When this series started on this series on May 26, 2009, I thought I would be done with it in a few weeks. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. HAHAHAHAHAHA. Yeah, right? Now, it is over one year later, and finally, we have the last MM2 review. It has been a year of misery, upheaval and lethargy for me, but this is finally done. WE ARE FINALLY DONE.
Anyway when we last left off, we talked about the Slaughterstones. Now we’re going to talk about the Sphinx Mystery.
It has one of the stupidest intellectual-property-protecting names this side of slaughterstone. The heroic tier Sphinx is going to be the Sphinx Puzzle. Look for it in Monster Manual IV.
Anyway, while the actual Sphinx riddle power does open itself up for a bit of nice roleplay, the real reason to use it is because it lets you perform a Corrective Mauling attack (the sphinx’s strongest attack) whenever anyone messes up an answer. You can spend the entire battle popping quiz questions for 2d8 damage and then mauling people for 4d10 more and knocking them on their goofy backsides for failing the History skill check. Overall though, it has a neat gimmick that can open itself up to a funny action scene. Feels like something out of a comedy-action shonen manga like One Piece.
For all of you arachnophobes out there this manual has four spiders! That’s almost as many spiders around as there are oozes. Man, the truly important creature types are getting some nice representation in this manual. First up we have the Bristle Spider. Pretty much all of its powers are a shower of nasty conditions. It can spray a close blast 5 of them at you at-will, and an even worse (but thankfully shorter lived) one as a minor action rechargeable. It is fairly damaging and more than a little annoying. Now the Phase Spider is really frickin’ annoying. As an at-will it can damage and inject you with a poison that is basically a single-target version of the Sleep wizard power. It can do this over and over to everyone in the party, so you’re bound to see some dudes hitting the floor unconscious. This is also a standard creature, so you could have 2 or 3 of these guys teleporting around making sure the whole party is rolling saving throws for dear life, along with something nasty to smash the unconscious party members out of the world of the living.
The Tomb Spider‘s is by far the worst of them of them though. Its at will attack not only gives you ongoing necrotic and poison damage (much harder to resist than either separately) but also dazes you as a save ends both effect. Not only that, but you can’t Second Wind during the whole encounter. I’m pretty sure that’s a separate clause from the save ends effect, so it just bites everybody and now nobody can Second Wind. Hope your leader can make those heals count. As a minor action once per round, every round, it can also make a ranged 10 attack to restrain people. AND on top of those it also lays out webs as a recharge power that become difficult terrain for the rest of the encounter. It thankfully does pretty pitiful damage, but give this thing pretty much any sort of company (it is an elite controller) and it will make for a horrifying encounter.
The Tomb Spider Broodswarm is a swarm of tomb spider babies, except all of them suck really bad and learning nothing from their mother. Their swarm attack aura doesn’t add to their damage, they are lurkers so they have crappy HP, and they deal pretty low damage. Their basic attack immobilizes and deals ongoing damage, but it’s still pretty crappy for a level 10 swarm, and it doesn’t really do much for the Tomb Spider momma. Pretty useless, next.
Spriggans are like crazy gnomes hopped up on the crystals. They’re what Danny Devito’ll look like in a few more years. Basically if you want fey goblins for your Heroic Tier PCs to slaughter, these guys are there for you. You can pair them with the next monster, the Sprite Swarm which is a swarm of sprites. Am I conveying to you how little I care about these monsters? This is an important point to put across. Because I really don’t care about them.
The Points of Light setting for D&D 4e, I feel, is genuinely unmatched in the many ridiculous ways that it hates everybody that exists in it. There’s no afterlife, you just get boned by the worst, most impotent deity in the setting (how the hell does Orcus manage to get the one up on you with that STUPID PLAN of his). There are monsters everywhere with no escape and the average civilian has so little HP they need to join in a mob the size of a dragon to make up one level 4 character. Religion is completely impotent – you can give power to a cleric and he or she can do whatever they want with it and no divine body has any real way to do anything about it other than sending faceless beings to hopefully kill it with swords. Now to add to the misery, the stars in the 4e sky hate you, and they want to eat you. When they shine their light at just the right angle, they make Star Spawn who are “utterly malevolent” and wreak madness and foretell devastation. You read this? The stars hate you.
