Image courtesy Worlds of D&D
The adventures of our intrepid heroes in the Nentir Vale will continue, probably when Melanie Goodmelon’s player returns from vacation in New Orleans. In the meantime, Andrasian’s player and myself happened across a great discovery. Not due out for another week to most retailers, a local store got a copy of Wizards of the Coast’s Monster Vault, part of the Essentials line of Dungeons & Dragons products that also includes the Red Box. Having seen Greg Tito’s excellent unboxing video over on the Escapist, we decided to pick it up.
It’s an unfortunate truth that we, like many gaming groups out there, are on a budget. Big heavy books and supplements add up quickly. And miniatures? Forget about it. Unless you’re heavily invested in playing a miniatures game and have the time and skill to paint the little plastic or pewter bastards properly, it’s a lot more expensive than it’s worth. So the prospect of more counters to depict the monsters our heroes do battle with was very appealing to me. Not to mention the Red Box barely had enough kobolds for the denizens of Kobold Hall. I think I had to swap in a couple lizardmen at one point.
So, opening up the box, here’s what you’ll find.
Cairn of the Winter King. This is a 4th-level adventure, clocking in at 32 pages. It looks to be a good follow-up to Keep on the Shadowfell, which is where my victi- I mean, our heroes are headed next. There’s a good variety of encounters inside. I’m looking forward to guiding the party through it.
Glossy, 2-sided map. Like the map included with the Red Box, this is great for the included adventure but its utility will likely diminish as soon as Lyria stabs the Winter King up a treat.
Monster tokens. Damn. This is a LOT of monsters. There are 10 sheets of die-cut, heavy-grade monster tokens here, each double-sided so you can flip them over when the monster becomes bloodied. There’s also a clever mechanic introduced. Some of the tokens have a black ring around them that is separate from the monster itself, indicating that the monster contained in the ring is Huge instead of Large. This adds a lot of longevity and flexibility to the creatures inside, and allows a DM to get creative with his or her monsters. I mean, how often do you think players see a Huge-sized owlbear? Or gelatinous cube?
Monster Vault book proper. Big ol’ book of monsters. I don’t think there are as many monsters presented here as there are in the proper Monster Manual, but the monsters that are in this book get extensive write-ups. In a well-organized, conversational fashion, each monster is laid out in terms of background, habitat, behavior and motivations. For example, instead of giving a dry description of what a beholder is and does, the book describes the Far Realm from which they hail, what drives them to behave the way they do, the few other creatures they may serve and the ways in which they pursue their aims. It reads a lot more like a novel than a rulebook, and it makes reading up on monsters and thinking of ways to use them in a campaign a lot more enjoyable. I already have quite a few ideas for the players once they outgrow the challenges of the Nentir Vale. Heh heh heh…
All in all, this product is strikes me as a lot more useful than the Red Box. The Box is a great place for new players to start, but the Monster Vault adds a lot more depth and longevity to an investment of time and energy into 4th Edition. It’s also relatively cheap, at $30 US. Instead of buying a single rulebook for that price, you get a rulebook-style resource, a ready-made adventure and more creatures, monsters and NPCs than you can shake a bag of dice at. This one’s well worth the money.
I’m not sure which other, if any, Essentials products I’ll be picking up. Dungeon Tiles, perhaps, as ink is pretty damn expensive. I took a look at the Dungeon Master’s Kit, but my players generously set me up with a DM Screen meaning I’d have two, and I think most of the information in the Kit’s book is already available to me through other means. Then again, I hear the Kit’s included rules are updated and the adventures included are top-notch, so who knows?