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Monstrous Manual Annual, Volume One (1994)

Following the switch from binders to books with the Monstrous Manual, two things happened. First, a number of books reprinted, with new, full-color art, the key Compendium expansions — Dark Sun, two for Ravenloft, three (!) for Planescape, plus one for Mystara. Second, TSR started issuing annuals that collected notable monsters from across all their lines and products (confusingly, all these books are called Monstrous Compendiums). The idea was often to make a critter that was intimately tied to a campaign setting (like Carrionettes from Ravenloft) and adjust them so they can be used in any setting. I don’t know if that worked. I also don’t really care. Just gimme MOAR MONSTERS.

The first Annual (published in 1994, but containing monsters that appeared over the course of 1993) is the best one, because Tony DiTerlizzi does the art for every single entry. I mean this in two ways. First, obviously, I just like Tony’s art, so more of that is always fine by me. Second, though, having one artist do all the art in something like this has the unintended side-effect of obscuring doofier monsters. When you’re putting out monsters books at this kind of clip, a certain amount are going to be crap. That’s just math. Do we need stats for the D&D version of the T-1000? Probably not. But I don’t really notice that the Living Steel is there, because being drawn by Tony makes it baseline cool and being among Tony’s other drawings, it doesn’t stand out. This might sound ridiculous but…just wait for the rest of the week, OK?

Lots of great art, of course, but the whole price of the book is justified by Tony’s Gibbering Mouther.

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