Caution: There be monsters ahead
You can say a lot of things about 5th edition D&D; That it strikes an excellent balance between accessible and intricate. You can commend it for bringing many lapsed gamers back into the fold. It proves Wizards of the Coast has learned from the misstep of 4th edition (Not that 4e doesn’t have its merits, but it was largely rejected by the RPG community). You can also mention that its driving design philosophy is “less is more”, showing it learned the lesson of bloat; 5th edition has had significantly less, but significantly better, books than any previous edition. Its with that in mind that many groups were chomping at the bit for Volo’s Guide to Monsters. While it has a fancy lore-heavy name, it is essentially the Monster Manual 2. So how does it stack up? Let’s dig into that.
The Nitty Gritty
I am not sure if its just me, but the book itself looks far thinner than I expected; Not as criminally thin as the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, but not as big as any of the core books either. It is broken down into 3 sections: The lore, New PC options, and new monsters. I’m going to start with the Lore and the New Monsters and work my way to the New PC options.
The Lore for this book really makes its shine. It covers large chunks of lore and variation for the most common D&D monster families; From Beholders to Illithids to the Yuan-ti and many others. The ability to give variety and characterization to your creatures makes them all the more engrossing. Its a solid edition to the book and a godsend to DM’s who want to build their own worlds for players to explore. The back and forth on these pages between Volo, lucky and sometimes oblivious explorer, and Elminster, the gruff and matter of fact wizard, also adds a surprising amount of character to the book itself. All the other individual monsters get standard descriptions as well, but this bit of lore on the big enemy races is very welcome.
As for the monsters themselves, the book brings 98 new creatures and 23 NPCs to the table. Many of these NPCs and creatures fill in the drought of mid level and high level creatures the game needed. It also adds several new boss creatures to put at the end of a dungeon or even a campaign. Some of these creatures are silly, the the Froghemoth, while some are terrifying, like the Devo
urer. They all feel incredibly well balanced and I cannot wait to throw these new monsters at my party.
For the Player’s
That brings us to the most disappointing part of Volo’s guide; the new character options. I will clarify my disappointment by saying this; I love all these new options. My disappointment comes from the fact that balance when compared to the established races is non-existant. I’m not referring to the monstrous races, which have a disclaimer saying they were not built to be balanced but to keep the flavor of the monster intact, I’m referring to the races that precede them. You can see the power creep of these races by looking at two listed side by side; The Goliath, getting into an official book after being published in the free Elemental Evil Player’s Companion, and the Firbolg. They both get standard race bonuses, but while the goliath get a damage reduction, a skill, and two minor abilities the Firbolg gets two long rest spells, one of the goliath’s minor abilities, a short rest bonus action invisibility, and the ability to speak with animals. I would have preferred if all races had been built with balance instead of just built for flavor. The Aasimar, Triton, and Lizardfolk are all too powerful side as well…just not as much as the Firbolg are. The Kenku and Tabaxi are more balanced but do air on the powerful side. The Monstrous races have no balance at all, ranging from terrible (Kobold) to weak (Goblin, Orc, and Hobgoblin) to Powerful (Bugbear) to Completely Broken (Yuan-ti Pureblood). I love the flavor they gave all these races, but I would very much like a balance errata.
Final Verdict: Buy. Sale, or Avoid…
This is most definitely a Buy, and a solid one. Ultimately, Volo’s Guide to Monsters is a valuable addition to any 5th edition game. I think it is more useful for DM’s than Players but it is provides too much info to be passed up. DM’s can look forward to years of including these new monsters in their games as well as years of munchkins asking to play Firbolg Druids and Yuan-Ti Sorcerers and Warlocks. Be prepared to either ban some races or find homebrew balance for them. Definitely make your party fight an Elder Brain. Because who doesn’t love the final boss from Metroid?
Links to purchase the book:
Wizards of the Coast: https://goo.gl/SRizQ8
Find a Local Game Store: http://locator.wizards.com/#brand=dnd