Monster Manual (1977)

The first book released for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was the Monster Manual (I’d have published the Players Handbook, first, but what do I know). Written entirely by Gary Gygax, the book is a compendium of, as the back cover says, over 350 monsters, compiling statistics, detailed descriptions and, in most cases, a now-iconic illustrations.

It wasn’t the first RPG bestiary – Chaosium released two volumes of its primitive All the World’s Monsters earlier in 1977, but those books don’t have the polish or detail of the Monster Manual. It was the first hard cover RPG supplement, but what makes the Monster Manual special is, as is so often the case with early TSR publication, that it set the mold for others to follow. Even now, decades later. I have piles of books dedicated to RPG monsters. Out of the Pit, Malleus Monstrorum, Creatures of Barsaive, The Gloranthan Bestiary, Galaxy Guide 4: Alien Races – all following in the standard created by Gygax. Monsters got me into the hobby and they’ve remained a strong interest. I mean, who doesn’t love monsters? I’ve gotten rid of most of my Third and Fourth Edition books, but I kept all the Monster Manuals.

There are a lot of great artists in the first Monster Manual, but David C. Sutherland III steals the show with his cover and his two full-page illustrations. DCS isn’t my favorite early TSR artist, but the amateurishness of the cover is endearing (Except the manticore. Manticore’s don’t have wings). His interiors tend to be sketchy and stiff for my taste, but the battle against the kobolds is kind of magical (A web spell! That roman-looking dude! Why is there an ant on his shield? That is awesome!). The fighter advancing on the mob is maybe my favorite illustration by DCS – detailed, well-drafted, entirely surreal.

One last thing worth noting: the Monster Manual, with its devils, demons and exposed breasts, is one of the key books that would eventually get TSR in trouble with conservative Christians, so I guess it was trendsetting in that regard, too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *