|Power Word Unzip|
One of the great things about living in the Triangle area of North Carolina is the burgeoning number of game stores that service the area. One of the newer ones, The Gamer's Armory in Cary, has been kind enough to partner with Raleigh Tabletop Roleplayers and act as host for several events. This Wednesday was my first visit to the store, and I always like to drop a little cash on each game store visit to give the local businesses support. With my monthly dose of Pathfinder horror sated by picking up "Wake of the Watcher" at GameTheory, I decided to try out the latest monster collection from the Wizards crew.
"Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale" is a pretty solid book. While a casual glance at the contents may lead you into believing it's light on crunch and heavy on fluff, this isn't entirely the case. Although only about 40 different entries are listed in the table of contents, most of those entries include multiple stat blocks for new opponents to use in a 4E game - as many as eight or more in some cases, like the goblinoid tribe with multiple builds for goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears.
Many of the entries reference monsters and villains featured in other 4E products, with suggestions on working them into your game even if the featured villains were already encountered and killed in your campaign. Additionally, each monster entry offers well-written back story content that fits in with the Nentir Vale setting, but is very easily re-skinned to suit any campaign setting you use. As a GM who prefers his homebrew world to most published settings, this was perhaps my biggest reservation about buying the product - what if I can't use them in my game? My fears were unfounded, as it turns out, and I've seen plenty of things I want to re-purpose for my own game. I'm already pondering how to work in the party of undead adventurers when I get a chance to run 4E again, and I'm also jazzed about Calastryx, the three-headed red dragon.
The book itself contains lots of "faction"-type monster stats, including bloodthirsty bandits, demoniac gnolls, orc and goblin tribes, street gangs, druidic orders, the aforementioned undead adventuring party, and a family of assassins which would work great as running mook encounters for when a campaign is getting slow. But there's also plenty of nasty and inhuman things, too - a giant mimic which takes the form of a spooky tower, a drow werespider who leads a group of slavers, abyssal plague demons that have invaded the world from another reality in which the Abyss is all that remains of the planes, dragons of several breeds with unique personality quirks, a mythical reptilian monster that prowls the forests and preys on passersby, a reworking of the cadaver collector from the 3.5 Monster Manual III, and the mooncow, a flying alien horror that could have been lifted right out of Lovecraft which I eagerly await springing on my players someday.
I'm not a huge fan of the counters, but I do use them when I run games away from home to save myself the trouble of lugging along miniatures, and the custom-made counters for each monster featured in the book are well-rendered and of the same quality as those found in the first Monster Vault. I haven't cracked open the cellophane on these yet (I'm working out a better organizational system for the ones I already have before making the slush pile even bigger), but it looks like I'll get plenty of use out of them in due time.
The only drawback I see to the new Monster Vault product is the sticker price. $35.00 is a lot of money for a softcover book with a few sheets of counters with no major production cost beyond printing and the money needed to license the art. Luckily for me, Gamer's Armory sells most of their stock about 10% below MSRP, so I got a better than average deal on it, but I think some gamers will look at it side by side with the earlier 4E Monster Manuals and wonder whether their dollars aren't better spent on an older monster product (especially when they're pretty affordable on the secondary market).
Despite that observation, though, I don't regret the purchase. Rarely do published products offer me good quality content that fits in easily with my own world concept without extensive re-skinning and dithering to make it match my own mythology AND is fun to run and play. MV:TttNV is chock full of both.
I'm not sure how much use I'll get out of the factions and such. But the unique monsters - the Wandering Tower and stuff like that, as well as the return of many monster favorites (Penanggalan!) has made this a huge winner for me.
I definitely like the additional flavor, and many of the monsters in here are very well designed.
I just started up a new campaign, in Ravenloft, which I'm running as a more freeform environment. So when the PCs went off investigating some throwaway comments, I needed to quickly come up with some adversaries - and some quickly modified twig blights and a Peryton made for instant memorable foes, and set things up well for some future developments. And PCs got to be appropriately terrified of having their hearts ripped out and eaten.
That's really what I look for in books like this - the ability to just quicky grab some critters out of it and use them.
|Jeremy Mac Donald|
Really enjoyed this book.
Thought the Barrowhaunts, undead adventurers and Gravelstoke family were very good.
As my group is Golarion based, the Iron Circle has immediately become Cheliax forces and will be passed onto current DM.
Have to agree though that the price to content is high for this product (even on Amazon) and the new design of counters are, well pants, compared with monster vault. I hoped it was just a Shadowfell thing but its carrying on :(
I just picked this up over the weekend at a local Borders. I had a 40% off coupon I got via email so I got it at a good price. Oddly, this is the first time that one of their coupons didn't ring up right for an RPG product. The manager still gave me the discount but in the past I've never seen an issue. Admittedly this is more than just a book with the tokens but I bought the Shadowfell set from the same store with a similar coupon not long ago and had no issues with that. Strange. Maybe they're getting stricter on what is a game versus just a book.
As for the product itself I really like it overall. The mix of creatures, in particular having a lot of entries with organized or thematically related groups of monsters is very handy for a DM to just grab and use, whether with the Nentir Vale or not. The poster map is nice to have. As for the tokens, they are nicely made but given I have literally thousands of D&D miniatures I probably won't use them unless perhaps if I'm playing away from home and don't want to take the time to put together a travel case of minis. My only negative of this product, and the Shadowfell box before it, is the flimsy packaging. In this case, it's just a sleave over the tokens and book. In the case of Shadowfell it was a box that just opened at the top. In both cases, I really would have loved to have seen a box closer to what they provided with the master sets of the dungeon tiles, something with a lid you lift off with space if for example you wanted to sort your tokens in a ziplock bag or the like. They lack some of the convenience of a more conventional box and I wonder how well they'll hold up.