Before Gencon I got to bring you a reveal of the Umber Hulk, and last week you guys joined me for Monsters are Coming, a brief preview into the new Monster Manual. Earlier this week you joined me for a live stream going over each and every page of the book. So, in case you can’t tell, I have been beyond excited for the Monster Manual to come. Finally, today you can purchase this marvelous tome at any WPN participating local game shop, and I do urge you to do so. If that’s not your style, you’d better go snag this bad boy on Amazon before it winds up in the #1 slot again like the PHB and you wind up having to wait for it.
This review is going to be short and sweet, because there’s not much negative to point out, so let’s get to it!
Aesthetics & Art
What can’t I say about the Monster Manual that isn’t amazing in the looks department? The book is beautifully laid out, the color palette of the pages and stat blocks is rustic and feels like you’re flipping through some tome of cryptozoology. The use of white space is exquisite and the book is very easy to read, a nice change of pace from the 3e books and their 6pt font. Also, not that 4e was unreadable or anything but the overall layout was very blocky, for lack of more elaborate terms. The pages are easily navigable with quick references to what letter you’re currently perusing with every page as well.
The artwork is amazing and very well done, the gathering of art styles throughout the book just feels so cohesive, you can tell the team definitely had a vision for the Monster Manual and I think they nailed it. Most importantly the artwork is evocative, almost every single piece seems like it was pulled from a larger scene full of peril and intrigue. Overall, the new Monster Manual is fun to read, not just reference in-game and it is very reminiscent of 2nd edition for many reasons, and this is just another one of them.
If you’d like a look at what I’m referring to with all of this, be sure to check out my archive of the live stream I did where we went through every monster in the book, just earlier this week.
Feel & Tone
What can I say? Monsters are deadly again, and it’s amazing. A very much welcome addition to the new edition. Legendary creatures who can not only put your PCs to the test but also their lairs are going to give them a run for their money as well. Monsters who can just straight up say “Oh, I failed that saving throw? Actually no, no I didn’t” (3x/day) is a huge thing for me. All aboard the truly epic encounter train! As opposed to y’know…godlike PCs interrupting every other action a monster takes to totally shut them down.
We’ve got monsters with powers that are truly unique and will change gameplay dramatically, and it’s not just all reserved for high CR creatures either, which is perhaps the best part. Very often I’ve heard my players complain of nothing truly exciting or dangerous happening in their PCs careers until around levels 5-7 which I doubt will be the case any longer. No longer just giant sacks of hit points and XP waiting to be depleted and consumed, Monsters are back! Monsters are monstrous.
Dread and player death aside, this book hits where it matters most – story. Each monster entry is packed full of narrative that you can (and should) use at will to build encounters, tell stories, or even entire campaigns. There are entire subsections of the book dedicated to Demons, Devils, Lycans, Giants, etc.To me each of these sections screams “create an entire campaign about this!” It’s not only these sections though, even the simple paragraphs attached to the simpler monsters can leave your mind bristling with ideas, and that’s priceless. It’s less about push/pull/slide/ save ends your ongoing 5 damage and more about creating the kinds of stories you might read about in your favorite fantasy novel.
Do you need this book to run and play 5e D&D? Technically not, but you should. It’s going to be an indispensable tool for the entire lifespan of 5e, which I’m h0ping is a long one. My only gripes with the book are that there is no index of creatures by CR (challenge rating) and only alphabetically. This can be cumbersome for those who are trying to budget out an encounter, but it isn’t the end of the world. Personally, you guys know my thoughts on budgeting are “that shit’s for the birds” anyway, but I know it’s a valid concern for a lot of folks. Also, there are a few examples of templates throughout the book but they aren’t reference in the index to be looked up so you’ll just need to remember the few that are in there. I wish there were more templates available in the Monster Manual, but perhaps that’s something we’ll see more of in the DMG?
Overall though, the book is extremely easy to bust out and get swiftly to the information you need, none of it is buried in walls of text. It’s all clean paragraphs and stat blocks all the way. It’s not going to have every single D&D monster you’ve ever seen in it, but this is an amazingly good start at 352 pages worth. You know we’re going to see a Monster Manual 2, and that’s okay – I’ll eagerly await that one as well.
The Monster Manual is going to take care of you, whether you’re a new player or a seasoned vet. There is tons of stuff here for everyone, the beginning of the book goes on at length to talk about Monsters and provide example scenarios of where you might find them and what they might be up to. It very plainly explains each and every single aspect of their stat blocks and some of the less common elements you might walk into. The book is gorgeous on every level, jam packed full of everything you need to populate your D&D fantasy worlds full of everything from your typical Goblins, oddball Modrons, legendary terrors like dragons, beholders, mummy lords, and everything in between. It’s not often that I make such blatant recommendations but, if you plan on running a 5e D&D campaign at any point in time you definitely need to pick up the Monster Manual.
That’s it for today, until next time, may your adventures be full of peril and strange beasts!