how best to use the monster in D&D encounters.
Monster Manual (2008) by James Wyatt with Mike Mearls and Stephen Schubert is the third core rulebook for the D&D 4e game. It was published in June 2008.
About the Cover. Most monster books show the shock troops of the monster legions on their covers, but the 4e Monster Manual instead features the demon lord Orcus. His spotlight hints at the reverence for D&D lore that would be seen throughout the 4e line (2008-2012). More of D&D's super-villains would appear on the covers os the rest of the 4e Monster Manuals (2008-2010).
Moving Toward D&D 4e. When D&D 4e was released on June 6, 2008, it appeared as a traditional set of three D&D core books. Each one shook up the D&D game in a different way. The new Player's Handbook (2008) laid bare the massive revamp of the D&D rule system. Then the Dungeon Master's Guide (2008) hinted at how much both the D&D cosmology and world view had changed — something that would continually expand in later years, starting with the 4e Manual of the Planes (2008). Finally, the Monster Manual had big revamps too: every single monster ever statted up for D&D had been reconsidered (and often reconceived), to ensure that it was a good and unique fit for D&D's new game world.
What a Difference an Edition Makes: The Formatting. The revamps in the new Monster Manual begin with its very precise formatting. All the monsters are carefully laid out as complete pages — with most entries running either 1 or 2 pages. Each monster write-up also includes a detailed stat boxes, with icons showing specific sorts of attacks.
The idea for monsters appearing in carefully arranged spreads dates back to AD&D 2e (1989), where monsters write-ups were heavily constrained due to the requirements of the looseleaf Monstrous Compendiums (1989-1993). Now the new Monster Manual's spreads (and its stat boxes) were representative of the updated graphical style for the D&D 4e line. Player characters had their powers similarly described in simple, standardized formats, while two-page spreads were used everywhere — particularly in the adventures, where a two-page spread usually represented an individual tactical encounter.
What a Difference an Edition Makes: The Fluff. The fluff underlying every single D&D monster was reconsidered as part of the D&D 4e development process. Though some monsters were kept as is, many were rebuilt from the ground up. This meant that 4e monsters might appear differently, they might be described differently, they might work with new sorts of allies, and they might have new combat abilities.
Some changes were the result of a need for differentiation, where multiple critters had previously filled the same niche. For example, the lizardmen and the troglodytes had formerly been too similar, so troglodytes became more bestial and savage. Similarly, bugbears, gnolls, goblins, hobgoblins, and orcs had all filled the same niche, so the development team made each unique; the gnolls became cowardly skulkers while orcs became furious attackers. The chromatic dragons are similarly differentiated, to make sure that each one acts uniquely and has its own powers, while demons and devils were contrasted by making demons into chaos-corrupted elementals and devils into fallen servants of the gods.
Some changes were the result of creating mythical links to the new cosmology of the World Axis. This gave many monsters a more mythic feel and linked them to the various planes of the new D&D multiverse. Thus, eladrin, fey, and fomorians were connected to the feywild, while undead were linked to the shadowfell. Even when a monster wasn't directly linked to a plane, he was sometimes linked to the history of the new cosmology. For example, the giants were once servants of the primordials, while their larger kin were titans, who fought the gods. These mythic links led to the creation of the new abomination monster type, which were living weapons used during an ancient war between primordials and the gods; the classic tarrasque is one such being.
There are too many fluff changes to note, and many of them are quite notable. For example, lamia have become swarms of beetles who can take humanoid form, while the succubus has gone from being a demon to a devil.
Despite the focus on monster fluff, the Monster Manual contains no ecologies of the type that were popular in AD&D 2e (1989-2000) and D&D 3e (2000-2008). Instead, monster entries are largely focused on combat stats, with just a little bit of "lore" revealing non-combat details. Even the abilities of the monsters are mostly about combat, not roleplaying or other interactions.
What a Difference an Edition Makes: The Crunch. The mechanical design of D&D monsters was also fundamentally changed. A few monsters had previously appeared in H1: "Keep on the Shadowfell" (2008), then the Dungeon Master's Guide offered some hints at their design with rules for templating and buffing. However, it's the Monster Manual that presents 4e monsters in their full glory.
