I've only had the Monsternomicon 2 for less than 24 hours, but it has been thoroughly kicking my butt the entire time. I've even dropped my Harry Potter re-read to concentrate on this, which means I won't get my re-read done before the last Harry Potter book comes out this weekend. Serious business!
So this post isn't going to be a review per se, since I haven't read much more than about a third of the book yet; more like a stream of consciousness first impressions. And my first impressions are that the book exceeds its predecessor, which is something I never expected a monster book to do.
I had a few minimum expectations; things that if weren't done I would be extremely disappointed. Namely, that the Monsternomicon 2 had better detail the troops from Warmachine and the critters from Hordes that weren't in the first Monsternomicon. True; many of the "troops" from Warmachine are better represented in d20 with just giving a few class levels and some specific equipment to NPCs, and the warjacks themselves have their own sourcebook in Liber Mechanika. However, Warmachine had quite a few undead that were unstatted in d20, and Hordes has four factions, of which only the trolls (and to a lesser extent the Circle) were well-represented in the first Monsternomicon. So this new book delivers on my minimum expectations: there's a fairly large section on the Everblight specific dragonspawn, including all creatures for which there currently is a miniature, the last couple of trolls are detailed, there's a large section on new thralls, including bloat thralls, bile thralls, necrotechs and the centaur-like mechaniko-undead cavalry. The machine wraith gets written up as well. In addition to this, a handful of critters from the Witchfire Trilogy manages to make an appearance; stuff that I had completely forgotten about such as the devil rats, the big skorne warbeasts, or the giants who managed to somehow contribute a skeleton that appears in the modules.
The skorne are given pride of place in this book; not only are all their troop types detailed (and more) the last 10-15% or so of the book is literally a mini-sourcebook on their empire and the surrounding area, and all throughout the entire book there's information on them. This could almost be considered a skorne sourcebook that happens to cover a lot of other stuff as well.
Psion makes an interesting point about the first Monsternomicon whenever these "what's yer favorite sourcebook" discussions pop up and it inevitably gets mentioned (often by me.) He says that his problem with it is that it often reinvents the wheel. Iron Kingdoms gives us trolls that are similar yet not identical to D&D trolls. It gives us gobbers in place of goblins. Ogruns in place of ogres. Thralls in place of a host of other non-sentient undead. Etc. This isn't an untrue statement; but I don't see that as a detriment, because the flavor of the IK variety is usually much more intriguing than the standard D&D flavor that it would replace. In other words, I don't think that it makes the sourcebook any less useful for the fact that it reinvents the wheel as long as it does so sufficiently well that you want the reinvented version.
This applies well to me; as much as I dearly love the Iron Kingdoms, honestly I doubt I'd ever run more than isolated one-shots there when I can homebrew, which is half (or more) the fun of running a game in the first place. But I love to steal stuff from other settings as much as possible. And the Iron Kingdoms gives me tons of stuff to steel.
Going back to Psion's point, the skorne struck me as essentially the IK reinvented hobgoblins. A harsh, disciplined, non-human militaristic society: perfect match. However, the skorne are so much more interesting than anything D&D has ever done with hobgoblins. Even Eberrron's Darguun feels cliched, pedestrian and boring compared to the Skorne Empire. So for me, I can see grabbing the entire Skorne empire, having skorne be the name of the culture and society instead of the race, have the "skorne" actually be hobgoblins, and sticking the whole thing into a large, harsh desert area of any D&D setting and having instant antagonists: a powerful expansionist empire coming into contact for the first time with the more "traditional" kingdoms around it, in a campaign that eventually is defined by this war. Voila! Instant campaign based on the skorne.
And like I said, other than changing the skorne to hobgoblins (and they practically already are anyway--just bald, lumpy-headed ones with a slightly different statline) to make it feel more "traditional" D&D, this book could easily become the basis for an entire campaign.
I haven't yet read all the way through the Skorne empire write-up, but it looks reasonably focused and detailed; at least as much so as say Cryx was in the setting book (another great antagonist nation that could fairly easily be tossed into any campaign. I love Cryx!)
Anyway; another post to follow in a few days when I've managed to read the entire thing.