Posted by : David Guyll November 06, 2010
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 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?
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.
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.
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.