Posted by : David Guyll November 06, 2010

The highlight of this month's releases, Monster Vault is a $30 box set that contains an adventure module for 4th-level characters titled Cairn of the Winter King (with adventure maps), ten sheets of monster tokens, and of course the titular book.

The Tokens
Nothing too fancy, here, especially if you've purchased Starter Set and/or Dungeon Master's Kit. They're great if you're just getting into the game or don't want (or can't afford to) buy lots of minis. Almost everything in Monster Vault has it's token (except for stuff like legion devils and rat swarms). They also have rings that you can slot Large tokens in to represent Huge monsters, so you don't need to have everything at Huge. As with all tokens, they work great for the gamer on a budget or if you're missing something specific (they have the exact same art as in the book), but don't deliver the sense of awe that minis do.

The Book
The real treasure, Monster Vault is digest-sized, runs at 319 pages, and purportedly contains "a horde of iconic creatures for any campaign". Most of the monsters seem to be culled from Monster Manual, though I found plenty featured in Monster Manual 2, such as the rust monster and duergar. It's got a nice spread of monsters that I'm used to seeing in a "starting" monster book; dragon's up to Huge, giants, titans, demons, devils, angels, archons, generic minions, the works. The glaring flaw, to me, is the lack of aboleths. They beholders and mind flayers, but no aboleths?

Point deducted.

They've all been updated to the new stat block format, have several paragraphs of flavor text, and most greatly benefit from improved design; for example skirmishers have plenty of mobility options, either part of attack effects or by using other actions, while soldiers mark as part of traits or attack effects instead of sometimes on a hit. To make matters worse, enemy marks also allow them to hit you instead of just imposing an attack penalty.

The Adventure
Joe Half-elf was wandering through the Frostjaw Peaks (Nentir Vale), taking refuge in a cave filled with skulls when a storm picked up. As if this wasn't enough of a red flag to get the fuck out of there, he ventures further inside and eventually discovers a throne with a dead guy stuck to it, holding a magical scepter. Having long-abandoned reason since the entrance of the cave, he takes the scepter, waits for things to calm down, and heads back to Fallcrest, head full of gilt dreams and blissful naivety.

I don't blame the guy so much since most of the time when the player characters rob an ancient tomb there typically aren't any repercussions (beyond having to kill the occasionally undead rightful owner), so I guess no one saw it coming when the ramifications weren't upsetting the local economy so much as devastating the local ecology with endless winter.

There are a few minor errors, such as an ettin speaking in Common when it's only spoken language is Giant or it mentions three dogs instead of two, but ultimately I found this to be a very interesting adventure with some good pacing. There's some hefty dialogue between the townsfolk of Fallcrest, talking air-boat, and a dungeon filled with sociable sociopaths vying for the Winter King's favor. Coupled with the other adventures from Starter Set and Dungeon Master's Kit, this could be the start of a beautiful adventure path.


Conclusion
A definite buy whether or not you're into the Essentials stuff. All the monsters (and tokens) look a lot more functional and attractive, and the adventure looks like a fun romp. $30 is also a cheap buy for the product.

{ 7 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. Re: the adventure and your "minor errors".

    The Ettin speaks no common, other than the word "Kill". The other voice is a Human that is trying to explain (failing) that they are not supposed to kill the party. The Ettin just says "Kill Kill Kill" but does not understand what the human is trying to tell it.

    I read the dog encounter as two dogs the wwhole time. When it mentions "the other" doing flanking I read that as the gnome. I agree this could be worded better or I am interpreting it too favourably.

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  2. Can I ask you something?
    you say that there are adventure maps. What are they rapresenting?

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  3. The maps are for the Cairn of the Winter King adventure: one is a series of tents in the snow (I think from the Icingdeath dragon Icon), and the other is for the actual Cairn adventure.

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  4. So I just bought this adventure and from what it looks like, there is a lot of rooms, but I only got one map in the box. It is double sided but there are some rooms that are not on the dungeon side..

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  5. To the last comment, you usually on get a map for key combats, the other areas you have to build with tiles or a battlement.

    I just bought this product... I've been buying the new stuff to get the included adventures. I found this adventure to be well done and look forward to running it.

    This is my first Essentials type product. I don't mind the changes brought on by essentials, but I really think the physical products are terrible. The small softcover books are just a pain to use around the table. The information on each page is limited by the page real-estate. But I do think this is a needed product... with updated creature stats and tokens. A good buy.

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  6. They going to start updating older monsters through DDI, starting with ghouls and wights, I think.

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  7. My players who recently finished "Reavers of Harkenwold" are playing through "Cairn of the Winter King" right now. They loved the introductory meeting of Fallcrest citizens at the start of the adventure and were thrilled during the skill challenge aboard the flying ship.

    As the DM, I also found another mistake: during the Sky Raiders encounter, the text says players have to hit the zombies while they are down to prevent them from rising up again. This is evidence the adventure was already planned when 4e was launched before the monsters were fixed and updated, since the zombies featured in the encounter itself don't have that trait anymore: they have the new, roll-the-d20-and-the-zombie-won't-fall-if-you-get-over-15, nasty rule.

    While there mistakes like the ones we found, the adventure itself seems to be liked all around the web, and since it is short, it's perfect as a bridge towards further adventures.

    And that encounter with Bortek the Barbarian was quite a challenge to my players.

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