Next up we’re gonna find out that the moon in the Points of Light setting is really a centuries old tomb for an ancient primordial god that will ram it into the PoL planet within 72 hours. Let’s all have a festival.
The Herald of Hadar has a weird quirk to its Hungry Claws powers, wherein they all have an effect that grants more hungry claws attacks against the same or different targets. Its big interesting power is that whenever someone spends a healing surge, the Herald can choose and apply a buff to itself. It doesn’t seem too threatening. Meanwhile, the Maw of Acamar is interesting in that its damage is really unpredictable, because none of its attacks do dice of damage, but rather make the victim suffer ongoing damage. It has a close burst of ongoing damage and a reach 2 melee ongoing damage, as well as many ways to pull in victims towards itself. Not only that, if it remains close to you, the ongoing damage won’t end with one saving throw, but just be reduced by 5 and keep hitting you. A pack of these things can be really deadly.
Finally, the Scion of Gibbeth is another strange one. While in its 10 square aura, you cannot attack the scion unless it is the closest enemy to you, so with proper protection, that rules out any ranged support for the PCs. Meanwhile the Scion can just wreck you from afar, with its ranged 20 damage and domination (save ends) attack. This presents another interesting tactical situation – if you have this setup, and you force the PCs to have go get in close, usually melee, to kill the Scion, the creature that kills it will go insane for a bit when the Scion dies and start charge attacking PCs at random. If, say, a Barbarian or an Avenger gets hit it could be really nasty, since these often snap up feats to make their at wills into powerful basic attacks.
Overall, the Herald of Hadar isn’t great, but the Maw of Acamar and the Scion of Gibbeth make for some really interesting pieces to drop on your game board and show your PCs just how much the whole universe hates them.
The Steel Predators were made by Bane because god damn it if the primordials are making robots I’m gonna make robots too. Bane’s robots are a slice of massacre pie. They are level 20 elite soldiers, which means huge HP and huge defenses. This guy has 36 AC. Its basic attack does 4d6+4 damage and marks you, but you won’t care, because it’ll never use it. Instead it will use its Snap Jaw at will power which bites you, knocks you prone, and then bites someone else nearby. For backup, it has a rechargeable close burst short range attack that deals some nasty damage and dazes you (save ends). Nasty, nasty dude right here.
As far as animals go, Tigers are pretty decent. The basic tiger charges around mauling things every turn, with its Blur of Fur (really) power protecting it from opportunity attacks, and its charge attacks basically dealing 1d6+4+5 ongoing+1d8 damage isn’t too shabby either. The Dire Tiger has a Hunter’s Quarry-like feature, and it has a power that lets it chase after its quarry pretty relentlessly, and does more overall damage as you’d expect from a Dire version of an animal.
Now some people say that I’m too hard on bland tribal monsters. That I need all monsters to be able to bounce around the entire encounter and do weird stuff and that I can’t appreciate simple monsters like Kobolds. They’re right, in 4e I don’t tend to like those monsters most of the time. That doesn’t mean I need them to bounce around the walls all the time, shifting and interrupting and afflicting conditions with every single power. I just don’t want them to have 3 out of every 5 powers be basic weapon attacks. My beef with tribes is usually thematic, but they’re also the biggest offender in this area. Take for example the Troglodyte Temple Champion. This is the Trog with the blandest attacks in their section, and it also has the highest HP and defenses and does the lowest damage. He is, basically, a speed bump. He has nothing to afford to this encounter but your PCs missing him and slowly depleting his HP. The Bland creatures should be the ones that get killed the fastest, not the ones that outlast everyone else. I think the Temple Champion could’ve used some “bouncing around” as people have called what I want out of monsters, or if not, make him something other than a soldier. Knock off its defenses and its HP. In a varied encounter, I can take some monsters being bland speed bumps – but they should either be minions or otherwise easy to hit and kill.
But what do I know, I’m just some incompetent internet loser who’s taken one year to read and comment on all of this manual except those parts which I ignore (which are many). Speaking of which, I’m going to ignore the Troll section.
