Dungeon and Dragons – Volo’s Guide to Monsters (review)
Let’s clear some things first…
So you’ve stopped the Rise of Tiamat, shattered the Princes of the Apocalypse, pulled yourself Out of the Abyss, challenged the Curse of Strahd, and unraveled the mystery of the Storm King’s Thunder. What’s next? Well, you have some Tales from the Yawning Portal (which was released recently) – but first, there is some ground to cover with Dungeon & Dragons – Volo’s Guide to Monsters, the awesome supplement regarding monster lore!
Since Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (also known as D&D 2nd Edition), some of the best ideas came from the 3rd Edition. Reorganizing a wealth of information from its predecessors and placing them in a wide range of supplements to provide Dungeon Masters with the tools to create their adventures. This was slimmed down significantly in 4th Edition, providing fewer rules and more fluff. In 5th Edition, it tries to balance fluff with just enough rules to adjudicate for gameplay, without inundating your gameplay with rules lawyering which is common in the more rules heavy tabletop games.
It’s more than just a Monster Manual
While it is not clear if there will be a Monster Manual 2 and so forth, the format portrayed is refreshing. It gives you just enough to get an idea of the kind of fluff material you can use in your adventures and monster options that split away from the base monster types for a nuanced cultural approach.
To top it all off, the book is flavored with the viewpoints of both Volothamp Geddarm and Elminster, legendary characters known in The Forgotten Realms campaign setting. This could easily have been treated as another Monster Manual and people would have been happy with it. However, with the angle of enhancing the experience with contrasting narratives, Volo being a traveler and storyteller, and Elminster being a powerful and academically-inclined wizard (and former Chosen of Mystra, God of Magic), it elevates the experience to a new standard!
What Dungeon & Dragons – Volo’s Guide to Monsters is not…
- An adventure. This follows the theme of Wizards of the Coast’s division between toolkits for creating adventures versus dedicated adventures themselves. It’s hot off the trails of Storm King’s Thunder, then followed with Tales from the Yawning Portal. Volo’s Guide acts as a means to change up the encounters, enhance them, or make these flanking adventures your own!
- Consistent. When it comes to the elaboration of cultural details of each monster’s race, it focuses on certain aspects which give more flavor and ideas to use in your campaign. However, don’t expect to have the same categories of focus across the board. These pieces are just flavor, not a definition. Guides, not rules.
- New. If you have collected various supplements from previous editions, you will know that they are more robust and have given DM’s various material to derive from. 3rd Edition, in particular, had an extremely robust selection of books which covered certain monster cultures in depth. Draconomicon? Libris Mortis? Great sourcebooks! But out of print. However, if you can acquire those older supplements, it is not out of the question to be able to convert those over to 5th Edition. So in contrast, this is a great start for further insight down the line, especially if your start with D&D is with 5th Edition.
What Dungeon & Dragons – Volo’s Guide to Monsters does well…
- Insight. I’m not one of those pricks who can’t appreciate that they have taken some of the most popular monster races and given them some unique insights, rather than being trash races. With the growth of the hobby, many people are not given the empowerment to pull from a vast archive of knowledge that D&D devotees have had for years. Not everyone has the insight to create unique homebrew material. So this book helps to further leverage newcomers to creating the depth that isn’t necessarily reliant or bound by the 5th Edition adventure stories.
- Monster Races. They brought it back! Streamlining the monster class format, long gone are the ECL (Extra Character Level) adjustments from prior editions. Now you can play a Monster Race, like a Kobold, Yuan-Ti, or any other monster. That’s if you feel the original races were too mainstream.
- Distinctive Sections. Between the handful of cultural nuances developed, they added another section with more monsters. Even adding specialty variations of certain races, like a Mind-Witness, which is a Beholder that is transformed by Mind Flayers. For the most part, you can consider Volo’s Guide as a Monster Manual II, with the 5th Edition’s creative formatting.
- Enhanced Narrative. As mentioned earlier in this article, the addition of Volo and Elminster’s notes add to the experience of the book. While it is great as a DM’s tool, it is a fun read to see the two characters’ notes concerning their observations, experiences, and banter. It reminds me of some of the Post-It Note exchanges I have in the office place between co-workers. 🙂
Ideas and options, Dungeon & Dragons – Volo’s Guide to Monsters is a prize for everyone! Whether you’re a Dungeon Master looking for more ideas, players who want to go off the beaten path, or a lore buff who wants to know more about Faerun’s popular monster cultures. This is one of my favorite books in 5th Edition.
Rating: 5/5 Atoms
Dimensions – 8.6 x 0.6 x 11.2 inches
Hardcover, 224 pages
Volo’s Guide to Monsters is published by Wizards of the Coast. Check out this link for more information: http://dnd.wizards.com/products/tabletop-games/rpg-products/volos-guide-to-monsters
You can purchase now at your local retailer or Amazon.
The book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.