Friday, June 5, 2020

Meditations On The First Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual II For Your Old School Campaigns

Uncle Eric is back with another mediation on the ancient and helicon days of gaming this time we're going to set the way back machine to October of '83 and if there was a year that gaming changed then this marked one of the releases of one of those game changers. I'm speaking of the original Monster Manual II.
This book was wall to wall interior  by Jim Holloway, Harry Quinn, Dave Sutherland, and Larry Elmore and there was a marked difference in the tone of the entire manual. This was the book that collected many of the monsters from the various old school Seventies and Eighties adventures that had proceeded it's release. It was way more interesting in certain other aspects as well, this book was and is an adventure construction set in many respects and still is. My copy of the MM II has been with me since I first picked it up in downtown Torrington back in '83 at a little downtown book shop that stood next to the Yankee Peddler Inn and that I skipped school to get the damn tome. Its been with me through ex girlfriends, an apartment fire, a tornado, the break up of numerous campaigns, friends, and more. But why? This book was and is still widely regarded by many Advanced Dungeons and Dragons players & dungeon masters but its also one of the most glanced over and half forgotten tomes today.

The Monster Manual II brings many creatures and monsters from Gary Gygax's home setting of Greyhawk into one venerable manual.It also mark's Gary Gygax's last major contribution to the creature end of the setting and  includes many old favorites, most of which were expurgated or "toned down" in the later, politically correct version of the game. Quite a number of monsters came  from S4: Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, and a dozen new devils that had been first published in the pages of Dragon magazine. This book is widely regarded among my other DM friends as being one of the hands down most useful books to have at the table;"The book included random encounter tables for dungeon and wilderness settings built from the Monster ManualFiend Folio, and Monster Manual II" this alone makes it a very useful book. The DM can use this book only to build dozens of adventures not only for AD&D but also for any old school post apocalypse or science fantasy campaign.

The title was so popular that Wizards of the Coast used it on a three point zero title revamp in 2002, but that title didn't include all of the monsters from the original book. The fact is that the original Monster Manual II is hands down one of the best books to use to populate your dungeon or outdoor ruins or wilderness adventure locations. So is there another reason why the MMII is still popping up at tables across the world along side emulators and retroclones like OSRIC and the Labyrinth Lord Advanced Companion;" Like the Fiend Folio before it, the monsters in Monster Manual II listed the experience point value for each monster within the entry". This is a book with a very hands on approach and has a much more approachable feel to it then some of the later books from TSR that would follow it, its almost as if the author is daring you to use these creatures and monsters in your adventures. There's something that almost makes you want to take all  of these creatures and make them your own. This one of the bits of the Monster Manaul II that stands out to me as one of stand out DYI D&D points of this book.

Here are my ten reasons why the Monster Manual II is still one of the cornerstones of not only AD&D but also our hobby.
  1. The monsters are not only approachable and easy to use but also adventure unto themselves. The encounters with these creatures are memorable, easy to construct adventures around , and they're iconic in every sense of the word. . You get dozens upon dozens of demons, devils, undead, demodands, daemons, dragons, giants, and more.Many times there has been lots of urban legend heaped upon these monsters and its quite easy to go back to the source material to create your own spin on some very iconic horrors. 
  2. There are many supposedly 'silly' monsters in the MMII, remember that even the silly ones can and will murder your PC's with impunity. Take for example the Modrons from the plane of Nirvana These are some the silliest monsters ever created, but have a lighthearted feel that 3rd edition lacks. And they are really dangerous as well as alien. 
  3. Each and every monster has its own distinct flavor and style but these creatures appear in a variety of places they even have note next to each monster that indicates which book it can be found in the tables that not only list the monsters in this book, but also those in the original MM and Fiend Folio. This gives the DM plenty of adventure and creature fodder to play with for their own adventures. 
  4. Its one of the seven 'must have' books  for all 1st edition players/DMs and that completeness makes the book worth holding onto even more. There's more then simple iconic and nostoglia involved here. The MMII brings lots of things to the table and that includes lots of adventure hooks scattered throughout the entries especially certain demonic and diabolic horrors, this book was a game changer in the way that we thought about the planes. 
  5. This book expands and works so well with the first Monster Manual and Fiend Folio that for that reason this is another must have. The monsters are easy to use, a fast way to jazz up an adventure and can be used to highlight one another. In addition there are several tribes and creatures within these pages that will challenge a party like no other. 
  6. Lots of the monsters in the MMII are easily converted over to any number of science fantasy or post apocalyptic worlds. Don't be afraid to add in mutations and adaptions for these monsters at the drop of a hat during world or setting building. There are many monsters with lots of additional uses in a wide variety of adventure settings. 
  7. Many of these creatures are the horrors you bring out to end or challenge the jaded or know it all D&D players. Those folks who can quote chapter and verse because many of these horrors have been half forgotten today. Use these creatures for challenges and more for adventures. 
  8. The MMII is one of the lower tier collector books out there and sells for as low as fifteen dollars, this makes it a very economic purchase for the money. There's lots and lots of utility in those pages over the years. 
  9. Once again this is a book to thumb through if you need ideas for adventures with your players. The book is one of those that will have you coming back again and again to dip into its contents for adventure ideas. 
  10.   The MM II has an excellent mix of extraplanar and standard horrors; so it will be suitable for any level campaign. However, I would recommend it especially highly if you were running a campaign that dealt with the various planes, there's lots of material to add into and spice up your own home brew adventures. This makes the MMII an easy fit for all kinds of weirdness.

    The bottom line is that the Monster Manual II doesn't get anywhere near enough of its due today for the monsters, devils, and incredible mix of monsters that it brings to the table. This book marks one of the legacies of Gary Gygax and has a ton of material to offer today's DM's. Grab a copy, dust it off, and start running your adventures the way you want to.

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