Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Monster Manual II (1st ed.) Is As Ugly As Sin...

It brings me absolutely no pleasure to say this; this ugliness involves more than the appearance, the slick paper feels gross and synthetic in comparison to the pages in my other AD&D tomes. But the typefaces lack personality; the cover featues a Romanticism lacking in previous hardcovers as well as, in an example of Ouroborous, intentionally or not emulating the cover sensibilities of mass market fantasy trilogy dreck. Never mind that the choice of a eyeshadow-wearing drunken grimacing Firbolg Giant (neutral-chaotic good alignment) seems an odd one.

Although the artwork for the Modron section is perfect; the en masse of workmanlike Holloway artwork eventually becomes an assault on the sensibilities. I don't mean to the say that the artwork is terrible, there are several great pieces such as the Ant Lion and Giant Pterosaur, but a lot of it is bland and the homogeny becomes unpleasant.

Instead of the lush and (idiosyncratically) comprehensive encounter matrices of the DMG and the Fiend Folio we get a radically new system that presents a range of 19-odd encounters instead of every possible one. However we do get several pages of Monsters by Terrain and Frequency on That Terrain that lists ever possible encounter by climate and terrain instead of % encounter tables utilizing that information.

Take a look at the back cover. "...including new creatures like the Deadly Puddings, Devas, and Valley Elves." Stirring stuff indeed, and again more odd "marquee monster" choices now getting into vaguely Spinal Tap/Encounter Critical-ish territory. And what the hell is up with "A must for the serious AD&D(TM) game player"?! The DM should be slapping this book out of the players hands!

Looking through the Monster Manual II while working on monster lists I seriously begin to wish that someone either:

A) Do a "netbook" hack of the MM II replacing the weaker artwork with pieces possessing more character.
or
B) Publish a simulacrum of the MM II

and in both cases completely mimic the page layout and numbering of the MM II so that it's as instinctive to reference as the original and including proper % encounter tables.

Now I don't seriously expect anyone to attempt the above; it's just an example of the thoughts that come to mind inspired by the sheer banal ugliness of the AD&D Monster Manual II.

15 comments:

  1. Hrm... you must have a different printing than me. My MMII paper feels exactly like the MM and the FF does. I wonder if they changed the paper at some time?

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  2. Dang it, now I need to find a "nice paper" edition of the MM II as well as a copy of the Lovecraft/Moorcock D&DG; at least I know it's out there!

    Thanks for the tip :)

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  3. Yeah, mine definitely has the same sort of paper.

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  4. No slick paper in mine either. I didn't know they ever did any slick paper 1e books.

    But to your basic point: I agree MMII could be better than it is with roughly the same make-up.

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  5. I never liked the cover of the MM2 that much either... plus many of the drawings inside look rushed or tired. Years later, when Gary Gygax became a guy who liked to answer people's questions about the 'old days,' I found myself astounded to hear him say that he liked all the late (and more 'realistic') artwork from TSR much more than Otus, Trampier, etc., that he said looked too "cartoonish." It was a bit like having a bucket of icewater poured down my shorts.

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  6. As a DM I found the MMII to be an excellent resource for new and dangerous beasties that could oppose the players. The monsters were tougher and more sinister than in MMI and Fiend Folio. I also did not mind the artwork at all, I thought the drawings were better than in MMI and the cover was inspiring. But hey, to each his own right?

    As a player, I would experience anxiety when my DM would reach for MMII.

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  7. I did not care for Halloway interior art either. Honestly, I do not recall turning to the MM2 that mach back in the AD&D days. But that may just be time.

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  8. I am finding that redrawing the fiend Folio is a lot of fun.

    Redoing the MM2 would just be "oh fuck, this fucking thing? fuck this thing."

    Quickling, Shadow dragon, Glasya, zygom and.... that's it. the rest should burn.

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  9. To speak heresy, I think there's maybe a single book-worth of good monsters between the FF + MM2.

    Too much dross got past the editors. Some of the stuff in those books is either absurdly mundane (like MM2's Dinosaurs, Flies, Firefriends, Pedipalps/Solifugids, Normal Squirrels(!), Animal Skeletons, Minimals, etc, or the FF's swarms of 1HD humanoids) or just "Gotcha!" tweaks of existing monsters (MM2's Wolf-in-sheep's-clothing, Wolfwere, Boalisk, Gorgimera, etc).

    Oddly enough I loved Holloway's art in Spelljammer and BECMI products (esp. the Book of Wondrous Inventions), his MM2 stuff ...wasn't his best work, IMO.

    Re: the paper. I think it's just your copy Blair, sorry.

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  10. I think the only monsters I have used that originate in the MMII are green hags. It is a phenomenally weak collection for my purposes.

    But generally, there are very few great monster books. Monsters of Myth is a rare, rare exception. The PDF is also free on Lulu, so if you don't own one yet, check it out.

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  11. It's easily the weakest of all the monster books... and WHY doesn't it have an index in the front?

    I do have the Ascomoid and Vegepygmy in my campaign (and last year's 1 page dungeon submission). I think they're worth using. :)

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  12. @ By The Sword: Don't get me wrong, there's lots of great monsters in the book and I am a fan of Holloway's artwork. As others have said, and I believe it came up in an interview, that the artwork was unfortuneatly a rush job. As a play I shudder when a DM grabs the FF or the MM II!

    @ Zak: I think there's a lot of good monsters in the MM II, they just are under the radar due to a lack of engaging presentation.

    @ Melan: I own the softcover, and I really really want to upgrade to the hardcover so it "matches" my MM, FF & MM II :) I really like the Swords & Wizardry Monster Book and Malevolent and Benign as well.

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  13. Monster Manual II is a very weak book, no question, but I retain a certain fondness for it because of the expanded demons and devils sections, the modrons, and a handful of other creatures (like the froghemoth). It definitely feels like an uninspired book produced largely to make money rather than one that grew out of any actual need.

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  14. Gary was trying to save TSR from going under, that's why there were a lot of books that feel rushed and are "must owns" for the serious AD&D player! TSR was a business desperate for cash in those years.

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