Over the years, Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manuals have been filled with awesome creatures, but DMs have been reluctant to use the rarer monsters because they don’t have the miniature, they have to substitute it with a miniature of roughly the same size and basic shape, or even worse: “OK guys, this Coke can represents a 15th level Cacodaemon. Uh, the daemon is red and so’s the can, so that kinda works. Right, guys?” D&D Essentials Monster Vault takes the brilliant idea of combining a D&D Monster Manual with full-color tokens for tabletop combat, and executes it nearly flawlessly.
The 320-page Monster Vault book is digest-sized, as are all the Essentials books, and fits nicely within the Vault’s sturdy box. It contains 63 basic monster types, which are further divided into different varieties and levels, resulting in over 300 monsters to choose from. Each one of these monsters is represented by a full-color token of proper size. Both sides show the same creature, but one side is circled with a red border, indicating that the monster is bloodied. Huge creatures only have one token, but most large and medium creatures get at least two tokens, and some medium creatures get as many as eight. All the large and medium tokens are numbered to make it easier for the DM to keep track.
Artwork throughout is very good, and each monster stat block includes the same picture of the monster as is used in the token. This is key, because the monster’s names are not included on the tokens, so the only way to tell who’s who is from the pictures. I don’t know why names weren’t added: even an abbreviated name would have been helpful. Still, most creatures are easy to recognize from the pictures, so it shouldn’t be major issue.
One other complaint. What to do with all the tokens once they’ve been punched out? The box, while sturdy, has no pockets or small bags included to make it easier to sort the tokens by monster type or level. This can be a headache when trying to find three zombie tokens in a pile of 300 other tokens. My advice would be to only punch out monsters as you need them, or buy a small plastic storage tray to keep the monsters sorted.
The Monster Vault box also includes an adventure for 4th-level characters, Cairn of the Winter King, along with a two-side, full-color map for tabletop combat. While the overall storyline is a little weak, there are some nice set pieces that a clever DM can incorporate into his own adventure.Overall, this is a big win for the Essentials brand and I look forward to including all these monsters in adventures to come.