The aim of this Monster Manual, as with previous editions, is to provide an array of interesting opponents for your characters. It is evident from the very start that a lot of thought has been put into the layout of the entries and the way in which information is presented. This makes it very easy both to select suitable monsters as you design encounters and to run actual combat with the details you need presented handily.
Mechanically, as a catalogue of combat opposition, it's excellent. However, if you like to present an alternate reality in which the monsters live, you are going to have to draw on other resources such as 'monster ecology' books and articles from earlier editions, just using 4e statistics rather than those in your other books when a fight breaks out. One nice touch is that for each monster there is a list of the likely knowledge a well-read adventurer might know about, say, a balhannoth, even before he has the bad luck to meet one. Nothing, however, to suggest how without your Jane's Book of Monsters to hand you know that it IS a balannoth in the first place!
Most of the main monster types have several varieties. Some are stronger than others but the really interesting thing is that each variety has a combat role assigned to it, making building a war party of that particular monster type quite straightforward. Or of course you can pick monsters of appropriate role and level from throughout the book if you want a really mixed group. To facilitate this, guidelines for likely 'encounter groups' are provided, suggesting a likely mix of monsters for different levels of encounter.
The pictures are good, showing each monster in the sort of pose that might be the first - or if they're unlucky in the ensuing brawl, the last - view the characters have of them. If you like to say "You see this!" rather than "You see a beholder" these images will translate well to being held up, although most are in the middle of the text rather than on their own.
After the alphabetical listing of monsters, there's a section on Racial Traits, which can be used if you want to use selected monsters as characters (or fully-developed NPCs). The selection is quite limited, and there are others in the book which are sentient but not here, however if you fancy being a goblin or a minotaur the resources are available. Next is followed by a glossary of the terms used in describing the monsters, so there's no doubt about what, for example, a monster which can burrow is capable of doing. Finally, there are listings of the monsters sorted by level and by combat role, again to facilitate building that war party."
Overall, as a collection of monsters to fight, this is an excellent start. But if you want more rounded monsters rather than combat-fodder, you will have to add material of your own or modify that published for earlier editions.
Return to Monster Manual page.
Reviewed: 21 July 2008