With the release of the Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition Monster Manual, I thought it might be fun to do a look back at all five editions of the venerable tome. Of course, how to do such a thing – especially since my 4e Monster Manual is a digital one, while all my other versions are physical copies? I decided the best thing to do was a comparison/contrast piece showcasing how a particular creature’s section has changed over the years – but which one? Tarrasques weren’t in the first Monster Manual, and I didn’t want to do a creature that was specifically D&D, like owlbears, bullettes, mind flayers or beholders so that everyone could enjoy this piece. Vampires were too on the nose thanks to my last name. I finally settled on Mummies because a) they’re my favorite undead (it’s even my Warhammer army) and b) everyone, even someone completely new to tabletop gaming, knows what a mummy is. It also helped that each edition’s text is extremely different from one generation to the next, which surprised me since I was expecting just to read about mummy rot and curses. So choosing the mummy ended up being as fun and informative for me as I hope this article will be for you. Sure it’s light fluff, but this should also give you a great look at not just how the take on the Mummy has changed with each passing edition, but also a stark look at how very different each edition’s Monster Manual has been. Remember, each picture in this article is clickable, so you can get a larger version that has easier to read text, so don’t hesitate to do so. The article will be easier to understand if you do, as you’ll have a frame of reference for what I’m talking about here. Now, let’s take a look at the fifth editions of mummies!
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition
In the Mummy’s first foray into D&D cannon fodder, we can see it only gets about half a page. It has to share its space with the mundane mule and a good portion of the Naga’s information. It’s not the most illustrious start into the world of D&D for such an iconic creature, is it? Well, a lot of monsters got the same treatment back then. The First Edition AD&D Monster Manual was only 112 pages long, and so a lot of creatures had to share space. The Vampire and the Giant Wasp are roommates, and there were even three to four dragons on a page. So this really isn’t as bad as it looks.
Here in 1e, we see the mummy gets a small picture by the late, great Dave A. Trampier. We also see the original version of the D&D “Mummy Rot” power, where it was simply a fatal disease that would sap 2 points of Charisma per month until the character died or was cured by magical means – whichever came first. Said character could not be brought back to life by any magical means if killed by the disease, which was a big deal back then. Mummies could only be hurt by magical weapons, and even then, they took half damage. Only fire and holy water really vexed them, although it is worth noting a Raise Dead spell could instantly return a mummy to life, even if they had been dead for thousands of years. Very helpful indeed.
So while the Mummy got less than half a page in 1e AD&D’s Monster Manual, it was still off to a good start. There aren’t too many creatures that were in the original MM, and even less than have made it through all five editions.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition
So bear with me as I do a little explanation. You see, AD&D 2e (My personal favorite incarnation of the game) didn’t actually have a Monster Manual. It has Monstrous Compendiums! I loved these, as they were loose leaf pages that you could fit into a three-ring binder (Volume 1 came with an official AD&D one, but you could buy a Trapper Keeper or something if you wanted). Each new volume was cheap and often geared towards a specific campaign setting’s unique monsters. This way, you could put whatever monsters you needed for an adventure in a folder and not have to drag out multiple heavy books. It was great in theory, but those pages ripped easily and you couldn’t really do alphabetical order on them, as there was a creature on one side and then a different one on the other. So trying to combine all your Monstrous Compendiums by alphabetical order was an impossibility. After a few years, TSR released the Monstrous Manual, which combined all of the entries from the first two Monstrous Compendiums and a few entries from some campaign setting specific pieces. I bring all of this exposition up because the Mummy in the Monstrous Manual is a mix of two different entries – the original one from Monstrous Compendium 1 and the first Monstrous Compendium for Ravenloft. The end result is a huge THREE PAGE SPREAD for mummies that remains the best treatment that this particular type of undead has seen.
The 2e AD&D mummy is very similar, stats wise, to the 1e AD&D mummy. Same powers, same weaknesses, and the same writing for that part of the piece. What’s new are the Habitat/Society and Ecology flavor text sections, which really made 2e monsters stand out. Even rank and file cannon fodder like Kobolds and Green Slime were given descriptive prose to help make them come alive in your game. This was a wonderful improvement from the original Monster Manual, and it’s what made the MM/MCs so much fun to read.
The Greater Mummy from Ravenloft gets a whopping two pages, which was a big deal back then. Even Death Knights and Dragons only got a single page, so for Mummies to claim three really made them stand out in terms of importance and prominence. There’s a ton of descriptive text for the Greater Mummy, but also a ton of stat blocks. Greater Mummies, like Ravenloft vampires, grow more powerful with age, and so there is a big chart showcasing the power level of a mummy by age. Oddly enough, it tops out at 500, and since most mummies are thousands of years old, nearly any Greater Mummies encountered will be insanely powerful. Perhaps there should have been an extra 0 added at the end of each age bracket.
Overall, the 2e AD&D Mummy had the most detail and description paid to it, making it my favorite of the five editions.
Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition
Although I was a big fan of the first two versions, Third Edition was where I disembarked from the D&D train – save for Sword & Sorcery’s awesome version of Ravenloft. Although I can definitely understand why a lot of people enjoyed 3e (and its Pathfinder offspring), the game became more roll-playing than role-playing for me. At that point in my life, I wanted something that was more than a hack and slash dungeon crawl. There just seemed to be a lot less emphasis on storytelling and more on min/maxing. It made for some fine video games, but it wasn’t something I wanted to tabletop. Now, this isn’t true across the product line, but it definitely felt (and still feels) that way to me. The Third Edition’s Monster Manual entry for the Mummy seems to echo my opinions of this D&D generation.
As you can see from the accompanying visual, the length and detail of the Mummy’s entry is cut back considerably. It’s back down to half a page, sharing space with its old friend the Naga and something called a Mohrg. Only about a hundred words are devoted to flavor text, with everything else being pure stat block. Again, roll-playing over roleplaying. 3e Mummies are also missing a lot of the power and pizazz they had in 2e. Gone are Priest spells and some other advantages. They’re also purely Lawful Evil instead of LE/CE. Really, even if you don’t include the Greater Mummy piece, the single page from the 2e Monstrous Manual just outshines the 3e one in every way. The stats are better laid out, the descriptive text is easier for a rookie DM to use and the page just looks better. I dunno – looking back, the 3e Monster Manual just looks cluttered, sloppy and rushed. 3e really is the lowlight for the poor Mummy. Which is surprising, because like a lot of you, I went into this expecting the redheaded stepchild to be D&D – Fourth Edition. Which makes a great aside into…
Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition
So Fourth Edition’s Monster Manual was an odd duck. It lacked the really high production values and visual ascetics of later 4e releases, but it contained a lot of information in terms of mechanics. You can see this readily in the Mummy entry for 4e, as it was two pages long – a page and a half more than what the Third Edition Mummy got. Of course, this being 4e, it was all mechanics based. There was less than 100 words of descriptive text in these two pages, make it the least role-playing/storytelling entry the Mummy received in any of the five Monster Manual incarnations. Mechanics-wise though, this entry is impressive, as there is so much of it.
There are three different versions of the mummy. There is the mindless terror Mummy Guardian, the Mummy Lord, which is a take on the 2e Greater Mummy, and the Giant Mummy, which just seems sort of thrown in as space filler. Mummy Rot is also notably weaker than in the previous incarnations, but then 4e was very much in the vein of PCs being far more powerful than monsters, so it makes sense… even if the Mummies weren’t too happy about it.
It’s also neat to see that 4e gives some attempts at tactics for the DM to use with each stat block, albeit very basic ones. It also includes Mummy Lore for successful religion checks and some rather odd “encounter group” pairings. While it was nice to see the Mummy get another two page spread, it was a bit sad to see that it was 99% mechanics. Still, it is an improvement over what 3e gave us.
Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition
Here we are with the newest version of the Monster Manual, and man – it doesn’t disappoint. I really do think it’s the best MM yet in terms of content and quality. Perhaps it’s a good thing I chose the Mummy for this piece, because it really exemplifies my feelings on the 5e Monster Manual in a nutshell. It’s three pages long and it’s equally distributed between stat blocks and helpful descriptive text. I love it. The first page is pure flavor, explaining the concept of a mummy in a high fantasy D&D setting, how it comes to be, the purpose it serves and why players might encounter one. You also get a look at a second version of a Mummy, the Mummy Lord. The Mummy Lord has its own bio and special get out of being killed by PCs clause, which lets it make for a great recurring enemy – or perhaps even an ally. There’s even bits on setting up the Mummy’s Lair and special actions it can take within. The regional effects within the lair (new to 5e) are pretty awesome too, although the auto spoiling of food and drink kind of flies in the face of the offerings people actually made to mummies in Ancient Egypt.
Both versions of the Mummy get their own stat blocks, with the Mummy Lord getting customizable options known as Legendary Options. A DM can pick from five different powers to mix and match for their own undead creation. Whirlwind of Sand, Channel Negative Energy and other options await you if you decide to craft your own Mummy Lord. While the options are few, it’s great to see any customization options provided, as these help new DMs learn how to design their own creature while having a template to work off of. I also liked seeing Mummies get spellcasting ability back.
So 5e Mummies get the most descriptive text out of all five editions, while offering the second best stat block after 2e’s Greater Mummy. It’s a great package containing both style and substance – which is pretty much true of each entry in the Fifth Edition Monster Manual. I love the 5e MM, and I think my review from Friday shows that. If you like what you see here in these pics, you really should pick up or preorder it.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this snapshot of the five different Monster Manuals from D&D’s storied history. I do feel the Mummy fared best in Second and Fifth Edition, with Third Edition being the lowpoint – but that certainly won’t be the case for every creature in these antagonist oriented tombs. Which edition’s Mummy was your favorite? Would you like to see a similar comparison for a different creature that spans all five Monster Manuals? Let us know in the comments!