I thought I'd have a go at reviewing the Monster Manual 2 monsters, and it's definitely because these folks are doing the Monster Manual and Fiend Folio:
Monster Manual 2 was the first AD&D product I bought, because Fiend Folio wasn't on the shop-shelf on the day and because I already had (or thought I had) all the basic/canon monsters via BECMI (or at least the BE part).
A few preliminary points, because these are personal takes on the monster entries:
I don't know the TSR-adjacent history/origins of these monsters.
Dwarf, Elf, Goblin and Troll are all on the same continuum in my head/world, with Elf/Goblin and Dwarf/Troll being almost interchangeable. They're all faerie folk/ paramortals, rather than mortal/mundane humanoids, and I have folklore preconceptions of various named monsters.
The D&D cosmology is not canon, neither is Alignment. Neither is AC and HD, but I'm not going to lean too much into that.
Generally, "Good=boring" but non-canon Alignment can change things. A lot of the Good extra-planars in MM2 are very powerful, with great lists of spell-like abilities. I never aspired to play at that kind of epic level, so I was never that interested.
I like transferrable mechanics and subsystems, so a mediocre monster might get praise for something that can be pulled out and reused (to better effect) elsewhere.
Okay. Here you go:
|I mean, I'm sure you know what an Aboleth looks like by now|
The abilities of this monster are much more inspiring than the monster itself, although I don't know if this because I've got Aboleth fatigue - I thought this monster was something of an outlier until I came off rpg hiatus.
Based on statistics and abilities, nowadays I'm tempted to reskin it as an off-brand Mind Flayer.
I've previously (a long time ago) bolted the skin transformation and forced water breathing special abilities onto a mindless living deity for some local Deep One stand-ins (now-aquatic elves with leather wetsuits, spear-guns and reverse-scuba gear) - the cult literally converts you.
It's just a really big fish. Whirlpool mechanic is okay, but otherwise this is an unremarkable stat-block - attach the mechanical subsystems to a more interesting leviathan.
First time round, I probably skipped past as 'Good=boring'.
An 'agathodaemon' (good spirit) is the counterpart to the 'cacodaemon' (bad spirit) - presumably, someone didn't want to muddy the cosmological waters that already took in the Daemons-as-monster-type (extensively covered later in MM2), nor the MU spell cacodaemon.
It's basically a psionic Cleric from another plane.
Couldn't tell you why exactly, but I'm a big fan of Hags as a monster type. The Annis is a giant(ess) that can appear as a human or humanoid (though the description specifies 'large', so may not be as useful a disguise as it seems).
They're strong (19/ Hill Giant) and tough (skin counts as plate, and specifies AD&D 1e's weapon type vs. armour type rules here), with auto-damage if they grab hold of you. Top it off with the ability to create a fog cloud, and I think this is a pretty solid monster.
The Sarlacc Pit of the giant insects. I give it a thumbs-up for just being what it is.
Intelligence is 'Unratable' (which might just mean 'alien') and Alignment is 'Neutral (evil)' (which implies motive and/or identity). It's a big ball of fungus.
Can knock you down and poison you with spores, and your best bet is to stab it with a 6'+ spear.
No. Appearing is 1, but imagine a herd of these rolling over the (lunar) landscape.
|Cow or larva - don't know why they used this illustration for this monster.|
I always found it hard to care, because they're just a fairly vanilla hive/insect monster with not much to distinguish them from any of the others.
As 'the existence of larvae and cows is only rumor', they could have been left out completely and the Aspis would be a giant, Very Intelligent weevil that has a 5% chance of speaking Common and can comfortably wield 2 weapons and 2 shields at once - which I think stands on its own.
They have no individual names and enjoy drinking blood - recreationally, rather than as an attack form.
'The smallest of sprites'. Elf/Goblin.
Its precious metal-eating habits are implied by its name, but aren't made explicit in the description (2e Monstrous Compendium and a Dragon magazine The Ecology of... article are what really piqued my interested in the 'golden gorger').
Being Size S and having 12 HD, as well as various immunities and resistances, means that it is the mongoose, or the rue-stuffed weasel, of D&D monsters - it is capable of going toe-to-toe with some of the big dogs of the MMs, including dragons.
