The Bardic Review: Volo's Guide To Monsters
Dungeons & Dragons, or D&D as the kids these days are saying, has made one thing very clear since introducing in 2014; they are no longer interested in "Book Bloat". Book Bloat is the seemingly endless push to release at least one new book each month. That sort of strain can tax the creative element, forcing the designers to conjure up new adventures, monsters, classes, etc., all while attempting to meet strict deadlines.
At that pace, even with a good creative team, some sub-par products can, and most likely will, make it out into the wider world. 3rd Edition (as well as 3.5) suffered greatly from this, totaling 68 separate books between 2001 and 2007. These didn't include modules. These were all sourcebooks. While there were several great ideas in this sea of books, such as the warlock character class, there were just as many bad ideas, broken ideas, and just plain weird ideas...
...looking at you Urban Druid
"More like Hipster Druid. Oh, you and your animal companion live in a forest? Way to be mainstream."
5th Edition, in its two-year run (at the time of writing this), has released five total sourcebooks (Not including adventures and fun, strange little books like Dungeonology). The fifth of these releases is Volo's Guide To Monsters, a revisit to the old "Volo's Guide" series that some of you grognards might remember.
On the surface,Volo's Guide To Monsters appears to be just another Monster Manual, and while that is somewhat true, it is so much more than that. While the first Monster Manual was excellent at giving up a plethora stats and descriptions of creatures to murder your PCs with, it left a lot to be desired when it came to discussing the motivations, ecology, and the full range of abilities said monsters possess. Sure, they covered dragons, demons, devils, liches and what not in good detail, but Volo's takes it a step further and really fleshes out several many of the iconic D&D monsters, like beholders, mind flayers, the yuan-ti, as well as classic monsters like hags and the always grumpy orc.
But fear not, a goodly amount of monster have been added for your character-crushing pleasure. Entries that felt like they were missing from the already jam-packed Monster Manual. There is enough variation within the pages to keep your players busy for some time, and enough offshoots from classic monsters there to keep themed encounter from growing stale with repetition.
The Bard's Thoughts
There are laws here in the United States that keep grown men from entering into a monogamous, legally-binding relationship with inanimate objects. That being said, if the laws of the land weren't against me (and if my fiance' wasn't sure to pummel me in my sleep) I would marry the hell out of this book.
I love this book.
I love it the way any man or woman has ever loved any man or woman. I love it the way Tesla loved his laser-eyed pigeon. This book contains everything I ever wanted from a monster guide and more. In a world were monster guides are a dime a dozen, Wizards RPG Team has raised the bar and delivered something lovingly crafted that appeases not only the Game Master but the players as well. There is something for everyone here.
The very first section of the book is a delightfully detailed account of the motivations of various monsters. Moreover though are tips on how to role-play them at your table. Better yet they contain the Personality Traits, Bonds, Ideals, and Flaws that I loved from the 5th Edition PHB, giving you a wide variety of ways to make the monster unique and not just another set of stat blocks from the Monster Manual.
Furthermore is the detailed descriptions on how the typical lair of each of these creatures is set up. The section on beholder lairs makes the mind reel from the possibilities of a legendary dungeon crawl or an excellent backdrop for some tense negotiations.
"The beholder uses it's diplomacy ray. You take 8d8 of reasonable argument damage."
What really sets Volo's apart though is the inclusion of new playable races, most of which are monstrous. Orcs, goblins, and kobolds are all represented here, as are more powerful races like lizardfolk, hobgoblins, and firbolgs. While the power creep might put off some players, just remember that in most games, society isn't very accepting of what basically equates to monsters and will react as such.
Of these new races, one of the stand-out stars is the new and improved aasimar, which comes in three delicious flavors; holy-roller, heavenly badass, or fallen angel. I've always felt rather meh when it has come to the aasimar I've always felt rather meh, but now it seems that Wizards has tweaked the flavor just enough to have me salivating to play an ass-kicking paladin.
"You just had a religious experience."
If you want something more in depth about the copious amount of new content available to players, check out this handy flowchart, courtesy of JWC, that helps you figure out what you're looking for.
Furthermore, the new monsters introduced this time around are magnificent, running the gambit from terrifying to absurd. The power levels for these new creatures are all over the place, giving the Game Master plenty of options to challenge their players from levels 1-20, as well as giving low-level characters a means of getting a taste of higher level foes, like the beholder-kin.
Also, a beholder-esque familiar? Thank you, Wizards RPG Team, for giving me something I never knew I wanted, and wonder how I could have lived without.
"I can disintegratez you?"
One of my personal favorite sections of this book can be found in the back and continues the tradition started by Paizo's Gamemastery Guide and included in D&D's Monster Manual; a section for NPCs. In this case, they cover each class from the PHB, building a fiction set of stats for each path. Need a fast necromancer? A battle master fighter? How about a warlock with the great old one pact? Volo's has you covered, vastly reducing the prep time of rolling up brand new NPCs.
What Didn't Work
Despite this book being near perfect, there is still one thing that brought me great sadness. The book is so short. Well, it is about the same size as any other D&D sourcebook, but there was so much to enjoy within the pages that it was difficult to put down, and before I knew it, it was over. It fills you with a sort of despair, an unshakable cosmic hideousness that cannot be quelled... until you trace back through the book and read it again.
How Did It Fare?
Volo's Guide To Monsters is deceptively jam-packed with unique monsters, tons of new playable races, a host of new NPC options, and more information on classic monsters than you knew was possible. It is worth every penny, and with the holidays here it is the perfect gift for the Game Master in your book.
Perfect layout, great art, and variety galore. The Bard gives Volo's Guide To Monsters...
...5 Lutes out of 5!
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Roll well, my friends
+Ed The Bard
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