The 4e Ecosystem really needs its own big spergy dissertation about where all these monsters fit. 4esian naturalism dictates that the whole universe must hate you. Ambush Vines are giant plants, that hate you. One morning you, Bob U. Aware are walking calmly down the forest to the river for some fishin’ when all of a sudden you are knocked prone by a vine. Smaller vines then attack you, restraining you so that the larger plant can squeeze the fleshjuice out of you. Somewhere, Orcus is coming up with a plan that involves this happening, but at the last minute he’s gonna ditch it and brute force his way to the goal anyway.
This illustrates what the basic ambush vine encounter is like. A few things I really like about the vines – the Ambush Vine Shoot, a minion, deals damage and restrains enemies, which offers a service the larger plant cannot perform – while the big Ambush Vine can knock someone prone, it has no powers to immobilize them and get the full power of its Lashing Vines attack. So instead, it can take damage to sprout Ambush Vine Shoot minions that do the immobilizing for it. The encounter makes for some interesting synergy, and two or three Ambush Vines in the same encounter can pump out 9 minions each round for 30 Hp each. Each ambush vine can spawn, if we’re willing to risk half their HP for this, 15 shoots.
I find this kind of thing pretty cool and overall I like these silly plants.
The Warforged are packing heat. The Resounder is an artillery monster specializing in just throwing around dudes all over the place, with encounter one attack that knocks dudes into each other, and an at-will power does some nice damage for level 6 as well as pushing the target. While the Resounder makes your dudes prone and pushes them around, the aptly named Savage smacks them around. It gains a lot of temporary HP and deals damage to adjacent targets aside from its main attack target but is, overall, pretty one-note. The Anvil-Priest says something seriously cooky about warforged religion. It is a controller that specializes in debuffing targets while dealing a decent bit of damage. Overall, taken together, a pretty decent “tribe.”
Now, ten levels apart, we have the Warforged Titan. Let me show you what this bad mutha can do. First of all, it’s a Level 19 Elite Soldier, so it has sick-high defenses and HP. One of its basic attacks is its Axe, which deals pretty good damage to one guy and then a bit to another, like a Fighter’s Cleave at will. It can also, as a minor action, smash you with its hammer, dealing only marginally less damage than its axe, sliding the target, and knocking it prone. Taken together, this attack routine is a wrecking ball of damage and conditions. With threatening reach and 3 squares of reach, the Titan will flatten anyone who gets close. Not only that, after making a charge attack, it can take additional actions – so you’re not escaping that hammer ever.
In D&D 3.5, the Will-O-Wisp‘s claim to fame was having a sickhuge AC for its level and killing you little by little because you couldn’t touch the thing. In 4e, the little monster is back at it again. This little fairy rapist is not only insubstantial, but like the Wraith, can weaken people at will (save ends) as long as it is lit up. If it is fighting you, it will almost always be lit up – it can dim its light to make stealth checks as though concealed, but when it can straight up murder you while you’re dealing 1/4 damage to it, why would it bother? Not only can it weakened you until you save, it can also daze you and pull you until you save.
Winter Wolves do loads of cold damage. That’s basically it. The bigger one can also zip around in the snow.
Witherlings are a curious part of the Gnoll war machine. Previously, I thought Gnolls were too stupid for tactics, on account of them all being chaotic evil hyena-people with intelligence scores below 10. But now, they apparently make horrifying undead shock troops out of bits of dead gnolls. So I’m going to bump their intelligence up to “generic D&D necromancer” levels now.
The Witherling’s claw attack is pretty weak, but with their double attack they end up doing 2d6+4 if both hit, which is respectable. If they have combat advatage, it’s even better at 4d6+4. The Witherling can also literally hop around 4 squares as an at-will move action that protects them against opportunity attacks, and if you miss an opportunity attack against a jumping Witherling it gets combat advantage against you. So it effectively jumps on your face and rends your flesh off.
The Death Shrieker Witherling trades off all this for standing in one place, screaming like a maniac at enemies to damage them while healing undead allies.
Wood Woads are tree-men who seek vengeace for every tree that has fallen to the Axe. Man, those 4e peasants can’t ever win can they. The Wood Woad won’t deal a lot damage, but it will harass you if it’s in an encounter with other plants or fey, since it can heal those specific creature types with its Nature’s Judgment power. Its last power, I don’t even know what it’s supposed to represent. Nature’s Mystery is a power that gives its victim a debuff to basically everything until you succeed on a saving throw at -2. If you fail a Nature check, the saving throw penalty is -5 (or -7, don’t know which way to read it) instead.
