Back when AD&D was brand-new, the first book they published was the Monster Manual. So I’m going to start off my reviews with this file — The Bestiary, 24 May 2012 version.
The first thing to notice is the range of creatures, from 25xp cave rats all the way up to 450xp trolls and beyond. It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling, knowing that the 1st-level PCs might run into any of these.
Fire Beetle: I’ve always liked these little cheerful glowing guys. I’m a big fan of monster dissection and trophy-taking.
This guy is worth 100xp, has a +2/1d6 attack, and has 5 hp. I like to see that in a monster. One good whack from a two-handed weapon and he’s done.
Looks like weapon damage types (“piercing”, in this case) is back, which is fine by me.
It’s nice to see sections on Combat, Habitat and Society, and Legends and Lore. For me it’s the right level of just enough information.
Berserker: It’s nice to see monsters that are people. Can always use more of those guys. And they’re Neutral, if violent. So you can’t really feel too good about just killing them whenever they show up.
Rage is a nice ability. I like how it says that they get +5 hp, but doesn’t get into what happens if he falls out of rage, loses those hp, and it would kill him. That’s the sort of judgment call I’d rather see left up to the DM instead of spending a bunch of words on.
Immunity to fear is a perfect touch.
Bugbear: Solid all around. Get a version of backstab which looks pretty sweet.
I miss the lack of Number Appearing and Treasure, but I can live with it. Still, I’d be tempted to pull them out of an earlier version. It’s the sort of thing that’s nice to have and easy to ignore when not needed.
A monstrous god is mentioned, which I’ve always got some time for.
Giant Centipede: Huge bugs are also just fine in my book. Its venom ability, at first glance, looks fine. And hey, more monster dissection, and the implication of poison-using PCs, which I’m a fan of.
Dark Cultist: More people monsters, but evil this time. You can tell from their oozing sores. They use the same spells as cleric PCs, which I think I’m in favour of.
Our first really serious combat monster is here, the Dark Priest, with AC 20, 65 hp, a +4 attack doing 1d6+2+1d8 damage, and some spells. Looks like a handful.
Looks like the Far Realm is still around. I’m happy about that.
The bit in the Legends and Lore entry about witchfinders is a nice touch. There’s enough here in these two pages to build the foundation for a good adventure or three.
Gelatinous Cube: Just wouldn’t be D&D without these blobs. It has all the usual goodies associated with them.
Gnoll: Good to see them, and they’ve got their own language again. And their usual dread demon lord.
Demonic Frenzy is a bit weak to use as a full action. I’d probably let him do it once a round for free, or make it an aura, or something.
We also get a statistical breakdown of common weapon load-outs, which I sorta like. I’m not sure I need the exact frequencies, but I don’t mind them.
Again, enough here in a couple pages to put together a few adventures.
Goblin: Of course we’d have goblins. And they’re Neutral Evil, so I think we’re back to the ninefold alignment system. Fine by me.
Their backstabby abilities look good, and introduce some synergy which is nice.
We get some nice background on them, and more weapon loadouts, and it’s pretty solid.
Gray Ooze: Ennhh, not sure I really need this when I’ve got a gelatinous cube. On the other hand, their corrision ability is nice and implies that the DMs can take away the PCs’ toys, so that’s good.
Hobgoblin: And we’ve got Lawful Evil monsters too. They’re their usual organized warmongering selves, and I’ll be using them.
Human: Good old humans. Interestingly their Int, Wis, and Cha scores are below “average”. Always need to have some of these guys on hand.
Kobold: The usual, although these ones don’t bark. 2 hp keeps them nervous. Some of the higher-level ones are pretty legit.
Medusa: Unexpected, but nice to see. Dual attacks. Gaze aversion is nice and lightweight, and we get basically a save-or-die effect.
And we get a sanctioned use of the medusa’s severed head. I don’t see anything about the clever use of a mirror, but she’s not immune to petrification herself so it seems vaguely plausible.
Minotaur: Another Greek classic goon, with 132 hp and an axe that’s great. It’d be fun to stick one of these guys in a labyrinth. Also interesting to note that as big and tough as he is, he’s still only got a 19 Strength. Stat inflation may have been conquered.
Ogre: The littlest giants. Hints at bribing them for safe passage are appreciated.
Orc: Good old orcs. Can’t have too many orcs. These orcs are much like the rest.
Owlbear: Everyone loves owlbears and their cuddly hugs. And, holy crap, they nest in trees! I didn’t see that one coming. And their eggs are valuable, so it’s a good time for everyone.
Rat: No one loves rats, but they’re always around anyway. The version of disease we get with the dire rat is much more like a poison, but it’s okay. Wouldn’t be hard to houserule in some more serious disease rules, I would imagine.
Skeleton: Looks like the mindless undead are back to being Neutral instead of some variety of evil. I can see the arguments for both sides. They resist non-bludgeoning damage, which I’ve always sort of liked.
Apparently they sometimes “deliver simple messages” which I really need to work into an adventure at some point.
Stirge: Of course, I have a particularly-soft spot in my heart for the humble stirge. These ones are a little more lethal than some other versions. Looking forward to throwing some at a party.
Troll: Big, evil, rubbery, regenerationy, flammable. The usual. Its vulnerability to coup de grace is a bit surprising; not sure I’d actually let my players get away with that. Especially since the Legends and Lore implies that it wouldn’t work.
Wight: Corporeal soul-suckers. Good reason to carry that silver dagger around with you. Pretty solid.
Zombie: The usual slow lumbering sort. Sadly, they cannot do the hustle. Spontaneous zombie plagues are a nice touch.
And that’s that! Overall, a pretty good collection of monsters in only 34 pages. I think I could run quite a few adventures with just what’s been collected here. Not sure which playtest file I’ll tackle next. Probably lay into the pregenerated characters.