Monster Manual IV

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 106: Monster Manual IV & More Planar Dragons




For whatever random reason, the end of third edition D&D featured an awful lot of planar content. At the same time, much of this content wasn’t terribly good or memorable. As a result of this confluence, I’m going to be smashing a few of these things together at a time, largely because none of the pieces covered in the next few columns deserve their own write-up. Some of the absolute best, most interesting bits of planar writing in the history of D&D came from 2006-2008, right before the game’s entire cosmology was flushed down the toilet, but before we can get there we’ve got some forgettable works to trudge through. So let’s get trudging! Woo!

The first of this week’s duo of bestiaries is actually pretty decent, it’s just that I am so exhausted by the entire concept of planar dragons that coming across yet another article on the topic, the aptly-yet-dully titled “Planar Dragons” by Michael McArtor (Dragon #344, June 2006) couldn’t help but elicit from me a great big sigh. Like Ed Bonny’s article of the same name from two years earlier, the write-up of these planar dragons is good, at least in the case of the three new dragon types. The chole dragon from the Abyss is a terrifying, betentacled monster who can’t fly or even control all of its limbs. The Gloom dragon from Hades is just as frightening, though for different reasons, as it seems to suck the souls from those it eats and adds them to its carapace in the form of tombstones. Conversely, the Elysian dragon is the most entertaining dragon subtype I’m yet to come across, and largely spends its time getting drunk and partying. It never even manages to accumulate treasure, because it needs to spend its earnings on more booze and festivities. In addition to three surprisingly creative takes on what is typically a somewhat dull monster, Tom Fowler’s art for this article is absolutely superb, to the point that it might best series of drawings I’ve seen in this entire edition. 

The chole dragon hanging out and being a terrifying abomination, just as God intended.

Unfortunately, McArtor does completely flub the one dragon not from the Outer Planes. Instead of drawing from the extremely unique astral dragon in A Guide to the Astral Plane, or at least from the one in an ancient issue of Dragon that I never covered in this column because it’s entirely forgettable, he adds yet a third species of astral dragon to the game. While Fowler’s art makes for a rather lovely addition, the dragon itself is only really unique in how bad it is at flying and its odd breath weapon, a cone of a dismissal. Otherwise, there isn’t too much to it, and mostly it serves to clutter up the game’s cosmology/bestiary in a weird and unnecessary manner.


In addition to fabulous art—seriously, I can’t get over how good it is, why have I never seen Fowler’s art before or since this piece?—there’s also a list of where all the various planar dragons can be found. This is typically thorough for Paizo and much appreciated, though this also really points out how messy and difficult it was to ever find what you were looking for as this edition went on.

How can you not love this guy? The Elysian dragon is my new favorite monster from third edition.

Speaking of messy, the other work I’m covering in this article is the Monster Manual IV, a largely forgotten work full of monsters you’ve never heard of since the book’s publication. Like, not once. After a bit of searching, I could find a grand total of one (1) monster from this book that made its way to fifth edition, and only a handful more that made it to fourth despite that edition having a weird love for obscure, forgettable monsters, perhaps as part of its strange-yet-consistent project to make the game as unrecognizable from its previous incarnations as possible. There are a decent number of planar creatures contained within these pages, but I’m not joking when I say that only one of them would make any slight-if-lasting impact, and even it was only moved away from the Prime in later editions (that creature is the balhannoth); as such I’m not even going to bother mentioning it here again.


Here’s the full list of planar monsters from this compilation, plus a few notes about them when I felt like it:

  • -Avatars of Elemental Evil – All four, increasingly predictable types. But no aspects for once? The whole avatar/aspect distinction remains ridiculous.
  • -Clockwork Mender 
  • -Concordant Killer 
  • -Demon
    • -Death drinker – not any type, and very basic. 
    • -Kastighur – tanar’ri
    • -Nashrou – not any type, but at least pleasantly weird.
    • -Whisper Demon – no type, should really be limoura
  • -Demonhive – Just what they sound like, but they’re not actually demons themselves?
  • -Dwarf Ancestor 
  • -Giant
    • -Craa’ghoran – Essentially an earth elemental giant
  • -Inferno Spider
  • -Joystealers – Technically fey, but they live on the Ethereal Plane.
  • -Justice Archon – Boring as hell and barely tries to fit into the plane’s hierarchy.
  • -Skiurd – Shadow squirrels!
  • -Windblades – New Pandemonium natives
  • -Wrackspawn – Demons who aren’t even in the demon section. Why???
  • -Yugoloth
    • -Corruptor of Fate
    • -Voor

That’s a shorter list than last time, and for the most part also a less interesting one. Still, there are a couple noteworthy creatures here that I can actually see using… that is, if I ever remember that they exist. 

Clockwork menders are a nice addition, but the game keeps adding new beings to Mechanus without remembering the old ones.

The clockwork mender in particular seems like a worthwhile creation. They exist on Mechanus and live to fix machinery. Whenever encountered elsewhere, it’s usually because people summoned them, occasionally as familiars, to take care of devices. They feel like a monster that should’ve existed long before this, and fit into the weirdo Mechanus ecosystem perfectly. I particularly like that they eat scrap metal and rust, and that they don’t mate but can build others of their own kind. Clockwork menders just plain make sense, so it’s a pity this is the first and last time they’ll ever get mentioned. 


Conversely, concordant killers drew my notice for all the wrong reasons, and not just because they have the highest challenge rating of anything in the entire book. They’re supposed to possess both celestial and fiendish (well, it says demonic, but that’s just a bad editorial oversight) heritage, and are hitmen for deities. It seems like there’s possibilities here, and I wanted something interesting from them, but concordant killers simply did not deliver. They are all sorts of cliches bundled together in one ugly package, an embodiment of D&D‘s inability to grasp any reasonable concept of neutrality, and I can’t help but be glad that their only other appearance was an even more confusing entry as an undead creature by a different name (but with the same image) in fourth edition. As usual, I suspect that the game’s designers were intentionally making bad decisions with that edition, because why else would anyone bring this creature back, let alone change it in baffling new ways?

Goodness, is there anything else I want to actually talk about here? I suppose the joystealers at least have something going on with their strange background. These were unseelie fey enslaved by ethergaunts. Through their longterm habitation in the Ethereal Plane, they became “fastened” to the plane, and now go about being evil and stealing emotions from mortals just for the lols. It’s not too dissimilar a backstory from the ghost elves of the Ethereal that no one but me remembers exist, but I do like learning more about the ethergaunts, as they’re an obscure but far more interesting race.

While not terribly interesting, at least joystealers have a good backstory.

And, uhh, yeah that’s pretty much it. The new demons are boring, the new yugoloths are somehow even more boring and also do a bad job of fitting in with what’s established about their fiendish race, and the new archon is truly a yawn and a half. I think the attempt to make a new planar race based in Pandemonium is… fine, but the windblades are just too middling to pay much attention to. The problem with them, and so many monsters in this edition, is that their society and worldview isn’t fleshed out enough to really make them worth using. I appreciate that they have their own language and even rules for PCs, but they neither fit in well with what we know about Pandemonium already nor feel like a necessary part of that plane that was previously missing.


So yes, there’s more planar content in the MMIV, but for the most part it’s extremely forgettable, and unfortunately that will be the case with more than a handful of releases from this period. Don’t worry, we won’t be spending too much time on these less noteworthy works, but I don’t want to entirely pretend they don’t exist—obscure, half-baked ideas are just as much a part D&D‘s history as anything else. So bear with me for a bit, as we’ll be back at more robust material again very soon. 

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