'They appear much like dwarves with brass-colored skin and flames for hair'.
Then I will use them as Dwarves and Trolls, probably living in volcanoes. The fact that 'the word of an azer is a solid bond' only reinforces this folkloric conviction. They're also little people with great strength, which is something I like in a monster.
The name of their 'legendary king' is Amaimon, a prince of Hell in IRL demonology (and not a hundred miles from Mammon), so they could also be the fiery devils of the underworld if you haven't yet populated that corner of your cosmology.
Not the Baku I was expecting.
Apologies for 'Good=boring', but my feeling is that the MM2 Baku is a more interesting monster if it's not constrained by its Neutral Good Alignment and it's 'timid and peace-loving nature' (except when smiting Evil - which seems a bit of a cop-out).
In 2nd edition AD&D, Baku kept the Neutral Alignment but dropped compulsory Good, and the one in the Planescape Monstrous Compendium is even wielding a mace in its trunk.
Big intelligent baboons that throw coconuts and retch plant globes. Nothing to see here.
The bandar-log are from Rudyard Kipling.
Like the Baku, this was not the monster I was expecting under this name.
Lots of interesting DM-facing information about their life-cycle and habits. Player-facing, they're extra-planar goblin were-dogs that normal goblins worship and fear - they're the big boss fight.
They put me in mind of the Nabassu (which will come up later), because of their life-cycle. I can see a cosmology where Barghest and Nabassu (reskinned or otherwise) represent the opposing forces of darkness (much like demon/devil, tanar'ri/baatezu).
This plant monster gets a whole page and it makes me tired just looking at it. Thinking of it as an elemental or nature spirit, around which to build a location or adventure, makes it less of a chore for me.
It's got an interesting ability, turning people into trees that then might transform into a Treant or a Druid. Doesn't say anything about memory retention.
The direburr variant is less tolerant than the base monster, but it's not exactly evil.
Unratable Intelligence and Neutral (evil) Alignment; see Ascomid above.
Great forests of these marching across the plains of the Moon, suitably coloured. Like.
Bigger, tougher Basilisk that's harder to use its own gaze against it. So what - unless you have a lot of Basilisks in your campaign.
Bat (Mobat and Ordinary).
The Mobat is a logical progression of the Giant Bat monster-type with its sonic special attack, and it has Low Intelligence, so on a par with lots of the dungeon humanoids. They have a 12 to 16 foot wingspan.
Ordinary Bats are presented more as an environmental hazard than a monster threat. As a monster threat, the DM could be rolling 10 to 1000 Hit Rolls RAW.
Hitch rides to the Prime Material with summoned fire elementals, where they lair in/near volcanoes and hot springs and then 'reproduce by fission after gorging on blood'. They 'especially prize rubies, jacinths, and carnelians' and include mechanics for burning you, drinking your blood and being doused in water.
Quite a tidy little monster that is more interested in feeding than fighting you to the death.
Reskin as Lava Clones with unformed features that attempt to hug and suckle mortals for their blood so they can increase their number, but are otherwise not that interested in the mortal sphere. Lava clones can't fly.
Bear, Northern (Polar Bear).
Well, would you look at that? An actual bear for which I would suggest that you just use a Bear.
The illustration doesn't look like a polar bear.
I like Bees.
They get to be vanilla hive/insect monsters because they're the ones that all the others are measured against.
There was a Dragon magazine article that suggested beefing up insects by scaling up their strength along with their size - a Giant Bee could carry off an armoured character on horseback without much trouble (based on IRL).
The Death Watch Beetle can camouflage itself by sticking debris to its back, and can disguise itself by 'wearing the carapaces of other giant beetles' - I'd like to know where this idea came from, because I don't know if they do it IRL. The distinctive noise of the DWB is also upgraded to a potentially fatal sonic attack.
I think a trick was missed by not incorporating some of the beetle's literary/folklore characteristics.
Slicer Beetles snip off your arms and legs, so the most important thing about this entry is that it gives details of what happens when you're wearing one or non-matching magic boots/gloves (with the implication that sometimes it works fine, and the explicit statement that non-matching pairs cannot be identified as such).