So basically the Mystery of the Druids will blow your god damn mind.
Finally, we have the Xorn. Xorn’s are “bizarre scavengers” from the Elemental Chaos. Both Xorn’s can burrow underground and do mostly the same stuff but with higher levels of damage and at different tiers. Both of them can use triple strike to snap their many arms at different targets, or bite a single creature with their more damaging Earth Maw. The burrowing adds a little gimmick to keep them entertaining, but they definitely could use some company, since they’re just straight attackers.
We then have the helpful glossary of terms for more obscure monster manual rules, and then the little monster manual races, this time around Bullywugs, Kenku and Duergar are playable. I don’t see the appeal, but okay! The final section of the book is the extremely helpful Monsters By Level area arranging the monsters by level, role and alphabetically, with a little bottom-bar listing all the people that you have to thank for this book.
Except Heinsoo because they canned him.
Curtains close, we’re done, we’re done! That’s all for the Monster Manual 2.
Looking back on this series it’s really changed a lot over the year it took to finish. I’d like to think my writing has improved and I’d also like to think my perspective on the monster manual has grown over time. It’s funny, but back when I was actually DMing 4e I barely cared much about the monster manual while commentating it. Now that I feel like 4e is not the kind of game system I wanted to DM for campaigns, I feel that over time I warmed up to this manual, which is why I depict it as a little anime girl now instead of as some bizarre many-fanged monstrosity. I’m kind of creepy.
People say that reading these manuals is not fun in 4e because there’s no piles of ecological information and wall to wall fluff anymore. But I think it’s even more fun to read these books now, because some stuff is just silly, and other stuff is so vague it makes you exercise your imagination. Just what the hell is Nature’s Mystery doing? How did Gnolls ever figure out how to make Witherlings? How the hell does an Aboleth screw up its defining and most useful power and instead turn people into gelatin? There’s still so much magic to be had reading these manuals even if you don’t use them, even if they’re not packed wall to wall with the creation stories of the Orcs or whatever banal info-dump you’re missing.
Not only that, but I really have to take back what I said at the start. If I were to DM 4e again in the future there’d be monsters from here that I’d want to use. Maybe with a few tweaks here and there, but I would use them. There’s some genuinely interesting and challenging encounters to be had here. There’s some monstrous abominations of mankind like Demogorgon and the Will O Wisp that made me want to bang it on the wall, but it’s easy to spot the monsters you totally know you won’t like. And yeah, it’s a year too late, but I think this manual is worth having. Even though D&D Insider’s Monster Maker has all the critters in it, it just doesn’t have the same feeling as looking at them alphabetically, looking at the art, reading the little introductions that tell you brilliant things like THE COCKATRICE IS WEIRD AND IT TURNS YOU TO STONE, MAN.
It’s been a wild ride and I hope you guys were not only entertained but also hopefully informed. It’s been a good time reading this manual and writing these, and no matter how snarky I may have seemed throughout (and I genuinely despise a good bit of these monsters) this book was still entertaining and this series was great to write. But I’ve had it, so we’re not gonna do anymore. It’s done, I’m done, we’re done with the Monster Manual. See you guys–
Oh no oh no oh no oh no oh no
What THE HELL are you doing back here, what do you want oh christ. Don’t eat me. Oh crap.
Please I’m too young to die, the universe would be without its schadenfreudian puppet.
BEHOLDER: Salazar! You have done great work studying the denizens of this manual for the advancement of my Beholder Empire! With your tactical insights and your advanced demorilization campaign against our enemies, we have already managed to conquer the Bullywugs, Eladrin and Shadar-Kai! It is a great new era for dazed (save ends)!
WYATT: That’s great. I’m real happy for you guys. If I get a wish, I wish that you leave me alone. Like forever.
BEHOLDER: I shall leave you to your devices once more, Salazar, as my thanks! But first, you have a task that you will complete for me, if you don’t want me to show up at your doorstep again.
WYATT: …No, you wouldn’t.
BEHOLDER: Oh yes! You will tackle that tome which only the bravest dare behold!
WYATT: No. No. No! NO!