Sunday, November 6, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 2

In Search of a Theme

Moving forward, I am going to have to depart from the methodology I used with the FF, because, while I whole-heartedly embraced the themes of the FF, I am not at all interested in the theme of the MMII (Gygax’s underdark and planar cosmology). Therefore, rather than beginning with the MMII, I am going to begin with Moldvay’s Basic D&D and his monster section.

Moldvay presents seventy monster types (where some types, like dragons and lycanthropes, have several entries). Of these types, 51 have entries that are below 4 HD. Of the nineteen that are 4HD and above, only 5 are 6HD and above. This gives me a tool with which to eliminate a large number of monsters in the MMII that might have appeared in a Basic Edition of D&D. This tool (not uncoincidently) eliminates a lot of extra-planar and underdark monsters. As a consequence, I can begin with a thematic clean slate with the monsters that remain.

One interesting feature of the MMII is the fact that there are a lot of entries for normal animals. Bat, cat, cheetah, eagle, falcon, goat, otter, owl, rat, skunk, snake, squirrel, swan, weasel, vulture and swordfish are examples that fall below 4HD. There are more, like the narwhale, that are 4HD+. Rather than using a bunch of types on various animals, I will simply use one entry: animals. This will allow me a greater variety of monster entries and help me find a few new themes. Unfortunately, finding 51 entries outside of animals in the MMII of monsters with less than 4HD is difficult. There will be a higher number of monsters with higher HD, but the overall HD average should be similar to Molvay because of the number of low HD animals under the animal monster type.

Looking over what is left, I can justify three main themes in the MMII with a pair of sub-themes:

  • Fey with a sub-theme of the Undead
  • Lost World with a sub-theme of Plants and Fungi
  • Elemental

One interesting feature of the fey is that, with the exception of Swanmays and Hybsils, the overall-all alignments tend toward neutral and evil. This includes both versions of elves: wild elves (neutral) and valley elves (chaotic neutral). Given that I see no functional difference between chaotic neutral and chaotic evil, this makes the only arcane casting elves in the game Chaotic, and therefore monsters, not a PC class.

I use the term Lost World because there are a lot of monsters that hail from some fantasy version of prehistory. Dinosaurs and weird giant insects abound. In addition, there are several entries for humanoid-like creatures that appear to have evolved from a non-mammalian source: aspis, formian, myconid, ophidian, vegypygmy and vulchling. I also include here a number of monstrous plants like the mandragora, tri-flower frond and kampfult.

Due to the abundance of planar monsters, it is difficult to avoid an elemental theme with entries like the azer, firebat, magman, mudman and sandling.

The end result actually feels a lot like Moldvay’s monster section, which also had both  Lost World and mythological elements within it. The major difference is that the MMII ventures outside the expected and will hold a lot of unpleasant surprises for players.

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