Volo’s Guide to Monsters is a Must-Have Book for D&D 5th Edition

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition released for the first time on the 15th of July in 2014, though I and many others were playing back when the playtest was around as early as 2012. It’s since become a huge hit for new players and veterans alike. With its simplification paired with a style mirroring the famous 3.5e, it seems like this will continue to be the go-to edition for years to come. But with a new edition comes a new series of additional books, and Wizards of the Coast chooses to reduce the chance of piracy by not making available PDFs for said books. They’re not cheap, either. Thankfully they’ve been of high quality so far, but that’s for another time, because the most recent book released by them is, “Volo’s Guide to Monsters”.

There have been other books, but this is D&D 5e’s second Monster Manual without actually being referred to as such. But it makes sense that they didn’t call it, “Monster Manual 2”, because it’s actually filled with much more. And lucky for us that they fully released the table of contents for the book, so none of what I say here will cause any legal issues. Yay!

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The book is also available as an add-on for the two D&D programs, Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds.

Lore, Lore, and more Lore

The idea of a book with mostly lore was the reason the last release, “Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide”, was controversial. However, this book has 224 pages, and only 87 of them are all about monster lore. It’s all helpful for DMs as well, giving more insight on the workings of beholders, giants, gnolls, goblinoids, hags, kobolds, mind flayers, orcs, and yuan-ti. Not only that, but it goes into an insane amount of detail, such as the titles members of various groups go by, or the names of famous (or infamous) associations of each race. It explains how each monster works within their own tribes, how they act on their own, and just everything a DM would want to properly roleplay their minions beyond silently and recklessly running in to die by the player’s sword.

There was always lore on something like a mind flayer online, but now there’s several pages on every detail of a mind flayer’s existence, down to personality and flaw roll tables. Now your players will thank you for a marvellous and immersive experience before their character’s brain is violently removed from their skull.*

*This may vary from player to player.

It has the perfect amount of lore relative to the rest of the content, and the lore it has goes into much more detail than was expected. Players can come for the fun of reading, but Dungeon Masters are going to celebrate the amount of extra fluff/flavour they’ll get to work with.

New Race Options Are Always Welcome

One of the biggest surprises that came from this book is its large variety of new playable races that players can use for new campaigns (or when their character tragically dies). It not only has a handful of new-to-5e races to pick from, but also monster races, which are interesting if you can actually find a use for them. Unfortunately in a lot of campaigns, running around as a goblin is going to get your character killed. Remember to always ask your DM!

The new races include the aasimar, which previously appeared as an option in the, “Dungeon Master’s Guide”. But it’s quite a bit different now. Be sure to check it out. Next is the firbolg, a fey-related giant. Sadly the goliath is exactly the same as it was in the free, “Elemental Evil”, supplement, but the master of mimicry kenku is brand new. Lizardfolk finally have official stats, and so do the sea-dwelling tritons. The strangest race for many is the tabaxi, which is a species of cat-people. Put away your pitchforks, furry-haters. You know that dragonborn are basically furries too, right? Tabaxi are fun, and are most likely the fastest moving playable race so far in Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition.

They’re decent enough. Kenku, being only able to speak through mimicry, provides a challenging yet fun experience for players. Tritons give that Atlantean feeling a lot of people were craving, even if some of their abilities apply more to underwater encounters. Even the aasimar, who some have said have weak racial abilities, are incredibly versatile and interesting, in my opinion. Racial abilities don’t have to be powerful. Players shouldn’t put a heavy weight on a race’s mechanics when deciding what to play. The only disappointment was the goliath, which is just a reprint of something we were already given.

Then there’s the monster races. Some people have been waiting ages to play as a bugbear, goblin, hobgoblin, kobold, orc, or yuan-ti. These, for Dungeons and Dragons players, likely need to introduction. Some may not recognise yuan-ti, but they’ve been a snake-blooded evil race of humanoids since the early days of D&D.

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One of the added races, the firbolg, is a welcome and unique addition.

My only other gripes with these new options is that the orc is arguably much weaker than the regular half-orc, perhaps by too much, and that the yuan-ti seems way stronger than any race presented so far. But even with the goliath not being new, the book still gives us 12 others to choose from, and that’s a lot more than I was expecting to get. We thought we were just getting monsters, but instead, we were also bathed in a waterfall of brand new character race options.

Monsters, AKA the Meat of the Book

The majority of the book is what we came for—over a hundred pages of new monster stat blocks. I couldn’t begin to describe every single new addition, so you’ll have to check it out for yourself. But what you probably want to know is if the book is worth it. Are these monsters good? Well, I’d definitely say so. If you’re a Dungeon Master who’s used most of the monster blocks you were given and want something new, this will give you an insane amount of new ways to kill your players… I mean, guide them through a safe and fun experience.

“Bestiary provides game statistics and lore for nearly one hundred monsters suitable for any D&D campaign. Gain access to rules and story for dozens of monsters new to fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, such as the froghemoth, the neogi, and the vargouille.”

It has a bunch of new kobolds, allowing for more complex encounters with what might be my favourite enemy. Did you think that the infamous Tucker’s Kobolds were scary? Well, these ones can cast spells and throw swarms of insects. It expands on previously existing monsters just like that but for others as well, such as gnolls and yuan-ti. It also adds plenty of brand new (to this edition) unique foes like the Redcap, an angry gnome-like creature from the Feywild that sports hilariously giant metal boots.

Everything has a downside, however. It does have many new monsters, so I can’t complain about that, but I did find that many of them related to the Underdark. There were a bunch of new mind flayers, beholders, and creatures relating to spiders and the Drow. If you’re planning a campaign to the Underdark, this is definitely your book, but for the rest of us, it’s a bit of a let down to see the lack of elemental monsters and other things. It’s still a ton of new monsters, as well as NPC blocks for a variety of classes.

Some of my personally favourite new stat blocks are the NPC spellcasters. No longer does the party need to near level 6 just to fight a mage. There’s low CR mages of different types for you to mix into encounters.

Did We Get the Monster Manual Sequel We Wanted?

In short, yes. This book provides not only a hundred pages of new monsters, some of which returning for the first time since multiple editions back, but also several new and fun race options for players. It also includes all the lore you’ll ever need as a Dungeon Master on certain groups of monsters. It may be missing a few things some of us wanted, but in the end, it gives us Dungeon Masters a nice distribution of CR to work with.

If you’re not a Dungeon Master, you don’t need this book, but the illustrations are still beautiful, and the lore is interesting. I still recommend it if you have the money to spend.

Pros

  • Stunning illustrations by a series of talented artists.
  • A ton of lore on certain monsters.
  • 13 character races presented.
  • Many, many new monsters to use.
  • More varieties of pre-existing monsters to make more interesting encounters.
  • More NPC stat blocks, such as a low CR mage, to make human encounters more interesting.
  • Charts that list all new monsters by CR and by environment.

Cons

  • Goliath reprinted and not changed in the slightest.
  • Balancing between races, especially monster races, can be a bit odd. This is subjective, however, as D&D doesn’t necessarily have to be super balanced.
  • Many of the monsters are related to the Underdark.
  • As expensive as the other books, as they’re all hardcover.
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