Since Wizards of the Coast released the 5th Edition of Dungeons &Dragons a few years ago, I've been back into the game that has been hugely influential on me since about age ten, call it 1980 or 1981. So far, I've been pretty happy with the new edition and it has enjoyed some success as a new generation of gamers take some time away from their consoles and pick up paper and dice and engage their imaginations. It has even found some semi-mainstream attention with the help of celebrities such as Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton and the others at Geek and Sundry (check YouTube if you don't know what that is) leading the renaissance.
That being said, I decided to make my second installment of my revived blog a brief review of the latest Dungeons & Dragons hardcover release, VOLO'S GUIDE TO MONSTERS. This is basically the Monster Manual II of the edition, but only about half the length of the Monster Manual (but at all of the price!).
Right away, the title tells us that the book is nominally set against the backdrop of the Forgotten Realms Fantasy Setting, as so much of WotC D&D has been. I have always been a Greyhawk man myself, so I would rather get a setting free book. But the Forgotten Realms flavor is kept minimal so this was not much of an issue. The book is then set into three chapters - Monster Lore, Character Races, and Bestiary. The first chapter gives detailed looks at the societies, psychologies, motivations, and more of some of D&Ds most iconic monsters, like Beholders, Giants, Hags, and Mind Flayers. Then they give each main humanoid race their own write-up. Really, when they only detail nine monster types, do we need separate entries for Kobolds, Goblins (actually has info for Hobgoblins and bugbears too) , Gnolls, and Orcs? Anyway, some may find this material useful. There are not stat blocks here, but a lot of ideas both for stories and role playing the monsters.
The second chapter has rules for rolling up player characters of various monster or at least non-standard races. I'm a big one for house rules, so I viewed this as pretty unnecessary but I know of some who like it. I won't comment too much on their selections, whether you like or dislike an Aasimar, or a Firbolg, or a Kenku, or any other is purely a matter of taste. There are about eleven of these monster race options in Volo's.
The last chapter contains the monsters themselves, the stat blocks. Most of this old material, monsters that have been around for decades that were not included in the first MM and now statted out for 5E. I was happy to see some old friends like the Froghemoth (The stats I had whipped up for the one kept as a pet by a local hag were pretty similar though), the Quickling, and the Catoblepas. In particular, I liked the number of fey monsters included, as I will probably be able to use them in the near future in my current campaign.
Overall, I am happy with the book. I've already used it in converting A2 for 5E (the boggles!). The best material is old material now made 'official' for 5E, but the original material isn't bad. The price of the book new is steep at $49.99 (really? I mean my old DMG with the Efreeti on it, which I still use, cost $12 and all the other hardcover books were $9. Modules were about $6. I'm old).