Review: Monster Manual

Monster Manual CoverMonsters Have Arrived

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

spectatorWhat 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.

 Usability

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.

Overall

A Modron army on Mechanus, the plane of law!
A Modron army on Mechanus, the plane of law!

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!

6 Comments

  1. Great review and thanks for the video walkthrough! I grabbed my copy at my local FLGS today. Couldnt wait for my amazon copy. It just looks too good. So, here I sit flipping through and devouring the contents.

    I’ll agree with your effusive praise. But in the interest of balance, I’ll add some critiques (all on the same theme: Not deadly enough yet), that are admittedly personal in nature.

    1. ACs are generally too low. I’ll be houseruling an AC bump of at least 1 to pretty much every MOB in the book.
    2. Damage is too low. I’ll be using the same houserule I used in 4E. Double the static damage on any attack. So if the attack does 2d6+2, make it 2d6+4. Easy to remember and apply. Now, damage is right where I want it.
    3. I love and hate level drain, but the current solution (decrease max HP until long rest) is just not scary enough. My houserule will be HD drain. It will be identical to old school level drain but without all the clunky math. If you get touched by a wraith, wight, vampire, etc. you don’t lose a level. You lose an HD, as the 5E equivalent of a healing surge. So a level 10 fighter has 10d10 HD. Gets bitten by a vampire, now he only has 8. Simple and clean and scare as heck. Back in the day level drain was permanent, more or less. I’m not that die hard. With my rule, you’ll get them back when you level, (or through a wish/restoration spell etc).

    I’ll see how my players like these changes, but for the most part, I won’t tell them, (in the case of AC and Dmg numbers.) I’ll tell them about my level drain rules and make sure they’re ok with it.

    I may also end up tweaking the Medusa and Basilisk petrify attack as well. I don’t like the wording “Basilisk can FORCE the creature to make a save” only to then be contradicted later that the characters must be surprised.

    Thanks again for the great review. I’m loving how easily this edition is house ruled into hear perfection.

  2. I really want this book!, no complains about it.

    Just by curiosity, is there any monster that do a lethal attack just like in 2nd Ed…you know, like Saving Throw vs Death Effect or die.

    I think the only example I’ve seen is the Medusa’s Petrifying Gaze. (DC 14 Constitution saving throw if the medusa isn’t incapacitated and can see the creature. If the saving throw fails by 5 or more, the creature is instantly
    petrified. Otherwise, a creature that fails the save begins to
    turn to stone and is restrained. The restrained creature must
    repeat the saving throw at the end of its next turn, becoming
    petrified on a failure or ending the effect on a success. The
    petrification lasts until the creature is freed by the greater
    restoration spell or other magic.)

    This kind of attacks usually had a good chance to be succeeded by the characters, but they add some dread to the players at the moment of facing the monster.

    • Beholders Disintegration Ray is close. It does 10d8 damage and if the damage takes you to 0, you are turned to fine gray dust. Unlike other save or dies, there’s really no coming back from this one. DC is 16 which is about a 50/50 chance for a large swath of players.

  3. Something else I really like is how they took the more “mundane” critters (worgs, great cats, horses, swarms) out of the primary manual and place them in their own appendix. Seemed like an excellent use of page space.

    Something else I’ll mention; I’ve had the opportunity to run some one-shots at different levels over the past month or so and I would be a bit hesitant to raise damage or AC. These numbers may seem a bit low compared to older editions but felt pretty good given the math in this edition. When I ran a 15th level one-shot last week the fighter only had a +10 bonus to hit, he hit a lot but it wasn’t a sure thing. As far as damage goes it really depends on how long you want a combat to last, characters over about 5th level have a pretty good number of hp and can take a lot of hits.

    • Agree. Love the segregation of the more mundane creatures. Also love the NPC index. Great stuff there. I will use that section almost nightly.

      I’ve been running RAW AC for several sessions and I’m only further convinced of the overly low AC and Save DCs for monster spells. My monsters simply can’t penetrate my players defenses with spells, curses, poison effects etc. The players are literally laughing at the feeble save DCs they have to make. I don’t want to have to resort to the metagame of using creatures whos effects target saves I know my players are weak in just to have a chance to effect them.

      HP however, feels about right on both sides. Monster damage is a bit low. I like creatures of a similar level to characters to be able to hit hard enough to make the good guys sweat a bit. To feel like they’d rather not have that happen again. And they just don’t at this point. It’s clear they designed the math around the concept that everyone loves to hit as often as possible and loves to shrug off damage. But that’s not fun to me and my group. You say hitting isn’t “a sure thing” as written. To that I can only say, I sure as heck hope it’s not. But, for my tastes, it’s too close to a sure thing. With “properly built” encounters using recommended XP budgets, my players were hitting 70% of the time. That’s not a certainty, but it’s so high that they never bothered with trying to get advantage or use elaborate tactics, something I think improves the game. The alternate path is to use creatures of a much higher level, but then other problems start to crop up, worse problems.

      Another thing I’m seeing crop up, is the basic “need magic weapons to hit” immunity. It’s everywhere, but by 10th level, everyone has a magic weapon in my group so it becomes a nothing. I’d like to house rule (not sure how just yet) a gradient of magic weapons. Like in previous editions where you need a steadily increasing bonus to penetrate magic defenses. That obviously won’t work directly because of the bounded math (Requiring a +4 weapon to hit would be game breaking), but I’m thinking of ranking my magical weapons into some sort of category where only higher category weapons can hit the big bads. Like a Kraken, perhaps you need a tier 3 magic weapon to do full damage or something. A simple +1 weapon shouldn’t threaten a kraken IMO.

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