Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale
D&D Game Supplement
Item Code: 283640000
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Page Count: 128
Price: $34.99 C$40.99
Terrifying monsters and villains for your heroic- and paragon-tier campaign.
The Nentir Vale — a frontier land sheltered by mountains and strewn with abandoned farmsteads, ruined manors, and broken keeps — is the perfect base for any Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale presents statistics, tactics, and lore for an array of new monsters that prowl the Nentir Vale, some of which trace their origins back to the earliest editions of the Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game. Other entries focus on campaign villains present in the Nentir Vale region, among them the Iron Circle, the Tigerclaw Barbarians, the Raven Roost Bandits, and several new villainous groups introduced here for the first time.
The monsters and villains contained within are appropriate challenges for heroic- and paragon-tier characters and fit easily into any home campaign, as well as other Dungeons & Dragons published campaign settings. In addition to a 128-page book of ready-to-play monsters and villains, this product includes 8 die-cut sheets of card stock monster and villain tokens and a double-sided battle map featuring four different encounter locations you can use when running encounters.
On the one hand, in this book, you have some of the very best monster design in 4e. WotC has only been getting better at monsters since Monster Manual 3 last year, and I haven’t found much to complain about in this one yet… Except for one thing, which I’ll get to.
Much like in the Shadowfell box set, we have a 128-page softcover book, a poster map, and six cardstock sheets of tokens. Unlike in the Shadowfell box, WotC doesn’t even try to make the container box-like; it’s a slipcover, shrink-wrapped, holding all the goodies. All told, this still makes the product rather pricey for the page-count… As I’ve said, this is quality material, so I’m not grouching too much, but it’s a tough sell at full price. (Sadly, the tokens continue to have the monster names across the Bloodied sides, which make them easier to find, but make it much tougher to use them as generic placeholders, and make it nearly impossible to hide monsters’ identities from your players. I’d rather guess!)
Also like in the Shadowfell box set, a large portion of the “monsters” herein are basically NPC groups, generally opponents. For me, this is awesome; it’s very easy to take a group like, say, the Blackfang Gnolls or the Tigerclaw Barbarians, and quickly construct a level-appropriate encounter for my players. It helps make prep-time low, and play-time valuable. I’m also partial to NPC groups in general; a faction such as the Iron Circle or the Grey Company has a lot more interest as a long-term foe than a simple Troll does. This also makes it very easy for me to integrate these foes into my home Dark Sun game.
Although I’ve not had time to exhaustively read the flavor text, there’s a ton of it, and it’s overall well-written. The Wandering Tower, Mooncalves, and Dythan’s Legion – the ones that caught my interest first – are all fantastic. The art is pretty uniformly high-quality, too.
So how nasty are the monsters? Calastryx was featured on the Wizards site within the last month, and he’s the scariest 14th-level Solo I’ve ever seen. Google him or the Boggle for examples. Perytons are back in their heart-ripping glory, and Pennaggalans are every bit as gross and creepy as ever. I’d go on, but I’m afraid I’d just rave about nearly every monster.
So given this, why four stars instead of five?
Well, the monsters here range from Level 1 to Level 20; everything at 19 or 20 is an Elite or Solo, so this book is mostly useful up until about Level 17 or 18ish. There’s not a single Epic monster to be found. Worse, somewhere around 3/4 of these are Heroic-tier; there’s a sampling of 11-20’s, but they’re in the minority, and there are only a few per level. While this is fine in general, it overlaps with the Monster Vault significantly, and is of only moderate use in my high-heroic tier game.
While I applaud the new monster design, there’s a dearth of Epic-tier foes using the upgraded design standards. I was hopeful that this book would cover all levels, but it doesn’t. With this and with the high cost per page, I had to drop this otherwise outstanding product 1 star.(from Amazon)
THE GOOD: As a guy who must and will own all things 4th edition, I picked this up primarily because well, it’s a 4th edition book and I really like those things. To my surprise, however, I found it be the best monster book in the whole system thus far, even supplanting my old favorite the Dark Sun Creature Catalog. The reasons for this are twofold; first of all, in addition to a random assortment of new and classic monsters, the book focuses on actual factions and power groups present in the Nentir Vale, and secondly the sheer amount of flavor text makes even the most seemingly mundane entries pop with interesting hooks. These two elements combine to create a book that’s just as useful for adventure-planning as it is encounter-planning, and I really appreciate that.
While the book is short compared to pretty much any other 4e monster gallery, it makes up for this with the addition of a few useful tools. First up is the double-sided poster map, which has four different encounter locations all done out for you nice and smooth. I have a lot of dungeon tiles myself so this isn’t the most useful thing in the world to me, but I ALWAYS welcome new maps, particularly generic ones that don’t look like I stole them from a module (I do that, sue me). More importantly, however, are the creature tokens. I LOVE these! There are 10 different sheets, each with an average of 30 tokens to represent the different monsters presented in the book or as placeholders for other creatures. For a group like mine who previously used pennies, bottlecaps, and small rocks with rubberbands wrapped around them to represent different characters on the battlemap, these tokens are like adding hundreds of miniatures to our collection.
THE BAD: There’s been a lot said about the price of the book, and I have to concede that it is a tad on the expensive side. That being said, I’m hardly surprised. You see, Dungeons and Dragons has a lot in common with crack-cocaine; it doesn’t seem all that expensive at first, especially when they give you your first dose (read: the Essentials products, the original core rulebooks, or a $10 rock sold for $5) at a noticeable discount. But from there you realize that you can’t get enough, and it’s no secret to anyone else. Future doses are thus more expensive, and you don’t complain because you’re already hooked. Still don’t like the price? Try to find it at a discount man, you’re on Amazon.com RIGHT NOW!
THE UGLY: I really wish this product came in a box all its own, just like the previous Monster Vault. As it is I have to store the creature tokens in the other Monster Vault box with a divider between them so I can easily tell which book a given sheet is supposed to go with. Luckily the tokens pop in and out of their sheets really easy so storing them isn’t exactly MESSY, just a bit more cumbersome than it should be for what I paid. Also, the book itself is the first soft-cover 4e book I’m aware of, and it’s a bit smaller in size. While the green binding looks good next to my Monster Manuals 1, 2, and 3, overall it’s an odd fit on the shelf and that’s, well, ugly.
OVERALL: The crunch is good (check out Callistryx, the three-headed red dragon!), the fluff is even better (I really dig the Fell Court, for instance), and even if you don’t run your game in the Nentir Vale everything here is generic enough to be easily slipped into any campaign with little to no adjustments. Thus, if you’re a DM, you need to add this book to your collection. I’ve been taking it to work with me for two weeks now, and I find something new and fascinating to read about every day.