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MC1 Monstrous Compendium Volume One (2e)
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MC1 Monstrous Compendium Volume One (2e)

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What's a fantasy role-playing game without monsters?

At the heart of any good AD&D adventure, you'll find great monsters -- dragons, giants, trolls, killer oozes, shadows, and who knows what else!

This first Monstrous Compendiium gives DMs and players 144 pages of new and improved monsters, with all-new illustrations, expanded descriptions, and complete statistical data, all in an easy-to-read, easy to reference format. Players can organize the monsters in this pack, alphabetically, according to when they show up in an adventure, according to monster type, or any other way they see fit.

Product History

MC1: Monstrous Compendium Volume One (1989) is the first monster manual for AD&D 2e. It was published in June 1989.

About the Module Code. The "MC" Monstrous Compendium module code doesn't actually appear on the Monstrous Compendium Volume One. In fact, it wouldn't show up in advertising until mid-1990 and its first cover appearance would be on MC11: Monstrous Compendium Forgotten Realms Appendix (1991)!

About the Title. Today, the term "Monster Manual" is synonymous with tomes of monstrous adversaries for the D&D game. However, that wasn't true back in 1989. Sure, there had been a Monster Manual (1977) and a Monster Manual II (1983), but there'd also been a Fiend Folio (1981). Meanwhile, the monster book in the OD&D set (1974) had been called "Monsters & Treasures" while Basic D&D (1983) had a Creature Catalogue (1986) which later became a Creature Catalog (1993).

So, AD&D 2e's transformation of the AD&D 1e's Monster Manual into a Monstrous Compendium wasn't quite as earth-shattering as it might seem today … and the word "Compendium" could actually a better word for a collection of monsters than "Manual".

Moving Toward AD&D 2e. When AD&D 1e was published, the Monster Manual led the way and was only followed later by the game's actual rules. AD&D 2e reversed that trend. The Player's Handbook (1989) appeared in February, followed by the Dungeon Master's Guide (1989) in May, and finally the first Monstrous Compendium in June.

It seems like a long time to go without monsters, but the change from AD&D 1e to AD&D 2e was a relatively minor revision — especially to players who were brought up mixing together books from OD&D, AD&D, and Basic D&D. In other words: the old Monster Manuals still worked fine. In fact, TSR continued to reprint the 1e Monster Manual and Monster Manual II at least through July 1989, and maybe into 1990. Meanwhile, White Wolf Magazine continued to record the 1e Fiend Folio as a top RPG seller into 1992. It's a far cry from more recent edition updates, where the publisher of D&D was so afraid of old material not selling that they stopped publishing it a year or more before updating the game.

About the Binder. The first Monstrous Compendium was published in a rather unusual format. It came as a binder with 72 hole-punched sheets of paper (for 144 pages total) that had to be torn out of a perforated pad. Six full-color cardstock dividers could also be inserted into the binder.

What a Difference an Edition Makes: The Looseleaf Experiment. From early on, TSR talked about producing some of the AD&D 2e rules as looseleaf sheets that could be put in three-hole binders. The small press Hidden Kingdom (1983) RPG and Columbia Games' Encyclopedia Hârnicas (1984-1985) were rare examples of previous roleplaying books that had used the format. However, D&D's B/X Basic rules (1981) had also been three-hole punched — though they were still produced as saddle-stitched books. In end, TSR didn't use the hole-punched format for the core AD&D 2e rules, but they did go that route for AD&D 2e's monster books.

The Monstrous Compendiums were actually TSR's second try at this format. The first was the Gamer's Handbook of the Marvel Universe (1988), which appeared as a four-book alphabetic encyclopedia, which was then updated every year with the newest heroes and villains (1989-1992).

Unfortunately, the idea of an forever-expandable monster book never quite matched up with the physical realities of the line. The biggest problem was that the monsters were all printed on double-sided pages. Though some covered both sides of the page, most of them were instead detailed in a single page. This meant that it was impossible to properly alphabetize the monsters as the line grew. It also meant that you definitely couldn't organize them in other manners (such as putting all of the undead together), which made those dividers pretty useless. (The Marvel Universe Gamer's Handbook had been more careful about describing each character in spreads of two or four pages, even if it meant leaving a page blank, so the problems hadn't arisen there.)