The new monsters are built around a number of new philosophies:
Monsters are multiple. D&D 3e had constructed its monsters on the assumption that four PCs would face one monster of the same level. However, the 4e designers had come to the conclusion that it was more fun for players to face multiple monsters. D&D 4e thus presumes that five PCs will face our monsters of the same level.
This also allows for the creation of more dynamic encounters through groupings that mix multiple sorts of monsters. The Monster Manual supports this through "encounter groups" in each monster entry.
Monsters have roles. Repeating an idea from Dungeonscape (2007) and Monster Manual V (2007), monsters have roles that define what they do in combat — much as 4e's character roles do. These roles are yet another gaming mechanic that is supported by the new multiple-monster methodology; previously some roles such as "artillery" had been hard to use in solo battles against PCs, but now slingers and magicians alike can stand behind brutes and soldiers and go at it.
The most interesting role is probably the "minion", a "mook" who drops with one hit. This sort of one-shot foe helps to keep to focus on the important villains in an encounter and shows the more dramatic, less simulationist focus of the 4e D&D game.
Monster powers support concepts. 4e monsters are built to ensure that abstract monster concepts (created through the fluff revamp) are supported by uniquely designed powers. These powers aren't simple attacks or repetitive spell-like abilities, but instead powers designed for each individual monster.
Monsters exist at multiple levels. Most monster descriptions include multiple variants of the same monstrous race, available for play at multiple levels and fulfilling multiple roles. For example, the classic goblin includes a total of 7 variants, ranging from level 1 to level 4 and including artillery, brutes, controller-leaders, lurkers, minions, and skirmishers.
Monsters are not do-it-yourself. D&D 3e focused on game masters being able to rebuild monsters by adding class levels; dragons took even more work, because GMs had to choose feats. D&D 4e instead does all the work in advance. The variable-level monsters help to ensure that challenges are available at multiple levels, while the dragons require no additional setup for the first time in ages.
What a Difference an Edition Makes: The Controversy. D&D 4e as a whole was quite controversial, and that was true even for the Monster Manual. Players who didn't like the new system thought that monsters were too combat-oriented and that there was too little attention given to their ecologies.
With that said, Monster Manual also got a lot of positive attention. Many fans appreciated the redevelopment of monsters who had never before been reimagnined for consistent use in a game world. The combat focus of the monsters also meant that the developers were able to do a great job on the combat, making it unique and interesting.
Monsters of Note. The Monster Manual is a catalog of the most classic D&D monsters. They aren't all from the AD&D Monster Manual (1977), but many are, and they're largely either simple and obvious monsters (like goblins, trolls, and zombies) or else they're iconic monsters (like death knights, displacer beasts, and owlbears).
However, the fluff redevelopment changed some monsters so much that in a few cases classic variants have been abandoned. This was the most obvious with the giants, who appeared in death, earth, fire, and storm variants — leaving out standards like the cloud giants and the frost giant. The metallic dragons would be similarly redeveloped when they finally appeared — but they were surprisingly absent from this book.
The monsters of the Monster Manual are mostly focused on the heroic and paragon tiers, with just a few excursions to epic levels. Wizards planned to focus more on the higher levels of play in 2009 and 2010.
Whoops! Unfortunately, the top-to-bottom redevelopment of D&D's monsters led to rough edges being present in the Monster Manual. Though the stat boxes were very utilitarian, they didn't group powers together in the most useful way; they also left out some standard rules, forcing GMs to page back and forth. In addition, monster damage didn't increase enough as monster level increased.
Both of these issues would be resolved with Monster Manual 3 (2010), which updated the format of stat boxes and also increased monster damage by doubling the part of damage that was based on level (changing damage from an average of [8 + level * 7/15] to [8 + level] for single-target attacks).
Future History. After the stat and math revamp of Monster Manual 3, many of the monsters from Monster Manual</> appeared in an updated form in the Essentials line Monster Vault (2010) book.
About the Creators. James Wyatt is one of the trio of core designers who created D&D 4e (2008). He was also a member of the SCRAMJET team led by Richard Baker that rebuilt D&D's cosmology.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don't Forget the Player's Handbook and the DM's Guide
H1 Keep on the Shadowfell
Introductory Adventure Also Available