The AD&D Monster Manual is Awesome, A to B
I worked a bunch of exhausting 12-hour days this week, and to celebrate it's end I went up to my favorite coffee shop to read the AD&D Monster Manual and bring Read an RPG in Public Week to an end in style.
I'm trying to read this thing with new eyes and see what's really there, rather than what 20 years of gaming habits tell me is there. And the verdict is: I'm really amazed at how awesome the Monster Manual is.* Every monster is designed to bring something interesting and potential unique to an encounter; I'm not just talking about Beholders and Dragons, but the normal stuff that people often dismiss.
Consider the Aerial Servant: "if they grasp any creature it requires and 19 strength to have any chance of breaking free." Here's a monster than can potential seize any character in a nigh unbreakable grasp. I can think of about a hundred ways to make this awesome.
I love the behavorial tidbits that make each monster different. Baboons: "...if the home territory of a tribe is invaded the baboons will attempt to drive the invaders off, but it is 90% likely that the tribe will flee if faced by determined resistance." The power to run away sounds like a pretty lame power, right? But this detail shows that Gary knows what he's doing. It's a little piece of fiction (with a mechanic attached) to help the GM make this monster interesting and real for the players.
Boring beetles are pretty... well, boring!** Except for this: "...it is rumored that groups develop a communal intelligence which generates a level of consciousness and reasoning ability approximately that of the human brain." So Gary is saying that if you have a bunch of boring beetles and a big enough piece of wood (Giant Giant Sequoia? World Tree?), you've essentially got an insectile superbrain with beetle tunnels as analog circuitry and beetles as bits. So next time the blind druid directs the PCs to the "wise old tree" for information they PCs are in for a surprise. I wonder what quest the alien symbiotic hive mind will ask in return for that information.
Another thing: ever notice how many monsters can perform a valuable service for the PCs? Giant Beavers are massive builders. Brownies can fix stuff. I think this is a clear flag that talking to monsters ought to be at least as interesting as slaughtering them.
Basilisk can turn you to stone if you meet their gaze. How does this happen? There are no rules to tell you if, when you walk into a room with a basilisk in it, you meet its gaze. Some call this an incomplete game, I call it a golden opportunity to role play.
* These are the bad gaming habits I mean. 1E D&D: thinking that every monster's deadliness is it's first and only attribute of importance. 4E: thinking that the only thing about a monster that matters is what it's powers are. I've been guilty of both.
** This whole post is really just a response to Zak's post where he calls beetles boring. Shame on you Zak!