The actual physical binders and looseleaf pages for the Monstrous Compendiums were subpar too. The binders were big and bulky, while the pages were overly flimsy. The perforations sometimes tore wrong, and over the time the holes ripped out too. (If you see a surviving Monstrous Compendium binder, it probably has ring protectors on its pages.) Overall, the Monstrous Compendiums didn't hold up to the ever-improving quality of the AD&D 2e books, so four years after the line began, the looseleaf experiment would end, and the Monstrous Compendiums would move over to a more traditional format.

What a Difference an Edition Makes: The Monster Format. The Monstrous Compendiums also saw large-scale changes to the format of the individual monster entries, which resulted in them being much longer. The original Monster Manual fit 3-4 monsters per page, which means there wasn't a lot of information on them beyond their stats and combat abilities. The new Monstrous Compendiums placed one monster per page (sometimes alongside variants). This allowed the introduction of new sections on the monsters' "habitat" and "ecology". This continued a trend begun way back in Dragon #72 (April 1983) with "The Ecology of the Piercer", but it was the first time the main monster books had provided details that turned their critters into more than just monsters to fight.

Monsters of Note. Even though it was 30 pages longer than the original Monster Manual, Monstrous Compendium Volume One still had room for a lot fewer monsters due to its format changes.

So what were the most important 150+ monsters for the new AD&D 2e game? The Monstrous Compendium Volume One is about as generic as could be, containing lots of animals, generic fantasy creatures (including humanoids, undead, some mythological monsters, and several fantasy races) and D&D originals (like beholders, carrion crawlers, displacer beasts, the various jellied monsters, owlbears, and umber hulks).

Monsters of Note: The Dragons. One of the problems with AD&D 1e was tat dragons were never dangerous enough. TSR wanted to change this in AD&D 2e, as Jean Rabe and Skip Williams previewed in "The New Ecology of the Dragons" in Dragon #146 (June 1989). Now, dragon had more hit points, more attacks, did more damage, and got even deadlier when they got older.

Take the lowly white dragon. In AD&D 1e, it had 5-7 hit dice (HD). An ancient white dragon got 8 hp per HD, which meant a total of 7 * 8 = 56. Damage was unchanged by size: always 1-4/1-4/2-16. Breath weapon damage was equal to hit points: 56. In AD&D 2e, the white dragon now has 5-19 HD, which means that the oldest white dragon has an average of 4.5 * 19 = 85.5 hit points and a max of 8 * 19 = 152. Claw/claw/bite is the same 'ole 1-4/1-4/2-16 but a great wyrm's breath weapon now does 12d6 + 12 damage, an average of 54 and a max of 84. To-hit, AC, and spells also improve with age, making a small dragon pretty pitiful, but a big dragon truly awesome — which would foreshadow how they'd be represented in later editions of the game.

Future History. Monstrous Compendium Volume One paired with MC2: Monstrous Compendium Volume Two (1989) to form the core monster books for AD&D 2e. Afterward, TSR produced another 13 looseleaf Monstrous Compendiums (1989-1993).

The entirety of the first two volumes of the Monstrous Compendiums would also be included in the Monstrous Manual (1993), the revamped core monster book for AD&D 2e, a few years down the road.

About the Creators. The concept behind the Monstrous Compendium was created by the core AD&D 2e team of David "Zeb" Cook, Jon Pickens, and Steve Winter.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to

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Customer avatar
Stanley B June 03, 2017 5:11 am UTC
WARNING!!!!! This file has several issues.

1. They have the color dividers appended at the end of the file (before the back cover) AS WELL AS being a separate file. This can lead to MASSIVE wastes of ink, if you had no intention to print the dividers (or intend to print them on different print stock). They really need removed from the main PDF if they are also going to be provided as a separate file.

2. As noted in the Product History, this file was meant to be interleafed with the other Monstrous Compendiums as printed. In fact, Volumes 1 & 2 (if not volume 3 as well) were SPECIFICALLY LAID OUT and the monsters chosen so that when combined, the pages could be combined with the entries remaining in PERFECT order. Somehow, in creating this file for MC1, someone DOUBLED UP the Dragon Turtle page, so that the Dragonfish that SHOULD have been (even numbered) page on the BACK of Dragon Turtle, is now the front (odd) page, meaning that the Elemental general information page is on its back,...See more
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File Last Updated:
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This title was added to our catalog on May 17, 2016.