Tabletop Review: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition Monstrous Manual

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition Monstrous Manual
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast (Originally TSR)
Page Count: 384
Cost: $49.99 ($32.10 on
Release Date: 05/21/2013
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In my reviews of the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master Guide, I’ve made mention of the two different versions of Second Edition, you have the original 2.0 version from 1989 and the “2.5” version from 1995 when they started doing “Player’s Option” books and the like. 2.5 had different art, more pages, a larger (unpopular) font and the like. Out of the three core books for playing Second Edition the Monstrous Manual was unique as it was the only one that didn’t change between the two versions. 2.5’s version had a different cover, but it used the same cover art, the same font, and had exactly the same number pages. It was only the change from that classic white cover to a new off-black one and the change of the 2nd Edition logo. Otherwise it was the exact same hardcover tome containing monster stats, albeit with a new higher ($29.95 vs $24.95) price tag and a weaker binding. So for those disappointed that Wizards reprinted 2.5’s version of the PHB and DMG, you can rejoice here as the Monstrous Manual IS the 2.0 version because well, the 2.5 was the 2.0 version anyway.

Back in the era of second edition you had two options for monsters. The Monstrous Compendium was the preferred manner as it was a large three ring binder. You would then buy supplements for the Monstrous Compendium, usually based on specific campaign settings like Ravenloft, Spelljammer, Planescape, Dragonlance and so on. The end result was that you could have everything in the binder however you wanted it organized: alphabetically, by volume, by monster type, by XP point value, or even by chucking/setting aside the monsters you wouldn’t have any use for and just filling your binder with the monsters that you knew your players would be encountering in this week’s session. The other end of the spectrum was the Monstrous Manual which was a hardcover book instead of a binder. Inside its covers was all the monsters from the first two volumes of the Monstrous Compendium along with a few exclusives. The catch was that in order to get the Monstrous Compendium binder, you needed to have Volume 1 as they were a bundle so most people either had the binder and eschewed the Monstrous Manual or they had the manual and a bunch of loose leaf three hole punched monster sheets from the supplements that they bought which ended up in a Trapper Keeper or so other less official binder. I actually got both because I knew sooner or later, the Compendium and its pages would probably be lost to the four winds. Everyone remembers how easily three hole punch pages rip and fall out, right? It was a safe bet because you weren’t likely to lose your giant nigh four hundred page hardcover book compared to a single page of the Compendium which could wear out and fall into a puddle or something.

My original Monstrous Manual is still in near mint condition and somewhere along the way I picked up a free copy of the 2.5 version from Now that I have the premium reprint in my hands, I can give away the 2.5 version and use this new one instead. Trust me when I say that the reprint is the best version of the book yet. This new version comes with a green faux level cover complete with gold embossing and binding. The original cover art is cropped into a diamond shape and centered into the middle of the front cover. This means the red dragon and minotaur are missing from the cover art on the reprint, but the beholder, lich and thri-kreen are still there. The weight of the premium version is more than the 2.5 edition because of higher quality materials being used. The pages are thicker and the cover is just better all around. It does weight about as much as the original 2.0 version. The pages in the premium reprint are thicker and thus heavier, but the original 2.0 cover is actual 50% thicker than the reprint, which probably accounts for why it is in such good condition twenty years later. The inside flyleaves are in goldenrod instead of ads (2.5) or simple white paper (2.0). It’s a classy touch that is just one of the many ways this is a new premium reprint. Other than this though, we have the same old Monstrous Manualwe all know and love.

Now remember, because the Monstrous Manual is a collection of the first two Monstrous Compendiums, it contains the most common and iconic monsters, but not system specific ones. So there are no Draconians, Werebats, Strahd Skeletal Steeds or Giant Space Hamsters. It’s highly unlikely any of the Compendiums will ever see reprints so if you want those, it’s off to the secondary market you go. The good news is that the Monstrous Manual really should be all you need. Beholders? Check. Death Knights? Check. Crimson Deaths? Check. The main metallic and chromatic dragons? Check. Githyanki? Check. Assorted undead/ They’re all in there. I’m having a hard time think of when you’ll really need any of the supplements outside of rare cases, and even then in this day and age of the internet, you can probably find the stats of the later Compendium volumes online.

All in all, this is a wonderful deal. Even with the fifty dollars MSRP, you’re getting the 384 page book for twice what the original costs two decades ago. That’s not a bad increase, especially when you consider inflation. The crazy awesome news is that you can get this premium reprint on Amazon for only $32.01, a seven dollar increase from the 2.0 version and a whopping two dollar increase from the 2.5 version. That is an incredible deal and one worth picking up if you have fond memories of Second Edition, but especially if you still run games in it. Hell, if you play first edition AD&D, you could still really get a lot of use out of this as it has more monsters than both the Monster Manuals and the Fiend Folio combined! It’s not that much work (if any) to convert 2e monsters to First Edition. Pound for pound and page for page, the Monstrous Manual is not only the best of the second edition reprints but also the best deal cost-wise. I can’t be enthusiastic enough about picking this one up. I’ve already taken my 2.5 Monstrous Manual off my shelf to trade in and I’m strongly considering doing the same with my 2.0 version as well. After all this premium reprint is the exact same thing as both, but with higher production values and a swankier cover.



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One response to “Tabletop Review: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition Monstrous Manual”

  1. […] I’ve been especially happy with the adventure collections”> and the reprints of AD&D 2.5. I’ll admit, I never got into the 3.5 version of D&D (or Pathfinder, save for Sword and […]

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