The second sequel to the Monster Manual, core home of all things monstrous, Monster Manual III has a lot of stigma around it. Nicknamed the Eberron Monster Manual, this vanilla sourcebook contains many monsters specific to the Eberron campaign setting. And because the 3rd edition Monster Manual is often referred to as Monster Manual 3.0, there is a great deal of confusion when discussing Monster Manual III. It doesn’t help that there was never an 3.5 updated release of Monster Manual II. So in strictly 3.5 terms, Monster Manual III is the first sequel to Monster Manual 3.5.
Unlike the Players Handbook II or Dungeon Master’s Guide II, sequels to the Monster Manual don’t need to cover new fundementals. In fact, in many ways it is better if all basics are already covered. Because not all basic creatures were included in the original Monster Manual and Monster Manual II was never updated, there is no official 3.5 version of the juggernaught, phoenix, among others fantasy classics. Which isn’t to say Monster Manual III should be all oddities and misfits. Ideally it is loaded with new generic monsters and fills niches previously left open.
At a Glance
Monster Manual III has a very striking and decidedly evil cover. A monstrous skull centerpiece surrounded by golden maggot-like lesions and a deep red, all of which compliments the Dungeons & Dragons logo. One odd detail that bears mentioning is the ear ring pierced through the top right corner of the front cover.
As expected, this book is loaded with great profile pictures of all the monsters introduced. Picking favourites is tough, but here are some I felt were worth mentioning. Steve Prescott’s Cadaver Collector on page 22 is a gruesome construct with a sympathetic expression. It looks resigned to perform a menial task.
Dinosaurs may make hackneyed monsters to some but the Battletitan Dinosaur by Ralph Horsley on page 38 accepts that corniness and runs with it. A huge armoured mount is just intimidating enough to justify dinosaurs in this fantasy game.
Looking for a monster that will give your players the willies? How about a ball of red arms with yellow eyeballs in its palms? You can thank Rafael Garres’ Cervantes for his illustration of the bizarre Odopi, page 114.
Maybe it’s because it’s the last monster in the book or maybe my fiancé’s definition of cute has redefined mine, but I like Matt Cavotta’s Zezir, page 205. I have a soft spot for animal-like creatures displaying human emotions or higher levels of intelligence.
Challenges of all Ratings
No matter what level a DM’s players are, there are monsters here to challenge them. From CR ½ monsters waiting to be customized with class levels and templates to CR 20 creatures hoping to roadblock PCs on the verge of epic levels. The majority of the monsters fall between CRs 5-13, popularly known as the sweet spot, but there are enough creatures lower than CR 5 to challenge low level PCs and any creature can be advanced to take on high level PCs.
Expanding Existing Material
It used to be the only way a DM could differentiate lizard folk in a community was gender and character class. Now poison dusk lizardfolk and blackscale lizardfolk can be used to add variety or make important members of the society stand out.
New subraces add variety and keep PCs on their toes. Add a standout threat to a typical encounter with an Ogre Skullcrusher leading an otherwise standard Ogre gang. Watch the PCs scramble for every fire-based weapon they have to attack a War Troll, oblivious that this breed of the classic monster is vulnerable to acid, not fire.
New takes on old favourites are important. They bring new depth to the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons and new dimension to combat encounters.
A Druid’s Dream
The Druid has many spells and class features that rarely if ever come into effect during a campaign. The limited number of fey and plant creatures in the original Monster Manual meant a Druid might never have the opportunity to resist nature’s lure or empathize with the wild. No more. In Monster Manual II, fey make up eight of the new monsters and plant creatures make up nine. Now a DM can challenge a Druid in new, original ways.
Up until MMIII’s release, the Changelling, Shifter, and Warforged were races exclusive to the Eberron campaign setting. By reprinting them in a non-Eberron sourcebook, not only is the Eberron setting made less unique, the setting is forced upon gamers that have chosen not to explore it. DMs that allow all non-campaign specific material into their games now have to deal with the possibility that their home campaign become a watered down version of Eberron.
Perhaps it was Wizards of the Coast’s way of advertising their campaign. Perhaps it was an easy way to fill space. Perhaps this really was supposed to be the Eberron Monster Manual. Speculating aside, room that could have been used on new monsters is instead given to existing ones that do not belong.
Expanding Non-Existent Material
The phoelarch and the phoera are cousins of the phoenix. They are very interesting creatures and would make great additions to phoenix encounters if not for for one problem. There is no phoenix in the 3.5 edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Granted it isn’t hard to take the 3.0 phoenix from Monster Manual II and update it, and official errata exists to do just that. But there are DMs that don’t want to rework a creature to fit when there are hundreds of other monsters that can be used as is. Similarly, the Redcap is the evil relative of the brownie, but brownies are not in 3.5. I don’t even think they are in 3.0. An editor should have caught these problems and fixed them somehow.
Constructs and Dinosaurs Aplenty
The Battletitan dinosaur may look cool, but to many DMs and players, dinosaurs are out of place in a fantasy setting. These DMs and players will be disappointed that so many of these inappropriate adversaries made it into print. Granted, the battletitan, bloodstriker, fleshraker, and swindlespitter are not historically accurate dinosaurs and attempt to bring fantasy elements to the creature type. But they’re still dinosaurs, and dinosaurs are unpopular in D&D.
Constructs, though more popular than dinosaurs, are even more rampant in MMIII. Normally there isn’t anything wrong with constructs and they are fairly popular challenges, but a curiously large number constructs are introduced here. The warforged and all warforged-related creatures don’t help. Monster Manual III is unbalanced in favour of constructs.
Arcane Ooze is a great threat for casters, not only immune to most spells, but also able to steal spells away from casters. It makes a great dungeon guard and forces the players to be resourceful.
The Living Spell template is easily the most creative creatures introduced in Monster Manual III. With a little work, most any offensive spell in the game can be turned into dangerous monsters. Combine multiple spells for wider varieties of attacks and effects.
Topiary Guardians are plant creatures made to look like hedge sculptures. If your players have started smashing every statue out of fear it’s a gargoyle, get the drop on them with a few well concealed topiary guardians.
For a while, I was using Monster Manual III more than I was using the original Monster Manual.
My PCs have encountered Cadaver Collectors cleaning up a battlefield, fought their way through a dungeon level populated primarily by Dracotaur, had the party fighter captivated by the beguiling song of a glastig (the day was saved by the party bard’s timely use of, of all things, countersong), were ambushed in their sleep by several redcaps, and lost a member to a mountain troll. More significantly, a one of the most important NPCs in one of my campaigns was a phoelarch.
What more do you want? It’s chock full of monsters of all non-epic levels. There are a lot of cool concepts, interesting new takes on classics, and a few really out there ideas that might surprise you. Not every entry is a winner, but the majority are seaworthy. If you don’t own the original Monster Manual, Monster Manual III is a poor substitute. If you only own the original Monster Manual and are looking to expand, Monster Manual III is as good a place as any.
If You Liked This Book…
There are four Monster Manuals in the 3.5 library of sourcebooks: Monster Manual, and Monster Manuals III-V. I know, it’s confusing. Monster Manual IV is largely acknowledged as the weakest of the series. Monster Manual V is worth a look, and Monster Manual II is okay if you don’t mind a bit of additional homework.
Complete Mage introduces spells with new effects when they’ve affected the same target multiple times. Apply the living spell template to a few of these and watch as your PCs have to deal with accumulating effects. Or if you have the time, bust out the Spell Compendium and go crazy.