We are 2/3 of our way to a complete collection of core books for the 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons. If you read my review of the Player’s Handbook you could easily tell I was gushing over the product and my review of the Monster Manual will likely show that the second core book instills the same level of adoration for this edition in me. What I have before me is a solid catalog of rich creatures to pull from to flavor a world. The book is massive, and it contains so many of the iconic creatures we’ve loved over the years. The cursory read through I’ve done for this review will certainly be one of many.
HOW’S IT LOOK
The book itself is solid and huge. So many monsters have been shoved in this beast that I’ve heard some wonder about whether we will see binding issues in the future, so far I’ve seen none. I can say I’ve flipped through every page and haven’t had an issue with even one of them, everything is nicely knit into the body of this manual.
I thought the artwork in the Player’s Handbook was gorgeous, and still do with few exceptions, but the Monster Manual outpaces its predecessor easily. Perhaps it’s just because a bestiary ends up being a feast of work for artists, I’m not certain the reason, but it just seems wonderfully drawn and inked. With a Monster Manual it can be easy to follow a formulaic approach to pictures of the creatures, but we certainly don’t have that here. Artwork varies from large splash pages to smaller corner pictures that always brings to the fore what’s important about their appearances. Truly some great art direction is evident.
There was an approach to this editions’ monsters that truly humbles me. I have caught little snippets of information about certain creatures that smacked of their iterations through the years across the board. The team behind the book obviously poured over older editions and supplements to grab the best of the best when it came to the lore surrounding the additions to the manual.
The notable standout addition to lore lies with terming certain creatures “Legendary”, and with that keyword comes extra benefits such big baddies can pull from to challenge players. Legendary creatures get these things called “Lair Actions” that occur on a certain initiative count and can do some serious work. Earthquakes, Stone Spikes emerging to harm players, or even Freezing Fog can add some extra difficulties. I also love how these Legendary Creatures get some Regional Effects as well. Now, Regional Effects could certainly be something an intuitive DM might come up with on their own, even I came up with the idea of a Red Dragon’s surrounding land being somewhat blighted by ash, but the addition of some actual rules and ideas for what to use for these creatures will be nothing but helpful.
The Stat Blocks are easy enough to read for anyone who’s done this before but I can’t say they’ll be all that approachable for a novice. It can be a bit jarring at first to only have numbers for skills or saves a monster is actually proficient in but given enough time handling that will be easy enough if you just recall what stat handles what save/skill. Monsters are given a “Challenge” number meant to indicate what level a party of four to five PC’s needs to be before having a fair go at it, and if you feel you need to brush up on how to parse these numbers into fair encounters and XP my buddy Scott actually made a very informational video about it. Here’s the Link. It’s 40 minutes long, because Scott is not one for being light on content, but well worth the watch.
There’s one big issue with the whole thing, and that’s been well referenced (and fixed) by the community at large. There isn’t an index for creatures listed by their Challenge number. Frankly this is minor now, as good Samaritans within our community have drafted a strong solution to this issue, but I still consider it an oversight. What I’ve heard through the grapevine is that the index might be in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. This will be superbly useful as we can then have both books open and have an easier time flipping about (don’t need to keep going back to one page in the MM), but as far as I’m concerned it shouldn’t have been that hard to have it in the MM to begin with to compensate for the fact we’ve got months to wait for the DMG. Alas, like I said, this issue is resolved though. Here is the link to the fan made index, I find it really useful hopefully you will to! (LINK)
Look. If you’re going to run a 5th edition D&D game, you’ll need this book (or perhaps the DungeonScape download of its contents, but I’ve yet to see those). Most anyone who’s interested in D&D 5th Edition will want it anyway so one might ask what use my review is in the first place. Well, I can say that even if you aren’t a big D&D person there’s lore abounding in this book for some very iconic creature to be used in any RPG. Pick itup, it’s beautiful. You won’t regret the purchase no matter the RPG you frequent.