One of the biggest criticisms that a segment of the C&C fans have laid at TLG's feet deals with missed opportunities. From the very beginning, they have had to contend with fans who wanted C&C to be a just a clone of their favorite game and then there were those who wanted something more. In either case, the general consensus has always been that C&C was simple and adaptable enough to use older, 'classic' gaming material as well as newer, 'modern' (read d20) material. The other consensus (for some) was that TLG wasn't doing enough to support the core of the game.
Well, I feel that "Classic Monsters: The Manual" is a step in the right direction. Not only should it please fans who loved the original Monster Manual I and II books but the Fiend Folio as well. The author, Kim Hartsfield, takes a look and updates these classic creatures for use in C&C. Over 200 entries can be found in this book spreading across 144 pages. Actually, the critters themselves occupy just over a hundred of these pages. The Introduction and a general 'How to Use' section takes up 4 pages, and the index takes up a full 31 pages.
You may ask, "Why are there 31 pages for the index?"
Simple. The 'index' is a complete summary listing of all creatures along with their stats from the 'Classic Monsters' book as well as the original 'Monsters & Treasures' and the 'Monsters & Treasures of Aihrde'. This easily makes the index one of the best aspects of this new book.
As for the rest of the book, the essay on 'Monster Creation' in the 'Introduction' is a nice enough read and the creatures which adorn the majority of the pages are standard fare and is what one would expect for a book on monsters. In fact, the book will hold little surprises for those who have gamed well before Castles & Crusades was first published. I expect there will be some that will compare previous iterations of certain creatures by consulting the d20 'Tome of Horrors' by Necromancer Games or consulting the original Monster Manuals and Fiend Folio in order to see how these new versions actually stack up. Even I will be tempted to take a look at some of the entries as I have had to create C&C versions of these for works published by Arcana Creations. The Giant Crab, Selkie, Giant Centipede, and Huecuva are four examples of the top of my head (and this from just two modules!). I suppose this is one of the issues here when you think about it. Was this book actually necessary?
The book is certainly convenient and, it could make my job as a third-party publisher of C&C material easier (provided they correct some of the OGL related issues uncovered in the pre-release PDF version). However, a lot of people who use C&C undoubtedly also have access to a variety of other published work which can be just as easily converted and used for their games. I have run a few 1st edition modules and used the stat blocks pretty much as-is. I've done the same with d20 D&D modules. I have many books I can draw from which would only require the minimum of tweaks to use it for my personal C&C campaigns. On the other hand, it's nice to have a book which is readily available and in print for my gaming needs. No fuss at all. Of course, there are those that don't have or no longer have all these other books. People will want to use this book for different things.
As for the presentation of the book itself, it keeps the look of the recent books such as the latest printing of the 'Monsters & Treasures' book. The art style is typical of what you will find in the newer printings of the C&C books with some pieces being more 'sketch-like' than others. Art is a very subjective thing but it's consistent enough throughout and there isn't any one piece I dislike. There is one aspect of the layout done which I am not happy with though. The book is presented in two columns which is fine but there are instances where the stat block (as opposed to the description) is 'cut' and split at the bottom of one column to resume at the top of the next. Worse yet, at least a couple of instances has this across two pages! Now, the issue is not a terrible one but they seem to have managed to avoid this sort of issue in the past so I was genuinely surprised to see it. Who knows though, maybe this too will get fixed before it sees print.
Don't get me wrong -- I do like the book and I can't wait to see the 'real' finished product. If you are a C&C fan and run a game, should you buy the book? I guess in the end, you have to ask yourself what kind of C&C fan are you. When you first heard about a new monster book for C&C, did you wish to have more classic monsters that you know and love or would you want to have a book of brand new, never-before-seen monsters to throw at your players? Do you want to keep you C&C game to be more like the older games that inspired it, or would you rather go 'your way'?
For what it is, I'm generally satisfied with it and retailing at $24.95 for a hardcover edition, you are still getting value for you dollar compared to the typical cost of a gaming book today. For what it is, there is little else that this book 'needs'. One thing I would have liked to see included was the handful of critters found in 'Of Gods & Monsters' included in the appendix but that's just me. And, as usual, this is a product from TLG and thus never quite perfect. The quirkiest thing I found with the book was the decision to include the Cloaker. I find this odd since the original M&T for C&C also has an entry for the Cloaker. We probably don't need two but I chuckle when I think that they are also both listed in the Index.
When I do finally get my physical copy, I'll post a little something about it and see if there are any substantial difference with the PDF I have now and the version that ends up going to printers. I'll see if I can include a couple of pics as well. I just wouldn't expect them anytime this month!