It's just a massive hippo.
At the time, I didn't know this was from Scottich folklore (beithir/ loathly worm), but it's the kind of monster I'd serve up in preference to a vanilla dragon.
Lightning, multiple claws, crushing coils, swallowing whole, implication that scales could make good armour.
Vampiric plant. For me, the most interesting thing about it is that it can have up to 30 Hit Dice, so it could be a surprise winner if you're playing Monster Manual Top Trumps.
'Nearly identical to the constrictor snake' - so it's a Gotcha! monster.
Mechanics for meeting/avoiding its gaze, which causes disease like a standard Mummy.
Primary attack is its 'bill', which implies it has a beak and makes me think of ducks - the illustration is just of a snaky thing. I'd treat it as a magical creature - a treasure guardian in the mythic underworld or a spirit of disease - rather than a mundane animal.
|2e Planescape Bodak.|
A human who spent too long slinking around the Abyssal Planes and ended up as a kind of demonic undead. Cool!
I like that they are 90% likely to be carrying a weapon, but they won't use it - instead using their death-gaze. I wonder if this was so a magic weapon could be a quest goal with a deadly guardian, but not have it used against the party?
There's a weird disconnect between its Low Intelligence, its cunning (equal to INT 1-20, randomly determined - when? Every time it's used?) and an undefined ability to control a summoner ('Intelligence factor for control purposes can be as high as 20' - is this the same as 'cunning', is it separate, is the control ability based on magic jar or Intelligent swords?).
I compared the 1e Bodak with 2e Planescape to see if this got cleared up, but it was just dropped. Additionally, they became weapon-capable but rarely carried them, and would sometimes pause in combat, caught in a dim reverie of their past life.
Stray thought: maybe every magical weapon has a Bodak.
Canonically, 'a boggart is the immature form of a will-o-wisp'.
It's an interesting and unusual monster that I think stands on its own - to me, it feels more demonic, faerie or undead than it does a baby wisp, and I'd run it as such. The spooky goblin wizard of Dragonwarriors is more like what I was expecting to see under this name.
It cannot hold the same form for longer than '10 or 12 rounds', swapping between wisp, humanoid and invisible. The text states that invisibility lasts 12 rounds, which implies that wisp and/or humanoid forms last 10. It's not clear whether it has to shift between the three types, or if it could continuously cycle through humanoid forms (gnome, halfling, goblin, xvart and norker are given as examples).
Boggarts have a poltergeist-flavoured confusion ability (which is more effective if others of their kind join in), an electric shock touch attack, and are immune to all spells except magic missile, maze and protection from evil. If they kill and eat you, you can't be raised.
They can 'understand and speak all languages', but aren't great conversationalists.
|2e Boggles - look how creepy they are now.|
A goblin with better Hit Dice than an Ogre, with some interesting abilities and sound cues that add richness to the description - I have a clearer idea of what a Boggle encounter would be like, or even the imagined private life of the things, than numerous other monsters in this book.
Their special abilities are logical and complementary, with the only weird one being the ability to dimension door 'through any complete frame, such as a hole, a door frame, grillwork, between a character's legs'. Range given is 3", but I think that actually means 30' in AD&D context. The text implies that the ability is only for them to reach through with their hands, rather than their whole body - but it equally does not specify they can't do this.
This is one I've been meaning to convert for Call of Cthulhu.
Massive bird that's immune to poison, and apparently related to the Roc.
Not the Boobrie of folklore, but I hadn't heard of it back then.
Resource hazard/ MU threat monster.
Not really my kind of thing, and this entry would benefit from the Old School Essentials treatment.
It never really registered that they had such low hit points (d4+1), and this makes me like them a lot more.
From the illustration, it looks like a people-pulper, but stats and description suggests more of a swarm monster. Possibly related to Mimics, but I'd say more like a Piercer if they're living creatures.
I think I'd lightly reskin them as minor earth elementals, or as animated rocks (by spell or monster special ability). If they feed, it's on your life-energy or your fear or something, or they could be vampire stones.